more remainders: Asobi Seksu, Junior Boys, Beck
Asobi Seksu, Citrus - Never did get into that whole shoegaze thing - most of Ride's Nowhere strikes me as interchangeable sludge, and it took me six months of off-and-on listening to actually start enjoying My Bloody Valentine's Loveless - so forgive me if I'm less than the ideal audience for this stuff. There's plenty to suck(er) the novelty crowd in — lead vocals in both English and Japanese — but, to these ears, this album goes downhill from its Britpop first half to its meandering finish. At the start we get "Strawberries," which has a guitar riff and badass organ and all the fixings, and "Thursday," which has a little atmospheric drift at the start before launching straight in 1995 radio territory. Then we start getting cuter song titles ("Pink Cloud Tracing Paper"), and perfectly acceptable songs with 3 minutes of storm-und-drang reverb and fuzziness tacked on to them ("Red Sea"). Most of these songs have sections that I like, but surrounded by "atmosphere"; this is the stuff that makes me wish I still had an iPod, so I could produce my own version of the album and dispose of the rest, but just cutting stuff from iTunes forever seems somehow immoral. I don't really like this album, but I feel vaguely bad about that; still, some of the first half refuses to leave me alone.
Junior Boys, So This Is Goodbye - Fuck the sophomore slump; most follow-ups these days seem to improve on their overhyped predecessors (this, TV On The Radio, and The Shins all leap to mind). Last Exit was good for a few tracks, and sounded great on shuffle, but it was too sparse and monochromatic a thing to listen to all the way through without severe exasperation setting in (it was kind of like - sorry kids - Beck's Sea Change that way). It takes about a minute of opening track "Double Shadow" to show that things have changed. First there's the opening gambit; it's just 3 different octaves of A, over and over, plus a pulsing drum and the usual hushed vocals, then a few A chords chopped out over and over. Slightly over a minute in, though, actual synth string harmonies kick in, a gross luxury the old Junior Boys would never have permitted themselves. They also never before had upbeat and downbeat tracks or any kind of real sequencing; it was one mood, straight-ahead. So This Is Goodbye is alternately more aggressive and more actively reclusive, and musically richer. And it's also perfect synth-pop.
Beck, The Information - Just as I give up on him, he pops back up with his first decent performance this millennium. Guero opened with the surefire Big Dumb Riff of "E-Pro"; "Elevator Music" starts with a count-off, a groove, and no real melody or hook until about a minute, and the first half of the album that follows is as strong as anything he's ever done, full of weird clattering background sounds, morose vocals, and rich instrumentation amidst some of Beck's best formalist pop songs yet. The whole thing peaks with "Nausea," one of the best songs of the year, and the only time Beck's had any urgency in his voice of late. By the time "Dark Star" kicks off with a slowed-down count-off, diminishing returns set in (although do stick around for "Movie Theme," a worthy enough b-side to Radiohead's "Motion Picture Soundtrack"); it's purposeful enough (the last song samples track 3, "Cellphone's Dead"), but less consistently rewarding. The Onion AV Club got it right: "Whereas the disappointing Guero sounded like a weak attempt to reprise every genre-confusing musical approach Beck has ever taken, the much more satisfying The Information plays like a successful attempt at the same goal." But that doesn't mean that we aren't finally having fun again. Finally.