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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
Cast of Thousands
V2 Music

Rating: 6/10 ?

October 1, 2004
I love art. Art of all kinds. Classic, Modern, New Age, Experimental, Folk, Ceramic, Impressionist, Macaroni, Abstract. If it is art, chances are that I'll find some connection with it and, well, love it. Somewhat conversely, however, is the fact that I hate art galleries and despise pretty much all museums. I went to the Louvre a couple of times, over the course of a weekend I spent in Paris visiting fellow LAS staffer Monique. Once I got passed the initial awe of seeing so many pieces that I'd only read about and seen reproductions of, the museum was pretty much a snore. A couple of weeks later, on that same trip, I spent hours wandering around the galleries and grounds of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, mostly avoiding people I had gone with. I did spend some time perusing the galleries but for the most part I was either outside looking for trash under the hedges in the circular garden or trying to find a way to sneak onto the ledge of the towering rotunda. Art for art's sake bores me to pieces - the art of culture is far more fascinating - and that is kind of how I feel about Elbow's second album, the highly anticipated Cast of Thousands.

After all the bullshit the Manchester five-piece endured throughout the recording and release of their first album, the much touted Asleep In the Black, Elbow had no choice but to drop a bomb with their follow up. The bar was set high by everyone - the label, the press, the band themselves - and Elbow had to deliver the goods. Under the weight of such pressure their ideas seem to have been cooked into a sloppy stew of UK pop operatics, one that is too concerned about matching wits with the likes of Doves, Radiohead and Coldplay to really bring out the flavor of its own raw ingredients. The record opens with "Ribcage", a six-minute track that smacks of understated simplicity from the opening blips but with the overbearing input of the London Community Gospel Choir it quickly dissolves into a clutter of cultured noise in the long shadow of Radiohead. Radiohead, Radiohead, Radiohead; the band's giant fingerprint smudges every clear surface of Cast of Thousands. This album sinks under its own weight.

Where the band excels, perhaps not surprisingly, is when they strip down to their core. The warm and fuzzy drone of keyboards left over from the opener and running through the second track, "Fallen Angel", provides enough current to wash the symphonic grandstanding of the opener out of my hair, Guy Garvey's sweet falsetto wooing like a birdsong on the wind. The tempo is noticeably upped from the opener and it is this speed - one that is about half way to actually "rocking" - that gives Elbow their most appropriate arena. I mean, they are a ROCK band, right?

Samples of dogs barking at the beginning of "Fugitive Motel" once again give false hope, as Elbow resumes their pensive art-rock posturing, doing their best to give off a Coldplay vibe as if Gwyneth Paltrow were standing in the audience. The pace is frustratingly slow and all seems lost before the rich, dirty groove of "Snooks (progress report)" spices things up. The air is one that is unmistakably Radiohead but, hey, its better than the introspective private school nonsense of the preceding tracks. Acoustic baritone guitar pickings amble in and out, reverb skitters about the surface, tambourine clatters about the hi-hat and distorted vocals break in with sharp enough contrast to keep the ears and interest piqued. A quick dip into the brackish waters of experimental mope-pop separates "Snooks" and the most catchy track, "Not a Job", but once the smooth and gentle date-rock kicks in most of the missteps have been forgotten. "Not a Job" is, frankly, what the bulk of Cast of Thousands should have been. It's not stylistically shallow but at the same time it resembles a rock song and, I mean, they are a ROCK band, right?

From then on out, its pretty forgettable from where I'm standing. If you set your CD player to shuffle between the 5-second intro of each track and put it on repeat, you could really snooze the night away to this disc. "Whisper Grass" isn't any more memorable than any of the other half-baked ideas on this album, even though it does its best to build slowly into the noisy, distorted climax before falling back onto the sleep-encrusted piano melody. Later, "Grace Under Pressure" (which this album ironically proves Elbow doesn't have) infuses a smidgen of ingenuity into its predictably boring, mope-about format with sampled-and-mixed percussion providing a walking tempo, but the reappearance of the London Community Gospel Choir pushes the snooze button once again.

The most frustrating thing about this album is that it is almost pouring over the brim with excellent composition and adept playing. Even though I pretty much hate this record, its still a competent orchestration of pop influences. And who knows, if this album had been made five years ago or five years from now, it might not seem so trite. But the fact of the matter is that everyone on the planet is expecting this album to come from some fancy British band on some fancy label like V2, and what everyone is expecting is exactly what they're going to get. Cast of Thousands is like a bouquet of red roses on Valentine's Day - its beautiful but, you know, its fucking boring. By the time the organ appears audibly in the mix during the closing seconds of the last track, "Flying Dream", its too late. I'm asleep.

Reviewed by Clifton Gates
Currently sleeping on beaches in Costa Rica, Clifton Gates is an occasional contributor, editor, idea springboard and moral crutch to LAS magazine.

See other reviews by Clifton Gates



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