Aug 062008

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.8.5

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Intro: Okay, well, I’m a little late starting this one (11:53pm), but it’s still Tuesday, so I declare that this still counts as on-time. I’ve got a lot to get through, so I’m just gonna jump right in.

Listening: Well, my progress up through recent musical history’s brought me more or less up to the present. Been listening to some of my favorite 2007/2008 releases (Our Love To Admire FTW!) and even getting around to checking out some new albums and bands to which I’d been meaning to listen.

Speaking of which: why did no one tell me about the Rakes before? Their song “Binary Love” popped up a few times on one of my Pandora stations, so I added it with the hopes of hearing more of their stuff. Well, as so often happens, one thing lead to another and before I knew it, I’d bought Capture / Release and was using it to soundtrack my drive to Helena this last weekend. Honestly, the album isn’t quite as brilliant as I was hoping, but it’s still pretty strong. “Strasbourg”, “22 Grand Job”, and “Work, Work, Work (Pub, Club, Sleep)” are all fun. Also I’m enough of a geek that I’m pretty sure I want “Binary Love” played at my wedding.

I also grabbed The Last Shadow Puppets debut, The Age of the Understatement. It’s more introspective and complex than either Alex Turner or Miles Kane’s previous work. From the lush string parts on “My Mistakes Were Made For You” to the oddly cacophonous vocal counterpoints on “Separate and Ever Deadly” the album’s full of pleasant little aural surprises. I’m not sure what I think of it as a whole quite yet, but I do like it. If you like either complex, novel rock music or are a fan of either Arctic Monkeys or the Rascals, it’s well worth a listen.

I also just picked Conor Oberst’s new self-titled which just came out today. If you haven’t heard the single off it (“Danny Callahan”), it’s available for download here. If you’d prefer to just stream it:

Warning: it’s not exactly a happy tune. It is, however, beautiful and moving. Speaking of the album…

Upcoming: Wow, how did I not know that Oberst’s new release was due out today until I saw it on Amazon’s frontpage? I seriously need some new sources for upcoming release dates. Metacritic is accurate, but woefully incomplete. The Billboard lists are so noisy as to be practically unusable. News sites are, of course, hit or miss, since they all differ in what releases they deem mention-worthy. Where do you folks hear about new releases?

In concert news, Puddle of Mudd are playing Spokane tomorrow (2008.8.6) night, if you’re into that sort of thing. Also, I learn by way of a comment here at the blog that The Shondes are touring this Fall. They’ll be playing several shows over on the coast. (Alas, none here in the Inland Northwest, but that’s nothing new.) If anyone’s interested, I’m seriously considering heading over to catch the Seattle show. Finally, Alt-Country masters Wilco will be playing Spokane on the 21st of this month. They give a GREAT live show, and if I can scrape together the funds, then I’ll definitely be hitting it up.

News: Did you know that Lee Perry is a dirty old man? Neither did I, but his new single “Pum Pum” is pretty much a stoned, dirty old man’s ode to cruising for sex in nightclubs. Wait, why do I say “pretty much”? That’s EXACTLY what it is. It’s also crazy-groovy. The man has a masterful command of the Dub/Raggae side of things.

(Warning: lyrics are not safe for work, beats are not safe for staying still in one’s seat. Download Link. Hat Tip to 3Hive.)

Also, those perpetually catty folks over at PopJustice are right: the new Streets single is pretty disappointing. I won’t go so far as to say that it’s “shite”, as they so eloquently put it, but it’s definitely no “Stay Positive”.

Thinking: So I’m a huge sucker for unique voices. Voices that, after a few listens, anyone could pick out of a audio lineup. Louise Wener, Tom Waites, Robert Smith. I love artists whose voice is entirely their own. It’s a little like hearing an instrument that no one else in the world can play. Paired with a good writing talent (either their own or a partner’s) and the possesors of such voices can turn out some truly brilliant music. (Louise Wener is a great example of that: a fantastic songwriter with the unique voice necessary to really make her songs her own.)

What I think is really interesting is how often these voices wind up either spawning genres or, at least, defying being placed into them. I think that part of the reason that Alt-Country became a big thing is that Billy Bragg and Jeff Tweedy have such unique voices and musical visions to accompany them. Similarly, I think that the current wave of singer-songwriters is thanks in large part to the unique voices of people like Conor Oberst and Ben Gibbard.

I think that the vocal qualities are one of the key things that shapes a new musical movement or genre. It’s why so many singers in the late 90s sounded like bad Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder impersonators. In a way, their voices were distillations of what the genre was meant to sound like.

Just a thought that’s been rattling around in my brain of late.

Song of the Week: I’ve been going back to this tune over and over again ever since I got the album. This is “Orphans”, by Beck, off of Modern Guilt:

May 222007

Wilco, Sky Blue Sky

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Artist: Wilco
Album: Sky Blue Sky
Label: Nonesuch
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.5.15
Score: 8/10

Well, it only took Wilco took 12 years and 8 discs worth of studio material, but they have finally released an album that everyone can enjoy. Sky Blue Sky is, without a doubt, the most accessible Wilco album to date. Gone are the fence-straddling rock/country hybridism of their early work, the oft-surreal art-rock of their work with Billy Bragg, and the noisy experimental sound of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born. What’s left is an album full of genuinely listenable music, spanning the divide between rock and alt-country. Mostly down-tempo and introspective, Sky Blue Sky is an album full of conflict and sorrow, edged with hope and redemption.

This broad thematic description is probably best instantiated in the album’s title track. Soft slide guitars and brushed snares punctuate a pleasant, jaunty lead guitar line and support the rather hopeless lyrics (“Oh I didn’t die / I should be satisfied / I survived / that’s good enough for now.”) This kind juxtaposition of a pleasant, happy melody with such sorrowful lyrics is an effect which is hard to pull off, but which Wilco have really mastered and show it off in several places on the album. “Shake It Off” features a sly major melody paired with lines like “A ceiling fan is on / Chopping up my dreams.” “Hate It Here” wraps lyrical heartbreak (“I try to stay busy / I take out the trash, I sweep the floor / try to keep myself occupied / ’cause I know you don’t live here anymore”) in the kind of slightly-bluesy rock groove which is more often found in songs about love than about heartbreak.

Sky Blue Sky is, however, far from being a one trick pony. Fans of the rock of the 70s will definitely hear its influence throughout the album, throughout which a solid, down-tempo rock feel predominates. (The guitar solo at the end of “Side with the Seeds” is Eagles-ish enough to give me flashbacks. A feat, considering I wasn’t actually yet alive in the 70s.) The opening track, “Either Way”, has an almost Cat Stevens feel to it, with busy, hooky accoustic guitar and a decidedly folk tinge to its classic rock sound.

The price that’s paid for this accessibility is that it’s a decidedly flatter album than some of Wilco’s other work. One gets the feel that, while they’ve not heard these songs before, they’ve heard enough like them that the album isn’t going to really surprise them. And it doesn’t, particularly. It lacks a lot of the highs (“Hummingbird”, “Poor Places”, in my book) and lows (“Dash 7”, “All You Fascists”) that a listener could find in the band’s previous work.

Wilco has, once again, delivered a great record full of wistful melancholy, sorrow, and hope. And while they’ve left behind quite a bit of what many people think of as being quintessentially “Wilco”, they’ve simultaneously gained a level of accessibility that a great deal of their other music, while brilliant, simply didn’t have. This is precisely why, if you’ve missed the last decade plus of Wilco music, this is probably the best place to start. It’s not only rewarding to listen to, but also easy. I’m fairly confident that most people will find many songs on here that they enjoy listening to them, and quite a few even that will speak to them.

As for longtime Wilco fans, it’s a great record, but depending on one’s taste, it may be a bit of a let down. It’s got great replay value, but it’s not going to kick Yankee Hotel Foxtrot out of rotation, by any means. And while it’s a pleasant listen, it lacks the flashes of brilliance that I found on A Ghost is Born and A.M. and which really hooked me on the band. That being said, I definitely recommend picking it up. It’s not as daring as previous Wilco records, but that’s not entirely a bad thing.