Love is Hell (pt. 1)/(pt. 2)
There's nothing wrong with a musician being prolific. The Beatles, if you'll remember, put out a fair amount of recordings in their short history, as did folks like The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Prince (actually, "The Artist" still is putting out records semi-annually, it's just that nobody really notices anymore).
The problem arises when a musician is prolific and -- how to say? -- ultimately not all that interesting. Which is not to say that David Ryan Adams is uninteresting, mind you. A master of the melancholic rabbit-punch couplet much like his pal Adam Duritz, Adams has talent in spades. Even his "enemies" (and there are a few) would admit that. No, Adams' problem is one of focus. He's a Ferrari with a dirty windshield, a rocket without radar. Whether this sounds positively thrilling or terrifying depends on the listener.
The Love is Hell discs find Adams playing the drowsy bard, steering his way between the endless poles of electricity and utter banality that make up what Kings of Leon dubbed "youth and young manhood." Always fond of showing his ass, he's now once again showing us his heart. Even a song that you might peg as an in-concert toss-off, a cover of Oasis' "Wonderwall," takes on new shades of gray in Adams' capable hands.
Which, of course, instantly pegged both discs as un-sellable according to his label. Rumor has it that Lost Highway Records wasn't too fond of Love, preferring that Adams put out the more raucous, rock-oriented Rock N Roll first.
Perhaps young Adams should jettison his record company in much the same fashion he does the pretty young things he so often writes about (and for). After all, there are enough tousle-headed would-be hipsters with a face full of snarl out there already -- they'd be the ones you see on MTV and in SPIN magazine, their abdominal exercisers conveniently hidden from the camera's view.
Adams' gut is already plenty strong for a 29-year-old (and his liver, too, from what we hear). When he makes his case for love (he's ultimately for it, it seems) on these two records, yours better be too.
Tracks to burn: "The Shadowlands"/ "Please Do Not Let Me Go"
Grade: B+/B+-- Timothy C. Davis
Singer-songwriters from Austin are such a cliche the very idea of a new record from one often sends people scurrying to -- or even from -- the bar with cries of "Not another song about drinking!" In these post-Americana days, it takes more than whiskey-soaked singing about heartbreak to warrant anything more than a passing, half-hearted half-listen. Lucky for Slaid Cleaves then that he has more to recommend his music than standard, paint-by-numbers earnestness. Following 2000's stellar Broke Down, he's come back with a handful of story-songs worth that extra listen. Sure, there are tunes about low times in local bars, but the highlights are the more folk-tinged, nearly Celtic cuts about personal turmoil and social unrest ("Below"). Thankfully, Cleaves isn't burdened with that played-out, world-weary, whiskey-bent vocal style, either. His is a warm, soft voice that draws you in, no more so than in the outstanding title track or in the lovely, border town-tinged, "Sinner's Prayer." The only weakness is when he and producer/collaborator Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams) try to go old school: yodeling ("Horses") is never a pleasant listening experience unless the name on the CD belongs to Hank Williams, Sr. or Jimmie Rodgers. Skip past that mis-step and you'll find much worth your while.
Track to burn: "Sinner's Prayer"
Grade: B-- Tara E. Flanagan
Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts
This is "gorgeous," defined. A vast hinterland dotted with diamond-sharp reflections and distant trees. Ocean life mingling in the rays of a twilight sun. That infrequent instant in church when the organist hits upon something exquisite: you're enthralled, in the moment, taken by the chord clusters coming from that vast form of pipes when you ask yourself, "is there is a god?" But it's too much to take. You can never hope to truly understand the depths of Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts. It is beyond human comprehension.
Just beyond American consumer dollars, too (but not the Euro: www.Amazon.fr/). Still unreleased domestically, this is one French import that had better not be banned. Layers of organic synthesizers crush all standards of beauty beneath white noise so magnificent you begin to wonder what it all means; consider a movie score removed from any visuals. What does all this beauty have to say for itself? Does it need to say anything? Are these questions worth posing? If your point is to be pointless, do you (and M83) still have a point? Once you ask, you'll just have to answer for yourself.
Track to burn: "Noise"
Grade: A -- Jesse Steichen