Reviewed: Neko Case's dark vision, David Gilmour's warm sonic bath and Matisyahu's faux reggae

Published March 8, 2006 9:30AM (EST)

Neko Case, "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood"

Her part-time gig with the New Pornographers may have lately thrust Neko Case into the hipster spotlight, but her solo work occupies a darker, dustier corner of the American musical landscape, one where Loretta Lynn meets Edgar Allan Poe. Yet whether she's weaving Gothic country ballads or supplying sparkly power-pop harmonies, the music's focus is always on Case's otherworldly voice, which Spin (grade B+) calls "majestically outsize ... one of pop music's best."

According to Spin, Case's "fourth proper studio solo disc shows that for all her versatility, she has a singular vision when it comes to her own music. And Lordy, it is dark." Indeed, as Newsday (grade B+) notes, this vision encompasses "singing of murderous tales, her love for devils and escaping from the stench of death." Not that the songs are all bleak. The New York Times maintains that "they're filled with a sense of loss" but also "a hope for transformation," while Newsday finds that Case's vocals are "able to make even the darkest revelations sound pretty." Billboard calls this "arguably her most engrossing" album, and for Pop Matters (eight out of 10), the idiosyncratic nature of Case's lyrics and voice happily extends to her music: She "could have easily gone for a more middle-of-the-road sound on her new record, but true to form, she seems to relish the little imperfections as much as the sublime, shimmering moments."

David Gilmour, "On an Island"

Pink Floyd may have dropped a couple of brilliantly inventive records back in the day, but they are also responsible for some ludicrously pretentious live extravaganzas, a bevy of interminable concept albums and the woeful resurgence of prog rock. It figures, then, that David Gilmour, the "acceptable face of Floyd" according to the Guardian (four out of five), might try to win back a few friends with "On an Island," his third solo release, and the first since 1984.

He has certainly succeeded in leaving critics with a warm and fuzzy feeling: "Close your eyes, and a host of songs on this solo effort will transport you right back to Pink Floyd's 1970s salad days," gushes Billboard, while the San Francisco Chronicle (three out of five) announces the record to be "comfortingly familiar." The Independent (three out of five), meanwhile, gets all blissful and poetic: "There's a sense of pastoral epiphany about the album, with Gilmour lying on the beach, staring at the heavens and contemplating his own state of grace before strolling home in the twilight." And if that all sounds worryingly New Age, the Guardian reassures us that "this is a warm sonic bath for ordinary Daves and their wives, from Krakow to Sao Paulo, to nod and smile to while sipping wine in candlelit rooms. Despite their hippie roots, Floyd have always had the common touch."

Matisyahu, "Youth"

Matthew Miller came to reggae like a lot of young white Americans in affluent suburbs, through a love of pot smoking and hippie jam bands like Phish. Fortunately -- for Miller's recording career at least -- he also came to Hasidic Judaism around the same time. Mainstream pop critics don't tend to pay much attention to reggae music when it's played by Jamaicans, but apparently white dude + traditional religious dress + reggae = enough novelty value to send reviewers scrambling for their copies of Bob Marley's "Legend" in search of reference points.

Thus primed, the San Francisco Chronicle (four out of five) proclaims the major-label debut of Miller (now calling himself Matisyahu) "effortless and authentic," while E! Online (grade B+) suggests that "Youth" "breaks new ground with its uplifting mix of high-minded spirituality and dope beats" -- as though spirituality and dope beats were a fresh concept in reggae music. Others are less convinced by Matisyahu's reggae rabbi shtick: "Much of the time, Matisyahu sounds like the former Phish-following high school dropout from White Plains, New York, that he is," observes Rolling Stone. "His voice is nimble but reedy, his choruses generally given over to starchy platitudes." Newsday (grade B-) is similarly ambivalent: "As inventive as he is with his lyrics, Matisyahu can't escape the blandness of his faux reggae riddims and the vague jam-band guitars." Pitchfork Media (rating 4.9), meanwhile, calls bullshit on the whole affair, saying that with "natty drum fills, MOR progressions, and lockstep dub grooves," Miller may well be "on that old search for enlightenment and devotion," but "his struggle reeks of bored rich kid."

-- Matt Glazebrook

By Salon Staff

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