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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Baby 81

Rating: 6.5/10 ?

May 8, 2007
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, a badass band name, paying homage to a badass film, The Wild One. When the second coming of stripped-down rock was coming to the fore in New York a few years back, these San Francisco hipsters joined the melee, adding a healthy dose of SF psychedelia into their blues-based foundation. Their self-titled debut album garnered praise and saw BRMC linked to the psych-flavored sound of early 90's UK bands like The Stone Roses. Their sophomore effort, Take Them On, On Your Own, solidified their burgeoning sound, adding a harder edge and earning further comparisons, this time most often to The Jesus and Mary Chain. Then, in 2005, the band sent Howl down the pipe, which brought it all to a grinding halt. The release was nothing if not a departure, an acoustic collection of gospel tinged Americana, not an easy feat to pull off, yet the band wholly succeeded.

Having established a propensity to jump genres, one could only guess where the band would turn next. The answer lies in their current release, Baby 81, and in a word: backwards. Flipping a U-turn is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, especially if a band is revisiting their roots. But Baby 81 is not a return to form, and the snag lies in the formula: they may have gone back to their harder, electrified foundation, but the band's songwriting is stuck somewhere between Howl and their earlier work. The result is a bluesy no man's land; we get all the hip swagger, but none of the unique structure that made this band special.

This is not to suggest the album is a complete debacle, as it still puts away most other contemporary blues-rock, but BRMC could do better than simply going through the motions. The main element that rescues the record is the dogged determination of the threesome, Robert Been (nee Turner, a pseudonym he utilized to "un-call" attention away from his father, Michael Been of The Call), Peter Hayes and Nick Jago. The trio are true-blue rockers, looking the part to a T, down to the leather jackets, indifferent stares, dark shades and dangling cigarettes. This mystique has served them well thus far, but Baby 81, at over an hour in length, is too gratuitous, favoring style over substance.

Most of the songs are uniform, straight-up drum, bass, and electric guitar, combined with the band's distinctive distortion, and the droning vocals of Been. If one has rock-n-roll in their blood it is almost impossible to dislike this stuff. Almost every tune could be the soundtrack for cruising on a Harley, hustling pool or sipping whiskey at a dive bar, jukebox blasting. On the flipside, there's not a whole lot here to really love, nothing that grips the listener like the trio's previous output. There are a few moments of refreshing dynamic shifts, most notably on the ballad "All You Do Is Talk," but even those are less than captivating; although it's a solid song, with its soft organ and melancholy vocal line, the track could be from any U2 album. On "Windows" they sound like Cold War Kids, but without the fun soul that makes that band click.

BRMC are a talented gang, and it is hard to find fault with a band that keeps it this real. But Baby 81 is a letdown from the expectations they themselves have built. They are best when they're playing the looming rock of their first two releases or winding down with the heartening acoustics of Howl. The creative engine has stalled on Baby 81, but I have a sneaking suspicion it will come roaring back.

Reviewed by Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro



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