Jay Reatard
Watch Me Fall

It was the release of Blood Visions in 2006 that presented a line of artistic boundaries that many regrettably watched Jay Reatard cross. In that album’s quick bursts of knuckle-flaying, Eno-derived glam-punk, he went from being the king of his local scene (that being Memphis) to a nationally adored misfit (soon to acquire the cache of Matador Records)—and in the process, becoming the face of garage rock as it has moved forward. The more upwardly mobile Reatard becomes, though, the more he has been abandoning the decade or so of snot-nosed garage that got him to this point. This reviewer is actually relieved in knowing Reatard hasn’t lugged along the baggage from his primitive dealings with the Reatards or the myriad side-projects he launched in the dawn of the new century (Angry Angles notwithstanding) and instead has decided to embrace his inner pop ambitions.

If those eBay-fortified Matador singles weren’t an indication that Reatard was looking to shed the talentless-yet-prodigal teen tag, then his official debut for the label, Watch Me Fall, is. The culmination of his art-rock obsessions and studied songwriting, here he hopes to go down like bubblegum rather than a bitter pill of glass shards and black tar globs. If back in the basement of a Lost Sounds show you were to foretell that one day Reatard would make a beautiful record filled with the laurels and baubles befitting Belle and Sebastian, you’d have been about half right. Watch Me Fall is the product of a man full of good intentions, but the strings that swell among the finale “There is No Sun,” the handclaps and twee-vocals that punctuate the buoyant “Wounded” and the gauzy nostalgia that bristles during “My Reality” all serve more as fancy place-settings rather than devices that accent his writing or prove he’s evolved past a rinse-and-repeat formula. Be that as it may, it’s still a sugar bomb filled with infectious singles. Whether it be the Kiwi-inspired organ march of “I’m Watching You” or the frantic smirk and sneer that see-saws on “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me,” Reatard is well aware he’s writing beyond his means—changing the template at least shakes the system. While he’s become as self-deprecating and cartoonish as he’ll likely ever be (the faux-accent is pretty damn thick), there’s hope in the melodies that after this romp he’ll know exactly where he’s headed next.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Wounded”

Patrick Wolf
The Bachelor

After the fall of modern civilization, if the remaining Englishmen retreat to the countryside and revert back to a Medieval style of living, Patrick Wolf will be considered their national treasure. Fusing stately flutes and strings with processed beats and synthesizers, Wolf’s eccentric music sounds both rustic and futuristic, while his lyrics express an old-fashioned brand of melancholy that recalls the lovelorn troubadours of the Middle Ages. So despite the fact that he frames his work largely around catchy melodies, it’s no surprise that his music can seem pretty impenetrable to us 21st century ruffians. Nevertheless, his best album, 2007’s The Magic Position, was too infectious and anthemic to be denied even by the staunchest haters of Wolf’s starry-eyed Wizard-core. Now, Wolf returns with The Bachelor, the first in a two-part album cycle that concludes next year with The Conqueror. And while this new album is much more inconsistent and lacking in universal appeal than Position, its high points still rank among the artist’s best work.

On the album’s first two songs, “Hard Times” and “Oblivion” (which gets a big assist from actress Tilda Swinton, who lends her frozen, otherworldly narration to the song), Wolf steps out of the enchanted forest to grapple with modern issues like terrorism and the culture of fear perpetuated by the government and the media. And while the lyrics aren’t revelatory to anyone who’s picked up a newspaper over the past eight years, it’s good to know someone’s still singing about the scars left by the previous administration. Later, the title track borrows lines from an old Appalachian folk song to beautifully distill the essence of unrequited love, and first single “Vulture” is a fish-out-of-water L.A. story that plays out like a club remix of the Decemberists’ “Los Angeles, I’m Yours.”

The Bachelor isn’t going to change anyone’s opinion of Patrick Wolf. If you think his electro-pastoral compositions are cloying and irrelevant, then this album is only going to reinforce those feelings. But if find charm in his unique combination of bucolic pageantry, modern machinery and frank romanticism (and you’re willing to skip over nauseatingly Enya-esque songs like “Damaris”), then The Bachelor will prove to be a solid, if somewhat minor, addition to Wolf’s compelling discography.
David Holmes


Whoa yeah! Arrrggghhh! If you thought there was no place left for sincerity in the post-everything indie rock scene, allow me to introduce the Japandroids. The band is so seemingly innocent they’ve titled their record Post-Nothing, as if we never lost our idols and they really are the first kids on their block to discover distortion and unison shouting. Jeff Tweedy recently opined that your willingness to clap your hands to the music is some measure of how alive you really are. Here Japandroids argue that fist-pumping would be a more appropriate metric.

These are all fight song of one sort or another. “The Boys Are Leaving Town” has only two lyrics: the title and “Will we find our way back home?” Well, three lyrics if you count “whoa-oh-oh.” It’s all manic id-shaking. Call it primal, if you like that sort of thing, nonsensical if you don’t.

“Youth Hearts Spark Fire” is an irresistible ode to staying up all night and living without dead time. It’s hard to imagine the band will ever put a more defining moment on record. The key lyric is “We used to dream, now we worry about dyin’.” At this intense level of decibels, it manages to be simultaneously invigorating and heartbreaking. As the song nears its end, vocalist Brian King adds more sneering, even as the shouts catch in his throat. It’s not all so serious, though, and King shortly reminds us that all they really want to worry about is “those sunshine girls.”

There’s a lot of impressive racket here for just two guys (King and drummer/co-screamer David Prowse), and they steamroll their way through six more tracks about leaving home, missing home, forgetting home, and French-kissing French girls with enough conviction that you might just forget your judgmental, ironic distance and turn the volume way, way up. The Japandroids would urge for you not to analyze, rather to follow that instinct. After all, that’s what this newfangled rock & roll sound is really about.
Matt Slaybaugh

MP3: “Heart Sweats”

Mind Control
Silent Majority Group

It’s a story as old as time: boys form band, lead singer gets his Napoleon on and fires everyone but keeps the band’s name. Then the fired boys get a new singer and form a new band. Then that singer fires everyone and keeps the band’s name. However, this isn’t the tale of Axl or Billy Corrigan; this is the story of third wave grungers Days of the New. After finding themselves on the losing end of the split, the members recruited singer Hugo Ferreira and formed Tantric. While the band never became a major force they did have a minor hit with “Breakdown.” Then three albums later Ferreira is left as the only original member of the group, so he assembled a new band to record and release the latest Tantric record, Mind Control.

If you’ve been confused about the inexplicable popularity of Nickleback or the out-of-leftfield success of Daughtry then avoid this record. If you’ve listened to any amount of “hard rock” radio in the past 10 years, then you know what to expect from Mind Control. To say that it lack surprises gives a bad name to predictability. With the exception of turntable scratching, nearly every cliche is front and center at various times. Need a little rap-ish undercurrent to the verses? You got it. Need some nimble guitar work? Not a problem. Anthem-like vocals? You betcha. It seems not so much the work of a band as it is the product of a checklist-wielding committee.

Tantric is so aggressively middle-of-the-road, it’s almost post-modern. Ferreira isn’t a bad singer, but he vocally echoes so many other people—a touch of Chris Cornell here, shades of Lane Stanley there—every song seems like a song you’ve heard before. There’s nothing really bad about it, but that’s faint praise. It’s almost hard to fault a band for knowing their fans, but for everyone else it’ll be easy to resist Tantric’s Mind Control.
Dorian S. Ham

Box Elders
Alice and Friends

Being original and authentic is certainly not two in the same. If you were to only hear Omaha’s Box Elders and have no concept of what they did live, you’d be hard pressed to call them original, but authentic? This modest trio seems to survive on their adherence to a classic Midwestern garage sound: loads of dirty reverb, a slight twang to match their malt shop bop, trash heap percussion, and best of all, those all-join-in choruses. Honestly, the Box Elders could’ve disappeared with the release of their first single “Hole in My Head” and not much in history would’ve changed. That song and its B-side, “One Foot in Front of the Other,” are jukebox staples that would not be out of place alongside a handful of the great American Nuggets bands. And like with those bands (for some reason the Easybeats come to mind), in scouring for what they did past those magic two or three minutes, most digging will get diminishing returns.

Alice and Friends is unfortunately the epitome of a timeless idea stretched much farther than it should. Take “Stay” as an example, with its “Be My Baby” beginning, precious girl/guy harmonies, and mid-song key changes—deja vu tends to dominate. You’ve heard this before, many times before. The outfits may have changed, but the song remains the same. But we keep coming back, and bands of this bent keep cropping up, no matter the date. Fortunately, seeing the Box Elders a number of times, they have no concept of their deceit or else no shame in their garage rock Xerox. That in of itself is refreshing. That enthusiasm is contagious in the best parts of record, forgiving any carnal hipster sins they may commit. Songs like “2012” and “Atlantis,” though a bit hokey in content and execution, do a fine job translating the ramble tamble of their stage show. And by the end of Alice and Friends, “Death of Me,” rolls out as that quintessential contemplative lament. Its scruffy melancholy, in opposition to all of the rambunctiousness before it, shows that there is an inkling of originality that, when matched with authenticity, is like no other.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Jackie Wood”