Two Way Monologue
You'd think this Norwegian kid, Sondre Lerche, was a Swede the way he has assimilated several decades of music and turned it into a series of perfect, Wilsonian pop songs. I mean, Brian Wilson doesn't sound this much like Brian Wilson. Not any more, at least. Okay, to be fair, Lerche does cop some Nick Drake and Summer Teeth-era Wilco, but c'mon -- they were just borrowing from Wilson, too, weren't they? The steeply ascending and descending oohs, ahhhs, and ba ba ba bums. The strings. The harpsichord. Two Way Monologue has it all. All but anything new, that is.
Lerche's sort of music frustrates me on some level. It appeals to all the notions of what makes a good pop song that were conditioned into me by years of listening to classic rock radio. I don't want to be sucked in -- I have more complex tastes than this. I own jazz albums. Even free jazz albums. I shouldn't be susceptible to pop music, even if it's the sophisticated sort. It's the same feeling I get every time I watch a Spielberg movie; I know I'm being manipulated as it's happening, but do I get up and walk out? And just like Spielberg, Lerche goes for the obvious right from the outset. Before I know it, I'm all dreamy and thinking about long summer days and golden sunsets.
Right. Where was I? Pop music. This isn't the sort of hammer-over-the-head pop that Lerche's fellow Scandinavians are famous for. When you think of pop music from Sweden, for example, you think ABBA or Ace of Base or the Britney/Backstreet Boys pop of Max Martin. (In fact, it's tempting to blame all pop that lacks any subtlety on Max Martin, but that's another subject.) Thankfully, Sondre Lerche isn't like that at all. His music is slow and sometimes sparse, with soaring melodies. It's the kind of stuff that you would to ascribe depth to, if you didn't have the sneaking suspicion that that's exactly how you were supposed to feel. Or maybe you will anyway. Curse you, familiarity. You win this time, but I'll get you yet. (JC)
(Astralwerks Records -- 104 West 29th St., 4th Fl., New York, NY. 10001; http://www.astralwerks.com/; Sondre Lerche -- http://www.sondrelerche.com/)
Safety Second, Body Last
If biologist could splice the musical DNA of Morton Subotnick, Melt Banana, and The Stooges, the resulting mix would sound like The Locust. The name of their new album, Body Second, Safety Last, does a pretty good job of revealing their sound. I'm not saying that these guys are as good as the aforementioned bands, but they do incorporate a lot of the same sounds these bands are known for. I think what set these guys apart, though, is the substance of their lyrics and the appropriateness of the insect-like guitar licks that predominate the album. It's nice to hear a band not afraid of choosing an appropriate name for themselves. Musically, they do a lot of off-time (sometimes lack-of-time) key signatures and slam into -- and out of -- hooks, like those motorcycles in Tron. You won't hear any crooning or, as Jack Black would say, "Sad Bastard" vocal delivery, but then again, you won't hear much of anything because that tissue in your ears will probably be doing its best impression of a tampon.
Lewdness aside, this guys aren't just about being loud and obnoxious. If you can stand the volume toxicity, then you might be impressed with unique guitar work. The guitars are what really interested me about these guys. I like it when I hear someone with a new approach to what seems to be a played-out instrument. I have no idea how the drummer keeps his sanity, mind you. When you listen and count how many time signatures these guys go through per second, it's just plain disgusting. That drummer's got to be reading a logarithmic readout somewhere on that kit. I also found it cool how they get their schizophrenic tendencies to take a nap from time to time, amidst the warmness of the Subotnick-esque keyboard interludes. It makes you feel like you're watching a wasp prepare itself to drop from the nest and attack. Musically, on a scale of one to ten, I'd give these guys a 5. In terms of originality and synthesis of obvious influences, I'd give 'em a 10. (SR)
(Ipecac Records -- P.O. Box 1778, Orinda, CA. 94563; http://www.ipecac.com/; The Locust -- http://www.thelocust.com/)