Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: Cake - Showroom of Compassion (* * * 1/2)

I had pretty much lost track of Cake after their 2001 album, Comfort Eagle. I didn't even hear 2004's Pressure Chief until at least a year (maybe two) afterward, and by that time I guess I just wasn't especially interested in the band anymore. So I can't quite explain my excitement at hearing news about Showroom of Compassion, Cake's sixth album and first in seven years. Maybe I just figured Cake had good reason to return to music after such a lengthy hiatus, or perhaps I was feeling nostalgic. Mostly I was just curious to know if this record would be any good, and as it turns out, Showroom of Compassion is a fine addition to Cake's catalog, despite being a bit uneven.

If your only exposure to this record is the first single "Sick of You," you might be disappointed with how strikingly similar it is to some of the band's other popular songs. But while it's true that Cake often sticks to their established style on Showroom of Compassion, they have much more to offer than a bland rehash of their past material. "Long Time," for instance, uses the group's key ingredients--John McRae's half-sung vocals, lively bass and guitar lines, and trumpet solos--to create a funky rock tune that feels refreshingly relevant, while the admittedly familiar-sounding "Mustache Man" has a sharp combination of menace and melody that make it one of Cake's best songs to date. The eerie, synth-infused rocker "Easy to Crash" and the melancholy ballad "The Winter" are a bit more adventurous, providing some welcome variety and helping to further distance Showroom of Compassion from past albums in the group's catalog. If nothing else, fans should enjoy hearing these alt-rock veterans successfully explore some new avenues without straying uncomfortably far into unfamiliar territory.

Showroom of Compassion has more than enough solid tunes to make it easy to overlook missteps like the aforementioned "Sick of You" and the psychedelia-tinged opener "Federal Funding," though there are certainly some songs that work more convincingly than others. For example, "Got to Move" is decent, but pales in comparison to the record's best tracks and "Teenage Pregnancy" is only a mildly entertaining instrumental piece. As a whole, however, Showroom of Compassion is a fun and surprisingly strong record, a welcome return for a band that will hopefully be more active over the next seven years.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

You Should Know: Way Yes

I first heard Way Yes a couple months ago when I stumbled upon their excellent debut EP, Herringbone. Now, five months after that intriguing introduction, they've unveiled perhaps an even better EP entitled Walkability that has made me realize it's high time I get the word out about these guys.

Way Yes is comprised of Ohioans Glenn Davis and Travis Hall, a talented duo who combine nimble afropop guitars, subtle electronica, and smooth vocals into a sound that could be described as a blend of indie favorites Animal Collective and Vampire Weekend. But that's a rough approximation of their style, you really just have to give these guys a listen to understand how compelling their lighthearted, yet thoughtful, approach to experimental pop music can be.

Favorites from the EPs include "Johanna," "Walkability," "Gino," and "Ties"

Hear both of their EPs at their bandcamp/homepage:

And if you need a listen right this second, go ahead and check out this free MP3 from Walkability:

Gino (MP3)