Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review of the Day: ‘Natural Disaster,’ Greg Attonito (2011)

Over the course of two-plus decades, The Bouncing Souls have shown us how a punk band can and should grow up gracefully. Their most recent releases—2006’s “The Gold Record” and 2010’s “Ghosts on the Boardwalk”—are arguably the best of their career, delivered as these New Jersey misfits hit middle age. They succeeded by never losing their youthful vigor, even as it was tempered by maturity. Frontman Greg Attonito has spent his entire life writing and singing about his central themes of love, loyalty, friendship, and a sense of community that can make a difference.

His bandmates’ jaunty riffs and boundless energy are key to making those ideas not seem trite and rote. Unfortunately, when you take the Souls out of the equation, the flaws in Attonito’s game are glaring.

His new solo EP is aptly titled. It’s a mess—offering blink-and-you've-forgotten-them melodies riddled with cringe-worthy lyrics that—not buoyed by the Souls’ effervescent sound—come across mostly like the scribbles of a moony teenager in his first creative writing class. “I love you … your voice … your scent,” drones “Cincinnati Dream”; “I wanna see the colors of my soul/I wanna break the boundary of rock and roll,” opines “Teardrops”; opener “How Many Songs” (which musically tries way too hard to be “interesting”) naively reiterates the tired notion that a love song can “change the world all over.”

But by far the worst is “Sexiest Girl,” which opens, “The sexiest girl in the world is you, it’s true.” More embarrassingly awful couplets ensue that I refuse to print here. It’s one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard.

The remaining two tracks save “Natural Disaster” from being just that. “Volcano” is a nice acoustic ditty that could’ve fit on the “Juno” soundtrack and gets bonus points for incorporating a muted trumpet. Country ballad “Eyes,” meanwhile, is easily the best cut on the EP and the only one I can recommend from this release with no hesitation. It’s wonderfully soulful and sweet (in a good way).

I give Attonito credit for trying, I guess, but “Natural Disaster” merely reiterates how perfectly the Souls’ talents complement one another. Because it didn't quite bother me until now, but the band's frontman has been saying the same thing for a really long time.

Grade: D+

Favorite Track: “Eyes”

Least Favorite Track: “Sexiest Girl”

Monday, July 04, 2011

CD of the Day: ‘Bon Iver,’ Bon Iver (2011)

Bon Iver symbolizes everything I’ve grown to despise about indie music. From the restrained (some might say precious) falsetto vocals right down to the bushy, unkempt beard that is a requirement of the scene. I even bristle at the pretentious way you’re supposed to say the name (it’s pronounced “bone e-vair").

So why is it I’ve been listening to this album so much? It starts with a drum part.

“Bon Iver” opens with a plaintive guitar melody as intro to first song “Perth.” A backing choir slides into the song next, followed by a muted military snare cadence. Justin Vernon (the actual “Bon Iver”) sneaks in next, adding his nearly indecipherable high-pitched, yet warm voice. The music swells and ebbs like a wave, adding bits and pieces of other little sounds until, at 2:32, this monstrous drum pattern explodes into the mix, pounding away like indie Metallica. There are no lyrics the rest of the way, but a horn section joins the fray. By the last burst of sound, you have one of my favorite songs of the year.

That drum part, which lasts less than two minutes, unlocked this whole album for me. I’m not as enthralled with the rest of “Bon Iver” as I am of “Perth,” but that’s not to say there aren’t some fine moments. “Minnesota, WI” has some funky elements that remind me of TV on the Radio, while “Holocene” is another slow-building acoustic gem. Lead single “Calgary” aptly summarizes the entire album with its lush, heavy synth-and-percussion arrangement (even if it does sound uncomfortably too close to Coldplay in the first few bars), and “Towers” bounces along like the best song Tom Petty never sang in falsetto. I don’t even mind the Peter Cetera-style closer, “Beth/Rest,” which so many critics seem to revile (but maybe that’s just because I like Peter Cetera).

I lose patience with the middle trio of songs, though. "Michicant" and "Wash" are decent, but "Hinnom, TX" kinda sounds like Jemaine Clement doing David Bowie. Together, these three slow tracks bog down the middle of the record terribly.

“Bon Iver” is challenging work that sets a definite mood. It’s the type of music you don’t put on just for background noise; like The National, it's great for driving by yourself on a dark night. My guess is you’ll either really like it or really, really won’t. Before I ever heard it, I certainly would’ve put myself in the latter category. And I would’ve missed out on one of my favorite albums of the year.

Grade: B+

Favorite Track: “Perth”

Least Favorite Track: “Hinnom, TX”