The House Popes
Geography, the second album by Akron's House Popes, has a little bit of everything — from saxophone to social commentary — and sounds like a living-room friends-and-family jam. Vintage post-punk and new wave breeze through the party. "Can't Go Back" interpolates R.E.M., and "The Way You Looked at Me," with its early Cure vibe, is an unplugged pogo-fest. Michael Graham dispatches a mandolin on "Makeup Lines," and by "Texas," the group has slowed down to uncut folk. A funky unplugged solo on acoustic rocker "When Does It End?" deserves a happier topic — it takes a scathing look at super-sized America and its recently deposed CEO. "Matt Dillon" is a gentler look at the manifest-destiny experience, with a sundown theme from the not-so-wild West. — D.X. Ferris
Ricky Lives! paints a disturbingly hilarious portrait of a copycat killer dressed like Santa Claus. Songs like "Red Is the Color" peek into the psyche of a madman obsessed with blood and the color red. On "The First Time I Died," Caldwell sings whimsically over a piano riff about finding his latest victim. Moments of haunting beauty come courtesy of sweeping guitar chords and deep bass tones. The digital altering of Caldwell's voice creates some amazing a cappella moments. The satirical lyrics lend a bizarre and experimental feel to Caldwell's music, but work this interesting deserves introspective words. Instead of getting lost in the cartoon samples and melodic guitars, listeners should pay attention to the lyrics.
— Liss Vickery