Wednesday, April 27, 2005

bride of more albums

Daft Punk, Human After All - Discovery is one of the best albums ever. Whenever I hear it I become a cracked-out bundle of happiness, grinning uncontrollably, bobbing my head, and generally alarming my roommates, accustomed to seeing me only at my surliest. That said, I wasn't expecting too much from this album: part of me anticipated more of the Second Coming, but I'm also not too sold on the duo's first album, 1996's Homework, a pleasant but - to these generally non-dance-music/electronica-specializing ears - not particularly interesting disk of minimal variations of loops. And so I can't get too worked up about Human After All, which I find similarly non-offensive, non-interesting, and totally adequate background music. There's no giddy charge in either album for me, though Homework is obviously the lighter-touch album, with Human piling on the pounding riffs with a brutal intolerance for subtlety. But it's, you know, OK.

But yeah, I liked the album name, enough to name this blog in tribute. I was picturing some kind of grand anime-inspired album about ultra-sarcastic post-modern robots learning to grow human and let down their guard for a pure rush of emotion that melded electronica and humans organically, maybe like a concept album version of A.I. except more successful. But that CD already came out, and it was called Neon Golden, so I guess we're OK.

the Decemberists, Picaresque - the lyrical world of the Decemberists will teeter over into unsalvageable self-parody any minute now. In fact, it does so on "The Mariner's Revenge Song," an 8-minute plus song which has sailors, whales, adventurers, fortunes stolen, etc. It's Decemberists by the numbers (it will be soon a rule that any Decemberists song must feature at least two of the following elements: royalty, a battle, a reference to an archaic job [barrow boy, milliner, soldier-of-fortune, etc.], gratuitous anglophilia). But their melodic sense increases apace, meaning I kept about half of the album for the iPod. "The Engine Driver" is movingly melancholy, with its plaintive chorus of "I am a writer, a writer of factions," even if its guitars crib from the Smiths near-unforgivably; "The Infanta," despite its ridiculous lyrics (dessicated aristocracy and all) storms powerfully, suggesting that Chris Walla's indie-wall-of-sound approach works better here than in, say, his work for Death Cab For Cutie (his own damn band!). The undeniable highlight, however, is "Sixteen Military Wives," a super-sharp anti-Bush/war-in-Iraq song whose polemic stays angry without getting annoyingly smarmy and self-righteous, buoyed by a totally rocking sax/trumpet section and Meloy actually letting out a "whoo!" before the whole giddy thing swings into the chorus one last time. Totally awesome.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

more albums

Bloc Party, Silent Alarm - I held off on listening for a while, because all the Franz Ferdinand/post-punk revivalist comparisons threw me off. But these ain't no Kaiser Chiefs; what distinguishes them from the pack is their vastly expanded ambitions. The constant comparisons to Franz are misinformed about both bands, but I'll make one anyway: if Franz's goal is to pare every song down to its most vital elements and play through as tautly as possible (see their redone version of "This Fire," which cuts the running time by something like 30 seconds), Bloc Party is expansive. This has a lot to do with the drummer, a maniac who would've flourished in an 80s metal band just fine and adds a lot to the party here. The opening 1-2 of "Like Eating Glass" and "Helicopter" are galvanizing brilliance, building from one guitar sound to a bunch of swooping, anthemic guitar lines building to a chorus that actually can live up to the promise of the verse. Bonus points for making the slow songs the equals of the fast ones: "This Modern Love" has one of the saddest, most realistic come-ons I've heard lately ("Do you wanna come over and kill some time?"). The album's unwieldy at 53 minutes, far too long to support any non-killer songs, so I cut three for my iPod. But these are a promising group of guys; believe the hype, more or less.

Bright Eyes, I'm Wide Awake It's Morning - yeah whatever fuck Conor. This is a perfectly respectable album of psuedo-country, featuring lots of acoustic finger-picking, soulful back-up vocals from Emmylou Harris, etc. But frankly this shit will not fly: a Bright Eyes record filtered through any other style is still a Bright Eyes recording, and the transformation here is not on par with what, say, Beck would have done if commanded to go rustic. There is still a retarded introduction as with every one of his goddamn albums (although, to be fair, the nightmare story he tells gives me legitimate chills provided I have the patience to listen all the way through), it is still too long (even at 49 minutes), the songs have a typical lyrical mixture of the insightful ("And if you swear that there’s no truth and who cares/How come you say it like you’re right?") with inane self-loathing ("Well I could have been a famous singer/If I had someone else’s voice/But failure’s always sounded better/Let's fuck it up boys, make some noise!"), and the boy still can't write a hook to save his life most of the time. And frankly I resent having to spend my time slogging through this album just because he can't write a start-to-finish song that works without coating it in some kind of arrangement. And there aren't nearly elaborate enough arrangements here.

Final thought: a few weeks ago, for reasons that are none of your goddamn business, I was in a hospital thinking I was going to die. And you know what song was in my head? "First Day Of My Life," that's what. It's a sweet song as Conor falls in one quick glance for a girl ("This is the first day of my life/Swear I was born right in that doorway), but I resent having my unconscious on tap for this guy. So very uncool.

Final final thought: I've made this album sound better than I think it is, mostly because I've listened carefully and tried to find things that I like about it. But though they're there in my more detached-type opinion, it's still kind of a joyless slog for me. Fuck you Conor.

Crooked Fingers, Dignity & Shame - in which our hero Eric Bachmann ditches the expansive strings of Red Devil Dawn for generic "Spanish" touches - an opening instrumental, flamenco guitars, trumpets, etc. Bad move, dude (not that Bachmann hasn't mastered the arrangements, which sound OK; they just don't bring much to the party); worse move writing lyrics like "Why's everybody act so tough when all anybody wants to do is find a friend" (answer: to avoid people like you). The two songs you need: "Call To Love" and "Valerie." The rest is decent but undistinguished singer-songwriter fare. Bring back the strings.

More updates forthcoming throughtout the day probably.

albums update pt. 1

First lemme note that I wasn't aware that the comments function was disabled unless you're also on blogger. I've fixed that, so anonymous types feel free to comment away now.

OK, album appraisals in handy capsule form. Alphabetical order:

Bodies Without Organs, Prototype - I was alerted to this by the invaluably trashy, dance-oriented freaks at This is shameless, lurid dance-pop with lyrics like "If the angels let me try/For you I would climb the mountains high/And sing to the heaven in your eyes." Suck that up, champions of good taste. These boys go straight for the gusto with "oh-eeeee-oh" type choruses, sugary vocoder lines, etc. The result is a very potent if short-lived sugar rush - less consistent than the overhyped Annie, but more instantly invigorating. I like recommending these guys to people mostly for the outraged reaction. Also, I have no idea how much irony is involved: these guys named themselves after a concept popularized (if that's the word) by Deleuze. I'm not sure what this is supposed to tell us.

Brendan Benson live - Opening acts: Charlie Mars is pretty fucking awful, a skinny singer-songwriter doing an accoustic set in a leather jacket. His lyrics include a paean to Southern driving-around whose chorus is "The kids are alright in Mississippi, fuck yeah." He's not kidding. His allmusic entry claims that the album is actually arranged on the lines of the Verve, Coldplay et al. when you factor in the production, but I have zero desire to find out. Meanwhile, Liverpool's the Stands offer more undistinguished revivalist British fare, but they're clearly thrilled to be playing live, and their total lack of blase posing is endearing. Benson's an undistinguished live performer, hammering through his songs with little deviation; fortunately, the songs are still awesome (save an ill-advised attempt to rock out on "Tiny Spark" by adding a droning organ intro). This is the very model of an uninspired show though, save an unexpected cover of the International Submarine Band's "Strongboy" (i.e., Gram Parsons' first band), which allows Benson's guitarist to add some unexpected twang into the show. Also, Benson refuses to play his sad songs live, which are the best ones.


Friday, April 22, 2005


is forthcoming. I wrote a wretched review of Prototype by Bodies Without Organs, and it was even more horrific as posted. So I'm not gonna link. You can look it up if you really want.

This is mostly a reminder to myself to post about recent listening: BwO, Brendan Benson live, Bloc Party, fucking Bright Eyes, Crooked Fingers, Daft Punk (this blog's namesake), the Decemberists, M.I.A., Spoon, Stereo Total, and Venetian Snares. So. Much. To look forward to.