Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Wilco "Being There" (1996)

I'm not even going to begin to do justice to this record.  It is so dense with musical references to the history of rock and country music.  Really it deserves a 33 1/3 style dissertation.  But that is a project for another time.  Suffice it to say, that this is truly an essential record from the 90s.

Eric Lindell "Cazadero" (2011)

This is an interesting album.  There's just something intangible missing.  Everything about it is solid, good sound, playing, songs.  But it's lacking that special thing that really sets a great record apart from the others. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eric Lindell "Between Motion & Rest" (2010)

This is a fairly pedestrian collection of contemporary blues/R&B.  While originally a Californian, "Between Motion & Rest" sounds much more Gulf Coast in sound.  I can't determine if it's ultimately the fault of the production, or the performances, but it just is very rote.  It's a shame, really, as my gut feeling is that this band would be excellent in a live setting.

Snooks Eaglin "Baby, You CanGet Your Gun!" (1987)

The remarkable thing about this album is its diversity.  Eaglin was called a "human jukebox", & a quick sampling of just this album shows why.  You have everything from straight ahead blues cuts to latin tinged instrumentals to funk.  While a pale imitation to his live shows, "Baby, You Can Get Your Gun!" is still a worthwhile listen.

Van Morrison "Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl" (2009)

I'm having trouble coming up with a rationale for this album that isn't cynical.  There's been a trend in recent years for artists to perform entire albums in concert.  Well, that's not entirely accurate.  This isn't like the prog era, when a group might perform a concert entirely of their new double album.  What they're doing is revisiting older, much beloved material.  Turning themselves into a tribute act, of sorts.  So apparently Van Morrison decided to do a couple of concerts playing the Astral Weeks material.  This album is a from a concert at the Hollywood Bowl.

There are some minor changes to the material.  The track order has been shifted a bit.  Arrangements have been altered to accommodate changes to Morrison's voice.   Some tracks have been lengthened.  But in terms of the overall take on the material, it is the same.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bon Iver "For Emma, Forever Ago" (2008)

The cover foreshadows the music itself, quiet with a wintery sheen.  Vernon's falsetto vocals soar over simply strummed guitar.  It's a wonderful debut.

Despite that, it really is shocking to me that this record became such a big deal.  I like it, don't get me wrong, but I don't know that it's not any better than quite a few simple lofi indie albums since the first Iron & Wine release.

Akron/Family "Akron/Family" (2005)

Well, this is a weird one.  It's more than a bit all over the place.  Tape manipulation, soundscapes, some indie rock a la Radiohead, some Faheyesque folk.  The more structured pieces seem to work best.  It's a difficult listening experience.  The fractured nature of the material means that the listener can never really settle for any particular mode of listening.

The Avett Brothers "Emotionalism" (2007)

This is a seminal album in a movement that has yet to be named, and has yet to play out.  The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, The Decemberists are all playing indie rock with instrumentation most commonly used in folk music.  Often they are referred to as folk artists, but don't be fooled.  The music itself is contemporary indie rock. 

At times the Avetts come a bit too close to wallowing in emo handwringing.  While this sort of sentimentality probably accounts for at least some of their popularity, to my ears it's a distraction.  I would hope that as they mature, the emotional palate of their music will expand.

The Bird & the Bee "Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future" (2008)

This album seems to exist on a continuum from Doris Day to 80s pop acts like the Thompson Twins to the turn of the millennium downtempo acts.  Crisp female vocals over polite, lounge influenced musical beds.  There's nothing here to dislike, but conversely not much to really get excited about either. 

Devendra Banhart "Oh Me Oh My" (2002)

In many ways this album strikes me as more of a piece of outsider art than what we normally think of as an album.  There are not many, if any, concessions to pop here.  Starting with the production, which sounds as if it were recorded on home analog equipment.  Levels fluctuate within individual tracks, there is background noise.  The music itself is frequently out of tune or off key.  The opening track features handclaps that go in & out of rhythm.

The thing is, in spite of all that, this is a strangely compelling album.  There's a real sense of creativity at play.  A sense that Banhart just had to express himself so badly that the technical aspects of the recording really weren't important.

Antony & the Johnsons "The Crying Light" (2009)

It's impossible to say anything about this album without confronting Antony's voice.  It's an instrument that is singular in popular music.  Fragile, yet strong, somehow conveying a deep sense of sadness underlying any words he may be singing.  The arrangements are delicate, relying more on traditions of cabaret & contemporary classical than any immediate pop referents.  The overall effect is that of music displaced in time.  It could exist in the past or the future.  My imagination sees Antony performing in a small cafe in the world of Bladerunner. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Waifs "Temptation" (2011)

Temptation is darker than what I've previously heard from The Waifs.  It's more influenced by blues and jazz.  At times it reminds me of early Rickie Lee Jones.  It doesn't seem to have the same levity that I enjoyed on their live album. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Jorma Kaukonen "River of Time" (2009)

River of Time is comfortable like a worn flannel shirt on a chilly day.  Jorma's gentle finger picking & relaxed vocals.  Mellow tempos & gentle themes.  This isn't necessarily the most groundbreaking or challenging record, but sometimes that's not what you want.

Nick Cave "From Her to Eternity" (1984)

You sometimes hear psychologists talk about the link between anger & depression.  If you have any doubts about that connection, slap on this album.  This is Cave as angry young man.  He already has more artistic desires than most of his contemporaries, but this is loud, clanging stuff.  Sure, there's a few tracks that seem to foreshadow his later incarnation as a twisted balladeer, but for the most part it's anger and power that rule the show.

Here's the most notable track, from the performance in Wings of Desire.