CD Roundup – Mason Jennings and Cymbals Eat Guitars

Local folk troubadour releases another predictable release and New York rockers continue to satisfy.

Joseph Kleinschmidt

âÄúMinnesotaâÄù

Artist: Mason Jennings

Label: Stats and Brackets

 

Treading between popular adult contemporary and independent origins, Mason Jennings has garnered a fairly wide-reaching fanbase without pledging allegiance to either musical niche.

For his latest album, production choices seem to reflect the latter sphere, but existing fans wonâÄôt find a measurable difference between other records âÄî everything âÄúnewâÄù is only on paper.

On âÄúMinnesota,âÄù Jennings abandons Brushfire Records for the local production of Stats and Brackets, leaving behind former label mates Modest Mouse and Jack Johnson. Musically, however, Jennings remains universal at heart in his lilting voice and hollow lyrics.

Compared to indie idol Sufjan StevensâÄô albums about states (Michigan and Illinois), Jennings ultimately fails where StevensâÄô techniques succeed. Combining state history and popular mythology, the latter created a lasting impression of the states cohesively while JenningsâÄô tracks feel altogether disjointed.

Jennings references medieval kings on one track and a kitchen on another. Nothing except the dullness of his singing remains constant.

The continuous, casual breath of Jennings pales in comparison to the vulnerability and range of StevensâÄô vocals. Jennings likes to fall back on this overused Dave Matthews ploy.

For example, the track âÄúBitter HeartâÄù sounds tediously lighthearted âÄî verses are non-threatening, narrow reflections.

Highly personal, JenningsâÄô Minnesota feels like one idyllic corner of Edina. References to the Land of 10,000 Lakes were indistinguishable from the sugarcoated banality of the rest of his lyrics. Still, a musician with the track âÄúRaindrops on the Kitchen FloorâÄù is not striving for a thorough examination of a state.

Jennings defies complete unanimity through few risks. âÄúHeart Stops BeatingâÄù shows signs of deeper musical construction with rapid, syncopated verses. With âÄúWitches Dream,âÄù surreal lyrics and trumpet flourishes add new dimensions.

Moments of exploration still feel like brief glimpses of potential for Jennings, since most tracks become difficult to differentiate. Signs like these make the entire album feel strangely disparate.

Jennings largely refuses to take major risks and preserves devoted fans but fails to invent anything representative of Minnesota and strays too far from everyday observations.

 

1 ½ out of 4 stars

 

âÄúLenses AlienâÄù

Artist: Cymbals Eat Guitars

Label: Barsuk Records

 

The 1990s era of grunge and independent rock continues to reach a whole new generation of apathetic youngsters.

Cymbals Eat Guitars owes almost everything to the decade of indie pioneers. Outwardly nonchalant vocals and impulsive railing guitars define the band and represent the decade of dissatisfied, flannel-wearing youth.

With PavementâÄôs now aged following of slackers, Cymbals Eat Guitars compete for relevancy among hoards of other wannabes. Standing out from the thousands of Stephen Malkmuses, energetic hooks and inventive production made the groupâÄôs debut âÄúWhy There Are MountainsâÄù one of 2009âÄôs best albums.

The Staten Island noise rockers now show a conscious effort to defy predictability on their sophomore album. To escape inevitable comparisons to their debut, they have left behind the upbeat melodies in favor of minimalism.

Joining bands Spirtualized and Spaceman 3, Cymbals Eat Guitars explore heady introspection with slow-core, characterized by bleak lyrics and down-tempo melodies.

Opening track âÄúRifle Eyesight (Proper Name)âÄù culls the best melodies of Sonic YouthâÄôs âÄúMurray Street.âÄù Displaying a more realized, mature sound, they dwell in seriousness without oversaturation thanks to singer Joseph DâÄôAgostino.

In the vein of indie moguls Built to Spill, DâÄôAgostino expertly spills spontaneous sounding lyrics while weaving lo-fi production and sweeping guitars on âÄúSecret Family.âÄùThe unpredictability and immediacy becomes jarring âÄî grave lyrics pack even more punch coming from DâÄôAgostinoâÄôs detached voice. Moving from falsetto to whisper amidst fuzzy guitars, his voice constantly fills with intensity with visions of âÄúdirty hypodermic needlesâÄù and âÄúpanicked screams.âÄù  Blending various influences, the new album not only represents deeper introspection, but also retrospection. Surpassing the doomed sophomore slump, Cymbals Eat Guitars remains timely in constant assertions, honoring 90s icons without pantomiming.

âÄúLenses AlienâÄù shows lasting potential, cognizant of an eraâÄôs influences without pandering or overindulgence.

 

3 / 4 stars