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Disc of the week: Todd Snider's raw and rootsy wrecking ball

Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables

  • Todd Snider
  • Aimless

"It ain't the despair that gets you, it's the hope" – Todd Snider, Big Finish

Bruce Springsteen has released a protest album, Wrecking Ball. Todd Snider has released something close to one as well. But where Springsteen shouts bigly, fires cannons, and marches toward an unreachable promised land, the troubadour Snider snickers and steps in more humble ways: tennis shoes hung on a telephone wire, smoke signals sent from the far distance – wry, non-sanctimonious gestures from the rough. He tells secrets we hate to know are true. He is a jester's voice of dissent in the kingdom of fear.

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And he gives good song.

On his 12th album proper, the Nashville-based Snider is at his bluesy best, helped greatly by singer-violinist Amanda Shires, who adds moonshine harmony on the ragged-acoustic reworking of West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown, a prickly tune written by Jimmy Buffett (in his Prine).

The other nine tracks are all penned by Snider, a rough-cut Randy Newman. First track In the Beginning is his Book of Genesis. Both an agnostic hymn and a stoner's fable, it starts in a talky way – a half-spoken prelude in the manner of those old dreamy retro-pop radio songs – before stepping into the mud of a downward chord progression, à la Johnny Dowd. Against a dirty chug and Shires's sorrowed fiddle, Snider disrobes the religious and dismisses their self-serving motives: "To think that we would still need religion, to keep the poor from killing the rich.… Who can you trust, if you can't trust me?"

Where Springsteen occupies E Street, Snider inhabits rootsier places. New York Banker has to it a sly twang-swing, with a reverse-karma realization: "Good things happen to bad people."

In Between Jobs boogies lazily and raw-like, and nicks a guitar riff from John Lennon's Well Well Well. Hey, times are tough, right? You gotta do what you gotta do.

If you've read Keith Richards's recent memoir, you might recall that the Rolling Stones survivor's pet nickname for Mick Jagger is Brenda, which is also the name of an easygoing folk-rock ditty here. To hear Snider tell it, the difference between the Glimmer Twins comes down to this: The singer with a head for numbers was born on a Monday morning, and the debauched rock 'n' roll archetype came into being on a Saturday night.

By Too Soon to Tell, Snider is back at his tattered chug, Shires again at his side. You want answers? You're out of luck. All is unknowable. You want assurances? You can't have them. That is Snider's wrecking ball. Pick up the pieces and move along – and do it in the dark, brutha.

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Open Your Heart

  • The Men
  • Sacred Bones
  • 3.5 stars

Classic rock and hardcore punk are like two armies in trenches, stalemated and left staring at each other across a scarred battlefield. The fourth album by Brooklyn's the Men finds them leaping out of hardcore's trenches and throwing a party in no-man's-land, with a raucous jumble of singing and shouting, belligerent anthems and hypnotic instrumentals, and all while genre loyalists on either side take potshots. Both Turn It Around and the title track borrow riffs from punk classics, but the gleefully anarchic way the Men string them together is the band's secret sauce. "Run your nails down my back," they holler in Animal, a trip down a mudslide coated in greasy guitars; "I wanna feel it all." Who needs a single genre when you've got a lust for life? Dave Morris

Wild Lines

  • Mike O’Neill
  • Independent
  • 3.5 stars

It's been eight years since his last solo album – the Halifax singer-songwriter and formerly one-half of the Inbreds had things to do, winning a Gemini for composing among them. He returns with something very much worthwhile: an album of nicely packed power pop and thoughtful, superbly crafted songs written to last. "I'm gonna make a brand-new start," he declares on This Is Who I Am, the Sloan-meets-Zombies opener. In his time off, O'Neill said goodbye to a friend (Colin) and he has learned to breathe. Old Forest is a daydream, a beauty, a hazy jangle of nostalgia. This guy took his time with Wild Lines, and it shows in all of its moments. This is who Mike O'Neill is, right now. Brad Wheeler

Mike O'Neill plays Ottawa, March 10; Toronto's CMW, March 20; Guelph, Ont., March 21; Hamilton, March 22.

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Sounds From Nowheresville

  • The Ting Tings
  • Columbia
  • 2 stars

Are the Ting Tings still a thing-thing? The English duo, which rained sassy pop hits with their 2008 debut album We Started Nothing, has finally released a follow-up, one with an equally nihilistic title. Actually, Sounds From Nowheresville isn't so much a follow-up to We Started Nothing as it is to a sophomore album the band had reportedly recorded in 2010 and later scrapped – it was too one-dimensionally Euro-pop for their liking. And so we have this more eclectic record, relatively speaking: Some ska, some icy synth, some snotty pep-squad cheer and one Bieber-esque ballad. Unfortunately, the goal of stylistic anonymity is too nowhere for its own good. It's a playlist, but not of catchy hits. On the defiant funk-rap of Hang It Up – the Go! Team without the go! – a self-aware Katie White rhymes "People say it's not worth the wait" with "Everybody loves somebody to hate." She's right on both counts. B.W.


  • Vijay Iyer Trio
  • ACT
  • 3.5 stars

Because Western music is prone to a mind/body split that values the intellectual (harmony) over the physical (rhythm), there aren't enough musicians who think deep thoughts about rhythm. Accelerando – which pianist Vijay Iyer describes as "American creative music based on dance rhythms" – is one of the deepest-thinking jazz albums of the season. With selections ranging from the Herbie Nichols chestnut Wildflower to the Michael Jackson hit Human Nature, the trio plays with all sorts of time, and Iyer's playing, which sometimes evokes the soulful groovesmanship of Ahmad Jamal and at others echoes the driving, straight-eight thrum of the Bad Plus's Ethan Iverson, is nothing short of astonishing.

J.D. Considine

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