Album reviews: The Presidents of the United States of America, Xiu Xiu, Graham Colton

Alex Pettyfer and Gabriella Wilde star in a remake of Endless Love. The modern update does little to improve the silly plot. Alex Pettyfer and Gabriella Wilde star in a remake of Endless Love. The modern update does little to improve the silly plot.

The Presidents of the United States of America

Kudos to You!/Self-released

If you’ve been part of The Presidents of the United States of America bandwagon for any length of time, you know how much of a hoot these guys can be. With the first new album in six years, The Presidents prove to be as irreverent and fun as ever. Kudos to You! features heavy doses of punk, rock, alternative and grunge stylings, and vocalist/bassist Chris Ballew is as silly as ever. It’s impossible not to smile while listening to this album. There are odes to insect wars (“Flea vs. Mite”), cop cars (“Crown Victoria”), and U.S. states (“Ohio”), and on “Poor Little Me,” the band demonstrates its skill in harpooning just about every country break-up song cliché ever written. And who doesn’t love a good song about a fly’s desire to land on ice cream and poop (“Slow, Slow Fly”), or those rubber little monster toys kids put on their fingers (“Finger Monster”)?

Xiu Xiu

Angel Guts: Red Classroom/Polyvinyl Records

Fair warning, the latest record from Xiu Xiu is extremely hard to listen to. Angel Guts: Red Classroom is a descent into fear, loathing, isolation, pain, and darkness that is almost unbearable. Throughout the album, the timbre of singer Jamie Stewart’s vocal is the narrative thread that binds the harrowing collection of songs together. On “Lawrence Liquors” he whispers as though looking over his shoulder in fear of an assailant, “El Naco” is one of many tracks that finds him not screaming, but screeching at the heavens, and on “Archie’s Fades” the mood is so ominous that it’s hard to know whether his vocals tremble from rage, fear, or pain. Stewart sounds like he is on the brink of madness from start to finish and just as likely to be reveling in his demons as he is trying to exorcise them. This is a bold, if deeply unsettling, artistic statement from the perpetually avant garde group.

Graham Colton

Lonely Ones/United for Opportunity

If you are a fan of creative left turns, then the latest by Graham Colton should interest you. Gone is the acoustic-led edge that populates much of his previous work, and in its place is a modern pop aesthetic that gives a few nods to the past as well. Driving, riff-heavy numbers like the ebullient opener “Mixed Up” give the album its pep as does the uplifting “Hands Untied.” Colton’s vocals are clearer and cleaner than ever on the ballad “Another Night” and the piano rock number “Summer to Me” sounds like an ’80s-era love song reborn. Colton’s emotional flair hasn’t disappeared—as the moody, ambient track “Arms” can attest, and likewise the weighty content of “Funeral” is anything but disposable.

Right-click and “save link as” to download Graham Colton’s song Born To Raise Hell.