- - Monday, September 3, 2012


Matchbox Twenty



Matchbox Twenty used to rule the radio. The band was the king of the FM dial, responsible for some of the country’s biggest hits — “3 a.m.,” “Bent, “Unwell” and others — between 1996 and 2004. Then, after doing more than any other band to shape the sound of mainstream pop/rock at the start of the millennium, the group quietly disappeared.

“North,” the first release by Matchbox Twenty in 10 years, desperately wants to be the band’s big comeback album. Like the three records that came before it, it’s pretty and poppy, with a track list that splits its time between tasteful ballads and midtempo rockers. Given the right push, many of these songs could rule the radio, too.

For the most part, “North” sounds like classic Matchbox Twenty. A lot of mileage is left in that sound — in the way Rob Thomas wrings every syllable out of every word, in the way his melodies are echoed by Kyle Cook’s guitar riffs, in the way a song like “Parade” seems to evoke U2 or Toad the Wet Sprocket — and the guys don’t sound dated when they stay in that comfort zone.

Problems arise whenever the guys take a stab at modern trends, though. “Put Your Hands Up” is exactly what it sounds like — an invitation to raise your limbs and shake your moneymaker — but the throbbing disco beat that runs beneath the song is more reminiscent of Maroon 5 than Matchbox Twenty. You listen to Matchbox Twenty for the hooks, not the dance beats.

“She’s So Mean” splits the difference between the two camps, grafting a contemporary groove onto an old-school Matchbox Twenty melody. It’s a compromise, a truce between the band’s need to evolve and its audience’s preference for more familiar-sounding tunes. To be fair, a band like Matchbox Twenty deserves the right to grow, to change, to push the envelope, but the guys sound best on this comeback album when they look backward, not ahead.

Centipede Hz

Animal Collective



“Merriweather Post Pavilion” made Animal Collective famous. Released in 2009, it was a gorgeous album, weird enough to please the band’s indie fans and melodic enough to attract a pop audience, too. It even cracked the Billboard Top 20, peaking at No. 13 alongside records by Mariah Carey and Britney Spears.

Never the kind of band to repeat itself, Animal Collective steers “Centipede Hz” in a different direction. The album’s melodies, which were layered into thick, Beach Boys-influenced harmonies on “Merriweather,” are now sung by individual members. The songs, which were once cobbled together from electronic loops, are played by real instruments.

“Centipede Hz” isn’t really an album of songs, though. It’s an album of noises and ideas that are splashed across every track like paint. They coalescence sometimes into something pretty; other times, the effect feels slapdash and schizophrenic, like bad art dressed up as something lofty.

Take “Moonjock,” the opening number. The melody sounds like the theme to a Saturday morning cartoon, full of major-key intervals and repeated snippets, but the music is downright chaotic, with its complicated polyrhythms and keyboard lines that trip over one another. It’s a mess and the fact that it’s supposed to be a mess doesn’t make it any less of a mess.

“Today’s Supernatural” combines polka, rock and hip-hop into a psychedelic jumble, and “Pulleys” skews closer to tribal music. The rest of the track list is just as wide-ranging, but the combinations don’t always make sense, and there is an overwhelming sense that Animal Collective wants to challenge us — maybe even punish us — for lofting “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” its poppiest album, upon high.

That is what makes “Centipede Hz” so frustrating. As an album of songs, it’s deficient, with virtually no regard for the verse-chorus-bridge formula. As a sound collage, it’s haphazard, with pieces that don’t fit together and sounds that are too jumbled to stand out. There are moments of beauty, too, but they are scattered throughout the mix, and it takes a few patient listens to start hearing them.

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