Album review roundup: The Zombies, Build, and the Cars

The Zombies -- Breathe Out, Breathe InThe Zombies — Breathe Out, Breathe In (Red House)

Well this was surprisingly pleasant, although nowhere near the greatness of the original incarnation of the group. The opening title track is a dead ringer for latter day Steely Dan, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But that’s not really the Zombies that people are expecting to hear, is it?

Still, it’s clear that founding Zombies Colin Bluntstone and Rod Argent — who receive featured billing status on Breathe Out, Breathe In — still have plenty of songwriting gas left in the tank, as evidenced by strong songs like the prog-tinged rocker “Another Day,” the delicate and melodic “Any Other Way,” and the surprisingly effective and overtly religious “Christmas for the Free” — the last of which comes damn close to recreating the vintage ’60s Zombies sound.

Build - PlaceBuild — Place (New Amsterdam)

One of my favorite contemporary classical outfits returns with the followup to their excellent self-titled EP. Place features more of the same meticulously crafted compositions from Matt McBane, and the influence of Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Philip Glass is still present. Witness the entrancing opening cut, “Behavior Patterns,” for proof of that.

But there’s a neat twist this time around, as more jazz and rock influences creep into Build’s sound. “Dissolve” is a propulsive, tense number not totally unlike the artier excursions of early ’70s King Crimson. The centerpiece of Place is the three-part “Swelter” suite, written to evoke the feeling of an oppressively hot New York summer. The first part feels intentionally tense and claustrophobic, and just might have you reaching for your air conditioner’s power button. The second part feels like one of those August days where all you want to do is just lie on the couch and do absolutely nothing, while the final part evokes the feeling of the first while staking out its own uniquely skittering style.

The Cars - Move Like ThisThe Cars — Move Like This (Hear Music)

I’ve always maintained that any time an older band releases one of those “return to form” albums, they have to be very careful to not sound like their own cover band. But I can’t blame Ric Ocasek for wanting to get the Cars back together and giving it a go anyway. Their infectious New Wave sound has been aped by countless bands in recent years, so they’re certainly entitled to show the young ‘uns how it’s done.

And for some of Move Like This, at least, they manage just that. “Blue Tip” opens the album with real promise, with its driving rhythms, bleeping and blooping synths, and Ocasek’s uncanny gift for melody. The whole record really calls to mind the high points of the whole Shake It Up / Heartbeat City era, which is great to hear. Songs like “Blue Tip,” “Too Late,” and “Sad Song” could be played live and stand toe to toe with the band’s classics.

There really are just two things lacking on this record – the smooth yet unique vocals the late Ben Orr brought to the Cars (he was badly missed on “Soon”), and more solos from the great Elliot Easton. But as “return to form” albums go, this is a real winner.

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