Album Reviews: Black Keys, Doves, Moby, Magnolia Electric Co., Martha Wainwright

Print Rubber Factory
Black Keys
Fat Possum
Blues Rock

There are myriad reasons to be skeptical about whitebread duos playing blues-infused scuzz rock. As the White Stripes built the house of the “pasty blues-rock duo,” so too did they invoke the classic question about the viability of white folks playing the blues. Citing influential players such as Willie Dixon and Skip James is fine, although it’s important to remember that music is based on the profound struggles of the Delta bluesmen and those who came before them.. Protesting racism is not part of the white man’s burden, and so white boys won’t have that shared experience. The depths of this Akron, Ohio duo’s struggle pretty much /files/storyimages/with their last day jobs — mowing lawns together for a bum landlord in their hometown two years ago.

That said, the Black Keys’ new album is muddy like the Mississippi: distorted electric guitar with a good dose of slide, heavy but simple drums, some hand claps, a lap steel. “Girl is On My Mind” sounds standard, a missive on lost love. The opening riff of “Keep Me” is 12-bar blues, with mannish Stevie Winwood vocals. Seems these boys might have the Keys to unlock the White Stripes’ penthouse. —Stephen George

Some Cities
Doves
(Capitol)
Alt-rock

My wife kept my copy of Doves’ previous The Last Broadcast in her car for 18 solid months. This means that album was user-friendly, and that following it up would be a challenge. Now this most underrated of all the sensitive, introspective Britrock bands returns mightily — with a few concessions.

The requisite Doves elements are front and center. Most songs are mid-tempo, melancholy and drenched in atmosphere and texture. “Black and White Town” borrows a stomping Motown beat that builds momentum toward the chorus. “Snowden” has a creepy-yet-beautiful, vaguely Hawaiian melodic signature that sounds like a theremin, or orchestral sweetening, or treated vocals, before ripping loose with gnarly power chords. It’s Some Cities’ defining track (like The Last Broadcast’s “Words”). “The Storm,” another winner, builds upon a Ryuchi Sakamoto sample and watery percussion.

Duds near the /files/storyimages/kill the mood, but the morose “Ambition” caps things off with a stylistically consistent flourish. Some accessibility from The Last Broadcast has been jettisoned, but so has some of the bloat that marred earlier Doves. Just to play it safe, I’m hiding this one from my better half. —Jay Ditzer

Hotel
Moby
(V2)
electronica/pop

He frames the 14-track primary disc with tuneful instrumentals (there’s also an accompanying full-length ambient disc that acquits itself well). But within the center lies a sparse landscape. The keyboard wheeeeps rein in an apparent attempt to be more consistently intimate. There’s a lot more of Moby’s Ringo-esque singing and no sign of sampling. Who knew that this guy needed to always have the sideshows going in their freaky ways to make for a rip-roaring act under the big top?

Actually, the clues have been in place throughout his career — it’s just that he’s been on a hot streak for the last few years. For a toned-down cover, here he slows down New Order’s dance powerhouse “Temptation.” A bit of fan tribute comes in a lightweight Bowie-esque “Spiders.” There’s no totally screwed-up track, but Moby’s post-irony comes off less as dry thoughtfulness than as needlessly overdone self-restraint. The entirety works adequately as a background piece from an intelligent musician who wasn’t sure where to be daring or commercial. More of either is called for next time. And isn’t the ambient disc supposed to be the background piece? —T.E. Lyons

What Comes After the Blues
Magnolia Electric Co.
(Secretly Canadian)
Indie

Maybe Neil Young couldn’t be happier to have such a modern heir as Jason Molina. But who knows, Neil might be a touch creeped-out by such frightfully obvious adoration. Gone are the days of comparing the old Songs:Ohia Molina to hometown hero Will Oldham. Molina’s latest musical incarnation — Magnolia Electric Co. — completes Molina’s shift to alt-country, shedding the secondhand indie–wear for flannel shirts and work boots.

What Comes after the Blues, the second release this year by Magnolia Electric Co., is Young with a slight flair of Emmylou Harris sung by Jennie Benford. Blues starts off with “The Dark Don’t Hide it” a song that could be on Young’s Rust Never Sleeps. It continues to delve deeper into tones that helped create Young’s more introspective sound (think Harvest). But don’t let comparisons to great songwriters like Young and Oldham take away from Molina’s earnest talent. This is clearly a tip of the hat to Young, but what’s wrong with taking pointers from one the world’s most prolific songwriters? If you can get past the idolism, Molina has quite a lovely tale to tell. —Kim Sorise

Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole
Martha Wainwright
(Zoe)
folk-pop

Are we going to hear from the family dog next? Should we expect to see Wainwright/McGarrigle gerbils making the lower rungs of the sales charts? Martha is but the latest from this clan with an impressive release. It’s a five-song EP, really something of a teaser for an upcoming full-length.

Second siblings from second musical generations typically deliver recordings that are equal parts likable familiarity, individual artistic promise and getting-used-to-the-studio filler (Sean Lennon, anyone?). But Rufus’ sister accomplishes the paradox that should be hoped for with this kind of family affair: She doesn’t glide on legacy, she attacks it. The title track goes over an affair’s course of gentle affection and raw accusation, like an Olympic diver choosing a high-difficulty multi-flip and then landing with barely a splash ... except she deserves to make a big splash. Maybe out of rebellion for an upbringing amid accomplished harmony, Martha focuses on vocal and lyrical twists (check out the swoop on “I Will Internalize”). The gentleness of closer “How Soon” shows hard-earned grace — and this youngster has earned some serious attention for when more comes out soon. —T.E. Lyons
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