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Ear Candy (June 24, 2009) 

Bat on Fire , The Jonas Brothers , Tortoise, Bull Halsey

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Purity Ring Rock
2½ stars

The Jonas Brothers
Lines, Vines and Trying Times
Hollywood Records

There are plenty of reasons to hate the Jonas Brothers — they’re the epitome of soulless corporate schlock, they’re too popular, they’re too celibate, they’re just plain unbearable on all kinds of levels. But even so, these three boys (only one yet qualifies as a 20-something) do know their way around a pop song. Melody after maddeningly slick and catchy melody, swoon-worthy vocals, and their three precious mugs plastered all over creation are what has made their fame, and say what you will, they do give the audience what it wants.

The first single is “Paranoid,” a little late-‘90s sounding, a little confessional (in that the narrator restates a sufficient number of times that he’s “freaking out”), but unchallenging. It’s well-crafted, though not particularly striking among the other break-up-ish tracks on the album: “Much Better,” “World War III,” “Before the Storm” and, honestly, almost any of the songs could do the job just as well. But in a way, “Paranoid” is an interesting choice for a single. It does represent the band from a slightly different angle — more adult, a bit less angelic and stable — and, in its controlled and corporate way, a move like that, just a marginally different presentation of themselves, is something to take note of.

It pains me slightly to admit it, but this is an acceptably strong, eclectic record, or at least a noble attempt at one. Any album featuring guest vocals from both Miley Cyrus and Common (yes, really) proves either an awkward stab at diversity or a good sense of humor by some involved party, and I like to think it’s the latter. Cyrus’ duet with Nick Jonas, “Before the Storm,” is the better of the two collaborations, though lines like “We were young and times were easy” sung by 16-year-olds can be a little frustrating, and the to-the-letter, genre-obeying production (“Before the Storm” is a country song, and was produced precisely as such) on each track strikes notes of excessive control. Of course, the whole record is unquestionably over-produced, which takes away some credibility no matter how ironic the guest vocals are or how respectable the songwriting may be. But beyond that, it still feels like a record made by happy kids who take themselves only as seriously as they should, and for superstars about as far from reality as armies of tween girls can move you, that does deserve some level of recognition.

Throughout the album, they keep it mega-kosher — Disney still owns them. But despite that (which you could easily think would be a totally soul-crushing fact to face every day), the purity ring brothers do still sound truly innocent, unspoiled, naïve and, so far, fairly unpretentious. I won't assure you that this album doesn't make you want to scream after a little while (it does), or that there's something here for everyone (there isn't), but their audience will be fully sated by the end of it — there's plenty of unprovocative high school heartbreak, enough youthful energy to keep it all afloat and, here and there, the vaguest traces of dissent from their chaste and picture-perfect roots. — EMMA WILBERT

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Masters of Chaos
4 stars

The Silent Years
Let Go
SideCho Records

When Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart held their reign of insane terror on wax, I don’t think they ever considered making music that was pop-friendly. While Zappa was a martyr for making jazz even more inaccessible and Beefheart took blues basics and altered them, it would take until the ‘90s for a band to really take a fucked up look at the pop music spectrum. Sure, Sgt. Pepper’s was out there, but the freakish popularity of experimental rock bands like Radiohead signified a new era in which pop could be distorted. As for Detroit, it’s obvious that in '09 our town may have found its most challenging proponent of pop music yet: The Silent Years.

As a follow-up to last year’s The Globe, the band’s latest EP, entitled Let Go, takes what sounds like indie rock on the surface and adds enough bells, whistles and other chaos to make a record that is something truly different than the rest of the genre. After all, indie rock needs a slap in the face and on songs like “Forest Fire” and “Claw Marks,” leader Josh Epstein offers the finishing shot. The EP’s high point comes in “Madame Shocking,” when, after a one-minute, orchestra-led intro, there is a complete reversal and the band delves into catchy pop that would make Vampire Weekend cream their jeans. — ERIC ALLEN  

4 stars
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Beacons of Ancestorship
Thrill Jockey

Veterans Tortoise open a window with a strange view. Their playing and sonic palette are so cohesive that the music sounds like it was generated by some massive space machine. There are tiny stumbles — a tendency to flirt heavily with abrasive textures, strange pacing — but these gripes are outshined by the album’s strengths. “Prepare Your Coffin” finds them playing with serious muscle.  When the right groove hits you, as it does in “Gigantes,” you may find yourself thrust into a pocket of robotic psychedelia so deep that you’ll never be able to find your way out. — JESSE JACOBI

3½ stars
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Bull Halsey
Hot Dry Work         

Detroit trio Bull Halsey were more than ready to build this gristly platform of smoky rockers and grinders after years of steadily honing their mastery of jump blues, classic R&B and serpentine country rock twang. Singer/bassist Garth Girard, guitarist/singer Wally Schmid and drummer David Oesterle recreate the grimacing grit of classic blues and R&B aristocrats like Howlin' Wolf and Hollywood Fats. Hot Dry Work is filled with that steady strutting beat of R&B, that wavy slapping bass groove of proto-rock and the buzz croon of the gitbox. — JEFF MILO

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in my ear
Bat on Fire

Playing metal can be done in several fashions. Instead of choosing the easy way out, Bat on Fire focuses in on progression with harmonizing guitars and not-so average song structure. The group releases their new record, Escape From Hades, on Saturday, June 27, with a party at the Token Lounge. See the music they are currently digging below:

Protest the Hero
Crack the Skye
He Is Legend
I Am Hollywood
Avenged Sevenfold
Avenged Sevenfold
Diamond Hoo Ha
Alkaline Trio
Agony and Irony
The Band  
The Who
Who’s Next?

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Bat on Fire , The Jonas Brothers , Tortoise, Bull Halsey


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