As of late, it seems you can always trust a Merge release. The label put out Bob Mould’s last two solo albums, Mikal Cronin‘s MCII, Superchunk’s discography, and dozens of other great albums by dozens of great bands.
The latest release from the influential indie label is by a garage-punk band called Reigning Sound. The band formed in the early 2000s in Memphis, Tennessee. Fronted by Greg Cartwright, the band’s sound is described as garage rock with punk influences. Having released a few full-length albums and eps since forming, they gained recognition by critics and were signed to Merge in 2012. Shattered is their first album since Love and Curses (In the Red, 2009).
The album as a whole is a rip-roaring good time. The opening track “North Cakalackey Girl” grabs your attention. In the second track “Never Coming Home,” a beautiful violin melody flies over a story of when a loved one moves away. “Baby, It’s Too Late” conjures images of a honky-tonk bar-room. “In My Dreams” is a slow-burn. “I’m Trying (To Be The Man You Need)” is an apology for not measuring up. The song’s organ is a great touch and further develops the bluesy sound.
Reigning Sound could easily fit with those blues and folk-explosion bands but they feel more refined. Maybe it is the fact that they’ve released a bunch of albums and floated around multiple labels in the past 10+ years. Or it might be the sincerity in Greg Cartwright’s voice. They are more accessible than the Black Keys and less complicated than Jack White. They are one to watch.
Also out this week is the latest Morrissey release. Called World Peace is None of Your Business, it has one of the best album titles. Like every recent Morrissey release, there are 3 or 4 memorable songs buried within an album of songs that will never hold up to his Viva Hate/ Bona Drag/ Your Arsenal era material. “Staircase at the University” and “Forgive Someone” were the two best tracks. I rather enjoyed “Neal Cassady Drops Dead” if only for the lyrical references to beat-era poets and a chorus about scabies and rabies.
This year was another year of disappointment as a Morrissey fan. He canceled his tour after only playing a few shows. But Morrissey doesn’t claim to be anyone other than himself. Love it or hate it, this album is just another one of those late-era releases. He will never recapture the magic of The Smiths or his best solo material. But its a Morrissey album. And I’ll accept it. And hope that the next time, he doesn’t cancel his tour.
“Weird Al” Yankovic released an album called Mandatory Fun and boy, is it fun.
It was impossible to escape this release if you have an internet-based day. As with each Weird Al release, the internet went nuts speculating what/who he was going to parody and what songs would be in his customary polka medley. The wait was well-worth it.
“Word Crimes,” the second song released in Al’s “video a day for 8 days” schedule, is an imaginative take on “Blurred Lines” and makes that song much less annoying. It addresses those who use grammar incorrectly and how they can fix these issues. Maybe it will shame people into hanging up “u” and “c” for “you” and “see.” Or maybe we will just all nod along and laugh on the overuse of “literally” and the incorrect use of irony. I imagine a generation of English teachers will play “Word Crimes” for their students in the same way that Schoolhouse Rock‘s Conjunction Junction was presented during lessons.
“NOW That’s What I Call Polka!” features recently popular songs like “Wrecking Ball,” “Gangam Style,” and “Call Me Maybe.” Tuba makes “I’m Sexy & Know It” somewhat acceptable. “Get Lucky” with horns and accordion is just better. That is a fact.
The album has some originals too. “Mission Statement” channels Crosby, Still, Nash & Young with folksy harmonies and takes on the emphasis of “synergies” and other buzzwords. “First World Problems” is composed in the style of a Pixies song with “loud/quiet/loud” structure. “Problems” include clumsily attempting to fast-forward during live-TV and feeling forced to buy more stuff so that you quality for free shipping on Amazon. These really are first world problems.
Mandatory Fun serves as a reminder to the importance of Weird Al. He is so creative and smart and probably shaped the sense of humor of a whole generation. Who can hear Michael Jackson’s “Beat it” without hearing “Eat it”? Or Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock & Roll” without craving rocky road ice cream? While Al said this will be his last “traditional” album, it is exciting to know he is still around, taking note of current pop songs and composing excellent, thought-provoking parodies.