Camera Obscura, Art Brut, Super Furry Animals and more: Really Quick Spins

Camera Obscura - "My Maudlin Career"
It's like someone signed Tracyanne Campbell's yearbook with "You're perfect, Never change!" -- and she really took it to heart. OK, Campbell would probably never be friends with someone who would be so reckless with exclamation point usage, let alone someone who would sign a yearbook. But four albums into her career as frontwoman for Scottish indie-poppers Camera Obscura, she's still writing the same bittersweet songs about the same content-to-be-almost-content people and somehow the results just keep getting better.

That's probably the best way to describe "My Maudlin Career," as it was with "Let's Get Out of This Country" and "Underachievers Please Try Harder" before it -- like the last one, just a little better. If the band's earliest work was the equivalent of an arty, understated black-and-white movie, "Career" plays out in vibrant color. Maybe even Technicolor. Those string arrangements sometimes swallow everything in their path, but Campbell's stone-faced commitment to her lyrics and the nods to pre-rock-and-roll-era sounds balance things out. One of the most pleasantly perfect bands around.
Camera Obscura - "French Navy"

Art Brut - "Art Brut vs. Satan"
Art Brut is sort of the inverse of Camera Obscura -- like the last one, just not quite as good. Actually, the band's third album is a slight upgrade from "It's a Bit Complicated," but it's still chasing that original thrill of the band's debut, where we were introduced to Eddie Argos's often-hilarious lyrics and excitable speak-sing-wail. ("I've seen her naked ... twice!") Of course, 90 percent of bands spend their careers trying to do something as good as that first record, most of those debuts are nowhere near as good as "Bang Bang Rock and Roll" and most of those bands won't make an album as fun as "Art Brut vs. Satan."

So you have to put things into perspective. It's like expecting Placido Polanco to hit .340 every year. That's not going to happen, but he's still going to be pretty solid. There are no great changes in the musical formula. It's pretty standard, sometimes herky-jerky guitar rock, with only some hints of post-punk, whatever that even means now. So that means it's up to Argos to carry the load, and he's mostly up to the task. "DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake" is everything you want from an Art Brut song -- it's funny, there's a bit of heartstring-tugging nostalgia and you can shout along with the chorus. "The Replacements" -- an ode to the band, not the Keanu Reeves movie -- works in the same way.
Art Brut - "DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake"

(More reviews after the jump.)

King Khan and the Shrines - "What Is?!"
Two years after it came out in Europe -- and about 43 years after it sounds like it should have have been released -- this album finally gets a proper introduction to America. It's filled with old-school, soul-rock rave-ups, all funky brass and hip-shaking rhythms with King Khan's scratchy scream serving as the focal point on most of the tunes. It could be the soundtrack to a Russ Meyer movie, and sometimes King Khan's lyrics ("69 Faces of Love" and "The Ballad of Lady Godiva," in particular) make that an especially appropriate comparison. It's about as good a tribute record to the sounds of four decades ago as you'll find, splitting the difference between fellow soul-rock nostalgists the Make-Up and the Dirtbombs. Put it on at the next party you host; nobody will be disappointed.
King Khan and the Shrines - "Welfare Bread"

Still Flyin' - "Never Gonna Touch the Ground"
Since the band boasts more than a dozen members and plays all varieties of sunny music, it would be easy to call Still Flyin' the Polyphonic Spree of indie pop. And that's why I'm gonna do it. Because it's easy. Like that other band, Still Flyin' quickly goes from "Hey, this is pretty fun!" to "OK, this is a little too saccharine" to "Man, this is pretty irritating." That the San Francisco band jumps from reggae to ABBA-esque dance-pop to chirpy twee at least keeps things relatively fresh, if not much less annoying.
Still Flyin' - "Good Thing It's a Ghost Town Around Here"

Super Furry Animals - "Dark Days/Light Years" Some bands just aren't your thing. Super Furry Animals is one of those bands for me. Every time there's a new album, everyone says it's really great, I take a listen and it just doesn't connect. It's all so slippery. Give me something to grab onto. Of course, it's all a matter of taste. I just praised Camera Obscura for basically hammering away at the same idea over and over, so it's not too surprising that SFA's insistence on cramming as many sounds and styles into each song and album doesn't sit too well with me. You can't love everything, right?
Super Furry Animals - "Inaugural Trams"

By David Malitz |  April 22, 2009; 5:58 PM ET Really Quick Spins
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Malitz, go back and listen to Guerilla or Radiator by SFA. I think both of those albums have as much joy as the first Art Brut album. Even as a fan of SFA I agree that every album since then has provided diminising returns.

Posted by: M__N | April 24, 2009 8:44 AM

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