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The music industry spends the whole Christmas season pumping up best-ofs, box sets, and other crowd pleasers in an attempt to raise fourth-quarter profits, then collapses on the 26th and spends the next few weeks doing the business equivalent of staying in bed and not answering the phone. (Want music critics to stop compiling year-end lists? Put out a great record next New Year's Eve.) Yesterday marked the beginning of the return to normalcy, and here are a couple of the records making it happen.
There was a lot of chatter about Vietnam in 2004, when advance copies of their Vice EP The Concrete's Always Grayer on the Other Side of the Street started floating around. It sounded in parts like a bleary jam session between the Stones in Nellcôte and Dylan at his most "fuck it"-est, and elsewhere like a toned-down, bummed-out Spacemen 3, an epically weary piece of rock that made getting drunk in the afternoon sound poetic. It should have been huge, but it wasn't. Vice dropped them, and they sort of fell off of the map. But Kemado decided to take a chance, and has just released the band's new self-titled album. The sounds are all the same -- warm, echo-laden guitars, Michael Gerner's nasally croak -- but the band sounds different. Maybe they switched up their dietary supplements or something, but Vietnam is downright inspired, bristling with unexpected electricity. Hopefully they'll get another chance to top themselves like this.
"Vibe" is MV & EE's main thing. Joined by a backing band called Bummer Road -- with J Mascis on mellotron -- on their new Green Blues, they're all about mood over structure. Their hazy, pastoral psych-folk is a peaceful, easy feeling for the most part, although the noisy breakdowns the songs sometimes unravel into could perhaps freak out a chemically altered listener. The band's occasionally overwhelmed by their ambition, and a good chunk of the record is given over to formless jamming, but when they get it together on songs like the opener, "East Mountain Joint," their hippy-dippy vibe is infectious, no matter how much you might hate actual hippies.
If you don't already like Piebald, their new Accidental Gentlemen probably won't change that. But for all of the emo kids who flocked to the catchy pop punk they've laid down on their past couple of records, Gentlemen might come as a surprise. The band's retro-evolved their sound from 00s mall punk to 70s power pop and jacked more than a little of Cheap Trick's swagger in the process. They almost have the chops to pull it off, too. Of course if it's Cheap Trick-ness you're hankering for, you might as well pull out Budokan again, but Piebald's new rock schtick could make an acceptable substitute for Built to Spill if you're in a pinch.