CD Reviews: Andrew Bird, Low, Klaxons, Rosebuds

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Andrew Bird makes some of the most unusual chamber pop around, characterized by his proficiency with the violin and mastery of the uncommon pursuit of whistling. So his fascination with that everyman instrument the guitar on his new Armchair Apocrypha is a bit surprising. Thankfully he doesn't use the six-string as a bridge back to the land of sounding like everybody else. On songs such as "Heretics" and the lovely "Plasticities," guitar makes Bird's songs more direct without sacrificing the sound of eerie twilight.

One exception is "Scythian Empire," which comes pretty close to a Magnetic Fields song, even when Bird employs his trademark whistling. Elsewhere, though, he keeps his identity firmly entrenched while managing to branch out in a thousand directions. "Imitosis" is practically a Latin dance number, but its dark candor ("we are all basically alone") is less than salsa-celebratory. "Simple X" rides on beautiful keyboard arpeggios and kickin' drum samples. And "Yawny at the Apocalypse" encapsulates its title perfectly.

As with all of Bird's records, this is the sound of falling asleep and dreaming wildly. Some are scary, some are rapturous and all are richly entertaining.

Grade: A- Download: "Plasticities," "Simple X" Web:

Andrew Bird will appear tonight at the Southern Theatre. Click to for tickets.

More reviews after the jump:

Save for a couple forgotten spins of 2005's The Great Destroyer, I'm basically a Low virgin. For whatever reason, I missed out on a decade of slowcore goodness. Suffice it to say this album has me itching for a trip through Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker's back catalog. Minimal and haunting, Drums and Guns contends strongly that it's possible for bands to make arresting music long after most of them peter into irrelevance.

The music is barely there. Low-register drones and understated found-sound drift over spare drum beats, or sometimes no beats at all. The backdrop resembles how cold it must feel in Duluth, Minnesota for much of the year. All the while, the spouses duet their way through the dreary soundscapes, fleshing them out with rich harmony like a shelter from the snowstorm. Given the economy of the arrangements, every little shred of melody—a guitar line here, a keyboard swell there—becomes utterly meaningful.

The space between instruments, the matrimonial mind-meld, the dark sonic territory—it adds up to the sound of bummed-out Yo La Tengo recording on Spoon's equipment. Perhaps Low has always sounded like this, and they're actually treading water here. If that's so, they're treading ever so gracefully.

Grade: A- Download: "Belarus," "Murderer" Web:

As one of the legion of British post-punk bands that have NME readers all hot and bothered, Klaxons present an intriguing exercise in pros and cons. Let's see how they tip the scales!

Cons: The band is kind of faceless. Or, rather, in the words of Nicolas Cage, "They took my face... off." More specifically, they took Kele Okereke's face off. If I heard most of these tracks on the radio, I would think they were Bloc Party. Pros: Myths of the Near Future is way better than that wretched new Bloc Party album.

Rather than descending into sub-U2 stadium-baiting, Klaxons start from the prevailing sound of the day and explore styles that haven't been beaten into the ground. They get a little tribal, and they head to the disco, but not in that exploitative way that was all the rage a few years back. These songs sound like actual club music, not a trendmongering paste job, even if they did help to mold the UK's hip "new rave" scene. Kudos, Klaxons. You've outclassed your peers.

Grade: B+ Download: "Gravity's Rainbow," "Forgotten Works" Web:

Sometimes change is bad.

The Rosebuds, once a beacon of soulful Southern pop rock, have released a concise reminder of why the '80s were maligned in the first place. Synths and drum machines are dangerous toys for a rock band.

In stark contrast to the new Klaxons disc, Night of the Furies sounds like decent Rosebuds songs put through a crappy remix wringer and robbed of their vitality.

Luckily, the band sounds nothing like this in concert. As I described before, their SXSW set last month drew from both Motown and punk, conjuring a towering forcefield of rock goodness that left listeners no choice but submission. If only the band had chosen to record its album that way.

Grade: C+ Download:: "Silja Line: On Settling For a Normal Life" Web:

The Rosebuds will appear Thursday, May 31 at Little Brother's. Click to or for ticket information.