Album Survey 4-24-11: Cass McCombs, of Montreal, Augustana, The Wombats…It’s All Here

This week’s Album Survey covers a wide variety of releases from Tuesday, April 26 and the week surrounding it. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the music industry, most albums are released on Tuesdays in the U.S.A. (every country is different — for example, Great Britain releases albums on Mondays). We will take the time to write one-minute reviews (under 250 words) for select albums the weekend before their release, so you know what to pick up come Tuesday.

We use a 50-point rating scale, with albums ranked from 0.0-5.0 in increments of 1/10. 0-1 ratings signify albums that are almost completely worthless; 1-2 ratings are very bad albums that may have a redeeming song or two; ratings from 2-3 are albums that may have a good tune or two, and are fairly well-made, but lack staying power or general interest; any albums from 3-4 are worth checking out, as the majority of the album is good music; and lastly, albums rated in the 4-5 range should always be heard, and are among the best 50 releases of the year, most likely. Without further ado, here is this week’s album survey – if you see any albums missing that you think should be reviewed, email with your suggestion.

Cass McCombs – Wit’s End (iTunes
Genre: Indie

On his most stripped-down release to date, traveling singer-songwriter Cass McCombs comes across as a Nick Drake or an Elliott Smith, set up in a classy lounge and ordered to entertain for 47 minutes. Blues, soul, jazz, world — they’re all present here, from the frail falsetto of the heart-and-soul chorus of “County Line,” a highlight, to the jazz piano of “Saturday Song” and the instrumentation of the 9.5-minute finale, “A Knock Upon The Door,” which juxtaposes elements of a Renaissance fair with baroque instrumentation and a slight flamenco feel. “Memory Stain” is even more baroque, featuring lachrymose harpsichords (bet you didn’t know they could be lachrymose!) and Brahms-like piano. McCombs is not so avant-garde as he is proficient in the entire history of Western music. It’d be easy for such heartache and experimentation to come off as pretentious, but McCombs is as genuine as they come.

Matthew Murphy, lead singer of Liverpool band The Wombats, wants to “be your anti-depressant” (“Anti-D”) because “we all need someone to drive us mad” (“Our Perfect Disease”). Doesn’t make sense? Neither does The Wombats’ second release, which confuses by offering a pop-rock track of the year (“Jump Into The Fog”), but never living up to the single’s promise. Sure, “Toyko” is catchy, but “Techno Fan” is one of the most annoying songs of the years: Murphy asserts “I never knew I was techno fan,” but dude, if you don’t even know which genres you like, why are you making music? I was anticipating this release highly because of “Jump Into The Fog,” but hell, if you’re gonna write “proudly presents” between your band’s name and your album’s name, it’d better be worth proudly presenting. This one is boisterous, but that’s about it.

Stream: “Jump Into The Fog”

of Montreal– thecontrollersphere EP (iTunes
Genre: Indie Pop/Experimental

“Even this ghetto world that has nothing doesn’t want me,” Kevin Barnes enunciates carefully on the second out of five new tracks from everpresent indie phenoms of Montreal. “Flunkt Sass Vs. The Root Plume” is typical of the band’s older catalogue: Beatles+double-the-psychedelia in two minutes, hold the restraint, and its sequel, “Holiday Call” runs through Baltic string arrangements during eight mostly-instrumental minutes. It isn’t quite “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal” — this new material is less wiggle-your-hips and more wiggle-your-brain. “L’age D’or” and “Slave Translator” stumble trippily through noisy funk, but they diverge: the former grows more cacophonic, asserting that “your pussy is a star,” while the latter descends into a steamy-dreamy R&B-fusion intermission before picking the pace back up. The EP’s opener is the only puzzler: hard rock, spoken word, and very little organization adds up to a “Revolution 9” that lacks revolutionary thinking but has copious amounts of nonsense. Thecontrollersphere is of Montreal purging the psychedelic addictions that they (mostly) set aside for last year’s False Priest — and no true fan should miss it.

Remember “Boston,” Augustana’s breakout 2003/2005 hit? Well, Augustana wants you to forget it. The song was more than a little of The Fray, given a San Diego twist by the pop-rock fivesome (I wonder if they’d ever even been to Boston?), and it was one of early-’00s pop-rock’s dying groans — but a sweet singalong one nevertheless. Now, Augustana must be sick of being critically murdered for their “pop” status — especially since all it got them was a #34 hit. So their fourth release is filtered towards roots rock…so much so that it rips off Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” (“Wrong Side Of Love”) and everything Bon Jovi (“Shot In The Dark”), without so much as a memorable chorus to brag about. Lead single “Steal Your Heart” is equally as directionless, imitating the classic rock stars that Augustana no doubt idolize, but portraying bluntly the band’s inability to escape their easy-listening tendencies. No matter how much guitar or how much twang they attempt, they’re still just an imitation of the good stuff.

Despite the wishful thinking of lurkers on AbsolutePunk, pop-punk as a genre is dying quickly. It’s first Golden Age rose and fell in the ’90s, and the second brought band like Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, and Fall Out Boy in the early ’00s — but bands nowadays are more neon than neo-punk. Fairfax, VA’s The Downtown Fiction are unashamed of their genre, however, and on their 2011 debut album they combine elements of the newer POP-punk bands like The Summer Set and We The Kings with a rage (“Thanks For Nothing”), a sense of humor (“Freak,” “Let’s Be Animals”), and the power-pop hooks of Cheap Trick (“I Just Wanna Run”). Sure, the second half of the album drops off into sentimental clichés like “Tell Me A Lie,” and this won’t be launching a third Golden Age — but it’s a pleasure that’s a little less guilty than most pop-punk filtering into the system right now.

The debut collaboration by indie singer-songwriter Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn and Thao Nguyen (singer of the San Francisco folk-rock group Thao With The Get Down Stay Down) was produced by Merrill Garbus (of tUnE-yArDs) — what’s the purpose of all of those names? Well, the two ladies are almost a sub-supergroup, with a charming lilt that recalls a kookier version of Broken Bells, and Garbus has added a production approach that belies the broken dissonance of her latest release. Thao & Mirah is alternately jauntily countrified acoustic (“Sugar & Plastic,” “Folks”), Cage The Elephant-esque (“Likeable Man”), and soul-influenced progressive pop (“Rubies & Rocks”). Thao & Mirah slide into each nook like it’s a cranny, blithely surfing from tune to tune. It’s the opposite of a concept album: a conceptless album, and it’s as fun as it is proficient.

Also Released:

Silverstein– Rescue (iTunes
Genre: Hard Rock
Stream: “Burning Hearts”

Stream: “S-S-S-Saturday”


Times New Viking– Dancer Equired (iTunes
Genre: Lo-Fi/Indie Pop-Rock
Stream: “No Room To Live”
Julian Lynch– Terra (iTunes
Genre: Electronic/Experimental
Stream: “Terra”An Horse– Walls (iTunes
Genre: Indie Rock
Stream: “Trains And Tracks”Dirty Vegas– Electric Love (iTunes
Genre: Electronic
Stream: “Electric Love”

Steve Earle– I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (iTunes
Genre: Country/Southern Rock
Stream: “Waitin’ On The Sky”