For the last couple years I've been doing these My Listening Hours posts every three months, which seemed like a good amount of time to let albums fully digest. But the last round, with twentysomething albums to go over, was far too time-consuming a post. When I saw I'd already picked up nine albums this month—and I subscribed to eMusic, so that number is going to stay consistently high—I decided to try doing this monthly instead. I may still do a quarterly report as well, as some albums may rise or lower in my esteem with time. Usually I break these posts into a week's worth of posts, but let's just get right to it.
(Don't forget that you can use the media player down in the lower left corner—just press play once and all the mp3s on this blog will automatically start playing in a row, like a mixtape.)
In the first six months of the year I only picked up a handful of actual 2008 releases; I think that trend is going to change going forward, if only because it seems like a lot of great albums are slated to come once the fall rolls around. This month, five of my nine purchases were 2008 releases; one from 2007; two from the last few years; and one from 1972 (though not released until the '90s). Here's how things broke down:
Fleet Foxes, s/t
This is definitely the highlight of the month, and as I said before, one of the best of the year. A few songs have diminished slightly since my original review—behind the lush harmonies, “Quiet Houses” lacks substance—but the strong songs are only burrowing further into my brain.
- Fleet Foxes, Ragged Wood
The Flatlanders, More a Legend Than a Band
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, 100 Days, 100 Nights
Both of these albums simultaneously thrive and suffer for the same reason: beginning to end, they’re just about perfectly executed, if wed to a template. For the Flatlanders, it’s rootsy acoustic numbers with Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s near-warbly vocals and Butch Hancock’s lovely harmonies, and a little singing saw thrown in for good measure; for Jones, it’s classic, throwback soul, with kicking horns, a fantastic rhythm section, and Jones pushing and pulling the Dap-Kings in every direction as a commanding frontwoman should. In both cases, the quality of each individual song is way up there, though they begin to blend together by the middle of the records. A few songs rise above the others as truly outstanding, while the rest are merely… really fucking good.
- The Flatlanders, Keeper of the Mountain
- Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, When the Other Foot Drops, Uncle
MGMT, Oracular Spectacular
As is pretty obvious to anyone who reads this blog regularly, in the last couple years my head has been drawn mostly to country, 60s and 70s rock, and new stuff that... sounds like country or 60s and 70s rock. But my brilliant wife isn't exactly traveling down that road with me. She keeps buying/downloading this... what is called, dance music? "Blog house," I heard someone call it recently? Tough Alliance, Hot Chip, Crystal Castles, Air France... it's all pretty good but just not what I'm digging right now. So then MGMT comes along. "Time to Pretend" and "Kids" have been all over the blogs and local radio; I like them both a lot—I think the lyrics to "Time to Pretend" are hilarious and genius (favorite line: "The models will have babies / we'll get a divorce / find some more models / everything must run its course"). But I was really expecting the rest of the album to lag well behind the singles. To my delight, the album is more varied and more interesting than I'd imagined. It's part Bowie, part Flaming Lips; and the ratio of dance beats to rock instrumentation is well balanced. I was surprised to see just how often I wanted to put this album on.
- MGMT, Weekend Wars
Okkervil River, Black Sheep Boy
It took me a long time to get my engine started with Okkervil River. When Black Sheep Boy came out in 2005 it got nothing but raves, but whenever I heard a track from it I thought it was good but not mindblowing. So I never bought the album. After falling in sloppy love with The Stage Names, though, I went back to Black Sheep Boy. Listening to this album has made me realize how much more I like Will Sheff's songs when he goes for the upbeat tracks—"Unless it's Kicks" and "The Plus Ones" from The Stage Names, "The Latest Toughs" and especially "Black" on this album. When Sheff picks up the pace, his songs get into this real driving, full-momentum rhythm. I told my wife I needed to compile an Okkervil River workout mix, which she thought sounded like the most hilarious thing ever—but I made it and it works! Sheff's high-energy songs don't depend on their chorus the way a typical pop song does; they thrive on the lyrics cascading out of his mouth, and that makes for a real ride. As for his slower songs, they're not bad and are often outstanding, but there's something more predictable about the ballads; the rockers feel like rarer animals.
...Or I’d call, some black midnight,
fuck up his new life where they don’t know what he did,
tell his brand-new wife and his second kid.
And I tell you, like before,
You should wreck his life the way that he wrecked yours
You want no part of his life anymore.
- Okkervil River, Black
Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s, The Dust of Retreat
After putting off purchase of this album for two years, I finally decided to pick it up, partly in anticipation of the new Margot album coming out later this year. I downloaded "Skeleton Key" back when this album first came out and was mildly put off by it because of a Gin Blossomy undercurrent to the sound. But two years later I still play that song all the time. Hearing the whole album, my suspicions turned out to be correct: The Dust of Retreat is chock-a-block with mid/late-90s radio rockisms. There are bright spots, but mostly the album is indie MOR; I can see why they got picked up by a major for the next album. I like a lot of the arrangements and melodies here, but Richard Edwards's delivery is all earnestness, no authenticity. Overall this is an album that has 99% of the ingredients I like in a good songwriter-pop record, but it's missing that rare, magical 1% that would really thrill me. I like this enough that I'm curious to hear the new one—and I'll listen to it this year, even!—but I don't feel the urge to return to Dust.
- Margot & the Nuclear So & So's, Talking in Code
Air France, On Trade Winds
At three songs plus an introduction, On Trade Winds barely counts as a release; it’s less an EP than a maxi-single. The four track pass you right by before you realize you put it on. It’s airy electronica, vaguely (sometimes shamefully) reminding me of my raver moment somewhere around 1996. Anyway, it’s okay. Recommended if you like fellow Swedes the Tough Alliance, whom I was similarly ambivalent about.
- Air France, Beach Party
Beck, Modern Guilt
My opinion of this album hasn’t really changed since my review. I don’t think poorly of the album, nor do I feel compelled to continue listening to it.
- Beck, Modern Guilt
My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges
I have a My Morning Jacket playlist set up in iTunes that collects all my four- and five-star favorites from each of their five albums. Six of the thirteen tracks from Evil Urges made their way into that playlist, which pretty much sums up how I feel about the album. While there are a few really strong points, the overall album becomes a less and less pleasurable listening experience as time goes on.
- My Morning Jacket, Touch Me, I'm Going to Scream pt. 1
And that's my month in albums. Come back tomorrow and I'll have ten of my favorite finds on the blogs in the last month.