Caitlin's Hit List

(Editor's Note: This is a pastiche review; part of an occasional series from our writers about various bands, performances and other cultural items that seem to be holding their attention.)

by Caitlin Servilio

Asleep At Heaven’s Gate: Rogue Wave’s new release is even better, if that’s possible, than their last CD, Descended Like Vultures. Asleep at Heaven’s Gate is Rogue Wave’s logical next step, maintaining the basic dreamy, yet noisy sound of their previous work but amping it up with gorgeously layered instrumental and vocal melodies. From its opening track, a lengthy space-rock odyssey called “Harmonium,” to the esoteric pop strains of “Chicago x 12” and the jangly rock of “Phonytown,” Zach Rogue and his bandmates exceed expectations and prove once again their status as once of the most innovative and musically intelligent bands around. I, for one, will be at their Nov. 5th show in D.C. at The Black Cat practically exploding with excitement.

The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter: Where Josh Ritter’s last album, The Animal Years, was a meticulously constructed, well-thought out piece of art in which every song carefully segued into the next, Historical Conquests marks Ritter’s determination to get to a more organic, spontaneous sound. To craft the songs for this release, Ritter started writing the music first, rather than the lyrics, to air out his verbally dense style. Many songs were written primarily on the piano, an instrument Ritter doesn’t play. As you can imagine, these techniques lead to a harder-rocking, more freewheeling Ritter that sometimes sounds almost like Spoon. Highlights on the album include the unabashedly badass gunslinger tribute “Mind’s Eye,” the sardonic “Next to the Last Romantic,” and the beautifully written “Temptation of Adam.”

Small Sins: This Canadian band, headed by musical mastermind Thomas D’Arcy, just opened for The XYZ Affair in D.C. at the Black Cat this week. Small Sins' self-titled debut CD was all hushed, understated vocal harmonies and simple analog synth melodies that lulled me to into a lovely electro-pop trance. Live, however, Small Sins is all guitar-driven rock and catchy hooks, turning even the most mellow of their repertoire (“Stay,” “All Will Be Fine,”) into rollicking jams complete with maraca and tambourine. At the Black Cat, the songs they played off the new album, Mood Swings, were fantastic, close to pop perfection, particularly “What Your Baby’s Been Doing” and “On the Line.” I only wish they could have headlined the show and played a little bit longer.

Paul Auster’s City of Glass: This graphic adaptation of Paul Auster’s 1985 post-modern novella is as engrossing as it is ambitious. Paul Karasik and David Mazzuchelli’s artwork depicts the plight of Daniel Quinn, a detective writer whose wife and child have died. When an anonymous phone caller mistakes him for real detective Paul Auster and pleads with him for help, Quinn plays along, but quickly gets sucked into a bewildering case that brings him to the point of a psychological breakdown. City of Glass is a masterpiece that’s packed with both groundbreaking stylistic choices and metaphysical questions.

Fun Home: A comic-book memoir, of all things, Fun Home chronicles cartoonist Allison Bechdel’s childhood and the death of her father, a closeted homosexual with a home-improvement obsession and a proclivity for teenage boys. Fun Home manages to paint a portrait of Bechdel and her father’s complex relationship and at the same time it depicts Bechdel’s own early life and her coming-out as a lesbian. A mix of funny and sad, this work is saturated with allusions to classic literature; this graphic memoir is a worthwhile read.

(Rogue Wave plays New York's Bowry Ballroom on Nov. 1. Josh Ritter plays Atlanta's Variety Playhouse on the same night. Small Sins resumes its tour on Nov. 3 with a performance in Austin, Texas.)

To see other hit lists in our series, please check:

(The promotional photo shows members of Rogue Wave in repose and is from Brushfire Records. To see a video about the making of Asleep at Heaven's Gate, please check below.)

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