Recordings | May 2016

Three albums we're listening to this month

By Cait Brennan, May 2016 Issue.

Iggy Pop | Post Pop Depression | Loma Vista Recordings | 4stars

Reports of any ’60s- or ’70s-era rock star’s retirement are the Lucy Van Pelt’s football of music – they always seem to yoink the retirement ball away at the last
iggypopsecond. Suuuuure it’s your last tour, The Who. Half of you guys are dead and if that hasn’t stopped you, am I really going to believe you can – or will – stop voluntarily? But Iggy Pop’s made of sterner stuff, so when he announced that his new LP would be his last, the 68-year-old punk pioneer sounded resolute. If it is truly the end, Post Pop Depression is one heck of a swan song.

Produced by Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme, and backed by guests including QOTSA guitarist Dean Fertita and Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helder, Post Pop Depression finds Iggy stretching well beyond his recent Stooges-reborn sound and into some expansive new territory. “Break Into Your Heart,” the first track, is a prime example, with Iggy’s creeptastic guttural growl threading through QOTSA-like guitar swirls, turning the love-song premise into something darker and more sinister. Indeed, Pop excels at driving that thread of menace through a variety of Homme’s sonic soundscapes here, and the collaboration feels like a natural fit.

“Gardenia” is almost more jangle-pop than Iggy Pop but it’s a pleasant and weirdly sunny tune. “Paraguay” closes the set with a deceptively elegiac tone that twists itself into a fiery, defiant “do not go gentle” blues-rock raver. If he’s done, it sure isn’t because he has nothing left in the tank.

Emitt Rhodes | Rainbow Ends | Omnivore Recordings | 4halfstars

EmittRhodesWhile some artists are retiring from the public eye, others are fighting their way back after a long and tragic absence. So it is with Emitt Rhodes. The pop music wunderkind released a series of highly regarded cult classics in the ‘70s, with melodies and lyrics to rival (or even surpass) the Beatles, Beach Boys and beyond. But a series of horrible music industry deals and personal setbacks caused him to withdraw from music, and he became a legend as much for his almost mythic disappearance as for his music. Now and again, Rhodes sightings would stir the hopes of a new wave of music die-hards, but nothing came to fruition. That is, until now.

Aided by a new generation of musician admirers, including producer Chris Price, bandmates Taylor Locke of Rooney, Fernando Perdomo, Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Jason Falkner of Jellyfish, Aimee Mann, Jon Brion, Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles, Wilco’s Nels Cline and Pat Sansone, members of Brian Wilson’s band and many others, Rhodes has returned after an astonishing 43-year absence with Rainbow Ends, a beautiful and moving collection of songs that shows his talent has matured but never dimmed.

Rhodes’ voice is no longer quite the McCartney-esque tenor it once was, but the tradeoff is a nuanced, warm, rich sound a little like a fine, aged, single malt. The songs – some of which have origins dating back to his original recorded output – range between troubled relationships (“This Wall Between Us”), ruminations on the past (“If I Knew Then,” “Dog On A Chain”) and moving on (“Rainbow Ends,” “It’s All Behind Us Now”). The arrangements are lively but gentle, framed perfectly around his world-weary but indomitable performances.

At a recent Grammy Museum event, when asked why he’d been gone so long, Rhodes shrugged and said “I thought nobody cared.” On Rainbow Ends, it’s clear that his fans, friends and loved ones care very much indeed, and that his own heart still feels emotions very intensely.

Lake Street Dive | Side Pony | Nonesuch | 3stars

Rachael Price, Lake Street Dive’s bluesy frontwoman, isn’t messing around on her band’s new long player, Side Pony. Their debut for major label, Nonesuch, lake-street-dive-side-pony-450x409-2finds Price and the band carving out a new identity firmly rooted in the kind of soulful belters that made waves for Alabama Shakes, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and St Paul and the Broken Bones. And while nothing here rises to the level of those wonderful, powerful combos, Side Pony is a solid approximation of the sound, processed and honed to fall on the countryside and aimed at a wide audience.

Producer Dave Cobb has a well-earned reputation for bringing out the roots, rock and soul from his Nashville clients (Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton, to name but two), and he has his work cut out for him here. The combo has strong influences, but they struggle for focus and for a distinctive identity.

“Call Off Your Dogs” is breezy, with what passes on country radio for funk, and a catchy chorus riff. “Mistakes” is a slower-but-not-quite-slow jam with a horn solo so smooth, Michael McDonald might slip and fall on it. “I Don’t Care About You” brings the southern rock ‘n’ roll to the fore, with a badass guitar riff driving Price’s vocal belting. It may just be the highlight and the least-forced thing here. That, perhaps, is the main issue with Side Pony – it’s very enjoyable, but when it skates so close to the territory held by such acts as Alabama Shakes, it can’t help but suffer by comparison. There’s a lot to like here, and perhaps with more time, Lake Street Dive can carve out something that’s wholly theirs. For now, Side Pony is an enjoyable, if lightweight, start.