Recommended: Collaborations by the Kintners

The first line says it all: “I’m spinning in squares, not circles.”

Translation: We’re doing something new with the old, familiar forms.

Even before that telling first line, the sound of scratchy vinyl and a cinematic blend of brass and strings conveys a similar message: A spinning record translated to the ones and zeros of the digital realm, a circle transmogrified into a seemingly infinite string of binary squares. Is it past, or is it future?

The album, by the way, is called Collaborations, and it’s quite excellent. Front and center are the complementary vocals of Kelly and Keri Kintner. Kelly has a rough-hewn, soulful, earthy voice reminiscent of the late, great Rick Danko of The Band (and a bit of Kenny Rogers as well), while Keri sings in a voice that calls to mind Linda Ronstadt. In short, if you like 70s country rock, you’ll love this album.

Yet even as a country-rock vibe provides the sonic foundation of this wonderful album, the Kintners, with the help, as the title suggests, of some extremely talented collaborators, are also eager to branch out into other musical styles. The horns and strings on the aforementioned opening track, “Keep Me Around,” for example, call to mind indie-rock darlings Belle and Sebastian, while the soaring, searing bluesy guitar of “Keep Me Around” offers a visceral echo of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. And be sure to give some special attention to the jazzy piano in “Two Weeks” featuring Charu Suri.

As for lyrics, the Kintners deliver vivid, heartfelt stories of real people living real lives. Often lonely but never hopeless, they populate the small, private spaces of our day-to-day lives: the front seat of the car, the hotel bar, the back roads we all travel.

The truly amazing feat of this album is that it conveys a sense of intimacy despite the fact that (I imagine, anyway) its contributors, with the exception of Kelly and Keri, were rarely, if ever, in the same room together. Sure, it’s common for musicians these days to shoot files halfway around the world to each other, but something – the magic of musicians playing off each other in real time, let’s say – usually gets lost in the process. It’s like trying to capture the same bolt of lightning in two separate bottles, but it’s a feat the Kintners manage to pull off with warmth and grace.

Review by Marc Schuster

Obsession by the La La Lettes

Underscoring their anti-pop leanings, the La La Lettes open and close their latest album, Obsession, with a knowing parody of repetitive pop music titled “Kiss Me.” Barely a minute long, the track gets at the heart of pretty much every song I hear whenever I walk into my local department store, and the title includes two-thirds of the song’s lyrics. The other third, if you’re curious, begins with the letter F.

As if to cleanse – or perhaps dirty – the palette, the album then launches into a 45-second assault of noise that resolves into “Man Overboard,” a fuzzy, overdriven tribute to 60s garage rock that calls to mind a bit of both Black Sabbath and Captain Beefheart.

Keeping the lo-fi 60s vibe going, the third track, “Elements,” proffers a loving echo of the late, great former Pink Floyd front man Syd Barret, and the remainder of the album carries through with an equal balance of fuzz and psychedelia with a little bit of soul thrown in for good measure.

Of particular note are the guitars on a track called “Kimberley,” a song that wholeheartedly evokes Iggy and the Stooges, and the horns towards the end of the album’s closer, “Landing.”

The real clue to what the album is doing, however, occurs in the final fifteen seconds with the (consciously) repetitive reprise of the album’s opening track. The effect here is to make the body of the album feel like a glorious interruption of the day’s regular dreary programming. To put it another way, it frames everything else as a big middle finger to mainstream pop.

Review: Thompson Crowley – In Tongues EP

When I loaded Thompson Crowley’s In Tongues EP into iTunes, I got a message that said “Unknown Genre.”

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Fair enough, I suppose, as Crowley’s music defies easy categorization the same way most great recordings do. One of the big touchstones I’m hearing is The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, itself an album that’s difficult to fit into an obvious genre, but I’m also hearing hints of Bowie — particularly in some of the vocals — a pinch of Led Zeppelin and Robert Plant’s Eastern influences, and something approaching Harry Nilsson and Jens Lekman. I even picked up some Smiley-Smile era Beach Boys in a couple of places. Yet even as the EP drifts almost dreamily between rock, pop, folk, and world music, it hangs together beautifully as a coherent whole — clearly a labor of love recorded less as an exercise in pleasing the masses than as a heartfelt and skillful artistic statement.