Nada Surf: If I Had a Hi-Fi

RIYL: Josh Rouse, Rogue Wave, The Silver Seas

The cool thing about alt-pop band Nada Surf is that they appear to always do things their own way. For whatever reason, though, they stayed together all these years and broke through in 2005 with The Weight Is a Gift, which was produced by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla. The band continued some of that magic with 2008’s Lucky, and instead of lying low as they had planned, decided to release an album of cover tunes. Fast-forward to today, and If I Had a Hi-Fi. While it’s a set of songs that varies widely from the known (Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” and The Moody Blues’ “Question”) to the currently hip (The Go Betweens’ “Love Goes On” and Spoon’s “Agony of Lafitte”) to the mostly obscure (Bill Fox’s “Electrocution” and Macromina’s “Evolucion”), the base of this is Nada Surf’s signature sound, which is akin to Josh Rouse or Ben Folds fronting a modern version of the Beatles. And it’s that sound that is so endearing. That said, there is something about this album that, while nice enough, may leave you wanting more. That could be because Nada Surf’s original material is that good, or it could be that they just chose these songs on a whim based on what they were listening to at the moment. Surely we can’t fault them for taking chances, because they even covered Kate Bush’s “Love and Anger.” But one or two covers on a new Nada Surf record would have worked just as well. (Mardev 2010)

Nada Surf MySpace page


Greg Laswell: Covers

RIYL: Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley

With his previous albums, Greg Laswell established his penchant for cinematic soundscapes, purveying a downcast disposition and a haunting, shrouded motif that provided spectral settings for his weary ruminations. Now, he’s taking a brief detour from his own musings via this enticing five-song EP, which retraces songs by Echo and the Bunnymen, Morphine, Mazzy Star, Kristen Hersh and Kate Bush — and, in some cases, actually bests the originals. These songs were somewhat gloomy to begin with, and Laswell makes no attempt to alleviate the mood. Even so, he manages to add a new dimension; by giving a shadowy and shimmering sheen to “Killing Moon,” a lurching yet assertive stance to Hersh’s “Your Ghost,” and buoying the tempo on “In Spite Of Me,” Laswell effectively puts his imprint on each. Likewise, “Take Everything” retains the laconic feel of Mazzy Star’s original, while transforming the song into a stately piano recital, and his take on “This Woman’s Work” strips the song of its harsh veneer and replaces Bush’s signature sensuality with an emphasis on its gentle soul. Ultimately, like every effort in his repertoire, Covers affirms that Laswell’s an original. (Vanguard 2009)

Greg Laswell website


Polly Scattergood: Polly Scattergood

Polly Scattergood is the latest graduate of the BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology to end up with a record deal. Past graduates from prestigious London school include Amy Winehouse, Imogen Heap, Adele and every member of the rock group Noisettes. It seems that school in “Fame” has nothing on this place. Her self-titled debut shows the promise of the school’s past alumni, even if it is a bit uneven at times. Most of that potential shows itself in “I Hate The Way,” a seven-minute confessional of an opening number that shares the details of a failed relationship with brutal honesty, stark imagery and sonic beauty. It’s an amazing song and a brilliant introduction to the album, so brilliant that nothing that follows has any chance of living up to it. Pitfalls that follow include “Please Don’t Touch,” a strange pop song about obsessive men, and “Bunny Club,” which features the befuddling refrain of “I’ve got a dog and a gun and I’m living in London.” Many of the lesser tracks on Scattergood’s self-titled debut try to confine her quirkiness to an electronic-pop sound, she works much better when she embraces her wild side, with bold and daring tracks like “Nitrogen Pink” and “Untitled 27” where she lets her voice and her powerful lyrics loose without restraint. It may not be perfect but the potential here is off the charts. Fans of Kate Bush and Emmy the Great should definitely take notice now. (Mute, 2009)

Polly Scattergood’s MySpace Page


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