Unleashed in the East
Seen through the rear view, metal gods still godly.
More prescient bands such as the Scorpions and Cheap Trick had already hit on the "Live in Japan" album formula, but 1979's Unleashed in the East moved Judas Priest from a popular European metal band to the ultimate fave of countless sullen, leather-clad American youngsters. In retrospect, all the kids were right. Unleashed features letter-perfect renditions of nine Priest classics (plus four bonus tracks), all vocalized by the one and only Rob Halford. As Legacy has released the full dozen albums that Judas Priest released on Columbia, you can enjoy the run-up to Sin After Sin (1977), Stained Class (1978), as well as Hell Bent for Leather (1979), each way better and far heavier than the last. As for the collector factor, the packaging of these reissues is no great shakes: The liner notes are brief and bloodless, and the bonus tracks on the studio records are nothing special. But there is a lyric sheet for those of you who (like me) have always wondered what Halford was actually singing on "Exciter." The band's still out there somewhere—now fronted by a former Priest tribute band singer—but Unleashed is the real deal. Accept no substitutes. James Bush
James Mercer from the Shins loves 'em, so what's the matter with you?
If you listen carefully enough on nights when the cold snaps the air like a busted guitar string in a Neil Young solo, you can hear the hum as frontman Eric Johnson's gothic tales of haunted nature and baptism-by-fire nurturing spin eerily over banjo, mandolin, pedal steel, and an occasional Casio. If you didn't know better, you might think the album's opening echoes belonged to Uncle Tupelo, Kingsbury Manx, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Beachwood Sparks, or Johnson's other band, Califone. Additionally, the two tagging, competitive refrains on "Buffalo and Deer" ("Oh what a day for sunshine/oh what a day for blue skies" and later, "Lightning struck the same place a thousand times") are so Isaac Brockian in their ideology and stair-stepping execution that they almost call for footnotes. But don't mistake this to mean that the Fruit Bats derive their sound from lazy listening-station cop-outs. Rather, these Windy City romantics prove that, when harnessed properly, there's enough life left in subtly twanged riffs and twice-told pop tunes to keep the tradition alive and finger picking-good. Laura Learmonth
Pleasure of Ruins
New York indie-rock outfit talks about the passion.
Now that R.E.M. seems interested in doing just about anything other than being R.E.M., that task is being ably undertaken by Saturnine. Feeling his way out from behind a beaded curtain of guitar, Matt Gallaway murmurs deadpan Stipe-isms like "this is an industry that science cannot even try to help"—dour as a rainstorm and humorless as a poetry major. Throughout Pleasure of Ruins, Saturnine merges casual guitar strumming with Gallaway's emotionless, through-the-nose vocals, affecting an atmosphere that is undeniably collegiate. Like thousands of freshmen, Gallaway wonders aloud "whatever happens to a band like Hsker D?/They should have been made superstars/I doubt they made much money." But unlike those freshmen, Gallaway has the benefit of distance, and he prefaces this salvo with a sad admission that the record somehow "doesn't sound the same." And when Pleasure of Ruins works, it is precisely because of this distance. The music itself never strays far from lifeless tempos and crystalline jangles, but what rescues it from the doldrums is Gallaway's keen, knowing phrase turns. However, when he loses this perspective, he becomes pretentious. He trips into ponderous musings like, "I'm living in a story that I've heard a hundred times/ about the way you grow up and you slowly lose your mind." The laconic vocal line makes the sentiment twice as unwieldy. What Saturnine needs is for Gallaway to reign in his artfulness—and for their melodies to be stronger to compensate for the times when he doesn't. Portent in balance is a force for Reckoning. Left unchecked, it's a Monster. J. Edward Keyes
I Might Be Wrong
Everything in its right place, so long as you like it live and late-model.
As a live concert experience, I Might Be Wrong gets it surprisingly right; as a testament to the Radiohead's full history, though, this eight-track disc falls far short. That is to say, if you missed the band's one-night stand at the Gorge last summer, Wrong is truly the next best thing to having been there. If you're looking for the old-fashioned guitar lords of The Bends and OK Computer, however, you'll be squinting mighty hard from the cheap seats. Culled almost entirely from Kid A and Amnesiac, the album is largely late-model Radiohead—all queasy instrumentation and half-wailed vocals floating out into the ether. The quintessential "Subterranean Homesick Alien" sounds no less wretched and estranged for all the crowds who surged for him here; their screams and cheers are kept so muted in the mix, they hardly register. Thom Yorke and co. still retain a cool remove that even the most insistent or enthusiastic outsiders can't penetrate. Moments of taut exhilaration and connection still come, first with the opening track, "The National Anthem," whose propulsive bass line vibrates with urgency; later with "Idioteque," which, with its cow-bell syncopation and urgent vocals, gives the boys a short shot of desperate bravado. In between, "Like Spinning Plates" is a gorgeous piano ballad; and the title track, up-tempoed sprawl of sound. Certainly not the best they've done and can do, but a worthy addition to 'Head heads' collections, and a tiding-over till the Saviors of Rock deliver their next sermon from the mount. Leah Greenblatt