Editor’s note: From 2012 to 2014, Matt Rice wrote the music column Matt on Music for The Eastern Echo, the student newspaper for Eastern Michigan University. In 2016, Matt relaunched this column on The Young Folks. You can read past installments of this column here.
The Mountain Goats: Goths (Merge) The Sisters of Mercy and Siouxsie Sioux do as little for me as wrestling, so John Darnielle’s latest set of love songs had to work just as hard to make me care as Beat the Champ did. Like the previous record, it succeeds—after all, Darnielle has been a master at making you care since Tallahassee showed just how good Lou Reed’s Berlin could have been—only more so. That’s partly because professional wrestling doesn’t have much of a musical template to work from, but it’s also because the songs are just better, with some of his best hooks and a delicate musical tone that nabs all the right stuff from the bands referenced throughout. Because the album isn’t about darkness, but the memories of darkness, the gloom and nostalgia offset each other. Similarly, the band has a tighter grasp on how to use pop tricks to sell their melancholy than any ‘80s goth band short of The Cure ever did. Hell, this album may outlast all of them. 9/10
The Magnetic Fields: 50 Song Memoir (Merge) If Stephin Merritt’s second multidisc conceptual effort is less rich than his first, it’s because the story of a life (no matter how extraordinary) doesn’t give you quite as much to work with as the entire concept of love songs. (Also, 69 Love Songs is a wholly individual and unrepeatable masterpiece.) What’s amazing, though, is how much mileage he still gets here. His life story is the story of the last 50-plus years, from Stonewall to the creation of synthpop to the AIDs epidemic to the height and then end of the Cold War. The record is at its finest on discs two and three, when tunes like “Hustle 76” and “Happy Beeping” showcase Merritt at his most musically minded (and thus, musical). But it’s a rewarding listen through and through, right up to the closer that would have sounded well at home on 69 Love Songs. Title: “Somebody’s Fetish.” 8.5/10
Rock and Roll Music!: The Songs of Chuck Berry (Ace) Unless his upcoming studio album is a pleasant surprise, this will probably be the best Chuck Berry album you hear in the year of his death, a collection of 24 covers that highlight his songwriting in his peak years between 1955 and 1964. But with so many great Berry covers in the world, that’s not enough to make up for the inclusion of such terrible selections as Carlos Santana’s “Havana Moon,” The Beach Boys’ “Rock and Roll Music,” and Jay & the Americans’ “Johnny B. Goode.” There is some choice stuff certainly—Helene Dixon’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” Ian Gomm’s “Come On,” Sleepy LaBeef’s “You Can’t Catch Me”—but it’s too mixed a bag for the concept to fully work. None of the cuts matching Berry’s originals is expected; the fact that only MC5 and Dwight Yoakam come close is inexcusable. 7/10
Single of the Week – DJ Cummerbund: “Earth, Wind & Ozzys” (YouTube) As a mashup nerd, I feel confident in saying this is among the best I have heard this decade.