Not Going Anywhere
Coming from a teenage temptress like Hilary Duff, the lines "Look at me, I'm only 17/It hasn't been too long, but it's been lonely" would amount to a shameless tease. Yet in the equally girlish voice of 30-year-old Keren Ann Zeidel, against angelic harp arpeggios, the same lyric exudes a breezy eagerness to take on the world, not bait for a sweaty-palmed Humbert-in-training. By the time "Seventeen" builds to a delirious string break—a sea of sumptuous violins that Björk would happily bathe in—the French singer-songwriter's debut English-language album has revealed itself to be the very best kind of tease: one that promises something safe, then moves in deliciously unexpected directions. The bluesy "Road Bin" chastises an admirer's romantic reticence: "Does it have to be from far away/When you love me 'til your bones/Do we always have to hide away/In a road bin full of stones?" This isn't just a big-toe dip into blues style, either. With every verse, the guitar gets grimier; eventually, the song evokes some Francophone roadhouse where people melt cave-aged Gruyère on their fries. The poppier "Sailor & Widow" begins with a playful, almost childish drum-guitar thump, then tells the awful tale of an arsonist wife who "accidentally" traps her sailor husband in a blaze. Innocence and guile mesh similarly on "Right Now & Right Here," whose gentle, two-bar piano intro makes it sound like a children's lullaby—that is, until Keren Ann coos, "Over and over, you wanted it so fast/Head on my shoulder, I'll pour myself a glass." The whole album smartly keeps you off balance. NEAL SCHINDLER
You may have already heard, but this record is getting some of the worst reviews of the year, topped off (or bottomed out) by a 0.0 out of 10 in Pitchfork. It reminds me of Jets to Brazil, Blake from Jawbreaker's late-'90s reinvention as a Britpopper, sparking some of indie rock's most ridiculous auto-backlash bullshit ever. Travistan seems to be the result of Travis getting his ass whomped at the mall by random thugs. Well, people get harassed and brutalized at the mall all the time—try living in Olympia—but when he sings, "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth," in the yearning yelp reserved for the most emotionally vulnerable moments of Morrison's former band, the Dismemberment Plan, my sympathy evaporates into bewilderment. Musically, it's worlds away from the shimmering, rhythmic combination of emo and Talking Heads' Remain in Light that the Plan had perfected by their end. I could lie and say the slouchy, "funky" beats reminded me of the Stone Roses, but really they have me flashing on Uncle Kracker and Kenny Chesney. This is a confused and confusing document. Sometimes it's so lacking in art and artifice it would have Chris Carrabba cringing. Sometimes it's so cutesily affected (the "Get Off This Coin" interludes) it's like a politicized They Might Be Giants. Sometimes, like on "Orca," it's somehow both at once. It's as if Morrison had set out to make a studio-hack soft-pop album ("We've got to go for some of that John Mayer/Jason Mraz money!"), only to be sabotaged by his own neuroses. JESS HARVELL
Travis Morrison plays Crocodile Cafe with United State of Electronica, Aqueduct, and Something for Rockets at 9 p.m. Sat., Oct. 30. $10 adv./$12.
Audit in Progress
Punk-rock middle age can be a bitch. Flameouts, abandoned purposes, therapy, and children begin to litter the sides of the real-life highway, on which "doing it for the music" fills up the tank for only so long. God forbid that on the other side you end up being more Bad Religion than the Ex, stewing in the knowledge that the world needs more elders playing hardcore like it needs Four More Years. Which is all the more reason to treasure Hot Snakes, a renewed partnership between old Drive Like Jehu cohorts Rick Froberg and John Reis (aka Rocket From the Crypt's Speedo), whose third and finest collection of loud, fast eruptions, Audit in Progress, actually sounds like it was made by grown men but does not betray a speck of professorial punk preaching. Instead, it guides a Vesuvius-like flow of energy left over from misspent youth into an artistic combat rock that could only be created by people who've spent time around the block. So, as Reis, bassist Gar Wood, and recent drumming addition Mario Rubalcaba drop the pedal, Froberg lets off proclamations about what he'd do for "Kreative Kontrol" (give up sex, for one) and about needless consumption (the diet-metaphor-gone-haywire "Think About Carbs"), and on the super, chunky "Plenty for All," he gets off one of the most forceful punk-hippie thoughts of 2004. We should all age this well. PIOTR ORLOV
Hot Snakes play Neumo's with Red Eyed Legends and Dan Sartain at 8 p.m. Mon., Nov. 1. $12 adv.