Monday, June 27, 2011

Bon Iver - Bon Iver

You know when you listen to an album for the first time and you immediately fall in love with it. When you find a song within it that you have to hear again and again and again. Even better is when the album mirrors your life in the moment that you first listen to it. It doesn't happen all the time with a new album but sometimes, after several listens, it does and a verse, a track or even the whole thing becomes the best thing you've heard all year.

None of these things have happened since I began listening to Bon Iver's new self-titled album.

I tried to fully enjoy it when I first got it, about a month ago, devoting my ears to it without any distractions but the first few listens left me cold. A few songs stuck out — "Calgary," "Towers," "Holocene" — but nothing that I felt compelled to repeat after each listen. In fact, there was only one song on which I could have a definite opinion on — the much maligned "Beth/Rest" — while everything else sounded the same to me.

It's not that I don't appreciate Justin Vernon's fearlessness on Bon Iver, a completely original and beautiful album, but I wish I could connect with it. I like the orchestration on songs like "Calgary" and "Towers," both songs offer something different to the moodier and somewhat repetitive pieces like "Hinnon" and "Michicant." Other songs like "Minnesota, WI" sound like an exercise in genre-bending, mixing the banjo with a bit of an R&B groove, it doesn't quite work along with the synth-heavy "Beth/Rest," which sounds like a bad Badalamenti score touched up with jazzy horns.

"Wash." and "Hinnon, TX" are both beautiful melodies that go nowhere. They're impressive for their instrumentation and the use of found sounds but they sound a bit lethargic and are hardly memorable.

"Holocene" has grown on me. Its slow-burning rhythm, building drums and actually audible lyrics create a tension-filled listening experience. "Towers" though is my favorite song on the album, starting with the strum of a guitar and Vernon's voice, the synthesizer is restrained as drums kick off a momentum that sounds joyous.

Hardly the album of the year but definitely a keeper.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

John Grant - Queen of Denmark

Today is spin the iPod click wheel day and this is what turned up, John Grant's Queen of Denmark. Acquired after reading about it in countless 2010 best album end of the year lists. Six months later, I'm finally listening to the complete album.

It starts perfectly safe with an acoustic guitar riff meandering through the first song but it's track 2, the piano-led "Marz" that takes you to uncharted territory. It kind of sounds like "Mad World" by Tears For Fears but it's more lively, with Grant listing several sweetings and leading up to magnificent chorus.

A song called Sigourney Weaver is next and it features the lines:

And I feel just like Sigourney Weaver
When she had to kill those aliens
And one guy tried to get them back to the earth
And she couldn't believe her ears

Which is so ballsy, just using a scene from a movie to explain how one feels in a song. We do it in real life all the time and here John Grant finally puts it in a song and it totally works.

The Silver Platter Club is a fun little jaunty tune about those raised with a silver platter. Kind of reminds me of the Kinks.

JC Hates Faggots is one hell of an It Gets Better message aiming at those hurt by bigotry against gays, as well as those who hurt them. It's followed by Caramel, a piano-led love song about another man. The title track is a heavy rant, roughed up by electric guitars and a menacing tone.

I like the album, it's definitely something I haven't heard before. Grant's lyrics are fearless, honest and inventive. The music, performed by folk rock band Midlake, is great - an earthy and subtle kind of pop accompaniment. I'm only sorry I didn't listen to this earlier this year.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bruce Springsteen's The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle

I know it looks beaten and heavily worn but somehow it suits the cover better. It adds to the close-up shot of Bruce Springsteen, now sitting deep in thought surrounded by an almost ghostly halo of scuff marks. The simple individualistic cover shot betraying the grand scope of the album's title and the band collaborations that, for me, make this the best album Springsteen and the E Street band ever made (sorry Born to Run.)

I know it looks rough but the vinyl sounds glorious, in fact it was one of the albums that convinced me of how much better vinyl can sound. I found this copy of Bruce Springsteen's The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle at the same place where I found a used CD copy, which I only listen to in the car, at the now closed and sorely missed Silver Platter record store in Fort Myers.

That store was the source for many of my earliest vinyl finds and some of the most surprising. I know this looks rough and if I find a similar looking copy now I probably wouldn't buy it. When I found it in July 2007, I was still new to the world of Springsteen and vinyl. I was eager to get into both and the cheap price was temptation enough.

I had heard Springsteen's hits; I loved songs like Born to Run and Brilliant Disguise, but this was completely different. Each song is a perfect little story, soundtracked with funky horns, adventurous keyboards and subtle guitar playing. Springsteen's sings and talks throughout in a gritty voice that sounds like he's always been your best friend. It all sounds much better on wax, where you can almost hear every instrument individually as it mixes with one another in your deliriously happy ear.

This is only his second album and it already sounds like he's grown so much musically since Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., both released in 1973. That growth still doesn't compare to the commercial and musical leap he would take in his next album, 1975's Born To Run. I like that album but to me the production is very different, you have the whole Spectoresque Wall of Sound there which can, at times, hide sole instrumental flourishes.

I decided to spin this today after hearing the news of Clarence Clemons's stroke and because it's summer, and this is a perfect summer album. My thoughts and prayers are with him, his family and friends.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Afrocubism or what is the best music for a hangover

Had a rough night last night, drank a little more than I should have and of course I had to work this morning. So I went to bed at around 2 a.m. and woke up at 6, ahead of my 7 a.m. alarm.

I tried to listen to the new Bon Iver on the ride to work but it didn't really help to use my headphones with a throbbing headache, so I turned to Afrocubism.

If it was a religion, I would follow it blindly. It could be a philosophy but it's vaguer that all the others. At most, it can be the beginning of a whole new genre. Of course as the liner notes on this album say, the mixing of Cuban and African rhythms aren't something new, however, the collaborations in this album turn those cross-cultural influences into something that has really never been heard before.

It was the perfect Sunday morning cure for a hangover, listening to an instrumental version of Guantanamera that traded the repetitive rhythms into a slow-burning guitar-driven African blues song. I had it on repeat as a I made my way across Fort Myers on a nearly empty U.S. 41.

On my way home from work, I succumbed to the rest of the album and it's vibrant melding of the Cuban Son and Toumani Diabaté's Malian guitar while Buena Vista Social Club member Eliades Ochoa's weathered voice echoed the ailments of fool who should have know when to quit.

I felt much better.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Album of the day: Dave Edmunds - From Small Things: Best of

A Welshman who can sing like a good ol' boy, Dave Edmunds is best known for killer rockabilly covers of songs by Bruce Springsteen, Graham Parker, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello as well as being Lowe's equal in the supergroup Rockpile.

This compilation includes those as well a Southern swamp-rock gem like "I Hear You Knocking," and the Spectoresque sound of "Born To Be With You," and the sweetness of Let it Be Me, which sounds like the Everly Brothers.

Sequenced cronogically, you can really hear the difference between his early albums, featuring all of the above within the first 9 songs, and His later albums (in the '80s of course) which fail to captivate back them and don't really do much better now.

My only gripe with this compilation is that it features a live version of the Elvis Costello cover "Girl Talk" which is ok but can't compare with the manic-feel of the studio version.

Look it up on iTunes, you're bound to find something you like. "I Hear You Knocking" and "Girl Talk" are a must.