Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Audiofile: No Need For Modesty

The week:
Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
Ted Leo/Rx, Living With The Living
Low, Drums and Guns
The Ponys, Turn the Lights Out
RJD2, The Third Hand
Adult, Why Bother
Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha
El-P, I'll Sleep When You're Dead

With all deliberate haste, get yourself the new Modest Mouse CD if you haven't already.

I've always loved the band. The Lonesome Crowded West was my first listen--so searingly new and enjoyable that it quickly became a good friend to my ear canal. The band slyly traded on the familiarity I built by strapping me into the passenger seat on the psycho road trip that was The Moon and Antarctica. They dropped the "Float On" bomb in 2004, proving that they could pen an indelible hit--definitely the "Crazy" of its day--thus baiting the hook for middle America to absorb the oddly joyous-yet-death obsessed Good News For People Who Love Bad News.

If they weren't in the pantheon at that point, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank puts them there now. It's a wholesale, beautiful rocker--stacked with songs, brimming with vitality--and while sops have clearly been made to the notion of accessibility, this is not a band operating their way out of a forced-in corner. It hits with their trademarked jagged force, spirals into many an odd left turn, and the full coterie of singer Isaac Brock's multiple personalities get ample room to step out and shake their ass.

For many, the big hook in this affair is the presence of Johnny Marr as a full time member of the band. As an idea, it definitely carries that "can you believe it Peyton Manning has agreed to captain our rec-league team" sort of feeling. I'll admit to wondering if it was going to work. I anticipated the possibility of Marr doing more harm than good--malforming something I enjoyed--or, to a lesser extent, coming off like an odd patch: a Modest Mouse album covered in self-conscious Marr-isms. Happily, Marr's work is fully integrated, subsumed into the whole. You can sense, perhaps, his steadying hand on the rudder in the jittery, melodic "Dashboard" and the cozy guitar filligrees on "Missed The Boat"--but he ably comports himself with the goings on around him. Frankly, he's needed to get work like this on wax ever since the Smiths hit the skids.

The record is chock full of songs you'll want to put on repeat: the maniacal "March to the Sea", the hit-written-all-over-it "Florida", the bent out of shape "Fly Trapped in a Jar." This disc is the mad notes, people. Do not delay.


I must confess that my record collection is more or less devoid of basically anything from the more left-field subgenres of hip hop. I understand historically that labels like Rawkus and Def Jux have been bringing some vital voices to the fore--I've just never committed the money to outlay for the recordings or the time to appreciate them. But last year, after Ghostface more or less effortlessly assassinated the whole of mainstream hip hop, I figured that it was time I expanded myself. So, people: suggestions. My eMusic account is here to help. With it, I was able to get the new El-P record, I'll Sleep When You're Dead, and was pretty fucking impressed. You have to appreciate a guy with a lot on his mind and the ability to hold your attention as he spills. At the same time, there's no skimping on arresting hooks and clatterbang beats either. I'm fully prepared for you all to let loose on me that his new shit is wack or something, so, lead me on the path to some good new-old music, interwebs. I can take it.

Midway through the new LCD Soundsystem record, everything was going according to plan. More or less, anyway. It was less sleazy, less coked-up--and I was missing that trademarked inky smear that more or less defines the DFA sound. It was still delightfully addled--"Get Innocuous" is winningly silly and overwrought, "North American Scum" turns self-effacement into a bitter jibe, and, in general, the beats were slippery and funky. Then, about midway through, we got to "All My Friends", and there came all this mawkish earnestness! WTF! Forgive me, but I don't get my LCD on for the sentimentality--but it was nevertheless there, and it reached it's cheesy apotheosis in "New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down"--a shoo-in to take home the prize for the most sickeningly cloying song of 2007. Is James Murphy dead before his shit hits the bank?

I was going great guns listening to the new Ted Leo, as well. Five songs into that motherfucker and I wheeled around in my chair and professed to the Information Leafblower that Leo was back in the Hearts of Oak wheelhouse--ballsy, kinetic. Leo's brand of punk eschews the orthodoxies of hardcore in favor of reappropriating riffage from all over the pop map--sifting through garage trash one minute, then blazing back with a British Invasion style rave-up the next. Leo could probably inspire a coup d'etat with a Journey cover. Over the latter half of the record, though, the thing gets bogged down. "La Costa Brava" crops up, feeling strangely rote, and it's followed by the struggling "Annunciation Day", the dull and dubby "The Unwanted Things", and the slack "The Toro and the Toreador." I still like it better than Shake The Sheets, but it's clear that Leo's best recipe is bomb, repeat, bomb.

It's strange that Andrew Bird's emergence came about with his involvement as an ancillary player with the Squirrel Nut Zippers. He's basically the only person from that fin de siecle mini-boom of swing and...what?--indie-Dixieland?--who's made it to the oughts not sounding like some sort of casualty. Don't believe me? Check out Katherine Whalen's mortifyingly dated solo record from last year. Bird, however, fell upwards into the indie rock genre, and has, for quite a while now, succeeded in making some of the most oddly alluring records out there. He's bounced from Rykodisc to Righteous Babe and is now on swamp-indie blues label Fat Possum Records. Armchair Apocrypha is his first release thereon, and it's got all the qualities it needs to have for me to recommend it to you, even if you're a first time listener: mystery, spunk, whimsy, a melodicism that sticks to you. He can do grandiose, like on "Heretics" and "Dark Matter" and he can wow you with bracing delicacy, like on "Scythian Empires." Mostly, it's his presence that makes his music so affecting--he's got ample vocal skills, a sweet feel for his fiddle, and he just comes across as that weird guy hanging on the corner, promising a mix of delight and danger.


  • A lot of Low fans weren't happy when they decided to try on a fuller rock sound and something other than their inside voices on The Great Destroyer. Pooey on them: I liked the record. But the haters got their wish and Low is back to their trademarked portentious quietude. Thing is, I feel like they only made it halfway back. Drums and Guns kind of feels like a grower. Sorry. I know that's a cop out.
  • The Ponys have this absotively cherrydamn tune called "Double Vision" that leads off their album, but while they work hard to mine the same ingredients--bronzey reverb drench, murky melodies, loose-throated baritonica--they rarely come within sniffing distance of the first song. Well, they manage it once: on "Poser Psychotic."
  • Adult is Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller, and, like basically everyone else associated with the Detroit techno scene, they aren't even remotely appreciated in this country, their sunnier climes coming in the more electronica-mad areas of Europe. I find them to be a blend of Aphex Twin-style tweakery and Alec Empire's radical chic. It has a punky, dislocated soul at the center of the digital whir that's at times ear catching, at times faded against the background.
  • RJD2 is a straight-up genius behind the decks--I know quite a number of people who found their way into his particular subgenre through Dead Ringer and Since We Last Spoke. With The Third Hand, he's gone and reinvented himself as an indiepop singer of sorts, and, frankly, I'm not feeling it. Vocally, he's thin and featherlight, and his instinct for the indie sound isn't the best, in my opinion--the compositions are often hoary-sounding and safe.

THE COLOSTOMY: Collecting your leaked materials.

God knows I have been behind Wilco...really, all the way. Being There and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot are Hall of Fame worthy recordings, plain and simple, and right through their last studio release, A Ghost Is Born, it's been clear that their ambitions lay in being an extraordinary band. So, what I've been hearing from the upcoming Sky Blue Sky has me fearing the worst. Sure, the music is pleasant, pretty even, but there's nothing going on musically that would outstrip the abilities of Kevin Bacon's band, and lyrically speaking, Jeff Tweedy is at his tritest, ever. I've often thought that the average band has got about five albums in 'em before the familiarity and complacency of working together undermines the spontaniety of creation that forged the unit in the first place (and that's if the whole operation doesn't go down in break-up flames). Sky Blue Sky's leaks are an uncomfortable sign that Wilco might hit that Album #6 wall with a big, wet, thump.

So, I was making my plans to go see Bishop Allen tonight at the Rock and Roll Hotel when I discovered, much to my delight, that +/- and Say Hi To Your Mom are also on the bill! How on earth did this escape my attention! Probably just complacency: I've had the BA date on my calendar for about three months, now, and it just didn't matter to me to check.

That said, the somewhat unfortunately named Rock And Roll Hotel (or RARH, pronounced "RRRRrraaarrrrRRRrGGGGHHhh!!") has quietly been putting together some strong bills. Next Tuesday, for instance, is a slam dunk: The Long Winters, The Broken West, and The Stars of Track and Field. At $10/$12 a ticket: that's a shitload of quality rock for your buck. Next Wednesday: Xiu Xiu, Shearwater, and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. Again: pretty excellent. Check out their calendar and dig the variety: indie-techno, decent sounding DJ nights, strong local bills--fricking DON CAB!! Me likey.

Tonight, locals Junior League are also part of the offering, and I hope to be there to see 'em all.


Coeus said...

I am on my first listen to Modest Mouse. It is going pretty good. Andrew Bird's new one is absolutely amazing. That guys is so talented, and I am in great anticipation to see him live for the first time.

Bishop Allen tonight should be fantastic. +/- on the bill is such a great bonus for me as I am huge fans. I agree that RnR Hotel (RRrrarrggghhhh) has been coming out with some very strong bills that I am excited to see.

HoyaParanoia said...

re: 'left-field' hip-hop, check out Sage Francis ... "slow down ghandi" is just absurd