Local CD round-up: Lucy Michelle & the Velvet Lapelles + Mark Mallman

Scene darling prove their worth and a scene staple, well, keeps doing his thing.

PHOTO COURTESY LUCY MICHELLE AND THE VELVET LAPELLES

PHOTO COURTESY LUCY MICHELLE AND THE VELVET LAPELLES

Jay Boller

Lucy Michelle & The Velvet Lapelles ALBUM: âÄúSpecial Party Time for EverybodyâÄù LABEL: Self-released Throughout their charmed local existence, Lucy Michelle & The Velvet Lapelles have been an intriguing live act. Their neoâÄîblue grass, bohemian approach lends itself well to providing a fun show. And last year, a year that catapulted the band into local relevance, the group released their debut LP âÄî âÄúOrange Peels & RattlesnakesâÄù with hopes of capturing that vivid vibe. While âÄúOrange PeelsâÄù was serviceable, its tinny production and incomplete ideas left it feeling flat. On Saturday, however, Michelle & Co. released their strong sophomore follow-up, âÄúSpecial Party Time for EverybodyâÄù âÄì a record thatâÄôs heavier on substance than quirk. âÄúSpecial Party Time for EverybodyâÄù opens with the first jazzy, then rompy ditty âÄúMouth of the Beast.âÄù With verses that swing with vaudevillian-tinged jazziness and choruses that shift tempo into bouncy folk pop, it’s a song that encapsulates the group’s willingness to not just genre dabble throughout the course of a record, but even within a single song. âÄúMagnolia TreeâÄù showcases even more style meandering. What begins as a plaintive folk song takes unexpected turns into Spanish guitar riffing and healthy doses of Andrew Bird approved whistling. âÄúLand and SeaâÄù is a showcase in Michelle’s ability to evoke emotion. Amid the swirls of accordion and strings, the singer pleads, âÄúFor I will go with you/wherever you choose/my dear/âÄôcause you are my home.âÄù Throughout the disc, she under utilizes this type of earnest sentimentality âÄî often in lieu of surplus quirky scatting âÄî but it’s a trait that shouldn’t go ignored. And thankfully, the heartstring tugs don’t stop there. On the disc’s strongest track âÄî the delicate, achingly beautiful âÄúThe Color SalmonâÄù âÄî Michelle ditches the group’s usual onslaught of ukuleles, do-dads and bling-wads in favor of just an acoustic guitar, restrained vocals and honest emotion. Sounds boring, but works to a wrenching tee. The latter half of the disc starts to wash together, but manages to finish strong. The mid-century retro charm of âÄúTreetop LullabyâÄù balances plucky pianos, moving string flourishes and Michelle’s consistently tight songwriting. There’s even a (possibly?) metal inspired breakdown that charges the 5-minute track to a close. Finally, âÄúSpecial PartyâÄù closes with the corny yet poignant âÄúWayne and GarthâÄù – yes, a âÄúWayneâÄôs WorldâÄù reference. âÄúYou are the Garth to my Wayne/the only one I would run through the pouring rain withâÄù sings a straight faced Michelle amid the trackâÄôs piano balladry and smirks. With a band called the Velvet Lapelles, a frontwoman who sounds like a high-pitched parody of Regina Spektor, an irony-drenched record title and the resulting buckets of quirkiness, Lucy Michelle and her Lapelles had to prove theyâÄôre more than a kitschy novelty on âÄúSpecial Party.âÄù Did they pull it off? Considering the disc’s fleshed out sound, fluid genre shifting and gleaming pop sensibilities, the answer is a resounding âÄúyes.âÄù It’s not a disc strong simply by local standards (as was âÄúOrange PeelsâÄù), but a disc strong by anyone’s standards. 4 out of 5 stars Mark Mallman ALBUM: âÄúInvincible CriminalâÄù LABEL: Badman To a listener unfamiliar with what Mark Mallman means to the Twin Cities, the man’s music would come off painfully bad. His lyrics are overwhelmingly cliché wrought clunkers, his delivery is over the top and the general cheesiness of his piano rock doesn’t harken influences one would typically boast. Still, the persona Mallman has tactfully cultivated allows him the freedom to do all this. The smirk he’s worn throughout his career lets him be Minnesota’s wild and crazy piano man âÄì and recent adoration from local press outlets and rushes of attendees to his shows confirm as much. Does an act that requires the listener be briefed on how to ingest the art make for much of an act at all? Debatable. And on Mallman’s latest, âÄúInvincible Criminal,âÄù he continues to, well, be Mark Mallman. And it doesn’t much matter what this review says, or even how the record sounds, because people will love him nonetheless. Once past the questionable album art, âÄúInvincible CriminalâÄù starts with the throwaway rocker âÄúEternal Moonshine.âÄù It features Mallman over-projecting, keys plucking away and the song’s title howled a few too many times. From there, Mallman provides (perhaps) the most enticing track âÄî âÄúYou’re Never Alone in New York,âÄù and the enticement stems from the promise of a special guest: The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn . The result? Uninspiring. After two minutes of Mallman navigating the spacey, urgent rocker, a beyond cheesy saxophone solo ushers in Finn’s fleeting verse, a verse that serves as a reminder: Craig Finn is a lyrical genius, not a gifted singer. Here, singing words presumably penned by Mallman, Finn reaches for notes too hard and the cameo comes off flat. The middle of âÄúInvincible CriminalâÄù provides some winners. âÄúWhite Leather DaysâÄù is essentially Wilco’s âÄúHeavy Metal DrummerâÄù in terms of nostalgia, but with Mallman’s distinct pen, âÄúLove is a bank you rob/for whatever it’s worth/do what the moonlight tells you to/and nobody gets hurt.âÄù Oh Mark, try saying that with a straight face. The sing-song pop of âÄúDon’t Spill the BottleâÄù is a lark and Neil Diamond deserves royalties for surprisingly moving balladry of âÄúMercy Calls.âÄù To close the record out, there’s the unbearable emotionalism of âÄúCan’t Count to One,âÄù the looming, metaphor heavy âÄúIn These Times of Harsh EconomyâÄù and the bravado flexing wordplay into piano shredding of the disc’s closing title track. In all, to listen to Mark Mallman is to not take him at face value. Artistically, aside from being a strong musician, he’s got the depth of a kiddie pool. But he’s fun. His shows are energetic romps. And unlike truly âÄúbadâÄù artists, Mallman has a selfâÄîawareness that leaves him neither contemptible nor sad. Mallman’s bigger than life personality is a welcome one in a scene empty of superstars (save Har Mar Superstar), but on âÄúInvincible Criminal,âÄù he continues to prove the best way to âÄúgetâÄù Mark Mallman is onstage. 2.5 out of 5 stars