Be Your Own PetGet Awkward(XL Recordings)7.5
Goes well with: Arctic Monkeys, The Husbands, Sadie Hawkins dances
Coming after BYOP's surprising 2006 self-titled debut, Get Awkward is an ironic title. While their first album had enough guitar freak-outs and general strangeness to explain Thurston Moore's interest in the band (his label, Ecstatic Peace, put out the record), Get Awkward strips down a lot of the art-rock frills and focuses on driving rhythms, hooks and Jemina Pearl's vocals. The result is an album that could do to garage rock what No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom did to ska—and, no, I don't just mean sterilize it.
Let's cut through the awww-they're-so-cute-because-they're-young shit: if LeBron James can dunk on Tim Duncan fresh out of high school, it's not too much to expect four 20-year-olds to be able to mix the bratty, study-hall musings of The Donnas with the caffeinated skronk of Arctic Monkeys, as BYOP does on “Black Hole.” In fact, if you've never actually heard The Donnas, they probably sound in your mind a lot like BYOP sounds in real life. Hipster bloggers may read that as a knock, but it's a hell of a lot more honest than comparing BYOP to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Stooges or Sonic Youth—especially the version of BYOP that shows up on Get Awkward.—Cullen Hendrix
The MatchesA Band in Hope(Epitaph)4.8
Goes well with: Good Charlotte, The Darkness, shopping malls, soft drinks
The Matches make a push for the pop charts on A Band in Hope by calling on the producers responsible for Paramore, Good Charlotte and The Used to season their latest effort. But, by including ingredients from every corner of the musical spectrum, it seems as if too many ideas turned this from a prospective masterpiece into a collection of leftovers. A Band in Hope finds The Matches at their most experimental, which is a nice way of saying they lack focus. “AM Tilts” and “Their City” are powerful rock-radio songs that invoke hit-makers like Foo Fighters and The Killers. “Wake the Sun” is a pop rendition of Hot Hot Heat but lacks energy and conviction. “Darkness Rising,” a theatrical piano ballad mimicking Freddy Mercury, almost deliberately forfeits The Matches' attempt at a sincere album. The bulk of the record feels insecure, continually searching for a comfortable voice. It isn't until the end of the album—on tracks like “Between Halloweens” and “Future Tense—that The Matches sound natural and convincingly energetic. Too bad it takes so long. —Richie LauridsenThe Matches play at 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 21, at SOMA.
Joseph ArthurCould We Survive(Lonely Astronaut)6.5
Goes well with: Elliott Smith, Badly Drawn Boy, David Bazan, Paul Westerberg
Joseph Arthur belts out six folky ballads on Could We Survive that will leave nobody surprised that Peter Gabriel was the first to bring him into the spotlight. The graphic lamentations of war Arthur provides on the politically charged opener, “Rages of Babylon,” offer haunting imagery over a stomping three-chord number that recalls alt-country poster-boy Ryan Adams. Like Adams, Arthur has no problem being prolific, and this EP is the first of four that will precede the August release of the full-length All You Need is Nothing. The last half of Could We Survive is particularly solid. The title track is a dreamy hymn begging for self-examination, while the melodic guitar and contained drone of “King of the Pavement” rests somewhere between Iron & Wine and Juliana Hatfield. Though the adult contemporary of “Shadows of Lies” feels aged at best, Could We Survive is undeniably poetic and a good start to a busy year for Arthur. —Richie Lauridsen