Caribou, Nathan Haines and NZSO, and Over the Rhine

Caribou, “The Milk of Human Kindness” (Leaf/Rogue Records) – 3/5Under his Manitoba moniker, Canadian Dan Snaith has been staking out territory in the no person’s land between indie rock and so-called ‘intelligent’ electronica for a number of years now. Despite having been forced for legal reasons to change his name to Caribou, ‘The Milk of Human Kindness’ stays true to this formula. While the album features its fair share of programmed drums and freaky digital sound effects, beneath the beats, beats the heart of an indie rocker. In its faithful referencing of krautrock and sixties psychedelia, the album also plays like an folkier, but edgier, cousin to DJ Shadow’s Private Press LP.

Nathan Haines, “Life Time” (FMR) – 2/5

There’s little trace of the sophisticated urban hip of Haines’ 2003 ‘Squire for Hire’ album on ‘Life Time’. Instead, the album sees Haines – backed by the NZSO, father Kevin (bass), and brother Joel (guitar) – perform jazz standards (Porter, Bacharach, et al), and a number of Nathan’s and Joel’s excellent originals, with elegantly lush orchestral backing. The quality of the arrangements, performances and recording are outstanding. However, neither the Haines family nor the NZSO is playing to their strengths here, and ultimately much of the album comes off like easy listening lounge schmaltz. But if that’s your bag, ‘Life Time’ will prove a rewarding listen.

Over The Rhine, “Drunkard’s Prayer” (Back Porch/Virgin) – 2/5

A Cincinnati husband-wife act, the spectacularly-named Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have performed rootsy folk-pop as Over the Rhine since the early nineties. The overall sound of ‘Drunkard’s Prayer’ is nice enough – mellow, reflective, and slightly country. The focus of their sound, however, is Bergquist’s delicate voice, a slightly gravelly Southern drawl. While it sometimes calls to mind Lucinda Williams, OTR completely lack any of the honesty and grit that makes her music great. The playing is too perfect and geeky, the arrangements and production too sterile, and the songs – wholesome and homely as they are – simply don’t ring true. There’s just not enough devil in the music, it’s all Jesus and apple pie. Detweiler’s piano playing is particularly noxious – he’s so purple on opening track ‘I Want You to Be My Love’, he actually detracts from what would otherwise be a fine, if insipid, love song. Great country music should reflect the reality of the human condition, in all its desperate, morally ambiguous glory. What we have here, however, is bad poetry and squeaky clean musicianship – an overabundance of musical talent, but a poverty of artistic intent. Try giving Lucinda or Gillian Welch a go first.

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