Mclusky, The Difference Between You And Me Is That I’m Not On Fire (Too Pure)

Mclusky - The Difference Between You And Me Is That I'm Not On Fire Mclusky
The Difference Between You And Me Is That I'm Not On Fire
Too Pure
By: Eric Greenwood

My, how we've toned down since Mclusky Do Dallas. Andy Falkous' full-throttle shriek has morphed into a far more digestible, dare I say, singing voice? The ghost of The Jesus Lizard is alive and well in the music, though, so rest easy; Mclusky hasn't totally mellowed. Steve Albini is back to make the drums sound like nothing else in the world matters, while the wiry guitars still tip more than the occasional hat to Joey Santiago before exploding into riotous bursts of Amphetamine Reptile-style noise. Also, still fully intact are Falkous' absurdly sarcastic lyrics and song titles ("Without MSG I Am Nothing", "Your Children Are Waiting for You To Die", "Falco vs. the Young Canoeist"). If the fact that Albini seems to bury Falkous' yelps behind too much dissonance bothers you, there's plenty of joyous wreckage to revel in.

It's only slightly disappointing, though, that Mclusky would even consider retreating from the assault that was Mcluskly Do Dallas. That album was so brutally over the top that it made me laugh out loud with joy. I can think of few bands that could out-rock Mclusky on a good night- maybe not even Refused at the top of its game. The dynamics are certainly sharper and more distinct now, if the vocals are tamer. The quiet parts shrink back into near silence, and then it's as if the band members sneak back to their amps and turn them up all the way before blasting back into the songs. Mclusky is not here to make you think. No cerebral bullshit to deal with. In fact, you may not even understand why you love it so much. That primal impulse that makes you want to smash skulls together for no reason will be the devil perched on your shoulder as you listen.

Junior Boys, Last Exit (Kin)

Junior Boys - Last Exit Junior Boys
Last Exit
By: Eric Greenwood

Invariably, when you invoke synthpop in any context the discussion turns retro, but with a record like Last Exit by the Canadian trio, Junior Boys, one can look to the future without seeming too out of touch. The synths are glassy and oblique, underscored by beats broken and stuttered to the point of near new wave symbiosis. Delicate, wistful vocals, recalling vintage R&B, bubble just under the surface. The inflection is as sexually charged as it is understated, creating a healthy distance between the listener and any semblance of persona.

Junior Boys are careful not to reveal anything too personal, defying the spirit of the early '80s New Romantic Movement from which they garner much of their style, where character defined the music as much as the music did. The vocals are never the spotlight. In fact, they force the listener to pay attention. Jeremy Greenspan's voice is so thin it barely penetrates the stuttering beats. The artwork is appallingly bland, yet familiar in its 'let the music speak for itself' bravado. Such a powerful mystique cannot be without strategy, and the Junior Boys' calculated agenda unfurls itself layer by layer with each new listen.

The infectious opener, "More Than Real", is sublime in its overt simplicity. Greenspan's sensual vocal nuances make such common rhymed couplets sound utterly vital: "I've got your number/I even know your street/If only you could meet me/I know we're meant to meet." The bouncy keyboards sound tinny and anachronistic at low volumes, but on headphones the subtleties of the programming stand out, transforming what could be a synthpop throwback into envelope-pushing genius.

No other song competes directly with "More Than Real" for sheer sexual urgency, but there's not a bum note on the entire record. With every spin I become more entranced by the suave, off-kilter rhythms, Greenspan's soulful, choirboy voice, and the light synthetic accouterments. "High Come Down" utilizes a minimalist's approach to the dance-floor mentality with spacious syncopation and airy keyboard touches. The nod to Timbaland is equal to the tip of the hat to Gary Numan.

The hypnotic, repetitious groove of "Under The Sun" stands out in the album's latter half with a vocal refrain so entrancing you never want it to end. The existential numbness of New Order's Movement sweeps through the Junior Boys' sophisticated dance party, but there's enough breathy desire to feel the human pulse behind each machinated beat. Last Exit is a monumental debut (following the unanimous acclaim of the trio's first two EP's) on par with It's My Life or Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. Just don't let it wallow in obscurity. See, not all Canadians are lame.

Fitzgerald, Light A Match And Let It Burn Slowly (2024)

Fitzgerald - Light A Match And Let It Burn Slowly Fitzgerald
Light A Match And Let It Burn Slowly
By: Eric Greenwood

Most of the time it's easy to guess what genre an album is just by glancing at the artwork. This is, admittedly, a pretty shallow practice, but it's a knee-jerk reaction, deeply imbedded in my brain. I've always done it, and I always will. I think the fact that I'm pretty good at it perpetuates the problem. Well, Fitzgerald threw me off track, slightly. I had it so pegged for emo punk, perhaps, because of visions of Gatsby's American Dream running through my head (you know, with the Fitzgerald reference and all), but it turns out that it's actually emo folk. D'oh! Silly me.

Fitzgerald's brand of folk is fairly straightforward. It's a male/female duo with interweaving vocal melodies set against a tight acoustic backdrop. The level of experimentation is limited, although the duo does incorporate cello and "sampled submarine sonar" into its mawkish pop constructs. Fitzgerald's open-faced honestly leaves little to the imagination. The vocals are all clearly enunciated, even dramatically so. The lyrics mine the politics of personal struggle, "ranging from the jubilant to the defeated, from darkness to dawn and back again." Uh, ok. Just as you'd expect from a pair that moved to India "to do intense humanitarian work."

The crisp production and creative guitar lines hold my interest just until the vocals come in every time, and then it's right on to the next track. Fitzgerald makes the likes of Ida or even Damon and Naomi seem positively groundbreaking in terms of artistry. There is an audience for this, however. It just happens to be inside of a pretentious coffee shop in the Northwest filled with bearded freaks donning skullcaps and wooly coats. A coffee shop that I would never enter on purpose.

Fuck, Those Are Not My Bongos (Future Farmer)

Fuck - Those Are Not My Bongos Fuck
Those Are Not My Bongos
Future Farmer
By: Eric Greenwood

Ignoring the fact that this band is called Fuck would be way too passive aggressive. But at the same time, I hate being forced to comment on it. It's neither shocking nor particularly clever. It's just awkward- like when a retarded kid farts and starts laughing. It's not funny; you just feel sorry. I guess if you take the band's lackadaisical, lo-fi indie rock into consideration when you ponder the potty-mouthed moniker, it seems wildly inappropriate, but I'm still far from even the mildest chortle. Balls, though, for taking one for the team in terms of commercial suicide.

"Motherfuckeroos" is not the best way to open an album. "Does the penis offend you?" wonders lead singer Timmy Prudhomme, as though he were voicing a mock Calgon commercial on Mad TV. No, but your sad attempt at being wacky does. More nonsense pervades "No Longer Whistler's Dream Date": "all this talk about a hairy chest and a red swimsuit that I haven't seen yet/the funny thing I don't even know if you like to swim." The dada-esque lyrics aren't exactly swathed in well-formed musical passages either. It's shapeless and utterly pointless, though sporadically serene. I can't imagine what one could learn or feel or benefit from listening to this in one sitting.

Since it's inception a decade ago, Fuck has hovered under the radar, hopping from one label to another, not only because it's a band called Fuck but also because its off-kilter pop musings tend to confuse more people than they sway. On Those Are Not My Bongos, the band incorporates noodly jazz emissions into its random word association. And while certain melodies may catch your ear intermittently, that's the straw that broke the camel's back.

The Cure, The Cure (Geffen)

The Cure - The Cure The Cure
The Cure
By: Eric Greenwood

Why can't Robert Smith ever quit while he's ahead? If The Cure had broken up after The Prayer Tour in 1989, supporting its masterpiece, Disintegration, the band would have an unshakable, absolutely bulletproof legend. But, no, Smith had to keep pushing and pushing until his beloved creation turned into a giant caricature of everything he had once hated as a brash punk from Blackpool, England in the late '70s.

When Wish came out in 1992, it was obvious that Smith was coasting on hairspray and smeared red lipstick. The songs were too self-referential and uninspired, save "Open", "From The Edge of the Deep Green Sea", and "Cut." The band's audience continued to expand, yes, but popularity was never the point. The Cure was never supposed to be successful, yet Smith couldn't help but tempt fate by seeing how far he could take it. It's the competitive business man in him. The band literally fell apart after Wish, as longtime members Boris Williams and Porl Thompson abandoned ship, sensing the inevitable tumble downhill.

When the lopsided, ill-conceived mess, Wild Mood Swings, stiffed in 1996, Smith got his first taste of backlash on a commercial scale. Reviewers skewered the derivative and uninspired retread. Plus, it was another new line-up and fans simply smelled a rat. Wild Mood Swings was the first album by The Cure that didn't outsell its predecessor, and it was a huge blow to Smith's ego. He retreated after the Swing Tour (during which he inexplicably donned only professional ice hockey jerseys) and slowly plotted his way back into his devoted fans' good graces.

Ostensibly, Bloodflowers was to be the final piece in Smith's trilogy of despair, which began with 1982's icily frightening Pornography and continued with the dreary dreamscapes of Disintegration. Musically, Bloodflowers delivered what the goth kids craved: darkness, sheets of atmospheric ennui, and self-absorbed lyrics. But Smith was still hiding behind the mask of his creation. His lyrics hadn't been any good in a decade, and he knew it. But he held it together enough to fake his way through the Dream Tour, drawing only from the darkest pockets of The Cure's cannon, which seemed to disguise the fact that Bloodflowers was little more than Disintegration-lite. And that was supposed to be the end.

Smith has threatened to break up The Cure after every album since 1985's The Head On The Door, so, of course, no one but clueless journalists believed his manipulated hype when he said Bloodflowers was the band's swan song. In fact, the only surprising thing about The Cure's new record deal is that it was struck with a nu-metal producer responsible for such tripe as Limp Bizkit and Korn.

Ross Robinson is the aforementioned nu-metal producer and he co-produced The Cure's new self-titled album but actually served more as a coach in the studio, slave-driving the band to live up to its legend. Robinson is a devoted Cure fan and wanted to return The Cure to its glory days, musically. His intentions were good, and his taste isn't all bad (he's also produced records for At The Drive In and even signed The Blood Brothers to his I Am Recordings label).

The Cure has certainly benefited from Robinson's passion, but I wish he had done more to salvage the wreckage of the past decade. God knows the band's first self-titled album in its 25-year career wouldn't be nearly so heavy if it weren't for Robinson's relentless prodding. His production is peculiar, though. He seems to have buried the guitars in a wash of studio trickery and random noises, pumped up the bass and drums to near-obnoxious levels, and made Smith's voice the overpowering centerpiece. Cure fans are certainly used to Smith's voice being high in the mix, but on this record it can be overwhelming and stifling.

On "Lost", Smith repeats the line "I can't find myself", but his upper class British accent makes it sound like he might be saying, "I confine myself." Either way, when the song climaxes, Smith is practically screaming the phrase in his most impassioned vocal take since the band's triumphant show at Wembley Arena in July of 1989, where Smith went absolutely bonkers on a terrorizing version of "Disintegration."

As "Labyrinth" swells in a sea of muted wah wah guitar, Smith hides behind distorted vocal effects, playing mad libs with his lyric book and spouting phrases you've heard him utter countless times over the years. "Say it's the same", "it's always been like this"- bah. Robinson should have ripped the pen out of Smiths hands, scratched out such twaddle, and locked Smith in a closet until he came up with something decent to say. Maybe, a few hours confinement in a dank hole would actually give him a reason to be miserable, as opposed to, say, a glamorous life as a rich rock star in a legendary band, who's happily married to his teenage sweetheart.

The happy songs on The Cure aren't terrible, but obviously that's some damning and faint praise. "Before Three" offers the such high school juvenilia as "The happiest day I ever knew/In a sea of gold down next to you/So blurred and tired under summer sun/You whispered dreams of a world to come." By Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me standards this is bollocks. The lead single, "The End of the World", is also decent, even though, it contains, perhaps, too many "I couldn't love you more" sentiments, but as far as Cure singles go, it's catchy and fairly rocking all the same. Certainly better than "High" or "Mint Car" or the ghastly "Friday I'm In Love."

The second half of The Cure is actually stronger than the first. The moody rumble of "Anniversary" recalls vintage Cure atmospherics, though, again the lyrics betray the mood with fill-in-the-blank Robert Smith-isms like "I never meant to let you go." "Us Or Them" is another rocker, as Smith pushes his voice to the point where it almost cracks on bewildering lines like "get your fucking world out of my head." The next three songs save the album: "alt.end", "(I Don't Know What's Going) On", and "Taking Off" are exactly what longtime Cure fans expect from Smith i.e. pop songs with energy and vitality and a sense of purpose. (Longtime Cure fans might also notice that "Taking Off" rips off the vocal melody of the classic b-side to "Lovesong", entitled "2 Late.")

That insatiable sense of competition that burns inside Robert Smith knew the time was ripe for The Cure to make a comeback. With so many critically revered bands pledging allegiance to The Cure's legacy, Smith knew a solid Cure album would win back some esteem lost by some of his '90s missteps. The Curiosa festival is also a brilliant business move on Smith's part. It's a lock to do insane business with such a diverse line-up of (mostly) solid acts, all of whom acknowledge The Cure's impact on their respective musical evolution, and The Cure is just the record to make it all worthwhile.

Mission Of Burma, OnOffOn (Matador)

Mission Of Burma - OnOffOn Mission Of Burma
By: Eric Greenwood

Seeing Mission of Burma last year was truly one of the most exciting concerts of my life. I couldn't believe it was actually happening. I'd long since given up the idea that a band I was too young to have experienced in its heyday would ever tour again. And it was nowhere near the sad spectacle for which clichéd rock and roll reunions have become known. In fact, the band sounded ferocious and utterly vital in its heavily lauded return. Of course, it didn't hurt that Shellac's Bob Weston was manning the soundboard and manipulating the tape loops that night (for original tape operator Martin Swope). Bassist Clint Conley even commented that the last time the band played Atlanta (two decades past) only 20 people showed up. This show was packed out the door. As with many legends, Mission of Burma is more popular in death than it was in life, though, few actually return from the dead in order to taste the sweetness.

Riding the wave of word of mouth and good press, Mission of Burma set out to record its first album in over two decades without a hint of trepidation. OnOffOn finds the band exactly where it left off. Literally. It's freakish that after 22 years apart (and a severe case of tinnitus for Roger Miller to boot), the band could recapture much less maintain the same level of intensity that made its name. And even more unbelievable is the fact that the band had the balls to expand its sonic palette at the risk of sounding like a bunch of out of touch fogies.

There are hints of maturity and a mellowing out of sorts in certain musical and vocal passages, but that's to be expected. If there were no evolution, this would be a pointless exercise. However, the band's collective lyrical disdain for all that is disingenuous is still relentless and fierce. "The Setup", "The Enthusiast", and "Nicotine Bomb" all reaffirm Mission of Burma's jagged rhythmic aesthetic, while "Wounded World" and "Into The Fire" reveal progressive guitar interplay on a level that expands well beyond the band's original two-dimensional course. OnOffOn is the aural resurrection of a band that still matters.

Muse, Absolution (Warner Bros.)

Muse - Absolution Muse
Warner Bros.
By: Eric Greenwood

Matthew Bellamy's voice is so similar to Thom Yorke's that it makes me uncomfortable for him. He even has Thom Yorke's exaggerated, breathy gasp and awkward facial ticks down pat. This is not news to Muse, however, who have been beleaguered with the Radiohead imitators tag since its debut, self-titled EP in 1998. But, despite, the daunting Radiohead-colored cloud that hangs heavy over Muse, the band pushes the limits of its slick, pre-apocalyptic rock with a self-assured strut. And, let's face it, of all the voices in rock to be stuck sounding like, you could do a lot worse than Thom Yorke's malleable wail.

On Absolution, Muse's third album, the band continues to refine a sense of intangible paranoia with kinetic guitars that sound like futuristic buzzsaws and lyrical pretension so over the top it would take an unbelievable sell to suspend your disbelief, but Matthew Bellamy delivers his theatrical, oft-clichéd lines with such intensity and vigor, one can't help but succumb to the process. And once you've resigned yourself to play along, Absolution makes you feel like you're cherry-picking some glorious bizarro universe, where Radiohead still worships the guitar.