Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reviews In Brief: Ted Leo, Ruby Suns, Portugal. The Man

My schedule doesn't permit me to review everything I'd like to in full, so while capsule reviews aren't an entirely fair way to evaluate an album's strengths and weaknesses, they'll give me an opportunity to give my two cents about more of this year's music. Enjoy my first set of three:

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
The Brutalist Bricks
(* * * *)

Ted Leo and company are back in full force with their latest album, The Brutalist Bricks. Right from anthematic opener "The Mighty Sparrow," the boys sound fresh and energized, hearkening back to their best work early last decade - and over the course of 13 tracks they remain just as sharp. What's perhaps most enjoyable about the record is the way Leo so effectively and with apparent ease balances a fun-loving musical persona with lyrics that provide a good deal more emotion and insight that you'd expect from a seasoned punk-rocker. Aside from the aforementioned opener, highlights include the fierce "Mourning in America" and the rolling rocker "Where Was My Brain?," though being thoroughly stuffed with great tunes, The Brutalist Bricks is yet another accomplished effort from these rock 'n' roll mainstays.MySpace

Ruby Suns
Fight Softly (* * * *)

From what I've read around the web, indie pop outfit Ruby Suns seem to have done some alienating with their new album, Fight Softly. Granted, such a dramatic stylistic shift is sure to bring about some backlash, but I find much of the criticism of their third effort to be confusing and unfounded. True, they've lost some of the modest charm that made their previous record, Sea Lion, so likable, but in its place is a more cohesive, engaging experimental sound and songs strong enough to outweigh any negative consequences of the band's change in approach. The group blends odd song structures and spacey synthetic elements with their characteristically sharp pop hooks for some stunning results, especially the sunny and strange "Cranberry" and the ethereal "Closet Astrologer." Put simply, it's difficult to miss the old when the new is so easy to love, and Fight Softly is a definite success. MySpace

Portugal. The Man
American Ghetto (* * * 1/2)

Releasing albums at the rate of one per year for the past five years, Portugal. The Man have proved to be one of indie rock's most tireless bands, and a remarkably consistent one given their output. Once again, they offer a solid set of tunes with American Ghetto, a record that trades the sunny disposition of last year's The Satanic Satanist for a grittier, darker edge and a good deal more variety. Though the music occasionally feels a bit too familiar when compared with the band's catalog, there are enough examples of both ambition and accomplishment here to warrant a listen whether you're a fan of their other material or not. The best on American Ghetto is among the band's best - "60 Years" has an enjoyably messy groove, "All My People" is a psychedelic rocker, and closer "When the War Ends" takes a sexy page out of Of Montreal's book with excellent results. I'm already looking forward to next year. MySpace