Matmos "The Civil War" (Matador) 3.5 / 4 stars
Assumption: San Francisco duo Matmos is incapable of creating anything distasteful or unimportant. Proof: Its astounding fifth album, "The Civil War."
Once again, Matmos uses a well-balanced mix of field-recorded samples and less conventional instruments to create soundscapes reminiscent of Pierre Schaeffer's "musique concrete" works in which natural sounds are recorded and replayed in a musical way.
A standout on the album, "Stars and Stripes Forever," recreates Sousa's standard using synthesizers, horns, a comb, a leather coat, a bicycle pump, and people making other such sounds at a Harvard music lab. The album's obvious opus, "Reconstruction," develops and evolves masterfully throughout its nine minutes.
Floating back and forth between punchy, sharp rhythms and twee-ish layerings, the album successfully shows off the duo's compositional skills without becoming background music.
- KELLY REIDY
Shwa "Tender" (Independently Released) 2 / 4 stars
On his debut album "Tender," AU alumnus Joshua "Shwa" Losben delivers 12 acoustic-based songs blending humor and sincerity throughout. Shwa displays a mature songwriting ability, which he often juxtaposes with ridiculous lyrics for comedic effect. However, in the grand scheme the duality only seems to detract from the songs in which Shwa is more serious, such as the opener, "Ready for a Change" and "Generic Break-Up," where Shwa sings with a Dave Matthews-esque falsetto.
While the recording quality and the guitar playing is excellent, Shwa's voice is the weakest aspect of "Tender," often being pushed beyond its range. Shwa seems to attempt to come off like a Chris Carrabba or a Jack Johnson with his inflections, but they just end up being irritating.
Shwa separates himself from other artists, however, by creating a distinct humor, which shines through on his "hit" - closer "Tenleytown Bitch."
- DANIEL LONGINO
Switchfoot "The Beautiful Letdown" (Sony/red ink) 2 / 4 stars
"The Beautiful Letdown" is an above-average album with a few too many gimmicks. San Diego-based Switchfoot tries to accomplish a combination of the Remy Zero and Third Eye Blind sounds, and does a fairly decent job.
Like many recent albums that try to resemble the '90s idea of an "alternative" genre, attempted frills are added to make the tracks seem more upscale than standard rock and sound more interesting to potential radio audiences. Unfortunately, this makes tracks like "More than Fine," an otherwise convincing ballad, fall flat. On "Meant to Live," a straight-ahead rock song, Switchfoot sounds more convincing.
"Dare to Move" and "Twenty-Four" are almost power ballads but are not as over-produced like much of the album. "The Beautiful Letdown" is a promising album, but the band should cut the hip-hop intros next time.
- GEORGE MELISSINOS
Burnt By The Sun "The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good" (Relapse Records) 3 / 4 stars
New Jersey's meta-core legend Burnt By the Sun makes a powerful return to extreme music with its latest release, "The Perfect Is the Enemy Of The Good."
The record explodes with the same ferociousness of the band's last album, "Soundtrack to the Personal Revolution," with blazing-fast guitar riffs on "2012" and "Washington Tube Steak," as well as drum-heavy, sludgy tracks like "Forlani." The album is obviously a progression for the band, but it nonetheless remains true to Burnt By The Sun's unique sound of metal-core that mixes new-school guitars and drums in the vein of Dillinger Escape Plan and the Blood Brothers, with classically typical metal, low-end pulverizing, and deep-voiced screams and growls.
On "The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good," Burnt By The Sun does not disappoint. Old fans and new fans alike will enjoy another great release from one of Relapse Records most popular and exciting bands.
- MATT RAJPUT
The Weakerthans "Reconstruction Site" (Epitaph Records) 2 / 4 stars
The Weakerthans concocts a mellow mix of folk and rock on its latest album "Reconstruc-tion Site," delivering a blend of vocals and acoustic and electric instruments with a hint of country twang. This sound is a major departure from front man John K. Samson's political punk roots in his former band, Propagandhi.
"Reconstruction Site" is the third full-length record released by the foursome from Winnipeg, Canada. The album traverses a musical spectrum from solid rock tracks like "Uncorrected Proofs" to bona fide country-folk songs like "One Great City!" The lyrics on this record verge on eccentric, with songs like "Plea from a Cat Named Virtue," which is written from a feline perspective. At times, the unusual lyrics distract from the essence of the songs, switching the focus away from the music.
"Reconstruction Site" has its moments, but the album as a whole is disparate - lacking an overall flow to connect the varied songs and sounds.
- LAURA KAPLAN
Matchbook Romance "Stories And Alibis" (Epitaph) 3.5 / 4 stars
Imagine a band with the intensity, but not the bitterness, of Taking Back Sunday, the pop sensibility of The Ataris and the catchiness of the Starting Line. This is Poughkeepsie, N.Y.'s Matchbook Romance in a nutshell.
Formerly known as The Getaway, Matchbook Romance has slowly gained a fan base through constant touring and a daily position on the 2003 Warped Tour. "Stories and Alibis," the band's debut album on Epitaph records, shows great promise.
For the most part, "Stories and Alibis" deals with relationship themes of separation and getting in fights. Matchbook Romance gets its point across with longing vocals - sometimes throwing in a little bit of expressive screaming.
The songs "The Greatest Fall" and "My Eyes Burn" are great examples of the band's loud and driving sound, while "Tiger Lily" shows the band's softer acoustic side. Fans of bands like Taking Back Sunday, Finch and The Ataris will love Matchbook Romance.
- JORGE DEL PINAL
Various Artists "Take Action! Volume 3" (Sub City Records) 2 / 4 stars
Two discs, 55 songs by 55 different artists, 5 percent of the retail price goes to charity to aid suicide prevention. Sounds good, right?
Well, it is and it isn't. Of the 55 included songs, most are hardcore-punk/metal, with a few that are pop-driven emo. The problem here is that none of the songs are particularly uplifting and the compilation seems specifically tailored to wallowing. One would think that an album meant to prevent suicide would be slightly less depressing than this one.
Luckily for the small demographic that this will appeal to, there is an amazing number of good bands on the two-disc set, including Poison the Well, Rise Against, Further Seems Forever and The Ataris.
There is no denying that the idea behind this album is an amazing, but a lot of the songs do not really seem likely to pull anyone out of depression. Skip the CD and just donate the money straight to The National Hopeline Network.
- EMILY ZEMLER