Thursday, January 31, 2008

Listening Notes

Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam. In retrospect, it seems churlish to complain about a band’s "direction" when they are capable of a record as delightful as Strawberry Jam. Suddenly, I've become obsessed with it. Its surfaces do seem a bit shinier, smoother, than other Animal Collective music, and the vocals are definitely cleaner, clearer, and higher in the mix. But still, this music is addictive, and, as ever, the sense of controlled chaos is thrilling. "Peacebone", "For Reverend Green", and "Fireworks" are the standouts. Also, there's rarely much cause to quote lyrics from an Animal Collective song, but somehow this line from "Peacebone" makes me happy: "The other side of takeout is mildew on rice. "

Robert Wyatt – Comicopera. I parenthetically highlighted "Be Serious" in this post, but in fact it's my least favorite song on this excellent album. One might think this is because the opening lyrics are trite: "I really envy Christians, I envy Muslims too/It must be great to be so sure/Like a top Hindu or Jew." But really, it's Wyatt's singing of these opening words that irritates the hell out of me. Wyatt's voice was an acquired taste for me, and I've come to really appreciate it and his phrasing. But it's annoying here. The rest of the album is great; I'm not sure I think it's as good as Cuckooland, but I'm not complaining. It's pretty much alternating with Strawberry Jam in the competition for my obsessive attentions of late.

Neko Case. In my short wrap-up of my year in music, I'd expected to expend more words than I did on Neko Case's wonderful, enigmatic Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. I didn't even say anything about her beautiful voice. But then, what is there to say? (A question that is a sure sign that, once again, I've drawn a blank.) On Scraps' advice, I'm moving backwards through her catalog, one album at a time. To that end, I've picked up Blacklisted. Early verdict (after about a half-dozen listens): quite good. As expected it has more of a country feel.

Deerhoof – Friend Opportunity. I'd meant to say this in the earlier post, but I completely forgot: after having trouble with this album all year, I spent some quality time with it in November and December (which is to say that I listened to it over and over again for several weeks, alongside my continuous play of Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, much to Aimée's dismay), and now I don't know what my problem was. This is perfectly good Deerhoof music. Which is to say that it's mostly great. It's very short, which I think was part of my problem with it (but then my complaint about Runners Four was that it was too long, so what the fuck?). The first nine songs speed by, the songs seeming to run together, before we get to the comparatively aimless and quiet (but plenty interesting) 12-minute closer, "Look Away". I'm sure I wasn't even paying attention with those several early spins (excuses: iPod, work), and the next thing I'd know the album was over, leaving me with nothing to hang a verdict on. In fact, those first nine songs, beginning with the great "The Perfect Me", and including "+81", "Choco Fight", and "Whither the Invisible Birds", are exhilarating. It helps their cause to have Satomi Matsuzaki on lead vocals. (Greg Saunier's lead on "Cast Off Crown" comes dangerously close to generic indie Death Cab vocal, thus amounting to the weakest aspect of the nine songs, but even that song brings the serious guitar and drums glory).

Other recent acquisitions: new cds from Jackie-O Motherfucker (Valley of Fire) and Six Organs of Admittance (Shelter from the Ash) (net cd reduction: 54). Neither of these albums break new ground for these artists, but I'm enjoying them. The Jackie-O cd, I think, is more interesting than the last couple of have been. The Six Organs is not quite as good as either School of the Flower or The Sun Awakens, but those are both great albums, so that's ok (incidentally, the Pitchfork review of the new one is just terrible).

Music writing elsewhere:
Some great year-end thoughts from janedark. On M.I.A.; on Britney Spears (with a nice paragraph on Neil Young's archival Massey Hall concert album); on Miranda Lambert & Taylor Swift and pop critics and what they notice; on Lil Wayne and the possible "near-future" for the album as a form.

Also on M.I.A. and The Wire and the idea of "Neoliberal Grotesque", see I Hear a New World.

And a while ago, John at uTopianTurtletop had a thoughtful response to Carl Wilson's new book about Celine Dion and the question of taste (Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste). One quote that appealed to me from John's post:
Persuasive history of how elitist sensibility shifted from defending cultural hierarchies (classics high, pop genres low) to seeking the unattainable ideal of cultural omnivore-ism. This nails me to my wall. I have a humanist defense of at least partial omnivore-ism, which I don’t think Carl would disagree with: People love their cultures for reasons; the more we can understand why and how others do, the more we can love as well; more love is good. Let’s love!
I know I've read some good stuff that I'm leaving out, but my back hurts and I'm tired, so I'm out...


scott pgwp said...

Agreed about Animal Collective. I'm a true convert. Those three songs in particular really do keep that album afloat; the rest is good stuff, but they really light it up on those three songs (especially "For Reverend Green," a truly affecting piece).

That Neko Case album is a weird phenomenon for me: I bought it when it came out, liked it, but didn't listen to it a ton. I return to it very occasionally; I've never been obsessed with it. Yet I think of it as being a really strong album. It's better in my mind than, apparently, my actual listening tastes would have it. (Does that make sense?)

Richard said...

Hey Scott - have you had a chance to go back into their catalog? I'm curious how you'll take to it.

re: Neko Case. Are you referring to Fox Confessor?

And I know what you mean (so, you know, yeah, it does make sense): I have plenty of albums that I carry one opinion or feeling around with me, and feel differently whenever I actually happen to listen to it. Usually it's in the reverse direction though.

scott pgwp said...

Yeah, Fox Confessor.

I haven't dug into the AC back catalog yet - it's on my list but I'm in no hurry, until I burn out on the current album.