Don't let the group's name fool you. This spacey, studio-belabored, mid-tempo pop has nothing to do with the Band or The Basement Tapes. Don't let the album title fool you either. British combos have been working variations on these aural templates since the Thatcher era. Consider being fooled by the production of Paul Epworth, the man responsible in no small part for the success of Adele and Foster the People. Then remember that even the best producers need something-memorable hooks, lyrics-to work with.
Knowing this album to be its last, these worship rockers have apparently tried squeezing in all of their remaining ideas, eventually needing two CDs to accommodate the sprawl. Not that the music always sprawls; occasionally ("Our Communion" leading into "Sometimes," for example), the stylistic eclecticism actually flows. Still, there's a lot of hubbub-that is, until the acoustic, old-time hymns at the end, hymns so simple and direct you wonder why, if rest was really what he wanted, Crowder didn't just do an entire album of them.
On their 2008 debut, Freedom Wind, these six South Carolinians sounded more like the Beach Boys than the Beach Boys themselves had since 1965. Now, perhaps wanting to prove they're more than ace mimics, they've added other sounds from the days when AM radio was king-some Turtles here ("Any Little Way"), some Climax or the Association there ("It's No Use"). They haven't yet achieved their own sound, but by mixing the Ventures and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass on the instrumental title cut, they come close.
Bangarang is not only this big-selling EP's title but also an accurate description of its music. Listeners needing more explanation, however, might imagine a cocktail of minimalism, hip-hop, Keith Emerson synthesizer solos, machine guns, and jackhammers force fed into a garbage disposal then trash compacted until even such lyrics as poke out function more as crude, aural shards than sentient expression. The onslaught can be fun in short bursts. It can also be as dull as watching a wind-up toy bump repeatedly into a wall.
When the Weakerthans' John K. Samson announced several years ago that he was writing and recording songs inspired by roads in his native Manitoba, the underwhelming nature of the news had cynics in the Lower 48 wondering whether Samson was merely mocking his homeland's "Canadian content" laws. Then the songs began trickling out. First there was 2009's three-cut City Route 85. Then came 2010's three-cut Provincial Road 222. Witty, sad, and surprisingly universal given their localized particulars, the songs were clearly no joke.
Now with Provincial (ANTI-), Samson has re-recorded both EPs and added six new compositions. And although several of those ("Highway 1 East," "Longitudinal Centre," "Highway 1 West") continue his original Manitoban theme, the catchiest song universalizes particulars that even non-Canadians will recognize: namely, procrastinating while wrapping up the requirements for an advanced degree. "When I Write My Master's Thesis" is the title. A "hard drive smashed to pieces" is the climax.