Saturday, October 25, 2014 · 3:03 a.m.

Let’s Talk Music!: A weekly album breakdown from Sean Phipps

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Every week, I’ll share two albums I’ve been listening to. Feel free to list your favorite recent releases in the comments below. 

Tweet your current favorite albums to @SeanMPhipps or email them to seanphippster@gmail.com.

Kid Rock, "Rebel Souls"
Listen to a full album stream.

In brief:
Kid Rock’s ninth studio release was self-produced. He recently performed several songs from the album in front of NASCAR fans in Homestead, Fla. 

What the critics think: 
Billboard interviewed Kid Rock about the concept behind "Rebel Souls," and he told them this new record was “a greatest hits-feeling record with all new songs.” They also gave the album the highest rating I could find. Other publications were much more critical of the album: The Boston Globe is glad the butter is warm, saying Rock “... clearly understands his vocal limitations, employs some dynamite backup singers who enliven, fill out and otherwise beautify their surroundings nicely.” AMG says, "Rebel Soul" has “an appealingly cheap sound, as the singer never seems so bothered with finessing the performances into something sonically appealing.” Still, they say Rock still has an appeal, that it’s “appropriately rebellious and conservative, a dose of old-time rock 'n' roll at a time when the style is starting to fade.” Slant Magazine panned the album with this comparison: “Kid Rock's music qualifies as Southern boogie the same way that Cracker Barrel qualifies as a 'down-home' establishment: all of the gimmickry, none of the soul.” Ouch. They go on, saying Rock’s lyrics “make Ted Nugent seem like an intellectual.” Finally, The NY Daily News sums up Kid Rock nicely, saying “his studious approach to the classics means his songs will always have a catchy surface, but ... at 42, Kid still lacks the darkness and vulnerability that make even the most ecstatic rock and soul songs ache.” 

Kid Rock's "Rebel Soul."

What I think:
Whoo! I’m doing this review as sort of a challenge to myself. There is a tendency for me to get kind of set in my ways when it comes to music I really like or don’t like. Kid Rock has always been on the “not like” list. But I’ll give it a fair shake. The album opens with a real head-scratcher called “Chickens in the Pen.” He recently performed the song in Times Square for "Good Morning America." This song, about mules kicking chickens apparently, is the BEST song on the album. Do you understand what I’m saying here? OK. The majority of the album after the chicken song is a warbling, drunken ode to rock 'n’ roll and soul music. In “CATT BOOGIE,” Rock says, “My existence is a glorified story of the truth.” He goes on to complain about “banks hedging” and “Wall Street stirring up the seet-chee-a-shon.” I decided that maybe I needed to be drunk to appreciate this music, so I poured a few fingers of Balvenie 15 and got back to listening. “Mr. Rock 'n' Roll” made me spit-take my expensive scotch. I almost choked when “Cucci Galore” started. Kid Rock takes on the personality of a pimp? What is this? Don’t buy this album. 

The Evens, "The Odds"
Listen to the album here.

The Evens' "The Odds."

In brief:
The Evens (husband/wife duo Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina) have released their third studio album since forming in 2001/disbanding/reforming again. The Evens’ sound is a mix of intelligent alternative rock, indie rock, folk and pop. MacKaye was a member of punk-rock legends Fugazi. Farina was a member of the post-hardcore band The Warmers. Their 4-year-old daughter is pictured on the cover of "The Odds."

What the critics think:
Pitchfork says MacKaye was “once dubbed America’s angriest teenager,” but now that he’s 50 years old, things are different. In other words, this album is “not Fugazi.” All Music Guide describes "The Odds" as “stripped-down pop, or at least music as poppy as a post-punk pioneer can get.” With the help of Farina’s “velvet harmonies” and “exceptional percussive skills,” "The Odds" is “not just a step forward in the creative careers of MacKaye and Farina; it's a major leap,” according to All Music. Prefix says MacKaye and Farina “are the kinds of parents that a lot of music nerds would pine to have.” The Boston Phoenix gives the album 3.5 stars, saying that “their third record proves that even the most militant punk songs are often best served by a stripped-down aesthetic.” Dusted agrees, saying, “'The Odds' sounds a bit like MacKaye’s former bands reduced to a simmer.” The new album is getting generally positive reviews across the board.

What I think:
"The Odds" takes me back to the early '90s, when we would listen to the acoustic rock of Nirvana’s unplugged album and bands like The Offspring. MacKaye and Farina are, of course, more sophisticated than that, but the early '90s is immediately where this music takes me, fondly. The first track is “King of Kings” and sets the tone for what will be a very interesting record. Farina is a beast on drums, and MacKaye matches her drumming with double-speed acoustic power chords. “I Do Myself” is another favorite, which is not—at least to my ears—a comment on ambivalent masturbation. “Competing with the Till” has an almost ska feel to it. Again, early '90s. A lot of the songs on "The Odds" would actually work well as hardcore songs. The choice to keep it minimalistic was key. All of those Fugazi dads can listen to this with their kids and smile. Good stuff. Recommended.

You can contact Sean Phipps via email and Twitter with comments and questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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