SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH
Street Lights for a Ribcage
It must be said that the shadow of early M83 looms large over Seattle's analog synth scene scorers Sleepy Eyes of Death. Like those French bedroom symphonists, Sleepy Eyes of Death employ an arsenal of antique machines and only the occasional acoustic instrument or human voice to achieve grand, cinematic results. Yes, yes, "cinematic" is on the list of untenable rock-crit clichés, but listen, there is no way to hear these songs as anything but the soundtracks to some beautifully cinematographed, probably imaginary films. And they're named after a film. And at least one of the band members works at Scarecrow Video.
But if Sleepy Eyes of Death owe some debt to Gooom Records' prodigies, as well as shoe-gazing sound tracker Kevin Shields, they're also a thoroughly enjoyable band in their own right. Their songs layer gently sweeping pads, sharp arpeggios, and drums—either muted and mechanical or heaving and organic—to create dense, eddying formations. The album is divided nearly in half (these guys are so vintage they actually made sides!) between turbulent storms on the A side and soft cumulous clouds on the flip.
Of the former, the most extreme example is to be found in the piercing lead and violent drum kicks of "Eyes Spliced Open" (Luis Buñuel = cinematic), although album opener "Mean Time Till Failure" is also a tempest of freezing synths washed with white noise. With the latter category, the examples are more even and spread out; fragile calm is the band's default setting, and even the aforementioned squalls rise from and recede back into regular placidity. While a little more car-chase terror to break up the gorgeous soft focus slow mo would be nice, Street Lights for a Ribcage is still a terrific debut score. ERIC GRANDY
CD release at the Crocodile Cafe Sat July 14 w/Adam Franklin, Head Like a Kite, 9 pm, $10/12, 21+.)
THE MAGIC NUMBERS
Those the Brokes
The Magic Numbers have a way of drawing you into their world from the very start of their albums: On the band's debut, this is done with the insistent repetition of a single note; on Those the Brokes, it's with what sounds like a magical chime. Things shift, and suddenly you've landed in a locale where heartbreak and confusion are set to sunny melodies and augmented by heavenly harmonies and ooh-aah choruses.
Those the Brokes starts off strong, with the infectious, conflicted, and urgent strains of "This Is a Song," the skronk-laden pop of "You Never Had It," and the instantly memorable, driving single, "Take a Chance." The music-box-tinged "Boy" moves into quieter, more introspective territory. The rest of the album tends to float by in a bit of a haze (apart from the supremely catchy "Runnin' Out"). "Undecided" finds multi-instrumentalist Angela Gannon delivering vintage girl-group grit, while bassist Michele Stodart takes the lead (and plays almost all the instruments) on the sweet, soulful "Take Me or Leave Me."
There's nothing as raw and bracing as the material on the Magic Numbers' first record, but main songwriter Romeo Stodart still has a knack for creating enduring melodies that bubble back into your consciousness hours later, sneaking up on you like the sun peeking out from behind the clouds before disappearing again. At its best, Those the Brokes is a brilliant, contemporary look at timeless pop, and at its worst, it's simply pleasant—not bad for a sophomore effort. BARBARA MITCHELL
THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS
We Are the Night
On this, the sixth full-length of original material released under the Chemical Brothers name, producers Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons end an 11-track set with "The Pills Won't Help You Now" (an ascendant ballad featuring Midlake). And, sadly, the sentiment is true. Outside of certain moments (mostly in the stronger first half) this album lacks the serotonin triggers that the Chemical Brothers once dealt. The irrepressible breaks are drawn taut into a series of strictly plotted 4/4, as the Bros have been doing for much of the new millennium. And while the duo can't be expected to just relive past glories, the problem remains that it's not just the framework that's sometimes stunted.
The acidic squelch is dampened, the tribal insistence relegated mostly to the first three tracks: "We Are the Night," "All Rights Reserved" (featuring Klaxons), and "Saturate." The following track, "Do It Again," is a numb mantra of detached persistence, a distant relation to an early Mute Records release. It's an interesting, nigh hypno tech, but it's ultimately more curio than compelling. Immediately following is "Das Spiegel," the "Star Guitar" or "Sunshine Underground" of the album, if you will, meaning a melody-mottled excursion into sylvan silicon whorls. The problem is that the Chemical Brothers already released a definitive "Star Guitar" in 2002, and the original was far more swoon worthy. "The Salmon Dance," a Mr. Scruff–like nursery rap featuring the Pharcyde's Fatlip, is notable for being an almost inconceivable tangent. The remaining, retro-tinged tracks reach for bliss, but like Icarus reaching for the sun they can flare but fall short. It's nice to see the Chems not blaringly lusting for crossover, and there are moments that will have the eyelids shutterbuggin'. But there are also some that will have the eyes rollin', and we know how most would rather roll to the Chemical Brothers. TONY WARE
Rise to Your Knees
Meat Puppets—originally an SST Records psychedelic cow-punk trio formed in the early '80s around Phoenix, Arizona—lived up to cofounder Curt Kirkwood's explanation for the band's name: "We're all meat puppets; we're all humans and none of us are in control." Emerging as a taut hardcore band, Meat Puppets transitioned from pummeling to noodling (in a good way) over the course of the group's first three albums. They kept kickin' up a cloud of sun-baked melodies until 1994, when they both broke through (accompanying Nirvana on Unplugged in New York) and started to break down (beginning with cofounder Cris Kirkwood's descent into heroin addiction). So human, so out of control.
Curt kept the Meat Puppets name going till 2000's Golden Lies, and then went officially solo. Now, after more than a decade of estrangement, the original Kirkwoods have reconvened. And the result is like the Southwest from which they came—more arid than alluvial. That's not to say it's completely barren—there's plenty of entrancement to be found in natural erosion—but there's a stolid uniformity to Meat Puppets' latest despite their shifts of fate. Prime Meat Puppets material succeeded because of the Kirkwoods' giddiness, the unflagging manner in which Curt's guitar and Cris's bass flitted about one another. That loose surrealism, at least the more fuzz-caked 1994 version of it, is hinted at on "Disappear," "Enemy Love Song," "Light the Fire," "New Leaf," and "Vultures." But more often than not the album sounds merely weary, as if the Kirkwoods were drifting listlessly on the lake of fire rather than basking fully in its luster. No outside force is now pulling Meat Puppets' strings, but that doesn't mean they couldn't still use a good tug. TONY WARE
Die Hard: With a Vengeance
Live Free or Die Hard
The Return of Bruno