Absentstar: Sea Trials

After a teaser of a four-song EP in 2007, Chicago rock band Absentstar is back with their debut full-length on Columbia Records, Sea Trials. This quintet has a Brit-pop feel, resembling a cross between the Killers, Keane, and a more melodic version of Blue October. Produced by Semisonic’s Dan Wilson, Absentstar delivers a 12-song set of blazing pop tunes with interesting arrangements and soaring choruses. Lead singer Derek Ingersoll tends to overdo it with that fake British vocal thing, but there’s no denying that this is a talented band with some solid songs. “Half Life” and “For God’s Sakes” are no-brainers as some of the best work here, and were also on the EP. But there is beauty in some of the newly released tracks, such as the haunting “Life Support,” which is driven by raunchy guitar riffs; and “All is Forgotten,” a really pretty piano anthem. Absentstar is not going to set the world on fire, but Sea Trials is certainly a promising debut. (Columbia)

Absentstar MySpace page

Jukebox the Ghost: Let Live and Let Ghosts

Seth Timbs and his mates in Fluid Ounces better check their playbooks, because Washington D.C. trio Jukebox the Ghost lifted entire chapters of it for their debut Let Live and Let Ghosts. “Where Are All the Scientists Now?” in particular feels like Fluid Ounces’ In the New Old Fashioned Way album rolled into one song which, for the uninitiated, is a very, very good thing. Granted, the explosive piano work by singer Ben Thornewill is sure to draw more comparisons to Ben Folds than Timbs, but the sad truth is that Folds hasn’t made a record this effervescent in over a decade. Jukebox the Ghost takes the three-man approach of Ben Folds Five, replaces the bass with a guitar, and creates music that merges Queen’s bombastic spirit with the minimalist approach of the White Stripes. Prog rock for sissies, if you will. It’s quirky and undeniably fun, but a few more hooks would take this material a long way. Love the attitude and approach, though. (The Rebel Group 2008)

Jukebox the Ghost MySpace page

OMD: Live: Architecture & Morality & More

Give OMD credit for knowing the limits of their marketplace potential, and serving up a live record that is right in the wheelhouse of the very people (only people?) who would still consider buying an OMD album at this point in time. Live: Architecture & Morality & More, on paper, is a die-hard’s dream come true, a track-by-track performance of the band’s most highly regarded album, fleshed out with various hit singles from the rest of the band’s catalog. The execution, however, is another matter. The mostly down-tempo album doesn’t exactly leap out of the speakers, Paul Humphreys’ keyboard tracks lack the punch of their studio equivalents, and on the two songs where Humphreys sings lead (“Souvenir” and “(Forever) Live and Die),” his voice wavers all over the place. Such a tantalizing idea – how sweet would it be to see ABC do The Lexicon of Love, or the Human League do Dare, in a similar environment – but two more weeks of rehearsal would have done wonders. (Eagle Records)

OMD MySpace page

Division Day: Beartrap Island

Division Day sure is divided. They can’t decide if they want to be a punk rock band that occasionally branches out into electronic soundscapes, or an experimental electronic band that occasionally takes things up a notch with a tune you can actually dance to. Let’s hope they eventually settle on the former. When they kick up the speed, give their guitar player a real riff to play and let their singer yelp and scream for a bit, they stand out as something worth paying attention to. The energetic “Tigers” highlights the band’s ability to really sound unique when they aren’t afraid to plug their instruments in and let loose. Even better is “Ricky,” an amazing, sinister track with a great squealing guitar riff. Too bad the band seems to avoid doing anything like it for most of the album. It’s almost like Division Day don’t know their own strengths, shying away from explosive songs like “Ricky” and instead moping about in shoegaze purgatory. Of course there’s an audience for that (those My Bloody Valentine fans have to buy something) but it’s not nearly as fun. Oh, and their MySpace page has an awesome cover of Roxy Music’s “More Than This,” which is nowhere to be found on the album. Tease. (Eenie Meenie 2007)

Division Day MySpace page

The Cat Empire: So Many Nights

After heading to Cuba to record its last album, Australia’s the Cat Empire returns to Melbourne for So Many Nights. It’s a sensible homecoming, given that the band has dedicated its fourth full-length to its country of origin, but thankfully, the familiar scenery hasn’t dulled the group’s wanderlust – these 15 tracks are fueled by the same dizzying blend of influences that fans have come to expect from Cat Empire albums, including traces of everything from rap to merengue. It’s like a mix CD soundtrack for the coolest party you’ll never throw, only all the songs are performed by the same band. They embrace eclecticism more fervently than pretty much any modern pop band you could think of, which is probably why their wild Australian success hasn’t carried over to American shores – it isn’t hard to imagine your average program director shitting a literal brick after listening to So Many Nights. Longtime fans might quibble with the disappearance of the Cuban overtones that popped up on last year’s Two Shoes, but only momentarily; after that, they’ll be too busy dancing to care. If you crave variety in your music – or are just looking for proof that Gloria Estefan was right, and yes, the rhythm is gonna get you – So Many Nights is one of the safer purchases you’ll come across all year. (Velour 2008)

Cat Empire MySpace page

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