Matthew Friedberger

Plus CD Reviews of The Sadies, Golden Smog, and Mew.

Matthew Friedberger

Winter Women/ Holy Ghost Language School

(859 Recordings)

It's odd that Matthew Friedberger has taken pop music as his medium. It would seem too small a field to hold his energies and ideas. Isn't the pop ideal three minutes of straightforward bliss? There are plenty of pop outbursts and no shortage of bliss in the body of work he and sister Eleanor have produced as Fiery Furnaces, but it's a complex sort of poppy bliss; and if the song lengths aren't remarkable, that they tend to string themselves together into unwieldy concept albums that inspire exhaustive interpretive efforts certainly is. His first two solo albums, jointly packaged, show the same qualities. Holy Ghost Language School is the more conceptually cohesive of the two, and the more obviously musically adventurous. It is a story David Lynch or Guy Maddin or Charlie Kaufman might be proud of: our hero falls asleep listening to the radio while driving along the Seventh Loop Highway and dreams of founding the bizarre Holy Ghost Language School, with his entrepreneurial exertions ultimately leading him to . . . fall asleep at the wheel. Meanwhile, we're treated to a mélange of blues guitar, music-hall organs, Dolphy-esque film-strip jazz, a new soundtrack to West Side Story, and backward studio trickery. Winter Women, however, sounds like either a collection of business-historical short stories or a blueprint for Faulkner's collected unwritten novels, set to a controlled disco-fied chaos that's deliciously catchy and, yes, pure pop. No matter how odd it might be, we should be grateful that Matthew Friedberger has taken pop music as his medium. KRISTAL HAWKINS

The Sadies

In Concert—Volume One

(Yep Roc)

With their previous album Favorite Colours, one could make a case for the Sadies being a Canadian counterpart to the Byrds—a band with gauzy, close harmonies (the Good brothers) adept at a snazzy mixture of American roots music and jizz-free pop psychedelia. After a couple listens to In Concert, seems the Sadies just might have it in 'em to be successors to the Blasters as well. Selflessly sharing the spotlight with several guests, they blaze with equal aplomb through country with Neko Case, ratty rockabilly with Jon Spencer, and disconsolate balladry with Mekons/Waco Brothers Jon Langford. (Other swells include Kelly Hogan, Gary Louris [Jayhawks] and The Band's keyboard whiz Garth Hudson.) These Sadies are as comfortable with Bob Wills' Western swing chestnut "Stay A Little Longer" as with Barrett-era Pink Floyd's "Lucifer Sam," effortlessly encompassing heartfelt twang and rockin' crunch. Worth the price of admission: their rave-up version of the Mekons' "Memphis, Egypt." MARK KERESMAN

Golden Smog

Another Fine Day

(Lost Highway)

Listening to Golden Smog's fuzzy, country-tinged rock songs with no prior knowledge of the band you might hear only hints that the group is no ordinary collection of rock musicians. But further inspection will reveal it's actually a super-group that fuses the enormous talents of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, Soul Asylum's Dan Murphy, the Jayhawks' Gary Louris and Marc Perlman, and Run Westy Run's Kraig Johnson, each of whom reveals his influence in a different way throughout the album. Although this is the group's fourth disc since 1992, it is clearly its most cohesive and memorable, punctuated with hushed and subtly urgent alt-country gems. It's nearly impossible to select a standout, but "Frying Pan Eyes" may be the disc's best with its Beatles-esque pop. Whether you are a fan of the involved musicians—or even know who they are—is irrelevant: Golden Smog is worth listening to on their own terms. EMILY ZEMLER

Mew

And the Glass Handed Kites

(Columbia)

The fourth album by this Danish space-rock group is perfect for wimpy Muse fans unable to handle the bitchy, beefed-up prog-pop on Muse's latest. Like their English counterparts, Mew play complicated compositions full of unexpected structural twists and elaborate instrumental detail; they'll switch gears from a fuzzy dream-pop amble to a sharp dance-rock groove before you can wonder what bands in Denmark sound like. But where Muse seem to wield their ambition like a weapon, bludgeoning Coldplay-loving simpletons into submission, these dreamy-looking Danes brandish their stick more softly, smoothing out rough-edged guitar fuzz and weird meter shifts with creamy Jeff Buckley vocals and pretty keyboard parts. In fact, the best parts of And the Glass Handed Kites—such as "The Zookeeper's Boy," where frontman Jonas Bjerre floats some gorgeous whale-song falsetto—suggest that Sigur Ròs didn't have to turn into an experiment in boredom after Ágætis Byrjun made them international avant-rock stars. Mew hit an arty-yet-accessible sweet spot. MIKAEL WOOD E

 
comments powered by Disqus