tongue-tied lightning


The Best Album of 2012?

Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (heretofore to be referred to as The Idler Wheel) is the first album of the year to really take hold of me and insist I surrender to it completely from the very start. There have been some excellent records released in 2011, don’t get me wrong. The new offerings from Andrew Bird, Beach House, of Montreal, The Shins, and The Walkmen all stand out, along with Jack White’s uncharacteristically personal Blunderbuss. However, The Idler Wheel inspires a feeling I haven’t felt since the opening bars of “Perth” first captivated me on Bon Iver’s self-titled 2011 release (one of about five 2011 records that remains in my regular rotation; about which, more at a later date.)

Aesthetically, The Idler Wheel represents a stark departure from her previous two Jon Brion produced outings (we’ll ignore the Mike Elizondo produced re-recording of Extraordinary Machine). In contrast to Brion’s baroque arrangements, the majority of the album consists of skeletal piano parts brought to life by innovative percussion (courtesy of Apple’s co-producer Charlie Drayton), occasionally opening up a little with the aid of minimal string arrangements, an upright bass, or an exquisitely placed field recording. “Jonathan,” “Periphery” and “Left Alone” feature Apple playing busier motifs – the latter features a hypnotic piano line that is continually falling back on itself, providing a feeling of constant movement that isn’t getting you anywhere –  but still rarely venturing into anything that could be described as polyphonic.

There are bits and pieces here that wouldn’t feel out of place on Apple’s earlier records. With more conventional drumming, “Anything We Want” would be classic Fiona Apple. The chorus of “Valentine” is also very distinct, going so far as to quote Extraordinary Machine’s “Get Him Back” while telling an ex-boyfriend “I watch you live to have my fun” (a theme that turns up on the very next track as “I like watchin’ you live” in “Jonathan.”) “Werewolf” is also vintage Fiona, overflowing with wit, the only uncharacteristic flourish present is a field recording of children screaming on a playground. “Hot Knife,” on the other hand, is unlike anything she’s recorded before, consisting solely of her singing while Drayton pounds away on timpani.

Stylistic choices aside, there is no mistaking The Idler Wheel for the work of anyone but Fiona Apple. Referring to one of her records as personal is merely stating the obvious but, if we set lyrical content aside, this may be her most personal musical statement. While previous producers preferred using juxtaposition; contrasting her revealing, occasionally ugly, lyrics with intricately beautiful musical accompaniments; Drayton reinforces the thematic content of the lyrics in the music itself. Piano lines stripped down to their very core, getting at the emotional truth in the chord progressions, backed by busy drumming the echoes the pitter-patter of an anxious heart. It’s rare that percussion serves as such an intrinsic part of an album’s mood.

With each subsequent addition to her catalog it becomes clearer that Fiona Apple is one of the defining talents of her time. These are merely first impressions regarding The Idler Wheel, so it’s clear it was worth the seven years Apple saw fit to make us wait. I’m confident it will continue to bear fruit for quite some time like the greatest albums always do. Hopefully her next album, whenever it makes its way to our ears, continues the trend.



2011: The Year in Music
December 17, 2011, 1:49 AM
Filed under: music

After a year in which I’ve only made one blog post, it would appear it’s time for the usual year-end festivities once again.  I’m doing music right now, TV early next week, and film will likely have to wait until around the end of february, as that’s usually when I’ve finally seen everything I wanted to see.  So without further ado.

Honorable Mentions

In alphabetical order, by artist:

Brad Mehldau – Live in Marciac:  I used to do jazz album of the year, because I have such a hard time ranking jazz alongside pop music, but I’m just going to throw this in here for now.  Mehldau is consistently one of the best jazz pianists working today and with Live in Marciac, a solo piano follow up of sorts to 2006’s Live in Tokyo, does nothing to disprove that notion.  There’s not much more to say about him at this point.

Justice – Audio Video Disco:  Justice’s last album somehow slipped by me, a problem I was quick to rectify after hearing this one.  It’s markedly different from tthat album, they seem to be playing with the tropes of prog rock and hair metal.  Genres I’m not overly fond of, but which nonetheless work here in their hands.  Judging by Daft Punk’s last album or two I’d say Justice is the more vital of the French electronica duos right now.

Lady Gaga – Born This Way:  Despite Beyonce also putting out a completely solid album this year felt a bit light on pop music LPs.  This Gaga album is an exception that, despite a few obvious low points, proves she can do for the album form what she’s been doing for the single for some time now.  In fact I’m starting to question whether or not I should’ve found a spot for it on the list proper.

My Morning Jacket – Circuital:  Probably their most self-assured collection of tunes since It Still Moves.  Not quite as groundbreaking as that album, but perhaps a bit more consistent.  “Wonderful” and “Holdin’ On to Black Metal” are highlights from opposite ends of the spectrum, still one of the best pure rock bands going today.

Tom Waits – Bad As Me:  It’s been what, 7 years since his last studio album?  He’s at the point in his career when you could start reasonably expecting some decline but Bad as Me makes it quite clear he hasn’t lost a step.  Setting aside the B-side collection Orphans, this might be my favorite work of his since the 90s.

The Top Ten Albums of 2011

Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne:  A month ago this wouldn’t have made it on to my list.  I was initially somewhat disappointed with it (the lyrical content is noticeably thin) but it found it’s way into my car sometime around Thanksgiving and hasn’t left since.  Yeah, they’re talking about designer clothing, watches, and how awesome they are for the majority of it, but it’s clear they’re having a lot of fun with it and the excitement is kind of infectious.  Oh, and Justin Vernon does the bridge on “That’s My Bitch,” always a plus.

The Weeknd – House of Balloons:  Outside of artists like Erykah Badu and D’Angelo, who are perhaps more appropriately categorized as soul, I’m hardly what you’d call an R&B guy.  However, I found myself fascinated with both mixtapes The Weeknd put out in 2011 (the third one he announced, Echoes of Silence, has yet to surface). There is something seductively sleazy about his aesthetic, and the lyrical content makes you want to take a shower, but I keep coming back to it.

Wilco – The Whole Love:  Wilco is possibly my favorite band, and the title of this blog comes from a lyric of theirs, so I’m perfectly fine accepting the fact that there might be some bias here, but The Whole Love feels like the first forward-thinking thing they’ve done since A Ghost is Born.  Maybe not as cohesive as their last two, but certainly breaking more ground.   A feeling that carries through from the opener “Art of Almost” to “One Sunday Morning” which might be my favorite thing on the record.

Destoyer – Kaputt:  The last album I heard from Dan Bejar was Destroyer’s Rubies, which I remember enjoying, but apparently not enough to have really listened to it in the intervening 5 years.  He seems to have completely retooled his sound for Kaputt, going for a sax-heavy soft-rock sound that is surprisingly engrossing.  The lyrics are a strong point, as one would expect, and the album seems to improve and become cozier with each successive listen.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues:  In a lot of ways this feels like a collection of outtakes from their first record, which is both it’s biggest strength and greatest weakness.  Still a solid album, even if it’s not quite as consistent as the first.  I drove to South Carolina earlier this fall and played both their albums while passing through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia as the sun was beginning to set.  One of my more cherished musical memories from 2011 and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to separate their music from that landscape.

In One Wind – How Bright a Shadow!:  A confession, I saw these guys in… 2009 I think? and I wasn’t terribly impressed.  They just sounded a bit too chaotic and overwhelming for my ears.  That’s an impression that carried over to the first track of How Bright a Shadow! but had started to fade away by the second song and once I got to album-highlight “Water’s Looking Fine” it was smooth-sailing (sorry!).  It’s gotten to the point that when I put this record on I wonder how I ever felt an aversion to their syncopated rhythms and odd-meter melodies, and seeing them in Pittsburgh this September was one of the best concert experiences I had this year.

tUnE – yArDs – w h o k i l l:  If it wasn’t for the next album on this list I would call Merril Garbus my favorite musical discovery of 2011, and she still might be.  In an era when a lot of artists create their sound by looping layers upon layers her loop-wizardry sounds completely fresh, and there is an agit-pop edge that really pushes things over the top.  Hearing the conviction in her voice as she declares “there is a freedom in violence, that I don’t understand.”  As I’m typing this post I’m feeling an urge to listen to “Gangsta” and “Bizness.”  Over and over again, for the rest of the night.

Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact:  Really good, palpably modern-music.  So much so that I’m kind of struggling to come up with things to say about it.  I keep coming up with boring, generic statements like ‘It’s full of energy, and there isn’t a weak spot on the disc.”  Maybe you should just listen to it for yourself?  I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver:  I’ve been head over heels for Justin Vernon’s music since I heard the first bars of “Skinny Love” some time ago.  I’ve followed his career pretty closely since then and still I can’t say I was prepared for the artistic leap that is in evidence on Bon Iver, Bon Iver.  I suppose it’s a product of moving from the stripped down demo-like recordings of For Emma, Forever Ago to a studio with complete control over every aspect of the sound.  Still, it’s thrilling, from the opening bars of “Perth”, through the quiet depression of “Holocene”, to the Hornsby-esque keyboards on “Beth/Rest.”  I can’t wait to see where he goes from here.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy:  Speaking of artistic evolution, Annie Clark could’ve easily remained in the mode she occupied on 2009’s Actor and had a fine career.  Actor in some ways felt like a refining of the disparate ingredients present on Marry Me, but with Strange Mercy she is taking off from there and blazing new trails.  In some ways it feels like a “guitar album” but I think boxing it in like that is doing her artistic vision a huge disservice.   What I can say is St. Vincent used to merely be one of my favorite musicians, but now I feel she’s one of the most exciting artists working in any medium.  The way she uses form to embody emotion is kind of unparalleled in mainstream music right now.  If there’s someone out there doing it better I want to hear it.



2010: The Year in Music
December 29, 2010, 6:21 PM
Filed under: music

I was disappointed with a lot of what I heard in 2009, but this year more than made up for it.  In fact I had a hard time narrowing my list down to 14 albums (I went with 4 honorable mentions because there were too many albums vying for the fifth spot).  The Roots put out two solid albums this year and neither one of them made the cut, Neil Young put out his best album in over 20 years and it wouldn’t even make my top 20.  And I feel I should mention Cee-Lo, who just missed the list but whose Fuck You is clearly the song of the year.  The only album I had really high hopes for that didn’t deliver was The Hold Steady’s Heaven is Whenever, but there’s more than enough here to make up for it.

Honorable Mentions

In alphabetical order, by artist:

Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me:  This could’ve made the list but it’s so overwhelming it’s hard to get a bead on it.  Clocking in at over two hours and spanning three discs the few times I tried to listen through I had grown a bit tired of it by the end.  Individually, many of the songs are as good as anything on Ys, though she frequently forgoes the folk song structures that populated that album for more conventional song structures.  This album literally contains more than enough great music to keep you busy.

Of Montreal – False Priest:  This is Of Montreal’s most consistent album and in many ways that is it’s biggest shortcoming.  It’s much easier to listen to than 2008’s schizophrenic Skeletal Lamping and the P-Funky pleasures it provides aren’t to be scoffed at, which is why it is listed, but towards the end you start to yearn for the genre-defying madness of Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

Titus Andronicus – The Monitor:  One gets the impression listening to Titus Andronicus that they truly don’t give a shit.  Their music is weird, messy, frequently out of tune and all the more charming for that.

Walkmen – Lisbon:  This album could’ve easily made the list proper if only I had more time to spend with it.  Unfortunately other albums’ more immediate pleasures vied for my attentions and I haven’t had time to fully digest Lisbon.  Based on what I’ve heard so far I have no reason to believe I won’t come to love it as much as I love Bows + Arrows and You & Me.

The Top Ten Albums of 2010

10. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz:  Just when everyone things they have Sufjan figured out he disappears for five years and returns with an album that sounds more like Nine Inch Nails than anything on Illinois.  His ear for melodies is as good as ever it’s just now it’s set over a bed of glitchy noise.  This could be higher if I had had more time to spend with it.  The 25-minute auto-tune heavy “Impossible Souls” is one of the more impressive tracks of the year.  As he says on I Want to Be Well he’s not fucking around.

9. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs:  Mark 2010 as the year that I finally “got” Arcade Fire.  I liked Funeral enough, but never got the ‘best album of the decade’ hype, and Neon Bible didn’t do much for me at all.  The poppy rhythms of The Suburbs are more up my alley than anything they’ve done to date, and while there are some weak points and it feels a few tracks too long, there are so many highlights I can’t even pick a favorite track.  It’s either The Suburbs, Rococo, We Used to Wait or Sprawl II depending on my mood.

8. Robyn – Body Talk:  You have to applaud Robyn’s ambition if nothing else.  Releasing three EPs in a year, two of them longer than several albums.  On top of that Body Talk’s high points make for some of the best pop singles of the last few years.  The only caveat is that they can be a bit uneven, particularly Volume One.  After Volume Two was released I said I wished she had just put out one solid album, and when she did that instead of releasing Volume Three on it’s own the track selection didn’t feel right (None of Dem instead of Cry When You Get Older?  No acoustic Indestructible? Do we really need Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do AND We Dance to the Beat?).  But we can all agree that having a surplus of Robyn music in 2010 is not a bad thing.

7. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty:  That Body Talk and The Son of Chico Dusty are in the bottom half of this list just underlines what a great year for music 2010 has been.  This is the best Outkast related project since Stankonia and in some ways I may even prefer it to that.  So much funky swaggery goodness.

6. Marina & the Diamonds – The Family Jewels:  For some reason I considered putting this in the honorable mentions, and then I came to my senses.  There’s no denying how much I love Marina.  I love her voice, I love her attitude, I love her goofy style and I love her music.  While Body Talk might have slightly higher highs, this is about as consistent as pop music got in 2010.

5. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening:  Just when I thought James Murphy couldn’t top Sound of Silver, he comes along with This is Happening.  If this really is his last album I’ll be sad to see his brand of dance music go, but at least he went out on a high note.

4.  Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid:  The ArchAndroid is a staggering debut.  Who else would kick off a career in pop music by releasing Suites II & III of a four part opus loosely based on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis?  Nicki Minaj could’ve taken a lesson from Janelle, but the difference could also be a matter of talent.  She effortlessly jumps from style to style handling hip-hop, R&B, soul, funk and jazzy ballads with equal aplomb.  Watching her electrifying performance of Tightrope on Letterman hooked me, and it’s a great song, but for me it doesn’t get better than Cold War.  If the album flags a bit in the second half, well, who can fault her ambition?

3. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Fantasy:  This could quite easily, and perhaps should, be number 1.  According to iTunes I listened to this album more than any other this year, and it’s only been out for a month.  Maybe the iconoclast in me wants to put a different album than everyone else at number 1.  Maybe I can’t think of anything to say about it that hasn’t already been said.  In fact I think I’ll quote Carrie Brownstein here, who summed up the album quite well “This album is as self-aware as it is self-aggrandizing; it’s boastful and brainy; it’s celebratory, but only because it’s seen desperation. Not many records can sound like a “greatest hits” album on the first listen — that’s raw power.”

2. Beach House – Teen Dream:  I liked this album when I heard it back in January and I seem to like it more with every subsequent listen.  If there is an album I listened to this year more than Kanye’s this would be it.  I love Victoria Legrand’s voice and I love the soothing melodies that back it.  I’m not sure what exactly makes Teen Dream so much better than Beach House’s first two records, but they feel so much more assured here.  I don’t see myself ever growing tired of this album.

1. The National – High Violet:  Kanye’s album could just as easily be number 1 and this album number 3 so take the rankings for what they’re worth, but High Violet cemented The National’s place as my favorite current band.  They meld the anthemic sound of Alligator with the minimalist aims of Boxer and make what is likely their best album yet.



St. Vincent’s Actor: The Artist as Auteur
July 15, 2010, 5:32 PM
Filed under: music | Tags: , , ,

To begin, a note on the title.  Taken at face value, it may seem a bit redundant as most people would be willing to concede that anyone who writes and performs their own music is in fact the author of that music.  There are a few reasons I chose the title, let’s begin with the most superficial; it sounds good and it feels right.  Two, one could argue, in the spirit of the term’s original conception, that even if someone is performing songs they didn’t write they manipulate them to fit their artistic vision, I would claim this is true of many pop stars and thus the term isn’t completely useless in regards to music.  Third, and most importantly, I think there is a corollary between the way, say, Michelangelo Antonioni communicates his ideas via mise-en-scene and the way Annie Clark communicates her ideas musically on Actor, which is the point of this piece.  Moving on.

St. Vincent’s debut album, Marry Me, was a promising debut.  It has its problems, the first half of the record is noticeably stronger than the latter and it seems to lack of a strong thematic whole.  In interviews Annie has claimed the songs were written over several years at various points in her life.   I think the record belies that, it comes off less as a carefully conceived opus than a portrait of the artist as a young woman, which isn’t to say it’s not an impressive statement of purpose.  It is, it contains several great songs, such as ‘Now, Now’ and ‘Your Lips Are Red’ which has gone on to be a centerpiece of her live shows.

As impressive as it can be there is little on Marry Me that signals the artistic growth she would show on Actor. It isn’t an album that won me over instantly.  My first impression of it was that it was a competent but unexceptional record, I enjoyed it but never got much further than that.  However, like many of my favorite records, it planted a seed in my mind and I found myself returning to it again and again and eventually I started to uncover things in it I’ve grown to love.

What most impresses me about Actor, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, is the way in which Annie Clark weaves the themes and emotions present in the lyrics into the very fabric of the songs.  It stretches beyond composing a sad song as a ballad in a minor key or a happier song in a major key with an upbeat tempo; there are bursts of distorted guitar erupting out of Disneyfied tableaus belying the idea that maybe everything isn’t as cheery as it seems on the surface, the mechanical heartbeat lurking behind the precise riff that defines ‘Marrow’ creates an aura of roboticism and echoes the helplessness the narrator of the song expresses in feeling she’s not completely in control of herself.

It’s this sensibility I’m not sure is present on Marry Me that makes Actor a truly exceptional record.  It’s not unprecedented, certainly classical composition has a history of relating stories and ideas musically, but it’s hard to overstate how rare it is to see this sensibility so fully realized in popular music, which since it’s inception has used the lyric as the primary means of communication.  There were two other albums in 2009 I would consider exceptional Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest and Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca, I’m not sure either of them work at the same conceptual level.  Certainly there is something to be said for the feeling of disconnection Dave Longstreth’s disjointed melodies create on the latter, a feeling that is also present in his lyrics, and Grizzly Bear’s album may be more satisfying on an emotional level but I don’t feel either of them is as intellectually robust as Actor.

Actor is a fitting title for the record as false fronts and the ability of appearances to deceive seems to be one of the key thematic drives behind it.  From the first song what’s on the surface is questioned and we are asked to question what’s underneath.  There’s also a feeling of anxiety arising from the dissonance between who we are and what we project.  An underlying need to break free and express ourselves while our fears of what others will think induce a form of paralysis.  It’s a feeling that seems more and more relevant and it’s rarely been expressed as viscerally as it is on Actor.

To bring things full circle, there is a cinematic feel to the record.  In interviews Annie has stated that several of the songs were composed while watching her favorite movies on mute.  There are moments when it feels like it could serve as a score to your favorite Disney masterpiece, others that feel more suited to a Kubrick film.  This cinematic air is jokingly brought to light by the title of the last song ‘The Sequel’.  The previous track ‘Just the Same But Brand New’ feels like it should be the end of the album, but then we are treated to a snippet of song that seems to cut out right when it should be building to a climax.  Is this an attempt to whet our appetites for Annie’s next album? Most likely it’s just a clever joke, but I will be looking forward to it with the anticipation I reserve for the films of The Coen Brothers, Olivier Assayas and Claire Denis.  All of them auteurs.



2009: The Year in Music

All in all, 2009 was a disappointing year for music.  It seemed everything I looked forward to was a bit underwhelming.  Animal Collective (queue the disagreements), Bob Dylan, Neko Case, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Monsters of Folk, Neil Young, etc.  It says something that my three favorite records are from bands I hadn’t heard prior to this year, or in the case of my favorite record, a band that hadn’t won me over with their previous releases.  So, while the old standbys seemed to fall by the wayside there were surprises found in some new places.  Mostly Brooklyn.

Biggest Disappointment

The first Flaming Lips album in well over a decade I haven’t been able to find much in.   I do applaud them for changing it up instead of going back to the well that seemed to be drying up with At War With Mystics, but this record just feels… unfinished to me.  There aren’t really any songs on it.  Which can work, granted, but I don’t find their ‘psychic explorations’ very intriguing.  Certainly not as catchy as the more melodic stuff they’ve been doing since 1993.  It’s not an awful record, but given the high expectations I had, I was more than a bit disappointed.

Honorable Mentions

In alphabetical order, by artist:

Antony & The Johnsons – The Crying Light: I gave I Am A Bird Now more than a few listens, and I could never get past the fact that while Antony’s voice was powerful and emotive, something about it irked me.  On the recommendation of a friend I gave The Crying Light a go, and from the first track I was won over.  Beautiful orchestral pop, and for some reason, The Crying Light seems to have been the key that’s allowed me to go back and unlock I Am A Bird Now.  I get it now.

Andrew Bird – Noble Beast: After The Mysterious Production of Eggs and Armchair Apocrypha, I found Noble Beast a bit of a letdown.  However, the more I come back to it the more I find to appreciate.  It features many of his best songs (Anonanimal, Effigy, Natural Disaster) even if there are some cuts that don’t click with me, places where it feels like he’s reaching a bit too much (Not a Robot, But a Ghost).  But still, a strong enough record to recommend.

Steve Earle – Townes: “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”  Steve Earle attempts to back up that bold statement with his latest album, Townes.  And while I don’t agree with it, he makes a hell of a case.  It’s not my favorite Steve Earle record, perhaps because many of Townes’ recordings are better than Steve’s, sorry to say.  But there is something poetic in today’s most underappreciated singer-songwriter recording a tribute to his 70’s counterpart.

Mos Def – The Ecstatic: Not a great album, but such a comeback from the unlistenable True Magic and The New Danger, it’s hard not to feel Ecstatic about it.  It feels like Mos actually cares about making good music again.  There are some really strong cuts here.  And it bodes well for his future.  One that, after the superlative Black on Both Sides and Black Star, I was close to giving up on.

Phish – Joy: Probably the most controversial choice on the list.  Alot of Phish fans have been disappointed with Joy, but I think it is a solid pop record.  Phish’s more progressive compositions and raging jams have never translated well to the studio.  Their best record, and last with Steve Lillywhite prior to Joy, Billy Breathes is also a pop record.  Joy is on par with something like Farmhouse and a huge improvement from Round Room and Undermind.

Jazz Album of the Year

Medeski, Martin & Wood’s first entry in the Radiolarians series didn’t really impress me.  It felt a bit disjointed, unpolished, and I was afraid the subsequent volumes would follow suit.  But with Radiolarians II & III their gamble has paid off and they have put out some of the best music they’ve recorded since their Gramavision days.  Two deep groovy fun records with plenty of replay value.

Top 10 after the break. Continue reading



Links of Interest
October 6, 2009, 11:43 PM
Filed under: film, misc, music | Tags: , , , , , ,

Things that may be of interest to you from around the interwebs:

-This interview with Jeff Tweedy in the Austin Chronicle is quite insightful and examines the impact technology has had on our appreciation of art.

-This video from St. Vincent’s YouTube is one of the more magical things I’ve seen lately.

-This piece on A Bug’s Life and Up from The House Next Door’s Pixar Week (the other essays are all worth checking out as well) moved me to tears and reminded me why I love art so much.



First Quarter 2009 Music Roundup
March 19, 2009, 9:48 PM
Filed under: music

I’ve been in a musical mood today.  I figured since I’ve heard pretty much everything I intend to from January-March of 09 I might as well give you thoughts on some of the more notable releases.  So let’s go…

merriweatherpostpavilion

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

Yeah, I figured I’d spare your eyes looking at the album cover for the zillionth time.  I like Animal Collective.  I think Feels is great and there were moments of Sung Tongs and Strawberry Jam that I loved, but I am not getting the hype over Merriweather Post Pavilion.  I’ve listened to it several times, and I’m sorry, but this is not a life changing record.  Nothing about it stands out to me.  It’s a record of average songs by guys capable of much more. 5/10

noblebeast

Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

I was first turned on to Andrew Bird when I picked up Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs just cause I liked the cover and the title.  That album was fantastic.  The follow up Armchair Apocrypha was still quite good if a step down and possessed many wonderful songs.  Noble Beast represents another step down from the apex of Eggs but again, is still well worth listening to.  If I have a complaint it’s that the album jumps from style to style a little too often and the songs are rarely exceptional.  “Not a Robot, But a Ghost” is a mediocre Radiohead knock-off complete with Bird attempting Yorkeish vocals and easily the albums low point.  It’s the first time I’ve thought Andrew Bird sounded like someone else. 7/10

thecryinglight

Antony & the Johnsons – The Crying Light

My god, what a beautiful album.  I tried listening to his previous album I Am a Bird Now a couple times and it never clicked.  I just couldn’t get past his voice, even with Lou Reed it’s bothered me until recently.  When I finally gave in and decided to give The Crying Light a spin, it just clicked.  His voice is unique and expressive and the chamber-pop that backs it is beautiful and haunting.  I think his voice and music are something you have to be in the mood for, but when you are, wow.  I am eager to revisit I Am a Bird Now.  And can I compliment him on his cover art?  The last album had an evocative black and white photo of Warhol muse Candy Darling lying on her deathbed.  This time he uses an equally evocative black and white photo of 102-year-old Butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno.  Both seem to capture the spirit of the music, and perhaps provide a window into Antony’s world. 8/10

middlecyclone

Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

I was quite fond of Fox Confessor Brings the Blood.  It had a unique Alison Kraus-on-heroin vibe and several great songs.  Middle Cyclone is in the same vein but for some reason just doesn’t have the spark Fox Confessor had.  It didn’t do much for me. 6/10

grr

Bishop Allen – Grrr…

Meh.

itsblitz

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!

The last Yeah Yeah Yeahs record I listened to was their debut Fever to Tell.  I liked it quite a bit but didn’t love it.  I haven’t heard their second record but It’s Blitz! seems a bit of a departure from Fever.  They seem to have stepped away from the punk rock sound and into a LCD Soundsystemesque hipster disco milieu.  I like it.  I’m not always in the mood for it, but I can tell I will reach for this record when I’m looking for something in the vein of Sound of Silver.  The closing track “Little Shadow” is an acoustic ballad sung beautifully by Karen O and is a wonderful comedown from the rest of the record.  8/10

beware

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Beware

I am quite fond of Will Oldham and all his personae, be they as actor or musician.  Last years Lie Down in the Light was one of my favorite records and in my opinion his best since I See a Darkness.  Beware, inevitably, isn’t quite that good.  It maintains the country/gospel aesthetic of Light, but qualitywise is probably closer to Master and Everyone.  Still an album of solid songs added to the Will Oldham oeuvre is something to be celebrated, especially if one of them is as good as “Beware Your Only Friend.”  7/10

hazardsoflove

The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love

This album didn’t grab me right off the bat.  There are no tracks that work as wonderfully on their own as “16 Military Wives” or “The Island” but after a few listens I realized that while there aren’t any singles, it works wonderfully on it’s own as a 60-minute piece of music.  It makes The Crane Wife seem like a transitional album between Picaresque and this.  Not just a concept album, it’s almost an indie-rock opera, with a tangible storyline and several ups and downs along the way. 8/10

See you back here at the end of June!