CD Reviews: MGMT, Jakob Dylan, The Hold Steady

I don’t do CD reviews very often. At least, I haven’t done them in months. That’s something that I plan on changing here on the blog (and, hopefully sometime soon, in the paper as well).

Here’s a couple reviews of CDs that have come out recently or will be coming out soon.

MGMT, “Congratulations” (Columbia)
Uh, are these guys serious? This record was supposed to be Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden’s psychedelic take on surf music. I guess that explains the goofy cat album cover, but I just can’t wrap my head around the music. It’s truly ridiculous stuff and especially a disappointment after the excellent success that came with “Oracular Spectacular.”

Um, a 12-minute song about surfing in the Artic Circle? No thanks. One of the best songs on the album is “Brian Eno,” but unfortunately it sounds like it belongs during one of the chase scenes in a Scooby Doo episode. If that’s the description for the best song on the album, you’ve taken a truly terrible path.

“Oracular Spectacular” is still a record that gets played on my iPod all the time. But “Congratulations?” Yeah, probably not much. The only “Congratulations” in order here are for making a freaking ridiculous record. So… um… congrats, fellas.

The Hold Steady, “Heaven Is Whenever” (Vagrant)

I was a little worried when I heard that Franz Nicolay wasn’t with the band anymore. The mustachioed keyboardist provided a backbone to Tad Kubler’s roaring guitars and singing support to Craig Finn’s almost-speaking singing voice. I thought maybe The Hold Steady would lose some of those melodies and tones that really helped round out the band. With “Heaven Is Whenever,” we get a more raw version of The Hold Steady. Nicolay’s absence allows those other things (the real down and dirty rock ‘n roll guitar and Finn’s voice) to take center stage.

“I’m just trying to tell the truth, kid,” Finn sings in “Soft In The Center.” It’s what he excels at and he delivers by the load on this album. “I know what you’re going through. I had to go through that too,” he sings later on the same song. That’s why we come to you, Mr. Finn.

So, what The Hold Steady did with “Heaven Is Whenever” is deliver the most well-rounded record they’ve done so far. And, at first listen, my favorite Hold Steady record yet.

Jakob Dylan, “Women + Country” (Columbia)

I kept trying to take this album seriously. It’s Jakob Dylan, son of Bob, the godfather of all that is good. It’s Jakob Dylan, the guy from the Wallflowers, who, while you shouldn’t take the band that seriously, put out some good pop-rock records.

But I just couldn’t get through it. I felt like this was Jakob Dylan trying to make a record like his father. Son, you’re good. But you’re not that good.

The first track, “Nothing But The Whole Wide World To Gain,” is the standout for me. It’s a simple folk-country tune with great background vocals courtesy of Neko Case and Kelly Hogan.

From there, it goes downhill. He’s shooting for a folk-Americana effort, but it feels fake, like he’s trying too hard. The beats feel wrong in “Yonder Come The Blues.” In “Holy Rollers For Love,” the guitars are intentionally quiet,  when they’d be better as the backbone of the song instead of the weird beat.

In the end, it’s just that nothing feels right to me and I don’t know if it’s Dylan’s fault or the fault of producer T. Bone Burnett. Either way, I’ll pass.

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