CD Reviews: Blake Lewis and Josh Ottum

Josh OttumLike the Season (Cheap Lullaby)Josh Ottum, formerly of Friends for Heroes, is all over the place in the finest sense of the phrase. His new album, Like the Season, can best be described as Nada Surf meets Beck meets the Starlight Mints meets Ben Folds meets Money Mark meets Phish meets Steely Dan meets Styx meets Boston meets Chicago—all funneled through a Northwest down-tempo folk/pop sensibility. If only Ottum's album met Kansas too, we'd have a "geography band" hat trick that would give me an excuse to ramble on about how brilliant an idea it would be for these washed-up bands to join forces on a single tour.But back to Ottum: Of all the influences who meet on his album, the only negative one is the Starlight Mints, a highly listenable, technically proficient band whose albums can be heard in their entirety without evoking a single emotion from the listener. Thankfully, Ottum only lets this vibe permeate one track: "Heaven the Great Cocoon." Elsewhere, the tunes are only slightly Minty (a good thing in moderation, actually). All told, Like the Season is one of the more adventurous musical offerings to come out of Seattle in years.Take "If This Mirror Could Only Talk." What starts as G-Lovey sing-songy rap (a very bad place to be, for any length of time) mercifully shifts into layered harmony backed by a prog-funk soundscape. "Follow Me" also melts into a stone groove, and the keyboards and horns on the record at large give it a very '70s-cop-drama air.But none of this should obscure the fact that as a guitarist, Ottum can fuckin' shred. "Who Left the Lights On?", spare and precise at the onset, gets more textured by the second, finally blowing a head gasket toward the end with a fuzzy, rockin' Ottum solo. The track is a perfect encapsulation of how hard to pin down the artist and his album seem intent on being, much to the listener's benefit. MIKE SEELYJosh Ottum CD release party With the Republic, Ivan & Alyosha, and Shane Tutmarc. Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave. N.W., 789-3599, tractortavern.com. $8. 9 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 22. Blake LewisHeartbreak on Vinyl (Tommy Boy Records)It makes sense that Blake Lewis, the most original American Idol contestant to date, would go on to produce the most original record to date by an Idol alum. Heartbreak on Vinyl does document the spiky-haired Mill Creek resident's romantic tribulations, but instead of spitting out sappy baby-come-back ballads, he uses Heartbreak to showcase his dance floor–friendly side.For this, his sophomore effort, Lewis teamed with a slew of top-notch pop producers—including Rodney Jerkins and Jean Baptiste, who have worked with Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas, respectively—to conceive a contagious set of '80s-influenced dance music. "Left My Baby for You" is a funky Prince-meets-Daft Punk number. The driving synth beat of "Binary Love" could be the backbone of a killer rave. And despite its title, the record's lead single, "Sad Song," will compel you to get your groove on. Surprisingly, the only heavy dose of Lewis' trademark vocal turntablism comes on "SuperScratchaVocalisticTurnatableLicious," a minute-long track of Rahzelian sounds.Unfortunately, later in the album Lewis breaks out a few slow jams ("Our Rapture of Love" and "The Point"), which kill the upbeat momentum. This loses some of Heartbreak's dance-club spirit—a spirit best captured on the title track, which nods to Seattle as Lewis imagines what the city might be like if local record shops were shuttered. Thankfully, the up-tempo rhythm of Lewis' heart reappears on the album closer, "Love or Torture (Please Don't Stop)," in which he encourages ladies to seductively touch themselves over a bumping bass groove. Let's see Sanjaya pull that off. TRAVIS HAY

 
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