Friday, July 10, 2009

Mid-year Music Roundup, part one

Just past the mid-point of 2009, and what music have I been listening to? Well, I'm glad you asked. As advertized, my intake of new music has dwindled considerably, though this year there's a been a slight uptick over last year, still on the trade-in/store-credit regime.

In another entry I may touch on some of my other listening, but for this post, I'll briefly comment just on the four cds released this year that I have acquired:

Neko Case, Middle Cyclone: an excellent album, though I admit I haven't entered into a zone of obsession with it yet, as I did almost immediately with Fox Confessor Brings the Flood; whatever happens, it's always great listening to that wonderful voice. She can sing. Could do without "Marais la Nuit", the album-closing 30+ minute track of crickets chirping. It's fine once but I tend to skip over it. So far I haven't really zeroed in on most of the lyrics, but I do love this from "This Tornado Loves You": "I have waited with a glacier's patience..."

Bill Callahan, Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle: this got mostly rave reviews, with listeners seeming to think it's Bill's best record since Smog's Dongs of Sevotion (1999) or, possibly, Knock Knock (1998). For one thing, this view completely overlooks the classics Supper (2003) and A River Ain't Too Much to Love (2005), both of which are far better, in my opinion, than either of the earlier two (both of which, don't misunderstand, I like just fine, though at this late date the latter especially seems a bit over-produced). For another, I think it slightly overrates the new album. It is indeed better than his last album, the disappointing Woke on a Whaleheart, the first under his own name, though that's not saying much by itself (although I admit that I have a soft spot for that one, too, even if I recognize that it's easily his worst record since he started actually writing songs instead of playing with noise). That said, increasingly, I do like the new album. "Jim Cain" is great; "Eid Ma Clack Shaw", "The Wind and the Dove", and "Too Many Birds" are quite good; I'm coming around with repeated listens to "My Friend" and "All Thoughts are Prey to Some Beast"--at first I was thrown by his uncharacteristically emotive vocals in these two, but I believe I've gotten over it. "Rococo Zephyr" is pleasant enough, perhaps overly placid, yet it features this great line, my favorite on the record: "I used to be sorta blind, now I can sorta see." Throughout, the writing is stronger than on Whaleheart, the production is less cluttered and random, and Bill's singing is fascinating as ever, so there is much to recommend it, even if it doesn't reach the consistent heights of his masterpiece Red Apple Falls (1997) or the two mid-decade titles mentioned above. By far the worst track is the finale, "Faith/Void", which I'm afraid is simply an awful song. With the repeated line about it being "time to put God away", it sounds like a song that could have been commissioned by Richard Dawkins. I don't object to the sentiment per se (except that I've always liked how Bill has seemed able to tap into some kind of mystery), except that's all it seems like. The main problem with it is that it's utterly boring, and goes on for nearly ten minutes. I've given it several chances, but ugh.

Sonic Youth, The Eternal: well, yes. After all that, yes. What can I say. It fucking rocks. It's better than "Rather Ripped", about on par with (the excellent) Sonic Nurse or Murrary Street, much better than career nadirs Experimental Jet Set & No Star or Dirty (yes, I said it; Dirty is far and away the most overrated album in Sonic Youth's catalog--Woebot was right [link re-found via Matthew Ingram's own contribution to the SY kerfuffle, in which he backs off of his earlier Woebot-era bash a bit], in retrospect this is where they seemed to lose the thread, and they bottomed out with Experimental Jet Set; in my view they re-found it, beginning, tentatively, with Washing Machine, but it took a while), and naturally not the groundbreaker of EVOL, Sister, or Daydream Nation, or the consolidation of Goo. Full of Sonic Youthiness.

Animal Collective, Meriweather Post Pavilion: It has to be said: this is not Animal Collective's best album, though everyone seems to think it is. It's very good, yes, yes, very good, don't get me wrong. But it disturbs me that this happens with every artist. The best album is always the most accessible. Even fans too often get caught up in the idea that a band's rough edges, disturbing tendencies, whatever might be unassimilable, must be ironed out in order for maturity or growth or whatever to occur. I'm sure Animal Collective are just doing what they want, and what they're doing is still pretty damn good, but those rough edges--the screaming, the meandering, the indulgences--were part of what had made them awesome.


Anonymous said...

What's a good Animal Collective album you recommend?

Richard said...

I would go with Feels or Sung Tongs.

Anonymous said...

When I went to see Callahan perform last month, a thunderstorm knock knocked the venue's power out. Have you ever seen him live? Also, have you heard his cover of Kath Bloom's "The Breeze/My Baby Cries"? Remarkable.

Richard said...

Hi. Yes, I have seen him live, back in support of A River Ain't Too Much to Love. It was good, if disappointingly short... I don't remember much about it.

And, yes, I have heard"The Breeze/My Baby Cries". It's amazing. I meant to say something about it, but got distracted. Perhaps in another post.