PICTURED: The Dears. Photo by Richmond Lam
by Alan Sculley, Last Word Features
As the wait continues for larger live-music concerts to return, here’s a selection of new albums that can help fill the gap. There’s plenty of stylistic variety represented with these albums, and come to think of it, each of these albums is pretty varied in and of itself. Maybe one or more of these titles will become a new favorite in your collection.
Back in 2006, the Dears made an album in Gang Of Losers that sounded like a more soulful, dynamic — and just plain better — version of Coldplay. Since then, the Dears have had a few lineup changes, but have continued to release solid and ambitious albums on a steady basis, but they didn’t quite recapture the magic and the thrill of Gang Of Losers. But with Lovers Rock, the Dears have come closer than ever to recreating the sound and spirit of that 2006 classic. Lovers Rock opens on an auspicious note with “Heart of an Animal,” which rocks briskly and also boasts a rich vocal melody that takes the song to the next level. “The Worst In Us” and “No Place On Earth” are two punchy rockers that rise to impressive crescendos. The new album also has its share of mid-tempo material, a musical setting that has produced some of the Dears’ most compelling songs. One track in that class is “Instant Nightmare!,” an orchestrated epic with a rocking edge and melodic vocal (sung effectively by Murray Lightburn’s wife and long-time Dears keyboardist Natalia Yanchak). Still, nothing on the new album quite hits the heights of Gang Of Losers (whose songs “Death or Life We Want You” and “Bandwagoneers” were absolute stunners). But Lovers Rock is an excellent outing that re-establishes the Dears as a band capable at any point of making an album-of-the-year classic.
Shortly After Takeoff
On “Ghosthunting,” the second song on Shortly After Takeoff, Brian Christinzio (aka BC Camplight) opens with a faux stand-up comedy bit that leads into this epic orchestral-laced track. It’s a pretty blatant signal that humor is going to be part of the charm of this fifth album from Christinzio. It’s a good thing that element is present, considering Shortly After Takeoff is a third album in a trilogy inspired by Christinzio’s ongoing battle with mental illness, which took a turn for the worse after his father died shortly before he started work on this album. Sometimes, the humor — usually of the dark variety — is suggested just in the titles to songs like “I Want to Be in the Mafia” or “I Only Drink When I’m Drunk.” Other songs, such as “Back To Work” and “Arm Around Your Sadness,” sneak in some zingers that leaven the more serious and unsettling thoughts explored in those songs. Musically, Shortly After Takeoff is all over the place, which fits the mental chaos embodied in the lyrics. Most of the songs fall into the synth/electronic pop arena, but it’s unfair to try to categorize Christinzio’s music beyond noting he has a talent for writing rich, accessible melodies. Obviously, one sympathizes with Christinzio for the turmoil he experienced as he created Shortly After Takeoff, but out of it, he managed to make a compelling and entertaining work that’s as unique as any album you’ll hear this year.
We Still Go to Rodeos
On her fourth album, Rose has set aside a bit of the retro country and pop feel of her earlier albums. (After all, she covered “There’s a Tear in My Beer” and “Be My Baby” on her 2015 album, Heartbreaker of the Year — two songs that provided templates for the styles of her original songs.) That’s not to say Rose doesn’t still show some ‘50s/’60s influences on We Still Go to Rodeos. But the frisky and highly tuneful rockers “In A Rut” and “I’d Rather Be Alone,” as well as the simmering bluesy track “You’d Blame Me For The Rain” and folky acoustic number “Don’t Give Up On Me,” aren’t so obvious with the retro touches. The move away from retro stylings was wise, as that element could have started to feel gimmicky. With the varied and more timeless sound on We Still Go to Rodeos, Rose’s talents as a songwriter and singer shine brightly and don’t get overshadowed by style.
Do You Wonder About Me?
The duo’s second album is made up mostly of edgy pop-rock tunes filled with multiple hooks, pithy lyrics — much like the well received 2017 Diet Cig debut effort, Swear I’m Good At This. The Diet Cig sound is nothing original; the duo can easily be compared to the likes of Veruca Salt, Paramore or any number of other female-fronted pop-rock acts. But the new album affirms that Diet Cig’s Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman write catchier tunes than most of their peers, while erasing any worries about a sophomore slump.
As the album title might suggest, there’s some gospel in Deck’s music. There’s also plenty of soul, some blues and country, all filtered into a collection of songs that range from rousing romps to emotional ballads. Deck does each of these styles with authenticity, and his versatility and songwriting chops make Bully Pulpit a well-rounded effort.