Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bi-Weekly Update, 5-17 to 5-30

Lucky you, two weeks at once. Just remember to chew before swallowing:

Iron & Wine - "Around the Well"

A collection of songs spanning I&W's three LPs, folk ranging from soft acoustic to slightly electric. Some of the early stuff ranges from listenable to not fully there ("Friends they are Jewels" falls here, still a bit sonically vacant), and much of the best material are the acoustic inbetweens, which tend to have better developed 2nd choruses; "Swans and the Swimming" sounds like it should finish "The Creek Drank the Cradle," and much of the second album, including the gorgeous "Sinning Hands," makes this worth the price. The only other weakness here is the odd choice of "Waitin' for a Superman," which doesn't match up to the Flaming Lip's original ("Love Vigilantes" hits the mark, though). For the price and collection here, it is an excellent deal, even if you were hoping for another full-length. Recommended.

Tori Amos - "Abnormally Attracted to Sin"

A slimmer, more seductive album that spins about in the later hours of the night. It has a lighter instrumentation, all the electric organ effects you could want, and focuses especially on Amos' vocals; wherein lies the problem, because she's not terribly powerful or subtle here. Generally, the whole doesn't have a strong feeling to it, almost like you read a newspaper and discover it's made of tissue paper. But there are some excellent standout tracks: "Not Dying Today" and "Fast Horse" both utilize her ability to craft and create good, layered pop songs. Otherwise, she doesn't really carry the show in these mostly slower and more eletric-ballad type songs, and the album feels a bit more naked than she should feel comfortable with.

Grizzly Bear - "Vekatimest"

A truly exciting album characterized with as many twists and turns as a good park ride. It's incredibly full, with string orchestration and a guitar bassline supporting almost Moody Blues style vocals (maybe more than just vocals, given the slightly fuller orchestration). It's surprising and fun: goofy in bass-heavy "Two Weeks," enthralling in the epic "Fine for Now"; think of Animal Collective's electronic smorgasbord, but cleaner and poppier. The end result is something a bit easier to listen to and make sense of (though that's not to detract from AC's fantastic "Merriweather".) Other than the unusual title, this album begs the one question: what have you to lose? Absolutely fantastic. Listen to "While you Wait for the Others."

Sunn - "Monoliths and Dimensions"

A five-minute intro means that 1/10th of the album is spent on about 10 held notes; 10 minutes of distorted bass and creepy-like vocals later, I'm not too sure the album has even started. Overglorfied crypt-rock, with more than emo attitude than musical ability; like huffing glue, not something you try unless you're into it. Overdone, melodramatic and not particularly thrilling. Suggested if: you're a teenage daughter trying to tick off father with studded neck braces and black eyeliner. On second thought, just stick to the homedone piercings and backalley tattoos: it'll hurt less.

Gravest apologies for being late again. It's probably a good thing for me that this blog doesn't have a real deadline or anything, though bad for you at the same time.
Most things we find ourselves grateful for were forced on a deadline: Apollo 13, commuting buses and trains, daily Dilbert strips (though Doonesbury outshines of late). I find most things awful without the rigidity of a fixed schedule, this blog included.
Meat better make it to the market, or I'll be without delicious home-cooked burgers.
If trees shed their leaves willy-nilly, they'd be stuck freezing in the winter.
You can't pass transportation-funding legislation without timetables, duh.
Next time you catch yourself moaning about "Jeez, I've got this project due next week," or "I still have to write up that blasted report," just consider where we'd all be without deadlines. Chaos. The world before it was born. My rambling, pathetic blog. And no House episodes every week (kind of like now, considering they finished their season). I guess I'm getting to the fact that summer syndication is pretty awful; thank god for Burn Notice and endless days of sunshine.
(Apologies also to those in the southern hemisphere: you've got encroaching winter, backwards-flushing toilets, and no Hugh Laurie.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Weekly Update, 5-10 to 5-16

Big Business, "Mind the Drift": Heavy stuff. Strangely, though, it feels more loud than substantial (see track 4, "I Got it Online"). But "The Drift" is pretty hard-rocking good; the whole album, which consists of more distortion and yelling than songwriting, is something of a disappointment. Doesn't add much, if anything, to the genre.

Magnolia, "The Wooden Birds": Light guitar with soft vocal harmonies not unlike Yo La Tengo's. "Quit You Once" feels uncomfortably incomplete, and this album, too, is just lacking a bit of a punch; probably changing their musical voice a bit, as well as layering a bit more would help to flesh out and give the album a definite flow. Not a significant replay value to the album, though try the tracks "Never Know" and "Seven Seventeen."

I despise when things feel like they're unfinished. The ending to most Coen bros. movies upset me, the fact that Chaucer never finished his masterpiece irks me, and that bit at the end of Andre 3000's "The Love Below" which drives me nuts (though there are certainly other things there that frustrate me). The two albums above feel like they needed more, kind of a purpose to them; not necessarily that they're going to change the world, but something that the musicians believed in while they were making the music.
Most things are like that. Certainly art, sculpture, and writing benefit from that kind of direction, but even carpentry, cooking I'd venture, or a small business are more apt to succeed when you have a clear vision (though I'm still not sure how Home Depot envisions itself making the world a better place).
(I guess they do build playgrounds every now and then...)
I try to stop myself when I don't know why I'm doing something I'm doing. It sounds stupid, but it helps, actually, even with something as mundane as laundry, and usually I can pick it back up again when I can see through to the end. It's important a skill to have, knowing when you're able to follow through with something and do it well.
Which is why I've decided to outsource this menial blog to Akrahm S'tolia in Bangladesh, India. It's saved me almost $18 this week on CDs.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Weekly update, 5-3 to 5-9

Wow, so it's my first actual post here and I'm already late by a day. Not good... but here they are:

Connor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, "Outer South" - Hmmm... if you're a fan of Oberst's Bright Eyes, then this album... Well, I was disappointed by it, actually. Really a mixed bag; Bright Eyes tends to musically mesh with Oberst's indie-weird vocals, and the musicians here play brightly, kind of demanding someone with more power (not "Steve Perry" power, but a step in that direction). Leaves the opener a bit - off - especially the first couple times around, though Taylor Hollingsworth doesn't do it either, for that matter. I'd venture to say not Oberst's deepest work. Pass. (Try "Difference in Time")

Yusuf, "Roadsinger" - Ray Davies, John Fogarty, Leon Helm; all these old 60s music guys think they still got it. I wasn't thrilled by the title track when it came by, but I was too busy enjoying all that had came before (and after, for that matter). Does he have it still? Yes, and Yusuf showcases great vocals for his 60 years, where many of his contemporaries are still (or have already) lost the timbre of their singing voices. It's essentially acoustic and vocal, but it's strong and enchanting enough to keep the rebel Clash-slash-Wilco in me down, and "The Rain" really does bring me back to those 60s-hippie songs about turmoil and the "rain"... though if you've never seen the rain (Creedence right there, not Cat Stevens) it's still worth bringing your rain ponchos out and singing along. Great album.

Ray Davies managed to survive the 60s and heroine; Fogarty had that inconceivable legal battle for the rights on his lifetime of hits; and Helm had, I believe, throat cancer, which he recently overcame. All these guys have pretty large obstacles to overcome, and Yusuf's, I'd have to say, is the more unusual one. If you haven't ventured out in the past two decades, "Cat Stevens" chose his nom-de-guitarra because his birth surname is "Islam." I don't think I have to explain how it'd be difficult to sell an album by "Yusuf Islam."
On the one hand, I'd like to chastise him for betraying his heritage, and in some way, he still is by not advertising his last name. But, practically speaking, you've got to do what you've got to do; would advertising himself as Y. Islam make his music less artistic? Of course not, but it would greatly cut off his music's circulation, and not changing his artistic name would undercut his music. It sucks to say, but he's got to be practical.
Steve Perry, Tony Bennett, even Bob Dylan have changed their names to something more acceptable to the American ear. It's a small thing, but important; if your listener can't remember your name, you'll have a hell of a time trying to get your music sold. That's why bands come up with ridiculous titles like "Barenaked Ladies" and "London Symphony Orchestra." ("Sting" earned his name, so that doesn't count.)
I've recently discovered that it's extremely difficult to get your name changed to "Fire." That's the one thing holding me back from a horribly memorable life as a thespian or lead musician. Maybe my children will have that chance one day...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hello one and all!

Welcome to the first of many diverse and diffuse posts! Here is your host, Matt Keefer, small-time music critic and generally unimportant person. Those of you who've checked out the MySpace site know that I do brief (very brief) reviews of two albums that hit my fancy. I'm taking out 4-28's review to introduce you to myself (and to save a few bucks; I just bought a new bike):

I'm currently freelancing for the Mercury. Hopefully I'll land some PT or even FT gig elsewhere, hopefully in the wide field of music critique.
I've been called a music snob on several occasions. 50s-60s jazz and plenty of the 60s classic pop-rock albums do me just well, though I'm always on the hunt for something that makes me go, "Huh. Didn't see that coming."
I have several weekly adventures of my own. Just the other day, I ran out of socks and had to clean my old wash. I believe I also had to pump gas into my car once.

If you were unaware, Bob Dylan released another album this past Tuesday. I didn't get time to listen to it, but I'd preemptively say that it's fantastic, classic Dylan. That it's better than his 80s output, and it challenges, but is not quite up to par with, his old 60s originals. That it's one to sink your teeth into.
Actually, I personally have nothing against Dylan, but I don't find myself spinning him up all that often. I hear he's classic, and I naturally appreciate classics, but for some reason he just doesn't connect with me all that much. Maybe it's his straggling voice, or his never-ending phrases; maybe it's because he's a werewolf. I don't know, but I gather that Alice Sebold (if memory serves me right) had the right sense of a Dylan fan: that they're an entire sub-breed of human beings on their own.
Like the Beatles vs. Elvis question, I suppose (though who'd ever say they didn't like "Baby You're a Rich Man"?). It's easy to categorize the kind of person you imagine someone to be based on what you know of their likes, their taste in clothing and music ("Ah, so he's an Abercrombie and Fitch guy...") than to sit down and puzzle what the person's like. I think if you got down to it and really tried to figure out the "stereotypical" Dylan or Elvis or Insane Clown Posse kind of person, you probably wouldn't see why owning a Mercedes would make someone all that different from you.
This goes out to the record store guy eyeing me a couple weeks ago: so I appreciate Lizz Wright's vocals. Don't read into it too much.