Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hardly Getting Over It

I found Husker Du in the spring of 1988 when I bought Warehouse: Songs and Stories, a double album. Their music was very male, aggressive but yet vulnerable. It always felt like winter when you listened to Husker Du. When you listened to them, brittle cold became catharsis. A couple of years later I stumbled upon Candy Apple Grey. For some reason, it's not exactly a fan favorite but it completely blew me away. The production is awful but, boy, that Grant Hart, sure knew how to write a good song. Here's a beautiful song from that album, written by Bob Mould. Not much to say about it:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

new music 2010

Some new music that I've been listening to recently. I thought I'd do some capsule reviews:

LinkTrent Reznor and Atticus Ross -- The Social Network (2010): This a surprisingly top notch soundtrack to the movie of the same name, directed by David Fincher. I tend to think original movie scores are usually forgettable but this one is remarkably good, often even beautiful. It's a bit like Nine Inch Nail's album Ghosts I-IV (2008), and in fact, a couple of the tracks on the movie soundtrack are reworked tracks from Ghosts I-IV. Atticus Ross is some English dude who helped Reznor produce and/or program NIN albums With Teeth and Ghosts I-IV. As far as the music on the soundtrack, it veers between ambient soundscapes to techno pulsing beats. I highly recommend it. You can download the soundtrack here.

Deerhunter -- Halcyon Digest (2010): I've been a big fan of Deerhunter since I first heard Microcastle (2008), one of my favorite albums of the past decade. The main guy behind the band is Bradford Cox, an unbelievably prolific and talented musician and songwriter who draws from a vast array of indie rock influences to produce pop music that's heavenly, nostalgic, and melodic. Each of Deerhunter's songs are packed, totally packed, with good ideas, from the sound of strange instruments to the shimmering production. Cox notes that, "The album's title is a reference to a collection of fond memories and even invented ones... The way that we write and rewrite and edit our memories to be a digest version of what we want to remember, and how that's kind of sad." The music is much better than that quote makes it sound. This is the best pop music around today, 11 magnificent songs guaranteed to put you in a dream state. The key song here is the first one, "Earthquake."

How To Destroy Angels -- How To Destroy Angels EP (2010): Another Reznor creation, this one a six-track e.p. that was released as a free download and is much better than one might have expected. It's a collaboration with Reznor's wife Mariqueen Maandig and the aforementioned Atticus Ross. Since when have you ever heard a collaboration between a famous musician and their spouse be any good (Ram? Sometime in New York City?). Some of this stuff reminds of late period Nine Inch Nails but the female voice gives it a unique quality, a little bit like crossing Massive Attack with The Fragile, if that makes any sense at all.

LCD Soundsystem -- This Is Happening (2010): On the one hand, this is more of the same, but on the other, it isn't. This album, supposedly the final one to be released by James Murphy under this name is, in terms of sound, actually a mix of the first two albums. Which means that there's nothing on this album that will surprise and if you liked the first two, you'll like this one. The standout track here is "All I Want," which rips off David Bowie's " 'Heroes'," but manages to somehow sound new at the same time. And as awesome.

M.I.A. - Maya (2010): So word on the street has been that this is one mixed-up album that's unlistenable. Well, it's not a pretty album and it's very aggressive. For all of M.I.A.'s mixed up politics, terrible videos, and Madonna-esque obsession with fashion-as-substance, she did take a big chance with this album. I can see why no one on planet Earth liked it. So I'll take the unpopular stance that it's actually quite an interesting album. I'm not sure I like it, but it is a ballsy move on her part. It's like when VU followed up the first album with White Light/White Heat. It was kind of a big fuck you. I'm not sure if that's what M.I.A. intended but it's clear that since everybody hates M.I.A. these days, she has achieved something, in spite or perhaps because of herself.

Mogwai -- Special Movies (2010): I didn't expect that much from a live Mogwai album, but wow, this really blew me away. It is recorded in pristine fashion so the sound is just supremely fantastic. But it's more than that: the song selection is perfect, the pacing is impeccable, and the music is awesome. Mogwai go from the prettiest most delicate music to blow-out-your-eardrums jet engine sounds in the space of seconds but they do it with grace. If you buy the CD (which has 11 tracks), you also get six extra tracks from the same shows, including a superb version of "New Paths to Helicon Part 1." And you can also get a DVD with a movie documentary entitled Burning that depicts the shows directed by some famous dude. And finally, one more thing: I was at one of the shows in Brooklyn (at the Music Hall of Williamsburg) where both the audio and video were recorded, so I have some extra attachment to this.

Nest -- Retold (2010): I don't know much about the band Nest but I understand that they are apparently two pianists, Otto Totland and Huw Roberts, from Norway. This is a beautiful instrumental album of modern classical music. Besides piano, the musicians use the Welsh harp, violins, woodwind instruments, field recordings, and some percussion. They claim that their goal is "to produce beautiful music free of pretense" and in that, they are 100% successful. I've rarely heard music this beautiful made by pianos. It is an excellent contribution to the canon of ambient contemporary classical composition. A soundtrack for a movie never made.

School of Seven Bells -- Disconnect From Desire (2010): This, the second, album from these people, betters the first one by expanding into more electronic music. It's still a mixture of shoegazer aspirations, Nico-esque chanteuse affectations, and pop music for beautiful people, but now they get the sequencers and drum machines out. I have to admit, I like it a lot. The two women in the band, the identical twins Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, who are oddly gorgeous, produce together a kind of drone-y sound best for zoning out. The main guitarist and instrumentalist in the band is Benjamin Garza, formerly of Secret Machines. (This band sounds NOTHING like Secret Machines.) At times, they can seem New Age-y, but overall, it's a good step away from being pigeonholed as worshipers at the shrine of My Bloody Valentine.

Seefeel -- Faults EP (2010): After 14 years, Seefeel released their first recorded output last month. In my estimation, Seefeel were one of the greatest electronic bands of the 1990s and their breakup was tragic (although probably a good idea). Anyway, the main guy, Mark Clifford reunited with Sarah Peacock, and a couple of new members (from Japan!) and put out this four-track EP. The question is what kind of ground-breaking electronic music could one possibly release in 2010? Well, they sidestepped that whole question by making Faults, which is ... well, really, there's not much like this stuff out there. Seefeel's great achievement was always to make the totally eerie and weird sound totally natural. And they still do it. I hope an album is on the way.

Swans -- My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky (2010): For some reason, Michael Gira (now 56!) decided to restart Swans. He not only recorded an album but is touring with the band, which includes a few old members and a few new ones, but no Jarboe. Now, you either like Swans or you don't. So trying to write a review of a Swans album is a lost cause if they are not your cup of tea. They are mine. I think they are one of the greatest bands of the post-punk era. So what did they come up with this time? Well, a pretty fucking great piece of music. Yes, let me just get it out of the way and say that it's relentlessly grim and bone-crushingly despondent. But then again, what did you expect? One reviewer of the album writes: "The real bravery is for an album whose title equates religion with suicide to end almost at the other end of the spectrum: 'Teach me please, to cease to resist,' Gira asks. 'May I find my way to the reason to come home / May I find my way to the foot of your throne'." Uh-huh, yeah. This is one of the best albums of the year. Oh, one more thing: one of the titles of the songs: "You Fucking People Make Me Sick."

Wild Nothing -- Gemini (2010): This is about as far away from Swans as you can get. Wild Nothing are a bunch of very young kids from somewhere in Virginia or something. They make good 1980s music, the kind of music that I actually grew up with, but for these kids is just fake nostalgia. You remember how you listened to "Ask" by the Smiths when you were in high school? You remember how you listened to the Sundays singing "Here's Where the Story Ends"? You remember how you checked out The Ocean Blue do "Between Something and Nothing"? It's sort of like that but in 2010. It's an album about being young and having nothing to remember. So yeah, it's a good feeling. I just can't get over how derivative yet unbelievably awesome the song "Summer Holiday" is.