It seems you're using an old browser. In order to view this site correctly, we advise you to upgrade your browser, or try the free Mozilla Firefox.

Print Email


Check your head

A duo of discs about presidents and politics

More Rock/Pop Stories

Bad (ass) attitude (10/6/2010)
So let’s get this party started!

Hippie chic (9/29/2010)
Mayaeni has lifted her brand of rock 'n' from the Motor City to Tokyo, and stops in between

Sonically Speaking (9/29/2010)
MT scribe has a new book out about the MC5

More from Hobey Echlin

Funk Duminie-est (6/23/2010)
P-Funk, Public Enemy sideman Duminie DePorres finally debuts on his own

Judgment dazed (5/19/2010)
Guilty Simpson is writing new chapters for the Detroit 'Thug Life' saga

Eminthen? (9/23/2009)
How the fuck did Drew Cohen go from an Ann Arbor hip-hop DJ to Mayer Hawthorne, soul man to the stars?


Published 10/29/2008

Of Great & Mortal Men
43 Songs for 43 Presidencies
Sandard Recording Co.

Thievery Corporation
Radio Retaliation

Just in time for the election comes Of Great and Mortal Men, three Cali-based lo-fi singer-songwriter types — Christian Kiefer, Matthew Gerken (of Nice Monster) and Jefferson Pitcher (ex-Above the Orange Trees) — presenting 43 songs depicting something about the character of each respective POTUS. Highlights include Lincoln's pyrrhic pronouncement of "Union, union," amid other (mostly) delicate lo-fi odes that flesh out these leaders from the confines of line drawings on currency and the clichés of being power-drunkards who cheated on their wives while steering the country. What comes across in the warbly shanties and tipsy arrangements (violins, glockenspiel, etc.) is empathy and condemnation, but mostly a kind of awesome ambivalence.

Some stories are true (Harry Truman did sell clothes before his political career); some are false (Jimmy Carter was not abducted by aliens). But they all stylize and personalize history with a cheekiness that makes the album a bit akin to Christopher Guest directing "Oval Office Week" on the History Channel. The round-robin format and dearth of guest musicians (Low's Alan Sparhawk, Smog's Bill Callahan) gives the whole lot a hootenanny feel, while the accompanying hundred-page book makes the three-disc set feel like a syllabus to the coolest community college class ever.

On the other end of the political spectrum, D.C. downtempo dons Thievery Corporation turn the smarty-pantsed (and matching shirt and jacket) posturing of their Banana Republican stoner world-beat into another easy-listening fit of leftism. The beats are still alternately chill and warmed by a ragga glow with hooka-whiffs of ethnic spices. But the voices (Femi Kuti among them) are more pointed and political, not unlike, say the Clash, circa Sandanista: that is, thematically honed but sometimes limited to sounding like honky reggae also-rans. The LP isn't as "fall-on-their-sword" psychedelic as previous attempts to mature their breezy downtempo; production-wise, there are more acoustic instruments and less run-on musical sentences. But for all their inferred polemics (they are from D.C.; this is an election year; Femi Kuti is agit-afro-pop royalty), TC are like the George Clooneys of downtempo. Their early affability made them stars, but they're capable of more ambitious fare, even if this disc is really more a respectable Michael Collins than a slam-dunk Syriana: that is, poignant but still suave, and better because of it; user-friendly despite its flaws.

blog comments powered by Disqus