Initial Reactions (2011): Stephen Malkmus, Girls, Thurston Moore, tUnE-yArDs

Stephen Malkmus – Mirror Traffic – [ind]: Initially, Mirror Traffic sounds like a bunch of slightly off-kilter but mostly generic stabs at classic rock. However, a shift occurs around the album’s middle.  "Asking Price" approaches vintage Pavement, and from then on the album takes a step in the right direction. There are some bright moments here, even a few flashes of Stephen seeming to re-capture his Pavement-era muse ("Fall Away" is a definite winner). Unfortunately, they are merely flashes, none of them reaching the low-key melodic transcendence of "Here" or "In the Mouth a Desert" or any other Malkmus-penned great. Pass. ("Fall Away", "Asking Price", "Spazz")

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost – [ind]: Shades of canonical classic rock all over the place. I hear "Kodachrome" in "Honey Bunny." "Die" sounds like some proto-metal proggish thing that I can’t quite put my finger on. "Saying I Love You" recalls the Beach Boys. "Vomit" could be an outtake from Dark Side of the Moon. The loveliness abounds, fer sure. It’s all nice, don’t get me wrong, but the thing is, none of it grabs me. In all honesty, why the hype? ("Alex", "Saying I Love You", "Forgiveness")

Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts – [++]: It’s an understated effort, built upon haunting and oblique acoustic guitar figures, but Moore gets it right by inviting violinist Samara Lubelski along for the ride. A meditative and poetic record that is frequently gorgeous and inviting, it is perhaps only lacking in gluey themes. Nonetheless, these tunes make for excellent study soundtracks, assisting in the construction of thoughts better perhaps than Moore intended. ("Benediction", "Illumine")

tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L – [++]: I can’t say that this is the type of sonic adventure I’m prone to jump all over, but I have to give Merrill Garbus credit. Word is she was a puppeteer in a former life, and that doesn’t surprise me one bit given the way her music rhythm-izes synthetic sounds into a strangely organic flow. There’s a whole bunch of absolutely fascinating musical moments contained herein, and she performs with a combination of giftedness and passion that is entirely rare. Even though I don’t completely get it, I can definitely appreciate the musical vision that W H O K I L L represents. I’ll certainly revisit this one, and keep my fingers crossed for Garbus as she becomes indie rock’s musical rocket woman. ("My Country", "Gangsta")

REACTION KEY

[****]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. A real screw-up. Don’t even bother.

Quick Review (LP): The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan & The Band

Bob Dylan & The Band
The Basement Tapes
Columbia; 1975

My Rating: A (90/100)

Best Tracks: "Orange Juice Blues", "Million Dollar Bash", "Yazoo Street Scandal", "Goin’ to Acapulco", "Ain’t No More Cane", "You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere", "Don’t Ya Tell Henry", "Open The Door, Homer", "Wheel’s On Fire"

It’s all so weird, so gloriously weird…

NOTES
– Though released in 1975, most of these recordings occurred in 1967, before Dylan recorded John Wesley Harding and leading up to The Band’s release of Music From Big Pink. It’s a pivotal set of tracks, a secret document of some recording sessions that changed rock and roll forever. It’s also a nice excuse to start reviewing The Band’s records.
– By the way, Garth Hudson is a genius. Just sayin’, because he doesn’t get a lot of credit in general.
– The beautiful moments abound: "Goin’ to Acapulco", "Orange Juice Blues", "Katie’s Been Gone", "Nothing Was Delivered"
– The cross-eyed and funky moments abound too: "Yazoo Street Scandal", "Lo and Behold", "Yea Heavy and a Bottle of Bread"
– Love the piano on "A Bottle of Bread." Brilliant. And then the insanely low vocals at the end. What a bunch of goofballs.
– OK, I know "Ain’t No More Cane" wasn’t recorded in 1967, but it’s great nonetheless, and it sounds like it fits in those sessions.
– I love "You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere", but Dylan’s solo acoustic version, released on Greatest Hits Vol. II, is superior to the version here in terms of sheer hilarious fun.
– Again, I love "Don’t Ya Tell Henry", but it’s not a basement tape track.
– I prefer this version of "Wheel’s On Fire" to Danko’s on Music From Big Pink. This one really captures the ominous feel of the song (the feel is similar to "Ballad of a Thin Man"), which is especially fitting because it was apparently an expression of Dylan’s mortal fear after his motorcycle accident. The version on Big Pink always seemed like a bit of filler, honestly. I love the way this one ends in a sing-along fashion.
– This is truly one of the great moments in rock and roll history. Lay aside those who were obviously influences for a moment. Could this be the birth of the whole DIY ethic that produced the underground music of the last 40 years? Seriously, I can’t imagine that Malkmus wasn’t hugely influenced, at least indirectly, by this.
Wikipedia has an excellent article on this one. Covers a lot, from the sessions themselves, to critical responses to the collection. It’s a nice guide to the record.

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