Elvis Costello and the Imposters
* * *
Why can't Elvis Costello act his age (53) and settle into that elder rock statesman mode -- you know, take it easy and putter around and put out a new record every couple of years?
In the last decade or so, the hyperactive renegade has recorded, let's see, a classical dance score and a live jazz-rock collection, a set of orchestrated art-pop, collaborations with Burt Bacharach and Allen Toussaint, jazz pianist Marian McPartland and soprano Anne-Sofie von Otter.
With the release of "Momofuku" on CD and digital outlets today (it came out on vinyl last month and has sold 1,000 copies to turntable-owning Costello fans), he's also managed to slip in three albums of original rock songs with his trio the Imposters (not to mention one of B-sides and leftovers).
This pace can appear amusing and exhilarating, like having a dotty older relative who keeps flying off on exotic excursions. It might not generate an artist's finest, most focused work, but there's something to be said for freedom, and if it's mainly for his own benefit and a now cult-like audience, so be it. And he still gets to open those big concerts for the Police.
"Momofuku" doesn't have the unified feel of 2004's "The Delivery Man," with its binding agent of Southern music and imagery. But it's more driven and inspired -- if sporadically -- than "When I Was Cruel," the album that brought Costello back to rock in 2002 after a six-year hiatus.
Costello has trod this turf before in his long career, and the album finds a balance between the disappointment of familiarity and the freshness of execution. Its flavor is forged by a cast of Los Angeles indie-ish musicians that included Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis, former Beachwood Sparks "Farmer" Dave Scher, Johnathan Rice, Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and the Like's drummer, Tennessee Thomas, whose dad, Pete, is one of the Imposters.
Costello sets them loose in various combinations with his regular band, and their singing and playing bring a spontaneous drive and an experimental garage rock stamp to the best moments. The songs jump from almost classic Costello (à la "Armed Forces") rock (the opening "No Hiding Place") to comical cocktail vamp ("Harry Worth") to soul ballad ("Flutter & Wow.")
Some of the songs toward the end seem downright slight ("My Three Sons," "Song With Rose," "Go Away"), but in all it's a rewarding, rambunctious ride.
An energetic twosome
* * * 1/2
Armed with just electric guitar and drums, L.A. duo No Age make a din so unrelenting that their infrequent stops for a more reflective ambience seem positively sweet -- but it's totally relative.
Randy Randall, guitar, and Dean Spunt, trash-beats, found receptive ears for their joyful noise at all-ages clubs like the Smell, establishing a musical context for young crowds to experience their peculiar mishmash of My Bloody Valentine/Sonic Youth distortion-rock with punk pummeling and arty experiments. "Nouns" showcases the appealing joy to No Age's process, the band attacking its music with relish and humor.
Opener "Miner" is a speedy thrash noise that sucks you in, even as its muddy sound seems produced for maximum headache potential. On "Eraser" it becomes clear that they're deliberately not going to offer anything remotely suggesting high-fidelity sound, preferring hellacious fuzzed-out guitars, tambourine and primitive trash-can thumps.
This messy noise is chock full of life. The pair takes the odd moment out to chill a bit in tracks such as "Keechie," "Impossible Bouquet" and "Things I Did When I Was Dead," the latter an inverted version of "Hurdy Gurdy Man" boasting dreamy chords from shimmering guitar loops, like the sun struggling to stream through stained glass.
With their preference for energy over traditional musicality or technique, No Age forces the listener to dig a bit to find the beauty, or any sort of message as such, since the vocals are buried deep under the mud of guitar/drums caterwaul. But when the decidedly unfunky noise in "Ripped Knees" gives way to flat-out old-school punk rock, drummer Spunt sings, "I know that you're the dreary one," and we know he isn't talking about his own band.
Albums are rated on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair) and one star (poor). Albums reviewed have been released except as indicated.