I'm not really sure how I feel about these three things. I definitely enjoy them but I wonder what they mean in terms of the legacy of these three bands (if that even matters). I'll ponder this some more but in the meantime, have fun...
The last week I've been reading a lot about Yeezus and it seems to be either universally loved or loathed. I have to admit that I am fascinated by it because it is a view into the madness of our pop culture icons. It is as thrilling as it is repulsive but it is never less than compelling.
On the music front, it's pretty great - that abrasive electro sound that El-P and Deathgrips have been mining. As a rock/punk fan, I think you'd find that's the hip hop that has the most in common with my tastes and the hardness of the music is bracing. It's the lyrics which seem to be the problem for most and that's what I want to discuss here.
On it's release, it was revealed that a lot of the vocals were recorded in the very last session and up to five of the songs were basically written on the spot. As such, what we have is an unchecked, untamed version of the inner dialogue running through Kanye West's head and that's what I find amazing. For all the narcissism, misogyny and misguided politics, it is simultaneously contradictory, revealing and bug nuts crazy.
Think for a moment what it is like to be Kanye West. The son of a Black Panther and an academic, he grew up in middle class comfort and even spent time living being schooled in China when his mother was teaching at Nanjing University. He is an intelligent man producing seminal hip hop music in a genre drowning in self aggrandisement, wanton consumerism and bravado. His every move is charted and discussed, he is demonised and praised every day of the week and has access to riches unimaginable to a person like me. This privilege belies the racism we see universally across the world and the expectation placed upon his as an artist by his fans, record company and the press must be intense. His partner is famous for self promotion and their union has dragged West even further into the trashy TMZ vortex that passes for news these days. How disorientating and crazed must that life be? Would you doubt yourself or believe the hype?
If you've ever met (or were) a teenager whose emotions were extreme and all over the place, all misplaced anger and confusion - that's what this album sounds like to me. It is pure, uncensored id and a prism through which you can sense how maddening it must be to live West's life. Branding consumerism of the famous as the new racism (or rather, the way companies latch onto black artists), the self proclamation of divinity in hip hop and endless misogyny all run into each other and contradict but I see this as a pretty unique insight into the brain of one the world's most famous men. The lyrics and music bristle with a fiery anger, wildly swinging at whatever comes into view. I think if West had more time on the lyrics they would have been refined but here we get the rough mix and that lyrical brutalist is bracing as it is jarring. You could say a lot of hip hop covers these themes but I can't remember anything being this raw for a long time. How sorry do you feel for a Grammy winning millionaire with a celebrity girlfriend? I don't know but I know I couldn't live under the scrutiny famous people now live under.
I'm not sure if this album will stand the test of time but at the moment I'm enjoying it. A few weeks ago, West walked into a sign, gashing his head in front of a harassing horde of paparazzi. It is sad that I know this (I am another victim of voracious over reporting of celebrity life) and on Yeezus's release I glibly said to a friend that the record sounded like Kanye West hitting his head on a sign for forty minutes. The more I listen, the more I think this might be more true that I ever thought but that sign is a metaphor for the sickening popular culture we support and has swallowed West whole.
I was going to do a daily report of my listening across the long weekend and was going to re-listen to Daft Punk (why?!). However, my brain has decided it's a Pete Townshend day and as I've listened to White City six times in a row, I won't bore you with a part three. Thanks for all the reggae/dub recommendations. I was probably being over factitious about reggae so I'll do some more digging. Anyhow, this is what I did on my Sunday:
The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law: I really wanted to like this album but couldn't get into it. I rate their first record which veered between wide vision rockers and succinct, punky singles. It was the latter that made the album so good, Cradle and Magnifying Glass in particular. However, on Wolf's Law (surely the Cult have the copyright on this album title), they decided that the big vision thing was the way to go which seems like a mistake to me. Of course, I have a name for that, the U2 effect.
The U2 effect: where a band goes from making music with a level of intimacy and immediacy to making music that you can play in arenas (ie overblown and theatrical). It was most obvious for U2 between the Unforgettable Fire and the Joshua Tree (even though it technically happened between War and the Unforgettable Fire). Other examples are Coldplay between their first and second albums and the Kings of Leon on that album where they totally started to suck.
The Joy Formidable have gone for big tunes but the quality of the songs isn't up to it. If they'd stuck to that more intimate sound with the occassional branch out in the U2 effect, it may have worked out better for them but this album has very few hooks and just passed by without engaging. I almost turned it off but was glad that I persevered as it was only the final four songs (from Forest Serenade on) that showed any of the promise of their debut. Disappointing.
Laura Marling - Once I was an eagle: Let's get this out of the way, Laura Marling's voice is incredible and her songwriting has a depth which no one the age of 23 has any right of having. Like her previous album, this is a great folk record but my only criticism is that it seems to be one note, one speed, one sound. As such, it gets a bit samey. Maybe more immersion will differentiate and illuminate it better but I found it hard to differentiate between some of the songs.
Coliseum - House with a curse: Again I have to thank Max for not only sending me (a signed) copy of this album but also putting me onto them. Coliseum have been probably been the most exciting new find for me this year and everything I've listened to is killer - their isn't a dud amongst the lot. House with a curse seems a little more straight ahead than the Sister Faith (which I think is better but only just) but if you like your rock with no bullshit, this is the band for you. I know I'm enjoying an album when every other minute I get up and push the volume a little higher and by the time I was on the sixth song I noticed the windows were starting to shake. Can that be no better endorsement?
Clutch - Earth Rocker: I'm glad that I dismissed Clutch on Saturday because it's been brought to my attention that I don't know shit. I downloaded Earth Rocker yesterday and it is a thing of beauty. For some reason it reminds me of Motorhead - not in sound but in harnessing that sweet spot between punk, metal and rock n' roll. My experience of Clutch in the past was that they were a bit jammy, a bit fast and loose with their break downs but if there was any spaced out psychedelic jams in the past, there isn't an ounce of flab on this record - it is a straight up rock monster (except for the ballad Gone Cold which for no reason reminds me of Space Cadet by Kyuss). So, another album I missed which has rocketed into my top ten albums of the year.
I am no fan of the monarchy but once every year the Australian Government gives me a public holiday to celebrate the Queen's birthday. I am nothing if not shallow so for that one day of the year I can be bought - I love you Queenie, thanks for the long weekend. This holiday I am dedicated some time catching up on a bunch of records I have wanted to listen to or dismissed previously. This is my journey:
The Congos - Heart of the Congos: A few weeks ago, a colleague was playing some reggae in the office. I'm not a huge fan of the genre but it was pretty pleasurable and made me think I should own at least one reggae album. I imagine there are people out there who feel the same about country, hip hop, hardcore and metal - they just need one album to fulfil their needs (idiots). Anyhow, I consulted my reggae loving friend who loaned me the Lee Scratch Perry Arkology which was probably too comprehensive for my needs. I cornered him again and asked him if push came to shove what would be the definitive reggae record to own and he recommended the Heart of the Congos. I bought it this morning and my friend was a 100% correct in one regard, it is a reggae record. Finally, that part of my record collection is complete! I think I'll have to get some medicinal herbs to help me enjoy this (and when I say medicinal herbs I mean DRUGS). And no, I wasn't going to buy Bob Marley's Legend.
Smog - Knock Knock: I think there was a time where it felt like there was a Smog, Jason Molina or Will Oldham record coming out every other week and all these doey eyed sad men singing songs of love and loss was starting to bore me. However, courtesy of my friends Adam and John, Knock Knock came into my orbit recently. I must admit I remember when it came out because who could forget a cover like that but I never bothered to listen to it. Big mistake, I'm kicking myself that this album has been in the world for fourteen years and I hadn't heard it - it is incredible. Held, Teenage Spaceship, Left with only love etc... this record just swings from high point to high point. For some reason, I always imagined it'd be full of acoustic guitars but it is oddly rocking on a number of tunes (well, as rocking as these guys get). I am totally blown away and this is definitely my album of the year (for 1999).
Mudhoney - Vanishing Point: Sometimes things are so obvious you miss them. I've never really liked Mudhoney but the good reviews of their latest record got me curious. As the first song Slipping Away kicks in it strikes me that Mudhoney are awesome but not in the way I thought. You see, I love this band from Geelong called Tumbleweed that used to peddle LSD infused stoner rock in the 90's and Mudhoney sound just like them (or more correctly, Tumbleweed sound like Mudhoney). So if I love Tumbleweed then I must love Mudhoney. And I do. This record is fucking awesome and makes me feel like an idiot for emphatically dismissing them for all these years. A Mudhoney retrospective is on the cards.
Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest: There is no way to adequately describe this album. It is dark, apocalyptic, surprising, weird and puzzling. I think you'll see those words a lot in reviews but when it's an album of granular instrumentals, how can you really describe it? This is the only way I can think of doing it: A couple of the kids who work for me have got me hooked on a game called Plague Inc. It is a frightening, amoral (and totally enjoyable) game where you have to develop a virus to wipe out humanity. As disturbing as it is, it is fiendishly addictive and of course, I upgraded to the zombie virus pack to unleash flesh eating hordes on an unsuspecting world - it's like Risk + disease. You have to balance the transmission, symptoms and abilities of the virus so it doesn't get cured too soon to be successful in destroying the world's entire population. I usually succeed but there's usually one or two hold out countries (most regularly Greenland). As such, I let my zombies mutate such that they can travel through water and I launch millions of zombies across the ocean to take over the remaining zombie free islands. The reason why I tell you all this: Tomorrow's Harvest sounds like the soundtrack to a million Canadian zombies invading Greenland.
Torche - Meanderthal Demos: The ever brilliant Max sent me a couple of records recently and this Torche 10inch was one of them. In my mind I had somehow confused Torche with Clutch which is entirely ridiculous as Torche make Clutch look like a bunch of amateur burn outs. These songs are angular gut punching rifforama from go to whoa (seriously, each song has about twenty different riffs per minute) and makes me fall to my knees and praise Satan for rock 'n roll. While the first side is head clanging stoner rock, Torche lighten up on the second side for some melodicism and more straight ahead rock fare which is brilliantly. Once I'm done going through these records, I'm hoping Spotify will cure me of my ignorance of this band and lead me into some beautiful discoveries.
Bob Mould - See a little light concert: About a million years ago, I sponsored the Bob Mould Kickstarter project for a film version of his tribute concert. Of course, I ordered the contributor pack which was held up because they had trouble printing a seven inch. It finally arrived yesterday afters months of waiting/ Although I'd watched it once online, I settled in to watch it this afternoon and it's a pretty enjoyable journey through Bob's career. Apart from the slight over-fawning towards Dave Grohl, there is nothing but love here. Ryan Adams is the non-Bob highlight, deconstructing Heartbreak a Stranger and Black Sheets of Rain into poignant, plaintive ballads. Britt Daniel and the Hold Steady guys make a fair fist of it and Craig Finn seems to be losing his mind being able to sing Real World. Daniel bravely takes on JC Auto and kind of fails but I don't think anyone can do that song the way Bob does. In fairness, the Bob + Dave Grohl portion is the highlight as they tumble through six Hüsker Dü songs including Something I learned today (my lord, I love that song), Ice Cold Ice, New Day Rising (with Grohl on drums) and Chartered Trips. Hardly getting over it is turned into an up and down hybrid ballad/rock monster - it is beautiful. To be honest, I doubt there would be much here for non-Bob fans but if you are, it's worth tracking down. (Oh and we can finally put to rest any argument as to whether Margaret Cho is a good singer or not but she loves her Bob as do we all).
A couple of my friends have been giving me shit about my geek out
about the new Queens record and that's ok, if you want to give me a gentle
ribbing about it I won't hold it against you (I'm lying, I hate you).
But it did get me thinking that we might look back
on this year as one of those special years in music. Six months ago, a new My
Bloody Valentine album was a punchline and then there it was bleeding
through our speakers. There have been great albums from Coliseum, the
National, Nick Cave, Low, Laura Marling, Atoms
for Peace, Ice Age, Wire, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, James Blake, the Drones
etc... We got a frickin' Bowie album which I don't really rate but we
got a frickin' Bowie album anyway. Daft Punk seduced us with their marketing
campaign and let us down with their coke rock pastiche.
The crazy thing is we're only half way through the year and have
records coming from Boards of Canada, Arcade Fire, Superchunk, NIN, MIA and a whole bunch of
others (I'm sure there will be some surprises as well).
So take a moment, breathe in the ambience of it all and be thankful that you're a music fan in 2013.
During the Era Vulgaris tour, Queens of the Stone Age would often break down their anthem to wanton drug use Feel Good Hit of the Summer to a whisper and Josh Homme would sing a few grabs of Amy Winehouse's Rehab. The band would then abruptly stop and Homme would stare down the crowd and pronounce arms outstretched, "I cannot be killed." However, no matter how invincible he seemed, the Queens lead singer was not immune to mortality. As has been discussed in many articles for Like Clockwork, Homme briefly died in an operation on his knee and was revived on the operating table. After being bedridden for months, he fell into a deep depression which formed the basis of the album's themes. When you're a father and husband, there's nothing like death to make you reassess your priorities and I imagine being a badass musician suddenly looked like a hollow pursuit. As such, Like Clockwork sounds like no other Queens record and is all the more glorious for it. Gone is the soundtrack to the apocalypse as imagined by a merry band of swaggering rock n' roll pirates and in their place is a deep meditation on death, humanity and love. This is not your mother's Queens of the Stone Age.
There are a number of things I want to discuss but I think the main thing is that this seems like a totally uncompromised project. From the lyrics, sounds and even Boneface's blood splattered album/video art, this feels like a deeply personal and clear headed vision of Queens. The music is by turns tough, weird, melodic and torturous but it is all laced with a new found vulnerability and sincerity that was never a hallmark of the Queens' sound or mantra. The closest Queens have come in the past is I Never Came, a ballad hidden at the back end of Lullabies to Paralyze (Queens other notoriously bummed record) but that was a detour amongst that album's carnival-esque darkness.
Let me digress for a second: Lullabies is often criticised as a let down (let it be known that Queens have never made a bad record) but I think they were in an impossible position after the their career defining Songs for the Deaf (more on this later). In retrospect, Era Vulgaris felt more like a reaction to the negative press Lullabies received and suffered for it. Songs like Sick, Sick, Sick sounded like Queens' by numbers, it felt listless, compromised and an obligation. Where Era Vulgaris was great was where they got funky and brutal (Misfit Love) or just plain weird (Run Pig Run). Where Like Clockwork succeeds is that it combines the darkness of Lullabies and the weirdness of Era into something new (side theory: Queens work in three album cycles - similarly, the robot rock of their debut + the melody laden hallucinations of Rated R culminated in Songs for the Deaf). As such, we have a distilled, pure version of their sound or to quote Hunter S Thompson, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
Weird. What does that even mean exactly? In this context, I think Queens have taken those weird songs and sounds they used to hide at end of their records (Skin on Skin, Run Pig Run), brought them to the fore and normalised them. No more so than opener Keep Your Eyes Peeled which sounds more like a predatory animal circling it's wounded victim than a song. The riff is subterranean and brutalising and claws for your attention. Most people writing about this song will mention the key lyric in this song as being "If life is but a dream, then
wake me up." Fair call but for me, the line that speaks most is "Shotgun, never behind the wheel anymore." Homme is no longer in control but in the passenger seat. Given Queens have pretty much always been about control: their destiny, their sound, their legacy - they were always the tough guys in the room, this is a major concession. The weird thing about Keep Your Eyes Peeled is that the first few listens sound jarring and sickening but then it settles into a strangely compelling pop song.
The second song, I sat by the ocean, while much more convention seems to be derived from Lullabies' Broken Box, a song about an ex's, ahem, vagina. Another deep track it was based around an unconventional structure and again, weird. I Sat by the Ocean sounds like a break up song but I would argue it's not; it's about identity, the thought of who we are and what we are. The chorus tagline of "We're passing ships in the night" changes to "We're crashing ships in the night" at the song's death. The reconciliation of the self (post-death perhaps) and image is jarring and confronting. The album's pop monster, If I had a tail, appears to be recounting the vapidity of rock god and fame asprirations. It starts with the throw aways "Giuchie, Giuchie, Oh la la, the Do run run, You won't get far," and then follows the emptiness of fame. Strangely, this is contradicted by the groaned vocal ear worm that follows the chorus that will haunt your dreams. If any song will be fucking huge off this record and make Queens anymore famous, it'll be this one.
It's not surprising that a man from the desert would appeal to the sun for redemption and My God is the Sun which sounded slightly askew prior to the album's release sounds like the most conventional song here. The respirator wheeze and jazz noodlings of Kalopsia gives way to paranoid ravings of a patient in straps ranting at unseen foes, "Copy cats in cheap suits all playing it safe/
While cannibals with their noose consume a parade."The weakest song here is Fairweather Friends which is an odd jigsaw puzzle of a song that makes more sense the more you listen to it and goddamn, the guitar tones on that song are golden. Smooth Sailing is a funk sleaze number in the vain of Them Crooked Vultures and its odd strut is somewhere located between disco and devastation. It is universally great and I imagine nine months from now a number of babies will be born courtesy of this song.
Which leaves us with three songs to discuss. The first is The Vampyre Of Time And Memory, a piano ballad at the front end of the album. It is as vulnerable as Homme has ever been before and again it seems to be explore the sense of identity post-resurrection. Yes, he has survived but the protagonist in this song is lost:
I've survived, I speak. I breathe, I'm incomplete
I'm alive, hooray, you're wrong again 'cause I feel no love
Does anyone ever get this right?
When he says the word 'hooray', it is the most sardonic and bitter word uttered on the record. The song itself builds to a flipped out blues solo which is as beautiful as it is unhinged.
The album centrepiece is I Appear Missing, a slow roar through Homme's trauma. The song itself lopes along but recounts the ever maddening loss of self, control and identity - themes that circle the album like vultures waiting for a meal. The lyrics are fantasic:
Calling all comas,
Prisoner on the loose.
A spitting image of me
Except for the heart-shaped hole where the hope runs out
Shock me awake
Tear me apart
Pinned like a note in a hospital gown
Prison of sleep
A rabbit hole never to be found again
The song builds and climaxes through a false ending building to the single flashpoint of release on the whole album. The album breaks like a wall coming down where the shrieking solo kicks in at 4:22 and builds to the revelation and redemption of the final lines "I never loved anything until I loved you." The whole final coda is incredible, a plea for understanding and breaking through the haze of depression. It is probably one of the best songs Homme has ever written.
The album concludes with the title track that proclaims that "it's all downhill from here." Whether that's a good or bad thing is up for debate but I'd like to think it's a nice metaphor for Queens of the Stone Age as a band. Now that they've released themselves from the expectation of what Queens should be, they now have an endless horizon of possibilities of where to go next.
Let's move onto the sound of the album. This is not a riff heavy banger of yore but has a more considered sound. The guitar tones are tasty, well thought out and gorgeous ranging from seventies prog squeal to concrete mixer crunch. A common complaint about this record is that their are a number of guest appearances (Reznor, Lanegan, Arctic Monkeys kid etc...) but you can't really hear them. I for one am glad for this. I'd much prefer spending an hour writing about how great this album is than discussing how weird that Elton John duet is. Everyone of the guests is serving the larger vision of the album and their contributions, while discreet, no doubt add to the sonic tapestry of the record. The other thing is that Queens sounds more like a functional unit than they have since Songs for the Deaf. The real star here is bassist Michael Shuman, whose bass tones and playing are outstanding particulalrly the sympathetic lines on Vampyres and Like Clockwork. Sure it's reassuring to hear Nick Oliveri's sinister whispers at the end of If I had a tail but I'm not sure the need a Tension Head to set this record straight.
Finally, let's talk about the elephant in the room. A couple of friends whose taste in music I respect have spoken about their disappointment in the album or as Claire puts it, "I miss the screamy man." OK, it's no Songs for the Deaf but how could it be? That band hasn't existed for over ten years and the Queens of today is a very different beast. Don't get me wrong, I love Songs with a firey passion but that album is going nowhere. I'd argue that Like Clockwork is actually perfect because it's not beholden to Songs like Lullabies and Era were. Homme is free to write about things that matter to a forty year old man rather than a thirty year old one looking for drugs and trouble. For me, this album marks a clear delineation between the band of then and now and I happen to be in love with both.
Make no mistake, Like Clockwork is a masterwork on a par with Songs for the Deaf and for me, may one day eclipse it. This seemed almost unthinkable to me prior to its release (seriously, Songs for the Deaf is my second favourite record of ALL TIME). However, as I've submerged myself into the sound and feeling of this record, I have found myself excited, seduced and in love with it's idiosyncratic oddness and fearless vulnerability. It is an album that captures the mania, self doubt and redemption of mental illness and it pulls no punches. It is a great, great great record and far better than I could ever have dreamed.
It has been a bit dour round here of late so let me introduce you to my new favourite band Coliseum. My blogging comrade Max introduced me to them and there is something wonderfully workmanlike about their no nonsense rock. When I say workmanlike, this is not an insult but a compliment. Somehow I am heartened by the idea that there are people like me who get up and go to work everyday but when these guys put on their work boots, their work is to produce fuck yeah rock monsters. There is no artifice, pretension or show, merely three guys who know the grinding mechanics of a good song. It also makes sense that the album is produced by J. Robbins of Jawbox (one of my all time favourite bands), a band most people remember for a skewed Tori Amos cover but consistently produced amazing work. It's no surprise that Late Night Trains and Love Under Will on Sister Faith sound like long lost Jawbox songs, those ringing guitars and dynamics have Robbins written all over them.
I mention Jawbox but I don't mean to give that as an indication of their sound as it's much more varied and complex, it's kind of a hardcore, post-punk, math rock, indie face melt with a dash of rock classicism. With that in mind, it's great to hear really tight, powerful musicians locking in on good songs - the rhythm section is flawless and of particular note is Carter Wilson's thunderous drums. I have to say it's hard to pick the best song but at a push I'd pick Doing Time, the aforementioned Late Night Trains and Save Everything. Make no mistake, there is not a weak track on this album.
If I hadn't heard the new Queens album this week, this would have been a contender for the album of the year with the National. The best thing for me is I have new back catalogue to explore if I ever get exhaust this record. Whatever the case, if you feel the need for some heavy rock action, Sister Faith delivers in spades. Get to work gentlemen.
I have a bunch of friends who are obsessed with making mix CDs and their
current obsession is coke rock (they're up to volume 9). Supposedly
coke rock is excellent music to take coke to or at least explain the
experience and as someone who has never tried it, I will defer to their
expertise although I have been around enough overconfident assholes on
the drug to get the idea. Coke rock is a not too distant cousin of yacht
rock although it's not confined to that period of time but features all
the big wigs of that genre: Steely Dan, Toto etc... (Check out the best of compiled below). Anyhow, the
reason I mention all this is because a lot of Random Access Memories
could fit into this genre as it sounds like a yacht rock/disco coke
After a masterful marketing campaign (I'll admit it, I was sucked in),
Daft Punk have delivered an album which is a deep exploration of
neo-disco soul of the late 70's and 80's. I still maintain Get Lucky is a
great song, lots of fun but it is not really like to much else on the
record which tends to be mid-tempo plodders. There are a couple of
awesome moments with the Giorgio Moroder tribute imaginatively titled
Giorgioby Moroder and the final song Contact, which is a backwards/forwards freak
out which once it it gets going, really gets going.
Overall though it feels like a little bit of a let down to me and I think there two reasons for this.
1. I remember when Discovery came out, I thought 'what is this retro
80's shit?' Everyone was raving about it but it took me a long time to
get into it. It wasn't until much later you could see that Daft Punk
were ahead of that particular curve. As such, there's a good chance this
album will make a lot more sense in two years once the weight
expectation has died down. (A lot of people seem to be making a similar point in reviews i've read and I think we can all agree Human after all kind of sucked).
2. My favourite Daft Punk album and general pick me up record of choice
is the live album (Alive 2007). As a friend of mine pointed out at the
time (hi Claire), that album is a bit of a cheat because essentially it
gave the duo the opportunity to address the criticism of their previous albums and remix
them into ecstatic uber-versions of those songs. Random Access
Memories is a totally different beast and not aimed to give the sugar
highs that Alive did.
As such, what we have is a reasonable record but I suspect it's not the
record a lot of people wanted (I know I was expecting a balls out
Michael Jackson-esque Off the wall disco party). I think once the
distance between expectation and reality becomes greater, it'll settle
into a pretty good party record. At the very least, there are some
excellent additions to the next coke rock compilation.
At this point in time, it seems inconceivable that the National will
ever make a bad album as they reached a point where they are essentially their own genre. A such, there are no surprises on Trouble will find me which is a natural successor to
High Violet. Where the previous record was big choruses and big
emotion, the new album feels muted in comparison - it feels like the
sigh of resignation after the break up. On first listen the album runs
as a single mood piece, unfamiliarity making single tracks
indistinguishable but a few listens in, the intricacy and intimacy of
the record reveals itself. This is probably the National's greatest
strength - subtlety and intimacy and the ability to wring real emotion
from their songs.
It's weird, their sound is almost predictable - Trouble will find me sounds exactly like you would expect it to sound but repeated listens
unveil complexity and vision far beyond expectation. At first flush, their lyrics are littered
with bad jokes, references to Guns n' Roses and Nirvana and low key
melancholy but they reveal a thousand bruised hearts and relatable
stories of grief and loss.
I have to confess, their songs get to me the way few bands do. As I do
with most new albums, I put them on my iPod and go on a long walk and
listen to them about six times in a row. By the fourth listen, I had
suddenly (and embarrassingly) become slightly emotionally unstable as the album seemed to explore
little wounds of my psyche (there is one song here that makes want to blubber
like a baby. At this point, I just skip that song - bloody hell). The incisive nature
of the writing is so brutal that it can tap into long forgotten hurts. I get that feeling you had when you were a kid - 'it's like they're
writing this song about my life' - that comes rushing back even though it's patently absurd.
Matt Berninger's phrasing is immaculate, his sullen baritone sails above the band's sympathetic playing which has
pulled back from High Violet's lopsided bombast to gentler creature but
no less devastating. If this all sounds like one great bummer, it's not,
it's just excellent songwriting.
There isn't a bad song here and I find my favourite song change each
time I listen to it. I do feel the album gets stronger towards the end as the final three tracks: Humiliation, Pink Rabbits and Hard to Find are
all exquisite and triumphantly end a remarkable record. I have to say my expectations for this record were pretty high but they have been exceeded at every turn. It's too soon to
tell if it will dethrone High Violet as my favourite National album but
it feels like it will... it feels like it's only a matter of time.
Indulge me. Late last year a friend of mine committed suicide, the sad conclusion of downward spiral over many years. As is often the case, he had distanced himself from his friends and I hadn't spoken to him in a few years, separated by imagined slights and darkness that mental illness fuels. I was rudely alerted to it through a Facebook feed and even now, I'm not really sure what happened, I'm not sure I really want to know. On that day, the first song from this album, What happened to my brother?, was released online. I listened to it about 30 times on repeat drinking a bottle of wine by myself swept up in a vertiginous wooziness of grief - somehow the world was simultaneously expanding and contracting as I plummeted into an ocean of sadness. In many ways, my friend was my brother and the song reverberated with that overwhelming grief, confusion and loss I was feeling.
Now I don't say this to invoke a pity party but it's to make a broader point: that song will be forever associated with that day for me and this is the brilliance of this record, it feels so intimate and personal that regardless of the stories Kozelek is telling, they feel relatable, they feel like your stories. Of late, Kozelek has largely released nylon acoustic laments with the occasional Neil Young-ish rock out so the move to the electronic pallates of the Album Leaf (Jimmy LaValle) may have caused some concern if they weren't so sympathetic to Kozelek's weary baritone. If anything, Kozelek gains here as the songs create evocative soundscapes which add an understated emotion to his work.
All the tracks are good; apart from the aforementioned Brother, 1936, Caroline, and Ceiling Gazing are especially gorgeous. The only weaker track is You missed my heart, beautiful in the solo acoustic setting but too upbeat in this recording by straying too close to Postal Service territory (not that there's anything wrong with them, just not the right fit for Kozelek). Kozelek rolls through tales of love, loss, the road and mortality with his trademark weariness, occasional surliness and a good dash of humour. Regardless of the setting or instrumentation, it his voice which carries these songs to your heart and these tracks seem especially inspired. Despite the high quality of the Sun Kil Moon albums, there is something very special about this record which speaks directly to the soul.
Making my way through the hordes of people at Hum records... not so much.
Sydney suffered a mini rain apocalypse this morning but that didn't stop the annual international vinyl nerd day. My nerd foil and I drove to Newtown and I camped outside of Hum Records (a queue of 10) while my buddy lined up outside Repressed Records (a queue of 7 - word is everyone went to Redeye in the city). The whole challenge with Record Store Day is that there is no guarantee of what exclusives the stores get so the things I was particularly after (Built to Spill Live vinyl, No Alternative lp or the Elliott Smith outtakes) were nowhere to be found (nor the disturbingly and shamefully sexy Neko Case poster they were giving away free in the US). I know that's part of the joy of it but when you look at the list of things which were available in the states (hello Hüsker Dü re-issue - I'd been tipped off there were none in Australia), it can be frustrating. I consoled with the re-issue of the first Nick Drake record, a couple of seven inches and the At the Drive-In album that sounds like Fugazi. Ryzard did slightly better than me but there was a slight deflation as we headed to the Glebe Record Fair.
The Sydney rain apocalypse.
Ahh, record fairs: the sights, the weirdness and the smells (mainly of the record nerds). I'd already lucked out as a friend of mine had a stall and let me peruse his stock before the fair. A friend had just dug up two crates of prime 90's indie vinyl (most still sealed) so I got in early with a lot of Superchunk, Helmet and Guided By Voices. I was particularly happy with a copy of Girls Against Boys House of GVSB which sounds fucking great - I'd forgotten how dark and sexy that record is. I got a couple of cheap deals (Gram Parsons, Hound Dog Taylor) but with a hall full of records (mostly badly ordered) and a rabid nerd swarm, I beat a hasty retreat. However, a shitty day is the perfect excuse to curl up with a cup of tea and new tunes.
Daft Punk - Get Lucky: I hate it when people say "this is my jam" or "this is my summer jam." You sound stupid, ridiculous and out of touch. That being said, this is my summer jam (even though it's autumn and today feels like winter). Sure, it's an innocuous disco song but goddamn it gets stuck in my head, gives me a big goofy smile and makes me want to dance badly (it has happened). Lat's face it, the pre-chorus is pure Off the Wall era Michael Jackson which is no bad thing. I know a lot of Daft Punk fans were expecting something much more complex and challenging but whatever, I'll settle for something that makes me feel good.
Queens of the Stone Age - My God is the Sun: I figure if I was in a room full of people and Josh Homme was there, he'd probably be the smartest guy in the room (after myself, of course). On first listen, this doesn't seem like the most remarkable of songs but that's the deceptive thing, My God is the Sun killer. It just confidently exists outside your six years worth of built up expectations for a new Queen's album and waits for you to catch up. These guy's no what they're doing and don;t care about you want. Listless reverb riffs, slight digressions and a chorus that gnaws into your subconscious after two or three listens, it is actually remarkable (check out it's structure). It is so catchy I woke in the middle of the night literally singing it at the top of my voice - yeah, I am weird and should get out more. The scuttlebutt doing the rounds is that the new album is really low-key with lot's of ballads but I have faith in Homme to deliver the goods.
The National - Demons and Don't Swallow the Cap: I'm pretty sure the National are at a point where they can do no wrong. From these two songs, it is apparent that their new record is going to be nothing less than phenomenal. Of the two tracks here, I prefer Don't Swallow the Cap which is a natural extension of the High Violet sound - it gets to about 45 seconds and I just throw my head back in ecstasy. It's just the perfect encapsulation of their sound and rolls with confidence and spirit. Demons is a harder pill to swallow and strangely, reminds of a late era Nick Cave slow burner especially the half sung/half spoken verses. It doesn't have the punch of Don't Swallow but multiple listens slowly reveal it's shimmering beauty. Both great tracks and the album's not far away. This is going to be a great year for music.
I remember the exact time I first heard the Deftones. As usual, hung over after a Friday night out, I would watch the TV show Recovery on Saturday mornings. Recovery was one of the few shows that had live bands playing and then the Deftones strolled on and blew my mind (the two songs above). Big hooks, big riffs and a driving intensity. I remember that day because I went and bought Around the Fur as soon as the show had finished and basically became a fan forever. Little did I know that they would morph from a very good band into a fucking excellent one. Their next record White Pony is a classic and while they've never really soared that high again, every album features a high number of outstanding songs.
So it was a saddening to hear that Deftones bass player Chi Cheng passed away this week. Cheng was in a car accident some years ago that left him paralysed and largely comatose. The Deftones community rallied around his family, providing support and funds for his rehabilitation but sadly it was not to be. I didn't know the guy but I knew that mighty bass sound that anchored one of my favourite bands and getting to see them live a couple of times, he had that particular energy you see in musicians when they love what they do. Sad stuff.
So I'm getting pretty excited about the arrival of a new Queens of the Stone Age record. The first single, My God is the Sun, is being previewed on Monday night (or 4.40am Tuesday Sydney time) but if you're a weirdo like me you will have heard multiple live versions of from their current South American tour. Sounds a bit like the Sky is Falling from Songs for the Deaf with Crooked Vultures break downs. It sounds ok but I think I'll pass proper judgement when I hear the studio version.
However, all of this anticipation has led Queens back into high rotation so I thought I might do a top ten. Now I want to make a caveat - this list is not definitive because the songs I like change hourly and Queens is one of the few bands I've found where absolutely no one agrees on what is their best song or album. For me, Songs for the Deaf will always be a high water mark but I've met fans equally passionate about every other album. I think it's a reflection on the diversity of their sound and the audience they attract. I think everyone agrees that they fucking rock. Here's my top 10:
10: Infinity: Originally released on the Heavy Metal 2000 soundtrack(?!) and then released with the special editions of Lullabies to Paralyze, this songs was floating around between the first album and Rated R. It shows a sonic leap from the first album in terms of ambition and a refinement of the sound they would eventually perfect. It is all repetition, wirey riffs, hushed backing vocals and a devastating chorus. Homme is still finding his voice but he sounds a million more times confident than he did on the first record.
9: I Never Came: For the Halloween-esque bombast of Lullabies, this is the song I return to. As far as I can guess this is the only song on the record that actually deals with the acrimonious departure of Nick Oliveri. It also shows that there is some light and shade to their sound and the song builds around Homme's falsetto. As much as I miss the Nick era rockers like Tension Head and Millionaire, the subtlety and nuance of I never came is the flip side of the band which reveals how great they can be when they turn it down a notch.
8: The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret: I know it's not a popular thing to put a single on lists but fuck it, this is a great pop song. Deftly constructed, great lyrics and always slower then you remember, it's a slow burn anthem for promiscuity and cheaters. I have no idea how they got those guitar tones or those horns (yes, horns) to sound so sinister but there is a dark well of voodoo being pulled out on the Rated R record.
7: Mexicola: This could have easily been Regular John, How to Handle a Rope or The Bronze but in the end I went with Mexicola because it is just so brutal. That opening bass riff, the shining verses and the drag down of the chorus, it is the perfect encapsulation of Homme's writing style which somehow manages to blend dead end stop/starts, sideways digressions, shimmering pop and thuggish riffing into seamless perfection. The song itself is about Homme being arrested in Mexico and imagining ending up in jail below the border - the threat is as much sonic as it is in the lyrics.
6: Go with the flow: Another single - whatever. When I listen to My God in the Sun, I get concerned that there's too much focus on tricky dicky time changes and digressions. I appreciate good musicianship as much as the next walrus but sometimes I just want a straight ahead rock song I can lose my shit to without worrying about looking like an idiot when some weird time signature comes in. As such, Go with the flow delivers that in spades - 4 chords, melody to burn and sexy as hell. I tend to think Queens hit their lyric writing peak on Songs for the Deaf and there are some lovely phrases across the entire the album including this song. Also, it pays to have a shit hot video.
5: Auto Pilot: Yeah, tell me I suck because I didn't put In the Fade or a Nick rock song here but if there is any song that shows the key contribution of Oliveri to the band, it's Auto Pilot. Firstly, his bass hangs off the beat and is almost dubby in some ways. Secondly, his more laid back vocals are pushed forward revealing the voice that often shadows some of Homme's best tracks. Thirdly, it allows Josh to focus on one of the best guitar lines he's written (that guitar tone too - shit). Also great to hear Lanegan dirty baritone low in the mix.
4: Better living through chemistry: Building on the slow grind of You Can't Quit Me Baby and the psychedelic freaks outs of Kyuss, Better Living is the centrepiece of the Rated R album and sits like a monolithic rock monster squatting in the middle of R's id disrupting the subconscious mindfuck party jams. At times brutal, at other time soothing as a glass of warm milk, this song showed the radical advancement in Homme's abilities as a songwriter.
3: Misfit Love: While Era Vulgaris was a solid record, its centre is the singular peak that is Misfit Love. The song itself is all tightly coiled riffage, hard nosed noise and cooed come on's. It builds and builds and builds and builds and builds and builds and builds until 4 minutes in it releases into a catharsis wrapped around the lyric "Just a dead man walking through the dead of night." At every turn, the song is perfect from the shrill harmonics over the monster beat to the falsetto. Also, it is very sexy and I no doubt imagine a lot of people have had sex to this song... probably.
2. You can't quit me baby: OK, so stalker songs aren't that beloved but when you have a track built on a behemoth bass riff which leads to about 101 seconds (2:43-4:24) of the most transcendent, lovely choruses you'll ever hear, then this is A song. Particularly when that chorus is "You're solid gold, I'll see you in hell." Flawless even with the goofy ending.
1. A Song for the Deaf: Probably a controversial choice but this song has everything that I love about Queens: a. Sinister bass riff: ✓ b: Fuck off brilliant drumming by Dave Grohl: ✓ c: Mark Lanegan: ✓ d: Stinging guitar lines: ✓ e: Bombast and grandeur: ✓ f: Great Josh vocal performance with Nick screaming: ✓ g: Great backing vocals: ✓ h: Amazing lyrics: ✓ Everything right about Queens is encapsulated in this song, it simultaneously threatening, sexy, weird and assaultive. Built on a propulsive bass/drums combo, it is so good that every time I listen to it I can't believe quite how amazing it is. Somewhat buried at the end of the Songs, it is the perfect product of that era of the band and is untouched to this day. Sure everyone talks about A Song for the Dead (which features Dave Grohl's best drum performance put to tape) but this is the really dark heart of Queens of the Stone Age. Don't believe me? Get some good headphones and listen to it, there's more going on there than you could ever hope to comprehend in a thousand listens.
So it was a big night for music in Sydney last Saturday night with likes of Nick Cave, the Stone Roses, Jon Spencer as well as many others playing in town. However, for me, there was only one show that had to be attended and that was Bob Mould's first Sydney show with a full band. Anyone who reads this blog knows how biased I am about Bob but this was truly a special concert. It was that perfect alchemy of a band in top form, the perfect setlist and an adoring crowd that turned the evening into one big, joyous party.
As soon as the first chords of The Act We Act echoed through the Factory, the entire audience was smitten. From where I was standing, there seemed to be a level of disbelief that the album that so many of us adore was being played live, in front of our eyes, like right now! Everyone was grinning from ear to ear and as each song rolled on the crowd got rowdier and rowdier. It all burst forth on Hoover Dam with the crowd singing and dancing in mild ecstasy. Sure, we're all older, the mosh was a little grey haired (Silver Mosh?) and the dancing was a bit embarrassing but the band fed off the crowd's energy and were having a ball.
Anyone looking for the introspective nuances of his solo career were in for a disappointment. This was a big hearted rock show, no banter, no pauses, just slab after slab of pure rock action. Once the first five tracks of Copper Blue were played, the band tore through songs from Silver Age which were no less exciting. It seems this is an album that has been embraced as lot's of people were singing along and it felt like a perfect fit to the Copper Blue stuff. I have to admit as Steam of Hercules descended into a MBV-esque psychedelic jam and then segued into Come Around, the smallest bit of wee escaped my body in excitement. Probably for the best they didn't play any other Beaster tracks, it could have got messy.
Bob was in an ebullient mood, obviously having a great time and Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster are the perfect cohorts for Bob's non-stop attack playing with style and perfect understanding of the material (seeing Wurster makes me wish for an Australian Superchunk tour which I'm afraid will never happen). By the time the Hüsker songs rolled around, the whole theatre was going crazy and it really felt like a special night. For most of us who have lived with Bob's catalogue, this felt like 20-30 years of build up released in ecstatic revelry. I Apologize was fierce and fun leading into a fuzzed out jam of Chartered Trips. The encores just solidified the amazing feeling of the night and while I know this is a pretty standard Bob setlist, it was perfect.
It all ended with Bob standing in the middle of the stage saying thanks and he seemed quite moved by the ovation he received. For so many of us, music has been life and death, a thing that has kept us alive and lightened our load, the soundtrack to our biggest and smallest moments. All of that seemed to be captured at the Factory on Saturday night as we left with big smiles, ears ringing and our love of music validated so emphatically.
Factory Theatre Setlist:
The Act We Act
A Good Idea
Round the City Square
Steam of Hercules
Your Favorite Thing
Could You Be The One?
If I Can't Change Your Mind
Flip Your Wig
Hate Paper Doll
Makes No Sense At All
All Sunday, I grappled with whether I should go to the second show in Sydney. Given how amazing the Factory show was, how could the second show live up to it? Sadly, it couldn't and it wasn't the band's fault. While there was a lot of people having fun and dancing at the front, the Annandale was half full with a lot of big guys standing around with their arms folded. I'm not sure what that was about but there was a certain sense that the crowd was sucking the energy out of the room - the opposite of the night before. The band rocked hard though and while the setlist was largely the same, we got Divide and Conquer, In a Free Land and a particularly punishing Something I Learnt Today (amazing!). Bob seemed to be having a good time, joking around with the band and going into full shred mode on some solos but it didn't have the spark of the previous evening. I don't regret going as this might be the last chance I get to see him and I will cherish these couple of hours I spent this weekend watching my hero get the kudos he deserves. The shows felt like a victory lap and anyone who knows Bob's story knows that lap has been hard fought for and well deserved - viva la Bob.
The question came through the music nerd Gods, Hail to the Thief, do I rate it? Yes I do but with caveats. As Rino in the twittermatrix pointed out it was a difficult transitional album and I agree with that. I also think there's a lot going for it as well.
Radiohead will always struggle to move out of the shadows of Ok Computer and Kid A (In Rainbows has come closest - a fucking marvel of a record). Amnesiac, while enjoyable felt like treading water to me where Hail to the Thief tried to incorporate the Kid A aesthetic with their indie guitar roots. In some respects, they failed but it is within that failure you will actually find a great record. The record doesn't know what it wants to be and tries to be everything all at once to its own detriment. It has always felt slightly unrefined and blunt (even the title of the record seems like a tossed away thought) and this is exacerbated by being too long and having a terrible track listing.
This is always surprising because one thing Radiohead seem good at is ordering their tracks. OK, Kid A, The Bends and Rainbows are masterclasses in getting albums to flow. Thief has none of that elegance. The first two tracks have the same dynamics that lead into a dead stop ballad and then the Kid A-esque electronic stuff is thrown in with little regard to what sits around it. It is almost tracked like a b-side collection and it is also too long by at least three songs.
However, like any canny music fan, you can make this work for you. As the record fails as a whole, it's easy to forget the casual brilliance of tracks like There There, Sit Down Stand Up and Backdrifts. If you are using itunes or spotify I would recommend playing with the track listing to give it more dynamics. This is my standard Thief playlist:
2+2=5 Go To Sleep Sail To The Moon There There Backdrifts I Will Punch Up At A Wedding Myxamatosis Sit Down Stand Up The Gloaming Scatterbrain
Maybe Thief had to happen for In Rainbows to work but I tend to think that Thief is underrated because of the reasons listed above. But it's worth revisiting, you forget how much great stuff is on there.
I think I've been pretty upfront about my dislike for the King of Limbs but I have another confession: I didn't really like Thom Yorke's solo record the Eraser either. There was something so dour, self conscious and predictable about it that I could never really embrace (Black Swan excluded). When I say predictable, it sounded exactly like I imagined a Thom Yorke record would sound before I'd even heard it. They was nothing revelatory but a celebration of his wanton obscurist tendencies - why one of the best singers and lyricists of the last twenty years seems to want to not sing and make the words incomprehensible is beyond me. I just want to sit him down and have a cup of tea and have a frank discussion about his attitude. Happily, Amok is infinitely more pleasurable than either the Eraser or Limbs.
While the dreadfully named Atoms for Peace are technically a band, there is no way to confuse this as anything other than a Thom Yorke record. However, the band approach works as there is a lot more warmth here than on the Eraser. While I have a general disdain for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Flea makes Yorke's robotic bass soulful. Unfortunately, drummer Joey Waronker might as well be a drum machine as his playing in lost in the general cacophony of drum patterns. Whatever the case, this album is fun to listen to and is crammed with sonic peculiarity, roaming basslines and soaring choruses. The static clatter of Default (my favourite) is mesmerizing as is the spaced out but perfect chorus while the driving bass of Stuck Together Pieces is seemingly underpinned by somepne flipping the pages of a book made of tin. Stoners rejoice and get your headphones out, this record is for you!
As for lyrics, who knows? Yorke insists on mumbling through the songs which would make my 5th grade speech therapist slap him but it is only mildly distracting. Apparently most of this music was conceived after a marathon bender listening to Fela Kuti and there are elements here but if true, I think the greatest element is that this album moves with purpose and soul. It sounds like computer music for sure but it also sounds human. I have to admit I went in thinking I was going to dislike it but I am ecstatic to report that this is a great album happily bridging the divide between my Radiohead fanboyism and Yorke's love of anti-melody. Sure, Atoms for Peace is the suckiest name I've heard for a while but this record deserves to be on your record shelf. It's already on mine.
Push the Sky Away is an interesting album to me for a number reasons. My main interest is that this is the first record without Mick Harvey being second in command. It seemed since Warren Ellis joined the band the increasing collaborations between the Dirty Three founder and Cave (soundtracks, Grinderman) Harvey seemed to be sidelined. Harvey is a classicist (check his solo albums) so no matter how wild or ethereal the Bad Seeds got, he acted like an anchor. New number 2 Ellis is not constrained by such conceits and as such, Push the Sky Away feels like a departure for the Bad Seeds but not for Ellis and Cave.
Sound wise it seems indebted largely to their soundtrack work - quieter soundscapes based around gentle idioms and looping melodies (for example, Wide Lovely Eyes). However, the best songs here manage to incorporate the Bad Seeds swagger with that repetitive drone - Water's Edge is as angelic and airy as it is menacing with the most ominous bass line since Tupelo. The best song here, Jubilee Street, is the perfect confluence of sounds - built on a simple singular riff with Bad Seeds menace and the repetition of the Dirty Three at its finest, it slowly rises to unexpected levels of ecstasy (check out any of the live youtube videos of it, it is revelatory and I imagine it will be a staple in all future live shows). The wandering Higgs Boson Blues is the other high point, a understated meditation on mortality and Miley Cyrus or something... I'm sure some kid in listening to this record will be as perplexed by this reference as the one's to Wikipedia but I think that's ok. Cave isn't stuck in the Bible or the past - he feels very present on this record.
Interestingly, as the quietest Bad Seeds record since No More Shall We Part, it is not overly concerned with the whimsey of love or God like that record. If anything, it seems more less focused on the internal complexities and has more storytelling - you know, dead prostitutes, rape, murder - the good old fashioned Cave preoccupations. But most of all, it is good - very good and probably my favourite Bad Seeds record since the aforementioned No More (criminally underrated). Cave is no stranger to simple music (I recently bought a Bad Seeds chord book and was astonished to find out how many songs consist of only two chords - From Her to Eternity is only one chord [C5]) but this doesn't feel simple or undercooked. It feels perfect and has quickly become one of my favourite records of the year.
So the Grammys are kind of bullshit and we all know that. However, I always like to read through the winners and was intrigued by the winner of the Best Metal/Rock category. I'd never heard of them or their song, it's here:
It has been a long week but music hasn't been far from my mind. Here's the highlights on my indepth thinking about music this week:
1. How long will it take for Bat for Lashes' Laura to become a Premier League football chant? "Oh Drogba, you're more than a superstar..." (I use Drogba as an example but cannot condone anyone supporting Chelsea).
2. As much as a party starter as it is, Get down on it by Kool and the Gang is overplayed.
3. The new Bronx record seems to be getting worse with every listen. Initial excitement has receded into "what is this generic fuckery?"
4. Elton John playing on the new Queens of the Stone Age record proves that 70's era Elton is awesome. Also, as Trent Reznor guests on the album which suggests that he is the Elton John of the 90's.
5. David Bowie probably thinks Morrissey is a racist.
6. As much as Stereogum lists suck, they reminded me how great Sleater Kinney were.
7. On this, it will only be a matter of time before Stereogum do a "ten best songs by My Bloody Valentine." I expect them to break the internet on that day. BTW MBV is gold.
8. I finally heard the Triple J Hottest 100 number 1 song (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Thrift Shop). Sure it's a novelty song and pretty lame but I didn't hate it.
9. That being said, song number 2 is fucking everywhere. Icelandic Mumford and Suns - WHHHHHHY?
10. I heard the new Nick Cave album and it sounds nothing like I thought it would. Nick's still full of surprises...
When the new My Bloody Valentine album unexpectedly dropped in the world's lap on the weekend, no one was expecting it and frankly, no one was expecting it to be this good. Through all the missteps, broken promises and the seemingly endless twenty two year wait for MBV, the mythos and love for it's predecessor Loveless grew and grew. It is a sprawling, amorphous throbbing glimmer of an album that seems somehow unformed yet perfect in every way. It reminds you of a girl, a boy, a time, a place, a feeling. It is transcendent yet deeply personal (I like Max's poetic recounting of his relationship with Loveless here). I'm sure we all share similar stories and I often feel that a person doesn't take music seriously if they don't respect (if not outright love) that record. As the MBV website went into meltdown on Sunday, I sat pressing f5 over and over again I listened to Loveless on repeat for four straight hours. Even that mundane task of checking a broken website took second place to Loveless - it is an album that cannot be ignored or be played in the background, it demands and deserves full attention of the listener. I barely play it when other people are around as I know my mind will wander to those angelic shards of guitar. I had to get that fanboy bit out first because MBV doesn't try to top Loveless, it comfortably knows its place and revels in its own beauty.
So, how's does it sound? Well, MBV sounds exactly like it should, it sounds like a My Bloody Valentine record. While people decry it for sounding like the early 90's, let's get this straight: My Bloody Valentine didn't sound like the early 90's in the early 90's, they've always sounded as if they've stepped through a wormhole from another universe. Sure, shoegaze blah blah but let's face it, as good as Ride, Swervedriver etc were they never managed to equal or surpass the sonic weirdness or delicacy of My Bloody Valentine. The album starts perfectly with She Found Now, it isn't a forceful track but quietly and confidently announces a sound that's been awol for 20 years. The following two tracks are similarly unforceful, just pure slabs of MBV pop - whatever that is. From there, the album flows and builds from the stately organ of Is this and yes to the final track that Wonder 2 which sounds like it was literally recorded in a helicopter. Like a fucked up off world symphony, the final six tracks glide together but build upon each other but is most exciting during the percussive thunder of In Another Way and the machine fire drone of Nothing Is. Make no mistake, all of it is good.
Sure, there isn't an Only Shallow or Soon on the record but realistically, how could there be? Whatever the case, My Bloody Valentine have done something very rare in the world of music, they have released a late career record that adds and cements their legacy without detracting from their early glories. Kevin Shields maybe an inscrutable and frustrating band leader to lead us on this merry dance for twenty odd years (he obviously didn't spend that time working on the album title) but I guess it never occurred to most of us he might know exactly what he's doing. Somehow the world felt like a better place this week to me because of this record and really, what else do you want from your music.
I claim dibs on writing a PhD on the cover of David Bowie's new record. I am not being facetious at all, I fucking love this thing. If you're a long time Bowie fan, you know his artwork as well is his music is very deliberate and if there is no bigger 'fuck you' aesthetic that defacing one of your most beloved creations by using Word Art (no photoshop required here). I mean, look at it, it's perfect. It's the artistic equivalent of saying "so you like my old stuff better... well, get the fuck off my lawn." Oh David, you old curmudgeon you.
It's about a thousand degrees in Sydney tonight so as I wait for the anticipated cool change some time after midnight (seriously, it's about 10:30pm and still 38 degrees), I've been stumbling from one music website to the next and just read David Bowie has a new album coming out. I've kind of wanted this for a while and hearing the new single, there is lovely rush in hearing that voice again. While I like the song, it is underwhelming but most people would probably argue the last great Bowie record was Let's Dance. But I've listened to it a few times now and while initially it seemed pretty clumsy, it's grown on me. I can't imagine anyone else would like it but that's ok, me and David go way back and I'm pretty forgiving...