Initial Reactions (2012): Bruce Springsteen, Magnetic Fields, Father John Misty

Initial Reactions are just that: my reactions to records after only a few listens (usually 2 or 3). I try to be fair, but if a record doesn’t make much of an initial impression on me, someone’s going to need to tell me to pay closer attention if they think it deserves better. (see the sidebar for rating descriptions)

Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball [A-]: A strong record that could have been stronger. The problem? Springsteen picked a potent theme (avarice), gave it a compelling banner (who or what is the wrecking ball here?), and then cast it in pristine production. The result is a good, maybe great record instead of a classic. It’s a winner for sure, but dressed up too pretty for a blue collar manifesto. Still, surprisingly fine. ("Wrecking Ball", "Land of Hope and Dreams")

Magnetic Fields – Love At The Bottom Of The Sea [B-]: That first track is funny and all, but the double entendres start to ring hollow around the album’s middle, if not sooner. Now I’m not enough of a follower to know how this fits into Merritt’s career, but what I do know from my copy of Holiday is that the man doesn’t need to rely on cheek to create a compelling record. Sure, it can be fun for the novelty, but overall, the results are forgettable. ("God Wants Us To Wait")

Father John Misty – Fear Fun [B]: Good night! J. Tillman tries hard to make a great record and makes a decent one. There’s 5 times he comes close to writing a classic tune, but he crams so much in that the tunes sag under the weight. At times, I get the sense that he’s so taken with his own abilities that he forgets to serve the song. Now I know that sounds oh-so-criticale, but just listen to track 10. Not writing a novel sir – writing songs. ("Funtimes in Babylon")

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Best of 2010 (Albums): Honorable Mention

Before we get too deep in 2011, I thought I’d put a bow on 2010 this week. I’ll be listing a CD-R’s worth of my favorite tracks, my top 5 albums, and maybe a few other things this week. Too start things off, a list of great albums that deserve some sort of honorable mention…

cerebellum tewligans

Cerebellum 1989 (via Slamdek.com)

 

While these albums didn’t quite make my top 5 this year, I don’t think there is any doubt that I will be listening to them frequently for years to come.

She & Him – Volume 2: I almost didn’t even bother here, but I’m really glad I did. Discovering this was like finding out about an old rock masterpiece. There’s a lot of warmth in ZD’s voice and songwriting, and M. Ward’s flourishes round out the best traditional pop record of the year. (listen to “Lingering Still“) Read my original review.

New Pornographers – Together: I’m not really sure how AC Newman keeps getting such inspiration out of this wacky ensemble, but Together, as its name would imply, manages to achieve both a stunning overall unity and the most idiosyncratic performances from each of the key players yet. Neko’s at her best on “The Crash Years”, Dan’s a wacky loverboy on “Silver Jenny Dollar”, Kathryn Calder shines on “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk”, and Dr. Newman rounds out just about everything else. Fantastic artsy power pop, fabulous performances, a great experience all around. (listen to “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk“) Read my original review.

Venice Is Sinking – Sand & Lines: This is what rainy Saturday mornings feel like. The great thing about this record is that you can get up close to it or leave it on in the background, either way you enjoy it. As I’ve said before, I wish more bands would just hang a microphone from the ceiling and play a set. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for ViS. (“Bardstown Road“) Read my original review.

Frontier(s) – There Will Be No Miracles Here: Chris Higdon returns 7 years after the demise of Elliott with a record heavy on the DC-style hardcore. As packed as this one is with melodic, chunky riffs, comparisons to Jawbox seem obvious but entirely appropriate. Oh yeah, and it grows on you too. (“Abul Abbas“) Read my original review.

Bruce Springsteen – The Promise: Recorded in the late 70’s, this is a gold mine for just about anyone who cares about rock and roll. Did we really need a reminder of what a monumental and unique talent Bruce Springsteen is? The Boss himself seems to think we did, and for that, I’d like to shake his hand. (“Someday (We’ll Be Together)“) Read my original review.

Stars – The Five Ghosts: Stars fully embraced 80’s synth-pop on this record, and what came of it was one of the most listenable and catchy collection of tunes imaginable. With all their earnestness, I get a feeling it’s becoming less and less cool to like Stars, but don’t let that hold you back. This is some serious ear candy, so just indulge your sonic sweet tooth already. (“Wasted Daylight“) Read my original review.

Cerebellum – Cerebellum: How could this not be awesome? Cerebellum came to a pre-mature end in 1989, leaving only 5 studio tracks (collected here) and a handful of other unrecorded songs. They recorded them for posterity this year, and it’s remarkable just how much these guys sound like they are picking up right where they left off. The big highlight is the mighty “Crawl Out of the Water”, which existed as an inferior Crain demo. It’s in all its glory here. (“Crawl Out of the Water“) Read my original review.

Quick Review (LP): Heaven Is Whenever by The Hold Steady

the hold steady heaven is whenever The Hold Steady
Heaven Is Whenever
Vagrant; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “The Sweet Part of the City”, “We Can Get Together”, “The Weekenders”

There is a true authenticity to this music, and I certainly don’t think comparisons to Springsteen are unfounded. After all, what draws me in is the gorgeous sound, a great mix of twangy Americana and anthemic classic rock. Lyrically, there’s a hefty sense of midwest nostalgia, and when you really listen closely, you get the feeling in your gut that Craig Finn knows what in tarnation he’s doing as a songwriter. If forced to draw a direct comparison, I’d say The Hold Steady remind me most of Counting Crows without all the daydream believing. Still, Finn draws together “heavenly” themes quite nicely on this record, leading to a strong sense of cohesion. Given the melodic density and dramatic riffage contained herein, that puts this in the running for one of the year’s best.

Pitchfork review
Paste review
Metacritic reviews

Quick Review (LP): The Promise by Bruce Springsteen

springsteen the promise Bruce Springsteen
The Promise
Columbia; 2010

My Rating: A+

Best Tracks: “Because The Night”, “The Promise”, “Fire”, “The Brokenhearted”, “Save My Love”, “Breakaway”

Wow. This is quite simply unprecedented. There aren’t many artists out there who have as much unreleased material as Bruce Springsteen, but we haven’t gotten something this substantial since the Tracks boxset in 2010. What makes The Promise special is that, rather than feeling like a hodge-podge of half-conceived ideas or novelty leftovers, this feels like a cohesive and expansive effort. You don’t need me to tell you that these lost tracks fall somewhere chronologically between Born to Run and Darkness on The Edge of Town, but in light of that they definitely resemble a missing link of sorts. The former was Springsteen’s great big shot of hopes and dreams, and the latter was his exploration of working class misery and dead ends. The Promise manages to retain the romance and possibility of Born To Run while foreshadowing an end to it all. Overall, the album contains some of his best work, including one of the most famous “I didn’t know he wrote that” tracks, “Because The Night.” Much of the record recalls golden age rock and roll and R&B, and one is left wondering just how many radio royalties he left laying on the table by shelving these tracks for 30+ years. This collection is a rock fanboy’s dream, and it makes me think that maybe – just maybe – we’ll get to hear Electric Nebraska in a few years. For now, we have this absolutely glorious collection to revel in, and for that, I thank you Bruce.

Metacritic reviews

Quick Review (LP): Teen Dream by Beach House

Beach House
Teen Dream
Sub Pop; 2010

My Rating: A+

Tracks: “Walk in the Park”, “Zebra”, “Used to Be”, “Take Care”

Thriller. Born In The USA. Rumours. There is a short list of albums that are amazing both as cohesive artistic statements and as collections of pop classics. Who would have thought that, in 1991, three knuckleheads from the Pacific Northwest with only one sloppily recorded sludge-rock effort to their credit would rise into that category with a gleaming collection of 12 odes to teen angst? Well, I was just as surprised to find Beach House ascending into that hall of greatness with their third album, Teen Dream. All of these songs would stand as great singles in and of themselves, but strewn together as a collection they make for one of the greatest rock records in recent memory. While the standards for these songs have been set with these recordings, I can’t help but wonder what tracks like “Walk in the Park” and “Zebra” would sound like stadium-sized. I’m not asking Beach House to go all U2 on us or anything, but then again, if Radiohead and Springsteen can pull of rock and roll glory in super-sized settings, then based on the strength of the songs on this album, Beach House can too. Teen Dream is probably the first great record of this decade.

Daytrotter session
Pitchfork review
Paste review
Myspace site

5 Things: “Hearts of Stone” by Bruce Springsteen

5 Things I Love About Bruce Springsteen’s “Hearts of Stone”…

1. Steve Van Zant’s nasty backing vocals.
2. The saxophone – God bless you, Big Man.
3. The Boss’ delivery – totally over-the-moon, even for Springsteen.
4. The tempo – so slow the song just oozes heart and soul from every crack.
5. “I can’t talk now I’m not alone/So put your ear close to the phone/This is the last dance/Our last chance…”

What do you like about “Hearts of Stone”?

Tracks of the Decade (so far)

1563_Pieter_Bruegel_the_elder_The_Tower_of_Babel-wl400There’s still more to come, but here’s a list of the Sweet Georgia Breezes’ Tracks of the Decade so far (in no particular order). What do you think of the list? What are your top 5 or 10 tracks of the decade?

Counting Crows – Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby
Wilco – I am trying to break your heart
The New Pornographers  – Myriad Harbour
M. Ward – Poison Cup
Kathleen Edwards – In State
Vampire Weekend – M79
Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around
Built to Spill – The Weather
Neko Case – Star Witness
Belle and Sebastian – Funny Little Frog
Interpol – NYC
Wilco – Impossible Germany
Coldplay – Lost!
Ryan Adams – To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)
Fugazi – Cashout
Flaming Lips – Fight Test
Nathan – The Wind
Radiohead – Everything In Its Right Place
Rachel’s – Water from the Same Source
Fleet Foxes – White Winter Hymnal
Bruce Springsteen – My City of Ruins
The Low Anthem – Charlie Darwin

Tracks of the Decade: “My City of Ruins” by Bruce Springsteen

cp-springsteen2“My City of Ruins”
by Bruce Springsteen
from THE RISING

Many great songs, through whatever transcendent quality they possess, remain in the collective consciousness for years and are thus finally afforded the status of “classic” through sheer timelessness. “My City of Ruins”, on the other hand, is an undeniable classic forever stuck in one moment, time-bound to the dark days immediately following 9/11. Although the Boss wrote the track as a tribute to Asbury Park, NJ, it was adapted into a post-trauma canticle of resilience for the people of New York City. To be sure, it IS a great song, but for an evening in 2001 it became America’s song, as Springsteen delivered it during the AMERICA: A TRIBUTE TO HEROES telethon. Featuring a revivalistic progression for the ages, the song stands as a return to the grand symbolic gesture that Springsteen so ably employed during his early artistic achievements. (In a way, it also marks the artistic revival of his career after a bleak 15 year run.) “My City of Ruins” registers with all the spiritual power and the glory of “The Star Spangled Banner”, but crosses from the realm of mere patriotism into anthemic humanism. If there ever was such a thing as a rock and roll hymn, “My City of Ruins” resurrected the form, mustering all the vigor, hope, and consolence of “Hey Jude.” When The Boss calls you to “Rise up!”, you feel like you might reach the cathedral rafters. Seeming to possess the ability to bind up wounds and heal the broken-hearted, “My City of Ruins” is a rare achievement in rock and roll, the sonic marker for an historical sea change. One of The Boss’ greatest achievements.

Tracks of the Decade: “Star Witness” by Neko Case

“Star Witness”
by Neko Case
from FOX CONFESSOR BRINGS THE FLOOD
Curiously, the most disputed lyric in the song “Star Witness” is also the only lyric omitted from the official listing on Neko Case’s website. I’m pretty sure it goes something like “Hey there, there are such deadly [dandy] wolves round tonight, round the town tonight,” but by keeping the song’s chorus shrouded in mystery, Case achieves the numinous here, a great and rare achievement in pop music. The album on which we find “Star Witness”, FOX CONFESSOR BRINGS THE FLOOD, is undoubtedly one of the most under-lauded records of the decade, an intense waking dream exploring the ethereal twilight of the Old South. Besides Case’s typically star-shattering vocals, the track’s standout performance is Paul Rigby’s watery guitar figure. Rigby simultaneously brings a powerful warmth and a nostalgic sadness to the affair, transcending what might otherwise have been too reminiscent of Wayne Cochran’s “Last Kiss”, re-popularized a few yars back by Pearl Jam. There’s some really impressive imagery here, recalling classic Springsteen like “Thunder Road” (“My nightgown sweeps the pavement clean”) and
“Stolen Car” (“My true love drowned in a dirty old pan of oil that did run from the block of a Falcon Sedan 1969”). But am I even sure what Neko is singing about? Nope, not a clue. All that really matters is that “Star Witness” is gorgeous as hell, the kind of utterly visionary work of art that crashes into your consciousness and makes its home like an old wreck on the highway.

neko case“Star Witness”
by Neko Case
from FOX CONFESSOR BRINGS THE FLOOD (2006)

Curiously, the most disputed lyric in the song “Star Witness” is also the only lyric omitted from the official listing on Neko Case’s website. I’m pretty sure it goes something like “Hey there, there are such deadly [dandy] wolves round tonight, round the town tonight,” but by keeping the song’s chorus shrouded in mystery, Case achieves the numinous here, a great and rare achievement in pop music. The album on which we find “Star Witness”, FOX CONFESSOR BRINGS THE FLOOD, is undoubtedly one of the most under-lauded records of the decade, an intense waking dream exploring the ethereal twilight of the Old South. Besides Case’s typically star-shattering vocals, this track’s standout performance is Paul Rigby’s watery guitar figure. Rigby simultaneously brings a powerful warmth and a nostalgic sadness to the affair, transcending what might otherwise have been too reminiscent of Wayne Cochran’s “Last Kiss”, re-popularized a few years back by Pearl Jam. There’s some really impressive imagery here, recalling classic Springsteen like “Thunder Road” (“My nightgown sweeps the pavement clean”) and “Stolen Car” (“My true love drowned in a dirty old pan of oil that did run from the block of a Falcon Sedan 1969”). But am I even sure what Neko is singing about? Nope, not a clue. All that really matters is that “Star Witness” is gorgeous as hell, the kind of utterly visionary work of art that crashes into your consciousness and makes its home like an old wreck on the highway. File this under SOUTHERN GOTHIC; I think Flannery would be proud.

download from her website for free

Thank You Emusic

This blog is not about advertising, but given that I have a healthy dose of writer’s block tonight, I thought I’d switch gears and just appreciate the fact that Emusic has pretty much drowned me in music over the last month.

1. There’s the standard 37 tracks per month at $15.
2. I purchased 100 tracks using a $30 gift card in August.
3. Last night, they gave me 50 extra downloads for being a loyal customer through their transition in bringing Sony onboard.
4. I will shortly be receiving 10 more downloads for rating 10 albums. Yes, I select stars for my favorite records, and I will get 10 free songs.

That’s 197 tracks in one month at $45.  That’s 23 cents a tracks. Muy bueno.

And what did I purchase? Well, here’s an incomplete list:

1. Modest Mouse, No One’s First and You’re Next EP
2. 12 tracks from Bob Dylan’s first two greatest hits volumes (i.e. “All Along the Watchtower”, “I Shall Be Released”)
3. 5 tracks from Pearl Jam (i.e. “Nothingman”, “Once”)
4. Nathan, Jimson Weed
5. Hem, Funnel Cloud
6.  Neu! 75
7. Arcade Fire EP
8.  The Swell Season
9.  The Inbred, Kombinator
10. Sandra McCracken, Red Balloon
11.  The Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime (43 tracks for the price of 12!)
12.  5 tracks from Modest Mouse’s Sad Sappy Sucker
13. Son Volt, The Search (Deluxe Edition)
14. Sandra McCracken, Gravity/Love
15.  Dinosaur Jr., Farm
16. 6 tracks from Modest Mouse’s Epic releases
17. Bruce Springsteen, Hammersmith Odeon London ’75

And while there’s more where that came from, I’m not even done buying yet. I don’t know of a deal that even comes close to that in music downloads. So if you haven’t done a free trial with eMusic, what are you waiting for?