Going Solo

Album a case study in poetic charm

by Amber Goodwyn

case-studies

cd-case-studiesCase Studies
This Is Another Life
Sacred Bones
3.5 out of 5

Listening to Case Studies makes me recall long conversationless stretches of highway travel with Jason Molina, Smog or Bonnie “Prince” Billy playing on the tape deck. So bearded white straight guys, this one’s for you!

Kidding (sorta) aside, this is the second solo album by Case Studies, a.k.a. Jesse Lortz, formerly of the Seattle band the Dutchess and the Duke. True to the singer-songwriter form, his songs are deeply personal, meditating on the tensions and changes in relationships, sexuality and his own identity. Lines like “I never made an enemy who didn’t fall in love with me for a while. Ain’t it hard to want to hold a disguise?” evoke a chilled out Nick Cave or a folkified Leonard Cohen in lyricism and delivery.

The best solo records seem to be made by artists who’ve figured out how to trim the fat, either by playing well with others or through sheer focus on what makes great records great. Lortz is that kind of discerning fellow, and it shows on this album. His intimate revelations remain poetic while sidestepping self-indulgence, with chord changes and introspective lyrics signaling greater psychological and emotional depth.

Greg Ashley of the band Gris Gris produced the record, and also contributed vocals and guitar to boot. Minimal percussion, clean and reverbed-out electric guitars, mellow bass and upright piano make for a classic American folk rock feel.

This Is Another Life is altogether lovely and gently sad, carefully working its way into hearts open to its mellow charms.

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cd-lemuriaLemuria
The Distance Is So Big
Bridge Nine
2 out of 5

It’s nice to see Lemuria still dealing in the sugary punk they excel at, but their latest falls a bit flat. As usual, guitarist Sheena Ozzella’s songs fare better than those of drummer Alex Kerns. Ozzella’s “Scienceless” and “Congratulations Sex” would’ve made more suitable singles than Kerns’ “Oahu, Hawaii”, which spends five minutes vainly trying to start its engine. Distance is pleasant, sure. But it feels like they forgot to add the hooks and tighten the structures before bussing it to the table. Some of the vocals are rough, too, like they were placeholder takes that somehow made the final cut. Distance makes me feel like I stopped by Lemuria’s place too early on a Sunday, and they answered the door in a loose bun and ancient SUNY Buffalo sweatshirt. We’re cool, but clearly I’ve caught them at a bad time. I’ll come back later. /Mason Pitzel

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cd-queensQueens of the Stone Age
…Like Clockwork
Matador
3 out of 5

Josh Homme is feeling really lonely on …Like Clockwork. Never mind that the whole Queens of the Stone Age gang appears on this album (their first record in six years) and that they’re inviting new buds like Elton John and Trent Reznor into the mix. Homme, a stoner-rock god through his work with QOTSA and Kyuss before that, is dejected and alone, and sings plainly about it on …Like Clockwork. Unfortunately, as bummed as Homme feels, he doesn’t offer a lot of insight into what’s got him down. The songs, while generally solid bits of rock, never expose anything beyond the obvious — that when you’re lonely you feel sad. The songs function well enough in the broader sphere of rock that he’s opened the band up to, but most of the time it seems that he’s working up to talking about something and then stops dead. /James Brotheridge

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cd-sonnySonny and the Sunsets
Antenna To The Afterworld
Polyvinyl
3.5 out of 5

Sonny and the Sunsets is the brainchild of Sonny Smith, an off-kilter songwriter with uncanny pop sensibilities seemingly jumping genres with every release. 2012’s Longtime Companion was a country-tinged breakup album that was largely autobiographical. Less than a year later he’s back with Antenna to the Afterworld, a bizzaro garage-pop album about robots, death and space. Injected with lo-fi sci-fi synths, call and response anthems, and startling mid-song conversations, it’s Smith’s refusal to take things seriously that serves as both the album’s strength and weakness. For example, the record closes with “Green Blood”, a throwback confessional about falling in love with an android who is already married to a cyborg. While it’s impossible not to smirk at that unlikely love triangle, it’s equally impossible not to burn out on the humour with repeat listens. /Michael Dawson

2013-06-13