Good Old Boys
I know this is Randy Newman's record about the south, so this is a cheesy thing to say, but: Oh my god! This album is perfect to listen to when you're driving around Mississippi and Alabama. Just perfect.
My new theory: If we didn't know who Elenor Friedberger was, and the Fiery Furnaces didn't exist, we would hear this record and go completely bonkers. 'A genius' we'd say. 'A true auteur'. The more I listen to it, the more things start to gel a bit, and it is a succulent gel. More than anything, it's about the lyrics. And I guess that's a big part of the FF's, too, the lyrics. But she's writing from reality here, instead of her usual fiery furnace flights of fancy. Real honest shit. Street shit. "Her mom went blind with the third baby / oh shit that's crazy." Oh, and did I ever mention I sat by her once at a Jon Brion concert? Totally did.
Rich, lush, and soulful to a degree that the Fiery Furnaces don't often reach, but lacking, with the exception of two, maybe three songs, the level of perfection they are capable of. Still, I'd choose to listen to this 100 times over before trying to sit through Matthew Friedgerber's solo record any time soon.
An uninteresting sequence of events* led me to sit and listen to "The Unforgiven II" this evening, for the fist time in a long time. A very long time (for as much as I love and defend Load, even I have to admit that ReLoad is total B-squad material.) My first impression: Not bad! It still holds up as being a very nice little song, some good vocal lines, good guitar parts, and it ties in to the original "Unforgiven" without coming off as tacky or disrespectful. All in all a great effort. My second impression: Oh my god is that Autotune??? Seriously, on a handful of the harmony parts, and maybe one or two pieces of the lead vocal, I heard the distinct remnants of Autotuning; vocals that are just a bit too smooth and perfectly-pitched to actually be James Hetfield singing live. I mean, this album came out in 1997, so it's borderline. I know Cher's "Believe" was the first mega hit to openly use it, but that was 98. A quick check says Autotune was originally released in 97, so it's possible. It's just crazy to think about, since back then we never would've noticed it; it simply wasn't something people did. Now, where most (probably every) Top 40 pop hits are swimming in Autotune, it's far easier to distinguish real and fake. And when I listened to the Metallica track, I swear it was Autotune. Very weird. Makes me want to go back to other songs from back then and see if it's hiding anywhere else.
* (I was skipping through my iTunes randomly, and landed on "The Unforgiven III" from Death Magnetic. I had completely forgotten they tried to stretch this thing into a trilogy. Part III, however, is clearly the black sheep of the group. It's a different key, different tempo, shares none of the lyrical or melodic themes as the first two. It just seems like they named a random song "The Unforgiven III." There's a cello/guitar part at the end that comes from the original, which is nice, but that's all it has going for it.)
Fevers And Mirrors
Conor Oberst was way better back before he was whatever it is he is now. Truth.
On the bright side, this is the best full album Sondre Lerche has put out, maybe ever. The downside to that being, if I was a music rating sort, this thing only about a 6.9 or 7. I get frustrated with this guy, because he's one of the few pop musicians out there with real, hardcore compositional chops. Like, he actually manipulates chord structures. 7ths! 9ths! Augmented 6ths! And I want so much for him to write some classics. He's only done it once, with "Two Way Monologue." And that was seven years ago already. This record has some tracks that are starting to sniff at that level again, but he's still a ways out. Good stuff anyway, though.
David Comes Alive
Finally, an album to put on my shelf in between Fuck and the Fucking Champs, not only alphabetically, but spiritually. But maybe that's pushing it. Anyway, there's a marvelous album squeezed in between the 18 tracks here, a thing of beauty, a classic. But unfortunately there's just too damn much of it. The first 6-7 songs here are truly remarkable, in the sense that I want to remark about them. And so I will: This is obviously a hardcore band (their singer, at his weakest, sounds like Dicky Barrett at his strongest), but it's also obvious that the guy writing and arranging this music has very little interest in hardcore. Incredible chordal interplay; not chord 'progressions,' per say, but almost a jazz-like willingness to let two guitars break free of each other every once in a while. They have three guitarists in the band, and they treat them more like the two hands of a pianist than an all-out assault. Don't get me wrong, this isn't Deerhoof or something, this is still punk rock. It's also 18 damn tracks long, each one of them sounding like a finale. Newsom-like levels of patience testing. After those first 7 tracks, I started getting ancy. Hoping for just 5 minutes of acoustic something, or some other reprieve from the pounding and hollering. Then I spent the last half hour of it thinking it was ready to finish. And it never did. I think it's still going right now. Which is fine, really, because the average of those 18 tracks is one really awesome one.
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Tedeschi Trucks Band
This album makes you think someone opened up a Famous Daves inside of a Starbucks. And yet "Midnight In Harlem" is looking more and more like my Summer Jam of 2011. It's just so pleasant!
Wild Mood Swings
I'm no Cure purist (Curist?), never was never will be. So that leaves me, unlike the legions of 30/40-somethings raised on Disintegration and Boys Don't Cry, open and unafraid to claim that Wild Mood Swings is an incredible album. I've been saying that since 1996, albeit not as confidently as I do now, since I was just a snotty high schooler who didn't give enough of a shit about The Cure to care to make an honest comparison. But here, 15 years later, I'm blown away by the pure energy and composition of these songs. It sounds entirely unique to itself, and its clear that everyone involved in its creation was truly passionate about it. "Mint Car"! By god! You can't fake that! There is a cheesiness to the whole thing, a sort of embarrassing earnestness that is easy to make fun of, but also admirable. It's as if they completely ignored not only what was popular in 1996, but what made them popular in 1986, and just made the best music they could. Yet here it sits with only 3 stars on AllMusicGuide, lost and forgotten by most everyone, it seems. I mean, I've never actually spoken to a Cure fan about it, but I can imagine.
Major disappointment with Gloss Drop so far. Everything I'd read leading up to it gave me the feeling I would love it, as everything I disliked about Mirrored (i.e. the vocals) are gone. But right now it sounds like the same song on repeat. Pretty boring. I also have to note that the packaging design is awesome, and totally stealing the concept I've had for record packaging for like 8 years now (although Wilco's A Ghost Is Born nearly did the same thing). I'll try it tomorrow with headphones, though.
Sky Blue Sky
Can't sleep. Dwelling on the fact that music critics continue to belittle Sky Blue Sky as being one of Wilco's 'lesser works.' No, no, no, no, no. I just read some review that half-bashed the new My Morning Jacket record (while still liking it), and comparing it unfavorably to Sky in this joking, sort of snotty manner. I mean, geez, if you're going to compare the new MMJ record to Wilco records, the obvious choice should be Wilco The Album. Sky is way more in line with It Still Moves, people. And Z is Summerteeth and At Dawn is Being There and they have no Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Get it right, you nincompoops!
Everyone always talks about "Atlas," and how it's "obviously" the "best" thing Battles has ever done, and how it's the "only" "fully formed" thought on Mirrored. Well I whole-heartedly disagree. "Race: In", people. So much better than Atlas, which is at its heart sounds like Mike Patton doing a throw-away remix of Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People." Seriously, listen to it. Race:In, meanwhile, is flawless. Anyway, their new album comes out tomorrow, and everyone's saying it's better than Mirrored, but those same people also like Atlas. So weeeeeee'll see.
The Crane Wife
Get this: The Crane Wife is actually pretty great. Wow. I guess I couldn't really appreciate it until I lived with the Hazards Of Love monstrosity for a couple years. Well played, Meloy.
Goddammit why can't Outakast just put out some new music already!!?
Speakers? No. Headphones? Better. Either way, you're likely to forget every song on this album before you've heard the next one. Rough one, Gruff.
A bunch of noisy bullshit from a man otherwise capable of pure melodic sublimity (or, rather, the sublimely melodic). Can you feel my disappointment?
Gang Gang Dance
Gang Gang Dance
I'm digging* this new Gang Gang Dance record, despite the fact that they are on my long list of bands I passed off as Mid-2000s-Blog-Buzz-Bullshit. This was mostly because they are called "Gang Gang Dance," an embarrassingly cliche early 2000s Bullshit-Buzz-Blog combination of repeated words and a reference to dancing. And while they're not going to win any songwriting awards any time soon, I have to admit that Eye Contact sounds pretty sweet. Vintage synths and live drumming, carefully recorded and tastefully arranged. Sure, why not. It sounds like a sweet Battles dance club jam. A new singer would be welcomed, however.
* I totally never say "digging." Ever.
Three things: 1.) This is not the classic album you think it is. Lots of filler. 2). Production is pretty sloppy. Definitely a speakers album, not a headphones album. Hum engineered circles around this. and 3.) I don't know what if any acclaim Jimmy Chamberlin gets in the drumming world, but I think he is one of the best. Ever. I like what Corgan was doing, of course, but Chamberlin brought it all to the next level. His drum parts in just about every Pumpkins song harmonize with the guitar, rather than simply pushing a rhythm. It's beautiful to listen to, really, and the only comparison I can make, again, is Hum. If only Billy would've taken some extra time to mic the guy a little better.
It's not bad, in the sense that no Low album will (or can) ever be bad, but C'mon does not excite me in the same way as The Great Destroyer or Sparhawk's recent Retribution Gospel Choir work. I have huge respect for their music and take pride in their Minnesota-ness, but on a fundamental, primal level, I think I just like Low better when they rock.
Until recently my only experience with Van Morrison is the classic "Brown Eyed Girl" / "Moondance" stuff. Sweet and catchy and all, but whatever. And then, randomly and unexpectedly, KEXP played "The Way Young Lovers Do" last week. And suddenly I see why people love Van Morrison. Astral Weeks, at least. This whole record is just a big sloppy pile of soul. I doesn't seem to demand close scrutiny, but from a distance it's a pretty flawless recording; the backing musicians are feeling it, and Van is doing whatever it is he does that makes us think he knows a heck of a lot more than we do. I can't make out half the words, and my throat hurts just listening to it, but soul, man. Soul.
Pandemonium Shadow Show
Is it official? Can I be a Nilsson fan now? I finally own (sort of) a copy of Pandemonium Shadow Show (sort of). Sort of. I know I could've downloaded it on iTunes or anywhere else a two years ago, and I could've ordered the record off Ebay a dozen times by now. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. It's just no fun! Where's the thrill of the search? Well the search ended this evening (sort of), when I found a German import of a CD containing Pandemonium, Aerial Ballet, and that dual record Aerial Pandemonium Ballet. It's the fist time I've found any version of it, so I had to snatch it up. So sue me. Anyway, I just gave it a passive listen, and it's as great as could be expected. Although at at the moment I'd claim that Aerial is a better record, there are plenty of amazing things happening here. Not the least of which is his take on the Beatles' "You Can't Do That," which is sort of an achievement all its own. His use of other Beatles melodies inside of the main song's arrangement makes Jon Brion's use of Nilsson songs in his version of "One" that much more perfect. I couldn't be happier. Except, you know, if it was the actual record and not a bargain basement German kompelateon.
Here I am listening to to Augie March's Strange Bird, already seven years since I first heard it. And my opinion of it hasn't diminished one bit, my opinion being that it is magnificent. Yet in these seven years I haven't seen a single review, a single news story, or a single mention of Augie March on any of my usual online music haunts. Or Rolling Stone, or whatever. Kills me. Totally kills me. On the flipside, it seems that they're huge in Australia. To the point that Australian music writers decry them for selling out. Which blows my mind, because nobody in this hemisphere has even heard their name.
At The Drive In
At The Drive In
Relationship of Command
I liked Mars Volta*, and I liked Sparta*, and yet the thought of At The Drive In always bugged me. Too... punk? Too punk. But here I am, ready to admit I was wrong. This shit is pretty sweet.
(* At first, that is.)
Belle and Sebastian
Belle and Sebastian
Jonathan David EP
In finding a beautiful vinyl copy of Belle and Sebastian's "Jonathan David" EP (and Panda Bear's Person Pitch and The Smiths' Strangeways and Meat Is Murder and a couple Replacements albums and some legit old Beatles records and a pristine copy of Nilsson Schmilsson, with poster), I'm officially ready to admit that, by god, the Half Price Books in Highland Park is actually a great place to find records. And schizophrenics.
The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats
All Eternals Deck
Hmm. Not feeling it yet. I'll let you know.
Recipe For Hate
I don't want this to be one of those, "Man I haven't listened to Recipe For Hate in ages and I just did and it's amazing," because, as a whole, it's not. About half of it is pretty bad. 20% is good but forgettable Bad Religion. But that leaves you with 4-5 tracks that are not only fun and cool and exciting, but have a very particular sound that is unique to Recipe For Hate. "Kerosene," "Man On A Mission," "Skyscraper"... I have no reference point for some of this stuff. No other Bad Religion album ever touched some of the musical and sonic tones that some of these songs did, much less any album by anyone else ever. And no, I'm not saying it's a work of genius or classic album or anything, but just--that pedal steel is pretty sweet.
One part Jamey Lidell, one part Antony, sifted through that one Bon Iver song with the autotune, thrown shattered on the floor and glued back together as the exact inverse of what it originally was. Incredible, actually, not just as a music recording, but as a piece of work that (nearly) lives up to its impossible hype.
Found two copies of Omnibus at the St. Vincent De Paul thrift store for, like, $0.60. Tariko, as if y'all don't know, is Colin Meloy's old band from his college days in Montana. I never bothered buying it in the last five years when Kill Rock Stars released it, being that it's an old band, before his prime, not really meant to be heard by me. And most of the reviews I read on it were luke warm at best, calling it generic college rock, bar rock, frat rock, all that stuff. To which I can only respond, "Well... maybe?" It's rough around the edges and maybe only about three-fourths baked, but still: This is Colin Meloy. If you tried to convince me these were old Decemberists demos, you wouldn't have to do much convincing. His voice and songwriting, at least melody-wise, were already shaping up soundly. The only real drawbacks are the sometimes ham-fisted performances (this is a frat band, afterall), and the fact that the lyrics aren't about wharfingers and whipperins. Otherwise, shit. I have no problem with anything happening on any part of this two-disc collection. I'm glad I finally got it. And you can too, as the second copy of it is probably sitting at that thrift store right now. It's on Lake and Chicago. Good deals on old 4H trophies, too!
Smoke Ring For My Halo
Growing on me. Growing. I realized that despite its monotone grayness, its downbeat lack of fidelity, Smoke Ring is, deep down, a headphones album. That is to say: don't even try to listen to it out of your laptop speakers. Headphones. And a clear mind. And try not to focus too much on the singing.
Several Shades of Why
I've been excited about this one to come out, but it's hard to maintain that excitement when it's... just... so... slow.... There will probably be a night this Spring or Summer when I put this on and everything clicks into place, the light going on, so to speak. But for now I will be patient with it and take solace in the fact that there's always Farm.
Automatic For The People
After years (decades?) of hearing "Everybody Hurts" coming out of tape players, MTV, FM radio, dramatic TV shows, gum commercials, grocery store speakers, Chris Farley movies, Applebees restaurants, and my own subconscious, I am just now sitting and listening to it, patiently and consciously, in a good pair of headphones. It's fun to do that sometimes, you know. Actually pay attention to music. And it makes an incredible difference. What I felt for years was an overblown, hyper-emotional ballad, sounds humble and quiet. The famous guitar arpeggios is nearly equaled in the left channel by an organ, which you can barely hear in any radio mix. It's really a pleasant little song. Plus, and this really gets me... this is practically an Otis Redding song! Listen to it. Imagine Otis moaning "When day is long..." Perfect, right? It could stand up right next to "These Arms Of Mine" and "Pain In My Heart." And when they hit that F# and the drums come in on the bridge? Awesome.
The Best of Gloucester County
I would've loved this back in 2002, then hated it two years later. But as for 2011, I thought I'd love it, but am finding myself at odds with it. Like Danielson is purposefully distancing itself from me so I can never fully grasp what's happening. "People's Partay" is fun, though, if completely impossible to get down to.
Smoke Ring For My Halo
A couple years ago I heard the song "Freeway," by Kurt Vile. I tapped my toe and bobbed my head and said "I like this Kurt Vile. I must find more." And so I did. And none of it was as good as "Freeway." Three or four albums came and went, and still nothing that did for me what that song did. In fact very little of it was even in the same genre. And now Smoke Ring For My Halo comes out, supposedly bringing him back to the energy that made "Freeway" great. But it too just disappoints me. I wish I could say otherwise.
Anyone who says Pink Floyd was better with Syd Barrett is an idiot.
There should be a rule where at least once a year everyone should have to take out their copy of Agaetis Byrjun and remember how fyrking amazing it is and how much better it is than anything else ever. And also, once someone invents a time machine, we all need to go back to 2002 and string together a mousetrap-esque series of calamities which force Sigur Ros to disappear, Jeff Mangum style, into relative obscurity while the mystique of Agaetis slowly grows over time to become legendary, instead of simply classic.
And finally, my six year quest to purchase a Shugo Tokumaru album is complete. Ever since Night Piece garnered a bunch of highly respectable reviews back in 2005, each successive Tokumaru album has hit me with equal amounts of intrigue and frustration; each one is more critically praised than the last, and yet not a single record store seems to carry the damn things. So now that Port Entropy finally got its US release, I've been going from store to store trying to find it (God forbid I order it online, right?), and finally scored a lone copy at the Uptown Cheapo, of all places. And only one listen in, I already wish I hadn't missed these last five years of Shugomania. In short: Damn this guy's good! "Sufjan Stevens meets Cornelius," yes, yes. That is obvious. But the first three songs on here made me want to weep with joy.
Aerial Pandemonium Ballet
So first of all it turns out that there's a record store on Nicollet and 30-somethingth called Yeti Records. Who knew? I was on a bus the other day and saw it out the window as we drove by, and was shocked enough that I yanked on the cable and got off at the next stop. It turns out to not be the best place ever, comparable to Shuga Records up in Northeast. But they did have Nilsson's Aerial Pandemonium Ballet, which isn't rare or anything, but I don't see it all that often, so I picked it up. It's an odd record; a combination of his first two releases put together onto two sides of a single record. I never really wanted it before, but recently found it that the tracks are actually re-recordings, alternate takes and remixes of the original. And that's fun. That is all.
The Fiery Furnaces
The Fiery Furnaces
Im Going Away
Good golly, I practically forgot that this record existed! And danged if it isn't a fun little listen.
First you're like, "Hey, this Doug Paisley guy is pretty good." And then a few songs pass and you stop paying attention until you find yourself thinking, "Hey, this is a pretty good Will Oldham album."
Nevermind. This tops Iron & Wine after all.
Ooh, this is a tough one. But I think Iron And Wine wins the January 25th Showdown of Thoughtful Singer Songwriters Earnestly Invoking 1970s Soft Rock Cliches On Their New Albums. This is still a pretty sweet record, though. And track seven, "Downtown," totally apes the theme to Twin Peaks.
Iron and Wine
Kiss Each Other Clean
The songs aren't necessarily his best, but the instrumental arrangements on this record are a thing of beauty. 70s AM rock radio tropes are everywhere, and yet none of it comes off as cheesy or novel. Raunchy sax, raunchy flute, the occasional Rhodes solo, all of it somehow melts together into a sound that remains 100% Iron And Wine. This one may or may not stand the test of time, but you have to give him credit right off the bat for doing it right.
Deerhoof Vs Evil
On a superficial level, this is the kind Deerhoof album I've been waiting for. Mellow, layered, unique, but still undeniably Deerhoofian. Yet here I sit, only two songs to go, unmoved. Oh well. I'm not too concerned, considering Deerhoof and I have an every-other-album kind of relationship, and Offend Maggie was possibly their best work. Next time, then.
The King Is Dead
What's funny is that the more I've listened to this album in the last few days, it hit me that this "new" "radio friendly" version of the Decemberists is actually closer to their very first EP, 5 Songs, than any of their ensuing full lengths. I could easily imagine an alternate universe where The King Is Dead was the major label debut of the band after some A&R guy discovered 5 Songs, as if the intervening seven years never happened, and "My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist" was just a one-off novelty, as opposed to the basis for the rest of their career. Also funny, when you listen to King and 5 Songs back to back is how the Decemberists have taken a similar route as Belle And Sebastian in transforming themselves from scrappy amateurs to impeccable studio vets; they may be the same band, but by god they can actually play their instruments now.
Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten
All Zoe Deschanel bashing aside, this Sharon Van Etten seems to be the real deal. Which is to say she actually makes music. She plays confidently, sings earnestly, and best of all, writes melodies that can only be called Sharon Van Etten-esque. And the more I listen to and muse about music ("of the populist ethos," to quote Moby), I feel like that's really 90% of the battle. Every melodic line moves towards a predictable end, but blows right by it and keeps going for another 4 or 8 beats and makes you realize you don't know shit. By the way: My top albums of 2010 list? Updated.
Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten
Aaahh, so this is who Zoe Deschanel is desperately trying to be!
The King Is Dead
A breath of fresh air after Hazards of Love and The Crane Wife, that is for sure. Easily their most earnest work yet, albeit not nearly their best. A little overkill on the harmonica and pedal steel, as well. But still good. Good. As odd as it sounds, however, I'm struck by a feeling that this could very well be the last Decemberists album. I have no reason to believe that, and please don't go around giving them any ideas, but something about the vibe here makes me think that they've hit that, "Okay, we've accomplished everything and maybe it's time to move on" point. If I was in the band, I wouldn't know where to go from here. They did the build up to the prog rock opera (uh, twice), and now are doing the solid country rock studio band thing. Where else do they go? Their separate ways, that's where. Don't say I didn't warn you.
I didn't even know Trish Keenan's name before today, when the news of her death appeared all over those particular parts of the internet that would notice such an event. I only knew her as the voice of Broadcast, a band who I've had great respect for since 2003, despite only owning one of their albums, Haha Sound. Broadcast is a great example of how experimentation and noise manipulation in music need not happen at the cost of melody. Broadcast is a band that sounds like no one else but Broadcast, and Trish Keenan's voice was integral to that sound. But the thought of this previously-nameless woman dying of something as prosaic as pneumonia, while on tour with her band, makes me sad. Because when someone like Elliott Smith goes, you at least know he'll have a legacy. When a Jeff Buckley or Nick Drake dies, they leave behind classic recordings that will create fans for decades. But I just feel like that sort of posthumous acclaim isn't in the cards for someone like Keenan and Broadcast, an anonymity in death that makes it that much harder to stomach.
Marrow of the Spirit
This record is getting shit tons of positive press in the admittedly shallow end of the heavy metal world that I sometimes dip my toes into. People calling it "Metal album of the year" with little if any reserve, handing it golden statues and sacrificing mammals in its name. It is, it would seem, a sensation. And yet when I listen to it, all I can think is how Agalloch, the Metal Band Of The Year, and each and every one of their metal peers (black, death, thrash, prog, or otherwise), are about 15 years behind Opeth. Hurry up, dudes, you're about to get lapped.
Showroom of Compassion
This new Cake album might be good, but I can't tell, because it was engineered and mastered by a trained bear. A very noble achievement for a trained bear, I will admit, but this particular trained bear apparently took little interest in the crispness or clarity of the recording.