The less celebrated half of the pop duo Hall & Oates has tapped into a rich vein of American roots music on his latest offering, an album that demonstrates his seriousness about the musicmaking craft.
No, Arkansas probably won’t let John Oates live down a legacy in which the mere mention of a song title can leave its melody rattling around your head for hours. The duo, during its heyday, combined a string of catchyto-cloying singles (Private Eyes) with soulful ballads that held up better over time (Sara Smile).
But Oates, a Philadelphia native, has lately been exploring earthier sounds in and around Nashville. His search led him to Arkansas, a project that began as a tribute to Mississippi John Hurt and evolved into a deeper exploration of traditional themes.
Oates describes the result as “Dixieland dipped in bluegrass and salted with Delta blues.” He smartly enlisted A-list Nashville players to help, including mandolin wizard Sam Bush and guitarist Guthrie Trapp. Their playing on songs by Jimmie Rodgers, Hurt, Blind Blake and other legends elevates them considerably, and the Oates originals mixed in are good fits.
Little Dark Age
If MGMT’s first album in four years gets really trippy, there’s a good reason. One song was apparently created during a real acid trip.
Bandmates Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser have once again delivered an off-kilter, challenging and very addictive album with Little Dark Age.
The 10-track collection veers from cheeky (She Works Out Too Much) to pitch-black (When You Die). There’s a general sense of unease in the lyrics, both socially and technologically, and the cover seems to riff off Edvard Munch’s unnerving The Scream.
MGMT had some producing help this time from Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly and longtime collaborator Dave Fridmann, whose work with the psychedelic Flaming Lips really rubs off here, particularly in the mind-melting When You’re Small, with the lyric “when you’re small, you can curl into a ball.”
The title track is the most likely to get mainstream traction, with its heavy synth waves that have a Kraftwerk feel and a video in which VanWyngarden does his best imitation of Robert Smith from The Cure. “I grieve in stereo,” he sings.
Every Third Thought
In an episode of The X-Files, Fox Mulder gets mixed up with some paranormal forces and somehow believes he’s a rock ’n’ roll god. No, wait. That’s not a TV show. It’s apparently real life for David Duchovny.
Duchovny ditches his day job chasing aliens on television to release his 12-track sophomore effort, Every Third Thought, an album of pretty good rock songs marred by perhaps the worst vocal performances ever captured digitally.
This album is like listening to the tired and tipsy stragglers of an office party ending up at a karaoke bar at 3 a.m. when that weird dude from accounts payable grabs the mike to live out his rock dreams in a beer-induced semi-coma.