CD Shorts

Reviewed this week: Patrick Watson; Avengers; and Willis Earl Beal

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Patrick Watson
Adventures in Your Own Backyard

Ethereal and chock full of tickly arpeggios and navigable instrumental soundscapes, Patrick Watson's Adventures in Your Own Backyard uses every nook and cranny of the stereo spectrum to propel a listener on a journey through many a colorful land. Different musical frameworks and time signatures keep the album constantly dynamic, flowing from watery ballad to jerky circus waltz, and you can hear both a George Martin and a Robert Fripp influence in the (extensive) arrangements. Lyrics reflect an equally psychedelic or magical realist aesthetic, and Watson's vocals are buttery enough to spread smoothly over every crater in this sonic English muffin, though there's something unfortunately "Coldplay" about his voice that makes it hard to embrace on a deeper level than, say, the next commercial for this year's antidepressant. Still, it's impressive and worth a listen. —Tom Sturm



The Avengers' sole LP—known to fans as The Pink Album—is a record out of time. Recorded in 1978 when the group was at the white hot center of L.A.'s punk scene, it wasn't released until long after the band had broken up in 1983, then promptly dropped out of print into pricey obscurity during the digital era. This reissue finally makes their studio output available, handsomely packaged with expansive liner notes by Greil Marcus and a second disc of worthwhile bonus material including rare singles, demos, and live tracks. The Pink Album delivers a bracing blast of punk rock laced with a number of songs—"We Are The One," "Car Crash," "The American in Me"—that rank among the genre's finest. Led by charismatic singer Penelope Houston, the band still sounds provocative, mysterious, unsettled—able to get under your skin like a bad debt that remains unpaid. —Jeff Jackson


Willis Earl Beal
Acousmatic Sorcery
(Hot Charity/XL)

Recorded with only a few items, including a cassette-based karaoke machine and a $20 microphone, this debut by the Chicago-based Beal is a model of efficiency and emotion. Tracks such as "Take Me Away" and "Evening's Kiss" unfold with a tender touch and surprising soulfulness, while the opening instrumental collage features a taste of the more experimental dissonance that the young singer dabbled in when starting out. Much like those of his hero Tom Waits, Beal's vocals can slide from gruff to almost croon-worthy. However, the limitations of such a similarly eccentric approach are clearly evident throughout the record's short running time. More surprising is the level of intimacy achieved. And for those who want to get even closer, pick up the phone—Beal has been known to give out his number to encourage his fans to reach out so he can personally sing them a song. —Michael Cimaomo




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