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New Releases: Eric Church, Cibo Matto, Band of Horses, Crosses (†††)

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Eric Church new album the outsiders

Eric Church (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

Every Tuesday, Dan Weiss runs down the week’s new full-length music releases, from charting hits to more obscure depths, the underrated and the overrated, from a critical pop fan’s perspective.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Eric Church – The Outsiders (EMI Nashville)
The bold, foolish heir to Garth Brooks’ KISS makeup dreams makes his arena move and his avant one at the same time. 2011’s amazing Chief did everything right the old-fashioned way, with songs as simple as “Drink in My Hand” and the amazing “Homeboy” showcasing a voice too clear and fine for its gritty pretensions and a hook machine so unceasing that it didn’t even occur to anyone he might not have any left. Three years later, here’s The Outsiders, where Eric Church doubles down choirs, production worthy of Nickelback, and a startling, almost respectable aversion toward musical ideas that could be construed as memorable.

That is, The Outsiders would be Church’s ARTPOP if he only understood his underdog dreams as well as his conventional talents. Aside from a wild backup singer whose name I’d love to learn, the best moments of Church’s fourth album are not his faux AC/DC asides like “That’s Damn Rock & Roll” or the overbearing thunder of “Give Me Back My Hometown.” It’s the relative restraint of the closer “The Joint,” with its Waits-ian whisper and Young Marble Giants-style drum machine ping-pong, or the surprising crunch of “Cold One,” or the (literally) skipping blues of “Broke Record” and the light soul of “Like a Wrecking Ball,” which sure beats Miley. Eight minutes of “Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness )” for his fellow Pantera-heads only cements that there’s too much narrated spoken word here. In fact, there’s too much too much here.

Cibo Matto – Hotel Valentine (Chimera)
Like Superchunk, Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda spent the ’90s getting by on a concept and have returned over a decade later to add the content eluded them. Not just songs (follow-up Stereo*Type A was more tuneful than debut Viva! La Woman) but glue (it didn’t quite figure out how to put rap, bossa nova and metal together though). Fifteen years on, Hotel Valentine doesn’t soften the edges of the debut or attempt to modernize their sampladelic Dada trip-hop, merely applies what they know now about musicality to the old beats, with better results: “Déjà Vu” bends a symphonic sample out of shape a la Soul Coughing and the warped cha-cha of the title tune evokes fond memories of Tom Waits and Latin Playboys. At their best (“Spoon,” “Working for Vacation”), they’ve been as good as the above-named. More often they’ve gotten by on panache and funky and no wave New York-isms. But it’s hard to not root for these genuine originals, who here have opted for a concept album about love and lust in a haunted hotel, where “Housekeeping” features Odd Future-style sonics, double-time rapping and “ketchup on the sheets.”

Band of Horses – Acoustic at the Ryman (Brown)
Likable, tuneful guys who deserves their history footnote for assisting in indie’s grandiosity liftoff just before prog and multi-piece orchestras and Arcade Fire set in and changed the world, Band of Horses have been as consistently worth your time as, say, Muse. Live acoustic might play too much into their sappy tendencies, especially now that they’ve gone major label, though the post-Sub Pop “Factory” and “Older” are highlights. Still, even with “The Funeral” and the Cee Lo-certified “No One’s Gonna Love You” on the same disc, this isn’t a greatest hits — where’s “The General Specific?” Just as likable and tuneful as you left them—even if you wish they’d put their pop (or rock) instincts into sharp relief.

††† – ††† (Sumerian)
Chino Moreno is one of the great lucky stoners, a human whisper-to-scream instrument who makes everything he touches vaguer and foggier, which occasionally equals sexier. In Deftones, who inspired some “Radiohead of metal” murmurings around the time 2000’s highly enjoyable White Pony was released, this has always been a breath of fresh, if not quite reliable air. He loves to circle a hook like a vulture that falls asleep before it descends. But he’s always pretty good: last year’s Palms with the guys from Isis is a pretty good best case scenario of what “dream metal” could be, and 2012’s Koi No Yokan has more manic energy than any Deftones since the debut that Maverick CEO Madonna bid on in 1995. ††† is where he finally gets down to business without the metal, exploring his midrange and coming up with an R&B-tinged industrial not all that far removed from Nine Inch Nails’ Hesitation Marks. But knocking a true chorus out of the park would go against his principles.

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