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Evil Urges is a damn good album which manages to ruin itself with a horrible start. After a couple of listens to it I had pretty much delegated it to the bin as I was simply unable to get past the third song.

Fortunately, when I’m working I often put all my new albums on shuffle, and quite a few times I would find my self really getting into a song, switching over to iTunes to check out what it was, and seeing it was from this album. Even then it took quite a while for it to click that these same songs I was enjoying, and that crappy album I couldn’t get into were actually the same thing.

So I’ll start with the bad. The first and third song are like a dentist drilling in search of my mouth’s most painful spot. Someone must have lost a serious dare, because there’s just no call for the atrocities the singer is inflicting upon us with his horrible falsetto “Prince”-like attempt at singing. My suggestion: If you do get this album delete the songs “Evil Urges” and “Highly Suspicious” and save yourself a lot pain.

Whew. Now onto the good stuff. The rest of the album is a wonderful mix of Country flavoured rock and indie power ballads. Ever since the mid naughties indie has been migrating south, producing a host of great artists like Iron and Wine, Necko Case and Band of Horses. My Morning Jacket is a continuation of that process, and at the same time mixes it up with an almost Boston like area rock vibe. Not that an overarching style is an easy thing to pin down here. Even ignoring the Princeish songs, the album still has a load of variety, coming across at times more like a collection of singles than a single work. All be it a very good collection of singles.

We have songs that hammer along, slow ballads, poignant introspective ones, and songs that would fit perfectly in clich├ęd RomCom montages. In fact at times I find myself unconsciously trying to link these song together into an imagined film script. Their different themes perfectly capture the gamut of scenes you would find in a movie with a enough similarity between them that they could form a joint narrative.

Each song takes good care of it’s listeners with My Morning Jacket showing a deft touch at gradually building a song up to a peak, then lightly letting it settle back down. The songs have been tuned with just the right amount of emphasis on each instrument’s phrasing, providing a full sound via a weaving rhythm section and a variety of strong counter melodies which fill any empty space. Given all that, it manages to feel quite natural throughout; dodging the trap of excessive production.

In the end this isn’t an album I’d blithely recommend to people. There’s too much experimentation and stylist diversity for someone who isn’t really really into their indie rock. But personally, as much as I wouldn’t recommend this to a stranger I think it really is quite a neat album.

6.5/10

The Rhumb Line Album CoverThe Rhumb Line is a lush and energetic indie rock/pop album with a mournful and tragic side. Although it deals with loss and regret, it always feels breezy and optimistic. It is a cathartic and fulfilling experience, rather than one that’s moody and overcome with emotion.

Ra Ra Riot is a large 6 member band with a strong strings section. Their size gives them a dense and lush sound which they use to great effect, and they have a keen jazz influence at play; reminding me in parts of Django Reinhardt.

From the start this album hits with blast of energy in the form of a thumping, punching beat. Every now and then the beat lets up to give some space to an instrumental, only to come bounding back in to heighten the intensity of a passage.

The album is constantly pushing, then pulling you through the songs. It masterfully changes pace and aural intensity to keep you on your toes, while not going so far that the songs lose definition and become unfocused.

An artful cello brings a level of pathos that accentuates the singers yearning voice and heartfelt lyrics. Along with a violin it can regularly be heard offering a wonderful counterpoint to the vocals. Weaving at first between supporting the rhythm with the guitar and then coming out of the background to emphasise the vocal phrases with an offset harmony.

The vocal style leans towards the pop side of things with a decent amount of movement and energy, though never becoming overpowering. It pulls the album forward and is the primary reason why the album retains a lighter feeling than its lyrical subject matter would suggest.

The album contains a broad selection of styles, ranging from the subdued, to the non-stop. Wonderfully it manages to keep a common framework of instruments throughout all the different styles making the album strongly connected even as it changes. One-off instruments (such as a xylophone) and a changing emphasis on the core instruments keeps the album diverse the entire way through.

This is an absolute joy of an album. Managing to be uplifting while leading you through a negative landscape.

9/10

At Mount Zoomer like many albums I find came through Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” feature. I don’t know what I did before it. It’s truly one of the best ways to find new music that matches up with your existing tastes.

From the first track of this album you can get a good feel for how the whole thing will play out. Indie rock of course, but with a neat mix of 8-bit retro synth that was popular a couple of years ago and southern/country influence. Those may sound like a rather odd couple of styles to add. But on the whole they work well, and support rather than overpower the music.

Throughout the album the band relies on strong rhythm to keep the songs in context and flowing well. This is done with some really interesting and imaginative guitar and keyboard work. The way they flow and compliment each other is wonderful to hear. The highlight of the album.

But the rhythm work does have it’s darker sides. At a few points the emphasis is lost and the songs lose their focus. But more than that, the rhythm section contains too many contrasting ideas, and after a good start many of the songs seem to lose their consistency. With so much movement within single songs they start to lose their structure and unravel in the mind of the listener.

Bringing me to the vocals. The vocals rarely ever rise to take a dominant role. In fact in many of the songs you’ll find the keyboards are used to prop them up. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the singers, but in the production work on this record the vocals have been pushed into the background. And it really does hurt the album. I don’t know if it’s because both Dan Boeckner & Spencer Krug are sharing the roles. But it doesn’t work.

And so, for me at least, it’s a good, though fairly forgettable album. At the beginning of many of the songs I’m thinking to myself, “Oh yeah. Really love this into. Good Song”, but by the half way point I’ve already tuned out and I’m busy thinking about what I’m having for lunch. With average vocals and inconsistent song structure it’s not an album that enters my playlist very often. There are some really stylish parts, but unless you’re really struggling for new music to sink your teeth into I’d skip this one.

6/10