Music » Local Music

Check your head



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.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.