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CD Reviews

BY DI ARTS STAFF | APRIL 21, 2009 7:30 AM

mp3 sample: Katie Herzig

"Wish You Well"

Apple Tree plays like a warm breeze on a sunny day

Katie Herzig: Apple Tree
***1/2 out of *****

The moment the guitar strums up a lazy beat in “Songbird,” you are transported into the shade and tickled by a gentle breeze under Katie Herzig’s Apple Tree. You may have seen this Nashville-based singer-songwriter’s name included in Paste magazine’s “Best of What’s Next — 25 Artists to Ignore at Your Own Peril” list. Or those of you “Grey’s Anatomy” devotees may have heard her airy voice sighing lyrically in the background. With every appearance, Herzig spreads awareness and gains industry approval for her fresh indie sound.

She has made an intrepid step forward with her latest release. The album entwines an array of songs that warm you with rays of sunlight and then shade you in a protective canopy.

Some songs make you want to somersault down a grassy knoll, while others make you want to lie on your bed and eat chocolate. “Hologram” will make you feel flirty and “Wish You Well” pensive. Admittedly, this is probably an album that gratifies the female kind of sentiments.

A couple of Herzig’s tracks play like nostalgic ditties. “Forevermore” pitter-pats like the elementary hand clapping game Miss Suzy. Next time you’re baby-sitting, I challenge you to make up a game to the chorus:

“Say say, oh playmate / Come out and play with me / And bring your dollies three / Climb up my apple tree / Slide down my rainbow / Into my cellar door / And we’ll be jolly friends / Forever more.”

Antithetically, if you have a history of getting pulled over for speeding, try putting Herzig’s “I Hurt Too” on repeat. A sleepy drum beat snails along to lamenting lyrics such as “When you’re weary and haunted,” and “When your life is not what you wanted.” This track will be sure to kill the hop in your skip.

Apple Tree’s 11 tracks are layered with meaning. Not every song ends like it begins. Herzig’s variety of musical and thematic offerings twiddles with your emotions like an overactive mood ring.

Luckily, “Forevermore” ends the album on a light-hearted note to send you on your lovely way.

Caroline’s picks: “Songbird,” “Hologram,” “I Will Follow”

The supergroup you least expected

Tinted Windows: Tinted Windows
**** out of *****

Typically, a supergroup consists of musicians from a relatively similar group of bands — think Traveling Wilburys, Asia — the list goes on and on. But what if someone told you that you would be hearing classic rock veterans, combining with power-pop and alternative musicians of the modern day?

This is exactly the unexpected combo we get with Tinted Windows. The band has joined the great musical forces of Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins), Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick), and Taylor Hanson (Hanson). The resulting product, the band’s self-titled début, is not the train wreck many surely anticipated.

Tinted Windows is a pure pop-rock album that has the power to summon even the worst musical cynic out of hibernation to bask in the disc’s sunshiny vibe. It is a certainty that Tinted Windows will become a summer soundtrack for many.

The album kicks off with “Kind of a Girl,” which is also the collection’s first single. The track is as refreshing as it is reminiscent, as it harks back to the new-wave sounds of such bands as the Knack. The album’s lyrical content seems to be heavily focused on relationship themes, but the musical variety is such that it keeps things fresh and hold listeners’ attention.

What is great about this band is its ability to combine the best aspects of each musician’s talents, which ultimately makes for a properly functioning supergroup. While Hanson obviously stands out as a lead singer — and a Hanson brother — he and the others seem to have an even stake in the creative process.

With a classic element provided by Carlos, the pop vocal expertise of Hanson, and a raw alternative edge courtesy of Iha and Schlesinger, Tinted Windows is primed for bigger things. All we have to do is listen.

Rebecca’s Picks: “Messing with My Head,” “Cha Cha,” “We Got Something”

UK synthpop icons have a high opinion of themselves

Depeche Mode: Sounds of the Universe
** out of *****

Sounds of the Universe is an ambitious album title to say the least. Leave it to Depeche Mode, that English trio counted among the grandfathers of electronic dance music, to provide an hour of sound that all of existence would find important.

If Depeche Mode is referring to the musical universe, the members probably know what they’re talking about. Sounds of the Universe is the band’s 12th studio album in almost 30 years. EMI Music, the band’s label, claims record sales topping 75 million albums worldwide for Depeche Mode. So the pedigree is there, but is this an album the entirety of the cosmos can jam to?

No. And yes. But mostly, no. Uh, sometimes? Here’s the thing: As an electronic album, the 13 cuts on Sounds of the Universe are driven primarily by synthesizers. Synths are great and offer a huge amount of variety when it comes to what a band can do with its sound, but unfortunately, the keyboards are misused and grating as often as they are done right.

For example, the album’s first single, “Wrong,” snakes and modulates through a huge, bombastic synth riff that feels just right and leaves you wanting more after cutting out at three minutes. Following up this instant hit is “Fragile Tension,” a track that suffers from “Nintendo Syndrome” in which the synths sound like they’ve been lifted from a particularly melancholy level of “Super Mario Bros.” The eight-bit cheesiness that sometimes sneaks its way onto otherwise decent songs seriously detracts from the album’s chic style.

Listeners who get their hands on copies of Sounds of the Universe should toss their favorite numbers on iTunes and shuffle up the library. This way they can avoid the brain drain that results from listening to the same synth sounds for too long. The songs retain their freshness, and when a track such as “Wrong” comes on listeners get that “Awwwwww yeah” feeling and can groove as if the whole universe is watching.

Brian’s Picks: “Wrong,” “Peace,” “Miles Away / The Truth Is”

On Yes, Pet Shop Boys are beat-tastic

Pet Shop Boys: Yes
**** out of *****

1980s English music sensation the Pet Shop Boys recapture the UK’s pop crown with the release of the band’s 10th studio album, Yes. The collection was produced under the New Wave and electro-funk stylings of Brian Higgins and his production house, Xenomania.

The Pet Shop Boys came to fame with the release of the iconic synth-pop track “West End Girls” in 1984. The duo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have remained relatively influential in the electronica-pop genre, but with Yes, the band has reignited the oddly introspective dance sound it rose to fame with 25 years ago.

The band released the album’s first single, “Love, etc.,” almost a month ago. The track plays on the Pet Shop Boys’ old sound, and is the essence of a pop tune. Hearing Lowe and Tennant revive the more simplistic 808 beats of past tracks is refreshing.

Anyone wary of embracing the synthetic beats that are so strongly linked to the Pet Shop Boys will find solace in the implementation of guitar in “More than a Dream” and harmonica in the 1960s-sounding “Beautiful People.”

The style of the Pet Shop Boys seems to have always been contrasting dense lyrical subject matter with danceable and poppy beats. Yes follows suit but dives even deeper into the dark side. In the song “King of Rome,” Tennant blares out the lyric “I couldn’t be more tragic” against intense piano. The duo may take itself a little too seriously in “Building a Wall” when the members sing of the emotional problems they associate with the Cold War.

Yes ends with the two most musically impressive tracks. On “The Way It Used to Be,” the Pet Shop Boys add an element of punk, sounding much like LCD Soundsystem, which transitions well into the grand finale of “Legacy.” An entire orchestra scores the track, and different beats are continuously introduced into it. “Legacy’s” challenging sound perfectly reinforces Yes as the Pet Shop Boys’ most distinct and beat-brilliant album to date.

Dan’s Picks: “Legacy” and “Beautiful People”

Third time’s the charm

Art Brut: Art Brut vs. Satan
**** out of *****

Art Brut Vs. Satan is the third studio album from the English quintet Art Brut. Former Pixies guitarist Frank Black produced the album, and his influence is evident in the group’s sound, if only occasionally.

Eddie Argo’s English accent is reminiscent of Joe Strummer from the Clash, and Freddy Feedback’s riveting bass lines have a heavy punk feel similar to Klaus Flouride of the Dead Kennedys. Ian Catskilkin’s guitar lines manage to brighten up the group’s dark and heavy sound.

Art Brut Vs. Satan starts off with “Alcoholics Unanimous,” the album’s popular single. The song tells the aftermath of a heavy night of drinking. This track even has a bit of humor in the chorus with line “I’m hiding it well” and the backup vocals answering “not very well.”

The staccato bass line and various tempo changes of “What a Rush” help to highlight this track. The group also recognizes its fellow countrymen with the line “you like the Beatles and I like the Stones.” With the phrase “sober-ish,” alcoholism returns as a lyrical theme.

“Mysterious Bruises,” the album’s closer, sounds like it was written specifically for Iowa City dwellers and references the forgotten marks that sometimes come after evenings of inebriation.

Art Brut again pays homage to its early influences — in this case the Clash — with the line “I fought the floor and the floor won.”

Anyone who is a fan of early punk rock would dig this album. Listening to Art Brut Vs. Satan is like taking a time machine back to 1982.

Nick’s Picks: “Alcoholics Unanimous,” “What a Rush,” “Mysterious Bruises”


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