Monday, March 29, 2010

Reviews in Brief: Drive-By Truckers, Rogue Wave, Morning Benders, jj

Drive-By Truckers - The Big To-Do (* * * 1/2)

Eight albums in and the Drive-By Truckers are still going strong. The Big To-Do is a little shorter and more focused than many of the band's previous efforts, and though it's also a bit less consistent there's little to really complain about as the songwriting and musicianship are mostly top notch. "The Fourth Night of My Drinking" is a typically bleak, yet insightful Truckers song, as is the dark "The Wig He Made Her Wear," but tunes like bassist Shonna Tucker's "(It's Gonna Be) I Told You So" and the rockabilly "Get Downtown" have an unusually bouncy "pop" side to them that adds much to the record's overall appeal. Aside from a couple less-than-inspired numbers, The Big To-Do is a worthy addition to this continually spectacular Southern rock group's considerable catalog. (MySpace)

Rogue Wave - Permalight (* * *)

Zach Rogue and company have had a hard go of things over the course of their fairly brief career. But in between sickness, death and major studio issues, the band continues to remain positive and release albums on a surprisingly regular schedule. Their latest, Permalight, is a smoother, more electronically-inclined release than their last albums, but though that may sound like a poor choice of direction on paper, it occasionally works very well. Granted, critics of the band's past work may not be entirely convinced by the new approach and there's some middling material here, but songs like the strong mid-album run of spacey ballad "Fear Itself," power-pop tune "Right With You" and the schizophrenic "We Will Make a Song Destroy" are quite good and evidence that there's plenty of life left in this optimistic bunch. (MySpace)

Morning Benders - Big Echo (* * * *)

After a good first album, Morning Benders are back with a decidedly better one in Big Echo. The group's second effort takes their previously basic (and a bit bland, to be honest) indie rock style and softens the edges, rounds off the corners, and puts things slightly out of focus for an impressive effect. It's mostly sunny, inviting music, with wonderful harmonies and gorgeous layers of instrumentation enhanced by the production work of Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor, but these intelligently constructed tunes offer more than just a breezy 40 minutes of relaxation. Over 10 tunes, the record achieves the perfect balance between easy-going and labored-over, an impressive feat for a young band. Highlights from the album include the sweeping opener "Excuses," the very Grizzly Bear-esque "Promises," and the hazily beautiful "Stitches." (MySpace)

jj - jj n° 3 (* * 1/2)

Maybe it's because the mystery is gone now, or maybe this follow-up was simply too much, too soon - but whatever the reason, jj's sophomore LP feels considerably less inspired than last year's debut. The album still has a few genuinely beautiful moments, as we would expect (the compositions on "Let Go" and "Voi Parlate, Lo Gioco" are particularly striking), it's just that the nine tracks comprising this sophomore effort don't impress as completely or as often as before. In other words, jj n° 3 isn't so much a disaster as it is, unfortunately, easily ignored. jj is a group with a bright future ahead of them, though, and the talent to provide something equally brilliant if not more so than their debut. Perhaps they need a bit more time to again create something remarkable. (Let Go - MP3)