The Same Old Wings

Personal Record is a familiar-tasting bird

by Aidan Morgan

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Eleanor Friedberger
Personal Record
Merge
3 out of 5

One of the perils of writing restaurant reviews is that it’s tempting to compare everything to food. So when James Brotheridge wondered out loud via e-mail as to what flavour of chicken wings Eleanor Friedberger’s Personal Record would be, I had to stop and revise my review. Because: chicken wings, duh.

In 2004, Chicago-area siblings Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger released Blueberry Boat under the name Fiery Furnaces and more or less defined hipster music for the 21st century as a sort of artisanal prog rock. It’s a safe bet that thousands of kids fell asleep listening to “Quay Cur” and woke up with a fixie in the garage and a moustache splayed across their upper lip. For some people, Fiery Furnaces produced brilliant music; for others, it was a band only Pitchfork could love.

Now the Furnaces are on hiatus and Eleanor Friedberger has released her second solo album. Recorded in collaboration with musician/novelist Wesley Stace, Personal Record is cleaner and more straight-ahead than her work from the last decade, sounding a bit like a Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks album with Friedberger instead of the Pavement frontman on vocals.

Despite the evocative lyrics and ’70s rock flourishes, though, the music feels… reheated. If Friedberger’s solo work were an order of wings, it would be an unbearably fashionable and coy concoction — maybe with an orange-bourbon glaze, dusted with chili powder and served on a melamine plate with a cup of Nerds on the side.

Ultimately, the ingredients aren’t the important thing. Personal Record is the basket of wings you sometimes try  before realizing you’ve ordered it in the past  because it sounded so good on the menu.

Personal Record arrives at your table with some wet naps on June 4.

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Imaginary Cities
Fall of Romance
Hidden Pony
3 out of 5

“Get replaced with a synthesizer/They’d all be none the wiser,” sings Marti Sarbit in “Silver Lining’s” chorus. Sounds like someone’s been indulging their dystopian muse. Fall Of Romance, the second album from Winnipeg’s Imaginary Cities, is a lament for automation replacing idiosyncratic human artistry. The metaphor starts with Fall of Romance’s cover art, which features a two-headed robot inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis, and continues in the songs.

Like Imaginary Cities’ debut, Temporary Resident, Fall Of Romance falls firmly into the indie-pop idiom that Sarbit and Rusty Matyas — Sarbit’s main collaborator — work so well in. The pair write catchy songs that are performed by a good bunch of musicians. Sarbit’s voice is a distinctive combination of atypical and enticing.

Fall Of Romance isn’t bad, but it’s not mind-blowing, either. /James Brotheridge

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Hooded Fang
Gravez
Outside
3.5 out of 5

I’ve listened to Gravez and I have some questions for Hooded Fang . Do they wear their guitars at nipple height (but not a Joe Satriani nipple height, more of a Dave Longstreth or the shouty guy from Thee Oh Sees nipple height)? Have the proper authorities restricted them to playing shows on stages with foot-high risers, living rooms and other shirt-sleeve-optional places? And why does Gravez sound  like it’s underneath a thick blanket of reverb and fuzz? It’s inscrutable and just a bit frustrating — like a half-remembered dream about the ’60s.

Oh, it’s all right. Unlike its melancholy (and higher-fi) post-breakup predecessor Tosta Mista, Gravez is a half-hour of fun, low-stakes pop-rock best heard through ripped speakers. After an intro, Gravez kicks off with the two minutes of scuzz-rock hook surgery that is “Graves” then sashays through the Herb-Alpert-on-mescaline “Ode to Subterrania”. After that it summarily blasts through a pack of pop tunes that are all grit, static and catchy melodies. /John Cameron

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Leeroy Stagger
Truth Be Sold
Gold Lake
4 out of 5

Almost exactly a year ago, Alberta native Leeroy Stagger released Radiant Land, a record he (mostly) cut in three days in Nashville. Even back then, he had this album ready to go. Truth Be Sold’s title gives you an idea where the country rocker is coming from; Stagger always brings political and social commentary into his songs, and that quality really stands out on this record. The song “Mister” has some of Stagger’s best work in this vein — a classic outlaw country take on humble, regular-person struggles.

After “Mister”, the rest of the record refines what Stagger’s done on his previous seven albums. The raw moments are dirtier than ever and the guitars are ripped straight from Crazy Horse. In softer moments, like “Celebrity” or “Sold Down the River”, he sells his country emotion with everything he has.

Truth Be Sold has the shaggy soul of the Replacements. It’s a good place for a ragged guy like Stagger to be. /James Brotheridge

 2013-05-30