Tea Tornado
Joyful Noise

Given that it only took two years for Tea Tornado to surface on the heels of the excellent Florist Fired, Indianapolis’ Marmoset could finally be coming out of their decade-old shell with some regularity. At least this feels like first time they aren’t exactly a “cult” band, even if they’ve dug even farther underground, splitting ways with longtime host Secretly Canadian. Who’s to say if that presents the unusually reclusive trio with a sense of liberation, but Tea Tornado does tend to revel in transparencies, straightforward pop songs somewhat void of their normal bent and nearly veering upon happiness.

There’s evidence of this in the role-reversal of Marmoset’s eternally dour singer-songwriter, Jorma Whittaker. Always the introspective loser of love and sex on past records, on songs like “Written Today” and, especially, “Come With Me,” he effortlessly plays the instigator or the “master.” It’s apparent in his voice, rising above a mumble to give bright clarity to this round of exorcisms. It was Whittaker’s pallbearer demeanor that lent the band’s quirky humor more of an unnerving creep rather than the desired effect. Here, in a looser, more playful atmosphere, his baked-goods trilogy, “Strawberry Shortcakes,” “You, Blueberry Muffin” and “Peach Cobbler,” explores the parallels between love, sex, women and dessert without imaging the author as a closeted masochist. In “Gretchen” there’s proof though that Marmoset have patented their unique mood over their scant oeuvre and Whittaker’s been taking these types of slow-motion esoteric/erotic jaunts long before someone like Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox even picked up a guitar.

There’s a perfect balance on Tea Tornado—even for those devout fans that consider Record in Red their masterpiece—of the group’s woozy, down-tuned, smoke and mirrors and the scruffy amateurism of their beginnings. Such equilibrium might not be seen in the contributions from Marmoset’s other two members: “He’s Been Napping” and “Hallway.” Not that they ruin this fresh batch, it’s just these cuts threaten to topple the whimsically inert mood Whittaker provides in his haunting pop songs.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Peach Cobbler”

Reigning Sound
Love and Curses
In the Red

“My heart won’t let you go, even though I often try and tell it so,” bellows Greg Cartwright in the opening verse of the Reigning Sound’s first release since 2004’s critically acclaimed Too Much Guitar. The track, “Brake It,” sets the woe-is-me tone for the aptly titled Love and Curses, an album chock-full of garage rock ballads of unrequited love, heartbreak and musical acts of contrition.

On this album, you can hear the influence of Cartwright’s time spent in Memphis, from nostalgia for blues and soul to his reverence for obscure sounds and songs via brilliant covers like Glass Sun’s “Stick Up for Me.” It’s truly uplifting to hear a garage rock band, albeit one that is somehow so much more, that is still exactly that, with no gimmicks or pretensions (a la Jack White) of anything other than creating music. Whatever song Cartwright’s sonorously raspy voice belts out —from the rockabilly-inflected “Broken Things” to the soulful, “The Bells,” each track takes on a life all its own. Each song is a surprisingly expansive and deep two-minute glimpse into Cartwright’s soul. Some, certainly, could stand to be longer, but one gets the impression that Cartwright secretly knows just when to stop so to make listeners beg for more.

The bane of this album, however, is the track arrangement of the first half, which feels slapdash, as though merely an afterthought. It doesn’t seem to matter when tracks blend together, allowing listeners little time to properly digest their brilliance, but the latter half of Curses avoids this pitfall, and ends on a high note with the oddly gypsy-punk-esque “Banker and a Liar.”

Love and Curses makes enduring that period of heartbreak after the departure of a loved one somehow less of an act of embarrassing self-pity, and more of a natural progression of releasing pent up angst. And though Greg Cartwright, with his seemingly infinite musical repertoire may be an odd source of comfort, he ends up providing just what is needed.
Jennifer Farmer

Arctic Monkeys

With their early singles and first full-length release, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, Arctic Monkeys shot up the UK charts in 2006. Propulsive drumming, jack-hammer guitar riffs and singer Alex Turner’s Yorkshire snarl and adolescent rants about scene-makers and poseurs were the order of the day, and only minor tweaks were made for 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare. But the Monkeys’ new album, Humbug, marks a distinct break with the observational lyrics and sound that brought the band fame.

The band had the opportunity to record with one of their heroes, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, at his Rancho De La Luna studio in Joshua Tree, California. The result is fuzzier guitars, more prominent organ sounds and haunting backing vocals that add nice touches to some of the tunes. The problem is that most of the songs lack the lyrical punch of the previous records. Turner croons about relationship head-games, obsession and loss, but winds up sounding like Jim Morrison on a few of these tunes, which is not necessarily a good thing.

The best marriage of the new and old sound, and the most successful tune on the record, is “Pretty Visitors,” with its fast verse/slow chorus structure and Turner’s lyrics turning more caustic. “Crying Lightning” and “Dangerous Animal” are also standout tracks that demonstrate the band’s potential as they reach for new sounds and psychological realms to explore. Still, longtime fans might want to cherry-pick this one via their favorite digital music service.
Pat Leonard

Dolores O’Riordan
No Baggage

With the chronically short memory of modern music, it’s easy to adopt a revisionist take on things. When most people think of the ’90s, they don’t acknowledge or remember that one of the biggest selling bands of the time was the Cranberries. Fronted by Dolores O’Riordan, they racked up a gang of radio singles, multi-platinum album sales and toured the world. But then in 2000 the band went on hiatus, and O’Riordan launched a solo career that continues with her current record, No Baggage.

For all of the Cranberries’ success, the most common reference point is the elongated two-syllable word made into three that somehow seems the sum of everything embarrassing about the ?90s. “Z-om-bie!” Despite not being on the band’s biggest selling album, it’s become the defining moment among its casual fans. It was an earnest, but cringe-worthy, attempt at rocking that has managed to almost overshadow the rest of the band’s catalog. It also has the side effect of almost erasing the fact that O’Riordan is a remarkably agile singer, something that is obvious on No Baggage.

Fans of O’Riordan’s past work will be pleased to find that it sounds like business as usual. It’s not inconceivable to imagine that she recorded this album during off-days from the Cranberries and then decided to wait to release it. Some of the highlights of the record, “Switch Off The Moment” and “It’s You”, for example, have a nice slow burning melodic quality that’s reminiscent of the Cranberries best songs. It would be interesting to hear O’Riordan try a different direction, but she’s hardly alone in the “if it ain’t broke” camp.

However, there are also some deeply awkward moments on the record. While O’Riordan has never been the most nimble of lyricists, the cribbing of that old inspiration chestnut “Footprints” for a section in “The Journey” is just embarrassing. Add in that it sounds custom-made for the opening credits of a movie where the sassy female lead is going to make it big on her own terms, and you just have a mess of a song. And the less said about “Be Careful” (“Alcohol & Cocaine, I think it’s driving you insane”) the better. No Baggage isn’t essential listening, except perhaps for those with fond feelings for the other, other ’90s.
Dorian S. Ham

Pissed Jeans
King of Jeans
Sub Pop

It was around the time Pissed Jeans released their sophomore album, and debut for Sub Pop, Hope for Men, that self-aware, self-deprecating punk became passe. That album abandoned the caustic immediacy and juvenile squalor of yore that catapulted them from basement to major-indie status, and it seemed they were branding themselves as some humdrum band of squares, incapable of living out the visceral exercises in real life that they tended to pound out on record. In jest, growing up and even fantasizing about a normal existence made for a turgid display of boorish sludge. To their benefit, that jump was likely a hard one to stomach. It’s not that often that a band of such raw, limited means can pull off the “boutique” album without some noticeable hiccups.

King of Jeans is the Allentown, Pennsylvania quartet’s reset button for sure. Yes, their sub-pedestrian ethos is still in tact; now the band is just older, wiser and lamenting receding hairlines. Matt Korvette’s David Yow-esque chokes and scuzzles have found a terrifying register of their own, and on “R-Rated Movie,” swing the spectrum of extremities. Faux-angst is replaced with a monolithic sonic dominance, and almost overnight Pissed Jeans have become as (death) metal and inexplicably abject as one could have hoped for these men after the sucker-punch of Shallow way back when. This is a record that is the opposite of brutal and ugly. Though steely AmRep caterwauling ensues, the basic hardcore mod appears in spurts; King of Jeans commands most with its groove and doom and melodies that singe the skin and stick like post-grunge hickies. “Lip Ring” is eerily close to Nirvana; “Spent” is a monster lurking in earl grey fog with Sabbath as his soundtrack; and “She Is Science Fiction” is the Melvins plugged through last weekend’s laser light show. Pissed Jeans gave the impression that they were content going monochrome for a career under a fountain of cheap spit beer. It’s nice that they found their “artistic” niche without having to pose “artistically” for their supper.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Dream Smotherer”