Music

CD Shorts

Reviewed this week: Scott Walker; Frightened Rabbit; and Rodriguez

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Scott Walker
Bish Bosch
(4AD)

Scott Walker’s transformation from popular teen idol to uncompromising avant gardist is one of the most remarkable journeys in rock music. He’s recently been the subject of the documentary 30th Century Man and essay collection No Regrets, and now there’s Bish Bosch, only his fourth album in 29 years. Anchored by his sonorous croon, this visionary music dismantles traditional structures and suggests new possibilities for the song. It’s constructed from doleful melodies and unusual instrumentatione--including coruscating guitars, farting brass, rattling sabers, bellowing sheep-herder horns, and thundering percussione_SEmDwhich illustrate evocative lyrical fragments about dictators, medieval jesters, and distant stars. This bleak terrain is leavened by pitch-black laugh lines like: “Nothing clears a room like removing a brain.” The album is more varied than his previous work but equally challenging, culminating in the 21-minute “Zercon,” which manages to mesmerize through its insistently strange repetitions, transformations, and gullies of silence. —Jeff Jackson

*

Frightened Rabbit
Pedestrian Verse
(Canvasback/Atlantic)

“It was a gauntlet I threw down for myself,” says Frightened Rabbit singer and guitarist Scott Hutchison. “If you call your album Pedestrian Verse, you can’t settle for any old lyric.” And on his band’s fourth studio album, Hutchison meets his own challenge by crafting an entire record of clever lines with engaging music to match. Opening track “Act of Man” begins with the memorable phrase, “I am that dickhead in the kitchen/ giving wine to your best girl’s gloves.” But instead of coming off as rude, the song possesses everything needed to make it a future indie rock anthem—marching beat, catchy chorus, distorted guitar breakdown. “Late March, Death March” continues this trend with a whistling-infused intro and backing vocals that beg for a group sing-along. It’s Hutchison’s determined approach that gives Verse its true charm. Scottish accent and all, he makes every syllable a winner. —Michael Cimaomo

*

Rodriguez
Searching for Sugar Man (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
(Legacy)

Searching for Sugar Man is the Oscar-winning story of Rodriguez, a singer/songwriter who put out albums in the early ’70s, then faded from public view until a determined fan discovered his whereabouts in the late ’90s. Rodriguez was unaware of his own superstar status in South Africa, and returned in style. His story is undeniably remarkable; his music is an acquired taste. Though it’s always problematic to describe an artist in terms of others, there are two highly specific ghosts who haunt Rodriguez’ sound to a large degree: the Dylan of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and the Van Morrison of “Sweet Thing.” Most Rodriguez songs employ a similar style of talk-singing and loop-like guitar parts. The lyrics offer a mix of image and abstraction thats’s hit and miss. The effect is not necessarily bad—in fact, it’s often successful and catchy—but it’s also limited. Rodriguez comes across as charming, entertaining and likeable, but very much a musician of a specific era. —James Heflin

 

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