Dig Up the Dead
Burning House/King Bones

Mansions is the brainchild of Christopher Browder, a Kentucky native who recently relocated to the rainy city of Seattle, which, given his penchant for introspective songwriting, seems quite fitting. Dig Up the Dead is Mansions’ second album, and it’s pensive and emotional in a sort of “tears fall like raindrops” sort of way. That’s an exaggeration, sure, but Browder does kind of aim for a resurgence of Dashboard Confessional–era nostalgia and sensitivity.

The title track is formed around passionate guitar strumming, plaintive melodies, and slightly droning lyrics (“I don’t want to be me...”), though, for the most part, this isn’t exactly indicative of the rest of the album. Despite vocals drenched in distortion and touched with a hint of nasality, the rest of the record moves swiftly and excitingly through various subject matter, postulating everything from reckless living (“Not My Blood”) to dreams left unfulfilled and wasted life. The lyrics, like so many in the genre, verge on cliche, but they’re more substantive than merely unrequited love or the misery of being a hyper-sensitive youth in a cold world, etc.

Dig Up the Dead, however, is not without sincerity, nor is it entirely free of unrequited love songs. In fact, Browder has penned a brilliant one in “Call Me When It’s Over,” perhaps even out-writing and out-emoting Chris Carrabba himself. With affectingly sincere (i.e. lacking irony) lyrics like “God is dead and there are no good reasons I should sing, but I still do it anyway,” it’s hard not to appreciate Mansions’ chutzpah. I thought emo was effectively finished after the third or fourth wave in the mid-00s, but if Mansions is any indication, the genre could soon be buzzing again.
Jennifer Farmer

Meat Puppets

It’s fitting that Lollipop, the latest album by the Meat Puppets, begins with “Incomplete,” a song written by singer and guitarist Curt Kirkwood during the band’s formative years in the early ’80s. Lollipop, the third Meat Puppets album since the younger Kirkwood brother, Cris, reunited with the band in 2006, sounds like the product of a band that, while comfortable with its position in the musical landscape, isn’t content to rest on its past success.

Like the other “late” period Meat Puppets LPs, Lollipop lacks the drug-induced weirdness and sonic haphazardness that was characteristic of the band’s early work (especially the revered Meat Puppets II album). However, as opposed to 2009’s Sewn Together, which was a fairly straightforward rock record, the bulk of Lollipop emphasizes the country portion of the band’s distinctive psychedelic sound. Songs like “Baby Don’t” and “Town” showcase the Meat Puppets country roots in a way that meshes well with the smoother sound the group has sported as of late. Indeed, the album’s highlight, “The Spider and the Spaceship,” comes from this vein, marrying a melody reminiscent of “The Gambler” to some trademark burnt-out lyrics.

There are some maturely trippy rockers on here, such as “Hour of the Idiot” and “Way That It Are,” but these songs lack the freshness of the album’s country cuts. That’s not to say that the Meat Puppets only have one working gear left. The laidback pop-rock of “Damn Thing” proves otherwise, with a great hook that has Curt Kirkwood singing, “I don’t know a damn thing anyway.” That may be true, but when it comes to aging gracefully, the Meat Puppets sound like they know what they’re doing.
Ron Wadlinger

MP3: “Damn Thing”

The Kills
Blood Pressures

The Kills began as a lean, mean duo capable of creating songs at once feral and sultry, full of hip swagger and snarl. They were like the tougher yin to the White Stripes’ yang. Live, the two-piece (Jamie Hince on guitar and Alison Mosshart providing the bloodcurdling vocals) prowled the stage like caged animals, barely able to contain themselves. It was this bottled-up ferocity that was an undercurrent to exceptional records like Keep on Your Mean Side and No Wow.

In 2008, Midnight Boom took the pair in a new direction, with their once anemic approach now filled out with electronic sounds and things like groove and ambiance with which they had never bothered before. It was a good look for them and helped keep them from spinning their collective wheels. Blood Pressures seemingly attempts to continue the thought. Problem is the record seems undone, left soft when everything the Kills have done before bore a hardened sheen. This may have something to do with Hince paramour Kate Moss trashing the laptop containing the Kills’ work-in-progress a couple years ago or maybe Mosshart has been hanging out with Jack White (her collaborator in the Dead Weather) a bit too much. Whatever the reason, tracks like “Satellite” and “DNA” seem like half-hearted attempts to conjure their old tough-as-nails cadence, while laments like “Wild Charms” and “The Last Goodbye” are just laughable. The Kills have become a shadow of their former selves, unable to impress let alone draw blood.
Stephen Slaybaugh

The Family Sign

Amongst the faded glory of the underground hip-hop scene, Atmosphere—composed of emcee Slug and producer Ant—remains one of the shinning beacons. No disrespect to all of the other hardworking indie rappers out there, but Atmosphere is without question the biggest stars and biggest sellers in the movement. While they may not pull the type of numbers as Wakka Flocka Flame, news of a new Atmosphere release and/or tour is met with rabid response. Now after a relatively quiet period in the Atmosphere camp, they’ve returned with seventh album The Family Sign.

While The Family Sign is technically considered Atmosphere’s first record since 2008’s When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, in the in-between time they’ve released the Leak At Will EP and the double EP, To All My Friends, Blood Makes The Blade Holy: The Atmosphere EPs. Slug also found time to release elt 3: A Tribute To Rosie Perez, the third installment of his side project with Murs. So if nothing else, it’s not like the duo’s been sitting around looking at his press clippings.

Atmosphere has always been particularly smart in the sequencing of their albums. Not just the track listings, but making sure that there’s a balance between the records that are released and when. The dark moods of When Life Gives You Lemons was prefaced by the five relatively more upbeat “unofficial” releases. This also seems to have been the plan with The Family Sign. This isn’t a record that you’ll thrown on for some bumpin’ beats, and the first three songs are front-loaded with misery. But when you look deeper into the grim narratives, you’ll hear that Slug’s storytelling ability is as sharp as ever. There are few performers who can be so evocative and yet remain so concise. And Ant matches him step-for-step, crafting mood-appropriate soundscapes. And when they do eventually lighten the mood, it’s like a weight has been lifted. There’s nothing haphazard in the construction. On some hip-hop albums, the production seems interchangeable. On The Family Sign, it’s hard to imagine any of the beats subbing for another. The Family Sign isn’t a record for those who need their hip-hop to be all brash and all party, but for those with the patience for repeated listening.
Dorian S. Ham

Safari Disco Club
Cooperative Music USA/Downtown

Since its inception and subsequent transport overseas, French pop music has often piqued American interest. Despite our previously questionable sentiments toward their political action (or lack thereof), we have always seemed to retain an interest in their culture and their music (Francois Hardy, Serge Gainsbourg, and now, Daft Punk, Phoenix and Justice). The latest artist to cross the pond is dance-pop outfit Yelle, who, way back in 2005 when MySpace was still relevant, posted a song to the site and catapulted to the charts in France. Yelle’s greatly hyped debut album, Pop Up, was released two years later to wholesale adoration. Now the band, called Yelle after its singer, is offering up another round of moodlifting songs, Safari Disco Club.

With Safari Disco Club, Yelle caters to an American audience with a harmless version of French electro-pop that’s playful and easily digestible right from the start. The title track is wrought with a steady beat and interspersed with marimbas, horns, and an assortment of electric accoutrements snaking in between. The lyrics, often kitschy and sung in even-keeled French, are about animals dancing in this makeshift Safari Disco Club. “C’est Pas Une Vie” is akin to being stuck in an arcade game (no doubt with the aid of various chemicals), and though the album as a whole is a slight recycling of their previous work, there are certain deviations. “Mon Pays,” namely, is a step in a dreamier, more synth-driven direction, although all the while still holding onto the pulsating beats.

It’s difficult to dig too deep in music this heavily produced, wherein any semblance of a flaw can be magically erased with the flip of a switch. Then again, dance music is inherently manufactured, and to that end, Safari Disco Club succeeds. It’s inviting unabashed dance-pop at its purest. A bit mild? Maybe, but it’s oh so charmingly, fascinatingly French.
Jennifer Farmer