Clearing Out the Mailroom: Wednesday, October 7, 2009

We've got quite a backlog of CDs we've never gotten around to, so we're going to try to chip away at the pile with this regular feature. The plan: to take four or five at a time and play each CD for as long as I can stand it.

Backstreet Boys (Orlando)
This Is Us

What's left to say about these guys? The high-school contempt I felt for them and the era of Pro-Tooled assembly-line pop that Lou Pearlman ushered in long ago gave way to a weary sense of inevitability. Judging by the few minutes I gave to this record, it doesn't sound like they're trying to reinvent themselves or the boy-band model--no guitar rockers, no rapping--which I suppose is refreshing. That said, the first two tracks are really dull, mid-tempo pop. Five minutes after hitting Eject, I can't remember a note. Also, multiple "Background Vocals" credits for Claude Kelly (who wrote "My Life Would Suck Without You") in the liner notes beg the question: why does a four-man vocal group need to hire additional male vocalists?
I made it to: Track 2

Relient K (Canton, OH)
Forget and Not Slow Down

Catchy '90s style alt-rock powerpop. This is a Christian band, and it sounds like it: bland and derivative, like a Bowdlerized version of another band. My guess is that if it weren't for their appeal to that audience, they'd be just another weekend warrior college band. Coincidentally, they used to cover the Backstreet Boys hit "I Want It That Way." Now they're Jive labelmates.
I made it to: Track 3

Toby Keith (Clinton, OK)
American Ride

The philosopher Toby Keith rose to fame when he captured Middle America's post-9/11 grief, confusion and doubt with his well-reasoned, sensitive and not-at-all-opportunistic Courtesy of the Red, White And Blue. He's at it again. The opening title track is a thought-provoking list of societal ills: "Plasma gettin' bigger, Jesus gettin' smaller / Spill a cup of coffee, make a million dollars." Nobody but Keith could have linked America's current idolatry and shriveling Christian faith with the week-long hospitalization for third-degree burns suffered by a 79-year-old woman in 1992. If only I had more time to devote to the words of this wise man.
I made it to: Track 1

Islands (Montreal)

As much as I love the off-kilter pop of Canadian indie acts like Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown and Broken Social Scene, somehow I didn't get around to Islands until now. I really like their mixture of sweet melodies and jumbled instrumentation--synths, drum machines, omnichord and electric sitar mingle with traditional rock instruments. My favorite song is the tropical and angelic "On Foreigner." Unfortunately, that enjoyment is immediately derailed by ...
I made it to: ...the ridiculous autotuning on Track 9, "Heartbeat."