Early December Picks

Dirt -Alice in Chains

I don’t revere suicides and junkiedom, and this sorta-metal isn’t my usual genre, but I have to bow to the sheer  power of this disc. Unrelentingly dark and heavy, even on the quieter tunes, and the intense, massed vocals can get a bit wearying, though the the songs are exceptionally well-crafted, with memorable hooks and surprisingly little bombast. A classic of its type.

Roman Candle – Elliott Smith

For my money, the great American songwriter–more melodically inventive than Dylan and less studied/stilted than Paul Simon or Joni Mitchell. I vacillate between picking a favorite among his first three solo records before settling (for now) on this debut, which is overtly lo-fi (he didn’t plan on commercial release) but full of gorgeous, plaintive tunes like the title track, “Last Call” and “No Name #4, which always brings a tear to my eyes.

Carry Fire – Robert Plant

His voice has lost its mike-bending power, esp. in the upper register, and he’s wise to eschew the rock pyrotechnics and go in this rootsy, low key direction. Most of this is pastoral folkrock, with World music flourishes, and it’s quite reminiscent of the gauzy ambience of a Daniel Lanois production. The songs (all but one band-written) aren’t as distinctive as his estimable “Raising Sand,” but the record sounds good, albeit in an adult, non-threatening way.

Tiny Cities – Sun Kil Moon

Mark Kozolek is a hugely gifted singer and guitarist with a singular ability to re-imagine songs from unexpected sources (AC/DC, John Denver, etc.). Here he covers 11 tunes from  emo-rockers Modest Mouse, whose odd, sometimes thrashy  records never grabbed me. Kozolek, however, turns the  originals into strangely beautiful folk music, exposing poetic, surreal lyrics and beautiful melodies. Unique.

Here – Teenage Fanclub

Maturity inevitably ( if unfortunately) sets in, and this latest disc is the antithesis of their  ebullient 1991 masterpiece “Bandwagonesque”, which is to say it’s tasteful, impeccably played and sorta dull. However, “I Was Beautiful When I Was Alive” by Raymond McGinley (who’s become the strongest of the songwriting trio) is ungodly haunting and gorgeous.

Joyrides for Shut-Ins – The Cavedogs

Their bio aptly touts them as a cross between the Who, Cheap Trick and Big Star, and this is a real lost 90’s masterpiece, with giant melodic hooks, clever lyrics and a lot of raw energy. Too hard for popsters and too pop for rockheads, you can see why this record never broke commercially, but you’ll rarely encounter catchier tunes than “Tayter Country” or “Baba Ghanoush”.