Grand Ole PartyHumanimals(DH Records)8.5
Goes well with: Jefferson Airplane, SXSW, dirty deeds and nasty habits
Yes, we have a raging erection for Grand Ole Party. Deal with it. And be prepared for more people to follow suit. Humanimals has been on iTunes for weeks and its songs have been played at GOP shows for months, but—with upcoming slots at SXSW and Coachella—the love parade may just be starting. But this is a review, so let's review. While singer/drummer Kristin Gundred's half-spoken, half-shrieking vocals are what slap the indie ennui out of you on Humanimals, it's her steady drum beats and the rollicking riffs and throbbing bass lines provided by John Paul Labno and Mike Krechnyak that ultimately make the Party a party.
There's no avoiding the fact that Gundred is the magnetic core of this San Diego supernova. Her voice exists in a bizarre Bermuda Triangle between Grace Slick, Billie Holiday and Karen O. And when she kicks off the album (on “Look Out Young Son”) with the line “I must be the devil's daughter,” you have no choice but to believe her.
Gundred and GOP take the phrase “flirting with disaster” literally, by playfully (but pointedly) toying with danger and depravity on tracks like “Belle Isle,” “Insane” and “Nasty Habits.”
The first half of Humanimals—including all the aforementioned songs—is utterly contagious, but even with raucous latter tracks like “Dirty Spirit Rag” and “Gypsy March,” maintaining your listening stamina throughout requires vigilance. Either way, if GOP is the band gleefully playing as the Titanic sinks, your tendency is to stay onboard for as long as possible. Grand Ole Party plays Thursday, Feb. 14, at The Casbah.
The Mountain GoatsHeretic Pride4AD-Beggar's Banquet6.0
Goes well with: Jon Vanderslice, Okkerville River, The New Pornographers
Heretic Pride is unlikely to earn The Mountain Goats any new enemies or friends. Scoffers will likely move on to acts easier to pigeonhole. For its warts, Heretic Pride gives the listener a lot of different takes on clever-for-clever's-sake, erudite indie pop. The piano-driven lament that is “How to Embrace a Swamp Creature” and the composed pop of “Autoclave” make it easy to respect John Darnielle's gift for composition. But adherents will swallow personal laments like “So Desperate” hook, line and sinker without realizing that Nick Drake mined this territory 30 years earlier—and to more emotional effect.
This is music for people who've never been beat up, shit on or told to shut up. That's cool—aspiring to whimsicality, earnest-voicedness and wit is the reason people go to liberal-arts colleges in the first place.
But if The Hold Steady's Craig Finn can cloak his prep school upbringing with a boozy, townie-that-made-good aesthetic and be embraced for originality and honesty, why do I resent The Mountain Goats' Darnielle, a guy with a similar private-school pedigree, just for being himself? Probably because being earnest-voiced isn't the same as being earnest. For cathartic purposes, I'll take Finn and his cohort any day of the week. But that's just one private-school kid's opinion.
MonadeMonstre Comic(Too Pure)8.0
Goes well with: Air, Broadcast, an LSD martini
When Stereolab's indie-icon status began to fade about five years back, I decided to embark on a personal crusade to restore the group's “cool” status. So far, no luck. Many should-have-been converts tell me that the band's sound (tripped-out retro-electro colliding with French lounge pop) simply grew old, with their albums all sounding alike. This, of course, is baloney—the instrumentation may be similar, but the melodies have been consistently fresh. This is especially true of lead singer Laetitia Sadier's side group Monade, which, naturally enough, sounds like the exact same band. Compare it to the unimpressive pet projects of Stereolab's supposed “leader” Tim Gane and it's clear which of the two was really in charge. On the newest Monade release, Monstre Comic, Sadier provides us with her prettiest song yet, “Etoile,” a surprisingly cataclysmic mid-section on “Elle Topo” and eight other tracks that are pretty much more of the same. In Sadier's case, that's an exceptionally good thing.