Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Critical Condition: Cullum! Rusby! Deerhoof! Castanets!

Another week, another new release Tuesday! I haven't heard any of these records yet, but here are four new disc that I'm keeping my eye on:

Jamie Cullum's new album, Catching Tales, is the follow-up to his smash debut, Twentysomething-- one of last year's most pleasurable, enduringly delightful debuts. Matt Collar makes this new disc sound like a worthy sequel:

...despite some ill-advised attempts at would-be-hip DJ-style tracks, Catching Tales features more of Cullum's superb songwriting. Essentially a singer/songwriter in the tradition of such icons as Billy Joel and Randy Newman, Cullum is at his best when performing simple melodic songs with some jazz harmony that make the most of his burnished croon and verbal wit. To these ends, the beautifully melancholy "London Skies" brings to mind Joe Jackson covering a Radiohead song. Similarly, the romantic and folky "Photograph" reveals the often sardonically snotty Cullum to be a top-notch balladeer. It's also at these soft rock moments, when he isn't attempting to gun down the jazz canon, that Cullum's improvisation sounds the best. Also impressive is his mid-tempo swing-cum-soul track "Nothing I Do," which marries Harry Connick, Jr.'s neo-croon to Stevie Wonder's R&B harmonies.

Thanks to Jeffrey Overstreet for catching this next one:

Like Overstreet, I enjoyed Kate Rusby's last album, Underneath the Stars, but I had no idea she had a new record out so soon. More information at the Looking Closer Journal.

And speaking of looking closer... I have yet to hear a single song by Deerhoof, but the rave reviews for their latest disc, The Runners Four, are making me eager to give 'em a spin. Not only does Pitchfork love it, but AMG's Heather Phares says:

While it's not as clearly conceptual as Milk Man was, The Runners Four also seems to tell an extended, if fractured, story involving murderous twin beauties, spies, pirates and smugglers. There's a lot to look and listen for in The Runners Four; it's Deerhoof's longest, most eclectic work yet, and more proof that the band can expand their sound without losing what makes them special.

Finally, another band that I have yet to hear is the Castanets, but the very fact that they're signed to Sufjan Stevens' label makes me feel obligated to mention them here. And just check out this review:

As intense and searching as their first album and even more ambitious, Castanets' First Light's Freeze moves beyond the spiritual crises of Cathedral to work through the difficulties of war and friendship. Even as the group uses some of the same structural techniques from Cathedral, such as the interludes that introduced and punctuated sets of songs, Castanets explore and experiment with their sound in ways that couldn't have been conceived of based on their debut. Though both albums share a similarly charged but quiet, late-night intensity, with different themes come a different sonic palette. Keyboards, saxophones, and tick-tocking drum machines join the subversive country and folk influences of Cathedral for an even more dramatic meeting (and sometimes, collision) of old and new sounds.


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