Bon Iver – “22, A Million”

(Photo Credit: Pitchfork)Grade: B-

You might be reading articles about people in media and come across the concept of an artist making something “for themselves.” I think it’s a great idea – as a singer/director/painter/composer/what have you, someone is fed up with reviews, praise and criticism that they make a piece of art that they know they’ll enjoy. We’ve seen it in music – look at Bob Dylan’s recent output. He’s been doing it for practically his whole career, it’s just that people latched on to most of it. We saw it in film version earlier this year, when my favorite filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen put out a movie called “Hail, Caesar” that was so into their own irrelevant personal politics that it was borderline unwatchable to anyone who didn’t share their name(s). This is what Justin Vernon’s new album sounds like. Vernon, the frontman and ship-commander of Bon Iver, has never been shy to air his grievances on tape. It’s just here, he does it in a way that alters between being heartbreakingly original and just painfully pretentious.

Vernon is a man who has always dipped his feet into many different pools. It would be easy to say that his big break came when Bon Iver picked up two huge Grammys in 2012 – Best Alternative Album, beating Radiohead and Death Cab For Cutie, and Best New Artist, beating – wait for this – The Band Perry, J. Cole, Skrillex, and Nicki Minaj. But in that same year, Justin Vernon was featured on an album, maybe you know it, Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” Although he swept up the Grammy’s in his own indie-folk persona, he snuck in a bunch of nominations via Kanye, a fan who invited him in the studio. I would argue that “Monster,” in which Vernon is 1/5 of musicians present, is one of this century’s best hip-hop songs, and it introduced a whole different audience to his music.

I mention all of this not to be condescending or anything; I mention it because it has become clear that a possibly unintentional association to the hip-hop community has definitely changed Vernon’s music. The first two Bon Iver albums – which came out in 2008 and 2011, respectively, capitalized on the indie-folk movement that was big at the time. They’re gems, throughout. I’ll admit that I’ve never felt the connection to them that a lot of people have, but they are gems. Four years later, after a self-imposed hiatus, Vernon’s Bon Iver still reflects the music movements of today. But it doesn’t capture the current eclectic zeitgeist as well. In an age where A$ap Rocky records with Florence Welch, David Bowie writes an album inspired by Kendrick Lamar, and Bruce Springsteen praises Kanye, there is an insane amount of cross-blending going on.

At times, Bon Iver’s album hits emotional highs where his new concoction of hip-hop induced freakfolk strikes an emotional cord that somehow has not been hit yet. Opening track “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” is a brutally honest way to open an album, with Vernon seemingly pondering his own existence, singing “It might be over soon.” The song falls to a saxophone bit that plays over a particularly grating chant. One of the album’s best tracks is “33”GOD”,” which ironically works because of its clarity. The song is the clearest song on the album – the song that sounds the most like traditional Bon Iver. In a weird way, it’s refreshing.

Vernon’s lyrics throughout the album are his strongest suit. His words are emotionally distant and discontent – the words of a man who never planned on being famous and showing up on Kanye albums. The main problem is, sometimes those lyrics are simply indecipherable. Parts of this album beg the question often posed to bands like Lightning Bolt or Deafheaven – does renegading your lyrics behind a curtain of indecipherability render them pointless?

The album, when not highlighting a poignant, dissonant emotional feel, gives into its worst indulgences. Vernon has recorded with and under a number of bands and aliases, so it’s tough not to wonder why he felt the Bon Iver moniker was the right one for this album. It’s wildly different, to a point where it feels like Vernon flaunting his own split in the biggest avenue he can find, and that avenue just happens to be Bon Iver. The album has great tracks – but ones like the utterly dull “29 #Stafford APTS” or the annoyingly grating, a capella “715 – CRΣΣKS” make you wonder why this album has to exist in the first place. There’s little middle ground here – there’s either tracks that capture beauty amidst roughness, or just the roughness. On both go-arounds I made of this album, I had to restart “8 (circle)” because both times I completely forgot I was listening to music. Vernon retreats into himself on this album – and when he has an emotional center to bounce off, then he’s written some of the best songs of his career. But at other times, he’s become so self-indulgent that it doesn’t even feel like there should be another listener besides him.

The song titles don’t help his case. Don’t trust every review that praises the mystical song titles – sure, each one has a number. Do we know what it means? Not really. Does it seem to matter? Not really. I don’t know how many people were truly excited to see the torch that Devendra Banhart abandoned be picked up, but this isn’t really the way to do it. Calling a song something like “____45_____” doesn’t intrinsically add anything of value, it just makes it look different. And in this case, that different is goofy, not inspirational. Vernon treats this album like he is the grandmaster of freakfolk, but he isn’t, not by decades. Maybe he was influenced by Kanye, maybe these tracks came out of his own frutration and I’m just not accepting them correctly. But “22, A Million” just doesn’t feel like the revolutionary piece of art that the band so seems to think it is. It definitely takes multiple listens, and it is never what you expect. At times, it is nothing but sheer greatness. But it is also such a mess of pretentious experimental nonsense that it never answers the basic question of why it needs to exist in the first place. Some people will love it; some really won’t. Maybe Justin Vernon made this album for himself, or maybe he made it for those fans. Either way, “22, A Million” never rises above being a reminder of the better freak-folk acts of the past.

-By Andrew McNally

Dinosaur, Jr. – “Give A Glimpse of What Yer Not”

(Photo Credit: Dinosaur Jr. bandcamp page)Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Tiny,” “I Walk For Miles”

It’s taken a while, but it seems like Dinosaur Jr. are finally getting their due praise. On their new album, their 11th and their 7th with the original line-up, the Massachusetts rockers double down on what made them so influential in the first place. Yes, they’re the band that did “Feel the Pain” in 1994, but they still rock harder than most young bands do nowadays.

The band’s 2005 reunion was unexpected, to the point where people mentioned them in the same breath of the Smiths in bands that would never reunite. Since then, the band – in its original three-piece lineup – has maintained a consistency in songwriting, and has delivered a number of albums as intense and interesting as those released in the late 80’s. Although their first post-reunion album, “Beyond” set a high watermark, the albums they’ve released since – including “Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not,” have been nothing other than advertised – 40-odd minutes of great rock jams and crazy guitar solos.

Dinosaur Jr. is basically a template by this point. The best radio rock is. Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters – bands that have a “sound” and make songs that are interchangeable among decades, but still feel the urge to include some little unique tick in every track they can. And, truthfully, those bands might not have existed without Dinosaur Jr. They were deeply influential to grunge, but even more so to bands like Foo Fighters, who dominate the alt-rock hybrid radio stations today. Dinosaur Jr. are one of a few bands alongside the likes of Pixies, Mudhoney, Meat Puppets and Green River, among others, who influenced the grunge movement and had their own twilight after the fact. Well, Dinosaur Jr. are still going strong (as are Pixies, Mudhoney and Meat Puppets), and it would be easy to confuse “Glimpse” as an album that came in ’88.

The trio wastes no time getting to the point on the album – the opening and best track, “Goin Down,” starts with a quick second of amp feedback before getting right into one of the simplest and best riffs J. Mascis has written in years. The song transitions nicely into “Tiny,” by all means a catchy and great rock song that ends in a mess of feedback. The album gets somewhat inconsistent from there, but even at it’s dullest it’s still engaging. Tracks like “Good to Know” and “Lost All Day” aren’t particularly memorable, but still stand as great, fuzzy jams. And on the flipside, “I Walk For Miles” and “Knocked Around” both have tempo and mood changes that make them among some of the most memorable songs the band has ever recorded.

The lyrics to Dinosaur Jr. songs have never been typically interesting, and it’s fair to say that continues here. “I Walk For Miles” is also a lyrical highlight, with an ode to a friendship or relationship of some kind falling by the wayside. But even when the lyrics aren’t interesting, J. Mascis’s vocals continue to be. The chorus to opener “Goin Down” is sung straight even when the rhythm doesn’t fit with it. His vocals sound more strained than ever on “Tiny,” and forlorn on “I Walk For Miles.” Still, having Lou Barlow pop up twice on vocals – on tracks 5 and 11 – is a welcome relief, as Mascis’s voice can prove decisive over 5 or 6 songs.

Also, the guitar playing. Oh man. It’s no secret – that’s what makes Dinosaur Jr. great. Simple rhythms and fuzzy 70’s throwback melodies get wrecked by J. Mascis, who solos on what I believe is 10 out of the album’s 11 tracks. On Rolling Stone’s 2011 re-ranking of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, Mascis jumped in to the 88th spot, beating the likes of Carl Perkins, Springsteen, Thurston Moore and my favorite guitarist, Tom Verlaine. It’s noteworthy that in lieu of a third single, Dinosaur Jr. just put all of the guitar solos as one track online to stream in advance of the album. One great thing about Dinosaur Jr. is knowing that even if it’s one of the less interesting tracks, there’s still a killer solo coming up.

This might not go down as a classic Dinosaur Jr. album. But it is great, nearly every song is worthwhile. It serves as a testament to the bands duration, their influence, and their energy, that they’ve kept this act up for so many years now. While they might not be the most popular rock bands, they’re one of the most influential. Buy it, stream it, do whatever pleases you: just please listen to Dinosaur Jr.

-By Andrew McNally

AJJ – “The Bible 2”

(Photo Credit: AJJ)Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Cody’s Theme,” “Terrifyer”

Sometimes, punk bands grow up. There’s nothing that can stop a natural aging process. The Clash embraced reggae, the Offspring started writing about suicide, Green Day wrote a Broadway musical. What often gets mistaken as “selling out” is usually just a band’s members realizing their image is going to fade, and jumping the gun to adopt a new one. AJJ had hinted at this transition on their last album, the excellent “Christmas Island.” It opens with “Temple Grandin” and “Children of God,” two songs that are prime AJJ – fast, acoustic guitar mixed with lyrics that more-than-border on violence and gross imagery. But the album also included songs like “Linda Ronstadt,” which touches on the same loneliness that the band usually touches on, but with less violence, less disguises, and more palpable humanity. Sean Bonnette is better than anyone else in music at masking his own insecurities, faults and dark desires through characters, satire and overblown odes. But that started to chip on “Christmas Island,” and it gets stripped away on “The Bible 2.”

The band, sporting a new drummer, have awarded themselves a re-baptism: they abbreviated their name. AJJ, of course, used to stand for Andrew Jackson Jihad. But now it’s just “AJJ.” Partially because of maturity – I mean, their name was kinda racist for a bunch of Arizona white guys – partially because of an increase in actual Jihadist violence, and partially just because it’s what everyone called them anyways.  Eleven years after their first album, they’ve been re-christened, and it’s allowed them to expand, or decompress their sound and explore what they’ve previously ignored – their stance as an actual, successful band.

AJJ’s most progressive songs on “The Bible 2” aren’t necessarily the most interesting, because they’re slower and more adult than we’re used to. But this isn’t a bad thing; a lack of humanity, although AJJ’s strongest weapon, is also their biggest downfall. “American Garbage” is downright an indie song – a different cry than “American Tune” from only a few years ago. Slap a different band’s name on the song and it might pick up some airplay on college radio. Same goes for “Small Red Boy,” and “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread,” which seems like a sequel to 2007’s “No More Tears,” but really isn’t. In fact, those two songs work together for a more honest, painfully aware song than any of the early guitar blasts.

All of this isn’t to say that old AJJ doesn’t pop in, too. Songs like “White Worms” and “Junkie Church” have lyrics that could’ve easily passed on any earlier album. “The waiting room was pissing in my ear / So we went and bought ourselves a can of beer / Steel Reserve,” Bonnette sings on the latter. The former: “My teeth are brown / My lips are blue / The grass is green / My tongue is too.” The horrors on this album don’t come as frequently. After years of songs like “Bad Bad Things,” “Back Pack” and “Dad Song,” there’s little that AJJ can sing in a song that’s still shocking. So, they reserve those moments. Opener “Cody’s Theme” has such lyrics, with the chorus: “I had to talk to the teacher / She had to talk to my mom / We had a real long talk / I had to talk to the teacher / She had to talk to my mom / They made the visions stop.” While this is nothing compared to the lyrics of, say, “Darling, I Love You,” they do announce that even if AJJ is growing, changing – they’re still the same at heart.

The secret weapon of “The Bible 2” is actually the songs that manage to place themselves in between ‘old’ and ‘new’ AJJ. “Cody’s Theme,” “Golden Eagle” and lead single “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye” all sound strangely reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel, with wickedly distorted guitar playing alongside acoustic. These songs almost act as the torchbearers, saying that yes, AJJ is transitioning, and no, they’re not changing completely. They could pass as indie songs, in a way, but it might not be a comfortable passing. “Terrifyer” might be one of the most interesting songs because its use of melody sounds pretty satisfying, while still giving in to the sound of “Sense & Sensibility,” in the best way possible.

Although I personally think the band hit a highest high with 2011’s “Knife Man,” this might be their most cohesive album. Musically, it hits more different territories than ever before. The album’s first half starts with guitar, dips gradually down into piano before revving back up for “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye.” And although the lyrics do once again embrace religion, mental illness, and deathly imagery, there’s broader topics at play. By shedding away the masks the band has previously used to hide their desires and delusions within the confinements of people worse then them, they’ve humanized themselves, fully, and even the first-person songs feel more real because of it. This isn’t a criticism of their older music – far from it, what they’ve done lyrically with the use of satire, violence, and irony is amazing – but simply an awareness that it was starting to get old. AJJ ran that line as long as they could, and, now that it’s over, they’re switching gears. While this is a transition album of sorts, there’s a lot to like, and it proves that AJJ might be able to bridge a gap that a lot of punk bands have previously failed – stay yourselves, stay interesting, yet change.

-By Andrew McNally

Radiohead – “A Moon Shaped Pool”

Grade: A

Key tracks: “Burn the Witch,” “Glass Eyes”

This review was originally posted at the filtered lens

By this point, we don’t really need to be reviewing Radiohead’s albums. Their last, 2011’s “The King of Limbs,” shocked audiences by getting a reception that was only pretty good, not great. Nothing noteworthy for other bands, but a huge misfire for them (and, personally, it’s one of my favorite RH albums). They’re a cultural institution, changing themselves and popular music with each release. They’ve done it again here, on their ninth album “A Moon Shaped Pool,” an album that balances emotions just as it balances its instrumentation.

The most immediate sound on the album is the alarming strings of opener and lead single “Burn the Witch.” It’s a very compact song, clocking in at 3:41, relatively short by the band’s standards. It has that catchy, staccato string rhythm that’s somewhat infectious, unexpected for a band that doesn’t exactly have the most whistle-able tunes. The second song and second single “Daydreaming,” hits the much more familiar other-end-of-the-spectrum, a 6+ minute haunting electro-ballad. It’s a gorgeous song, equally enthralling and terrifying. The two songs, released close together and playing back-to-back, are uniquely different in a way that doesn’t exactly work, and to have them kick off the album seems like it’s setting a path for an album of great songs but with a lacking cohesiveness.

This couldn’t be less of the case. Other reviewers have used the word “symphonic” to describe the album, and it settles into that kind of groove. The next four tracks – “Decks Dark,” “Desert Island Disk,” “Ful Stop,” and “Glass Eyes,” act as a massive (and excellent) suite. “Decks” transitions into “Desert,” and although the other songs aren’t connected, there is a real vulnerable and murky tone to the songs that draw the listener for quite a while (about 17 minutes, through the four songs). And just when that set starts to feel a little worn-in, they turn on a dime to the more rhythmic “Identikit,” one of a few songs they’ve recorded for the album after playing them live for years. It’s not an energetic track, but it feels like after the previous five.

Radiohead’s best albums have a real cohesiveness to them, and “A Moon Shaped Pool” is about as cohesive as they come. The biggest outlier is “Burn the Witch,” with a bursting energy not found anywhere else. A majority of the tracks are slow-burning ballads, to varying success, although most are sheer Radiohead brilliance. “Glass Eyes,” the shortest track, is also the most effective. Closing song “True Love Waits” is the same (and another song that Radiohead has been kicking around for years). The album shares a cohesiveness with “Kid A,” but without doing a retread of that album’s murky synths. There is a lot of synth here, but it’s a more spellbinding and complex use of them, and occasional strings and acoustic guitar work to fully complement the otherwise electro-heavy music.

As with some of Radiohead’s other albums, the lyrics don’t take a full priority. Between the importance placed on music, and Thom Yorke’s typically high-flying and jumbled vocals, the lyrics aren’t always the most discernible. Still, “Decks Dark” has a great line, “There’s a spacecraft blocking out the sky,” which complements the song’s spacey feel (that would feel in place on “OK Computer”).

This certainly isn’t one of Radiohead’s most accessible or immediately enjoyable albums. In fact, some of the tracks might not even sound great individually. This is an album meant to be consumed whole. Their last two albums, “In Rainbows” and “The King of Limbs,” had pop standouts that you could listen to and love immediately – this album is more of a grower. In time, it’ll go down as one the band’s best albums yet, but we have to give it time to get there. Trust me, give it the time.

-By Andrew McNally

Weezer – “Weezer”

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “California Girls,” “Thank God For Girls”

No one really knows what goes on within Weezer. The bandmates who aren’t Rivers Cuomo might not even know what’s going on. But what went on, for many torturous years, was that Cuomo broke Weezer’s very easy-to-replicate formula. Their first four albums – “Weezer,” (Blue), “Pinkerton,” “Weezer,” (Green), and “Maladroit,” were all pretty similar works, even if the former two eclipse the latter two in terms of quality. And then, for whatever reason, the band released four mediocre-to-downright-unlistenable albums, in relatively quick succession. “Make Believe,” “Weezer” (Red), “Raditude” and “Hurley” all have individual songs that are worthwhile, but none were worth the wait. “Raditude” in particular showed the band giving in to their worst desires. 2014’s “Everything Will Be Alright in the End” was a shaky, tentative return to form that left listeners with their fingers crosses, hopeful for the future. And while their new, fourth self-titled album (White) isn’t a masterpiece or even one that really demands a second play, it is reminiscent of the Weezer past. So, it’s exactly what we’ve been asking for.

This has been billed as a concept album, with all ten tracks set during the summertime. I wouldn’t make the “concept album” distinction, however. Hits from their mediocre albums like “Memories” and “Beverly Hills” have been just as summer-y. Once Rivers Cuomo grew up, got that Harvard education and married that Japanese woman he questionably craved in “El Scorcho,” he couldn’t play the role of the nerdy underdog anymore. Whether something in Cuomo changed, or he was/is playing a character, Weezer’s lyrics switched from the very nerdy (“In the Garage”) to the very social (“We Are All on Drugs”). That change may have had an impact on the music, with the band only now relenting and reverting to their older, better style. Again, we can only speculate as to what goes on inside Weezer. But these are summer-y songs, because that’s what Weezer does now.

The average length of a radio single used to be 3:30, and I’m not sure if that still holds, but that seems to be something in the brains of the members. Seven of the album’s ten songs fall within the sex-second range of 3:24-3:30. These are songs built for the convention of pop radio, even if not the band’s focus. They’re fun, breezy, over as soon as they start. There’s not one but three songs with “Girl” in the title, as well as one with “Kids” and one “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori.”

As we’ve learned both the easy and hard ways, Weezer operate best when they’re repurposing older material and ideas. The riff and feel of “Beverly Hills” is essentially repurposed for the great opener “California Kids.” The summer-y lyrics throughout repurpose the best parts of their worse albums, as well as any mid-range Beach Boys. Their influence is felt on this album, even amidst the guitar fuzz. And the crunchy guitar is back to stay, apparently. It’s here throughout, pleasantly buoying Cuomo’s lyrics. There’s no songs that stand out from the crowd, Weezer aimed more for a complete package.

Cuomo’s lyrics might seem bland at first listen (and especially at first glance, with the aforementioned trio of “Girl” songs), but they’re packing some punches. Early single “Thank God For Girls” comes off as a little sexist until you investigate the playfulness of the verses. There’s the not-so-subtle line about a “big, fat cannoli,” and the ode to “strong” and “sweaty” women. I don’t think Cuomo is trying to rewrite “Lola” here, instead remarking on the state of gender roles and attraction. Whether it works or not is up to you (jury’s still out on my end). Elsewhere, there’s predictably weird references to Burt Bacharach, the Galapagos and Sisyphus, among others. All very heady and unexpected for a summer album.

It’s easy to criticize the frustrating lack of originality on this album, because you do come off wishing it had some more zings to it. But when they tried to add those zings, we criticized them more harshly. So, take the album for what it is. It isn’t a great Weezer album, but it is a very good one, and it’s the one we deserve. From the hip “California Kids” to the surprisingly forlorn ballad “Endless Bummer,” Weezer have provided a solid set of songs that could end up going down as one of their better collections. Soak it in, dudes.

-By Andrew McNally

Tancred – “Out of the Garden”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Bed Case” “Sell My Head”

Tancred’s last album, a self-titled album, was an excellent work of little numbers that was weirdly out-of-place. It was released through Topshelf Records, the label home to various emo and pop-punk bands like Into It. Over It., Defeater and A Great Big Pile of Leaves. But Tancred, nee Jess Abbott, really didn’t fit in that club. Even if her songs had a simplistic beauty to them, they were tough to categorize. And in the three years since that album, the scene has become overblown and overstayed. On her third album, Abbott finds herself moving even further away from any emo/pop-punk association, with a collection of fuzzed-up guitar tracks ripped out of the Breeders’ songbook.

There were guitar tunes on her previous albums, but this album’s riffy opener, “Bed Case,” is a stark contrast to “The Ring,” the beautiful, floating song that opened her last album. There is less restraint on “Out of the Garden,” and a lot more volume and energy. The energy isn’t maintained throughout, but more often than not there is enough oomph to keep listener riding down the nostalgia train. Abbott, alongside Terrence Vitali and Kevin Medina, create a world that falls somewhere in the 90’s boom between pop-punk and shoegaze, often swaying one way or the other. “Sell My Head” seems distinctly punk, while “Control Me” falls closer to shoegaze.

Abbott’s lyrics often center around relationships, as well as individualism, something she came into working in a bad section of Minneapolis. On “Sell My Head,” she sings, “I drank you up like wine / Until my teeth were black and white.” She muses on love in regards to self-expression all across the record. “This is how we learned to be happy / This is how we learned the hard way,” on “Control Me.” “Tie me up with ropes made of you,” she sings on “Poise,” and “You look like California / Take me there, take me there / You put me in a coma / But I don’t scare” on “Bed Case.”

90’s revivalists will have a lot to piece through on this album. All members come across well on the album, and while the fuzz-induced boom isn’t quite enough to sustain across the whole album, there’s enough great tracks here to certainly hold up. Tancred has always seemed fitful to place themselves in any genre, and this album is a delightful mix of everything in between.

Watch the video for their excellent single, “Bed Case” below (although not if you have epilepsy):

-By Andrew McNally

Cage the Elephant – “Tell Me I’m Pretty”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Cry Baby,” “Trouble”

On their debut album, Cage the Elephant gave us a funky, bluesy version of themselves. On “Thank You Happy Birthday,” we got the grunge version of the band, and on “Melophobia” we were given a garage-soul version of them. On the band’s fourth album, we get a new version of Cage the Elephant – themselves.

With a few big albums and a slough of hit singles under their belt, Cage the Elephant is finally exploring themselves instead of making odes to music past. That may have also come from the production of Black Key Dan Auerbach, who is on his quest to make every artist from Dr. John to Lana Del Rey sound a little more like the Black Keys. Auerbach is a no-brainer for Cage the Elephant, a riotous Midwestern alternative band. Take away a few members and you have the Black Keys.

“Tell Me I’m Pretty” is the band’s most coherent album; ironically, the coherence comes from a wider diversity in emotion. This is easily the band’s most personal and introspective album yet, filled with emotional ballads and tales of loss and separation. In fact, the middle portion of the album is all ballads, until late-album kicker “That’s Right.” Lines like “I been facing trouble almost all my life” (“Trouble”) are expected, but “I think we should just let go” (“Sweetie Little Jean”) is a new, softer side for them. It’s telling that they’ve stripped away other instruments, along with the mania. Here, they’re a band – vocals, drums, guitars, bass.

I’m usually turned off when fun alternative bands start writing slower music (*cough* TV on the Radio), but I’ve always had faith in Cage the Elephant. The band has said that by working on their own identity as a group, they’ve focused on making every song individually different from every other song, and it shows. That’s where the cohesiveness comes in – their first three albums focused on the album as a piece of art, this one focuses on songs. There’s a broader range in emotion and influence. “Mess Around” was an obvious lead single, but each song is so crafted that really any of them would be prepped for rock radio.

The songs on “Tell Me I’m Pretty” might not immediately grab a listener the way some of the songs on, say, “Thank You Happy Birthday” do, they require a little more patience. But each one eventually grabs, even without any hooks or bursts of manic energy (though some do with that, too). The songs here feel more like we’re being let in, like we’ve been invited to finally see the real Cage the Elephant. This might not be their best album, and it won’t have the replay value of their crazier work. But it proves that Cage the Elephant have done their homework and can create music that’s their very own, not an ode to a different era. In this reviewer’s opinion, Cage the Elephant are four-for-four.

If you like this, try: Cold War Kids’ “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts,” another indie band that’s used various influences to create their own, wholly original sound.