CD Reviews


Neil Young Le Noise (Reprise)

Punning on the name of producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Bob Dylan), who constructed the dark soundscapes of Le Noise, Neil Young has released his most challenging work—which says something since Young has done synth-folk (1982’s Trans), R&B/blues (1988’s This Note’s For You) and feedback-noise (1991’s Arc). In interviews, Young characterizes his latest as “a horror movie”: eight stark songs recorded in Lanois’ Silver Lake mansion, full of big windows and tube amps, with the Canadian legend playing live and howling through a P.A. system. Afterward, Lanois tweaked and processed the recording like it was old photo film in a darkroom. Loudest moments are “Walk With Me,” a plea for love wrapped in distortion, and the crushing “Angry World,” an acknowledgment of people’s wrath today. There are two acoustic, no less ambient moments, including “Love and War,” in which Young warbles: “I don’t really know what I’m saying.” A troubled masterpiece for troubled times. ★★★★☆


Belle & Sebastian Write About Love (Rough Trade)

After enjoying the Scottish band’s excellent if a little mawkish Oct. 2 performance at The Pearl as part of the Matador At 21 party, I was eager to hear the new B&S disc. It’s very pop and a lot more polished than previous works, displaying much of the ’80s-style synth sound so rife today. The one-two upbeat punch of “I Didn’t See It Coming” (sung by violinist Sarah Martin) and “Come On Sister” provides a sugary rush at the album’s onset. It quickly subsides thanks to downer ballad “Calculating Bimbo,” for which prancing frontman Stuart Murdoch’s shaky alto isn’t suited. Footing is regained with the exuberant, bass-grooving, chiming-guitared “I Want the World to Stop,” which is hard to spin only once. The afterglow, however, is extinguished by another crappy ballad, “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John,” a duet with (barf!) Norah Jones, that offers trite lyrics: “Love is like a blossom that fades so quick.” The bloom falls off the rose of insipid, marzipan-grade R&B, too. ★★☆☆☆


Antony and the Johnsons Swanlights (Secretly Canadian)

Hunger for transcendence—over mortality, sickness and heartbreak—graced every fragile note of transgendered British singer/songwriter Antony Hegarty’s 2005 masterpiece I Am a Bird Now. The work that followed has been first-class yet lacking in the mysterious aura that helped Hegarty win the Mercury Prize. Swanlights is another beautiful but conceptually adrift effort in search of an idea. Part of the problem: Hegarty hasn’t moved on to new subject matter. Not that he needs to, but if the song “The Great White Ocean” is to be carefully considered as a work of art, it needs to, for instance, cease referencing “sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers,” and reach for more compelling language. Everything’s in place—Hegarty’s eerie, Bryan Ferry-like vibrato and consummate musicianship—but there’s nothing to make of abstract lines, “Ghost, leap from my heart/Chase the river/Chase the sunlight.” Vague yet intriguing, Swanlights is far from an ugly duckling. ★★★☆☆

Suggested Next Read

Schoolhouse Rut

Movie Review

Schoolhouse Rut

In Waiting for ‘Superman,’ documentarian Davis Guggenheim petitions the same level of cultural awareness about American education myths as his film An Inconvenient Truth delivered regarding global warming. The filmmakers methodically explore America’s public education crisis with data and graphs that show how the majority of U.S. high schools have become “drop-out factories.” With U.S. students’ math scores lagging behind 30 other countries, you know we’re in trouble.