CD Reviews


 Signs that you've run through your meager material: you brand your new album with the stupidest title since Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (maybe even since Aoxomoxoa) and brag about how many times you say “fuck” in the album's first song—46! Fred Durst counted! (Rich Kane)


When sharp-tongued Brit John Wesley Harding unleashed his 1990 alt.-pop bonanza Here Comes the Groom, American critics were quick to label him the Son of Elvis—Costello, that is, especially since the Attractions' Pete and Bruce Thomas were two of his early collaborators. Since then, Harding has forged his own folk-rock niche and won a large cult following. The Confessions of St. Ace, Harding's seventh disc, continues his pop-with-a-brain mission. Not that this is highbrow stuff: anyone who's had a Cure fixation will relate to the sarcastic, fuzz-guitar-laden “Goth Girl,” whose protagonist goes out with a dude who “looks like Peter Murphy to me/Yeah, he wishes.” Then there's “Our Lady of the Highways,” Harding's enthralling mandolin-fueled duet with Steve Earle, which pays tribute to a real Delaware shrine. Later, the seething rocker “Bad Dream Baby” opens with these should-be-classic lines: “She had a criminal conversation with the devil/On the back seat of a burned-out Toyota Camry.” Harding's self-described “gangsta-folk” of old has evolved, giving way to rewarding, rambunctious relationship ruminations, while his knack for picturesque, character-driven tales hasn't faded a bit—all of which makes Confessions another smart addition to the JWH canon. (George A. Paul)


If taking three years off is what it takes to produce an album as cohesive and alluring as this one, then this Dutch quartet should pencil in some hefty chunks of downtime. Bettie Serveert's first release after leaving the giant teat of Matador Records finds them moodier and more mature—grown up and stripped down, yet never watered down. A peek at Private Suit's producer hints as much: John Parish, who has molded such dark and disparate acts as P.J. Harvey and Giant Sand. Now that their once-cranky guitars have receded in favor of such more esoteric toys as marimbas, cellos, congas and an octopad, singer Carol Van Dijk gets scooted up front, her honey-coated rasp nailing every note and nuance as she swings from the relatively jovial rapture of “Satisfied” (“Throw out all your chastity/No need for your blasphemy/Live out every fantasy/All we really want is each other”) to the solemn disillusion of “Auf Weidersehen” (“There'll be other times/There'll be other days/Mortify the flesh until we find a way”)—though the latter more often prevails. A few lighter moments, plus the high-octane title track, recall their previous three albums, but this new model Bettie is better—more brooding, yet more beautiful. (Kristin Fiore)


The lilting melody is to indie rock as populism was to this year's presidential race—a flag raised all too often by people who don't necessarily know what it means. But Nothing Stops Moving, the second effort from LA's Gingersol, is full of glowing melodies that—far from being empty—enrich the sentiments of their bejeweled guitar pop. “Tuck Me In,” a giddy rock lullaby, has verses that float atop layers of exotic strings (these recall “Sukiyaki,” the faux-Japanese hit from 1963), and the tune's swooning chorus makes you wish you had as much fun falling asleep as lead singer/songwriter Steve Tagliere does. “Help Push the Car,” something of a DIY call to action, has a pulsing, Guided by Voices-type riff humming through it, plus some arching refrains that would put Dave Grohl to shame. And the gentle banjo and breezy sway of “Too Close to Call” lend a wistful aura to lyrics that reveal the humanity of the worker's daily grind. Home-recorded by guitarist Seth Rothschild, Nothing Stops Moving has a crispness and atmosphere that seem rare these days, even for expensive studio projects. Guitars crunch and drums pop with clarity, colored by layers of reverberating Wurlitzers and spare synths. Upfront, meanwhile, is Tagliere's poetry—he comes off like a stream-of-consciousness Paul Westerberg, his slightly ragged vocals relieving pop's current National Sincerity Deficit. Far from being a lesser of two evils, this is one of the best albums in a year that's turned into a sad one for politics but a good one for rock. (Andrew Marcus)

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