Welcome to another edition of Sound Bites, our economy-sized album reviews. This week, Kiernan Maletsky weighs in on five recent national releases from Bonnie Prince Billy (pictured left), Fever Ray, Madeline Peyroux, Point Juncture, WA and These Are Powers after the jump.
Bonnie Prince Billy, Beware (Drag City). A collection of songs spanning the highs and lows of love, Beware has at least one track that'll seem like it's written straight to you. By now, however, no one should be surprised at Bonnie Billy's genius with a pen. His folk flavor of the year is somewhat less welcome.
Fever Ray, Fever Ray (Rabid via Mute). Karin Dreijer Andersson, half of beak-masked Swedish sibling duo the Knife, takes what little optimism remains from 2003's Deep Cuts and drowns it in the tribal echoes of some alien jungle, with its hammering rhythm and chanting melody piped through electronic tubes straight into your id. Find your dark place and crank it.
Madeline Peyroux, Bare Bones (Rounder). Not sure what the market is for acoustic-guitar-driven smooth jazz in 2009, but if it has such a thing as a respectable muse, Peyroux is it. The album is at its best channeling Billie Holliday on a couple of the tracks co-written by bassist/producer Larry Klein. The three co-written by Julian Coryell are schmaltzy crap.
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Point Juncture, WA, Heart to Elk (Mt. Fuji). Heart is Yo La Tengo with woodland creatures instead of irony! Groove to some damn tasty vocal melodies under all that distortion and some proper mashing on top of it (are we calling this nu-gaze now?). Never tell me what they're saying, but forget the quibbles. This is gorgeous.
These Are Powers, All Aboard Future (Dead Oceans). Sounds like an army of effects pedals on a truly alienating industrial march, less produced than grated through Pro Tools. Grotesque portraits only occasionally marred by a consonant melody, this one is high art in the worst way. No doubt the trio's got a handle on oblique rhythms, however.