Sunday, September 06, 2009

Totally disconnected thoughts on music, or Belated Mid-year Music Roundup, part two

I haven't listened to much new music this year, but I'm always listening. In my mid-year round-up, for which this amounts to the much belated and superfluous part 2, I neglected to mention what is far and away my new song of the year: Bill Callahan's cover of Kath Bloom's "The Breeze/My Baby Cries" (which was recorded for Loving Takes This Course: A Tribute to the Songs of Kath Bloom). I admit that I'd never heard of Kath Bloom before this year, and still haven't heard her music, but if it's anything like the quality of Bill Callahan's version of her song, then it must be worth seeking out. (Though fans of the originals may be understandably bitter at Bloom's apparent obscurity, still that's no call for completely missing the boat on Callahan's cover--"adult alternative"? No. Just, no.)

Here, anyway, is Bill playing the song live (this clip first seen via Steve, who is also responsible for privately sending me the link to the studio version--thanks Steve!):

Ok, got the song of the year out of the way. Other thoughts:

Of the first four Talking Heads albums, which are the only four that matter, I remain convinced that Remain In Light is the fourth best. I prefer the more austere sound of the unaugmented group. For years I would have said Fear of Music was my favorite, but it may now be More Songs about Buildings and Food.

Outside of the sublime If I Could Only Fly, can anyone rep for late-period Merle Haggard? I have to think he has had a few more gems in the last couple of decades.

I don't listen to the radio much, but I want to say a few words about 96.5 FM out of Chincoteague, Virginia. Basically a rock station, but clearly its own thing. Dylan's "My Back Pages", some Zep, George Jones, some obscure Fleetwood Mac (or solo Lindsey?) alternate take of "Big Love"... the songs I didn't like were at least atypical: a Bryan Adams song that probably hasn't seen the light of day in years, that weird 4 Non Blondes hit, stuff like that. The point is that there didn't appear to be any discernible playlist, most of the commercials were local, actual public services were performed on air by people who sounded like they actually cared... All radio stations should be like this one, in spirit.

I went through another Beatles period recently, in part thanks to Marcello Carlin's superb blog, Then Play Long, in which he writes at length about every album to reach #1 in the UK since 1956. He's made The Sound of Music soundtrack sound fascinating, and the Monkees emerge as vastly more interesting than this listener ever gave them credit for being. But more impressively, he's managed to say something new and interesting about over-analyzed albums from the likes of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan (the posts on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and John Wesley Harding are incredible--I think it's how he illuminates the music, where other writers are so often fixated on Dylan's lyrics). The Beatles in particular. I've loved all of his posts on Beatles albums, especially those on Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day's Night, and Beatles for Sale. The one on Sgt. Pepper had me listening to that album for the first time in years, with much greater appreciation (if only because I was paying more attention). Great music writing.

We've inherited some children's music from a friend. Some of it I find I actually like (though I have to say that Raffi, bland and inoffensive as he is, is much more tolerable to simply listen to than to view--there's something weirdly creepy about that dude's eyes! But, hey, the kids all love him. It's a mystery. [Actually, it's not: he's respectful of them and he sings pleasant songs that they like to sing along to. I'm just being a critic.]) In particular, I'm fond of Donovan's Pied Piper album. We've already listened to this cd numerous times. Something tells me that Devendra Banhart spent a lot of time with it. (I can hear him singing "I Love My Shirt".)

Belated entry in the sad songs sweepstakes: "I Keep Holding Back the Tears" by the immortal Souled American.

Not enough is said about Jim O'Rourke's wonderful "Prelude to 110 or 220/Women of the World". (I hear he has a new record coming out, after a long hiatus.)

My favorite working male vocalist: Bill Callahan; female vocalist: Neko Case; group: Animal Collective. None of which will surprise regular readers.

I count myself fortunate to have caught Joe McPhee live more than once. Same with William Parker.

I was obsessed with Jane's Addiction back in the early 1990s. But then it turned out Perry Farrell was hard to take (and the less said about Dave Navarro the better) and Porno for Pyros was not my idea of a good time (given that they sucked). So the Jane's cds got sort of forgotten, lost in the big wall of cds. I loaded Nothing's Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual onto the iPod not too long ago. Verdict: the former is a little less than I remember it being, a little too, well, "shocking", though I'm still a sucker for "Summertime Rolls"; the latter, however, really holds up well. A great, expansive, meandering rock album, which sounds fantastic (where Nothing's Shocking sounds like it was recorded through a cardboard tube). Even "Been Caught Stealing".

On a related note, of the so-called grunge bands that I was so into back in the early 90s, Soundgarden isn't holding up as well as, say, Pearl Jam, or Alice in Chains' Dirt (Nirvana, ironically, doesn't count as grunge). I still like much of Superunknown and "Rusty Cage" and "Jesus Christ Pose" from Badmotorfinger, but man, the rest is rather nondescript.

For those of you who may have wondered, yes we are familiar with the singer-songwriter named Mirah. In fact, she is the original source for our daughter's name--not that she's named after her, or that we're huge fans or anything, but we were struggling with names, and hers popped into my head one night and we liked it. We are fans though, at least of C'mon Miracle (not sure yet about (A)Spera).

By the way, I only recently zeroed in on the lyrics to Mirah's song "Jerusalem", from C'mon Miracle. I think I may previously have been afraid to pay too much attention, but these are pretty good:
So now jerusalem, you know that it's not right
After all you've been through, you should know better than
To become the wicked ones almighty god once saved you from

I recently made a mix cd for a friend, on which I included "The Breeze/My Baby Cries" and "I Keep Holding Back the Tears", both mentioned above, but also "Beer & Kisses" by Amy Rigby. I'm working on another, on which I hope to include Rigby's "Down Side of Love". Does anyone listen to Amy Rigby? These songs are both off of her excellent Diary of a Mod Housewife from 1996. I remember it was very highly regarded that year, and I dutifully bought a copy. The narrative was that she'd been a rocker but then got married and had children and disappeared (she was apparently no Kristin Hersh), before coming back with this record (after a breakup, I think, and the record's lyrics seem to confirm the memory). But, as happens so often, even for one with a music habit as ridiculous as mine became, I never followed up with her, though I liked the cd very much. I know she's released music since then--does anyone have anything to say about her? Any other cds one should try?

I am too old for Death Cab for Cutie. I am too old for Arcade Fire. I am too old for the Rapture. I am too old for Interpol. I am too old for Arctic Monkeys. I am too old for Art Brut. I am probably too old for Broken Social Scene, though I admit I liked that You Forgot It In People record quite a bit (but I'm already not sure it's aged well, and I didn't like the self-titled one at all). (Some of you may notice that these have all been Pitchfork-approved indie bands du jour at one time or another. But: I am not too old for Deerhoof. I am not too old for Animal Collective. I am not too old for the Microphones/Mount Eerie [though I remain mystified by the over-the-top love for The Glow Pt. 2]). I am too old for emo. I am too old for metal (as much as I can appreciate, say, High on Fire and Mastodon, to name just two rather high profile and completely awesome metal bands, I cannot listen to them at the correct, necessary volume. My ears are too sensitive, too fragile, too damaged, too old. People listen to High on Fire through earbuds? A generation of deaf people!).

I mean to say, by the above, that it's one thing to listen to new music, it's one thing to follow musicians down new paths, keeping up with old favorites, but I wonder if there isn't something unseemly about the attempt at remaining up-to-date well into serious adulthood. I wonder if it's not part of what keeps us not young but infantile, or rather, distracted. It becomes consumerist frenzy, this need that must be filled (something like a manufactured consent, of sorts). I also wonder if it isn't convenient for me to come around to such an idea only since I've abandoned my own serious efforts at keeping up. Do I need to know what every hip band of 20 year-olds, however inventive, is up to this and every year? Should I? Am I wrong to call the whole process into question? How many records need to exist? How many can you listen to?


Andrew said...

I think I remember you sort of dismissively casting away TV on the Radio before--do they count as a Pitchfork-approved indie band de jour?

have you listened to Dinosaur Jr.'s new stuff?

Richard said...

Ha! Yes they would count as Pitchfork approved, etc... but I seem to recall that my dismissal had more to do with the fact that they were being employed as evidence that indie rockers were in fact engaging with "black" music, a highly dubious proposition. (Anyway, I really liked their first ep, but have remained immune to the no doubt considerable charms of their albums.)

I have not heard the new Dinosaur Jr. stuff. I was never a big fan in the old days (I can recall more Sebadoh songs than I can Dino Jr. songs), but I am curious about the new one. Steve was telling me about one song a little while back.... what are your thoughts on it?

Andrew said...

I think Dinosaur Jr.'s newest album is brilliant, maybe even their best from a first-song-to-last standpoint, but then again it's a lot like their old stuff, so I can't promise it will impress you more than their old stuff.

I guess I do like a lot of Pitchfork-approved bands, but I like TVOTR a lot more than most. I like their last two albums rather than their first LP and EP, but I'd say overall, I feel more intellectually engaged by them than by just about any other currently active group I listen to.

Forgot to mention I agree with you about Deerhoof. That's good stuff. And Mirah's got some great stuff, but I think I've only really listened to C'Mon Miracle. "Jerusalem" really knocks me over.

Richard said...

Thanks Andrew. Please note that I am not saying these Pitchfork-approved bands are necessarily bad. Just that they are not for me. (Not just that I don't like them--some of them I probably would--but they are not for me.) I have learned about many of my favorite artists through Pitchfork.

TVOTR just slipped me, since I loved the Ep, but the first album was meh, the next couple came out smack in the middle of my decision to drastically cut down on my music consumption.

Andrew said...

No, that's totally reasonable, and I really liked how you articulated the last paragraph of the post; I've often wondered at what age/stage I'll start seriously tapering off my active music following, and the tapering has already begun to some extent. There's such a backlog of music to listen to anyway.

But there is also a very legitimate reason for pure backlash against the Pitchfork hype machine, or at least that's what I often feel. I mean, seriously, Arctic Monkeys weren't that great, and compared even to a band like The Libertines, aren't that creative at all. And Art Brut was a one-trick pony; and Interpol is actually looking like one of the worst Joy Division-cover bands of recent years (Crystal Stilts, I think, for just one example, is better).

Sorry for the outpouring; I strangely don't get to talk about music very often anymore--most of my hipster friends from college have disappeared into Brooklyn.

Richard said...

The thing about Pitchfork, I think, is that few people distinguish between their different writers. There are those who've been there since the early days, who still seem to be the "voice" of Pitchfork, the ones reviewing the mainline indie rock, the ones generating hype. They don't interest me much. But there's also diverse writers such as Mark Richardson, Tom Ewing, and Tom Breihan who I like--all of whom write better, for one, and don't seem too invested in indie rock. (Richardson has written there for a long time, it's true, and he does tend to review Animal Collective releases, but if you know what his general tastes are, the connection is clear.)

And no apology necessary... outpour all you want!

Jim H. said...


Several responses: when I lived in NYC, I met a woman who ran a class for toddlers and youngsters with contemporary music: Milton Babbitt-type stuff, George Crumb, Kronos Quartet. Intriguing.

Yes, Amy Rigby was married to Will Rigby, drummer of the dBs. And yes, it's a break-up album. IIRC, she's now with Wreckless Eric ("I'll go the whole wide world").

Me, I'm a sucker for power pop. I love hooks and melodies, I love harmonies, I love the jangle and chime of an arpeggiated Rickenbacker 12-string, I find the verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/conclusion form somehow comforting and yet capable of surprise. No one is too old for a good tune, and sometimes the best tunes and even lyrics (& poetry) are written by the young. There're gems out there—hidden, obscure, one-shot wonders—it's like a quest, for me, to find them. That's, of course, a holdover from my college days when I would spend endless hours in the cut-out bins and used record stores in Chapel Hill. That is to say, for me, it's the song, not the singer. And I agree with J.M. Coetzee: my favorite music is the stuff I haven't heard yet.

Jim H.

Richard said...

Ah, yes, Jim. The dBs. Of course. (I suppose I could have looked it up, but where's the fun in that?)

And that music class for toddlers sounds awesome. I'd love to find something like it for Mirah (she's responded well to some saxophone skronk!).


Duncan Mitchel said...

I quite liked Amy Rigby's Diary of a Mod Housewife, and learned a couple of songs from it. She's made several CDs since then, and while each one has a few songs on it that made it worth buying as far as I was concerned, none was as consistently good as Diary.

For some reason this brings to mind the Roches. I loved Maggie and Terre's Seductive Reasoning, and liked their first album as a trio with Suzzy well enough -- again, a few good songs. But though I've listened to much of their music since then, it's Seductive Reasoning that I keep going back to.