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CD reviews: Neko Case album lacks verve, The Prodigy gives an adrenaline rush

BY DI ARTS STAFF | MARCH 3, 2009 7:20 AM

Case album lacks verve

Neko Case: Middle Cyclone
** out of *****

Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone is her first solo release since 2006’s critically acclaimed Fox Confessor Brings the Blood.

Like all the greatest country divas, Case is the quintessential tough cookie, with a reluctantly vulnerable quality. Whether it’s posing in Playboy or posing with a sword on the album cover, she has always been a woman with grit. But on her new album, she seems to have lost her nerve.

She said that with this album, she is aiming for a more rock-influenced sound. Slower songs dominate Middle Cyclone, resulting in what seems to be the exact opposite of her intent. It sounds as though she has been influenced primarily by ’90s alternative rock, with a lot of guitar effects.

Middle Cyclone starts out pretty strong, with “This Tornado Loves You.” It’s pretty rocking for the generally mellow Case. “People Got a Lotta Nerve” is an especially jaunty little tune which is sure to become a live favorite.

The album is atmospheric. Recording in a 200-year-old barn on her new Vermont farm must have made her feel terribly nostalgic and melancholy, because these two themes permeate the album.

Eventually the songs all start to sound the same, and that’s when Middle Cyclone flames out. When the album works, it sounds dusky, like a summer day worn out. “Magpie to the Morning” is great at evoking a lovelorn quality for listeners, but it’s one of the few standout tracks on the album. Mostly, Middle Cyclone just sounds like it’s tired after a long day and content to phone it in.

Songs such as “Vengeance is Sleeping” and “Middle Cyclone” sound like they’re half asleep. “Pharaohs” just begs for the skip button. The album ends with “Marais La Nuit,” a more than 30-minute-long field recording. The track, much like the bulk of Middle Cyclone, fades into aural oblivion. It’s a place the album is best left.

Jed’s Picks: “Magpie to the Morning,” “I’m an Animal,” and “This Tornado Loves You”

— by Jed Miller

The Irish indie rockers produce another average album

Bell X1: Blue Lights on the Runway
*** out of *****

For Bell X1’s fourth album, Blue Lights on the Runway, the group varies its sound enough from track to track to give Bell X1, also called Bell Ex Wan, a different sound than most of its indie contemporaries.

The Irish indie band has played with Bon Jovi and the late Elliott Smith. The group has also been featured on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “The Late Show with David Letterman” as well as “The OC” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Blue Lights on the Runway starts off strong with the keyboard-produced vocals and electronica sound of “The Ribs of a Broken Umbrella.” The exposed bass line, bright guitar part, and catchy chorus make “The Defector” a likely college radio hit. “Amelia,” the album’s longest song, clocking in at just under seven minutes, features piano chords that accompany the moving bass part well.

Some songs are a bit slow and boring, such as “Blow Ins” and “Light Catches Your Face.” However, the three members deserve credit for trying to vary their sound with a couple of acoustic ballads.

After Blue Lights on the Runway’s steady first half, the album’s last tracks, “One Stringed Harp” and “The Curtains Are Twitchin’,” feel especially anticlimactic.

Although the album won’t likely reach the acclaim of Bell X1’s previous effort, Flock, Blue Lights on the Runway is proof that contemporary music isn’t entirely bad.
Nick’s Picks: “The Ribs of a Broken Umbrella,” “The Defector,” “Amelia”

— by Nick Fetty

The Prodigy dabbles in the past with Invaders Must Die

The Prodigy: Invaders Must Die
**** out of *****

mp3 sample: The Prodigy

"Omen"

It is often strange, yet fun, to look back at the musical magic of the 1990s. Sure, you may have scoffed at some of its cheesier acts, but deep down, you know you loved them.

UK punk-rave outfit The Prodigy exploded onto the U.S. scene in the mid-90s and took hold of Generation X with its keyboard riffs, powerful lyrics, and thumping rave style. I am proud to announce the Prodigy is back — not to mention doing what its best at doing.

Invaders Must Die is the band’s fifth studio release and its first on Cooking Vinyl Records. The album kicks off with the title track, which is a sound reminder to anyone who doubts this British trio’s grit and power. It explodes with its techno keyboard sound, paired with crunching guitars.

Usually I am one prone to looking down upon the first single of an album being the first track, but in this situation, it is completely justified. “Invaders Must Die” sets the tone for the 10 tracks to come.

The second track (and coincidentally second single), “Omen,” is an adrenaline rush that lets you know these guys mean business, and they are certainly not afraid to put everything out there. The entire album follows along the same line but does not allow itself to become repetitive. Each song has its own distinctive elements that all help contribute to Invaders Must Die’s overall chaotic atmosphere.

“Take Me to the Hospital” is a very back-to-basics track, that will be sure to have longtime fans of The Prodigy dreaming of seizure-inducing strobe lights.

Dancing between euphoric electronica bliss and darker rave-oriented blasts of sound, old and new fans of the Prodigy will surely feel the passion — and the bass — behind this 40-minute trance.
OK, you can put down the glow sticks now.

Rebecca’s Picks: “Omen,” “Take Me to the Hospital”

— by Rebecca Koons


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