Fission, Majesty Shredding & Lisbon

By Scott McDonald

CD reviews of the latest from Film School, Superchunk and The Walkmen

Film School
Fission

(Hi-Speed Soul)
8.1
Goes well with: Yo La Tengo, New Order, AIR

What initially drew my attention to Film School was the fact that they had just released an EP on Amazing Grease, the label run by Scott Kannberg (Spiral Stairs) from indie heroes Pavement.

I figured they’d be weird and interesting, and they were. Ten years later, Film School sound much more structured, streamlined and lush. It feels like a casual project that’s slowly morphed into a more serious musical beast. Somewhere along the way, they’ve gotten into danceable ’90s Britpop as well.

This new version of Film School proves most effective when it dives completely into trance-inducing, dark pop, la New Order. “Heart Full of Pentagons” starts the album with a bit of a raging dance-floor anthem, driven by well-placed “ba-ba-ba’s” acting as the key vocal hook, and “Still Might” is a lethal dose of hypnotism that builds gently, yet effectively—a magical collision of experimentation and melody. Meanwhile, the true gem is “Nothing’s Mine,” as it steps on the accelerator a bit, venturing into the heavy-guitar territory of Swervedriver. Now the audience will actually be gazing at the band—instead of their shoes—in 2010.

Film School play Sunday, Sept. 19, at The Casbah.
—Dryw Keltz


Superchunk
Majesty Shredding

(Merge)
8.8
Goes well with: Guided By Voices, Portastatic, Seaweed

My first foray into music writing was probably a short essay about a Superchunk concert that I wrote for a high-school creative-writing course sometime in 1992. At the time, I hardly would’ve guessed I’d be penning a review of the band’s new album 18 years later.

The best aspect of Majesty Shredding is that it actually shreds, easily making it the band’s rowdiest album since 1995’s Here’s Where the Strings Come In. “Digging for Something,” “Learned to Surf,” “My Gap Feels Weird” and “Rope Light” find the band once again moving at 1,000 miles per hour. It’s a welcome return. “Rosemarie” sounds like an FM-radio anthem in the waiting, while closer “Everything at Once” uses a bit of ambient background noise to transform itself into a dance-floor-worthy rave-up.

Superchunk masterminds Mac McCaughan and Laura Balance serve as mom and dad to what has become a stable of exceptionally talented musicians on Merge Records, and I can’t help but think there was a bit of a competitive motivation that helped drive the creation of Majesty. In turn, it seems as though the parents are showing their kids a thing or two. Respect your elders.
—Dryw Keltz


The Walkmen
Lisbon

(Fat Possum)
8.0
Goes well with: Bob Dylan, French Kicks, White Rabbits

What I’ve always liked most about The Walkmen is that they don’t sound like anyone else. The quintet have been friends since high school and have never given up on their vintage-instrument-driven sound and its yin / yang of fragmented ballads and hollowed-out, amped-up janglers. No matter the approach, each of their six albums has sounded more idiosyncratic than the last. Lisbon is no exception.

Once again, Hamilton Leithauser’s undeniable wail is out front from the jump, challenging listeners on “Juveniles” with a statement that goes far beyond just the context of the song. “You’re one of us, or one of them,” he cries again and again. From the Irish-barroom hymn / New Orleansfuneral-hohybrid of “Stranded” to the up-tempo sock-hop cheer of “Woe is Me” and the fight-song blowout of “Victory,” there’s a lot to like. Even when things slow to a near standstill on the title track and “All My Great Designs,” songs like the feverish “Angela Surf City” or the appropriately titled “Torch Song” (complete with four-part harmony) are there to snap you out of it.

I don’t believe The Walkmen have realized their potential, but Lisbon comes closest thus far, and the journey has been pretty damn enjoyable.

The Walkmen play Saturday, Sept. 18, at Belly Up tavern.

—Scott McDonald