Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lambchop "Ohio" (2008)

Lambchop carry a lot of weight in indie circles, comparable to Will Oldham or Bill Calahan.  This record is thought of highly, but for whatever reason really doesn't do much for me.  It's not that there is anything objectionable, I don't run to take it off the stereo, but it never seems to grab me.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Hold Steady "Boys & Girls in America" (2006)

Springsteen is normally the comparison that you hear regarding The Hold Steady.  I suppose it's all about young people yearning for more than what they've got.  Thematically, that does seem to be a connection between the two.  But the R&B that is such a presence in Springsteen's music is not a factor in that of The Hold Steady.

I think that the better comparison is to Bruce's counterpart, Patti Smith.  Both Finn & Smith have a penchant for chanting/speaking their vocals. They are both somewhat obsessed with the Beat Generation.  And there's an edge to their songs that doesn't seem to exist for Springsteen.  In Springsteen's world it feels that the worst thing that can happen is that the characters in his songs are stuck in that same town.  But with Smith (and also THS) there's a sense that death is really the fate of some of these characters.  There's a real sense of stakes in play, even if the people in their songs don't seem to be aware of it at all times.

While I never felt a great deal of affinity to the people populating Springsteen's New Jersey, I can relate to the people in The Hold Steady's songs.  Twenty-somethings who don't seem to have direction other than drinking, drugs, and (hopefully) a bit of sex to spice things up.  Terrible girlfriends.  I wonder how much I would have loved this band had they been around 20 years ago.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Yo La Tengo "And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out" (2000)

Wow. This is a dense album.  It feels like there should be some odd critical phrase used to describe Yo La Tengo albums -- perhaps "intelligensia-rock" or "smartcore".  I don't think that this would fall into Simon Reynolds' "record collector rock" -- the influences are clearly there, but more to be implied than as outright rips of riffs etc...   But this is clearly a record meant to rock the head, not the heart, butt or balls.  It's a long album, but it does pay off.  A real gem.

Welcome Wagon "Welcome to the Welcome Wagon" (2008)

I'm sure that I ended up with this album because of the Sufjan Stevens connection.  He produces this album, and it certainly shows (that may be good or bad, depending upon your opinion of his music).  It has that same orchestral folk/pop sound as "Illinoise".  Thematically, it's more akin to "Seven Swans", in it's earnest appreciation of the Christian tradition.  Still, if christian rock sounded more like this, I'd be a fan.

School of Seven Bells "Alpinisms" (2008)

Initially this sounds like what we used to call "4AD music".  As it settles in,  it's obvious that they've absorbed more modern influences -- Radiohead, the Krautrock revival, etc...  While pleasant enough on a rainy day, there's really nothing on this album that really touches me.  In fact, I don't know why I have it.

The Handsome Family "Honey Moon" (2009)

An interesting album that moves across the spectrum between rock & country at will, sometimes within the same song.  Unlike most of the Handsome Family's catalog, this is a fairly upbeat affair, in subject matter if not in tempo.  Conceived as a celebration of the Sparks' 20th anniversary, their love seems to exude from the tracks.

Samamidon "All Is Well" (2007)

Like a fractured fairy tale, All Is Well is a modern deconstruction of traditional song.  Musically it changes between Sufjan Stevens styled indie orchestration & Bill Frisell's modal reworkings of the American songbook.

This is an intriguing piece for me.  I can't say that I prefer any of the songs to more traditional takes on the material.  Amidon's voice is weak, & seems to alternate between flat & sung over his comfortable range.  The arrangements are not particularly moving, leading to an overall flat effect upon listening.  It seems more of an art project than any participation in the tradition.  And yet I still find this record fascinating.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Vetiver "Tight Knit" (2009)

Of the musicians tagged with the "freak folk" label, Vetiver may be the lowest on the freak scale.  You won't hear any gratuitous vocal tics, aimless jams, or weirdness for the sake of weirdness.  To me, that's a good thing.

This is an album that fits like your favorite pair of jeans.  Even on first listen, there's a sense that you've heard these songs before, & it's just been too long.

Another example of a band that somehow has avoided the popularity that they deserve.  Surely there's an alternate reality where they are favorites of college kids all over the country.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Grant Campbell "Expecting Great Things" (2009)

Contrast with his voice is what makes this album work.  The tension between the deep rough vocals & the gentle beautiful guitar.  The tension between the rough sound of the voice and the gentle words that are sung.

Campbell seems to have not made much of a mark in the US, which is a shame.  His wiki says that an album was going to be released in 2010, but that didn't seem to happen.  Hopefully 2012 will be a productive year for him.  I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Son Volt "American Central Dust" (2009)

Some time in the middle of the 21st century, Jay & a few friends beg borrow or steal enough ethanol to power a few old generators.  They've been amassing vintage rock n roll gear for years.  You can buy the stuff cheap now that no one can plug it in.  In a couple of days they manage to record a document of their rage, frustration and sadness.  They miss the America that used to be, the one that should have been.  This is that document.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Cave Singers "Welcome Joy" (2009)

What do indie rock records sound like in the first decade of the 21st century?  More or less like this.  Mumbled vocals, midtempo tracks, a certain sameness to the entire record.  It's more rock than folk, but it doesn't actually rawk, either.  Pleasant enough, but 10 minutes after it's over, you've forgotten what you'd been listening to.