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RECORD RACK

'Years of Refusal' by Morrissey

Also reviewed: 'Reviver' by Abe Vigoda, 'The Spirit of Apollo' by N.A.S.A.

February 16, 2009|August Brown; Margaret Wappler

Morrissey

Years of Refusal

Lost Highway

* * *

Another year, another dashed hope for a Smiths reunion at Coachella. But fortunately, ever since 2004's "You Are the Quarry," we've had unexpectedly solid Morrissey solo records to salve those wounds. He's settled nicely into his current role as the hipster Sinatra (equal parts cocky crooner and beleaguered dirty uncle), and "Years of Refusal" isn't just the loudest thing Morrissey has done in the '00s, it's also the best.

The record starts off with a wallop: "Something Is Squeezing My Skull" is bolstered by a nasty, punkish guitar. It's the first hint of the instrumental urgency that runs through "Years," as "All You Need Is Me" and "One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell" wouldn't feel too out of place on an Undertones or Stiff Little Fingers album.

Divergences like lead single "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris" and "When I Last Spoke to Carol" blow the sound out with widescreen bombast and mariachi horns to great effect, even if the whole operation is hugely self-aware of the necessary tropes of a Great Morrissey Album.

His lyrical fangs are sharpened accordingly, and potential Facebook status updates abound on "Years." No one else has the mojo to pull off one-liners like "It's not your birthday anymore, there's no need to be kind to you." Fortunately "Years" backs up the barbs with some real musical muscle.

-- August Brown

Sadness wrapped in a haze of guitar

Abe Vigoda

Reviver

Post Present Medium

* * 1/2

If No Age wasn't the first band to nationalize the noisy Smell Scene, one can easily imagine Abe Vigoda beating them to it. On its intriguing new five-song EP "Reviver," the young Chino quartet dissolves its winsome vocal melodies in a no-wave guitar haze as it did on its 2008 breakthrough LP, "Skeleton." But this EP's slower tempos and darker timbres evoke a kind of sad, four-tracked Spector pop made in a foreclosed Inland Empire teenager's bedroom.

Opening track "Don't Lie" sits on a strong, single-note bass line but threatens to rip apart on the edges, as tracks of propulsive fuzz slip in and out of the mix. "Wild Heart," the record's best song, has all the impending doom of a Joy Division number but refracts it through ambient samples and a repeating guitar figure that's all the sadder for never reaching the typical crescendo.

Points are docked for including the half-realized noise experiment "Endless Sleeper," but "Reviver" captures one of L.A.'s most promising new bands beginning to come fully into its own.

-- A.B.

Stars, but nothing out of this world

N.A.S.A.

The Spirit of Apollo

Anti-

* * 1/2

N.A.S.A. stands for North America, South America, according to the liner notes of the debut album from DJ Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon. It's also described as "breaking boundaries and borders set for us by society."

A noble quest to be sure, but the "The Spirit of Apollo" is flawed on a few counts. They've gathered a dazzling roster of guest stars, including David Byrne, Chuck D, RZA, Karen O, Tom Waits, M.I.A., Kanye West and Lykke Li, but the way they've used them isn't inventive enough. And the representation in this sort of "We Are the World" for hipsters includes only a few from South America. They use plenty of Brazilian funk samples but without the impact of the all-star cast.

The DJs know how to pack a dance floor. "Gifted" and "Wachadoin?" are standouts, but N.A.S.A.'s mood is always set to party, and even when they get political, it's not very original. Next time, N.A.S.A. should forgo some of the crate-digging for more mind-digging.

-- Margaret Wappler

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