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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » 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.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » 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!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

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
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Nellie McKay
Obligatory Villagers
Hungry Mouse

Rating: 7.9/10 ?


October 8, 2007
What is it about the piano that yields such specific expectations? Maybe the naked plink inspires solitude, the hovering echo demands proper spacing. But from Kate Bush to Tori Amos to "Chopsticks," the great, glistening elephant-teeth machine only competes with a marching snare drum as arguably the most attention-getting solo instrument. It attracts solo compositions and solo performers (had the Boredoms assembled 77 pianists to bang away in Brooklyn Bridge Park, that would've truly been something to write home about). Unless you're Jerry Lee Lewis or jazz (but then, jazz gets to break every musical rule ever), you're solo, chump. Not surprisingly, few bands gravitate toward piano, and when they do, it's pretty nude; is there a single Coldplay song with the rest of the band involved in the first two minutes? It was only a matter of time before Ben Folds' actual "five" decided to leave him alone with his narcissistic piano-pounding.

Piano prodigy Nellie McKay, unlike, say, PJ Harvey (whose latest album, White Chalk, finds her trying to erect new paths, getting lost, and finding herself back behind 1993 again), is jazz, and she's still both breaking rules and interesting. No longer playing genre games like on her audacious debut, her third album adds and subtracts crucially from her disappointing follow-up. On Obligatory Villagers, her third overall and first single-disc album, she indulges nothing but her mouth, opting for trad-vaudeville arrangements where her role is strictly within the ensemble she posits (with none of the bedroom-wall clawings of White Chalk. Her singing voice is subtler, but still full of jokes and wisecracks aimed at her less politically articulate targets. Where Harvey opts for sub-Yorke moans like "Nobody's listening/ Oh God I miss you," McKay contemplates her potential misery, wondering aloud why no one gets her feminist, vegetarian sense of humor and concluding because she's manless. That's the plotline of "Mother of Pearl," the first of many genius exploitations of men, literally, as her backup flunkies, who brass up her points by heckling "take it off!" and compromise their own when she rules in favor of abortion rights ("okay, but no gun control").

She's never too smart for a good joke, though, and after a frustrated rap about identity theft, she shuffles and slinks her way through a dance for zombies (backup men: "raar raaaar raaaar,"). Most crucially, you could fit about three of Obligatory Villagers onto the overcooked, undersung Pretty Little Head, which means there's no room for error in its eight tracks (there's a ninth that is an error, but its embarrassing fartin'=livin' sentiment is over in about 20 seconds, thank God). It's much lighter on its feet than Chalk, which is only minutes longer but feels like an eternity. Pray that Harvey never lends McKay a copy of Ys.

Reviewed by Dan Weiss
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.

See other reviews by Dan Weiss

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