Initial Reactions (2012): Dirty Projectors, Damien Jurado, Welcome Wagon

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)

Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan [B]: Hints all over of a strong concept, but I have a really hard time connecting with this dude’s voice. I appreciate the fact that he’s not a mumbler, but he sounds a bit too soulfully controlled. The same applies to the songs, which are good, not great, but I’ll allow for the possibility that this is better than the first impression would indicate. ("The Socialites", "Gun Has No Trigger")

Damien Jurado – Maraqopa [B]: This is a moving album, and well played at that. The first half had me plotting ‘A’ territory, but things start to slack a little on the back half. Still, a pretty strong showing, and I’m guessing a grower. But what’s with the RATM cover rip-off? Yuck! ("This Time Next Year", "Museum of Flight")

 

Welcome Wagon – Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices [B]: This is a nice album. These folks wear simplicity on their sleeves, and the result is almost child-like in its folkdom. There are a few big highlights, among them a stripped down cover of The Cure’s "High" which is quite worth hearing. My one gripe is that this dude just sounds so much like his homey Sufjan. Still, prepare to be blitzed by pleasantry. ("High", "Would You Come and See Me in NY?")

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Initial Reactions (2011): Feist, Ryan Adams, Still Corners, Beirut

Feist – Metals – [ind]: If I had to compare Feist’s career trajectory to anyone right now, it would be Norah Jones. What I mean is, after two great albums, she has reached the point where she is running purely on charm and an amazing voice and beginning to suffer from a complacent and narrow vision. Not that I’m trying to hate – that’s not it at all – but quite frankly this album seems to substitute a sort of languid jazziness for songwriting chops. I know she probably got sick to death of "1234", but would it really kill her to throw an upbeat track or two into the mix? Another one like this and who will care? ("Caught a Long Wind", "Bittersweet Melodies", "Get It Wrong, Get It Right")

Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire – [++]: This definitely sounds like Adams pre-Cardinals, which, depending on one’s perspective, could go either way. The good news is that Adams sounds a little wiser, a little more patient, a little more balanced, and completely ready to focus on the things he does best. Excellent melodies abound, and there’s a sleepy Saturday morning feel to the album that recalls Love Is Hell and the lovelier, nostalgic moments on Cold Roses. Furthermore, I’m detecting the ghost of Richard Manuel in many of these tunes, which is always a good thing. Overall, I’m thinking that this might be one of the best albums of his career, and it could wind up being one of the best of any artist this year. ("Lucky Now", "Ashes & Fire", "Dirty Rain")

Still Corners – Creatures Of An Hour – [++]: More like Endless Winter! Very atmospheric, ghostly stuff. Pretty nice, though not incredibly original what with the voluminous…VOLUME of atmospheric and pretty post-punk outfits making music these days. Still, Creatures is well executed, and our lady Tessa Murray positively haunts these tunes. It’s like they took the last few Camera Obscura albums and boiled ’em down in The Cure’s early records. Also, sounds like Memoryhouse, but more David Lynch. Should make for some pleasant twilight drives in the darker seasons. Overall, shows promise. And I like the dude’s vision. ("Endless Summer")

Beirut – The Rip Tide – (++): I’ve always loved the "Old World" element in Zach Condon’s outfit, but on this one he indulges a heavier pop element for the better. Condon has such a profound gift for rich, memorable melodies that the synths and such, instead of sounding kitschy or tacky, further highlight the wonderful old/new paradox that makes Condon’s music rise above the fray. A keeper for sure and a possible year end sleeper. ("Santa Fe", "Goshen")

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): Raven in the Grave by The Raveonettes

The Raveonettes
Raven in the Grave
Vice; 2011

My Rating: B (64/100)

Best Tracks: "Recharge & Revolt", "War In Heaven", "Ignite"

Goth and the 50’s teen heartbreak pop find each other.

NOTES

  • It all sounds like a big, long teenage death song, sort of like that cover Pearl Jam did a few years back.
  • Very reminiscent of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, but I like this group’s vocals better.
  • "Recharge & Revolt" is a really cool tune.
  • "War In Heaven" is deliciously dark. It would have been at home on any album released by The Cure up to Disintegration.
  • Also, I am reminded of I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, especially on gothier tracks like "War In Heaven."
  • "Ignite" features some really appealing guitar work, but then there are those damn whispery vocals again. Why?
  • Love the aesthetic of this group, but the songs don’t quite make it over the top.
  • Also, I really dig the concept, but I’d like to have seen the group take it further.
  • I think Pitchfork gets this one right. There are things to like about this record, but the joy-o-meter registers a bit low. I wonder if these two are a little too obsessed with being fashionable?

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Consequence (3.5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4/5)

Quick Review (LP): Belong by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Belong
Slumberland; 2011

My Rating: B (70/100)

Best Tracks: "Belong", "Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now", "Anne with an E", "Strange"

Classic indie rock, a bit overcooked.

NOTES

  • I like the chunkiness of their sound. Sort of reminds me of The Inbreds.
  • Very John Hughes-ish. Is Breakfast Club Indie its own genre of music yet?
  • A very throwback sound – shades of late 80’s alt rock a la Pixies and The Cure.
  • Arrrrggghhh!!! The vocals!!! Why can’t dream-pop bands get brassy singers these days?
  • "The Body" reminds me of Afghan Whigs – the singer is channelling Greg Dulli there.
  • The songs are good, but none of them really GRAB me the way I would hope. Needs GREAT songs.
  • It all starts to blend together after a while.
  • The vocals leave a little something to be desired. This dude sounds like the guy from Def Leppard whispering. It is perhaps the lingering negative influence of otherwise great acts like My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain.
  • Pitchfork is much nicer to it than I am. I think the band needs to lay off of the sweet sound so much, and try something with a little more cockiness, a little more swagger. I was hopeful that "Strange", with its driving opening rhythm, was going to launch into something like "Gouge Away", but it was really the same old thing. I hope Kip Berman can find his inner Black Francis next time around.

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

Quick Review (LP): Idle Labor by Craft Spells

Craft Spells
Idle Labor
Captured Tracks; 2011

My Rating: B (66/100)

Best Tracks: "For The Ages", "Scandinavian Crush", "Party Talk", "After the Moment", "The Fog Rose High". "Beauty Above All"

Mumbly, innocent love songs for bedroom dreamers…

NOTES
– I will say the vocals are a lot easier to understand on this release than on others of this ilk. Thanks for that.
– Pretty pleasant stuff. Sounds like a kid from a John Hughes movie composing a bedroom project soundtrack to an autobiographical film about his freshman year.
– Wild Nothing is musically better, but I wish this guy sang for Wild Nothing. 
– If Wild Nothing is essentially a bedroom version of The Cure, then this is a bedroom version of Simple Minds.
– So when’s he going to get to the cover of "Take On Me"?
– More New Order than Joy Division. It’s a fun little record.
– Overall, not bad. It’s very "sound" based instead of song-based, and for that reason after about the fourth track the music easily slips into the background. Nothing amazing here, but it ain’t bad either.
The Pitchfork reviewer gets this record: “Idle Labor exists in a time frame best described by the title of its ebullient centerpiece– "After the Moment". These are sketches of romantic problems and solutions with the wounds still fresh and the thoughts uncensored. Taken as a whole, it could be read as a narrative following Vallesteros from heartbreak to infatuation and back, a few months’ worth of romantic uncertainty boiled down to a taut and hooky album.”

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

Quick Review (LP): Faith by The Cure

The Cure
Faith
Elektra; 1982

My Rating: B (70/100)

Best Tracks: "Primary", "Other Voices", "The Drowning Man"

There’s a darkly appealling something about this record, and I can see how it represents a sort of proto-Disintegration for sure. It’s a mixed bag to be sure, dense and threatening drudgery, yet oddly challenging and inviting of repeated listens.

NOTES
– "All Cats Are Grey" has a nice ambience to it. Sort of sounds like Tears for Fears.
– This is a conflicting record – it’s so dense that I can’t imagine listening to it on a regular basis, but I do like it as a whole.
– "Faith" is nice enough, but I don’t understand why it is thought of as amazing.
Gotta agree with the Pitchfork guy. The album does have that Twin Peaks thing going on at times, that misty, lost in the woods, nature-goth feel.
– "Primary" and "Other Voices" are each great singles. What is it about the early Cure sound? Not really melodic, not incredible musically, but catchy and so interesting.
– Very cool album cover. At first, it reminds me of half a woman’s face, with one eyelid shut. Turns out it’s a picture of an old church in England.
– In sum, this one’s all about the overcast atmosphere. It’s even creepy at times, and I have to say that I think I’ll be coming back to this one.

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

My review of The Cure’s Three Imaginary Boys
My review of The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds

Quick Review (LP): Boy by U2

U2
Boy
Island; 1980

My Rating: B+ (79/100)

Best Tracks: “I Will Follow”, “Twilight”, “An Cat Dubh”, “Out of Control”, “Electric Co.”

U2’s debut is both desolate and muscular, with huge doses of the boyish optimism that would send them out of the stratosphere in the years to come. This is their “coming of age” record. Conceptually, it’s one of their best LP’s, and although not well known, it features some of their best early material.

NOTES:
– “I Will Follow” is one of the band’s best opening tracks. Gotta dig the glockenspiel.
– The whole album is shrouded in a sort of dark and unfathomable mist, sort of this unsettling weirdness in the background.
– “Shadows and Tall Trees” reminds me of early Cure.
– “An Cat Dubh” is one of the best things they’ve ever recorded, without a doubt.
– As immediate as the record is, it’s also quite atmospheric and dreamlike (“Another Time…”)
– For me, “Stories for Boys” is the thematic heart of the record.
– The cover is brilliant. Minimalist, but full of wonder and depth.
– Steve Lillywhite’s work with U2 is some of my favorite.
DELUXE EDITION HIGHLIGHTS: “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” (one of The Edge’s best guitar riffs), “Touch”

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

Quick Review (LP): Seventeen Seconds by The Cure

seventeen seconds the cure The Cure
Seventeen Seconds
Fiction; 1980

My Rating: B+

Best Tracks: “Play for Today”, “Secrets”, “A Forest”, “At Night”

What an arcane little post-punk record this is. Perhaps R. Smith was indulging a fetish for moody horror films, or perhaps he was just really sad the 70’s were coming to an end, but The Cure’s descent into darkness begins here. Though I can’t bring myself to call it a classic or a masterpiece, I nevertheless really like this record. Appropriately though, I can’t seem to put my finger on what I like about it. The brothers gloom apparently caught a lot of flack when the record was released for making “film soundtracks” rather than pop songs, but The Cure are the only ones laughing about that now, especially when you consider that you can hear this album influencing whole genres of rock music right up to the present day. Think Spoon. Think Nine Inch Nails. I hear all of that. Great tracks? They’re here too. Look no further than “Play For Today” and “A Forest”, both of which take the minimalist post-punk of Three Imaginary Boys to a spooky new level. However, my favorite cut has to be “At Night”, which begins in a sort of monotonous drudgery but begins to spasm about with random bursts of noise. Why do I like it so much? I don’t know!?!? Weird, huh? Yes it is. Just like this record. Bottom line: the appeal of this record is as much a mystery as its substance. Now that’s insight.

AMG review
Pitchfork review
AMG review of “At Night”

Quick Review (LP): Three Imaginary Boys by The Cure

the cure three imaginary boys The Cure
Three Imaginary Boys
Fiction; 1979

My Rating: B

Best Tracks: “10:15 Saturday Night”, “Accuracy”, “Fire In Cairo”, “Meathook”

If you’re like me, your first exposure to The Cure was their poppy late 80’s/early 90’s fare, such as “Just Like Heaven” or “Friday I’m In Love.” It’s a bit startling then to go back and hear them toddling through the minimalist, sinewy rock of their early singles, akin to the wonder of the caterpillar and the butterfly. Though it’s not an excellent debut, 3IB is nevertheless a pretty good one. After all, you’ve got to appreciate a band that says hello to the world with a chorus that consists of the word “drip” repeated ad infinitum. The album has its missteps of course, most notably the cover of “Foxy Lady” that just about ruins the mood of the record, but tracks like “Fire In Cairo” and “Accuracy” are about as lean and mean as any post-punk you’re going to find from this era. Yeah, it’s sort of a hodge-podge, a record that’s more about a record label overstepping its bounds than an artist’s vision, but what are you going to do? There’s something primal about this record that keeps me coming back, and I recommend giving it a listen or two.

AMG review
Wikipedia article
Pitchfork review

Quick Review (LP): The Five Ghosts by Stars

stars five ghosts Stars
The Five Ghosts
Soft Revolution; 2010

My Rating: B

Best Tracks: “Wasted Daylight”, “Fixed”, “The Passenger”, “Changes”

Fun. This is like a lost Depeche Mode record, though heavier on the pop and a little less devastated. Thematically, it may seem at first like an awful dark record, but I tend to think the 5 ghosts being referenced are the band members’ lost 80’s childhoods. Haters will hate it, no doubt, but I haven’t heard a record this chock full of deliciously Saturday morning electro-pop since that one mix I made that brought together The Cure, The Smiths, and Tears for Fears. Some truly fine moments here (Millan shines brightest), start with the recommendations above and don’t overthink this one.

Metacritic reviews
Pitchfork review