Hey, Mr. AJ: Tame Impala, True Blood, Dum Dum Girls, Wild Nothing, Twilight, Robyn

Hey, Mr. AJ is a new column in which I plan on writing some things about the new music I hear. They’ll be brief reviews, divided into sections: MAXIMUM GOBBLING for the masterpieces; GOBBLE IT for the merely great; WORTH GOBBLING for other good releases; GOBBLE? for those albums which aren’t really good or bad, just sort of okay; DO NOT GOBBLE for the shitty; and RUN, DON’T GOBBLE! for the awful. Got it? Now, don’t ask me again.

INNERSPEAKER
by Tame Impala

I’m a Beatlemaniac, so I see the Beatles everywhere. Bear with me. On their debut album Innerspeaker, Australian psych-rock band Tame Impala manage to do what the Olivia Tremor Control did on 1996′s masterful Music from the Unrealized Film Script, Dusk at Cubist Castle; without compromising their creativity or their own unique vision, they capture the spirit of the post-Sgt. Pepper, pre-Abbey Road Beatles. Specifically, both albums remind me of the more freewheeling psychedelic cuts on Yellow Submarine, like George Harrison’s “It’s All Too Much.” Indeed, lead singer Kevin Parker’s voice reminds me of Harrison’s in that soaring, nasally way, which also makes it at times resemble John Lennon’s. But as I said, this is no rip-off, and Tame Impala sound like their own band, embracing the hazier realms of psychedelia that the Fab Four rarely did. It’s misty, delightful music that lulls you into another world with its spiraling distorted guitars, insistent drums, and far out yet pleasingly retro production techniques. Innerspeaker hasn’t made its way to the States yet, but whenever you get the chance, take a listen. You’ll be glad you did.

TRUE BLOOD: MUSIC FROM THE HBO ORIGINAL SERIES, VOLUME 2
by Various

True Blood‘s always been more successful at song selection than any sort of consistency as an actual TV show, and this second volume of stomping, sinister rockers is a fine souvenir for those not planning on buying the DVD set. Jace Everett and CC Adcock’s “Evil (Is Going On)” and Beck’s “Bad Blood” nicely set the mood, while oldies “Shake and Fingerpop” by Jr. Walker & the All Stars (from which one of last season’s episodes derived its name) and “Frenzy” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins bring us back to the show’s bluesy, Southern-fried roots. Lucinda Williams and Elvis Costello team up for the lilting, gorgeous “Kiss Like Your Kiss,” which of course, given the talent, strikes the perfect balance between country and folk. On the other hand, Thievery Corporation’s “The Forgotten People (Bon Temps Remix),” with Daphne’s revelatory line to Sam, “I know what you are,” looped endlessly, is really only for hardcore fans. Yet the only bad cut is Chuck Prophet’s “You Did (Boomp Shooby Dooby Bomp),” which isn’t all girl-group and retro and awesome like it sounds; instead, it tries for slick and sultry, only to end up silly. But this is a soundtrack which randomly throws in the 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and ends with last year’s best song, Bob Dylan’s stone cold classic “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’.” So it’s a whole lot more satisfying than the show itself.

I WILL BE
by Dum Dum Girls

Leading lady Dee Dee sings and plays guitar; Jules and Bambi, on guitar and bass, respectively, sing along; and on drums, we’ve got Sandy Vu. Sign #1 that I will enjoy Dum Dum Girls: they use the kitschy monikers that, frankly, we haven’t had enough of since the Ramones. Sign #2 that I will enjoy Dum Dum Girls: they make catchy 60′s pop, jam it up with distortion and lo-fi fuzz, and have a good time doing it. Sure, it’s not a new concept, but the Girls sound great, with no small debt owed to producer Richard Gottehrer, who wrote the classic girl group number “My Boyfriend’s Back” almost 50 years ago. The Dum Dums rip their way through “It Only Takes One Night”; harmonize on a bunch of “la, la, la, la”‘s in women-in-prison ditty “Jail La La”; and end it with a breathy cover of Sonny and Cher’s “Baby Don’t Go” that’ll make anybody in their right mind swoon. There’s a lot of other good stuff in between, and even if not all of the material pops, there’s enough here that does. Dum Dum Girls are a lighter, less angular Raveonettes, with all the sweet hooks and innocence of the Ronettes.

GEMINI
by Wild Nothing

Gemini, Wild Nothing’s debut album, is melancholy dream-pop like they did it back in the 80′s, with the atmospheric synths, chiming guitars, and Jack Tatum’s passionately indifferent vocals all sounding like they’ve been lifted from some long lost Cocteau Twins record. It’s to Tatum’s credit that this doesn’t come off as affectation or shtick; he commits to it, and it works. Album opener “Live in Dreams” is the one stand-out track, where all of Wild Nothing’s elements gel perfectly to create an ethereal mission statement: “Because our lips won’t last forever/And that’s exactly why/I’d rather live in dreams/And I’d rather die.” The rest of Gemini is luxuriously sleepy, and if after a while it all starts sounding kind of samey, it never loses its consistent, gentle dreaminess.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE
by Various

Well, here’s another vampire soundtrack for you. I listened to the original Twilight soundtrack and rolled my eyes, at least thankful that it was better than that awful movie. I skipped the New Moon soundtrack despite Thom Yorke, and yet there I was listening to the CD spawn of upcoming Twilight crapfest Eclipse. Why? Blame that bastard Jack White, whose current band the Dead Weather has a new track here. Considering how much indie cred this album drips with, I started optimistically, only to be met by the same numbing emo bullshit that populated the first soundtrack. Right around track three, the Bravery’s “Ours,” my soul began to die. But then a strange thing happened. As soon as Florence and the Machine kicked in with “Heavy in Your Arms,” a new album started to take shape. It’s smart to do that with Florence’s dreamy voice, followed by Sia’s similar balladeering, because it’s not too drastic a change while at the same time being a definite shift for the better. What follows are a bunch of indie superstars, not on their best days, but doing fine, thank you very much. Bands I’m not familiar with, like Fanfarlo, UNKLE, and Eastern Conference Champions, deliver solid tunes, while the Dead Weather, Vampire Weekend, and the Black Keys kick it up a notch. Sure, these guys are all slumming it, the songs feeling like decent B-sides and nothing more, but dude: they got this stuff on a Twilight album. Imagine how many little tweenybopper fangirls could potentially be changed by this music. Some might just take it as part and parcel of the Twilight world and move on, but there are going to be those girls (and boys) to whom this music is going to become something much more. Which is something to celebrate, even if it took sparkly pussyboy and the shirtless wonder to make it happen.

BODY TALK PT. 1
by Robyn

On opener “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do,” bratty Swedish pop star Robyn repeatedly states, “My drinkin’ is killin’ me” before listing a whole bunch of other things that are killin’ her: her smoking, her diet, her ego, her label, her mom, etc. (At one point, I thought she said, “My penis is killin’ me,” but, um, further listening has proven me incorrect.) It’s not as annoying as it first seems, which is a pretty good way to sum up Robyn herself. It’s been five years since her last album, the self-titled Robyn, and Body Talk Pt. 1–the first of three planned Body Talk releases this year–is less cutesy and somewhat more substantial. Still, she remains irritating to some degree; there are people who will shake their ass to a song like “Fembot,” then there are people like me who’ll check their watch while at the very least exulting the fact that it’s far removed from the likes of Ke$ha. There are some catchy choruses, especially “Dance Hall Queen”‘s “I still run this thing/Like a dance hall queen.” “None of Dem” is a guilty pleasure on a par with Robyn‘s “Robotboy.” But “Jag Vet en Dejlig Rosa,” a traditional Swedish song, is the real highlight. Robyn discards her futuristic diva persona to instead deliver a commanding vocal performance that comes close to this translated lyrical snippet: “Her voice gives great solace/Like the gentle sound of the nightingale.”

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