Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Now Scything: Kaki King,

Beach House, Gavin Rossdale

Kaki King
Dreaming of Revenge
Score: 6

When Kaki King lets her fingers do the talking, it's easy to listen. The guitar mag perennial can handle plenty of instruments, and in addition to her weapon of choice, she wields bass and percussion here. Her voice, on the other hand, is a different body, comparable to a foreign medium through which she passes gingerly. Her slight, colorless vocals distract the listener and seem to pull her from her stringed world. When spoken in short bursts, as on "Pull Me Out Alive," they work better with her tapping technique; drawn out, as on the plaintive "Life Being What It Is," they steer the focus onto her weakest element. Smartly, Dreaming of Revenge is largely an instrumental album, with seven of its 11 tracks vocal-free. Take in the scrabbling and snapping of "Bone Chaos in the Castle" and the way King caresses sighs out of lap steel and electric alike on "Montreal," and you might see what the guitar magazines have been going on about.

Beach House
Score: 5

If you're jonesing for a feel-good song, don't turn to Beach House. (That'd be the Beach BOYS you're looking for.) No, the Baltimore duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally pretty much stick to ... well, they don't really do sad songs, either. Devotion, like their self-titled debut two years earlier, wanders a perpetually socked-in soundscape of keyboards, reverb and organ thrum. If it could take shape, it would definitely be a plateau. There's a sense of depression to Legrand's songs of domestic life, as if she experienced sadness once but is numb to it now and is trying to reclaim it. In "All the Years," for instance, she describes "sitting on a rock, just / waiting for a key / to sleep inside the house / of old serenity." Devotion's mixing job plays up the band's haziness, but that doesn't flatter the material. Scally's guitar rarely rises above murk level. Legrand's vocals are difficult to pick out even when they aren't vying with a lot of instruments, and the lyrics are often opaque. "Astronaut," a somewhat psychedelic liaison, is really the only reason to read the liner notes. The mantralike chorus of "Gila" provides a much-needed hook; outside that, there's not much to latch onto.

Gavin Rossdale
Score: 4

Fellow Brit Mike Skinner of The Streets once declared, "I make bangers, not anthems." Gavin Rossdale does the opposite. Post-Bush and post-Institute, he shoots for the stadiums. Virtually every song on his solo debut tries to make grand statements (or at least big sounds) out of whatever's on his mind. Those things, regrettably, come out dressed in generic lyrics and verse-chorus-verse structures, which betray the effort Rossdale puts into his vocals. The imbalance between action and emotion culminates in a chorus that goes, in part, "Better get in my car and drive." It doesn't help that the phrase is preceded by "caught in a landslide," 'cause if you're caught in a landslide, you can't very well drive, though we can presume it's a metaphor (or maybe both are metaphors). Dave Stewart of Eurythmics worked with Rossdale in writing three songs ("Future World," "Another Night in the Hills," "Beauty in the Beast"), and Shirley Manson and Katy Perry contribute backing vocals, but their collective influence barely registers. If there's a sophomore slump in Rossdale's future, he won't have far to fall.

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