Friday, April 30, 2010

Reviews in Brief: Laura Marling, Dr, Dog, Nice Nice

Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can (* * * *)

To call Laura Marling's sophomore album, I Speak Because I Can, a sign of growth for the precocious songwriter might seem to undermine her remarkably accomplished first effort, Alas, I Cannot Swim. Yet as mature as her debut certainly was, her latest record shows a definite increase in the quality and depth of her songwriting and singing. I Speak continues Marling's penchant for emotionally weighty material, and here she has the added benefit of a more varied and intense instrumental selection, which - along with an impressive set of vocal performances - enhances the impact of her lyricism. From the fiery, Celtic-tinged opener "Devil's Spoke" to the gently rolling ballad "Darkness Descends," Marling borrows from many aspects of U.K. folk and pop music, but she never extends herself beyond her limits - another example of the considerable ability and artistic intelligence that marks I Speak Because I Can as a superb second album. MySpace

Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame (* * * 1/2)

Two songs into Dr. Dog's latest, Shame, Shame, I was convinced the record had already surpassed the band's previous release, Fate. "Stranger" and "Shadow People" are about stuffed with hooks, which I realize isn't really unusual for any given Dr. Dog song, but they somehow just seem to have more energy, more life than anything on their 2008 effort. Of course, the recipe used to create this new album is one you've heard from them (and others) before, but it's difficult to hold the group's lack of ambition against them when they're seemingly so intent on putting a smile on your face with their enjoyable retro-rock sound, which the boys have just about perfected here. There are a couple tracks here -"Later" and "Someday"- I could do without, but Shame, Shame succeeds well enough and often enough to be a valuable addition to your summer soundtrack. MySpace

Download: "Stranger"

Nice Nice - Extra Wow (* * * 1/2)

For those with short musical attention spans, may I recommend to you Nice Nice's Extra Wow. The Portland group's intensely unstable sound collages make for a consistently entertaining 51 minutes on their new record, which blends organic elements (vocals, guitars, drums) with all manner of digital wizardry in a spectacularly strange manner that is difficult to categorize or even describe. The band's eclectic, somewhat scattered approach gets a little disorienting at times, but it's never uninteresting, and the unusual way in which the songs are structured and executed should give the new album plenty of replay value for adventurous listeners. From the messy, raw "Set and Setting" to the shimmering "A Way We Glow" to the otherworldly funk of "A Little Love," Nice Nice provides ample reason to devote a the necessary time to properly dissect the inner workings of Extra Wow. MySpace