Initial Reactions (2012): Tennis, Dr. Dog, The Little Willies

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 impression on me at that point, someone’s going to need to tell me to pay closer attention if they think it deserves better. (see the sidebar for rating descriptions)

Tennis – Young & Old – [B+]: Deuce. A slight improvement on last year’s set. At times, I detect the influence of mid-90’s Sebadoh, and there’s a little more racket to match the indie-pop sound. Producer Patrick Carney brings a post-punk advantage, but unfortunately there’s no aces. I won’t  fault them for that, though. All in all, this is love-ly, and that’s no backhanded compliment. Net.   ("Origins", "Petition", "Dreaming")

Dr. Dog – Be The Void – [B]: Good and enjoyable rock and roll with a classic vibe. It’s hard not to like Dr. Dog, but it’s equally hard to love them. I think what they lack is a sense of personality. I mean, I get it. These are laid back dudes. They’ve played Lebowski Fest. But maybe they need to add a lady to the mix? And not just any lady, a real firecracker, a Neko. After all, even The Dude found his Maude in the end. ("These Days", "Get Away", "Do The Trick")

The Little Willies – For The Good Times – [B]: The Little Willies play well enough. Unfortunately, the song choices leave something to be desired. "If You’ve Got The Money" and "Jolene" = obvious. Think instead of Hem covering "Radiation Vibe" or "So. Central Rain." That’s grade-A song choice, the kind I’d expect from cosmopolitan musicians living in The City. Good times (but almost great when Norah’s got the lead). ("I Worship You", "Tommy Rockwood", "Fist City")

Quick Review (LP): Together by New Pornographers

File:The New Pornographers - Together.jpgNew Pornographers
Together LP
Matador; 2010

My Rating: A

Standout Tracks: “The Crash Years”, “Silver Jenny Dollar”, “Bite Out of My Bed”

Let’s see…five albums in now. This should have been the epic fail, right? Not so. Instead, they’ve achieved a fantastic synthesis of the polite baroque rock of Challengers and the rocket-fueled zounds! pop of everything before that. It boasts some of their best work (Case is on another plane of existence here), and turns out to be the most consistent album from liftoff to crash landing they’ve yet made. High on melody, high on spark, high on all of the things that go to make heaven and earth. RiYL: anything they’ve done in the past, Destroyer, A.C. Newman, powerful power pop, Neko Case.

band website
Pitchfork review
Myspace page

AlbumNotes: Kathryn Calder’s “Are You My Mother?”

via radio3.cbc.ca

  • I’ll admit I was skeptical about Kathryn Calders debut when it was first announced a few months back. I didn’t know about her work in Immaculate Machine, and she’d only managed to make a star appearance on a few New Pornographers tracks since joining the band mid-decade. And anyway, the circumstances of her joining the band oddly struck of nepotism.
  • Any doubts that I had have been blown away. Are You My Mother? is a solid debut. Great melodies, fun arrangements, diverse rhythms, and crafty wordplay. It plays like one of Uncle Carl’s solo records, maybe less angular. I’ve been telling everyone I can about this record.
  • My favorite tracks are “If You Only Knew”, “Follow Me Into the Hills”, and “Slip Away.” Additionally, “Day Long Past Its Prime” sounds like The National fronted by a female vocalist. Really good stuff.
  • Apparently, it’s a very personal record as well. Calder’s mother died in the process of recording it. For anyone who has ever read the children’s book that gave her the album’s title, there’s plenty of emotional resonance here.
  • I’m thinking this one will probably wind up on my top 10 albums of 2010. At that point, I intend to give it the appropriate write-up.

A.C. Newman: Get Guilty (2009)

Album Cover via eMusic

A.C. Newman
Get Guilty; 2009
Matador Records

My Rating: 74/100

Power-Pop Hitman Guilty As Sin

I have a guilty pleasure I need to admit: I am a huge fan of pop superstar Phil Collins, especially his mid-80’s heyday. I am such a fan that I recently created a mix CD entitled “Phil Collins Galore.” Something about that man’s music simply butters my bread. Still, whenever I ponder the career of (the original) Dr. Phil, I often scratch my head about the ping-ponging he did between his solo career and Genesis, because when it all comes down to it, for the longest time I couldn’t differentiate between the two. In fact, at this given moment, I couldn’t tell you whether “Sussudio” is a Genesis or a Phil track. And that’s the way I feel about A.C. Newman’s solo work. Unlike the other two major indie artists working in the New Pornographers (Dan Bejar of Destroyer & Neko Case), Newman’s eponymous output  bears little immediate difference from the NP-sound. It can lead one to cynicism about the whole affair: “Why even bother?” However, a few careful listens to Newman’s second full-length shine a spotlight on the specific and dissimilar merits contained therein. For starters, there’s a rhythmic angularity and experimentalism that is, for the most part, absent from the hyperactive power pop of New Pornographers (“Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer”, “Elemental”), in large part thanks to the unorthodox drumming of Superchunk’s John Wurster. Second, while the songs are hooky and immediately accessible (“Young Atlantis”, “Prophets”), they are also deeply mysterious and entirely unyielding. These are tracks you can dwell in for a good while, discovering additional layers here and there to relish. Third, because he isn’t forced to share the spotlight with anyone else, we get to focus on Newman’s greatest strenghth: his penchant for writing memorable and distinguishable pop songs. Overall, Newman is at his best when he builds the song around a mind-blowing hook and lets it breath. His esoteric/enigmatic lyrics don’t distract so much then, but instead become the alternate universe into which we are initiated by a hummable, repeatable motif.  Get Guilty provides clear indication that Newman’s solo career is not merely a vanity affair. The record is an impeccably-crafted album of left-field baroque pop gems, as satisfying as any of the New Pornographers’ long-players, and ultimately the work of a master craftsman. Highly recommended.

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)

Tracks:

1. There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve (4/5)
2. The Heartbreak Rides (5/5)
3. Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer (4/5)
4. Prophets (5/5)
5. Submarines Of Stockholm (5/5)
6. Thunderbolts (3.5/5)
7. The Palace At 4AM (4/5)
8. The Changeling (Get Guilty) (3.5/5)
9. Elemental (4/5)
10. Young Atlantis (5/5)
11. The Collected Works (4/5)
12. All Of My Days And All Of My Days Off (5/5)

What do you think of A.C. Newman’s Get Guilty?

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: “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