Dig These Discs: Imelda May, The New Pornographers, Cold War Kids, K. Flay, Alvarez Kings
Irish musician Imelda Mary Higham, aka Imelda May, brings her unique rockabilly vocal talents and multi-instrumentalism to the U.S. with her fifth studio album, "Life Love Flesh Blood." The indie rock band Cold War Kids from Long Beach, Cali, release their sixth studio album, "L.A. Divine," with new guitarist David Quon from We Barbarians on the axe. Canadian indie rock band The New Pornographers release their seventh studio album, the first to feature full-time drummer Joe Seiders. LA-based alt-pop/hip-hop artist K. Flay is back with her sophomore album, "Every Where Is Some Where," a dozen compelling tracks that mesh electronica and deep bass beats. And, led by brothers Simon and Paul Thompson, the South Yorkshire quartet Alvarez Kings release their first full-length debut album.
"Life Love Flesh Blood" (Imelda May)
Irish musician Imelda Mary Higham, aka Imelda May, brings her unique rockabilly vocal talents and multi-instrumentalism to the U.S. with her fifth studio album, "Life Love Flesh Blood." The album is produced by T Bone Burnett, with guest appearances by Jools Holland and Jeff Beck. May gathers together 11 excellent cuts that represent the wide range of her talents. And although not all the song styles mesh seamlessly, the album succeeds by showing the talented May's range. She opens this new album with "Call Me," a soft song with instrumentation reminiscent of the classic Bread hit, "Make It With You." "Black Tears" is a cowboy lullaby featuring Jeff Beck, like something Patsy Cline would belt out over the twang of sad guitars, singing, "How did it all go wrong? We seemed to have it all, but now it's broken and I'm running and I'm scared, so scared." She follows it with the upbeat pop cut "Should Have Been You," which has May asking "One more thing before I go: tell me who takes care of me? Shoulda been you." She channels Roseanne Cash in the dark, country-tinged "Sixth Sense," and in the following track "Human," she wants you to think of her as "better than the best, I've chased away my demons but I'm human at my best." She's sultry but weak, in the scorcher, "How Bad Can A Good Girl Be." She's saucy in "Bad Habit," trying hard to resist those new Louboutins, 'cause she's got a baby to feed. The electric guitar fret work is amazing on this cut. May exercises her vocal range in "Levitate," crooning, "you kissed my dying mouth, my blood began to warm. My life was running out but I was hoping to be reborn." You'll sway from side to side as May sings the excellent gospel cut, "When It's My Time," featuring Jools Holland. Lyrics have May singing, "I'm not a saint, but I'm not the worse. Oh yes I'm a sinner, but I'm not the last, nor the first./ Deep down inside, you know that I'm good and I've just done the best, Lord, that I could." She captures a Rolling Stones-style funk in the gritty "Leave Me Lonely," and wraps up her excellent collection of tunes with the acoustic guitar cut "The Girl I Used to Be," singing about an Irish girl with lips warmed by pots of tea. May kicks off a tour in May to support the new album. Just try and resist her charm!
"L.A. Divine" (Cold War Kids)
The indie rock band Cold War Kids from Long Beach, Cali, release their sixth studio album, "L.A. Divine," with new guitarist David Quon from We Barbarians on the axe. They open with the single, "Love Is Mystical," released in February. Lead singer Nathan Willet said that the song was about searching for inspiration and meaning, and the journey we all must go on to find it. They follow it with the formulaic "Can We Hang On," reminiscing about the old days and the struggle to survive. They get things moving with the rock track "So Tied Up," with excellent lyrics like, "I get you to swerve out of the fast lane/ you've still got champagne running through your veins." Their slow-moving "Restless" is a song about searching for success but moving away from your dreams. They experiment with distortion and echo in "La River," and bookend it with a showy, theatrical number "No Reason to Run." The Cold War Kids get gritty in the dark, funky "Open Up to the Heavens," with Willet asking, "do you know how long I'd wait for you? 'Til I'm black and blue." Their "Wilshire Protest" is a spoken-word diatribe about iPod DJs and traffic jams, and our modern world. They're going bottoms-up in the drum-heavy "Luck Down," and sing "I will always be the underdog" in the poppy "Ordinary Idols." He can't be everything, but he wants to be famous in your eyes in the slowed-down intro, "Cameras Always On," merging into the drum-led "Part of the Night." The Cold War Kids end the album wondering why they should believe that everything will be alright, in the catchy "Free to Breathe." The Cold War Kids will play at Bonnaroo in June, and on the NYC Summerstage in September.
(Capitol Music Group)
"Whiteout Conditions" (The New Pornographers)
Canadian indie rock band The New Pornographers release their seventh studio album, the first to feature full-time drummer Joe Seiders. He joins the lineup of Carl Newman, Neko Case, John Collins, Blaine Thurier, Todd Fancey, and Kathryn Calder -- a bunch of musicians whose music has been featured in a bewildering number of movies, TV shows, and commercials. But their latest commercial endeavor is this collection of 11 songs that meld together drums and crunchy guitar with electronica and distortion, initially to highly entertaining effect. Their first track, "Play Money," opens with Case singing, "I only play for money, honey, look at what this fun has done to me, it has me gunning for the country." The title track follows, a rapid-fire delivery advising, "the sky will come for you once, sit tight until it's done." Their "High Ticket Attractions" employs a call-and-response that adds a theatrical effect, as though it's a track from "Rocky Horror Picture Show." Case is trying to come up with some highbrow move to sort things out in the formulaic "This Is the World of the Theatre." Tinny drums open up the poppy "Darling Shade," and thrumming vocals are layered in "Second Sleep," although the repeating refrain of "been awake for a while" becoming grating after time. It's followed by the catchy '80s-throwback, "Colosseums," with its bouncy rhyme scheme. The New Pornographers pair heavy instrumental distortion with vocal harmony in "We've Been Here Before," to nebulous effect. The herky-jerky "Juke" is oddly, one of the most appealing cuts on the lackluster second half of this album in which everything just sounds like so much more of the same. They rush through "Clock Wise" and wrap things up with the synth-effect stuffed cut "Avalanche Alley," with Case repeating, "news from the last world, news from the future." The New Pornographers sprung out of Vancouver around the turn of the century, fully-formed and ready to roll. The success of their first three albums set the bar high for this supergroup. Now it's time to measure up.
(Concord Music Group)
"Every Where Is Some Where" (K. Flay)
LA-based alt-pop/hip-hop artist K. Flay is back with her sophomore album, "Every Where Is Some Where," a dozen compelling tracks that mesh electronica and deep bass beats. She kicks things off with the lush "Dreamers," singing, "this one goes out to all the dreamers at sea/ this life is only what you want it to be/ and I want more." Flay, aka Kristine Flaherty, is a talented writer, getting deep with lyrics like "the darkest nights mean you see the stars the most." She cites novelist Marilynne Robinson, Korean singer Karen O, Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson and Canadian indie star Emily Haines as her inspirations. The instrumentation in "Giver" is interesting, overlaid with lyrics like, "got high hopes, lots of potential... and I will not let go of what is mine." Bass licks open the pained "Blood In The Cut," and in "Champagne" she's taking advantage of an open bottle of bubbly to rap about her familial relations. She spits her verse out quick as lightning in the excellent, "High Enough," singing "I used to like liquor to get me inspired, but you look so beautiful my new supplier." In her notes, she says, "There are so many songs about getting fucked up... part of me was asking 'What if I'm already high enough? What if I don't need anything but what I've got?'" She follows it with the frantic "Black Wave," asking, "who you gonna trust when the killer is the cop?" She said it was born of the post-election feeling that "we were all on a beach, looking out at this terrible black wave in the distance, knowing it was going to swallow us whole." She slows things down in the melancholy cut "Mean It," singing about her family "when I say I love you I wanna mean it, 'cause I say a lot of things that I don't mean." In "Hollywood Forever" she sings lazily about being afraid of her image and her sex, noting that "in the dark, everything it feels better." She lays on the throbbing bass and the pathos in "The President Has a Sex Tape," a song that is part anthem, part lament. This song, and the following "Its Just A Lot" both have that anthemic, bouncy, electric guitar sound of Garbage cuts. "I shoulda known, don't trust a poet 'cause they can't do the math," she bemoans in "You Felt Right." She wraps up an excellent album with "Slow March," charting her feelings through the seasons. As Flay says, "There are only so many ways that humans feel -- but infinite ways to describe and embody those feelings." Let K. Flay count the ways.
(Night Street/Interscope Records)
"Somewhere Between" (Alvarez Kings)
Led by brothers Simon and Paul Thompson, the South Yorkshire quartet Alvarez Kings release their first full-length debut album, featuring 11 alt-pop tracks. The band, which has spent the past few years touring with loads of other groups, strike out on their own to show off their energetic pop sound, blending guitar riffs and distinctive vocals in a sound that evokes the deliciously innocent brooding darkness of the '90s. They kick things off with "Cold Conscience," with the chorus, "just see yourself; where you go, I go, too." The catchy instrumentation of "The Other Side of Sadness" pairs well with the harmonized vocals, "wounds will heal, the scars will fade away." They'll reach their destination soon, in "Postcards From Berlin," and they promise they'll send a postcard every week, if it will help you sleep. He acted unaffected, but her presence was unnerving, in "Tell Tale Heart," with lyrics like, "it was the stare, the stare! Her eyes were everywhere." She's holding all the strings to his heart in the sad cut "Picking Up the Pieces," but he promises he won't "Run From You" in the following (even more melancholy) track. They croon out the title in "Sleepwalking PT II" and capture that R&B/pop vibe in "Fear to Feel," singing, "we were almost there, but your feet won't touch the ground." The electric bass intro ramps up suspense as the Kings sing, "'The Torture the Tears,' the terrifying, dramatic ending." "I can't give what I can't afford," they sing about love lost, in "No Resolve," quipping, "you don't love me; you love to be loved." They finish an excellent debut with "Somewhere Between," promising that "somewhere between here and there, I can say my love is true, my heart belongs to you." The Alvarez Kings set out to tour Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy and more... but this time, they'll be the main course, not just the cute dish on the side.
(Sire/Warner Bros. Records)