In 2006, the Raconteurs (the pairing of Brendan Benson’s cheery pop sensibilities with Jack White’s rock and roll decadence), released their first album, Broken Boy Soldiers. It was a fun debut, more or less what one would have anticipated: infectious pop with a strong edge and driving rock with pop accessibility. The critical response was okay — but the Raconteurs had been given the unfortunate “supergroup” misnomer, which no doubt led to lofty expectations.

Perhaps in an effort against a critical repeat, this year the Raconteurs released their followup, Consolers of the Lonely, at the drop of a press release. No one had any idea it was coming. No advances were sent out to the media, no interviews given, no news items published. A mere week separated the announcement of the record’s existence and its arrival. The band did this, they said, because they wanted people to listen to it without any pre-conceived notions.

Had they done anything wildly different, this publicity stunt disguised as a publicity shun might have made more sense. In this case, it probably didn’t change much. Aesthetically, there’s little difference between Consolers of the Lonely and its predecessor. The biggest change is in time. Where Broken Boy Soldiers was just over half an hour long, Consolers of the Lonely is about 20 minutes longer. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work to the band’s advantage. They crammed those minutes with extraneous rock revival anthems, the type that Jack White’s other band — the White Stripes, dare it need to be said — is already so good at. This includes some of the strongest tracks: the brash but brilliant opening title track and “Top Yourself” which, with its showoff guitar and slyly sexual lyrics, sounds reminiscent of “Ball and a Biscuit” from the White Stripes’ Elephant. But some of the weaker tracks (“Attention,” “Hold Up”) fall in this category as well, and they drag the album down.

The Raconteurs, “Consoler of the Lonely” (download)

It’s a shame that the Raconteurs gave one style so much weight, because it’s when they stray into new musical territory that the band’s true excitement and originality shines. When they’re not busy constructing a vehicle for even more guitar riffs, the Raconteurs dabble in Beatles-style piano rock (“You Don’t Understand Me”), soul and doo-wop (“Many Shades of Black”), Southwestern themes (“The Switch and the Spur”), and a murder ballad (“Carolina Drama”).

The Raconteurs, “You Don’t Understand Me” (download)

Overall, Consolers of the Lonely is another solid effort from the Raconteurs — perhaps a little too solid, in fact. While the band offers up a longer album, digs a little deeper into its musical ancestry and sounds more serious, the repercussion of this is the loss of memorability that made Broken Boy Soldiers so fun to listen to. It may have been short and lighthearted, but it left the listener wanting more, which could be satiated by replaying it, where Consolers of the Lonely leaves one feeling a bit gorged, which can only be fixed by cutting back. —Taylor Long

There are few bands who elicit within my heart a greater internal outcry of Á¢€Å“why the @#$% arenÁ¢€â„¢t they huge?!Á¢€ than the duo of Michael Flynn and Josh Kaler, otherwise known as Slow Runner.Hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, the duo is now on its third CD, Mermaids, which shows them integrating a number of new colors into an already expansive sonic palette, the most prominent being a wonderful use of space and an organic ambiance that breaths a subliminal warmth into many of their best tracks on this outing. The general vibe is that the songs are being performed in somebodyÁ¢€â„¢s living room. Modern recording techniques being what they are, that may very well be the case, and Mermaids is the better for it.In much the same way that Death Cab For CutieÁ¢€â„¢s Plans opted for textures and slow-burning melodies over the immediacy and traditional indie-rock arrangements of Transatlanticism, Slow Runner embrace a similar sort of understatement, allowing FlynnÁ¢€â„¢s voice to take a straighter path to the heart. This is most evident on the evocative stunner Á¢€Å“Trying To Put Your Heart Back Together.Á¢€

Whether by design or accident, the nine songs that comprise Mermaids are woven together to create a deceptively unified ebb and flow that plays like a movie in your mind Á¢€” the kind that you watch with someone you love, or alone with a box of tissues.

Á¢€Å“Make You Love MeÁ¢€ stands out for its ability to accomplish this within the space of one song, beginning with a whispered vocal over percolating synthesizer blips and building just enough to touch the shore with a wave of horns and live drums.

Is Mermaids a contender for Best CD of 2008? DonÁ¢€â„¢t be silly. This is a CD for people who (rightfully) put little stock in such questions, and will find themselves drawn to the songs on this album for years to come.

You can preview additional tracks from this album at the band’s MySpace page. — Darren Robbins

Zooey Deschanel is known for being an actress, but she’s been secretly writing songs for awhile, so she teamed up with M. Ward — and as it turns out, she’s got musical talent, as well! There are more things that can be said about She & Him’s Volume 1, but ultimately, that is the driving point, the bottom line, the sentence that more or less sums up every review written about this record, probably, unfortunately, including this one. Sorry if this spoils the ending of the movie, but there’s no point in spending a few hundred words working up to the saying the same thing everyone else is, especially when what everyone else is saying is true. Now, moving on…The sound is rather easy to categorize — ’50s and ’60s-style pop with a folkish twang, the same kind of stuff that other adorable actresses-turned-musicians have paid homage to (think Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins’ Rabbit Fur Coat, with more AM pop and less gospel influence). It’s incredibly retro and incredibly easy to listen to, no doubt the next record that the average indie teenager or 20-something will pull out next time the parents are around. The exact inspirations take a few sidesteps here and there. “Change Is Hard” and “Got Me” sound like outright country songs, and the cutesily emphatic “I Was Made for You” could have come from Buddy Holly times. But the most impressive moment comes in “Sweet Darlin’,” which sounds so comforting and familiar it will send people to Google and Wikipedia, only to discover that — no way — Deschanel wrote it, along with — dear me — Jason Schwartzman.She & Him, “Sentimental Heart” (download)

Unsurprisingly M. Ward takes a back seat to Deschanel, but it’s as much due to her voice as it is to her stardom. The woman’s got some pipes. Her voice can be a little awkward, likely due to her lack of professionalism just yet — she’s occasionally a bit too warbly here and there (she treads Joanna Newsom territory at moments), but she’s got the power, as she proves right away with the opener, “Sentimental Heart,” and a decent range. She’s a Carly Simon lover all over the place with a touch of Linda Ronstadt, but a bit higher-pitched and whinier. She uses her voice in a country way more than a few times, but her voice isn’t as deep as a Patsy Cline or a Dusty Springfield.

This isn’t to say that M. Ward doesn’t play his part on Volume 1, because he certainly does, and he plays it well because he doesn’t overdo it. The arrangements are filled with beautiful string sections, Ward’s affection for guitar slides, and of course, it’s the music that makes this an exercise in success as a throwback album, because it’s so utterly believable. Listening to this feels like a musical time machine.

The only time the album really falters is the covers (Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold On Me” and “I Should Have Known Better” by the Beatles). It’s not even that they’re atrocious, per se, it’s just that they’re not especially interesting. They don’t seem to have anything to add in the approach, so it just feels like a cute gimmick more than anything. Their attempt at the traditional “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” falls in this manner as well.

She & Him, “You Really Got a Hold On Me” (download)

Though She & Him may end up victims of the blog and critic hype wheel (one day you’re atop it, one day you’re beneath), thanks to M. Ward’s growing popularity and Deschanel’s good looks, at least they’ve proven they’ve got the musical talent to help rightfully put them there — at least for a little while. —Taylor Long

I’m new here. I’ve been writing about music for some time, but this is my first piece for Popdose. I’m going to be covering new music for the most part, and hoping to do as good a job as Taylor does with it. With both of us on this beat, you’ll be getting more new music reviews. I hope you’ll find what I have to say interesting, and whether you agree or disagree, by all means let me know about it. I will be reading your comments religiously. I’m pretty much about indie music, though the occasional major label artist might slip in, and I recognize no borders when it comes to genre.So let the games begin.“As a writer not everything I do has to be like tearing my heart out of my chest. That kind of bores me now, actually.” That’s how Mark Eitzel described his current state of mind to me when I spoke to him from his home in San Francisco last week. I wasn’t the first to point out that The Golden Age was not only a less complex production than we have come to expect from American Music Club, but that it’s also more lyrically straightforward. “I just tried to make a record where you rehearse the band, and then you play what you rehearsed. So that’s what we did, exactly,” Eitzel says.

Their music has been called slowcore and sadcore, and they’ve been described as emo pioneers. American Music Club eschews all of those labels, and to drive the point home, they’ve made a direct statement that’s aimed at finding the band a wider audience — and done so without compromising one bit of the cred they’ve acquired over the years.

Eitzel is spending more time in L.A. these days, and he’s struggling with his feelings about San Francisco, his hometown and the base for the band until recently. He’s written two songs about the city for this album. About “All the Lost Souls Welcome You to San Francisco,” Eitzel says, “Yes, I am a lost soul … and tried to write a tribute to my city.” Similarly he describes “The Grand Duchess of San Francisco” as a song “about one of San Francisco’s lost souls … (or me, I can’t decide).” Perhaps you see a theme developing here. It’s difficult to remain unmoved by “Windows on the World,” a song Eitzel wrote about a party he attended at the bar that was atop the World Trade Center. He insists it’s not a political song, but people will continue to read things into it.

American Music Club chased a ten-year layoff by reuniting and releasing the highly regarded Love Songs For Patriots in 2004. At the time, no one could be sure whether the album was one last brilliant gasp, or a new beginning. Thankfully, the latter has proven to be the case. The Golden Age, the band’s ninth album, manages to play up all of the band’s strengths while simultaneously pointing the way to a different future.

American Music Club is on tour now. By all means try to catch them in your town. —Ken Shane

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