As half of the Flat Duo Jets, Dexter Romweber shaped the contemporary music scene by bearing a heavy influence on acts like the White Stripes, My Morning Jacket, and the Black Keys. On Ruins of Berlin, his first outing as the Dex Romweber Duo (he’s joined here by his sister, Sara, on drums), Romweber attempts to stake his own claim to relevance. On the album’s best moments, such as the surf-pop-inflected instrumental “Cigarette Party” and psychobilly romp “Lookout” (on which Southern Culture on the Skids’s guitarist Rick Miller provides some killer duet riffs), he displays both the frenetic energy that was the Flat Duo Jets’s trademark and also a jazz composer’s knack for inspired improvisation. Working within a framework of blues minimalism, with most tracks built upon guitar and percussion arrangements, Romweber finds ample room to experiment with genre forms in ways that are every bit as forward-thinking and innovative as what Jack White and Dan Auerbach routinely perform. If his vocal ability isn’t of the same caliber or efficacy as his guitar-slinging, some choice collaborators pick up the slack: Exene Cervenka’s throaty growl on “Lonesome Train” brings a sense of melancholy to otherwise cliché lyrics, and Neko Case’s signature country torch-singer phrasing on “Still Around” is perhaps the album’s high point. Even Cat Power’s robotic, nasal drone on “Love Letters” works in context, providing a counterpoint to Romweber’s somewhat affected, campy delivery. Though his lyrics are underwhelming, his smart choice in collaborators and inventive instrumental cuts like “Polish Work Song” and “Grey Skies” more than compensate, making Ruins of Berlin both a testament to Romweber’s ongoing influence and a compelling record in its own right.
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