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Big names, little albums

By Leor Galil

Section: Arts

November 4, 2005

Theres no question that 2005 has provided one of the more eclectic years for new music releases in recent memory. From the ambitious double album efforts of Bright Eyes and Foo Fighters, to Bloc Partys various releases of their hyped-up Silent Alarm (its most recent incarnation being a remix album), to System of a Downs double metal assault of Mezmerize and Hypnotize, each released at different intervals this year.

Unfortunately, the ideal that more is better doesnt exactly reign supreme in a number of these cases;

in fact, some of the more enticing music released this year are in the form of EPs. Two of the most recent and inventive EPs released this year are the collaboration between Iron & Wine and Calexico entitled In the Reins, and Jimmy Eat Worlds dark Stay on My Side Tonight.

The stronger of the two releases, In the Reins intertwines Calexicos dreamy surf rock and Southwestern music instrumentation with Iron & Wines Sam Beam. Although the two mix well, Calexico acts like more of a backup folk orchestra to Beams sorrow-tinged, harmonious indie folk, which isnt necessarily a bad thing. The EP opens up with He Lays in the Reins, one of the more powerful and better tracks on the album: Beams haunting vocals shine through a set of whirling guitar wizardry, bouncing piano work, and the soothing vibraphone. Here, Beam truly outshines Calexico in nearly every respect with his ingenious brand of emo-folk, even as members of Calexico provide some of the most heartfelt instrumentation on the album.
The EPs closing track Dead Mans Will provides one of the other excellent tracks the collaboration has to offer. Will is reminiscent of early Iron & Wine recordings, with a rather diluted vocal quality, complete with building instrumentation courtesy of Calexico. Although the collaboration provides an inventive mix for fans of either group unfamiliar with the other act (or familiar with both), its a little short of the perfect album status. A History of Lovers is the biggest blunder on the EP, a strangely, upbeat song which feels forced among a selection of rather well-thought tracks as the instrumentation appears like a cheesy send up to Jimmy Buffet and Beams vocals seemed constrained to catch up to the awkward tune. For the most part, the EP works out to the advantage of both groups with the rest of the tracks as melodic and comforting as any usual Iron & Wine or Calexico piece.

Jimmy Eat Worlds Stay on My Side Tonight offers up a darker world of music a year after their last big release Futures. Perhaps frontman Jim Adkins is expressing his sorrow at the outset of the mediocre result of Futures;

despite what came out of Futures, if anything but a couple of throw-away singles, the results of Tonight prove to be better by leaps and bounds, but still lacking much of the musical ingenuity of their self-titled piece. Tonights opener and arguably the best track on the entire EP, Disintegration, offers up a brooding, meandering track which may alienate most casual Jimmy Eat World fans, but will entice true believers. The song begins with a minute of slow, menacing guitar strumming and spirals into emotional chaos in combination with haunting violin work and pummeling drumming as the track reaches its peak as Adkins laments a broken relationship, as he sings for his lost love to stay on my side tonight.

Although Disintegration provides one of the best songs in Jimmy Eat Worlds expanding music library, the rest of Stay on My Side Tonight is, unfortunately, not up to par. Still, the EP shows a strange, and late, progression in Jimmy Eat Worlds sound, building off the gloomy atmosphere of Disintegration and infusing it into every other song. Half Right produces a healthy mix of doom and gloom with upbeat and catchy as Adkinss vocals practically sound like Death Cabs Ben Gibbard against the soft, restrained instrumentals.

Drugs or Me (Styrofoam Remix) is probably intended for the die-hard Jimmy Eat World fans, or even techno fans who can indulge in World, as it completely tears the song apart and re-constructs it on a background of slow-paced violin and soft drum-machine beats a la the One AM Radio. Still, the EP comes together rather well and manages to show that there may be something better from the group around the bend.

With the massive number of music releases this year as the music world continually defines and re-defines itself, a lot of albums sure to be highlighted in many critics top 10 lists will be bloated, double disc marathons. Although a number of these releases certainly may have the stature to be listed as the best of the year, a number of albums have been bogged down by their twenty-plus track listings crammed into one release. In that same vein, it is with a number of EP releases that the musical ingeniousness and creative flair, which should be crammed into those big releases, are lovingly spread over four or six songs. Iron & Wine/Calexicos In the Reins is certainly up there, and although Jimmy Eat Worlds Stay on My Side Tonight is no matching feat, it certainly is an improvement over their last release. Hopefully, other musicians will see the light that Jimmy Eat World has seen and decide to make a small set of inspired, imaginative songs rather than spread it over a flimsily constructed 25 track pedestrian opus.

If you like these bands, then check out:

Bloc Party
The All-American Rejects
The Killers
Death Cab for Cutie
My Chemical Romance
Green Day

Dont miss:

Who: The All-American Rejects
Where: The Avalon, Boston
When: Friday, November 11th, 2005, 6:30 p.m.

Who: Averi
Where: The Avalon, Boston
When: Saturday, November 12th, 2005, 7 p.m.

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