Musical Acquisitions - One In An Inevitable Series
Sunday, November 25, 2012
I admit it. I’m a music junkie. And I am in constant need of new stimulation.
Because I fetishize music, digital downloads don’t cut it for me, except when I find myself in urgent need of a single song that I don’t currently own. I like packaging because it makes the experience felt less ephemeral, more substantial. I like the idea that a musical artist is presenting me with a bunch of new songs to discover all at once. Somewhere in there might be a song that will become my favorite not now, not next week, maybe not even this year. But someday I might find myself saying “Wow. How did I miss how great that song was?” Which is a joyous experience I generally don’t get to have if I exercise too much control over how I listen to the music. I like listening to entire albums so that I can savor the experience of discovering songs.
So far, 2012 hasn’t been particularly noteworthy. It’s November already and I’ve only purchased a handful of albums, none of them particularly memorable. Part of that has been me just not paying much attention. (As you’ll see, some of the albums on this list were released earlier this year.) I almost feel like it’s movie award season time, where suddenly you discover there are a bunch of movies turning up on critics’ best of the year list, none of which you’ve seen, so it’s time to hit the theatres on an almost daily basis in order to catch up. (What? Am I the only one who does this?)
The list below represents two shopping trips in the last two weeks. The first was to Lou’s Records in Encinitas, an old favorite that I returned to for the first time in over a year, following my move out of San Diego. The other was yesterday, to CD Trader in Tarzana, a store I used to patronize regularly ten years ago when I lived in Los Angeles before, and have now returned to several times since moving back. Both establishments worthy of your patronage, though I have to say that Lou’s is sadly only a shadow of its former self. When I first started going there in 2004, it was housed in three buildings: one for new material, one for used, and one for movies. Now they are all in the building that used to just be devoted to the used material and the inventory seems to be a fraction of what it once was, though I still discover the occasional used gem.
Enough with the preamble. Here’s what I got.
First Aid Kit THE LION'S ROAR
Been listening to Spotify a lot lately. One of the features I like best is the “Related Artists.” It’s led me to be able to check out a lot of people I’ve heard of but never had a chance to listen to, and those who I’ve missed entirely. Case in point. Can’t remember what artist I was originally listening to when I was first led to First Aid Kit. Regardless, I loved the album (released in January of this year, if my research is correct) the moment I heard it.
First Aid Kit are two sisters, Joanna and Klara Soderberg, a duet from Sweden, who are ridiculously young to be writing songs this good and playing with such polish. (They were both born in the 90s. Suck it up.) They have themselves created a number of eclectic playlists on Spotify, so one can only assume that they had hippy parents with an extensive and eclectic record collection. And we’re all the better for it. (The song “Emmylou” compares a relationship to those of Johnny Cash and June Carter as well as Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, just to give you an idea of the territory we’re in here.) The girls released a cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Fire Mountain Peasant Song” on YouTube 4 years ago (before I even heard of Fleet Foxes), which got the attention of the band and led to bigger things. It’s a great cover. Oh, and they were 18 and 15 when they did it. Talent this good is scary. I also love this video of the title track, with all of its hippie, artistic pretension and moodiness. Is it trite to use the description “old souls?” Shoot me for being trite then. Two girls who could be my daughters (by a lot) have released my favorite album of the year so far and I have no problem saying that.
Beth Orton THE SUGARING SEASON
I’ve been a Beth Orton fan for pretty much her entire career, dating back to her first album in 1997. Sounds odd saying that, because it just doesn’t seem like she’s been around that long, and yet it’s been six years between albums. For me, she’s always flown quietly under the radar. If you asked me to make a list of favorite artists, I don’t know if she’d make the first cut, and yet I’ve followed her loyally for 15 years now. Whenever I play one of her songs, I always think “Oh yeah, Beth. She’s great.” Even now, I’ve had to remind myself she’s been off the grid as long as she has. Of course that’s partly me; years pass like months in my current perspective of time.
Anyway, it’s great to have her back. Played this for the first time on a drive back from San Diego and really enjoyed it. There were a couple of standouts, though I can’t tell you what they were. (I have an old stereo system in my 10-year-old car that plays CDs and doesn’t show you song titles as it plays) Glad to have her back.
Titus Andronicus LOCAL BUSINESS
Unfortunately, this is one of those albums that, no matter how good it might be, will never live up to my expectations. “The Monitor,” its predecessor, is so far my favorite album of the current decade. (Yeah, I’m one of those people who start counting from the 0 year, as in an 80s song has to have an 8 in the year, the 90s, a 9 etc.) It’s an album so good, that it’s frightening. Driven with a raw, punk rock immediacy, but also richly complex and anthemic, simultaneously adolescent and maturely complex. I mean, come on, the guys named their band after a Shakespeare play, used the American Civil War as the thematic thread for the album and climaxed the album with a classic 14 minute rock epic, all while sounding like they grew up on a healthy dose of The Clash. Two years later, and I can’t stop playing it. So I almost wish they had waited a couple of years more for a follow up. But here it and as suspected, its disappointing. Which is such an unfair assessment. But I am so indebted to these guys for releasing one of the Greatest Albums Ever in their sophomore release that I feel I owe them the effort. I need to put on the headphones and listen to it with my undivided attention a few more times to give it a fair shake.
Bob Dylan TEMPEST
Speaking of titles from Shakespeare…
What can anyone say about Dylan at this point? Except that, with nothing left to prove, I just love this relaxed stage of his later career, where he’s just shambling along, putting together these very skillful backing bands, and having fun, releasing an album of new material every couple of years. They’re not going to shake up anybody’s world or even find themselves in the canon of great Dylan albums. (Though they certainly surpass most of his catalogue from the 80s and the pre-“Time Out Of Mind” 90s output.) They are just enjoyable albums to listen to. I’m just grateful to still have Bob, chugging along in his 70s, having a good time and putting out decent records.
M. Ward A WASTELAND COMPANION
In hindsight, I look back on the time roughly between 2005 and 2008 as the most recent of several, personal, musical “Golden Ages” I have passed through. At that time, I was still somewhat new to downloading music as my main means of acquiring new stuff and had a very generous subscription plan (90 downloads per month) with E-music. I was experimenting with new materials (and old stuff I had missed) as much as in any time of my life. And one of my favorites artists I got turned on to at the time was M.Ward. (Aka Matthew Stephen Ward.) He has already released a number of albums by the time I discovered him, but the then-just-released Post-War was, and remains, my favorite. Ward’s a prolific guy, but most of his recent work and notoriety has been through collaborations, such as Monsters of Folk and She and Him with actress Zooey Deschanel. But I’m still partial to his solo work and he’s only released one more solo album between 2006’s Post-War and this one. And yet somehow I missed A Wasteland Companion when it first came out and am only listening to it now, as I type these words. About what I had hoped for in a new Ward solo outing, so far, though the She & Him influence has definitely taken root. Deschanel does vocals on “Sweetheart” and it sounds like it could be on one of their albums together. Nothing otherwise too surprising here so far—nice mix of Ward’s mellower sound and his more rocking, Americana roots.
Andrew Bird BREAK IT YOURSELF
My discovery of Bird came out of that same time period when I first heard M.Ward, as described in the previous entry. With his reedy vocals and sometimes eclectic instrumentation, Bird’s a bit more of an acquired taste. Making music with various bands since the 90s, Bird’s solo career began in 2003, when his first albums were released via Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records. In 2007, he switched labels and released Armchair Apocrypha. I’m no Bird expert, but at least in my admittedly limited sampling, I would have to say I regard this as a masterpiece. It’s one of those rare albums that has gotten better and better to me over the years and I still play it regularly. Like Ward, he seems to have been more active in recent years in collaborative and side projects, including some soundtrack work. So it’s good to have him back doing a full-blown album of his own, which came out earlier this year and which I just seem to have gotten around to now. In fact, I just discovered that he quickly followed up Break It Yourself with a companion album titled Hands of Glory, which I also almost picked up yesterday but decided to give this one a go first.
There’s an official video of the song “Give It Away” from this album, but it’s weird and slightly disturbing (well, to me at least) so I decided to go with an unofficial video instead. Google it yourself.
Fiona Apple THE IDLER WHEEL IS WISER THAN THE DRIVER...(etc.)
Hell, did you think I was going to type out the whole thing?
I’ve had a mixed relationship with the music of Fiona Apple over the years. Like a lot of people, I was startled by her sheer raw talent at a very young age when I heard her debut album Tidal back in 1996. Don’t think I ever bought her second album. (Another extremely long title I’m too lazy to type out). Briefly owned 2005’s Extraordinary Machine, which was pretty decent. (But sold in one of my unfortunately periodic and brutal “I’m moving and don’t want to carry all of these and need the cash anyway” purges.) But it was her amazing performance of Elvis Costello’s “I Want You” during a 2006 VH1 Costello tribute concert that forever and permanently endeared me to her. One of the most scary and powerful vocal performances I have ever seen. As you might know, I’m a huge Costello fan and I think this is one of his greatest songs, but she will forever and always own it in my mind because of this performance . So I was predisposed to giving whatever she put out next a chance. Heard enough good things about the album, listened to it a few times on Spotify, so here we go.
Jack White BLUNDERBUSS
Which brings us to the solo debut of Mr. Jack White. In the early 00s, I was a huge White Stripes fan. Yes, just before they became rich and famous. In fact, I’d have to say that at the start of the new century, they were my favorite new band. But admittedly, the Stripes’ simplified, stripped down, retro-blues sound got repetitive and by the time I decided it was no longer sounding fresh to me, the Whites conveniently decided to break up. Never warmed up to Jack’s side band, The Raconteurs. When I heard that he released his first official solo album earlier this year, it barely registered with me. In case you are wondering if playing an album in a record store is an ever an effective sales tool, I’m here to testify “yes.” I had just about picked up everything I was going to buy for the day and this album had been playing in the background. By the time it got to the last track, I found myself thinking. “Is this the new Jack White album? It sounds really good.” And so it got added to the basket. Sounds fresher than the last couple of White Stripes albums. Nice to have him back in the fold.
All for now. What are you listening to?
posted by Jim Chadwick @ 2:37 PM,
- At 3:29 PM, Scott Peterson said...
I think because I loved The Monitor less than you did—I liked it a lot, mind you—I may like Local Business a bit more than you do. Also, I love Dylan's two early 90's cover albums. I seem to feel about Beth Orton the same way you do: I don't listen to her very often these days but whenever I do I think, "Man, she's great--why don't I listen to her more often?"
I'm reading Gillian G. Gaar's Nirvana biography, so I've been listening to a lot of grunge lately, including stuff I never really paid attention to before, outside knowing the history, like Green River.