Big Star, #1 Record
Last year I picked up my first Big Star album, Third/Sister Lover, after hearing for years how influential they were and how wonderful they were and how up my alley they were. Upon listening, I didn’t get it. I tried and tried but just could not unlock that album. Happily, I was encouraged by a fellow Readervillian to pick up #1 Record; he said the genius was there, not here. At the library a few weeks later, there it was.
This album is possibly the discovery the year for me—it’s neck and neck with Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom and Andrew Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha for my most-listened-to album of 2007. Like both of those albums, on first listens I thought it was more of a hit-and-miss affair. It alternates between rockers and ballads like a fork in the road—veer left for Elliott Smith (“Thirteen,”), veer right for Boston (“Don’t Lie to Me”). I was immediately ensnared by all the soft songs, and anxious about the rest. With more listens, the rockers became more enjoyable—even “In the Street,” of which I’ve almost erased visions of Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher from my mind as it plays.
Previously I only knew Elliott Smith’s (faithful) version of “Thirteen,” but the original wins out; it doesn’t hurt that I’m in the middle of experiencing Freaks and Geeks for the first time; the song sounds like the perfect soundtrack to a lovelorn montage on that show (picture it: the first verse follows Sam as he gets the guts up to ask Cindy out on a date; the second verse shifts to follow Nick pouring his heart out to Lindsay… it works, almost too well).
Meanwhile, my favorite song on the album is "The Ballad of El Goodo." As with nearly every other of my favorite songs in the last couple years, I’m a sucker for the harmonies.
Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedala
Since my last string of My Listening Hours posts I’ve purchased three more albums made in 2007. Two of them I’ve talked about already—Radiohead and Beirut—but the third hasn’t gotten a mention yet in these parts: Jens Lekman. Ironic, too, because I like this album way more than those two. It’s not a perfect album, which is slightly disappointing, since I thought for a minute there that I might have a contender to unseat Andrew Bird in my top of 07 list, based on the perfectly crafted and forever enjoyable "A Postcard to Nina," and the slightly inferior “Opposite of Hallelujah.
The best and worst thing about Lekman is that he sounds like he could have stepped out of any of the last six decades. Sometimes his smooth voice sounds like 50s crooner; sometimes it sings fey platitudes over a 70s disco beat; other times—often—his lyrics are wry, nuanced, and packed with detail, laid over a kind of diy orchestral pop, giving comparisons to Belle & Sebastian or Magnetic Fields. All this hopping around keeps things interesting, but it also sets Lekman up for the occasional misfire. Nevertheless the highs far outpace the lows (and the live show was something to see, too). Expect to see mention of this album again in a couple of weeks in these parts.