Sonic Reducer: Micro Reviews Of Nights In The Dark, The Pale Emperor And What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

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It seems generous at best—and outright wrong at worst—to bill California X as a punk band. Unless, of course, you define punk as every rock band in heavy rotation circa 1994. Nights in the Dark sounds like a lazy pastiche of Weezer (“Hadley, MA”), Soundgarden (“Blackrazor, Pt. 1”) and Metallica (“Blackrazor, Pt. 2”). Now if these sounds are new to you, ’90s revival-reveler, then I can totally see why California X would be appealing. But I lived through all that, and this is nothing new. And most of the punk that I cut my teeth on—while sometimes fond of Fuzzbox—didn’t cotton to the epic canoodling that girds all of this album’s nine tracks. Furthermore, judgmental though it may be, that shitty album cover makes them appear less punk and more bargain bin ’80s metal. Could we instead call California X dull, grungy stoner rock? Maybe. But it’s certainly not punk. (M. Brianna Stallings)

Marilyn Manson The Pale Emperor (Hell, etc.)

Remember Marilyn Manson? A couple decades back, he was every Bible-thumping parent’s rocanrol nightmare. Manson dubbed himself Antichrist Superstar, undertook some vaguely obnoxious faux body modifications and put out a few meaty yet danceable albums. Then he basically evaporated. His schtick became predictable, and a horde of more profane successors supplanted his legacy. Manson chose the middle of the second decade of the 21st century to appear with a new album and new look. The problem is—the dude is starting to resemble Nicolas Cage, a fate that no amount of makeup or threatening lyrics can assuage. Manson’s latest The Pale Emperor attempts to reconcile the artist’s glorious past with a presumably fantastic future. At times glittery and often forlorn, Manson cuts his new teeth on R&B inflection (“Third Day of a Seven Day Binge”) and a hard rock ethos that’s listenable but ultimately rather weary. (August March)

The Decemberists What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (Capitol Records)

Portlandite indie/folk darlings The Decemberists return to fine form with latest effort What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World. Filled to the caffeinated brim with nuanced hooks, outrageous pop conceits and awesome instrumental prowess, their latest recording clearly demonstrates a kind of musical hegemony for the quintet led by singer Colin Meloy. A complex contrast to the stripped-down majesty of 2011’s The King Is Dead, this new record is a hearty, earnest listen. Coolly dissonant, sometimes harmonic horns continue to play a part in defining The Decemberists’ sound. Tunes like “Cavalry Captain” demonstrate a blustery brassiness atypical of what’s hot in pop right now, while setting a sonic standard that’s practically unbeatable. Further explorations of the band’s superb songwriting craft can be witnessed throughout this affair. And the emotive humor and self-reflection found on “Philomena” and “Make You Better” make this release one to remember. (August March)

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