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In Brief: Pearl Jam, High Llamas & Mark Eitzel

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Subtlety has never been Pearl Jam’s forte, or even something they’ve attempted. Ditto irony, self-awareness, and humor of any description. But on Yield (Epic), they leaven the feedback-drenched bombast with traces of each. There’s still plenty of crypto-cock-rock bluster (“Brain of J”), facile soft-loud dynamic shifts (“Low Light”), and embarrassing Christ-complex stuff (“Pilate”), but on tunes like “Faithful” and “Wishlist,” Vedder & Co. actually provide a few intriguing metaphors, delicate guitar riffs, and -- gasp -- the occasional joke. . . . Cold and Bouncy (Alpaca/V2), the new album from London’s High Llamas, is the latest dispatch from leader Sean O’Hagan’s obsession with the Beach Boys’ late-sixties experimental-pop phase. Overlaying the songs’ guitar base with an array of flutes, banjo, strings, horns, vibraharp, odd harmonies, and assorted electronic bloops (Cold’s main innovation over its predecessor, Hawaii), O’Hagan successfully re-creates the soothingly artificial paradise in which Brian Wilson cocooned himself. . . . After a couple of disappointing, slick-sounding albums, San Francisco melancholist Mark Eitzel makes a welcome return to low-key sonics with Caught in a Trap and I Can’t Back Out ‘Cause I Love You Too Much, Baby (Matador). When not accompanying himself with a lone guitar, Eitzel is backed by an unlikely trio of New York stalwarts: Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew, and guitarist-about-town Kid Congo Powers. The quiet dissonance they conjure is a perfect setting for the singer’s gorgeously detailed portraits of heartbreak, alienation, and the occasional kernel of beauty in both.


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