Kings of Leon

Also: Ani DiFranco, Smoke and Smoke, Rough Trade Shops: Indiepop 1, and Marianne Faithfull.

KINGS OF LEON

Aha Shake Heartbreak

(HandMeDown)

So I guess this is indie rock's 3 Doors Down, which would ostensibly come in handy at a USO show if the entirety of Williamsburg were drafted to serve in the Middle East. The roughshod, bushy-bearded, Bible Belt brothers (and cousin, but let's not go there) Followill were themselves conscripted to open for the Strokes in 2003 on the strength of their grimy, riff- centric minor hit, "Molly's Chambers." They left that tour with more than just an enhanced appreciation for tweed jackets and shaving cream. This rather Britpoppily-titled sophomore effort (certainly an inch up, as it were, from Youth and Young Manhood) tempers the Kings' rib burn-off raucousness with the Fabrizio Five's brainy new-wave craftsmanship; the really, really bad euphemisms are still intact, but we'll get to that later. The intricate, understated, surprisingly sparkly flow of "Taper Jean Girl," "King of the Rodeo," and first single "The Bucket" opens things up for frontman Caleb to . . . you know, "shine" just isn't the word. His mush-mouthed, scat-lite, mountain-yodeler drawl might be more endearing if it didn't yield couplets like "Just like the girlies back at corner store/Wash my bugle boy a watching my throne." So while an a cappella version of Aha could vie for a Best Comedy Album Grammy, Caleb's affected fever-dream rants lend welcome originality in the face of the Kings' streamlined sonic makeover. In the crowded post-garage gumball machine, a little deep Southern flavor actually does the taste buds right. ANDREW BONAZELLI

Kings of Leon play Neumo's at 8 p.m. Tues., Jan. 25. $14.

ANI DIFRANCO

Knuckle Down

(Righteous Babe)

Ani has finally come in out of the cold. On "32 Flavors," from 1995's Not a Pretty Girl, the Buffalo-based singer-songwriter mused: "There's many who've turned out their porch lights/Just so I would think they were not home." Fast-forward 10 years: Ani is a (more conventionally) pretty girl—has been, in fact, since 2001's Revelling/Reckoning unveiled her Abercrombie & Fitch–style image makeover. But do appearances really matter? Maybe her autobiographical frankness on Down is, in a postfeminist age, the most feminist thing a woman can still do. Just when you think you know everything about her, Ani reopens the family album on "Paradigm": "I was born to two immigrants/Who knew why they were here." She goes on to chronicle her mother's bid for political office, and her own work on the campaign, and though she's no longer the ferocious antiestablishment gunslinger of 1997's live Living in Clip, Ani still excels at merging a lesson in politics with an evocative musical setting: Her guitar on "Paradigm," both tremulous and warm, reflects her mixed feelings about the walk down memory lane. Even more welcome is the honesty of "Recoil," wherein the prickly singer turns suddenly vulnerable ("Been so long since I've been held/ Really since I was his/Probably just need to be held") against a rock-a-bye rhythm, then breaks the song's fourth wall to offer us shelter: "If you should happen to see my light/You can stop and ring my bell." Though she may never save the world, the Ani of 2005 is sufficiently at home in herself to keep the porch light on for the rest of us, still wandering in the dark. NEAL SCHINDLER

SMOKE AND SMOKE

Love Suffers Long

(Frenchkiss)

In which bassist Mike Kunka and drummer Dan Haugh, formerly the duo Godheadsilo, and vocalist Spencer Moody of Murder City Devils smartly join forces. Instrumentally, they're still guitarless. But within the first five seconds of their debut, it's evident that the bluesy, alcohol-fueled abandon of Murder City Devils and the Dungeons & Dragons–fueled experimentation of Godheadsilo have been laid to waste, and it seems like not even Moody quite expects the sound's sheer girth as the three spend the next 19 minutes tearing through nine songs of heavy-as-fuck beard rock. "Oh no!" he bellows, as we're assaulted with the metal riffs of the opener, "How Did the Cook Get His Finger Stuck in the Dishwasher?" A minute and 25 seconds later, it's time to take cover again. "Oh Jesus Christ!" Moody yells like someone fired a round of buckshot in his ass, as "Into the Smoke and Smoke" somehow yields more bass distortion and thunder-crack percussion than the previous cut. Then he demands: "I'm afraid/I'm afraid you're mistaken if you think Smoke and Smoke give a fuck, fuck, fuck." The next quarter of an hour finds Moody alternately shouting rationalizations ("The forest was already on fire when the lightning struck," "Love is a lifeboat with a hole in it") and non sequiturs ("Bathrobe jacket/Ascot towel") over metal/hardcore bass riffs that often feature so much distortion they sound like they're emitting from underwater. Then there's the rather political closer, "Smoke and Smoke Against the Machine": "Thank God/Major hostilities are over/And we will call this/The new freedom." The number was recorded live, and as it dies out, someone in the crowd delivers the denouement: "That was so loud it made me spill my beer." GRANT BRISSEY

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Rough Trade Shops: Indiepop 1

(Mute, U.K.)

The day after John Peel's death, I discovered the British audio blog Keeping C86 Alive (www.indie-mp3.co.uk), dedicated to both the ragged pop bands immortalized on NME's 1986 cassette—Primal Scream, the Wedding Present, and My Bloody Valentine, among them—and a handful of new Peel favorites feeling their influence. C86ers were fans' bands; few would achieve anything of renown, but to the devoted, their 1-inch pins and stickers were symbols of allegiance. The hastily recorded single on a start-up label or zine flexi could be given prime placement on that special mixtape for a special someone. And so the Indiepop 1 edition of the Rough Trade Shops series of genre-specific double CDs, with its extensive Xerox liner notes full of fanzinelike band testimonials, presents its perfect compilation as a love letter to a scene so infatuated with adolescence.

The lovesickness in the Clouds' John Charnley is so palpable when he dreamily moans, "Why do I always feel this way?" ("Get Out of My Dream"), that you think he's halfway to study hall before the Popguns' "Waiting for the Winter" charges out of the starting gate with a rambling guitar solo—a signature of C86 pop. Vocalist Wendy Morgan wails with ice princess assurance that she never wants to see her lover again. Morgan and Charnley could very well be talking about each other, waiting until they run into each other at the next Talulah Gosh show to figure things out. Gosh were the Shangri-Las of post-punk, built around the shy journal confessions of Amelia Fletcher; and Fletcher's pale flame can be seen in Dressy Bessy's Tammy Ealom (one of a few Americans to make an appearance here). With added sugar, the fuzzbox guitar work on "You Stand Here" makes Ealom indie pop's Strawberry Shortcake.

Indiepop 1 doodles a fine line between old favorites and current acts who've reaped the benefits by self-releasing singles and starting labels. K Records and Beat Happening's cardboard-box recordings are included here, both headed by Calvin Johnson, who takes notes from the Pastels' self-taught fumbling, and the Pooh Sticks' hazy, nasal delivery and jingling tambourine. Proto–Franz Ferdinand group Josef K., with its salt-shaker bass lines on "Sorry for Laughing," represent the male dandy end of the spectrum, where boys pick up instruments instead of footballs. Some songs, like the Monochrome Set's self-titled track, are more jagged—skeletal enough to join the post-punk class of '79, but spry enough to fit between blue-eyed folk sweetheart Mary Lou Lord and Echo and the Bunnymen doppelgängers Felt.

With their high-end jangle and vocalist Clint Mansell, Pop Will Eat Itself rasp like a lost Psychedelic Furs single, making dissonance clear as water on "The Black Country Chainstore Massacreee." But it's Nouveau Scottish pop group Camera Obscura who sum up the postadolescent pop confessional with one lyric: "You say your love will be the death of you." The title of the song? "Eighties Fan." KATE SILVER

MARIANNE FAITHFULL

Before the Poison

(Anti-)

Ever wonder what a new record by Polly Jean Harvey might sound like after the ins and outs of love and sex and disgust have ravaged Harvey's weary soul for another couple of decades? Half of this album by the English singer-slash-muse Marianne Faithfull—the half Faithfull made with Harvey—answers the question quite tidily: "When you're not by my side the world's in two," Faithfull croaks in opener "The Mystery of Love," "and I'm a fool." A Harvey original, the tune contains the songwriter's typically shifting layers of vulnerability and vitriol; the chorus—"The mystery of love belongs to you"—functions both as an acknowledgment and as an accusation. But Faithfull brings an extra element: her fatalism, the product of watching (and living) life in a permanent state of rock-scene fast-forward. "Show me sweetness, show me summer skies," she sings near the song's end, now with a sad little glockenspiel tinkle between her and the guitars; "Show me how to make this wrong seem right." Harvey's words are about self-deception because the truth seems too terrible to confront; Faithfull's performance is about self-deception because the truth is there and will be whether you confront it or not. Before the Poison also features three tunes co-written by Nick Cave, who was commandeering fatalism years before he had to; "Love is crazy, love is kind," Faithfull insists without a drop of conviction. She's more believable over rheumatic fingerpicking in Damon Albarn's "Last Song": "Do what you want to do!" MIKAEL WOOD

 
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