stuff i should've heard/written up already
The Fiery Furnaces, EP - Well yes, compared to the staggering Blueberry Boat, 41 minutes may indeed constitute an EP running-time. Smart-asses. The thing is that Blueberry Boat is a startlingly original album, which is good and bad: the Furnaces are that ultimate cliche, "one of the only new bands doing anything original" (it's always the end of an era, right?) but also so original it's hard to apply basic rules of quality/discernment to them. Blueberry Boat is the only album on my 2004 Top 10 that I'm scared of; it's massively long, and I'm incapable of telling you which songs are better than other songs, because I haven't listened to it that many times.
Anyway, for all these reasons, I was afraid of EP for a while, which was my mistake. It opens with a four-song run as awesome as anything they've ever done: "Single Again" is a taut, pissy piece of work that runs into the lovely duo of "Here Comes The Summer" and "Evergreen" (both of which are actually warm, conventional, and terrific pop songwriting - enlivened by their trademark cheap instrumentation, but still pretty in a way that totally panders to my pop instincts), and the bizarre Victorian imagery of "Sing For Me" (as brother Matthew commands sister Eleanor "Sing for me, my daughter"), which is still nice.
EP gets weirder from there, but mostly rewardingly: my favorite innovation is the background chorus of "Sweet Spots," which sounds like it was recorded live in the middle of a chattering party (as opposed to the hermetic attic the FF often seem tobe emanating from). I'd recommend cutting tracks 8 and 10 ("Cousin Chris" and "Sullivan's Social Slub"), which are unwieldy sub-Blueberry suites of alliterative nonsense et al. You'll be left with a true EP length for one thing (just about 30 minutes), and you'll also have a Furnaces record without the challenging "thematic" material that only they understand, just pop. Now if I can just brace myself for Rehearsing My Choir, maybe I'll like it.
Sleater-Kinney, The Woods - From the terrifying opening squall of feedback, S-K re-invent themselves without a trace of self-consciousness. The problem with their past work was that it was always a little too pleasant, with the band's melodic instincts blunting any fierceness that may have been intended; they sounded a little retro, theoretically raw rock for people scared of wilder, more diversified sounds. Classic rock comparisons (raised by the band themselves) seem misguided; I don't remember Led Zeppelin being this obsessed with distortion, the amount of which will warp your speakers. The record is probably one song too long, but, amazingly enough, the 10-minute jam rocks without seeming indulgent. And yes, S-K brought their pet feminist concerns - aggressive female sexuality, oppressive society - along with them, but, as before, never allow them to ruin the fun. I avoided this CD because of the classic rock stigma, but that influence ultimately seems irrelevant to me. Not quite one of the best of the year - mostly because I'm into wimp-rock, honestly - but certainly awesome in its own righetousness.
Out Hud, Let Us Never Speak Of It Again - I just want to make it clear that I have listened to this and don't remember a damn thing about it. It's incredibly bland; at least when !!! are being obnoxious they can get a rise out of me.
The Tears, Here Come The Tears - this isn't really recommendable in any meaningful sense. It's those guys from Suede, and, like most Americans, I never really saw what the big deal was - as far as 90s neo-glam goes, Placebo was both trashier and more fun. Still, I'm only familiar with Suede's debut; every review says this CD just sounds like latter-day Suede, so maybe I missed something. The bottom line is that aside from anything produced by Dave Fridmann, it's hard to find comparably ridiculous levels of overproduction elsewhere, and I fall for that shit every time. If that's your thing, prepare for an album where every song has 20 layers of guitar, a loud and distorted string section, harps, and god knows what else. Also, Bernard Butler can be a ludicrous lyricist, but he's not nearly as bad as many would have it, and he can muster up enjoyable wit every now and then (e.g., on "Two Creatures," which opens with the snipe "This country looks like one big carpark"). Even if Brett Anderson apes Bowie a bit too much, this enjoyable guilty pleasure skips the portentous doom and self-importance and goes straight for the drama-queen indulgences. It's fun in small doses, deadly in large ones, and impossible to take seriously.