In this entry, check out the Morning Benders' Talking Through Tin Cans, Love's Forever Changes: Collector's Edition, Yellowjackets' Lifecycle and Story of the Year's The Black Swan.
The Morning Benders Talking Through Tin Cans (+1 Records)
Good pop music doesn’t have to be sincere, but it helps. That’s certainly the case with the debut full-length by the Morning Benders, a California quartet opening for the Kooks during a Thursday, May 29 gig at the Ogden Theatre. The recording’s songs are open-hearted and catchy as can be.
The production, by lead singer/multi-instrumentalist Chris Chu, with an assist from Patrick Brown, is determinedly lo-fi yet unexpectedly bright, with Julian Harmon’s cymbal splashes receiving particularly prominent play. Instead of leaving a sizable gap between most ditties, Chu and company move seamlessly from one to the next, as if their enthusiasm has made them impatient – and their reaction is understandable. Despite lines like “If you want to meet the devil/You’ve got to go to hell,” the opening track, “Damnit Anna,” is sprightly and jangly in equal proportions. Elsewhere, “Loose Change” intersperses a galumphing beat with a sunny, singalong chorus, “Waiting for a War” makes a battle sound like a wonderful prospect, and “Wasted Time” finds the beauty in melancholia.
This is one Bender you’ll enjoy all day long. – Michael Roberts
Love Forever Changes: Collector’s Edition (Elektra/Rhino)
Forever Changes may be the best ‘60s rock album that the fewest number of people have heard, so Rhino’s decision to re-release it is generally a good thing. Tracks such as “Alone Again Or” and “A House Is Not a Motel” are chamber pop that can rightly be described as majestic. But those buying this two-CD collection thinking that the original recordings have been supplemented by loads of fascinating extras are in for a disappointment.
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The majority of disc two features an alternative mix of the LP, and although close listening will reveal minor tweaks to songs such as “Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale,” the most notable addition – a proto-rap that appears at the tail end of “You Set the Scene” – was included the last time Forever Changes was reissued, in 2001. The same can be said of several bonus tracks -- and some of the stuff that’s just seeing the light of day, like some in-studio babbling captured during a take of “The Red Telephone,” is entirely negligible.
If you don’t have Forever Changes, the new edition would make an essential addition to your collection. And if you’ve already got it? Not so much. – Roberts
Yellowjackets Lifecycle (Heads Up)
The Yellowjackets have been one of the blandest jazz groups in these United States since the outfit formed in 1977. But Lifecycle is a far more interesting effort than usual because the musicians imported a ringer: guitarist Mike Stern, whose electrified explorations bring a spark of life to material such as “Double Nickel” and “Dreams Go,” written by none other than Mike Stern.
Then again, Stern’s work is even more prominent on his own recordings. So why not cut out the middle men? – Roberts
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Story of the Year The Black Swan (Epitaph)
You’ve heard this album even if you don’t know Story of the Year from Gordon Lightfoot. That’s because this St. Louis combo specializes in performances that differ not a whit from those delivered by a plethora of their peers.
Danger arises in the first seconds of “Choose Your Fate,” the album opener: Assorted snippets of George W. Bush natterings are interrupted by lead singer Dan Marsala screaming, “Liar!” as if he’d just realized that the president despised by nine-tenths of the indie rockers on the planet falls a bit short in the truthtelling category. Subsequent salvos suffer from much the same malady. As illustrated by the title “Apathy is a Deathwish,” most of the lyrics demonstrate little more than a keen grasp of the obvious, and the strong musical elements tend to get lost in the players’ eagerness to cram as many sonic stereotypes as possible into every single song. Take “Angel in the Swamp,” which sabotages a pretty decent introductory riff with a drawn-out, mewling confessional section that sucks all the life from it.
The album as a whole is professionally constructed and moderately effective, especially if it’s met with low expectations. Talk about a familiar Story. – Roberts