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The Sound of the City

Interpol
Turn on the Bright Lights
(
Matador)

While hipsters like the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs remain entrenched in some endless garagey tribute to the late ’70s Bowery, fellow NYC group Interpol have debuted with an album swamped in the postindustrial gloom of early-’80s Manchester (England, that is). Turn on the Bright Lights is littered with brittle postpunk volleys of melody, shakily aggressive guitars, synth touches and a keening baritone that has already prompted a battery of comparisons to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. (And one can’t help but sense the anxiety of the Smiths’ influence on “Say Hello to the Angels.”) Nevertheless, beyond the surface comparisons, Interpol’s debut holds ups sturdily outside of history. Like fellow New Yorkers Longwave (and a few lesser-known others), Interpol glory in guitar atmosphere, and the songs often jet off into enchanting guitarscapes that alternately drone, skitter or lock into nervy, aggressive strumming. It’s all about mood rather than histrionics, however, and the guitars are at the service of the song, not vice versa.

In fact, few albums in recent memory (off the top of my head, I’d have to go back to Galaxie 500’s On Fire in 1987) have so stridently picked up the postpunk guitar mantle. And Interpol prove once again that sometimes when guys with short hair, a great record collection and a primitive understanding of the instrument are allowed to develop along their own lines, cool things happen. If folks want to play the CBGB game and try to lock emerging NYC bands into prototypes of yore, Interpol are more in the spirit of Television than anyone else. That comparison won’t get you very far, but one thing is for sure: With “NYC,” Interpol may have written one of the best, most succinct lines about the love/antagonism relationship between the city and its struggling-artist inhabitants. “Subway, she is a porno/Pavements, they are a mess/I know you’ve supported me for a long time/Somehow I’m not impressed.” Having lived in downtown Manhattan for a better part of the last decade and grinded out an existence that moved from an embattled copy desk to the gaunt tunnels of the F train (and back again), the song just plain gives me chicken skin. The four well-dressed men of Interpol have made a moody and beautiful album; it’s my favorite guitar album in a long time, and I’ll be under the headphones with it for a while.

—Erik Hage

They Might Be Giants
Dial-a-Song: 20 Years of They Might Be Giants
(Rhino)

This double-disc retrospective offers a hefty 52 songs. That’s the same as the number of weeks in a year, and, while there’s no indication that the band used the calendar as a blueprint, I have no doubt they took note of the two totals being in agreement. The pair of Johns, Flansburgh and Linnell, have succeeded in wedding their innate smarts and cleverness to songs that allow a range of common human emotions (from melancholy to glee) to take center stage. The set is named for their long-running musical outlet, originally born of a quest to find alternative ways into the forbidding monolith of music and show business; it continues uninterrupted to this day (call 718-387-6962; as their slogan says, “It’s a free call from work”). The package—two discs and a book in a slipcase—celebrates the enterprise with a staggering array of brilliant design concepts, including fanciful doodles that are a hallmark of the mindlessly drawing telephone talker. The songs are drawn from the entirety of their discography, including the semi-hits and fan favorites (but where-oh-where are “Metal Detector” and “Subliminal,” favorites from this corner of their audience?). And, having tested it fully, I can say with confidence that last year’s overlooked “Bangs” loses none of it’s heart-tugging allure from constant replays.

—David Greenberger

Queens of the Stone Age
Songs for the Deaf
(Interscope)

“Here is something you should drop to your knees for and worship,” says the radio DJ before the smoldering title track explodes into your feeble ears. “But you are too stupid to realize yourselves.” Indeed, Queens of the Stone Age are hard men for hard times, purveyors of hard truths. From the face-melting opener “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar But I Feel Like a Millionaire” to the frank and ambient “No One Knows” to the road anthem “God Is on the Radio,” QOTSA’s le dérèglement de tous les sens offers both a challenge and a redemption for even the most crotchety audiophile.

More than any outfit in recent history, Queens of the Stone Age have the ability to incorporate just about any musical influence into their continuously unfurling slipstream of hypnotic virulence. While theirs is typically categorized as “stoner rock,” the discerning listener soon understands that the attention duly paid to the physical and emotional texture of every track on Songs for the Deaf transcends the pigeonhole, offering something far beyond a product of any urban hardship, suburban angst or rural poverty. You get the cosmos. And you get riff after riff after riff after riff after Mesa Boogie riff, too.

Its ever-capricious family tree of contributors prefer works-in-progress over progressive works. The songwriting has a living, breathing history, some derived from Josh Homme’s infamous and continuously evolving Desert Sessions, others created spontaneously in the studio, each spun from the desolation of a tribe left to its own devices with fire as its sole source of comfort. Founders Homme and Nick Oliveri are like two Michelangelos sneaking into the Sistine Chapel after hours to touch up Adam’s foreskin 10 years after its completion. While this may or may not help explain the band’s ever-increasing popularity, to have Foo Fighter Dave Grohl literally beating the crap out of the drum kit, and former Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan adding hauntingly rich and familiar melodies, can’t hurt either. This is fortitude at its most brazen, and yet perhaps even the nemesis of such fortitude. It lives.

—Bill Ketzer

Tony Monaco
Intimately Live At The 501
(Summit)

In terms or skill and aesthetics, organist Tony Monaco had become the equal of his mentors by the time of his first album. He belongs in the company of Jimmy McGriff and that pair of Smiths, Jimmy and Lonnie (and not just because they all have first names that end with a “y” sound). Organ trios have a characteristic to them like no other combination of instruments. Monaco and his trio hew to the genre’s common musical language, but it is as soloists, and via choices of material, that each musician’s individuality truly flourishes. That Monaco has also overcome daunting health obstacles (he survived neuralgic amyotrophy) is a testament both to his personal drive and the magical lure of music.

Recorded live in Columbus, Ohio, this set is a marvel. Monaco, drummer Louis Tsamous and guitarist Robert Kraut make a perfect triangle. Where his previous release (Master Chops T) was divided between originals and covers, this one focuses almost entirely on the latter. “Mellow Mood” by the sorely overlooked Dodo Marmarosa is a spectacular display of the emotive voicings Monaco can bring forth from his Hammond B3. This trio have the skills and taste to give shapely force to everything from Harburg & Arlen’s “It’s Only a Paper Moon” to Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints.”

—D.G.


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