“(Up, Up and Away In) My Beautiful Balloon”
Hot Air Ballooning
Balloon Party Animals
Polvo, In Prism (Merge)
I’ll say it right up front: As much as the title sounds like something from The Ocho’s Top Rejected Titles of Songs By Rush/Cable Miniseries About Polygamy, Polvo’s “Right the Relation” may be the rocking-est new song you will hear in 2009—”Rocking” in the way that Pavement could be when Stephen Malkmus released the snarl a bit, the way your most math-addled, nerdy deskmate in high school who’s never heard note one of math rock, or in some miniscule way Geddy Lee himself is rocking almost in spite of himself. This disc is the result of the decade-dormant Chapel Hill, NC group reforming upon being asked to perform at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2008 by Explosions in the Sky.
And after the quantum explosion of that first track renders pretty much all other new releases this year irrelevant, “DC Trails” weaves its trail through the back roads of your mind and navigates minefields you didn’t even know you had laid. In an age when chamber pop rules the indie-rock landscape, the prism of these songs is like the mirage of verdant hillsides seen through such an arcane apparatus; whether it’s a musical mirage or not is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.
The Shaky Hands, Let It Die (Kill Rock Stars)
The first thing you might well think when your ear is glanced by the first sound wave from the Shaky Hands’ new album is, Hold Steady-lite? Both band names’ allusions to neurological conditions of the extremities and lack of same aside, this group is much preferable to the other if only because they haven’t yet completely started to believe their own fictions. Both bands lay down a negligible riff like they invented rock n’ roll, which might be laudable for chutzpah value, but the clichés aren’t even really memorable ones, for the most part. On “Slip Away,” the third song on the album, they finally get into a good rock groove, yet also remind you why Hold Steady evokes comparisons to Springsteen, who himself hasn’t written a song this good for at least a decade. At least “All You Recall” steals a riff from someone worthy, in this case Keith Richards.
The Shaky Hands aren’t letting rock music die; they are letting it use its own rope to kill itself, torturing it ever-sogently, killing it softly with its own torpid progressions.