Monday, January 19, 2009

It's me, snitches!

Yes, I'm back in sync with a new year of music after a long absence.

This year in music has been so good in such a short time (only 19 days in!) that I really wanted to blog about it. Here goes:

Since 2004's Sung Tongs (that is, since the music-critic community really started paying attention), Animal Collective have started at a deficit with me. Sung Tongs was all too clicky and chirpy, too hazy and hippie. But it was definitely a unique little spot in a crowded indie music world, so I checked out Feels the next year. I found it to be nothing impressive. To paraphrase another review that I ran my eyes across that year, there's nothing on that record The Flaming Lips or Mercury Rev haven't done better. Short of a couple of stand-out songs on Feels, I'd have to agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. I ignored the 2007 EP People with its bizarre, WTF?-worthy cover art. Oddly, those three were released on FatCat, a label for which I'm usually on "auto-praise" (see: Sigur Ros' (), The Twlight Sad's Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters).

AC have since switched to another venerable label, Domino, releasing two more releases I've ignored, 2007's long player Strawberry Jam and last year's Water Curses, an extended player.

This brings me to this year's Merriweather Post Pavillion (the friggin' VENUE?), a record which has recieved critical praise in a more uniform and rapid way than I've seen in a while. This being the case, I had to download the leak (the record's officially released tomorrow).

Oddly enough, I'm sort of impressed. This is saying a lot considering the handicap AC has with me. I five-starred tracks "My Girls" (track two) and "Brothersport" (final track) on my iTunes, which I never thought I'd ever do with one AC track, much less two. "My Girls" has peaceful-but-lively groove with a killer snap of echoing snare. Singer Avey Tare beaming about bucolic subsistence, presumably as his family's provider. "I don't mean / to seem like I care about / material things / like a social status," he chants. "I just want four walls / and adobe slabs / for my girls." Zen. "Brothersport"'s vocal melody is blatantly African in origin (see: Ladysmith Black Mambazo). Joyous harmonies in rondeau throughout the song are soaked in the joyful refrain, lushly processed, "Open up your throat." This is just blissed-out gorgeous stuff. This is why band member Noah Lennox (bka Panda Bear) calls this record their best-recorded yet. (Btdubs, the guy who engineered Gnarls Barkley's big hit "Crazy" mixed and engineered this record.)

FINAL VERDICT: I've listened to this record about as much as the new Andrew Bird record (more on that below), which I never, ever would have guessed before the year began. Knowing my tastes, that's saying something.

SEE ELSEWHERE: | Is Merriweather Post Pavilion the Best Album of 2009?

Been waiting on this one for a minute. I Am a Bird Now was easily one of my favorite records released in 2005. Antony and his rotating Johnsons line up are masterful songwriters and, more importantly, arrangers of songs. There aren't many in indie music today who are masterful arrangers-- Sufjan Stevens and, again, Andrew Bird are the only others I can think of-- making wonderful baroque/chamber pop.

"Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground," a five-star track for me, is some of the most haunting, melodramatic balladry this side of Shearwater. The strings weep, Antony's androgynous voice warbles. This is all priceless Antony. The lyrics are abstract and fractured, to be sure, but the song holds tight to themes about death and rebirth. If the lyric "In the garden, / with my mother, I / stole a flower" doesn't move you, check your pulse. "Everglade," another five-star track, strings soar to cinematic heights. Never has Antony gone, or perhaps had the resources to go this far with a string arrangement before. No doubt, this is largely thanks to neo-classical genius Nico Muhly (who released the dense Mothertongue last year. There's likely a 20-or-so-piece orchestra on this track. The warmth of the sound melts the creamy center of my ears. "'I'm home,' / my heart sobs in my veins / But brains / they play the softest games," Antony whispers, as if he's confiding in you a secret of the universe. Listen closely.

FINAL VERDICT: Exactly the wonderful stuff you'd expect with some knockout tracks. If you care to, you can read P4K's recent Best New Music rating of the record here.

SEE ELSEWHERE: | You Gotta Give Them Hope, where he kinda disses Hollywood's portrayal of non-heteronormatives vis a vis Sean Penn's performance in "Milk."

Dead Prez has an upcoming album, Information Age, likely due next month. Though you never really know with rap releases. Pushed-back release dates for official label releases are as common as gunshot sounds on unofficial mixtape ones.

DP has released the record's first single, however, "PolitriKKKs." The track was obviously cut before Election Day last year, hence the caveat "Even if Obama win / Uncle Sam ain't my friend." The beat bleats like a siren, the lyrics are exactly the black militant preaching you'd expect (the part about a "Black" on the back of the two-dollar bill is especially interesting, if you care to do the research yourself) but the urgency behind the song seems a little misguided when you consider how in the next four years Dead Prez's music won't carry the same poignant rabble, or at least not nearly as much as it did in the last eight years.

FINAL VERDICT: Good, not great. Still a great conscious/militant jam, though.

SEE ELSEWHERE: | Dead Prez videos on okayplayer

I became a huge fan of Bird's when I came late to the party (the biology-and-literature jump off, thank you very much) after 2005 when The Mysterious Production of Eggs came out, a wonderful record of weird-but-catchy chamber pop that was so sedate and cool at moments it verged on lounge music. Only not, though, because of Bird's extremely intelligent, insightful lyrics. But, again, very calm and detached. But aware. I don't know how else to express it. Plus, and this almost caught my attention the most, it was released on Righteous Babe, the vigilant leftist/feminist Ani DiFranco's label. It's another label, like FatCat, by which I can shop (see also: Anais Mitchell's The Brightness, a record I spinned constantly in the '07).

Speaking of '07, Armchair Apocrypha was in my top five of that year, and why the heck not? It's likely his best record yet Every song's a killer on that record with catchy, killer riffs and soaring, expansive vocal melodies and even a U2-on-afterburners joint, "Darkmatter."

Sadly-- so far for me, anyway-- Noble Beast just can't compare. I'm going to give it plenty of time. Plenty. In my listening already, two full times out, it has some five-star tracks such as "Not a Robot, But a Ghost" (which would've made a great opening track to this record, btdubs), a syncopation-heavy collabo with Martin Dosh, Bird's right-hand man and touring drummer of the last few years. If the lion's share of Dosh's solo work, this song and some of the tracks on Armchair are any indication, Dosh needs Bird and Bird needs Dosh. Kind of like Outkast. But not.

"Anonanimal," another five star track, has one of Bird's priceless relaxed/conversational lyrics, "Hold on just a second / don't tell me this one / I know I know this one / I know this song / I know this one / I love this song." If you get get a better idea of what he's saying through his marble mouth (I'm refusing to look up the lyrics because Bird is the kind of artist where you benefit from knowing less about the song than knowing more), you'd almost think he was talking about the song of humankind and how it may it get on his nerves sometimes, he can always come back to it after an absence and feel/hear it for the first time all over again.

Oh and let it be known: the alternate cover art at the top of this section is for the special two-disc version of Noble Beast with an instrumental work called Useless Creatures, expounded upon here at PopMatters.

FINAL VERDICT: Good but definitely not great for me so far. Like The National, I got into Bird because of a growing thing. I'll be giving this more spins, to be sure. I seriously doubt this will top Armchair for me, though. Kudos for working the words "privateers" and "sleeping torpor" as song titles, though. Who doesn't love pirates and boners?

SEE ELSEWHERE: | Andrew Bird Discovers Inner Operatic Folkie |&|'s All Songs Considered | A Chat With Andrew Bird

BTDUBS: U2 just started streaming (it may take a while to load) the first single from No Line on the Horizon, their lucky number 13th record, "Put on Your Boots." Record's due out March 3! "I don't want to talk about wars between nations," Bono croons loudly. "Not right now." Interesting! Eyebrow raising! IT'S A DRIVING U2 JAM!

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