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Maren Christensen
Ready For You Now
Graciemae Records

Maren Christensen’s sophomore album Ready For You Now is about acquiring strength, being sexy in an unconventional way and trusting love despite the heartache. Sure, it sounds like self-help blather, but the local guitarist dodges that sand trap with shrewd composition skillfully amplified by former Cash For Junker’s fiddler Grace Decker, as well as the lonesome plucking of Mason Tuttle on mandolin. Most interesting is Christensen’s ability to move from melodies like “Still Trying to Find My Way” and “Strong” (both sung with an Alison Krauss-like sweet and soulful delivery), to edgier and more defiant tunes like “The God Song,” which, without hiding behind lyrical metaphor, cracks the whip on those righteous religious folk who preach love but practice intolerance.

Though accusations regarding politics and personal freedom surface in several songs, Christensen refrains from burdening the album with too much opinionated weight. In fact her strongest tunes are the subtler, more vulnerable ones like “The Landscape,” which guides you, with sleight-of-hand lyrics, through a story about intimacy and change. The balance between songs of unrestrained opinion and those that dive into a less definable framework is what keeps the album’s self-affirmation invigorating, rather than cheesy. (Erika Fredrickson)

Maren Christensen plays a CD release party for Ready For You Now at the Crystal Theatre Friday, April 28, at 8 PM. $10.

The Robot Ate Me
Good World
5 Rue Christian

Early candidate for most slippery promotional sentence of the year: “Although not the accessible pop album that last year’s Carousel Waltz was, Good World is an album that puts faith in a listener’s imagination, embraces the surreal, and explores the vibrant curiosity of the human spirit.” Translation: Good World is an odd bird and tryingly tough to swallow; it puts less faith in a listener’s imagination than in his or her patience.

The album’s 17 songs clock in at just less than 23 minutes in total; six are less than 60 seconds long and five different titles are cut up into multiple sections (i.e. “She Owl 1,” “2” and “3”). The disjointed structure is fitting: The Robot Ate Me, aka Ryland Bouchard, has always married cracked falsetto vocals to a DIY orchestral sound—Bouchard plays trumpet, clarinet, cello, trombone, accordion and guitar—but here the schtick has broken down and lost its charm. The dysfunctional arrangements of Good World feel more like fits than songs, at best an intriguing experimental demo session rather than a finished product.

Bouchard’s previous effort, Carousel Waltz, was more than just a cotton candy Top 40-fest—it was a hopeful and ambient collection of songs that seemed destined for a Wes Anderson soundtrack. Calling it “accessible pop” seems dismissive, especially as one yearns in retrospect for its mature songcraft and delicate appeal. Good World just doesn’t have that. (Skylar Browning)

The Robot Ate Me performs at The Raven Cafe Monday, May 1, at 9 PM. Travis Sehorn and Rome is Falling also play. $6.

Talkdemonic
Beat Romantic
Arena Rock Recording Co.

There may be cooler bands than Talkdemonic patrolling the Pacific Northwest music scene, but if there are I guarantee there’s none cooler that features a viola. This Portland-based duo, comprising devilishly deft drummer Kevin O’Connor and heartbreaking violist Lisa Molinaro, continues to develop a complex ass-shaking sound that’s as hip-hop as it is hippie jam rock, as Bach as it is Bela Fleck, and as acoustically electrifying as it is sonically electronic.

Fans of Missoula’s annual Total Fest have been treated to Talkdemonic’s juxtaposed jams the past two years, but the recently released Beat Romantic finds O’Connor and Molinaro’s rare sound seeping into new corners. Still rooted in O’Connor’s churning, hip-hop-influenced drum kit and accented with Molinaro’s classical tinge, Beat Romantic layers those components with digital keyboard blips, plucks of banjo, acoustic guitar and bass, interludes of piano, Wurlitzer and concertina, and the light touch of guest flutist Ashley Allred on “White Gymnasium.” The result is instrumental folk punk, or orchestral trip-hop rock. I’m not sure what to call it, but highlights include the meditative, viola-heavy “Bering,” which builds and transitions seamlessly into the funkified jailbreak percussion of “Human Till Born,” as well as “Dusty Flourescent/Wooden Shelves,” which captures all of the above in just over two minutes.

Beat Romantic is an outstanding follow-up to Talkdemonic’s 2004 debut, Mutiny Sunshine; it’s only flaw is that the 16-song musical mash lasts only 36 minutes. (Skylar Browning)

The Little Willies
The Little Willies
Milking Bull Records

What do you get when you throw Gram Parsons, Marcy Playground, Lou Reed and Norah Jones in a blender? The answer is not a candy addict with a sexy raspy voice, nor a sex addict with a raspy, candy-like voice—it’s The Little Willies. And if you knew that already, you’re one of the few folks who’s heard this group’s eponymous gem of a debut, which, by design, flies under the mainstream radar. At least for now.  

The Little Willies features five musicians from disparate genres (including Marcy Playground drummer Dan Rieser and light-jazz heroine Norah Jones) whose lone common denominator is a love of classic country tunes. The suggestively titled band (actually named after Willie Nelson) howls Hank Williams tunes, swings through antique-sounding originals (including a novelty number about Lou Reed on a Texas cow-tipping spree), and wades through moodier covers, including songs by late legends Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt. Pop-star Jones shares vocal duties with guitarist Richard Julian, who often sounds like a less-desperate Lyle Lovett.

If you’ve ever danced yourself into a collision with the dangerously placed column smack dab in the center of the Union Club’s dance floor, this fun romp of an album is worth checking out. (Caroline Keys)

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