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:

Apr 132007

"Better find yourself a place to level out"

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One reason why Metacritic.com is frustrating is because it’s a great idea, in theory, but their methodology of reducing a composite of reviews to a single score is a bit simplistic. All the ways in which it is simplistic is a rant for another day. I really only mention that so that I have a way to explain why the metacritic scores for the latest Hilary Duff album and the latest Bright Eyes album are, as of right now, equal, with both albums scoring a tepid 73. Can it really be that the music review community thinks that Dignity and Cassadaga are really works of similar merit? And what’s worse, the user reviews have Hilary Duff rated much better than Bright Eyes. I’m prepared to turn my artistic elitism up to 11 on that score and just say the users are idiots, but it does raise the interesting question of what, exactly, is a person doing when they qualitatively evaluate a piece of art like an album?

Of course the easy response to this is simply that taste is everything and, perhaps, I’m deceiving myself if I think that there’s any real, objective, qualitative difference between the two albums. But can’t an album as devoid of musical or lyrical content as Dignity be said to be actually inferior to a rich, engaging, musically interesting album like Cassadaga? Or are any comparisons we make simple subjective expressions of taste? I mean, if the latter is the case and no one really can make qualitative artistic judgements, then what’s the point of reviews in the first place?

Or perhaps there’s a more subtle, compatibalist argument to made: that the quality of an artistic work can be assessed in an intersubjective fashion, with people assessing it based not on strictly personal, but rather on cultural, social, traditional or some other grounds. It’s subjective in the sense that it’s not some sort of empirical, strong-evaluative measurement or judgment, but it’s also not simply a radical, “I-think-this-is-good-and-no-one-else-can-tell-me-otherwise” subjectivity. To take a Gadamerian line, maybe what I’m doing when I review music is saying neither “this is an album of a certain quality” or “I liked found this album pleasing to a certain degree” but rather “here’s how I found this album to relate to my sense of the tradition”?

Anyway, I’m still miffed that Duff and Bright Eyes are getting the same kind of mixed reviews over all. Also, in other news, the M. Phil program I’m in is apparently turning me into a full on Philosophy dork.

Mar 212007

Made a few formatting / configuration settings to the blog. Most notably, anonymous commenting is now allowed. I figure making it so people don’t have to register to comment will encourage more people to do so. Here’s hoping anyway.

Thanks for the great response to the project.

In another note, while the pickings for this week’s voting (options in the previous post) were taken from Metacritic’s list of releases for Tues. March 27th, I am well aware that this is nowhere near a complete list of releases. I’m not sure how yet I’ll generate the list of potential albums, but it seems like my options resolve to either a limited listing from a place like Metacritic, or a noisy, overly-complete list from the likes of Billboard.com or something. Alternately, I could plow through a complete, billboard.com-style list and cull out a selection of options myself, but I’d be loath to do that, since I kind of want to keep my biases out of the album selection as much as possible. Half the point of this blog is to get other people to decide my music for me, with the hopes of getting a chance to listen to and critically analyze/review a wide variety of music.

At any rate, I’m hoping to have all the kinks worked out by Tuesday, in time for the first real post.