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+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
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+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
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Frank Lenz
Vilelenz And Thieves
Hidden Agenda

Veteran indie-rocker Frank Lenz is bumming. Downright down, even — as evidenced by the title of his third solo album, Vilelenz and Thieves. And when Lenz gets to bumming, he stops the drumming (he has played with a slew of indie bands, perhaps most notably Pedro the Lion), picks up his acoustic guitar and sampler, and makes him some moody.

But where most masters of misery do that blues thing where you try to laugh to keep from crying, the degree of damaged self-loathing that Lenz expresses through his lyrics — which find him labeling himself a "fucking poseur," a "man with no identity" who, faced with the need to get up and get going "just wants to get high" — makes for highly uneasy listening. And it's not just the vile Lenz who's driving himself to Nowheresville; indeed, his friends have become thieves, as "everybody runs when trouble comes" amid references to some nastiness directed his way on an Internet message board, a "place" more often serving as a haven than a site of hazing for indie artists. If a track more desperately unsettling than "Bad Art," all belltones and fragile, subdued moaning, gets released this year, then I owe both you and Lenz a Coke.

Vilelenz and Thieves is an album about love and loss minus the love, a dark and scary place to dwell in despite the artist's attempts to occasionally jolly things up, as on the instrumental opener, a mellotron-and-flute-fueled piece, and the unhinged guitar sounds displayed on "Libertution." Hints of early Built to Spill (circa There's Nothing Wrong With Love) also emerge on the engaging, low-wattage "I've Got Other Things to Do" and a few other tracks that briefly rise above the gloom. Lenz's versatile-yet-underwhelming voice makes for some difficult listening, especially when he goes into confessional whisper mode.

While this self-produced recording is technically sound and packed with some beautifully sad bits, it's hard not to think of Vilelenz and Thieves as a rough draft for a much better album that could've been made with a sympathetic yet disciplined producer who might've guided Lenz and schooled him that less can be more, that his lyrics need more poetry and less prose, and that he should try to take a step back and examine the pain he's feeling instead of simply inflicting it on the rest of us. Absent such a figure, those of us who listen to this album must endure Lenz's numbness, which is something better heard about than actually heard.

by Steve Gozdecki

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