Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs
Just looking at Saturday's post you can probably guess that this is my favorite purchase of the season (not to mention favorite of the year). I've written about this album's effect on me already, so I'll just add that, happily, I think it is so good that it will probably rise above any sort of personal connection to this period of my life. I hope so, at least. Meanwhile, I read Bird's posts at Measure for Measure with great anticipation for his new album, whenever it may be finished.
- Andrew Bird, Masterfade
Neil Young, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
Five years ago I had zero Neil Young albums in my collection; now I have five. Harvest is still my favorite—I just love the mood of that album—but this one is a strong contender for the top spot, as Young gets a lot louder and a lot jammier. Epics like "Cowgirl in the Sand" and "Down by the River" are mindblowing, while the shorter songs like "Round and Round" and the title track have undeniable hooks. This album is outstanding from start to finish.
- Neil Young, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
The Lovin' Spoonful, Anthology
The Lovin' Spoonful are one of those bands I didn't know I'd been listening to for pretty much my whole life. I never connected the band to their many, many hits ("Do You Believe in Magic," "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind," "Summer in the City," and a few others), so it wasn't the obvious songs that finally drew me to them. It was Paul's post at Setting the Woods on Fire on the roots of country-rock, which included "Nashville Cats." I fell in love! A few weeks later I was at the library and saw this greatest hits collection, at which point I realized just how many of their songs I already knew. The collection bounces around between their British Invasion-inspired tunes and their more explicit forays into country. It's the latter songs I respond to the most.
There are a handful of songwriters or bands that fall into a special category for me—i.e., songs my imaginary toddlers will love. I'd say at least half of this collection, if not the whole darned thing, fits in nicely. (Also in this category: Harry Nilsson, a lot of Cat Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel, a few bossa nova tracks and country songs, and probably a bunch others... perhaps a post for another time.)
- The Lovin' Spoonful, Jug Band Music
Les Paul & Mary Ford: Best of the Capitol Masters
Acquired at the library on the same day as the Lovin' Spoonful, I could say a lot of the same things about this wonderful collection, which also fits into my imaginary toddler playlist. Mary Ford's voice (is she overdubbing her own harmonies? I think so) is just so lovely, and I honestly cannot figure out how Les Paul's fingers can dance across the fretboard; his style is absolutely unique and I've never heard anyone after cop his sound.
- Les Paul & Mary Ford, The World is Waiting for the Sunrise
Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Armed Forces
Last year, thanks to Imperial Bedroom, I went from liking Elvis Costello to flat-out loving him. So I've begun filling in the holes in my collection, trying to move chronologically through his ouerve at least until I get to the spotty part of his career. Which brings me to his third album, Armed Forces. I can see the progression between the first two albums, which were buoyed at least in part by a lot of sheer attitude, and Imperial Bedroom, which is wall-to-wall perfectly executed pop songwriting. The songwriting on the first half of Armed Forces is pretty much right up there with Imperial Bedroom: "Accidents Will Happen," "Senior Service," and "Oliver's Army" are all fantastic. Somewhere around the middle things falter a little; I'm not too fond of "Goon Squad," and everything after that falls a little flat for me. Not bad by any means, just not to the highest caliber Costello is capable of. (And for the record, while I like "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding," it's never been one of my favorites.)
- Elvis Costello: Oliver's Army
Philip Glass, Glassworks
I've been flirting with contemporary composers for years now, in a very shallow way: bought Koyaanisqatsi some time in college, picked up Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians five or six years ago, bought a box set of early electronica forbears (which includes the likes of Cage, Young, Stockhausen, and others), and then a few months ago got Terry Riley's In C for a whole dollar. So I don't profess to have anything more than a passing knowledge of the genre, as evidenced by my just now getting Glassworks, which is probably a (rightly) obvious place to start. It's really a fantastic collection of pieces, mostly for piano. Unlike the other material I already own, which is either hour-long works asking you to immerse yourself and listen or brief, literally experimental exercises, Glassworks is short and easily digestible. That's not the best endorsement, but what I mean is that it really does feel like a kind of gateway drug, moreso than the other discs I've tried (and liked) in the past. So, a question for those of you more schooled than I: where to next? Other works by these composers? Other composers altogether? Who are some of your favorites?
- Philip Glass, Opening
The lone 2008 release to make it into my favorites this time around. And at first I really didn't think it would. Rook requires some patience, to say the least. In terms of songwriting, performance, and production, it is pretty much flawless. It feels epic, and composed, despite running under forty minutes altogether—which in itself is an accomplishment, in an age new releases that include "bonus tracks" on already overlong albums (off the top of my head: Fiery Furnaces, TV on the Radio).
So why did I hesitate, at first, in liking Rook? The voice. Jonathan Meiburg, who is the singer, songwriter, and overall creative force behind Shearwater, has a very pretty, obviously trained vocal delivery. His timbre, tone, and projection are all very practiced, sometimes a little mannered and often careening into the dramatique. At one point during "Home Life" I halfway expect Meiburg to don a little white mask and sing about the music of the night. It's a little offputting at first, in other words. But! Every other element of Rook is outstanding, so you sort of keep going back to it despite the oily bits that make you cringe a little. And after a few more listens Meiburg's vocals stick out less and less, until finally everything clicks. (It took me probably five listens before I realized that the vast majority of my least favorite vocal parts were all in one song—again, "Home Life.") In the end, Rook really works, and it's becoming one of my favorite releases of the year so far (though, I admit, the playing field is not that crowded at the moment--more on that later this week). It's also worth emphasizing that Rook works best as an album; tweezing a single track out from the pack doesn't exactly get across how fluidly the songs work together. The sum is most certainly greater than its parts. Nevertheless:
- Shearwater, Rooks
The United States of America, s/t
I've long been on the hunt for this album, ever since hearing reference to them in regards to Broadcast many years back. In fact it seems like I only hear about the United States of America when they're being namechecked in a Broadcast review—which is kind of a shame because this record is a lot more varied than those mentions would let on. Only the (excellent) first song, "The American Metaphysical Circus," sounds like a precursor to Broadcast. The rest is a simply outstanding psychedelic album full of cacophonous overlapping sounds, otherworldly production, and not a little sense of humor, as on "I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar." This record is way, way ahead of its time.
- The United States of America, The American Metaphysical Circus
- The United States of America, I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife for You, Sugar
Tomorrow, the rest (and the worst).