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Who’s Back?

By John Brodeur

Man Man

Rabbit Habits (Anti)

On their third full-length, and first for the Anti label, Philadelphia oddballs Man Man strive to make something resembling a pop record. This is something the costume-wearing, instrument-swapping, boundary-pushing live act has never excelled at—their strength is in creating something of the moment, not a statement for the ages. But frontman Honus Honus (Ryan Kattner) puts his best fist forward, snarling through these 13 tracks like Tom Waits via Isaac Brock; and indeed the band’s attempts to rein in their idiosyncrasies play out much like those early Modest Mouse records, where spurts of angry death-disco (opener “Mister Jung Stuffed,” for instance) clash with loping ballads like set-closer “Whalebones”—that song borders on actually sounding pretty, a feat for a band that tends to emphasize the ugly undercurrents of human nature. With the final stretch of Rabbit Habits being its strongest—“Whalebones,” preceded by free-jazz/punk workout “Top Drawer” and eight-minute set piece “Poor Jackie”—the album succeeds in displaying real growth. I’ll bet five bucks they hire Van Dyke Parks to orchestrate the next one.

The Wedding Present

El Rey (manifesto)

David Gedge’s voice has aged, or matured, into something mellower, much sturdier than the surly beast it once was. It seems he’s learned to actually sing (his instrument used to be more of a bark than a croon), and he has plenty to sing about on El Rey, the first Wedding Present record in three years. Perhaps striving to reconnect with a particularly fruitful creative period, Gedge and company recorded El Rey over 10 days with engineer Steve Albini. (Albini was behind the board for Seamonsters, often considered the best Wedding Present album, 17 years ago.) Written while Gedge was living in Los Angeles, this document of all things California (girls, drugs, the ocean) is a messy, sometimes sophomoric affair—“The Thing I Like Best About Him is His Girlfriend” proves he still considers himself cleverer than he actually is—but it also shows that, after several softer-sounding releases (counting Gedge’s five-year stint fronting Cinerama), there’s still a lot of fight in this dog.

Tokyo Police Club

Elephant Shell (Saddle Creek)

Canadian act Tokyo Police Club burst out of the gate last year with a pair of EPs (A Lesson in Crime and the Smith EP) that totaled 25 minutes and 12 songs between them. Those quick blasts held all the spastic glory of punk rock, with an experimental streak that suggested great things for the young band. After a long wait, the band has returned with their first full-length (and Saddle Creek debut) Elephant Shell and while that early promise isn’t exactly squashed, it feels squandered. They’ve softened the edges that made those EPs such a hoot, in favor of a more melodic sound beholden to the Cure and Death Cab for Cutie (think of Hot Hot Heat’s later records). And, while it’s nice to hear the band develop (don’t get me wrong; there’s some excellent indie-pop here, “Tessellate” in particular), it would be nicer to hear them come off their meds and get crazy for a few songs. Why keep it in your pants on the second date after putting out on the first?

White Lion

Return of the Pride (Airline)

. . . and lo, Mike Tramp did decree, “Behold, as I shall write another ‘When the Children Cry.’ ” But lo, he could not, for the muck and mire that he did conjure echoed drably through the hollowed hull of his once formidable fighting unit, now rotted out by years of despondence and inactivity. Even Lord Van Hagar sneered in disapproval, for his mighty shield, tarnished and made laughable by a long and misunderstood public life marked by pomposity and delusions of grandeur, had little before been worn with such disgrace. Tramp and his men set forth for the state fairgrounds with little hurrah; a most triumphant return, sadly, this would not be.

The Raveonettes

Lust Lust Lust (Vice)

To call Lust Lust Lust a return to form would be to mislabel it—their last disc, 2005’s Pretty in Black, was a very good record from a band that has yet to make a bad one. The Raveonettes haven’t gone back to the all-songs-in-one-key schtick, but they do delve back into the din of their early recordings, and it’s a journey well worth taking. The Danish duo is traditionally morbid here (tracks include “Dead Sound”, “The Beat Dies,” “Sad Transmission,” and “Expelled from Love”), and their collision of Jesus and Mary Chain-style feedback-drones and “Leader of the Pack” girl-group production has never sounded better. They experiment with loops, noise, and unyielding darkness; album opener “Aly, Walk With Me,” with its ominous single-note guitar riff, finger cymbals, and abrasive, straight-to-the-board overdrive, is almost a challenge to listen to (at five minutes, it’s also their longest recorded track to date). This is the space-out record of the summer (sorry, Spiritualized), but be careful with the headphones—Lust Lust Lust could literally blow your mind.

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