Great Big Sea "Sea of No Cares" (Rounder)
The latest from this St. John's, Canada, multiplatinum pop quartet, finds the band mixing its melodic takes on life's basics with new versions of traditional seafaring tunes. While the group bounces its way through the 12 songs with good-natured zest, solid acoustic rhythms and a carefully produced punch that's tight throughout, the big, glossy sound that prevails is ear-numbing in its repetition. Each of these guys can sing and play with your average boy-band, rock-star verve. But the original songs come up lyrically short, too often relying more on cliche and sentiment than soul. The traditional tunes also lack a sense of grit or any feel that they sprang from the hard lives lived by fishermen of years past. This is upbeat stuff that no doubt fills theaters and clubs with eager young fans who go for the band's slick sound and search-for-meaning pop pleasantries. But to these ears, Great Big Sea is a great big yawn. Ames Arnold
Cold Sides "Cold Sides" (Moment Before Impact Records)
If you're thinking that the Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Cold Sides might just be a replay of Pavement, because of the shared point of origin for both groups, you would be sadly mistaken. Cold Sides does exhibit the same minimalist songwriting approach and moodiness that characterized many of the original bands that forged what is now known as the "Chapel Hill Sound." The difference is that this particular outfit's songs took a turn down a much darker path somewhere along the way. With a vocalist whose style would be well-suited for Brit Pop (a la Radiohead), the melancholy feel already resonant in the compositions of this self-titled Cold Sides debut is only punctuated. "Puppet's Song" even goes so far as to take the initial feel of Bauhaus. Most of the other tracks are less easily comparable to other artists. The strong album lead-in, "City From A Plane," the uniquely instrumented "Row Row Row" and the murky "Summer Bread" all lend credence to the fact that for Chapel Hill, the Cold Sides are something different entirely.
The Painters "decelerate" (frame-up)
Simple and straightforward like the most delicate flower in the field, this Richmond band's fine project bursts with beautiful melodies and uncluttered arrangements designed for peaceful times. Musically, each member of the band contributes complementary parts as bass, percussion, piano and acoustic guitar circle in dynamic loops to create soft-but-serious textures. Lyrically, songs question the mysteries of love and life with a certain weary wisdom that's more thoughtful than melancholy. Robert Lynch's rough-edged lead vocals are appropriately hushed and urgent, and the fine backing harmonies of pianist Brian Hinson and percussionist Jonathan England recall some of the Beatles' finest "Abbey Road" hours. If there is one negative, it's that there is a sameness from track to track. Fortunately, that sameness is an overall delight to the ear. Produced for contemplative times, "decelerate" is an excellent recording. Hard-rocking types will not go for this, but any fan of moody, well-played and well-written adult pop-rock should give this a listen. A.A.