Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Album Review: Ted Leo & the Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks

I root for Ted Leo. Perhaps more than any other artist today, I want his albums to be good. And I'm not sure I can really explain why. He seems like a pretty cool dude and all, but I think it has to do with the type of music he makes. Call it power pop, call it pop-punk, whatever. I like to think of it as power pop with a purpose, and there aren't many artists out there who do it any better.

Quick story. A buddy and I went to see him during the Hearts of Oak tour. We'll call the buddy Gary, since that's his name. There are two things I remember from that show: 1.) Gary and I were having some beers across the street from the venue, since the Glass House serves no booze, and these dudes who were there to see the show too came up and asked us if we were "in the band." Not sure which band they were referring to, since there were a few playing that night, but we got a kick out of that. And 2.) the show was relegated to this smaller side room on the other side of the venue's main room because so few tickets were sold. I'd say there were probably less than 50 of us there that night. But the way Ted Leo and his band played, you'd have guessed there were 5,000 kids packed into that smelly, sweaty, cramped back room. Also, there was a tambourine that was passed around for the audience to play during the set. I guess that's three things.

Now, on to the new album, The Brutalist Bricks. I'm going to go song-by-song and give my impression of each while listening to them. This should be fun-ish.

1.) The Mighty Sparrow
Strong, strong opener. Vocals right off the bat and a nice sense of urgency. I like the subtle tempo changes. The song cools off and then heats back up quickly. Watch out for the false stop - don't be that gut at the show that claps before the song is really over. I hate that guy. I've been that guy. Sadly.

2.) Mourning in America
A fuzz-rocker of a song with subtle electro flourishes. It settles into a pretty straight-forward rocker after that though, revisiting the fuzzy guitar every so often. A nice second track.

3.) Ativan Eyes
Power guitar opening, then becomes kind of an anthemic sing-along kinda track. New territory here for Mr. Leo, but doesn't sound out of place. Could see this as a single and also in a TV ad real soon.

4.) Even Heroes Have to Die
A typical Ted Leo folk-rocker. Oh-oh's galore. Nice acoustic feel to this song without departing too far from overall feel of the album.

5.) The Stick
Churning power chords...definite punk/hardcore feel. Short and sweet with a bit of a change up toward the middle. Shouty vocals. Very different from the last track. I like, though.

6.) Bottled in Cork
Right in with the vocals on this one as well. A bit of a cacophonous start and then mellows out into a bit of a strummer. Like two songs in one. Wow, this tune is ALL over the place. As wildly as it starts, it ends just as quietly. Strange song - not my fave.

7.) Woke Up Near Chelsea
Piano at the start and then drums and urgent vocals. Then, the RAWK. I've listened to this album a half a dozen times or so, and it hasn't really dawned on me how much it rocks. Consider this guy dawned on. "We are born of despair" indeed. Great song.

8.) One Polaroid a Day
A little mellow/chiller song after a few rockers in a row. Almost, dare I say, soulful. Kind of a funky yet muted riff and a nice bubbling baseline. Soothing backing vocals. A big detour as far as the album's flow is concerned.

9.) Where Was My Brain
A little Fugazi feedback to start. Straight punk tune here it seems. Classic guitar solo. This is like the punk version of the Pixies' "Where is My Mind." Mr. Leo really left the "pop" out of the pop-punk equation on many of these songs.

10.) Bartomelo and the Buzzing of Bees
Well, there is a bee on the album's cover. Starts with a rumbling baseline then the song proper kicks in. Here's the "pop" I said was missing. Sort of your classic Ted Leo tune here.

11.) Tuberculoids Arrive in Hop
Very strange song here people. Acoustic strumming with a little alt-country thing going on. Then, falsetto. Dark would be a good word to describe this song. Big time departure.

12.) Gimme The Wire
Back to some frenetic pop-punk. This song wouldn't sound out of place on any Ted Leo album, yet it almost does here, given the rest of it. Odd breakdown in the middle and then back to the main riff. Good song.

13.) Last Days
Fuzzy guitar licks to open...jangling percussion. Then turns into another classic Leo tune. Reminiscent of some of the stuff on Tyranny of Distance. If you weren't keeping track, you'd still kind of know this was the closer, which isn't a bad thing.

And that's that. Not a real cohesive collection of songs, but everything here is either good or real good. A few are just OK and there are some head-scratching moments, but nothing egregious. A return to form, I say!

My recommendation: Procure this album immediately.

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