Adam Green, Minor Love (Fat Possum)
In an earlier era, probably the 1970s, ex-Moldy Peaches mastermind Adam Green would be bigger than, um, English pub-rocker Joe Jackson. Born too late for beauty-challenged stardom, Green makes do with his formidable songwriting chops, which now borrow equally from Leonard Cohen’s probing spirituality and Beck’s rough smarts. Green’s latest effort, Minor Love, is a major step toward maturation as a craftsman. While the potty humor may be gone, a neurotic yet emotional tenderness has taken its place. In “Breaking Locks,” Green confesses over Wurlitzer organ and electric guitar arpeggios: “I’ve been too awful/to ever be thoughtful/to ever be nice.” The jaunty “Cigarette Burns Forever,” meanwhile, finds Green pushing his reverb-drenched baritone into Lee Hazlewood’s cosmic-pop territory. Still, this is a folk-rock record for the urban hipsters of Williamsburg, N.Y., who are probably yearning for more Green after enjoying the Peaches’ contribution (“Anyone Else But You”) to the Juno soundtrack. They’ll find much to love here.
Brian Jonestown Massacre, Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? (A Records)
Almost famous courtesy of the 2004 music documentary DiG!, Anton Newcombe has long been on a bad acid deathtrip. Still, his new self-released effort crystallizes the best elements of his dark-side-of-the-’60s obsession. There are palettes here he has never tried previously. As a result the sonic canvas is broader, richer, deeper. Silly on the surface, the album title indicates that rock has grown too soft tilling the same ol’ “Strawberry Fields,” where craftsmanship and studio experimentation evoke pleasure rather than hard truths about sex, drugs and evil music. The answer to the album’s question is obviously Newcombe, who basks in the drum-marching, tape-looped, electronic nihilism of “Someplace Else Unknown,” in which the song’s speaker, starved for a fix, snarls: “’Cause I’ll fucking kill you and everyone too/I don’t give a fuck about World War II.” Newcombe has never sounded so desperate and invincible as he does in the blues-stomp storm of “Pungur Hnífur.” Scary nighttime rock music for the fearless.
Johnny Cash, American VI: Ain’t No Grave (American)
It might be time to admit something uncomfortable: Producer Rick Rubin’s much-celebrated series of albums by legendary country singer Johnny Cash (a series that stretches back to 1994) are, in hindsight, slow, ponderous and overwrought in their forced simplicity. At least that’s what the sixth (and third posthumous) installment unfortunately suggests. From the Alfred E. Neuman cover photo of Cash as a child to the awful album title, everything about American VI seems flawed, diminishing those qualities (Nine Inch Nails covers, Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers working as a backup band, etc.) listeners enjoyed about the preceding “American Recordings.” Sheryl Crow and Kris Kristofferson are worthy songwriters, yes, but their material here is dull, moody and—this may be the worst part—dated. Despite the praise lavished on Rubin’s efforts, Cash’s final works (recorded three months before his death from surgery complications) are inextricably linked to the MTV Unplugged trend of the ’90s. As such, hearing Cash’s heartfelt departure songs can be a bit of a chore.