Love as Laughter
The O.C. has become the Oprah's Book Club for indie rock. Whenever Seth Cohen namedrops a band like Death Cab for Cutie or the Shins, their sales spike, even if only a little. The show's latest find is Love as Laughter, a Seattle-based group with four albums under their belt. Their fifth is titled, appropriately, Laughter's Fifth, a cheeky reference to both Beethoven and Jack Daniel's.
The O.C. pick is "Dirty Lives," a catchy indie-pop number with all the requisite grinding guitars, wiseacre lyrics, and buoyant melodies. The rest of Laughter's Fifth follows in a similar vein, with a penchant for sardonic wordplay and loose guitar grooves. "Canal Street" is a shuffling singalong about buying Louis Vuitton ripoffs, and "Corona Extra" is a bizarro-world Jimmy Buffett ballad about being dumped on vacation: "I put you on a milk crate, baby/There's a file at the Miami P.D.," Sam Jayne sings. "I would cry tears of joy if they said you'd be back to me."
For all its cleverness, though, Laughter's Fifth possesses a surprising bitterness that adds a skewed depth to these tongue-in-cheek songs. The uncertain promises of "I Won't Hurt You" and the mock epic "Makeshift Heart," during which Jayne exhorts us to "open up your curtains and step outside," find the silver lining in the dark cloud blocking the California sun.
-- Stephen Deusner
The Fallen Leaf Pages
Not sure what this says about my ears, but the Radar Bros.' blatant lifting of Pink Floyd circa '70-'72 sounds scads fresher than the cribbing of vintage Gang of Four or Wire that's become so de rigeur, which is to say I can do without the next Bloc Party and have a habit of muting Volkswagen, Target, and bank commercials. Apples and oranges, you say, but I'm just taking our contemporary musical climate, from the underground to what bumps its nose against the mainstream, into account here.
Far from following trends, the Radar Bros. have never deviated from the formula they established at their late-'90s outset: slothlike, though livelier than your average Low song. Be comforted, the band's sound has nothing to do with what some were calling "slo-core" in another century. It is not Ida.
The opening mention of pre-'73 breakout Pink Floyd, specifically the albums Meddle and Obscured by Clouds, is not a reach. If you hold Floyd's minor hit "Fearless" or Obscured by Clouds' "The Gold It's in the " or "Free Four" in high regard as slightly "off" pop constructions (and you should), the Radar Bros.' knack for making that sound contemporary, and their continued ability to pull good songwriting out of the template, is just what you need. -- Andrew Earles
Mike Doughty has come a long way with a terrible singing voice. Over three albums with Soul Coughing, his nasal pitch, which limits his range and force, added another level of eccentricity to his boho white-boy hip-hop lyrics, and his first solo album, Skittish, sounded all the more earnest and intimate for all the imperfections in his vocals.
On Haughty Melodic, his major-label debut and his first solo album with a full backing band, his vocal limitations become just that -- limitations. His voice sounds weak and thin, lost amid the bustle of instruments.
It doesn't help that the music itself is so anonymous. Doughty's band, which includes former N.E.R.D. drummer Eric Fawcett, churns out run-of-the-mill jam-band half-grooves, burnishing away all of Doughty's rhythmic and lyrical idiosyncrasies. Furthermore, producer Dan Wilson (formerly of Semisonic) pushes most of the out-of-the-ordinary instruments -- the banjo and saxophones on "Busting Up a Starbucks," for instance -- so low in the mix they're nearly inaudible. As a result, Haughty Melodic is Doughty's first-ever completely unmemorable album, which is saying a lot for an artist who has made so much of his peculiarities and shortcomings. -- SD