yeah_yeah_yeahs_mosquito.jpgYEAH YEAH YEAHS: Mosquito
Interscope, 48 minutes
Rating: 3/5

All bands eventually figure out what kind of music they do best and stick to that. For most that comes not long after formation. For the more adventurous types it could take two, three, or more albums.

For Yeah Yeah Yeahs that moment of realization hasn’t happened yet. They’ve changed up their approach on every album, but their fourth Mosquito is an awkward attempt to form a fresh identity out of scrap parts. While previous albums fell into more or less recognizable, disparate styles (the blistering punk energy of Fever to Tell, the grown-up indie rock of Show Your Bones, the new wave nostalgia trip It’s Blitz!) Mosquito is all over the place. Its title has inspired one of the worst album covers I’ve seen in years, but it’s an apt stand-in for music that buzzes around for a while without a clear sense of direction.

Taken alone most of Mosquito’s songs are interesting enough. “Subway” is overly literal (the sound of a train actually runs through the song) but among the most haunting and minimal Yeah Yeah Yeahs have ever released. Samples add intriguing flavour to the prog-pop of “Under the Earth” and “These Paths.” “Area 52” and “Buried Alive” go for batshit-crazy, the latter nearly pulling off the incongruous inclusion of James Murphy (producer) and Dr. Octagon (rapper).

If Yeah Yeah Yeahs had stuck with any of those styles - ethereal, experimental, or insane - and crafted them into more than just single servings, Mosquito may not have turned out any better but at least it would have made more sense. For years to come it will hopefully remain an anomaly in their otherwise solid catalogue.

IWCover2.jpgIRON & WINE: Ghost on Ghost
Warner Music, 44 minutes
Rating: 4/5

Sam Beam will forever be associated with the haunting, whispery folk of his first two albums The Creek Drank the Cradle (2002) and Our Endless Numbered Days (2004) but as of 2013 he’s spent more time moving away from that aesthetic than embracing it. Ghost on Ghost is now the third Iron & Wine album to feature a full band (or to leave the impression of one) and arguably the best of those. It’s certainly a marked improvement over the scattershot, partially electro-pop Kiss Each Other Clean (2011).

One thing is immediately clear: Beam has never sounded so happy. While “Caught in the Briars” begins with some disorganized noise, it’s a fake out - the song is a glorious jam, so bright you can practically feel the grin forming across Beam’s face. While he’s crafted some of the saddest songs of his generation their kind doesn’t appear here. The wealth of optimistic titles - “Joy,” “Singers and the Endless Song,” “Lover’s Revolution” - are in no way ironic.

There are darker moments certainly. “Low Light Buddy of Mine” is an ominous portrait of jealously. “Lover’s Revolution” is seductive yet secretive. But they don’t diminish the album’s pervasive positivity, an emotional high that could’ve come across as overly sentimental were it not for the absence of such good vibes in every other new album on my desk.

highrescover.jpgTHE GOOD FAMILY: The Good Family Album
Latent Recordings, 30 minutes
Rating: 3/5

The Good Family are compared to the original Carters (A.P., his wife Sara and her sister Maybelle) in their press release, apparently by virtue of their own blood relation. The Goods are brothers Bruce and Larry (who have actually recorded folk, country and gospel albums since the early ‘70s as The Good Brothers), their cousin D’Arcy, Bruce’s wife Margaret and their sons Travis and Dallas of the Sadies. Sadies’ rhythm section of Mike Belitsky and Sean Dean rounds out the lineup.

But while the Carters transformed traditional American hymns and ballads to the then-novel style of country music, the Good Family write their own material and go with somewhat creaky MOR country-rock over more folk or gospel influence. Only “Paradise,” co-written with Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor, sounds like it could’ve been passed through generations.

Given their collective experience this emphasis on fresh songwriting over tradition isn’t a surprise. But it turns what could’ve been a chance for fathers, sons, mothers, husbands and wives to revel in their shared love of a genre into an imitation of it. A lot of these songs, like “Life Passes (And Old Fires Die)” or “Outside of Saskatoon” have the character of folk standards but not the staying power. The Goods are an extremely talented bunch of musicians, and their album sounds beautiful at every turn, but its melodies are rarely strong enough to live up to the quality of memorability inherent to great folk songs.

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