Reviews

Bushido Karaoke

Author: Brian Howe
08/31/2005 | Pitchforkmedia.com | www.pitchforkmedia.com | Album Review
Most of what we've heard from Mayday has been lugubrious indie-Americana-- not terrible, but sluggish and monochromatic to the point of anonymity. Their Saddle Creek debut at least had voluminous Mogis production to breathe in some reluctant life, sounding like chopped and screwed Bright Eyes, but its Bar/None follow-up, I Know Your Troubles Been Long, had no such saving grace. Wisely, Mayday have returned to Saddle Creek for their third and finest LP, Bushido Karaoke, and mixing duties are split between A.J. Mogis and the equally deft Andy LeMaster. But the album's overall success can't be hung upon the recording alone. Trading in his former syrupy drizzle for a more varied, gothic take on American mythology, Stevens' songwriting has become much livelier and grittier; at its best, it channels the theatrical noir of Nick Cave.

The piano-rock shuffle "Pelf Help" is the first indication that Stevens has been immersing in the classic Sun Records catalog, although its crunchy guitars align it more with American Music Club. Stevens has attained better command of his limited vocal range, inflecting richly within it instead of pushing against it: "We had more fun when we were poor." Romanticizing poverty is questionable, but no one likes a parvenu, and there's resonance in lines like "You may look dashing now/ But I remember when you were beautiful." "Booze & Pills" is another straightforward '50s rocker, swinging instead of shuffling; an addiction ballad with jaunty, nauseated brass. And standout track "Standing in Line at the Gates of Hell" is pure Starvations melodrama, bitter and desperately seething, with its funerary chords and howled vocals. A vivid seediness rushes through it, climaxing with the declaration: "I'm the new barkeep at the Tavern of Lost Souls!" File under purgatory, Sisyphus, overstated fun.

The record is fleshed out by songs more in the "old Mayday" style-- see the honky tonk twang of "Continental Grift", the ontological ruminations of "Hidden Leaves", and "Rock and Roll Can't Save Your Life", which is musically slight yet lyrically deft ("But it just might save tonight")-- and a variety of covers and tributes. INXS's "Old World New World" is recast as a sort of panoramic bluegrass (maybe Stevens is going to try out for Rockstar?), and Gilliam Welch's "I'm Not Afraid to Die" as up-tempo rockabilly. "Burned my Hands" is a woozy, forgettable slow-burner borrowed from Neva Dinova's Jake Bellows, and "Dave D. Blues (How to Make it Sting Like a Career)" trades Stevens' measured lines for Dondero's more rambling style. Mayday always sounded comfortable tilling their well-worn ruts, maybe too comfortable. On Bushido Karaoke, they've discovered a way out-- passion, humor, and a touch of deviltry.
Bushido Karaoke

Bushido Karaoke

CD / MP3




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Bushido Karaoke

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