Music Edition 2007, Part II

Here are the results. (Here‘s the introduction; sorry it’s taken me a while.) I still need to listen to albums by the following artists: Stars of the Lid, Babyshambles, Iron & Wine, Radiohead, Twilight Sad, James Murphy (Fabric Live), Dinosaur Jr., Dirty Projectors, Supersilent, the Daft Punk live album, and that After Dark compilation. (I heard my roommate play the Bjork album once. It sounded better than everyone claimed.) I decided to value relevance to comprehensiveness here; if I waited to give all of the albums released this year a proper listen and write-up, you’d be reading about Glass Candy during Barack Obama’s inauguration speech.

I did the same thing in my film list, so I might as well do it here, even though it’s kind of mean. I haven’t heard the albums listed above, and I doubt I’ll go out of my way to hear this year’s releases by: Miranda Lambert, the Shins, Sunset Rubdown, Lupe Fiasco, Amy Winehouse, Grinderman, Patty Griffin, Arctic Monkeys, Modest Mouse, and that Robert Plant duet album. No offense. I wouldn’t walk out of the room if the new White Stripes album was playing, but I’m not going to strain myself to acquire it.

I’m about to make some aesthetic judgments. If you didn’t already know: to each his own, there’s no accounting for taste, de gustibus non disputandum, chacun à son goût. Just because I like or dislike an album, it doesn’t follow that you’ll like or dislike it. And if you do like or dislike it, that doesn’t mean I think you’re a no-good moron with bad taste. (You’ll have to excuse the occasional sassy dig; it comes with the territory.) The appreciation of an artist demands certain qualities. Some demand patience. Some require an iron will. Some demand a sense of the macabre or a tolerance for intolerance. Taste is not simply what you listen to and what you shun, or what you claim to like and what you condemn, but the time you devote to an artist even if he or she doesn’t appeal to you at first listen. To have good taste today is to have broad taste, compassionate taste. (Although that doesn’t mean that those dudes that only know everything about Japanese acid-rock aren’t the coolest dudes ever.)

I have listened to the albums I don’t like more than the albums I like, which is why I’ve written less about them. Unless I feel an imperative to listen to an album I don’t enjoy, two plays through is usually sufficient. I altered my habits slightly for this list in order to make more informed judgments, but I should listen more to all the albums in the first section. I’ve sacrificed quality for expediency. My apologies to those artists.

Constellation Prize:

. . .I originally had snarky comments for all of these, but it seemed wholly destructive. So, instead: know that I didn’t hear in any of these albums enough reasons to want to listen to them more than a few times. You might, however. And I liked some individual tracks, which you can see after I post the Gold albums.

Band of Horses, Cease to Begin
Menonema, Friend and Foe
Okkervil River, The Stage Names
Magik Markers, Boss
Wilco, Sky Blue Sky
Feist, The Reminder
Patrick Wolf, The Magic Position
Blonde Redhead, 23
Earth, Hibernaculum
!!!, Myth Takes
St. Vincent, Marry Me
Liars, Liars
Ricardo Villalobos, Fabric 36
Les Savy Fav, Let’s Stay Friends

Bronze:

Arcade Fire, Neon Bible – Did you see the movie Garden State? I didn’t. But my understanding is that at one point Zach Braff said ‘The Shins will change your life’ and then everyone on the internet made fun of him. Arcade Fire’s 2004 album, Funeral, did change my life. I gave myself completely to its emotion and majesty. (I listened to ‘In the Backseat’ the other day. Better than ever!) But Neon Bible is too magisterial. When I was seven years old, the greatest musical moment in the world was Billie Joel’s exasperated build to ‘What else do I have to say?!’ in ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire.’ I used to dance on the couch and jump off when he yelled that. Maybe I lost something valuable, but my taste has mellowed since then. Why do music listeners often appear to believe that volume is proportional to quality? Is Blue the only aurally intimate album in the popular canon? I’m not saying that’s misguided; there’s something awe-inspiring about magnitude. (Aren’t cathedrals designed to exaggerate their congregation’s insignificance?) Maybe I’m just an agoraphobic misanthrope, but do you really prefer NB‘s ‘No Cars Go’ to the EP version? I was worried aout AF’s progression as soon as someone (er, everyone) compared them to Bruce Springsteen. I assume their reputation and sound will keep expanding until they can fill a stadium (maybe literally). The best moment of the album, one of my favorite moments of the year, really, is Régine’s introduction to ‘Black Wave/Bad Vibrations.’ Talk about unorthodox changes! I didn’t know chords could be that minor; it sounds like a foreign language. Also, props to Win’s first verse on ‘My Body is a Cage’ (until the organ kicks in, and I love organs). I still love and cheer for this band, even if our interests have deviated.

Black Moth Super Rainbow, Dandelion Gum – I hope no one’s offended by my occasional use of the phrase, ‘to be gay for something.’ I reserve it for a Grinch-finding-Christmas joy that I’m unable to isolate. This band is a great example. The break down in ‘Forever Heavy’ just gays me into orbit. Their sound is limited, though, and a whole album is a little wearying, but I’ll definitely keep tabs on these guy. N.B., this is Simon Reynolds’ (the guy that coined the term ‘post-rock’) favorite album of 2007. Weird.

Studio, West Coast – Who the hell are these guys? This compilation of vinyl-only releases came out in late 2006, I think, and I didn’t hear their official release this year. I guess they’re Swedish, which would explain why a few of the tracks are so awesome (cf. every single band from Sweden). Do DJs play ‘West Coast’ where you live? They don’t here, either. It’s lame when a DJ plays a song he loves that no one else knows (and then shouts all the words and fiddles with the knobs as if to convince us that, no, really, it’s awesome) but if I was a DJ, I would be screaming and twiddling like a moron during that track.

Clientele, God Save the Clientele – I know I complain about vanilla indie rock, but I still love The Clientele. They were the first band I saw play when I moved to New York (after chugging a bottle of wine with my friend Theo in a cafeteria bathroom), so my nostalgia might be trumping my critical faculties here. Suburban Light continues to be one of the best releases of the decade, but that bruised, bittersweet ambiance has since given way to a cheery-jaunt-through-the-foothills tone I’m rarely in the mood to hear (cf. late Belle and Sebastian). Not everyone matures into a darker sound (Tom Waits, Scott Walker), but I wish the Clientele would keep their edge a little longer. . . and sharper.

Grizzly Bear, Friend EP – There’s an Onion headline that reads, ‘Will Smith: The Black Man Everyone At Work Can Agree On.’ Grizzly Bear is the indie rock band everyone can agree on. When they’re mentioned, you just have to nod like, ‘Yea, those guys.’ Last year’s Yellow House continues to grow in stature (I was rocking out to ‘Knife’ last night), and if this EP is suggestive of what they’re planning to drop next year, they’re likely to become one of the most cherished bands of this generation.

Fiery Furnaces, Widow City – Matt Friedberger, stop abusing us. You’re uncompromising. You’re moody. You’re a tortured perfectionist who doesn’t care if no on wants to hear your grandma sing. We get it! You’re an artist! Bravo. Now please pay a little more attention to something called ‘quality control.’ Do you listen to your albums in the studio and say, ‘No, this is too good. Can you patch in six minutes of mediocre meandering right there?’ Would it really betray your art spirit to keep your instrument-of-the-week jams private? (Don’t change a thing about Blueberry Boat, though.) I occasionally have a scary thought: what if all this bitching to artists about how to make their albums better is fundamentally wrongheaded? Shouldn’t we just appreciate albums as flawed artifacts of an artist? (Sort of a musical auteur theory, if you will.) Until I accept that the strive for perfection is meaningless, though: Matt, get a second opinion.

Ghostface Killah, Big Do Rehab – You know that episode of the Simpson’s where Homer punches the television and says, ‘Stupid TV, be more funny!’ Well, Ghostface: be better! It’s unfair to rebuke him for a minor dip in quality, but that’s just the downside of releasing three hip-hop classics in twice as many years. Supreme Clientele, The Pretty Toney Album, Fishscale (I’ll even rep Bulletproof Wallets): these are all among the best albums of the decade, hip-hop or otherwise. Big Doe is still a good listen (esp. ‘Paisley Darts’ and ‘Killa Lipstick’), but it lacks the humor, vision, and batshit production of his heights.

Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedala – What happens when you give a lean, talented songwriter unlimited access to sound? Just let him loose with an orchestra and 50,000 samples to work with? Sometimes it overwhelms him (cf. Nick Drake’s Bryter Later), but sometimes he flourishes. Jens here is like Tom Hanks in Big at F.A.O. Schwartz. Not every string and horn is effective, and I might listen to his less crowded EP work more often, but tracks like ‘Postcard to Nina,’ ‘Your Arms Around Me,’ and ‘I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You’ (thank Joy Division for the aerosol percussion) prove that Jens 2.0 has potential.

Wu-Tang Clan, 8 Diagrams – No one was expecting another Enter the Wu-Tang (my vote for greatest hip-hop album ever), but no one was expecting anything this solid, either. Some tracks are stale (‘Take It Back’) or over-produced (‘The Heart Gently Weeps’), and the end of the album tanks, but it’s unbelievable how often it all comes together (‘Campfire,’ ‘Rushing Elephants’) . RZA, still in Kill Bill mode, lays the strings on heavy, but the beats bang enough that the Shaolin shimmer shines through. Bobby Digital still can’t rap, but Method Man, Inspectah Deck, and GZA (‘Stick Me for My Riches’) are as good as ever, even if they miss the rawness of their 90s output. I can’t wait for Cuban Linx II.

Chromatics, Night Drive – Of course I dig this; I’ve never met a synthesizer I didn’t like. The vocals are great, too, and that is undoubtedly the greatest Kate Bush cover I’ve heard. Still, the tracks could use a few more layers of attention, or a little tempo variation. Something. I’m not telling you guys to try and out-Knife the Knife (you’ll just get cut, baby) and I’m not asking you fill out those guitars, but don’t you like a little grizzle on your meat?

Roisin Murphy, Overpowered – Sometimes you’ll hear me vaguely describe an album or film as refined. This is an example of music lacking in refinement. It’s a great collection of sounds– they just happen at the wrong time, with the wrong dynamics. It’s not a disaster; I just wish more of the tracks had the textures of ‘Dear Miami,’ ‘Tell Everybody,’ and ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ (not to mention the title track, one of the best released this year) and less of the obtuse party sound that blurs the rest of the album. It’s good enough until the next Robyn album comes out.

Prodigy, Return of the Mac – This isn’t as transporting as a great Ghostface or Madvillain album, but its production brims alternately with groovy glamor and Detroit techno. A glut of lilting strings works well on variety shows like King Geedorah’s Take Me To Your Leader, but their presence here feels incongruous with Prodigy’s personality. I might be out of the loop, though: I’ve haven’t followed evolution since classics like Tha Infamous. His voice is lower and slower than ever, which flatters his flow on tracks like ‘Bang on ‘Em’ and ‘Legends.’ It’s a shame he’s going to be in jail for the next few years. This will hold his place.

The National, The Boxer; Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga – I’ve combined these albums into one because they represent, for me, solid rock-and-roll songwriting and execution. I genuinely appreciate the craft, but a few years ago, something happened to my taste in music: it now demands the bizarre. Even though I can hear more grooves, more heartbreak and more genuine rocking here than on, say, Cryptograms, there’s something perverse missing. I’m now back to listening to Ziggy Stardust far more often than any other Bowie album (what was it for a while? Lodger?), but in general I like my rock albums with more space, more screech. Still, keep it up, dudes: I’ll need something to listen to when I come back from the dark side.

Justice, Cross – These guys are obviously talented. Good-natured, too. Tracks like ‘Valentine’ and, especially, ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ take me back to the summer of July 2001 when I played through Daft Punk’s Discovery eight times a day and never skipped a track. Justice appropriates their predecessor’s robot aesthetic, but this vision of all tomorrow’s parties is too clanky to enjoy, like pulling up to a rager at Judy Jetson’s in one of those jalopies on the streets of Blade Runner. I still rock my Justice t-shirt proudly, though.

The next group should be up in a few days. Until then, you can listen to that awesome Studio track I mentioned above, ‘West Side’ right here. Remember that you can hear tracks from any of these artists on their MySpace pages.

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~ by ohkrapp on January 25, 2008.

One Response to “Music Edition 2007, Part II”

  1. […] album entry originally had commentary (as in the first and second parts). However, since music criticism has long been reduced to rankings and decimals, forgoing the […]

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