Quickie reviews: Bloc Party, Deerhoof, Explosions in the Sky, Of Montreal

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Instead of doing a long-form album review this week, I decided to catch up on some stuff from the last few weeks I've been meaning to weigh in on. Without further ado:

Silent Alarm set a high bar for Bloc Party, so the London band's inferior second album is a letdown but no big surprise. With less focus on the lockstep rhythm section, the band's crisp, immediate edge seems whittled off, evident immediately when "Song For Clay" begins meekly and intensifies with with low horsepower. The style this time seems diluted, likely a result of singer Kele Okereke's stated desire to vary his emotional pitch. What the singer doesn't understand is his band excels at crafting over-the-top anthems, like a harder, more consistently palatable U2.

The band is best when it retreats to familiar territory, as on the swelling ballad "Waiting for the 7:18," even if the line "Spent all this time trying to escape with crosswords and sudoku" is jarring in a bad way. Unfortunately, nothing here recalls the rock onslaught of "Helicopter," "Pioneers" and "Like Eating Glass." Instead, Bloc Party bounces from impression to impression—a clumsy Muse here, a jittery Prefuse 73 there—A Weekend in the City comes off as mush, and Okereke and company fade back into the post-punk pack they had easily outpaced in the past.

Grade: C+ Download: "Waiting for the 7:18," "Hunting for Witches" Web: blocparty.com

Deerhoof continues to astound as one of the most inventive and consistently enjoyable bands of the decade. Friend Opportunity is not quite as thrilling as the band's 2005 tour de force The Runners Four, but at 36 minutes, it's much more digestible. Though the live show has lost a little luster with second guitarist Chris Cohen's departure, the remaining trio hasn't suffered a bit in the studio.

The album is an extension of the less noisy, less crooked pop explorations of Runners, and it contains some of the band's catchiest moments—the chorus of "81+" comes to mind, as does the sleek, sugar-coated "The Galaxist." In interviews from the past few years, monster drummer Greg Saunier has expressed admiration, even envy, for the emotional reaction tourmates Wilco and Radiohead wring from their audiences. Deerhoof has taken those lessons to heart; this is the band's most straightforward work to date. But these three are still weird to the core, so it's doubtful they'll ever write anything in the mold of "Fake Plastic Trees."

No matter. Lead pixie Satomi Matsuzaki is at her best when she's emitting exotic non-sequiturs, and Saunier was meant to team with guitarist John Dieterich on startling rhythmic eruptions. "Matchbook Seeks Maniac" is a pretty convincing pop tune nonetheless.

For a long time, I knew the Explosions in the Sky by name but not by sound. Only when the Austin band soundtracked the movie version of Friday Night Lights did I finally hear its epic instrumentals. The music made a great movie soundtrack, but it didn't inspire me to listen to the band on my own time. Still I was excited when I heard the band would be contributing to the TV Friday Night Lights' soundtrack as well, and, true to form, the opening sequence inspires goosebumps each week.

I don't know if this record represents any sort of progression from the band's last two albums, but for the casual fan who heard these guys on TV, it delivers the goods. Nothing here breaks from the standard quiet-to-loud buildup practiced by the likes of Mogwai or locals Brainbow, but All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone is an engaging experience anyway. (And, to be fair, closer "So Long, Lonesome" adds some nice twinkling piano to the equation.) Even if no new ground is broken, this functions like any good post-rock should: anything you do while listening—driving, jogging, cleaning house—will seem profoundly dramatic.

When Kevin Barnes played two songs from this album at an acoustic performance in Magnolia Thunderpussy last summer, the album's problem became immediately apparent: gaudy lyrics.

Barnes used these sessions as personal therapy as he dealt with divorce (he and his ex-wife have since reconciled) and the constraints of fatherhood. His lyrics have always been outlandish and wordy, but their fantastical nature was part of the fun. Barnes may have needed a striking dose of reality for personal reasons, but listening to him belt out lines like "Come on, mood, shift back to good again" just isn't satisfying. It's too blunt.

That's a shame because the music is as layered and adventurous as ever, continuing Of Montreal's psychedelic dance odyssey. With the right words, these songs might seem like Barnes' best work. But something is missing here. Even if these tracks are not as forced as they seemed when stripped down to an acoustic guitar, they don't stand up to the band's 2004 peak, Satanic Panic in the Attic, and the best moments of follow-up The Sunlandic Twins. This is still ultra-catchy, but it seems to have lost the magic.

Grade: B- Download: "Suffer for Fashion," "We Were Born the Mutants Again With Leafling" Web: ofmontreal.net