Album Reviews in Briefs

featuring reviews of: The Queers, M. Ward, Sufjan Stevens
...with More to Come!

The Queers Summer Hits, Number 1

A greatest hits collection of sorts, Summer Hits finds the New Hampshire surf punk trio's
latest line-up re-recording 15 of the group's more memorable tracks. Joined by drummer Dusty
Watson (Dick Dale) and bassist Philip Hill (Teen Idols), the band's solitary original member, Joe Queer, leads the group through a collection of classic Queers' tracks spanning the band's 2-decade career. Adding an unreleased cover of The Who's "The Kids Are Alright," along with a new track, "Aishiteruyo Kanojo," sung partly in Japanese, the album's high production quality may initially turn older fans off, but the classic Queers attitude that attracted them to the band in the first place shows through enough to keep the album entertaining.

- Robby King

M. Ward Transistor Radio

Beautifully written and poignantly honest and introspective, Portland based singer-songwriter M. Ward's 4th LP Transistor Radio plays like the soundtrack to a dreary fall afternoon happily wasted under a thick comforter in a warm, familiar bed.

Ward's just-gritty-enough vocals and slight Delta drawl, combined with his folk-influenced finger-style guitar playing and the album's lo-fi production value, give Transistor Radio a timeless feel that allows it to seem at home in almost any decade of the last century. The real beauty in Transistor Radio, though, is in its ability to make listeners feel happy for its sadness - solitude, death, and even insomnia are romanticized in a way that lets listeners take comfort in their frank familiarity.

Transistor Radio isn't entirely somber, though; Ward draws from a broad range of musical influences and isn't shy about presenting them all in his own unique voice. The album opens with a classical guitar rendition of Brian Wilson's "You Still Believe in Me," and its 8th track, "Big Boat," is an up-tempo blues romp that strikes up images of a Mississippi piano bar from the 1940s. Effortlessly transcending these genres without ever abandoning his signature smoky backroom sound, Ward's final product is a beautifully wistful and earnest album that's difficult not to fall in love with.

- Robby King

Sufjan Stevens Come On Feel The Illinoise!, Asthmatic Kitty Records

Sufjan Stevens writes an album of anthems. They propose life changes with soothing guitar strums and choral arrangements. A couple of favorites are "Decatur, Or, Round Of Applause For Your Stepmother!" and "The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!" Both contain lyrical shadings and epic, persisting clarinet mixed with strings, as Stevens leads us to another town in his tour of the United States. He describes the people and surroundings with beauty and ease. Some tracks on the album, as it is over 20 songs long, are too long, too short, not containing valid meaning, but these two tracks contain the mantra that Stevens is meant to proclaim. Lines repeated and infused are duly noted, such as "I can't explain the state I am in / The state of my heart, he was my best friend" from "Palisades" and "Steven A. Douglass was a great debater, / But Abraham Lincoln was the great emancipator". Each of these lines exudes importance with its pronunciation and the instrumentation backing them. Almost every moment is epic, is an outspoken yet personal point of view. Stevens gives us a full album filled with quirks to both sadden and bring joy to its audience. The chorus tells the listener what to do and the audience follows like a church.

- Nancy Wolfe