Soundbytes: Seven Recent CD Reviews for the NewsPress

November 30, 2007 12:00 AM

The Pipettes – We Are the Pipettes
Riotbecki! Gwenno! Rosay! This retro girl-group trio from the UK has been all over YouTube, KCRW, and SXSW since last year, and now their CD has been released by a Stateside label with a different mix and two extra songs. Their lead-off single “Pull Shapes,” like most of the songs, borrows its style from the Shangri-Las and other Phil Spector-produced classics, but with contemporary post-feminist concerns in the lyrics (sample song titles from later in the album “Sex”, “One Night Stand” and “Dirty Mind.”) The Pipettes’ harmonies stay true to their British roots, although sometimes you can squint your ears and swear it’s the B-52s. Sunny and bright as well as cheeky and knowing, this might not be brilliant stuff for the ages, but it can’t help but bring a smile to the lips.

Radiohead – In Rainbows
OK, computer, now how much would you pay? Radiohead’s long-awaited follow-up to the just-average “Hail to the Thief” is currently a pay-what-you-think Internet download with 160 kbps quality sound and no cover art. Beat heavy and funky in places, “In Rainbows” dips into Krautrock (“Bodysnatchers”), shuffling, spaced-out hip-hop (“Reckoner”), and echo-laden shoegazing (the beautiful, languid “House of Cards”), against which Thom Yorke’s plaintive voice struggles with basic human relationships yet again (oh, but we wouldn’t have it any other way). Light on stand-out melodies, but heavy on intricate production from Nigel Godrich, “In Rainbows” is no “Kid A,” but should expand and develop over time in concert.

Ana Egge – Lazy Days
This Saskatchewan-born, Austin-based singer-songwriter’s fifth album is a covers-only project, with a loose theme of laziness. From The Kinks’ “(Sitting in the) Midday Sun” to Arcade Fire’s “In the Backseat,” Egge’s wise-beyond-her-years voice makes these songs her own. Delicate guitar work is joined by a choice selection of Austin’s session musicians, most notably some tasteful pedal-steel work from Tim Bovaconti and Chris Brown’s keys. Egge seems reluctant to rock out, but when she does — on Le Tigre’s “Much Finer” — it doesn’t quite work. She’s much safer sticking to tracks like “Wastin’ My Time,” wherein she takes Harry Nilsson’s parlor-piano ballad and sings it from the heart.

Mariza – Concerto em Lisboa
Nominated for a Latin Grammy this year for best folk album, fado singer Mariza’s live in Lisbon concert follows from the success of her studio album “Transparente,” bringing in the same producer and arranger, Jacques Morelenbaum, who is best known for his longtime work with bossa nova artist Caetano Veloso. Here that means supplanting many of the folk instruments that have typically backed her with a lush string section. Is it too polished? Perhaps. On “Recusa,” for example, the minimal backing of Portuguese guitars and acoustic bass are enough. But with Mariza’s popularity at a high point in Europe, and the increasing interest in fado here, the strings may be here to stay. Regardless, her command over a song and her tremulous voice succeed with any backing.

Tegan and Sara – The Con
There’s no cheat in this 14-song major(ish) label release from the enigmatic twin sister duo. Sara writes the songs with the complex arrangements, Tegan writes the power pop, jangly chord numbers, and they’ve equally divided the songwriting this time out. The title track sets out the plan: the sisters’ tight vocals delivering lyrics that sound like one emotion (anger, perhaps) while speaking another (“Nobody encircle me/I need to be/Taken down” — self-pity, for sure). Produced by members of Death Cab for Cutie, this is poppy and accessible but 14 songs sometimes feels like a stretch. Sara’s songs this time out are growing into something else entirely.

The Volt Per Octaves – Moogsaic
The family that Moogs together . . . grooves together. The Volt Per Octaves “Moogsaic” comes straight out of Santa Barbara, but with all the sophisticated sounds of the big city. Nick and Anna Montoya play a selection of vintage analog synths and a theremin in this album of spacey instrumentals — save one Anna-sung number — that mine a dark seam of post-prog Euro-electronica, circa 1980. Roger Manning Jr., Beck’s keyboard player extraordinaire, turns up on two tracks, one of which is the haunting, beautiful “Science,” on which the band is joined by the Montoyas’ 8-year-old daughter, Eva, on melodica.

Jake Shimabukuro – My Life
Shimabukuro, the Hawaiian wunderkind who has made the ukulele sexy again (or for the first time?), is best known for his covers, and in this short E.P. he indulges his fans. Those who know of his spacey treatment of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” will like his two Beatles tracks (“Here, There and Everywhere” and “In My Life”), but it’s his solo meander through Led Zepplin’s “Going to California” that stands out here. It’s all reflecting pools of nylon strings, busy, searching runs, and an improv approach to the melody. Sometimes so light and airy the music barely exists, the E.P. is just enough Shimabukuro to last until the next installment.

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