Dance Dance With The Slants
If you’re looking to dance your pants off (or dance someone else’s pants off), check out Portland band The Slants, whose debut release Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts sounds like Depeche Mode cross-pollinated The Faint. Marketed as “Chinatown dance rock,” The Slants’ name suggests punk rock sensibilities while the album title is oh-so-ironically emo. But that’s OK. Because if all you wanna do is dance, The Slants are a great time, so long’s you don’t hold it against them that the nu-New Wave style they’re shilling is not significantly different from the bands they name as influences. We all know this has definitely been done before, oh, 25 years ago or so. But at the end of the day, it’s just party music, the kind that aspires to make it onto the latest version of Dance Dance Revolution. The beats really are fantastic; the lyrics, however, are baffling, winking at the listener with angsty, marginally sensical lines like, “We come from another school that doesn’t want to be the same / Against the greatest rhythm / Social tempo is about to change.” Thank God that maudlin rebellion is meant as sarcasm … I think. The Slants, Science Heroes and the Ovulators play at 8 pm Friday, Jan. 23, at the WOW Hall. $8 adv., $10 door. — Sara Brickner
Giving a Rip, and Singing About It
Some people can spot a phony a mile away, it’s so obvious. The same notion applies when assessing a musician’s potential as an artist: it’s often easy to tell who gives a rip about their music and who’s simply in it for the promise of cheap celebrity. If there isn’t any passion or emotion in the lyrics or the music itself, then the “artist” might as well not be making the music in the first place.
Janiva Magness, thankfully, is one heck of a passionate blues singer who definitely puts herself into the music she makes. The Detroit-born wailer is well-versed in painful experiences, having given up her newborn for adoption as a teen, endured the suicides of both her parents and lived on the street, so it’s no surprise her vocals contain an often guttural depth as she moans, croons and shouts from the bottom of her soul. On her latest release, What Love Will Do, Magness’ songs run the gamut from lounge stylings to Motown-tinged soul, and she continues to garner more attention with each new release. She is currently nominated for four Blues Music Awards, including Album of the Year and B.B. King Entertainer of the Year. Janiva Mangess plays at 7:30 pm Friday, Jan. 23, at The Shedd. $18-$28. — Brian Palmer
In the Land of the Indie-Middle
|Land of Talk
Is it logical to label Canadian bands Americana? If so, then slap that sticker on Land of Talk’s latest album, Some Are Lakes, but with qualifiers. For starters, Land of Talk is from Montreal, not Manitoba, so the sophistication in the clashing cymbals, electric guitar crunching and in-studio engineering is of a high-caliber polish. Lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Elizabeth Powell brings a density of experience to her wistful, headstrong lyrics, and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon steps in to offer his two cents as producer on yet another album recorded in an old Canadian church. Unlike Bon Iver’s grainy stubble emoting on his overrated 2008 release, For Emma, Long Ago, Land of Talk treads in the land of the indie-middle. Not quite stripped-down folk, not quite lush orchestra-pop, Some Are Lakes hits and misses with disappointing frequency.
Opening track “Yuppy Flu” starts on the right foot, combining steady percussion with hard-charging guitars, while the third track, “Dark Shuffle,” has an Arcade Fire vibe to it that keeps it from turning sour. Too bad that other songs — like the single “Some Are Lakes” — sound like watered down alt-country. But Powell, undeterred, soldiers on with a lullaby voice and some mean hooks along the way. As she sings on “Got A Call”: “Can’t keep down the girl who loves music.” For that sentiment alone, Land of Talk should be on your radar. Land of Talk, Baitball and Leo London play at 9 pm Friday, Jan. 23, at Sam Bond’s. 21+. $5. — Chuck Adams
All Over the Place
Based in San Francisco and originally hailing from Austin, Texas, and Orange County, Reduced to Ruin sounds like all of those places. But then again, throw a dart at a map and the four-piece probably sounds like that place, too. The bandmembers’ backgrounds and influences sprawl far and wide, ranging from stints in Texas noise bands and rockabilly-surf outfits to southern California country-rock. On Reduced to Ruin’s debut album, Under the Right Moon, each track is a musical geography lesson of sorts. Some songs, like the title track and “Take Me to Heart,” with their slow country shuffles and sad-eyed harmonies, sound like The Band pouring back pints with The Jayhawks or any number of alt-country, No Depression-era bands. Then a song like “My Ways” gets tossed out of the bar and heads straight toward the jangle pop of The Lemonheads or Matthew Sweet — only to find the band switching gears on “Nymph and Sea,” which frolics in a field of Teenage Fanclub pop classicism and Sonic Youth dissonance. Then, as if those weren’t enough stamps on their sonic passports, they shift into Yo La Tengo mode on “You Know the Road,” complete with slightly surf-oriented, vibratoed guitar and quirky lines like “If I were Bob Dylan / I’d just write a song about you.” Check ‘em out, take a trip, but bring a compass. Reduced to Ruin play with Kyle McGraw at 10 pm Saturday, Jan. 24, at Diablo’s Downtown Lounge. 21+. $5. — Jeremy Ohmes
Disappointed But Hopeful
Only As the Day is Long, the second album from Sera Cahoone, is full of elegantly disappointed songs, their edges graced with pedal steel and weariness. Cahoone, whose bio includes time playing drums with Sub Pop labelmates Band of Horses, sounds as if she’s been writing late-night ballads for decades; it’s not surprising that she’s been performing since the age of 12, though the fact that much of that time was spent as a drummer is a touch unexpected. Only As the Day is Long’s thoughtful, countryish compositions don’t always stand out dramatically from the work of similar singer-songwriters, but even Cahoone’s more innocuous songs are full of reasons to listen: the simplicity of the vocals, the lack of posture, the muted passions — all on best display in “Baker Lake,” an oddly hopeful track that’s heavy with the feeling of staying, sticking, waiting for more and hoping the more gets there soon. “Everyone’s saying the best is already gone,” Cahoone sings, “but I know what we got coming ‘round.”
Cahoone stops in town with The Fruit Bats, one of the too-often overlooked bands on the Sub Pop roster; their harmonies and ’60s sensibilities mark them as distant cousins of The Shins, and main Bat Eric Johnson’s conversational tone sits perfectly against the careful, complex layers of the Bats’ songs. It’s been almost four years since there was a new Fruit Bats record; let’s hope this tour is a sign of new things to come. The Fruit Bats and Sera Cahoone play at 9 pm Tuesday, Jan. 27, at John Henry’s. 21+ show. $10. — Molly Templeton