Archive for December, 2012

Best Albums of 2012

2012 may or may not have been a good year for music, but it certainly wasn’t a good year for my music reviews. I covered only 55 albums, and just 21 of them were released this year. (And 17 of those 21 were reviewed this month in a frantic attempt not to let the year slip by completely.)

This makes me glad for the precedent I set last year, in which I chose my best five albums of that year, as well as five older ones that I’d finally reviewed. I spent much of 2012 catching up on a backlog, and I’m obviously going into the new year with a lot of this year’s gems still undiscovered.

I was tempted to stick to last year’s format exactly, but I’m going to cut my count down to three in each category. While there were many good albums among the ones I reviewed, there are only a few that I’d actually be confident defending on a “year’s best” list. I’d still stand up for all the ones I listed last year, and I shouldn’t confuse things this time by including ones that are merely “very good” in a year-end wrap-up. My selections may be incomplete, but at least I expect that I will look back on them at this time next year and still feel that they deserved this.

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Let the Right One In (Movie Review)

Let the Right One In DVD cover

Let the Right One In

After reading Let Me In (a.k.a. Let the Right One In), I watched the movie. To begin, I should confess that I had the version with the “bad” subtitles. You may remember this: A few years ago, every horror fan and every cinephile were up in arms over the fact that this Swedish movie was screened with one set of subtitles and then released with different ones that missed the subtleties. This has since been fixed, but you need to be careful about which one you pick up. I’ve seen enough examples online to agree that the version I saw is definitely weaker. However, I don’t think that would have sufficiently changed my opinion of this. Ironically, the complaints about the new subtitles missing losing the depth are similar to what people point out when they say the book was better. Having just read the novel, and admittedly dealing with the subtle erosion of meaning that I’ll have with any foreign movie, I think that my own internal narrative would have had to fill in most of the same gaps with either set of subtitles.

This movie definitely does have gaps that need filled. It’s a very faithful adaptation, cutting out many parts for time but keeping what it can almost identical to the source material. While I miss a lot of the parts they removed, it was an admirable job of paring the story down to its core. However, maybe it needed to be simplified further. There still didn’t seem to be time to establish characters and relationships, with the early stages of Oskar and Eli’s relationship feeling especially arbitrary. Worst of all, Håkan (Eli’s handler) has his story abridged so much that he ends up feeling unexplained and unnecessary. While I really think that the triangle between him, Eli, and Oskar should have remained part of the fundamental story, this movie would have been better off eliminating him completely than in keeping the fragments that it did.

Other than cutting things out, about the only changes this makes to the story are to fit the remaining fragments together as smoothly as possible. The actual modifications are so rare as to be notable, and are generally good character moments in existing scenes. (A little event in the final scene, for example, as well as Eli’s reaction when being offered candy.) As much as I loved the book, I wish the movie had tried to change more. Different mediums require different stories, and following the original so closely guarantees that the new version can be judged only by whether it’s a good copy or not.

Beyond the story, the movie is decent but not spectacular. The sets and direction create a sparse, bland world. It was probably intended, as it conveys a very mundane life interrupted by horror, but it adds to the feeling that this movie doesn’t flesh out everything that the viewer should know. The acting is generally good, but a lot of key scenes, especially with children, involve unnatural delays. These are awkward silences, not pregnant pauses, such as everyone standing around for a couple seconds after someone is hit and THEN suddenly acting startled. Also, Eli feels frustratingly human all the time, without the cues she should be providing, or even the isolated air that defines her character. However, as Oskar and Eli’s relationship progresses, their scenes together are poignant and effective. Coming from child actors, this is especially notable. Fortunately for the movie, this means that the scenes near the end are the strongest, and therefore the ones that everyone will remember afterwards.

I can only judge Let the Right One In from my perspective, which leaves me surprised that it felt like a fully-realized story to people who weren’t familiar with the book’s details. It’s still unique, though, and has many powerful moments. I’m still glad I read it first.

Grade: C+


Japandroids – Celebration Rock (Music Review)

Celebration Rock cover

Japandroids – Celebration Rock

How did I somehow miss out on Japandroids until a few months ago? I was sure that I’d sampled them and found their electronic experiments lacking. Their name must have led me to mix them up with someone else, because this band is pure American flesh and blood bar-rock. (Yes, even though they’re actually Canadian.) Celebration Rock, their second release, is an uplifting album seemingly designed for shouting along with new best friends after a night of hard drinking.

The most impressive trick of Celebration Rock is that it does feel like a celebration of life, but not with the facile, blindly positive material that name might imply. The subjects are complex and varied. Far from a Pollyanna attitude, their clear view is that life is worth it despite, if not even because of, the struggles. Of course, you’ll want to have a group of friends to sing along with when the chorus gets to the loud “Whoa-oh” parts. Expect some realistic downer lyrics, though, as well as a cover of The Gun Club’s “For the Love of Ivy”. It’s those portions that make the life-affirming songs relatable.

The standout track, and a great example of the band’s strengths in general, is “The House That Heaven Built”. An honest, clear-eyed assessment after the end of a long-term relationship, the song focuses on the bond the two will always have. “When they love you (and they will) tell them all they’ll love in my shadow”, sings the band. Rather than sounding creepy or controlling, it ends up being a testimonial to emotional growth. The next lines are, “And if they try to slow you down, tell them all to go to hell”.

Japandroids have a huge buzz, and their simple human rock is usually just what I want from my music. Despite that, I don’t enjoy this as much as you’d expect. The songs are powerful, and obviously meant for a live communal experience. (In fact, their live performances are a big part of their buzz.) The album doesn’t quite capture that, though. This is the sort of music that needs a producer like Steve Albini, and as it is the raw energy sounds packaged instead of natural. The recording is just slightly too muddy, and the joyous community they represent sounds like it’s on the wrong side of the security barrier from the listener.

All that makes Celebration Rock good instead of great. It’s still a group of powerful songs occupying a unique place in the modern music scene. Japandroids have convinced me that they deserve the hype, and I just hope the next album lives up to it.

Grade: B-


The Vaccines – Come of Age (Music Review)

Vaccines - Come of Age cover

The Vaccines – Come of Age

Don’t be fooled by the title of The Vaccines’ sophomore album, Come of Age. As the opening song explains, “When you’re young and bored and twenty-four and don’t know who you are no more, there’s no hope and it’s hard to come of age”. In fact, expect to hear sentiments like that frequently throughout the album. The band’s consistent message is that they’re confused, aimless, and are going to let you down.

Despite that, the songs actually sound too self-aware to be written by their callow narrator. The Vaccines sing about being young and stupid, rather than from the experience of being young and stupid. It’s a comfortable topic, and the songs flow by mostly inoffensively. The one exception is “I Wish I Was A Girl”, which definitely seems to come from an oblivious boy’s perception of what a girl’s life must be like. Depending on your perspective, it is either offensively ignorant of real people’s problems, or an accurate slice-of-life from their age group. For me, it splits the difference and ends up being an easily-forgettable track near the end.

Not much of the album is forgettable, though. This is Brit-pop at its catchiest. The band smoothed out the extremes of the last album, with none of the Ramones impersonations and much less of the slow “youth-soul”. In their place are much more consistent British guitar anthems. None of it is as startling or refreshing as the band’s initial hits, but it’s too slick and hook-filled to complain about.

I finished my review of that first album by worrying that their youthful burst of energy was going to burn out before they could put together a follow-up work. By that standard, Come of Age is a relief even if it doesn’t hit the same highs. The slick performance and winking lyrics of this new album feel a bit more smooth and calculated than what we had before, but they also give us some excellent pop anthems. The real test will be in what their next release sounds like. I could craft a narrative in which this is a natural progression of the band’s style, or one in which this is a cynical retreat to safe, test-marketed music. I’m not worrying about that too much at the moment, though; I just plan to enjoy Come of Age until the next album comes out.

Grade: B


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Movie Review)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey movie poster

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

There’s always some risk to writing sequels (or prequels) of beloved stories, but The Hobbit already ran into those pitfalls as a book. Fellowship of the Ring opened up with retroactive changes to The Hobbit in order to change The Ring from a fun magic trinket into a force of corruption. By making a movie with a full understanding of Tolkien’s entire repertoire, Peter Jackson has the unique opportunity to fix the existing problems. However, he also has to deal with the fact that The Hobbit is intended as lighter fare than Lord of the Rings. In this, he half-succeeds.

The problem is that after his previous trilogy, Jackson now has the budget and experience to make a movie even more stunning and epic than Lord of the Rings on every level. As fan service, it’s wonderful, but it doesn’t always feel appropriate to the story. We see so many stunning vistas that the journey Bilbo and company take to the Misty Mountains feels longer than the entire trip to Mordor we saw before. The underground goblin kingdom is an excellent work of design and CGI, but it feels wrong that it outshines the machinations of the actual Dark Lord from the previous movies. And the fight to escape that kingdom is action-packed and well-choreographed, but the attempt of twelve Dwarves to run away just can’t feel as epic as the clashes of armies at Helm’s Deep or Minas Tirith. It’s almost confusing to see something hit all the cues perfectly without feeling like a big deal.

Those pieces are still a lot of fun, though, and Jackson does show elsewhere that he appreciate’s The Hobbit’s role. The action feels a little more fast-paced and cartoony, while the more everyday scenes (such as the dinner that introduces the Dwarves) are a joy to watch. Actor Martin Freeman has a great handle on the character of Bilbo, and his reluctant hero act works well. By the end of this trilogy, Bilbo may be a more popular Hobbit than Frodo.

Yes, of course The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is just part of a trilogy. In addition to dealing with the different demands of this story, Jackson also had to deal with an industry that has changed in the years since his Lord of the Rings movies. Remember when Fellowship came out, and all the fan outrage was about the things he’d had to cut out in order to fit it into a single long movie? Well, now everyone is talking about the things he added to make the much shorter Hobbit into a full trilogy. Sometimes, he simply pads out scenes or adds flashbacks. The history of the Dwarves before the story starts is fully shown, and it adds a framing sequence tying this into Frodo and the other movies. Gandalf’s barely-mentioned concerns about a gathering evil are now fully explored, with many completely new scenes that nonetheless do fit into Tolkien’s story cleanly. For the most part, these additions do feel appropriate, and help the story fit into the more epic style that Jackson wants to tell. The Dwarves now have distinct personalities, and their stubbornness and enmity with the Elves is given more attention. This should give weight to the later parts of the story.

Some parts feel very padded, though. Several unneeded minutes are given over to the giants that cause the storm in the Misty Mountains, and an additional plot about a vengeful Orc leader hunting them down feels more like generic fantasy than something Tolkien would have written. That’s not the only part that feels as if it were run through the Hollywood action machine: When the company flees up trees to escape pursuit, they are now precariously positioned next to a ravine, and end up climbing back down to fight anyway.

I think that three movies is pushing it, but there definitely would have been enough material here to give The Hobbit an excellent two-part story. At three, though, each weakened one will still be worth seeing, and that is probably a better result from the corporate point of view. It’s too bad, but I can’t get very upset about it. Fifteen years ago, I never would have dared hope that The Hobbit would be treated this well.

Grade: B-


Future of the Left – The Plot Against Common Sense (Music Review)

The Plot Against Common Sense cover

Future of the Left – The Plot Against Common Sense

Future of the Left, like Mclusky before it, is a vehicle for Andrew “Falco” Falkous’ absurdist rants. Whether doing a flat spoken-word delivery, staccato post-hardcore chants, or full-on electro-punk screaming, his sarcastic Welsh voice is a perfect match for the humorous, sometimes almost stream-of-consciousness, lyrics. The Plot Against Common Sense, Future of the Left’s latest release, is more of the same in many good ways. Musically, it is their strongest yet, especially if you liked Mclusky’s intense songs narrated by faux-tough guys. However, over this band’s three albums they have become increasingly serious, and their intended messages just aren’t as fun as the tongue-in-cheek nonsense they used to spew.

It isn’t necessarily bad to mix music with a message, but the two goals often conflict with each other. Whether the results work is a matter of personal opinion, and you can’t always predict whether I’ll like the result based on whether I agree with the point of view. In this case, there are some successes. I particularly like “Sheena Is A T-Shirt Salesman”, partly because the music industry always seems like fair game for musicians to criticize, and also because Falco’s blistering delivery doesn’t slow down to make sure you get the point. Other than a hilariously apt message at the end (“This song is dedicated to the merchandise manufacturers who made it possible”), it’s just two minutes of clever wordplay and verbal hooks (“autistic autistic autistic radio/artistic license (celebrate a bus pass!)”)

“Sorry Dad, I Was Late For The Riots” is the complete opposite of that. The theme (trust-fund kids who aren’t really devoted to their causes) is also a frequent target for punk rockers, but this just feels painfully strident. The only clever part is the inversion of children caring less than their parents. (Ok, excusing his absence with “I’m sure that Chumbawumba will understand” is pretty funny, too.) Otherwise, it feels generally boring and a little preachy.

Most other songs fall somewhere in between those two. Surprisingly, the band chooses a lot of easy targets, such as unnecessary movie sequels and idiotic advice in Cosmopolitan. These songs have Falco’s typically-clever delivery: “Robocop 4 – Fuck Off Robocop” includes an on-the-nose description of Pirates of the Caribbean 47’s plot, and he responds to Cosmo’s fear of aging by foretelling a future in which “everyone is slightly older”. But his songs work best when he presents gripping but hard-to-follow visions (“This is a song about breaking bread with enemies of fantasy”), and finding an obviously-mundane message in it ruins the message.

Fortunately, not all the songs on Common Sense are derailed by meaning. “I Am the Least of Your Problems” is cheeky, hard-rocking fun, “Beneath the Waves an Ocean” has more self-referential jokes (“Three men walk into a cafe, take a corner booth, and wait for context”), and “Polymers Are Forever” is just my favorite name for a song since Falco formed this band. Future of the Left is still improving in many ways, and they are sometimes figuring out how to handle political and cultural statements. Those statements still get in the way more often than on past albums, though. On balance, it’s definitely a worthwhile effort, though I can’t tell whether they are getting better or worse.

Grade: B


Corin Tucker Band – Kill My Blues (Music Review)

 Kill My Blues cover

Corin Tucker Band – Kill My Blues

The Corin Tucker Band’s debut established themselves as a distinct entity from Sleater-Kinney, but unfortunately that was the best thing that could be said about it. They returned this year with Kill My Blues, which apparently tries to correct course by front-loading all the energetic songs for maximum Sleater-Kinney nostalgia. It even seems intended as an introduction for people who missed the last album, with Tucker explaining at the start that she’s been gone a while but is returned. Despite all that, the band still hasn’t found itself.

That Sleater-Kinney nostalgia is a powerful force, of course. “Neskowin” and “I Don’t Wanna Go”, especially, build up a lot of goodwill. Energetic and letting Tucker’s voice go all-out, these could practically be outtakes from her old band. They cover difficult territory, with the former about discovering herself as a teen and the latter about a loved one’s illness. They may not provide many details, but it’s easy to ignore that for a time.

The songs are consistently vague, though. It’s usually good for an album to offer one or two like “Joey” and “None Like You”, containing a personal message that the listeners will not fully follow. Those help to flesh out the band’s overall personality by giving a glimpse into the full life that they live. Maybe the problem here is that almost all of those songs are like that: These are personal messages not aimed at the listener, and if you’re not part of Tucker’s life, there just isn’t enough here to make the rest of us feel invested in it.

Worse, the few times the songs get a little more specific, they feel generic. “Blood, Bones. and Sand” is all about the feeling of having a child, but it doesn’t find anything original to say about the subject. The first track, “Groundhog Day”, asks if we’re all still trying to move society forward and admits to some guilt over dropping out of the public eye for a few years instead of continuing the fight. It’s appropriate to that song that she doesn’t find a resolution, but it still feels like another incomplete idea because the rest of the album never tries to engage in those themes at all. That first song allows basically no excuse for ignoring those fights, but then she just sings about loved ones and writes borderline-nonsense lines like “You can rent me a burro we’ll live off of churros/Let’s freak like we’re pharaohs/I’ll be your sparrow tonight”.

The band still offers a variety of styles to back up Tucker. However, the faster songs actually make the band feel a bit less varied than they were before. Their technique on those tracks is generally a fast, unvaried beat with competent indie rock riffs echoing it closely.

Corin Tucker will always be a star to some of us. Even so, her new band can’t achieve more than intermittently interesting songs. Two albums in, they haven’t figured out how to make their style work.

Grade: C


Android: Netrunner (Game Review)

Android: Netrunner

Android: Netrunner

After creating Magic: The Gathering, Richard Garfield tried to reproduce his success with another collectable card game, Netrunner. It failed to survive long, but its cult following led Fantasy Flight Games to resurrect it two decades later. Despite all the advances in game design over that time, the new version (now branded Android: Netrunner) holds up remarkably well.

The biggest innovation of the game was the asynchronous roles for its two players. Set in a cyberpunk future, one person played a Corporation trying to protect their secrets from the Runner (hacker) played by the other. Each player uses different types of cards and has very different needs. Most of the rules flow smoothly from that concept, with the Corporation seeking to spend turns “advancing” Agenda cards before the Runner can break through the Ice protecting them. This is a big change from the direct attacks of Magic, and the resources used are different as well: Instead of recurring Mana to spend every turn, players gather up credits, potentially spending many turns’ worth in a single big move – and also potentially finding themselves strapped for cash just when the other strikes.

The Runner's play area, with a few rows for the different types of cards.

The Runner’s play area, with a few rows for the different types of cards.

Fundamentally, this is a bluffing game. The Corporation plays most of their cards face-down, so the Runner doesn’t know the types or strength of the Ice until they attack. They don’t even know if the card being protected is an Agenda or Trap. This makes for very tense games, as both sides try to build up their abilities, responding to the perceived or actual threats shown by the other. Often, the end result hinges on a single element that seems blown out of proportion, with one surprising success giving a player the card they need for victory. (Agendas are generally worth two or three points, and the first player to seven wins.) These game-ending chances (or lucky combos coming at just the right time) may seem a little disappointing to some people. They are the only potential problem with the gameplay that I see, though: My experiences have been consistently interesting, tense, and varied. Even if one player gets off to a better start, the other can still threaten to build up their abilities and take the lead later. (This is important to note, because I did play the original version of this, and I remember most games being very one-sided. Whether it was a problem with that version, or with my skills at the time, I can’t say.)

The Corporation's play area, full of face-up and face-down cards. Ice (horizontal cards) protects everything - even the draw and discard piles.

The Corporation’s play area, full of face-up and face-down cards. Ice (horizontal cards) protects everything – even the draw and discard piles.

Even the deck-building has elements of this guessing, as the game has too many aspects to account for every time. Will the Corporation be trying to run “Traces” against the Runner? Will the Runner use Viruses or straightforward Icebreakers? Will the Runner benefit from revealing their opponent’s cards, or is that a waste of resources that could be better put towards brute force? All those answers depend on what the opponent chooses before the game starts.

Fantasy Flight has left the gameplay fundamentally the same, but did make significant changes to the deck-building. For one thing, this is now a “Living Card Game” instead of a “collectible card game”. The LCG model means that instead of buying packs of random cards, people purchase a complete set at one time. Frequent updates are released, but those are also available in a single purchase. This new version also groups cards into “factions”, with decks needing to be built largely around a single one. (Cards from other factions can be added, but only up to a specific “influence” level.)

The LCG model is probably the right business decision for Netrunner. It always had a reputation for being a game based more on mixing in the right surprises than on tracking down rare cards. I appreciated that I didn’t need to spend lots of money to feel involved, but that may be why it didn’t survive as a CCG.

Psychologically, this makes it feel very different. For example, the game is easiest to play if both people have bought their own copies. That is true of both CCGs and LCGs, but since LCGs feel more like traditional board games, that seems like an extra expense. Also, you are allowed to include up to three copies of each card in your deck, and it’s usually best to do so. But it’s one thing to search through booster packs for extra copies of a card you like, and it’s another to realize that you’re paying for one large box full of duplicate cards. Worse, some cards in the base set only have one or two copies. To play with three of them, you’d need to buy multiple copies of the game! (Or make your own copies, of course.) That feels like an obnoxious limitation.

On the other hand, I now have three copies of most cards in the decks I made. I usually didn’t have extra copies available in the decks I made with the original game. I suspect that that might have added the randomness that made my old games so one-sided, while the modern ones are competitive. If so, I can’t argue with the results.

So far, the game is very fun, but also very limited. There are just enough cards to let you make a basic deck with each faction, and there aren’t a lot of changes you can make from the others. It seems that the base set is well-designed to keep you building within tight constraints that expansions will have to take away. There are too many strong combos that are limited now only by the cost of mixing cards from different factions. How long can that last as new cards are added? And what about the cards so powerful that the other side needs to treat them as a threat at all times? Bluffing games work when each side has a known set of threats to make. If new cards keep being added to the game, then the set of possible actions will be too diverse to create true bluffing tension. (The first expansion just came out. It looks very fun, but mainly skirts those issues by including very few cards.)

Judging this game by its base set only, it’s excellent. It provides a unique feel with a enough tweaks available to keep me playing for a while. I may not be sure what the future holds for Netrunner, but in the worst-case scenario, the initial cards are well worth buying on their own.

Grade: A-


Regina Spektor – What We Saw From the Cheap Seats (Music Review)

What We Saw From the Cheap Seats cover

Regina Spektor – What We Saw From the Cheap Seats

Regina Spektor has a strange position in the indie pop scene. Wildly experimental, but also seriously sentimental and unironic, these two sides sometimes collide unexpectedly. When she tried to promote her previous album with “Laughing With”, for example, fans expecting a clever deconstruction of life reacted like it was an especially bad email forward from their mothers. What We Saw From the Cheap Seats doesn’t have anything that extreme, but Spektor continues to flit happily around the whole spectrum. There’s no sign that she sees a difference between the straightforward ballad of “How” (a heart-on-her-sleeve elegy for a relationship) and the flights of fancy in “All the Rowboats” (anthropomorphizing items in a museum). The Manic Pixie Dream Girl of experimental pop, she seems to find meaning in a creative worldview that others see as a strict contradiction.

In Cheap Seats, Spektor seems more settled in to her role than ever. No longer trying the chaotic variety of tricks she used in Soviet Kitsch, but also without the pop stardom attempts of Begin To Hope, she just sings the songs she wants. Her music is becoming consistently good, but I miss the misfires that used to go along with her biggest successes. Hopefully something pushes her out of her comfort zone soon.

In the meantime, it’s hard to complain about the work she’s delivering, A couple songs err on the overly-sincere side (“Ballad of a Politician” has nothing new to say about its subject matter), and there are just a couple flights of experimentation: “Oh Marcello” is full of quick-spoken lines about a woman whose fortune teller warned her that her son would grow up to be a killer, but with a slow, heartfelt chorus lifted directly from “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”. With Biblical references and a little beatboxing mixed in, it creates an unexpectedly beautiful patchwork.

Almost all the songs fall solidly between those, though: Piano-based with electronic accompaniment and clear production, they rely mainly on Spektor’s classical background and beautiful voice to communicate her worldview in quirky ways. She sings about “the pain of knowing that true love exists” and muses on a piano’s suitability as firewood during a song about mortality. Not for the first time, one of the album’s strongest tracks (“Ne Me Quitte Pas” in this case) is a reworking of one of her songs from her early days.

The open-eyed sentimentality and unique styles make Spektor as fascinating as she is divisive. I’m one of the people who likes her, so much so that I expect to keep enjoying her albums even if she continues her slow movement away from the styles I like the most.

Grade: B


Howler – America Give Up (Music Review)

America Give Up cover

Howler – America Give Up

America Give Up, Howler’s full-length debut, has gotten a lot of attention this year. I can sort of see why, though it hasn’t thrilled me the same way. Bouncy surf-rock with a constant fuzzy drone and hooky riffs, this is the bubblegum pop version of garage rock. It’s a style I like, but partly for the substance that often goes with it. In Howler’s case, they don’t have the variety of Black Lips or the lyrical depth of Goodnight Loving. The catchy sound can take them far, admittedly.

The band comes across as youthful and optimistic, in a complete contrast to their album title. In fact, it’s almost hard to notice that the songs cover the half-angry, half-stoned territory common to garage rock: I usually come away from the album feeling vaguely like I’d just heard some eager, lo-fi Beach Boys covers. In reality, they sing things like “A shotgun wedding at a quarter to five/I shot the husband and I sleep with the bride” and “You think we’re Bonnie and Clyde/But both of them fucking died”. Nothing too offensive, of course. If anything, I probably get that feeling because of how carefully calculated it sounds. At least, when I hear Howler sing “I hate myself more than I hate you”, it seems to have little more meaning than “La la la” would.

The group’s catchiness fails it only twice: Once in “Too Much Blood”, when they slow their sound down and seem to reveal the lack of any substance behind them, and conversely on “Black Lagoon”, when the attempt at a more aggressive song just comes out wrong and feels irritating. (Being the last song on the album, its annoying anti-hooks are a real problem.) Otherwise, America Give Up is a fun, upbeat album. It’s just immediately forgettable afterwards, except for a few lines from “Black Lagoon” that I’m trying to forget.

Grade: C+