Initial Reactions (2012): Kathleen Edwards, Cloud Nothings, First Aid Kit

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)

Kathleen Edwards – Voyageur – (B): Edwards’ first two albums are Americana masterpieces. Since then, she’s struggled a bit to make her next giant leap. While Voyageur has its moments, it all seems a bit tepid, especially given Edwards biggest past triumphs (see, for example, "In State"). Only "Mint" approaches that flood mark. In the end, this is a set of good tunes, it’s just that we’ve just come to expect more than that.  ("Mint")

Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory – (A-): You gotta admire the aim. Cloud Nothings went from bedroom pop-punk to devastation post-punk in about a year’s time. Is Attack on Memory great? I’m not sure, but it’s a big fat maybe. The first several cuts are grabbers -  "No Future/No Past" nails a sound I haven’t heard since about the mid-90’s. AoM satisfies, but is it devoid of filler? We’ll see where this shakes out a year from now. ("No Future/No Past", "Fall In")

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar – (A-): Aims to put stars in your eyes. Canyon-carving vocals, fiery harmonies, and great tunes abound. These ladies sing with conviction something like religion.  My only complaint is that The Lion’s Roar could have boasted a little more variety. You know, more like "Blue", which hits upon a playful pop sensibility that’s otherwise absent. All in all, promising. ("The Lion’s Roar", "Emmylou", "Blue")

Quick Review (EP): Glenn by Slint

slint glenn rhoda 10" Slint
Glenn EP
Touch & Go; 1994

My Rating: A+

Best Tracks: both tracks

Spiderland gets all the recognition, but when it comes down to it, this is the record that truly DOCUMENTS the reality of this band of bands. First of all, the recording is amazing, the sound of Albini completely redeeming himself after sabotaging Tweez. Second, the band never sounded better, more Slint-ish, than this. “Glenn” is perhaps the essential Slint track, immediate and mysterious, sprawling and meticulous, an epic crafted to precision that proceeds to blow your mind. “Rhoda” refurbishes the poorest track on Tweez, thrusting it forward as perhaps the best. When Walford crashes in near the end of the track (“One two three four!!!!!”) and the band goes insane, you get a sense of what this band was capable of live. Doubters, beware. This EP just might convert you.

AMG review
Wikipedia article
Hardcore For Nerds review

Book Review: Spiderland (33 1/3 series) by Scott Tennent

Spiderland (33 1/3 series)
by Scott Tennent
Continuum; 2010

My Rating: A

I can remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 1994, and I was a freshman in high school, examining a double-sided, photo-copied Slamdek Records catalog. My eyes fell upon a blurb about a band named Slint, and I fixated on a quote that went like this: “Even Stone Temple Pilots rip off big ideas from these guys.” Not that I was an STP fan, but it didn’t take me long to realize that these Slint guys were a big deal. A few days later, I boogied on up to Mike Bucayu‘s Blue Moon Records in Holiday Manor and bought myself a cassette copy of Tweez. So, when I popped that sucker into my bookshelf setup, and the first discordant notes of “Ron” came blaring through my speakers, I was a little taken aback. Was this really the pride of Louisville?

Suffice to say, eventually I got it, and that’s why I’m pleased to say that Scott Tennent has finally written THE BOOK on Slint, a band that was heretofore the subject of so much conjecture, hearsay, and legend that it was often hard to distinguish fact from fiction. Starting in 1982 with Brian McMahan‘s first band, Languid and Flaccid, the book not only serves as the definitive story on Slint, but it also covers just about everything you’d want to know about seminal Louisville acts like Squirrel Bait, Maurice, and Solution Unknown. Tangentially, it even goes quite a ways toward revealing some of Will Oldham‘s artistic roots as well.  Through in-depth research and first-hand accounts from Dave Pajo, Todd Brashear, Ethan Buckler, and the imminently quotable Sean “Rat” Garrison, Tennant takes the band from cradle to grave, telling the story of the band’s origins as a Pajo/Britt Walford side project, Steve Albini‘s early embrace of the band, the controversial Tweez sessions and departure of Buckler, the second Albini session that produced the Glenn/Rhoda 10″, their efforts to establish themselves as a live act in 1989 and 1990,  the Spiderland sessions, and the band’s subsequent demise in late 1990.

Along the way, Tennent’s account is revelatory, capturing the artistic dynamics that went into composing and making Spiderland, and demonstrates that Slint were truly aiming for something new and unique. They were a band driven towards the sort of precision and craftsmanship that is often dismissed by rock musicians, and one gets the sense from reading Spiderland that one of the reasons the record is so special is that those guys cared about the placement and performance of every single note. Tennent’s analysis of Spiderland‘s tracks is quite insightful as well, and even for those, like myself, who have listened to the record dozens of times, it refreshes the record and illuminates just what it is that makes it such an uncanny experience. Let me just put it this way: having just finished Tennent’s Spiderland, “Good Morning, Captain” sounds even greater.

It’s about time someone got around to writing this book. Tennent’s Spiderland is HIGHLY recommended for any Slint fan, Slint-curious music fan, Slint-skeptic, or fan of interesting music in general.

Scott Tennent’s blog, Pretty Goes with Pretty
Wikipedia article on Spiderland

Quick Review (LP): One Less Heartless to Fear by Shipping News

Shipping News
One Less Heartless to Fear
Noise Pollution/Karate Body; 2010

My Rating: B

Best Tracks: “Half A House”, “(Morays or) Demons”

Shipping News speeds things up and unleashes a little bit of the ol’ Albini charm here, but I gotta admit, I’ve always been a sucker for Shipping News’ slower, brooding side. Therefore, I wasn’t immediately thrilled by “The Delicate” when it was released a few months back. And to be clear, OLHTF is not really a new LP so much as a live document. It contains a few tracks from their last LP proper, Flies the Fields, and features a solid set of otherwise unreleased material. The good news is that the old tracks sound great here, and the new stuff presents a side to the Noble/Mueller partnership that I hadn’t thought of since “Shiner.” Overall, I’m a big fan of the record’s concept. More bands (indie ones specifically) should take a step back from the studio and let their fans hear unreleased songs in process. I’m not so much talking about “LIVE” albums, greatest hits collections performed on stage, I’m talking about single-take sets of old, new, and weird. I could get used to Shipping News (and plenty of other bands) releasing something like this every other year or so. Dig the cover art too.

Built On A Weak Spot review
Dusted review
Young Scamels review (SGB)
June of 44 career-in-brief (SGB)