DESTROYER – Kaputt (2011)

Review by: Nina A
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

Kaputt by Destroyer can be nothing else than a metal album, right? Right, but I am sure by the time you have laid your eyes on the beautifully washed out indie cover with some really curly but understated in size cursive writing, you would have probably dismissed that option too. And to tell you honestly, I had to dismiss several other preconceptions in order to fully appreciate the album. Like it actually being current or the product of 20-year old hipsters who think calling themselves Destroyer is the ultimate joke. No, people, the person about to bare his inner world before you is actually a 43-old (a couple years less at the time of recording) Canadian guy with some wild curly hairdo going on.
But let’s look at the music. The sound is obviously retro, and tasteful, in the best traditions of 80s sophisti-pop and probably going slightly beyond. Critics have compared this work to the output of a lot of 80s artists, and I will allow myself to draw a parallel to the Blue Nile’s work as well, at least in terms of how the songs are built on and heavily rely on a driving steady rhythm, and unravel into beautiful soundscapes when the occasion calls for it. Most notable in this respect are the two longest tracks here – “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker” and the closer “Bay of Pigs”, which are entire immersive mini-movements unto themselves.
Well of course the singing is not similarly big and evocative, nor drenched in emotion (or melancholy) but this is probably just as well because I don’t think that sort of attitude will fly in our subdued, self-referential and self-deprecating 21st century. In fact, Mr. Daniel Bejar’s unconvinced mumbling may take some getting used to but once you do, you can appreciate how well it fits the mood and intention of the songs. It is at just the right level of understated, which is not always easy to pull off, and the occasional female vocals (of The Beautiful South’s Briana Corrigan persuasion) really make the whole affair memorable.

Largely the same goes for the lyrics, they go with the music better than they would stand on their own, and they are of the dense, somewhat ironic and theatrically mock-introspective variation. America gets mentioned a lot, and also the typically millennial fascination with underachievement (“I was poor in love. I was poor in wealth. // I was okay in everything else there was.”) and futility (“Winter, spring, summer and fall, // animals crawl towards death’s embrace.”) makes an appearance more often than not.
But it all goes together well, this fascination with retro sound, beautiful trumpet embellishments, random lyrical musings, and of course that steady pumping rhythm that will guide you along on your Kaputt journey. So if you like a more tasteful and sophisticated take on indie music and don’t mind Daniel Bejar’s monologued musings in front of the mirror (which are really okay for the most part and sometimes even verge on admirably well-crafted), put on this sophisti-pop record disguised as an indie record disguised as a metal record and immerse yourselves without fear.
I for one was also poor in love and poor in wealth but now I am richer in the sounds of Kaputt and this almost makes up for it 🙂
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ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS – Get Happy!! (1980)

Review by: Syd Spence
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

This is the second Elvis Costello record I’ve listened to. The first being My Aim is True, which I thought was pretty mediocre pub rock with a bit of working class romanticism thrown in. For those that don’t know about music movements of the ‘70s Britain, pub rock was a back to basics take on rock’n’roll. Essentially it was glam rock on lager instead of cocaine. Eventually it would get angrier and morph into punk rock, but that didn’t happen to Elvis. No, he sought instead to modernize it with the working class romanticism that Thin Lizzy and Bruce Springsteen were peddling. Given that I thought My Aim is True was boring and middling, what would I think of the reincarnation of Buddy Holly three years later? The answer, BETTER.

In fact I would go so far to say this record is in fact good. It has a nice crisp production with Costello’s voice front and the band in the back. The Attractions sound professional and snappy, though not exceptional, they back Costello well. Elvis continues to mime pre-67 pop music, but this time with a little ska and stax style R’n’B thrown into his poppy pub rock. Each of these twenty songs has a hook, and some are pretty good, like the song “The Imposter”. Most of these tracks are upbeat, but he does vary the mood. Unlike My Aim is True, I was never really bored at all. It was interesting all the way through.

Overall, it’s a good album, with emphasis on the word good. When I was assigned this record, I was told that it was a ‘classic’, and perhaps it is, in the modernize pre 67 pop music side of the ‘new wave’ spectrum, but to my ears, it’s just a collection of good songs that never really transcend pleasant. In other words, I don’t think any music aficionado exploring the totality of rock music would miss out too much for skipping Costello’s work. I will say this, if you are looking for some delightful pop tunes, then this isn’t a bad album to get. Just don’t go in thinking this is London Calling level ‘classic,’ because it isn’t. It is good though, check it out if you like Blondie or The Cars or general pop rock. 

STING – If on a Winter’s Night… (2009)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
Album assigned by: Nina A

Winter nights are serious business. That’s the one true conclusion I can make of this interesting but also kind of underwhelming record. It’s 2009, Mr. Gordon Matthew Sumner is 58, and he is too respectable now to just keep singing ‘De Do Do Do De Da Da Da’. In fact, this is as far from Sting’s Police roots as can be, and neither is this your typical winter-comfort-warm-your-bones-by-the-fire album, too. Instead it’s a deadly serious, atmospheric and even somewhat gloomy listen, with most of the tracks being covers of traditional folk songs, carols and even classical pieces by Praetorius, Purcell and Schubert with added wintry lyrics (again, those sometimes include poetry pieces by such distinguished 16th century gentlemen as Robert Southwell and John Dryden). So, yes, it’s definitely winter but winter sometime between the 16th and the 17th centuries. The imagery this music immediately evokes is that of a forlorn castle in the middle of a barren snowy landscape, with a lone minstrel mournfully strumming his harp on the balcony.
 
This is not an easy album to appreciate, especially with Sting often going for the sort of minimalistic ‘classical’ sound that mostly relies on his singing, and, let’s be honest, his raspy voice is not really as good as it used to be. However, this is definitely a grower, and on repeated listens I was able to enjoy at least half of the songs here, my favourite probably being ‘Cold Song’ – damn, this guy is really convincing when he sings “Let me freeze again to death”! You can almost feel your fingers getting numb from all that cold. Unbelievably uncomfortable but even more impressive for that. “Now Winter Comes Slowly” is another piece that creates similar numb mood. Thank goodness, sometimes the album breaks from that freezing feeling to throw in at least some degree of cheerfulness in the form of some nifty brass and woodwind sections (mostly sax, with some trumpets and clarinets thrown in for good measure). In general I’d say there is still enough diversity here to justify such a large quantity of songs (15 in total): ‘The Hounds Of Winter’ sounds almost like classic Sting for a change (and it is one of the few songs here actually written by himself), ‘Soul Cake’ is an interesting catchy number with some tasty violins and ‘The Burning Babe’ has the aforementioned brass section. Everything else is snowy lonely wistful winter, melancholic carols (as much of an oxymoron as that may seem) and mournful lullabies. 
 
This isn’t a great album, and, as I said, not too easy on the ears (at least on first listen), but it is very fitting for a very specific time and mood. Look out of your window, watch the falling snow and the gray skies, make yourself a cup of hot coffee and put this record on. And who knows, maybe it will find a way to your heart. Indeed, to everything there is a season, as one classic band taught us back in the day.

JETHRO TULL – The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (2003)

Review by: Jeremiah Methven
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

Rating: 7/10
Best Song: “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

First off, I must admit that the Christmas album is not really my preferred genre of music. Sure, the basic Christmas canon has some strong melodies, but there are only so many times I can hear the same piece of music before it starts to become tiresome. What I’m generally looking for in music are original and unique ideas, not minor variations of the same old thing. 

Fortunately reviewers with similar biases as mine still praised this particular album, which gave me hope that Jethro Tull’s Christmas experience would be the exception to the rule. And overall, I have to say that it is! On first listen to the album, I was immediately captivated by the opening flute/guitar riff to “Birthday Card at Christmas” and knew I was in for a rare treat – an original and engaging song that still maintains a clear Christmas atmosphere. Indeed, the combination of Ian Anderson’s flute and Martin Barre’s guitar sets the appropriate classical Christmas vibe throughout, and combine that with the strength of the tracklist – originals, reworkings of past Tull songs, and some more traditional Christmas instrumentals, and you get a Christmas album that actually stands up to immersive listening.

I also I admit I’m more of a Tull dabbler than acolyte, so several of the reworked tracks are new to me (e.g., the two ‘Christmas Songs,’ ‘Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow’) and I rather enjoy them. I also quite like the rearrangements of the songs I did already know (‘Weathercock,’ ‘Bouree’) as well as the new songs here. And since as a rule I’m inclined to dislike straight Christmas covers, I applaud Tull for managing to breathe new life into old chestnuts like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” In fact, that particular track is probably the standout of the album with the variation and complexity of its arrangement worthy of any strong instrumental track, Christmas or no, – from flute intro to laidback guitar to piano solo to an almost-metal electric guitar riff. 

If there’s a flaw, it’s that the sound is pretty similar throughout, so I do find myself starting to fidget a bit by the time this hour of Tull Christmas music starts to wind down. And since it’s fairly limited in scope, it’s hard for me to rate it as ‘essential’ in the context of all rock albums. But overall, I would happily recommend it to anyone in the mood for a Christmas album and it’s certainly one of the best in its genre that I’ve ever heard.

This review is also posted on my personal review page.