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You could almost feel sorry for Mr. Matthews—few artists face the same comparisons he does on Some Devil, his first solo outing. These he neatly sidesteps by opting for a sound that is clearly distinct from Dave Matthews Band (DMB), recruiting a horn section and employing some lush string arrangements. Throughout, the spotlight stays resolutely on Matthews’ voice, by turns growling and sweetly falsetto.
As skillful as they are, the assembled band cannot replicate the chemistry of Matthews’ regular gig, particularly the infectious energy injected by drummer Carter Beauford. Chief Phish Trey Anastasio and longtime collaborator Tim Reynolds provide some agile guitar licks, but at times bring Devil rather close to standard guitar rock. This is not all bad—“Save Me” sounds like it could have come off Anastasio’s solo album, only graced by Matthews’ infinitely superior vocals.
Those expecting to be blown away by the songwriting, though, may be disappointed. Matthews’ appealing—if somewhat somber—set of songs is more traditional than most of DMB’s output. He explores his emotional range on the single “Gravedigger”, but is hampered occasionally by an overwrought electric guitar. The acoustic version cuts deeper, setting Matthews’ voice alone amongst understated strings.
Devil does have some unexpected highlights. Thanks to the absence of a band, “An’ Another Thing” showcases Matthews’ emotive, eerie falsetto better than anything he’s done before. “Grey Blue Eyes” is elegant and Eastern-inflected, Matthews’ voice building in wordless, harmonic crescendo. Matthews the solo artist is diverting, but it will take stronger songwriting for him to justify branching out on his own. —Andrew R. Iliff
British Sea Power
The Decline of British Sea Power
Their name first appeared a year ago alongside the Coral and the Music, mentioned in passing by the trigger-happy NME. No one’s known quite what to make of them—their debut album, The Decline of British Sea Power, is categorically schizophrenic, undefinable and certainly not a part of any marketable “new rock revolution” scene.
Ambient opener “Men Together Today” is a red herring before “Apologies to Insect Life” and “Favours in the Beetroot Fields” kick in, which are funky and melodic in the same way Mclusky manage to be, throwing themselves around like the Pixies at their most brutal. Yet again, the rest of the record sounds absolutely nothing like them.
As soon as the abrasive “Something Wicked” starts, British Sea Power sound like a different band entirely. The yelping, admittedly affected wildman vocal style introduced by frontman Yan on “Apologies” is replaced by a suave, silky voice that brings to mind Galaxie 500’s Dean Wareham in texture and Robert Smith in inflection. The instrumentation is lush, and the pace slow. The lyrics are ponderous, referencing international literature and history in the same breath as Ray Bradbury—probably pandering to their Ivy League fanbase.
Inconsistencies aside, the songs are catchy and filled with tension, with gorgeous arrangements reminiscent of Echo and the Bunnymen and The Smiths. Yet some go too long (like the fourteen-minute monstrosity “Lately”), meandering about without purpose or resolve. It’s a shame The Decline couldn’t be more cohesive, as it softens what could have been the unique and talented band’s powerful first impact. —Leon Neyfakh
Wherever I Am I Am What Is Missing
Although Laika’s fourth record seems easy to pigeonhole on first listen, it’s defined by contradictions—an accessible beat-driven album that takes its title from a poem by Poet Laureate Mark Strand; a downtempo album that actually has lyrical content; an electronica album comprised largely of organic instruments. Vocalist Margaret Fiedler even lends wispy guitar sounds to the mix, and with skittering electronic beats complemented by drummer Lou Ciccotelli, Laika seem to move in spheres close to those of their Russian cosmodog namesake.
The album often resembles Thievery Corporation, despite most of the songs being written by bassist Guy Fixsen (formerly of My Bloody Valentine and The Breeders). Slithering vibes—as on “Barefoot Blues,” anchored by a dirty jungle bassline—and funktastic synths weave around Fiedler’s siren vocals, only to dash unwary listeners on drum & bass breaks. Unlike many chill artists, however, Laika actually have lyrics worth listening to, such as the whispery refrain of the gorgeous “Oh”: “Words designed to pacify / it helps the sun is shining....”
Wherever aims for a purer, more stripped-down and ethereal sound than the frantic Silver Apples of the Moon or rock-driven Good Looking Blues. Laika do seem to stay in fairly fixed musical orbit throughout, and tracks that don’t distinguish themselves in some way (as with the quicker tempo and diverse instrumentation of “Falling Down”, or the syncopated rhythms of “Dirty Bird”) are lost in the ample space. Regardless, floating through the cosmos with Laika is a great choice for anyone searching for vocal, laid-back electronica. —Will B. Payne
In his first effort in four years since the well packaged, neatly produced sounds of Brand New Day, Sting returns with Sacred Love—the result of a collaboration with band member and producer Kipper, not his well-documented and vocal practice of tantric sex. Considering the target audience Sting and his production team are eyeing, the album cover tells all: Sting, playing up his graying but still sexy Ralph Lauren looks and his penetrating, ‘soulful’ stare, shows that he still has passion—to woo the ladies and sell more albums along the way. His music is sentimental and nice to listen if one takes Sting as seriously as he takes himself. Unfortunately, it’s painfully predictable.
Stringing together these 11 songs under the loose concept of transcendental romance, Sting only sets himself up for cliched and tired love tunes, which rarely catch attention without pulling in guest artists. Usually, though, they are bogged down with repetitive and maudlin lyrics. Mary J. Blige lends her soul credibility in “Whenever I Say Your Name” for some of the album’s brighter moments. But ultimately, the song falls flat with its swarmy, sugar-coated chorus and failed attempt at manufactured gospel. The opening track, “Inside,” prepares us for the occasional verbosity and chronic blandness that characterizes the rest of his songs and “Never Coming Home” sounds like a remix of “Desert Rose,” with the same poppy, spacey, made-for-Jaguar commercial effects. The sad truth of Sacred Love is that it has cemented Sting’s new place in the soccer mom’s five-disc minivan changer. —Michelle Chun
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