Initial Reactions (2012): Norah Jones, Lower Dens, Zammuto

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)

Norah Jones – Little Broken Hearts [B]: On its face, Jones’ 5th proclaims edgy style. There’s the risqué album cover (cf. albums 1-4), production by Danger Mouse, and the sassy, "is that Norah Jones?" hook of lead single "Happy Pills." Certainty: Burton works wonders with the arrangements. Trouble is twofold. The songs are decent, but none great. Furthermore, Jones’ delivery is still maddeningly mild. I was amped by "Happy Pills" – but further listening feels like falling off of cloud nine. ("Say Goodbye", "Out On The Road")

Lower Dens – Nootropics [A-]: The sound of an alien’s existential crisis? I know from the interwebs that this is high concept, but I won’t get into all that here. What I will say is that Dens makes some sparse (and oft frightening) soundscapes, and then populates them with neurotic cosmonauts. There’s a nice diversity to the song types, but a definite unity to the overall sound of the record. I’m pleasantly surprised by this one, and if you dig krautrock then go ahead and give it a whirl. ("Stem", "Propagation", "Nova Anthem", "Lion In Winter pt. 1")

Zammuto – Zammuto [B]: The Way Out was my first exposure to The Books and their last LP release. I dug it, so I was excited to see point-5-Books pick things up with Zammuto. Sounds Books-ish, what with the silly sampling, but there’s a post-rock band feel here as well. Sports some mighty fine tunes fer sure, but the problem is sequencing. The thick, frantic stuff is relentless until the last few tracks, when things slow down to pensive. More ebb and flow might have opened this one up. Not bad, not great. ("Groan Man, Don’t Cry", "Full Fading")

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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): III/IV by Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
III/IV
PAX AM; 2010

My Rating: B- (62/100)

Best Tracks: "Breakdown Into The Resolve", "Ultraviolet Light", "The Crystal Skull", "Typecast", "Stop Playing With My Heart", "Kisses Start Wars", "Kill the Lights"

Quantity over quality, with a handful of strong tracks.

NOTES

  • "Breakdown Into The Resolve" is a cool little alterna-rock tune. Sounds like the Foos.
  • "Ultraviolet Light" is a definite high point here.
  • "Stop Playing With My Heart" is a cool little power-pop tune. Nice female backing vocals (who dat?).
  • Nice Beach Boys salute on "Kisses Start Wars" ("Don’t worry, baby!").
  • "Icebreaker" = serious butt rock. Holds true for a lot of IV.
  • What other tune does that guitar riff on "Typecast" hint at? And is that Norah Jones?
  • "Kill the Lights" is a cool rocker with tongue planted firmly in cheek. It’s like a punkish Allman Brothers tune.
  • Quantity over quality here for sure, but it’s obvious this was not intended by Adams as a "main" release anyway. It’s a decent collection of mostly forgettable tunes, but I can understand why Brad Pemberton liked driving around and listening to this one every once in a while. Adams may not produce greatness with every release, but his output is something to behold.
  • AMG hears The Replacements. I guess I agree with that.
  • So aren’t we at a place with music where bands can release everything from a session? Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a proponent of the album format, as in "this is the finished product, the record we set out to make when we began this project." But why not just go ahead and release everything worth releasing a year or two later? The great artists seem to do this, with the exception of a few of my favorites (Wilco, Radiohead, U2), who release a lot, but hold a lot as well. I applaud Mr. Adams for doing that here.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (3/5)
Consistency (3.5/5
Songs (4/5)

Quick Review (LP): Belle & Sebastian Write About Love by Belle & Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian
Belle & Sebastian Write About Love
Jeepster; 2010

MY RATING: A- (81/100)

BEST TRACKS: "Didn’t See It Coming", "Come On Sister", "I Want The World To Stop"

The best of both worlds.

NOTES

  • "Didn’t See It Coming" is one of the band’s purest and loveliest moments in years. Putting Sarah on the lead vocal was a good move.
  • Sweet synth effects on "Come On Sister." Catchy tune.
  • "Calculating Bimbo" is a bit of a snoozer, but for some reason I find myself humming that titular phrase in my head. It’s pleasant I suppose.
  • With "I Want the World To Stop", I’m starting to realize that the genius of this record might be that it’s the most complete synthesis of the two Belle and Sebastians yet. That is, it successfully merges the understated loveliness of their first four albums with the more muscular northern soul of their later records. In short, this is the pretty girl that can kick your butt and make you laugh about it.
  • "Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John" recalls Dylan’s "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts", in title at least. Norah Jones is a nice touch, but the track is boring.
  • "Write About Love." Love the chorus. Carey Mulligan is the female voice. Famous actress, I guess. Why have her sing?
  • The production sounds great. Their most hi-fi record?
  • They’ve experimented with northern soul before, but this might be their most northern soul record.
  • All in all, Write About Love is stronger than I reckoned the first time around. It’s not their finest hour, but this is a band that’s created quite a legacy for themselves, so it’s not really a matter of topping their past work at this point, but more about keeping things interesting enough to bring the fans back. To that end, they succeed here.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Write About Love by Belle and Sebastian

Write About LoveBelle and Sebastian
Write About Love
Matador Records; 2010

My Rating: B

Best Tracks: “I Didn’t See It Coming”, “Write About Love”, “The Ghost of Rocklove”

One thing Stuart Murdoch has always had a penchant for is figuring out which song should open the record. Masterful move here letting Sarah take the lead vocals, but the thing that hits me hardest from the outset is the power of the bass and drums. Belle and Sebastian quit the twee schtick a long time ago, and it continues to prove the right move, as they seem to be learning the ropes of soulful power pop even better with each record. As strong as the record opens though, Murdoch and company still haven’t figured out how to make the second half of a record as interesting as the first. By the time you get to “Sunday’s Pretty Icons”, attention has faded away, and the song just doesn’t pack the punch to close things out on a grand scale. But most of the record is strong enough to revisit it every once in a while.

Pitchfork review
Paste review
Metacritic reviews

Like Eddie Vedder…

Just wanted to touch base and say that I’m still alive, and plan on returning to regular blogging sometime in the spring.

A few music-related thoughts:

– the new Norah Jones was like the last Norah Jones, pretty blah…
– the new Vampire Weekend is okay, pretty mediocre compared to their outstanding debut…
– the new Dawn Landes sounds EXCELLENT after one listen…
– I never did pick up the Farrar/Gibbard record…anyone care to comment?
– Louisville indie-rockers Second Story Man just released a new record, Screaming Secrets…you should check it out…
– I’d probably agree with Paste Mag that Sufjan’s Illinois was the greatest record of the last decade…more later though…
– I”m stoked that Louisville’s Follow the Train might re-group when their new LP is released on Removador Records
– of course I’m with CoCo…duh…
– I like that new-ish band Real Estate…
– psyched for some new Josh Ritter in the spring, more psyched for the tour that should follow…
– best record of 2009? No clue…I think last year kind of sucked for music…

That’s it for now, stay in touch…

Breezes of the Week #1

BREEZES OF THE WEEK is the wrap-up post wherein I discuss my favorite music related items of the past week. Enjoy!

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Built to Spill’s latest, THERE IS NO ENEMY, is probably their most vital and consistent album since PERFECT FROM NOW ON.  I don’t like to cast judgments on records as soon as they are released, or even after a couple of listens, but I am very stoked about the direction BTS takes here. Which is to say that they haven’t changed a thing!

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NEW RADIOHEAD LP IN 2010:

Ed O’Brien told NME that with sessions planned this winter the band would “definitely” be releasing a full album physically next year. “We were misquoted,” claimed O’Brien of Yorke’s comments, loudly adding, “WE WILL BE MAKING AN ALBUM!”
(via ateaseweb.com)

This is great news. I really believe Radiohead is at their most vital right now, and let’s face it, the album format is integral to the DNA of pop music.  Individual tracks are like short stories and poems, great in one sitting, but the LP is the novel, the grandest statement of all. Radiohead is AOR, no matter how much they’d like to be different.

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TRAVIS GETS THEIR DUE:

I salute the music blog Aquarium Drunkard for naming Travis’ The Man Who as one of their favorite albums of the decade. Travis aren’t exactly the toast of indie-dom, but the lush melodies of their Nigel G.-produced second album had most of us thinking back in 2000 that they would be to this decade what Coldplay ended up being. True, they haven’t really made anything so great since, but for one shining moment they had a whole lot of folks’ heads spinning. THE MAN WHO is an undeniable classic.

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NORAH’S SOUNDING GOOD:

Go here to stream a fresh track from Norah Jones’ upcoming LP THE FALL. Nothing TOO revolutionary, but she’s definitely kicking up the groove factor and trying to incorporate heavier rhythms. All good things, since her last outing, NOT TOO LATE, was kind of a clunker. Looking forward to THE FALL. (heads-up via Stereogum)

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JASON NOBLE’S ILLNESS

When I was about about 15 years old, I heard Rodan’s RUSTY for the first time. All I can really say is that RUSTY shattered my previous conceptions of what music could be. That album was in large part the work of Louisville’s own Jason Noble, who went on to record countless other works (see Shipping News, Rachel’s, Per Mission) that have been a huge part of the last fifteen years of my life. It’s safe to say that Jason is one of my musical heroes, and a real inspiration to me. My prayers are with him as he battles cancer. God grant you peace and serenity in the face of it all sir, and may you continue to inspire us for decades to come.

As a glimpse of his genius, here’s the beautiful “Last Things Last” from the Rachel’s masterpiece SYSTEMS/LAYERS:

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Did I mention Rachel’s? While surfing for that video of “Last Things Last”, I also found this truly amazing guitar-based cover of the glorious “Water from the Same Source.” Wow:

Anyone know how to rip this to mp3?