By Andrew McNally, Columnist
The Shins - "Port of Morrow"
The theme of the Shins' first album in five years is 'love,' which probably caused the people at Pitchfork to groan and hide under their desks. But "Port of Morrow" is a strong album that shows a needed progression in songwriting in the band. The album is their first that doesn't end in four or five similar tracks, and includes a slight diversification in instrumentation, too. The songs are still mainly acoustic indie-pop, sure, but they feel more inspired, and unique, than their previous albums. "Port of Morrow" might just be their best work yet. Zach Braff, take notice.
RIYL: Fiest, Broken Bells
Anti-Flag - "The General Strike"
Anti-Flag's ninth and shortest album is yet another anti-government, anti-everything blast of punk rants. If it is the first Anti-Flag album you're going to hear, then enjoy; it's not bad for what it's worth. But nothing separates it from their other eight albums. The quick, relentless blasts are there, as always, and quite effective for once. But the snarky vocals get less effective as singer Justin Sane approaches middle-age, and the lyrics would sound bad even for a diary of an angsty 16-year-old. It's fast, it's loud, but it's uninspired and unoriginal.
RIYL: Dead Kennedys, Pennyswise
Lee Renaldo - "Between the Times and the Tides"
Sonic Youth's other guitarist took the band's indefinite hiatus as an opportunity to record his first proper solo album - a healthy medium between traditional singer-songwriter and the genre known as "Sonic Youth." His singing voice is never quite up to par with some of his contemporaries, but his songwriting is a solid mix of rhythmic and loud, as if his former band were trying to go mainstream. There's nothing spectacular here, but Ranaldo never decides there should be. Ranaldo simply picked up his guitar and started writing some songs. "Between the Times and Tides" is a pleasant melding of two worlds.
RIYL: Neil Young, Tom Petty