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Now (Don't) Hear This

Enough of the Grammy adoration. Here are some of our critics' not-so-favorite CDs.

Death Cab for Cutie "Plans" (Atlantic Records)

Goes well with sweater vests, crying fits and bad poetry.

The big major-label release from indie superstars Death Cab for Cutie is called "Plans." After listening to it several times, I believe I have come up with several better titles for its newest recording:

1. "Riding the Hipster Elevator to Sorryville"

2. "Shoe-Gazing at Starbucks"

3. "Quiet Resignation"

4. "Listen to Me: I'm Crying"

5. "Pity Is My Weapon"

Innocuously pleasant, Death Cab provides the morose melody of whiny adolescence. It specializes in schmaltzy. This thorough blandness is lushly produced on sweeping beds of piano and guitar in musical territory that I imagine easy-listening icon Kenny G. would feel comfortable busting out in when he makes his first alternative CD. Lyrically, it's a bummer as well: Trite, vague laments of unrequited love sung in breathy, hushed tones. It all adds up to one lame, midtempo, indie-rock snooze fest. Zzzzzzzzzzz….
Chris Bopst

Alabama "Livin' Lovin' Rockin' Rollin': The 25th Anniversary Collection" (Sony/Legacy)

Goes well with Confederate flags, Jack Daniel's and domestic disturbance calls.

Country band Alabama had something like 9,000 No. 1 country hits. While that might be an exaggeration, it's allegedly sold more than 70 million records, making it one of the top 10 biggest-selling groups ever. After hearing this three-CD retrospective, the reason seems clear: The songs are sentimental, predictable and obsessed with a romantic vision of all-American, blue-collar lifestyles straight out of grandpa's (slightly drunken) storytelling time. While the band's slog to fame may be inspirational, I've never enjoyed its squeaky-clean arrangements that mix Bakersfield country with neutered '70s rock — the kind of sleek contemporary sound that launched a thousand Toby Keiths. Listening to this much Alabama can make you feel trapped in a Ford truck commercial.

Bottom line: This box set has 51 of the band's patriotic hits and sappy love songs, but only eight are previously unreleased, with several of those featuring the dreaded "live medley." This one's only recommended for fans who don't already own the band's 20 other greatest-hits albums — or maybe foreigners seeking an introduction to American culture. *
Brent Baldwin

Erin Bode "Over and Over" (MaxJazz)

Goes well with Norah Jones, Lunesta and boxed white wine.

Erin Bode's clear, pretty, appealing voice lounges on a cushion of pretty, midtempo arrangements; if that were enough, this would be a good CD. Blame it on Norah Jones, who spun astounding success out of a wonderful voice artfully used to perform essentially the same slow song over and over again until the music industry smothered her in Grammys. Bode's career was launched in Jones' wake, where she still gently rocks. Jones arguably lifted her act from the considerably deeper and darker Cassandra Wilson, who in turn drew from Joni Mitchell, whose '70s jazz/pop albums such as "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" and "Hejira" are underappreciated classics. "Over and Over" seems secondhand, overtly echoing the vocal effects of "Summer Lawns" and throwing in a few "new standards" like Paul Simon's "Graceland" and Simply Red's "Holding Back the Years" … la Cassandra Wilson. Even the originals are more generic than immediate. This is white wine music for people who drink their white wine from a box. It won't poison you, but there are far tastier alternatives. Bode can probably do better; you definitely can. **
Peter McElhinney

Windy & Carl "The Dream House/ Dedications to Flea" (Kranky Records)

Goes well with sedation dentistry, fax machines and assisted suicide.

After listening to this needlessly expensive descent into esoteric nothingness, one could reasonably assume that the recording was chronicling the audio of a suicide pact. If that was their intention, well then, they succeeded in this dubious pursuit with flying colors. With "The Dream House/Dedications to Flea," death is far preferable to enduring this trite exercise in arcane oblivion for a second listen. I kid you not: The four pieces that make up this two-disc release are completely devoid of harmony, melody or rhythm. They consist of minor keyboard modulations spaced out over nearly 20 minutes apiece. Sounds fun, doesn't it? Windy & Carl seem to have based this recording on the theory that misery loves company — a notion that, especially in this case, is easy to dispel.
Chris Bopst

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