Album review mini-roundup: Russian Circles, Four Tet, Midlake, The Roots, Portishead, Tapes ‘N Tapes

It’s been a few months since my last album review roundup and I know the public constantly clamors for more of my stunning insight into what new music is worth listening to these days. So here it is…

Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther
Midlake – The The Trials of Van Occupanther (Bella Union)

This came out almost two years ago, but it’s new to me. And holy crap is it ever my favorite album right now. It has the warmth and intimacy of early-to-mid ’70s Fleetwood Mac, with a dash of Neil Young for good measure. “Roscoe” made some waves in the blogosphere as a single, but I would place a few songs (“Head Home”, “We Gathered in Spring”) above it. There are plenty of great vocal harmonies on this disc, which I’m always a sucker for. The songs are subtle and subdued without ever being boring. And some great ’70s-sounding synths even make an appearance to spice things up (and they sound totally natural).

The AMG review on this one said it best – “Midlake might be stuck in the ’70s, but they make it sound like the best place on earth.” A new album (tentatively titled The Courage of Others) is slated for release this year, and my expectations are high to say the least.

Four Tet - Ringer (EP)
Four Tet – Ringer (Domino)

I’m not a huge consumer of electronica per se, but Four Tet is near the top of my last of favorites. This four-song EP is certainly less bizarre and more (gasp!) danceable than his previous works, but with plenty of depth. Very enjoyable.

Russian Circles - Station

Russian Circles – Station (Suicide Squeeze)

I had never heard of these guys until a few weeks ago but I’m already a fan. The first band that came to mind when listening to Station was Tortoise, although this is much more indebted to heavy metal. This is great instrumental post-rock (is that the right term?) that successfully integrates atmospheric stretches with muscular metal passages. Metal as mood music? Yeah, I think that sounds about right for this.

The Roots - Rising Down
The RootsRising Down (Def Jam)

Oh man, I really wanted to like this album more than I do. I suppose a letdown was inevitable given the sheer greatness of Game Theory, but even taken on its own merits I think Rising Down is a bit slight. There are some really great songs here to be sure: “Criminal”, “I Will Not Apologize”, and the title track count as some of the Roots’ best. But too much of this album simply lacks the accessibility, intensity, and variety of Game Theory. Good, but not great.

Portishead - Third
Portishead – Third (Mercury/Island)

Wow, just wow. For Portishead it’s clearly about quality over quantity. Few acts could get away with waiting 11 years between studio albums, but perhaps it was for the best. So many Portishead clones sprung up in the mid-to-late ’90s that their brand of electronica had become diluted before long. Now comes Third, living proof that Geoff Barrow, Beth Gibbons, and Adrian Utley have only gotten better with the passage of time.

Rather than sounding like a desperate attempt to relive past glory, Third is thoroughly of and yet out of its time. If you don’t know what that means (and I’m not sure I do), get a copy of this album and experience it yourself.

Tapes ‘N Tapes – Walk It Off (XL)

I was going to be all snarky and just write “Turn it off” as my review, but I do think “Hang Them All” is a pretty good song. Other than that, meh. The term ‘sophomore slump’ was coined just for records like this. Stick with The Loon.

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