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Fruits of Labor

| September 6, 2011

Labor Day traditionally represents the spiritual end of summer — oh yes, it has spirit, how ’bout you? — but don’t tell ANR, Fruit Bats, Male Bonding, Robert Earl Keen, or Motopony, all in town this week.

Perhaps the reason ANR‘s Stay Kids sounds so bright is the band are from Florida, where the meteorological autumn is more like our end of July. It could also be that the record was originally released in time for summer, and gets a deluxe roll out next week via 10K Islands. Like a block of TV On The Radio simmering in Animal Collective kaleidoscopics, there’s a heavy familiarity but one that breaks down defenses with ease. It seems strange that it’s not ANR but opener We Barbarians who choose to cover Talking Heads’ “Strange Overtones.” The selection betrays the straightforward nature of the Headspace EP, which surely has more influences than U2 and The Killers — they’re just overpowered. (Wednesday@Empty Bottle with Bigcolour.)

Robert Earl Keen might seem to favor winter, at least if you’ve ever watched him argue for playing “Merry Christmas From The Family” in July because we were past halfway to the holiday. You could also reason, however, that there’s not much difference temperature-wise between Chicago July and mid-winter Galveston, Texas. Keen trots some more Margaritaville-flavored arrangements on his new Ready For Confetti (Lost Highway), but still flashes some of his (or his characters’) cold blood. “The Road Goes On And On,” hardly a companion to his glass-raising “The Road Goes On Forever,” could be the most relentless lyrical attack he’s ever recorded, while “I Gotta Go” wreaks havoc at every turn. “Show The World,” conversely, might be one of his warmest songs, and he returns Todd Snider’s gesture with a cover of his “Play A Train Song,” while retouching one of his own oldies, “Paint The Town Beige.” (Thursday@Joe’s On Weed with Tyler Reeve. This show was originally scheduled for the 10th.)

If fall is going to take away summer, Eric D. Johnson thinks, then he’s going to take falsetto away from R&B. While generally derided as one of the most facile manifestations Prince’s influence, Johnson’s use of it throughout Fruit Bats‘ new Tripper (Sub Pop) gives his silky folk-pop a brilliantly nimble twist. It also provides a consistent route through his mellowed-out narratives. Fruit Bats has never — despite Johnson’s links to Califone — been one of his label’s noisier outfits, but with Tripper he breezes by with as much conviction as one can do so. Pray the soundboard does a service to his voice: some earthquaking lyrics hide in the all-rightness. (Thursday@Lincoln Hall with Vetiver and Breathe Owl Breathe.)

Also going one quieter, Sub Pop labelmates Male Bonding return. Shorn of the overwhelming fuzz on their debut, Endless Now portrays a leaner band looking to distinguish themselves. Produced in an actual recording studio, it’s not so much a case of trying to sound less like Wavves or No Age, but more like themselves — which means power-pop and Teenage Fanclub. The dozen tracks zip by with a deceiving sameness — though the distortion has been tamed on “Tame The Sun,” the colors rest in shades of third and seventh notes. Frontman John Arthur Webb could very definitely have altered his delivery now and again, but there’s a certain charm in the record’s very subtle changes. (Thursday@Subterranean with Love Inks and Hospital Garden.)

Will the real Motopony please stand up? There are two bands using the name: one that supplies gentle folk pop as on a self-titled Tinyogre debut, and then the one producing live displays seen here. Cue this kind of quote to accompany the build-up to their next album: “We wanted it to more accurately reflect our stage show.” (Friday@Schubas with Tiny Fireflies.)

— Steve Forstneger

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Category: Stage Buzz, Weekly

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