Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Aural Arguments

Some 2009 albums I've listened to, from damn good to damn insufferable. Listed in descending order of preference.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - s/t A sharp distillation of all the hang-ups and enthusiasms implied by shoegaze revivalism, but with a lyrical directness that dissipates the vagueness that plagues the form. Nice, delicate vocals that don't slide over into the cutie pie whimpering that affects so many indie vocalists. And sounds like their drummer knows something about his craft, which doesn't hurt. Smart, without being clever, which makes it feel damn near brilliant. A-

Mos Def - The Ecstatic An album as post-election sugar rush, Mos Def puts together a collection that feels politically urgent and personally mellow at the same time. "Quiet Dog" worried me all summer, if only for the way Mos Def says "Simmer down/simmer simmer down/simmer down now" like a man waiting impatiently for the other shoe to drop. Idealistic, without sounding naive, which makes it feel damn near utopian. A-

Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Apparently early century dance-punk nostalgia begins now, and I'm relatively relieved by the consequences. "1901" gives punchy form to meaningless pleasure, and if anybody besides English grad students still listened to this kind of music anymore, it could have been a hit. Jaded, without being cynical, which makes it feel damn near wise. B+

Bob Dylan - Together Through Life Dammit, I like the accordion. No masterpiece, but it sounds like somebody had a good time recording it, and if the singer and his traditions mean anything at all to you, there's a reasonable chance their pleasure will move you. B+

Conor Oberst - Outer South Mannered - what else do you expect from Mr. Bright Eyes - alt-country homage (apparently late 20th century Wilco nostalgia also starts now) muddles through on words and an open air sound that gets at alt-country's smart-macho ebulliance without quite falling for the form's penchant for smart-macho self-pity. Note the use of "quite." B

Elvis Costello - Secret, Profane & Sugarcane As long as you have reconciled yourself with the idea that Costello will never again produce an album half as good as Get Happy!!! (let alone This Year's Model), there's nothing disappointing about this LP. About half of these giddily inelegant songs work in the sense that they convey the joy of man confident and comfortable with his talents, and all of them reveal some minor lyrical epiphany, and one of them- "Hidden Shame" - might constitute another minor classic from the master of minor classics. Shambolic country music pastiche with a slightly nervous edge. Possible sore point: the voice, always an obstacle for many, isn't getting any prettier. B

Super Furry Animals - Dark Days/Light Years Funny, pretentious, rockin, stodgy, sly, pompous- the usual grab back of half-effective affects from the merry pranksters of pop-prog. Like: "Moped Eyes," Inaugural Trams" Dislike:"Cardiff in the Sun," "Pric" Whole thing might seem more worthwhile if the production didn't sound so cutesy. The keyboard work (I guess it's the keyboards) sounds too damn dinky. B-

Chris Isaak - Mr. Lucky Either you fall head over heels for that voice, or you take it as a nostalgist dead end. I'm in the former camp, though I admit that aside from some moments on Forever Blue, he's never attempted anything particularly new with his gift. And I don't know if it's due to the infernal blessings of modern technology or good genes, but Isaak's vocal chords sound to be holding up quite well with age. Too bad about the songwriting, though, since the opening track ("Cheater's Town") the only thing that stayed with me two minutes after finishing the album. B-

Black Moth Super Rainbow - Eating Us Candy similes abound in the raves for this album, and the song titles basically write the reviews "Iron Lemonade," "Tooth Decay," "Bubblegum Animals." And it's pretty, in a candyland kind of way, but only the relatively bitter "Iron Lemonade" convinces me this is a band which has, in the parlance of a long dead civilization, something to say. B-

Jason Lytle - Yours Truly, The Commuter Carries over the inhibited romanticism that made Grandaddy interesting, only this ain't Grandaddy, and the result is simply less textured, although "Brand New Sun" does sound like a very good lost Grandaddy track. B-

Black Lips - 200 Million Thousand Smart ass garage rock revivalism I hate in theory, but proves fairly compelling in practice, although the singer makes sure you pay penance for your pleasure. B-

V/A - Dark Was the Night - Ah, as many stars as there are in heaven (heh, heh). Indie rocker megaparty has been the subject of both much overpraise and excessive vitriol. About 40% sucks, and even the good stuff seems too evocative of the conventions of the scene, but I've never spent enough time inside a Starbucks to find its sonic aura as loathsome as apparently I should. B-

Bishop Allen - Grrr... Tuneful. Cute even. A little too comfortable with privilege and their freedom from appearing meaningful, but "Don't Hideaway" is catchy enough to let me forgive all their venial sins. C+

The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love There's the obvious pretension, and even more obviously there's Colin Meloy's voice, but if you can get past those problems (and I failed to get past them for The Crane Wife), the album's grandiosity connects in a Junior High suicide pact kind of way. C+

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion Not the revelation its admirers claim, but I do find their pleasant, placid weirdness moderately more than tolerable, and "Summertime Clothes" (no, not "My Girls") convinced me to listen to the whole thing enough times til I learned not to hate it. Still took more work that I would think proper or kind for a supposed instant classic. C+

Dan Deacon - Bromst Listenable art school electronica, good for taking in while stumbling around suburbia at night, annoying your neighbors. Tends to fade away without additional stimulation. Recommendation: drink coffee, watch the rain, make a to-do list, read the warning labels on your medication, and play Bromst. C

Papercuts - You Can Have What You Want If it sounds enough like the kind of thing I should like, then it must be the kind of thing I should like. Right? C

Now, for the records undeserving of words:
Jarvis Cocker - Further Complications C-
Grammatics -s/t C-
Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There are Mountains C-
Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle C-
Doves - Kingdom of Rush D+
Clues- S/t D
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest D
Patrick Wolf - The Bachelor D
Mirah - (a)spera D-
Maximo Park - Quicken the Heart D-
Loney, Dear - s/t D-
The Boy Least Likely To - The Law of the Playground F