Tuesday, December 05, 2006

more belated capsules: Camera Obscura, M. Ward, Man Man

Camera Obscura, Let's Get Out Of This Country - Camera Obscura live in some kind of pop culture vidiot universe where it is OK to have virtually damn near every song start from a reference point and build to an actual emotion: the opener "Lloyd I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken" is a shoutout to Lloyd Cole's "Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?", followed by the punning "Tears For Affairs" and two tracks later by a heartfelt tribute to the obscurely remembered "Dory Previn."

It's all misleading frippery though: Camera Obscura aren't smart-ass formalists reshuffling modes, nor do they really mine reference points for all their worth, never truly recontextualizing them. (It's the musical equivalent of hanging obscure film poster in the background of scenes — where no one but other cultists will recognize them — for no real reason other than to score geek reference points.) They write pretty songs, but the album is challenging, densely laced with distant-sounding drums and wavery organs that sound slightly out-of-tune. Camera Obscura take long (minute+) instrumental breaks, spaces which seem empty at first but expand with repeated listens; there are few more gorgeous moments in pop music this year than the extended trumpet solo over quiet drums and interlaced rhythm guitars that open "Razzle Dazzle Rose." It all sounds like vinyl, slightly warped on the turntable.

Frequent comparisons to Belle & Sebastian are dead wrong. B&S is a more complex, ironic band; Tracyanne Campbell is self-consciously morose (check out her deadpan in the video for "Lloyd," which is one of the best of the year) as opposed to Stuart Murdoch's perpetual feyness (and recently assumed ebullience), and her brand of romantic depression is less unisex than the horny boys and girls B&S chronicle. She's definitely female in her songwriting voice ("Razzle Dazzle Rose" is the color she'll choose for courage; somehow I don't relate), which is kind of refreshing. Overall, a super-strong album.

M. Ward, Post-War - Not as strong as last year's transcendent Transistor Radio, Post-War is more organized, which is kind of a drag: I prefer M. Ward in ADD mode. (He also works better with a conceptual hook: Post-War's arc and sequencing are harder to follow.) The songs sound better out of context, but, of course, they're all pretty uniformly strong. Highlights include a storming Daniel Johnston cover ("To Go Home") and the smart-ass singalong of "Magic Trick," the best track of the include-a-sarcastic-cheering-audience genre since the Eels' "Going Fetal." A compelling album, but not a very warm one.

Man Man, Six Demon Bag - I hear this works better live. Regardless: starts off nicely enough with the gloomy "Feathers," all C-minor piano chords with a bunch of what sounds like drunk morose sailors sea-chanteying in unison. But then "Engwish Bwudd" kicks in with the same idiots yelling how all they want is to be a "shovelly-bobbly-gobbledy-boo," which is exactly as cutesy and annoying as it sounds. It almost never lets up from that point, a hyperactive cabaret of drunk, precious art school students muttering to themselves and trying hard to let loose. Maybe they really are madmen live, but this shit is just like a spazzy 5-year-old: you kinda want to smack them and tell them to relax. Gogol Bordello serves all my drunk cabaret needs, thanks. (When they push the sloppiness to extremes, as on "Push The Eagle's Stomach," they end up sounding like a peculiarly emasculated Blood Brothers, which doesn't help any.) Exception: "Van Helsing Boombox," which is lovely, contemplative, mournful and deserves your immediate attention. But it's an anomaly.


Blogger Chris said...

Maybe I am a Philistine when it comes to all of this hoity toity intellect, but I will seriously meet and Mui Tai the shit out of Vadim for what he said about Man Man. The album Six Demon Bag is no work of genius but it is a great work in the evolution of creativity. He (i'm assuming it is a he) sounds like he is writing this from the perspective of a singer/song writer that performs at local indie coffee shop venues, and can't get anyone to buy his over ridiculous home made T-shirts. Bitterness is a bad thing to have in an under ground music scene where artist are trying their best to bring something new, when "fresh" is few and far apart. So let us put on the thick framed glasses and curse those who can imagine more than we can. At least that way we can get laid by the girls that are too smart to be cheerleaders. You’re so sophisticated. I fucking hate the indie culture for how pretentious it has become.

7:57 PM  
Anonymous vadim said...

I'm not a singer/songwriter, I don't make t-shirts, and I don't wear glasses. Thanks for playing.

8:29 PM  
Anonymous ChrisLyons614 said...

but you do check your blog relisously obviously. Which does qualify you as a pathtetic, out reaching homosepian that depends on soft glimming glow of a "yes" answer to put you to sleep.

8:54 PM  
Anonymous vadim said...

No, Blogspot sends you notices whenever someone comments — in my case, a little troll who feels that attacks on one of their favorite bands calls for misspelled, typo-ridden ad hominem attacks. (What do you do, google "Man Man" and defend them against the barbarian hordes?) I haven't yet grown up enough to not take the bait.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

if a barbarian is what you are calling yourself, yes. I'm so glad to see that you either attend a community collage English class or have a PC that is equipped with Microsoft Word, to underline in red all your misspelled words before you "work up the balls" to post.

9:16 PM  
Anonymous vadim said...

You're still wrong; I go to NYU, I work on a Mac, and I can't afford Microsoft Word. Who exactly are you trying to impress by leaving these comments on a post nearly a year old? If nothing else, you're giving me an outlet for my bile while I do real work. Look, I'll help you: I write a bi-weekly column at http://mattzollerseitz.blogspot.com, and the next one will be up Thursday. I'll be writing about The Comas, The Clientele, Battles and Primal Scream; get your attacks ready and a much larger national forum will help you out.

All we've established here is — OMGSTOPTEHMADNESS — I don't like a band that you care passionately about. Apparently, this allows you to project a host of dubious negative values on me. Grow up.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

You go to NYU and can't afford Microsoft office? How the fuck does that happen?

9:39 PM  
Anonymous vadim said...

Partial-scholarship kid, and freelance writing fees can be a bitch to make into a sizable pile. GoogleDocs has made it unnecessary for me anyway.

Is that really all you've got left? I was just starting to enjoy myself.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

i am definite that turkork 2 said the exact sane thing, you're so deep.

10:27 PM  
Anonymous too smart to be a cheerleader said...

Woah, this is one nasty thread! Looks like Chris could really use some of those thick framed glasses.

10:10 AM  

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