Secret Machines, September 000, Now Here is Nowhere, Ten Silver Drops, and s/t
Animal Collective, Feels
Françoise Hardy, La question
Of Montreal, Skeletal Lamping
- Animal Collective: Banshee Beat
Secret Machines, September 000, Now Here is Nowhere, Ten Silver Drops, and s/t
Animal Collective, Feels
Françoise Hardy, La question
Of Montreal, Skeletal Lamping
News that guitarist Benjamin Curtis left the Secret Machines made me approach their new album with caution, not so much because he was the heart of the band (he wasn't), but because it signaled that something was going to change for this band, which to my ears was batting a thousand so far. Something did change. I can't say it wasn't inevitable. Over an EP and three albums, I've watched the Secret Machines morph from an indie rock band with a serious knack for muscular epics that toyed with pop structures yet never eschewed great hooks into something altogether heavier, lyrically dopier, and musically more conservative. That's not to say that the new album has abandoned the band's experimental streak altogether; but boy do they take their time getting on with it.
One of the things I've always liked about the Secret Machines was that they were a band that simultaneously put its musical chops up front yet never put a spotlight on any one musician. If anything it's been the rhythm section of Josh Garza (drums) and Brandon Curtis (keyboards or bass) that has propelled every song, with Benjamin's guitars and Brandon's keyboards (again) adding additional textures. The result was something propulsive and atmospheric at the same time. Particularly on September 000 and Now Here is Nowhere, Brandon's vocals and lyrics seemed to come in as a way of progressing the story that the music was telling, rather than the vice versa approach from a more traditional pop playbook.
With Secret Machines, Garza and Brandon Curtis' rhythm section still holds down most of the songs. New guitarist Phil Karnats does a good job of operating more or less in the same territory as Benjamin Curtis once occupied—in fact, Karnats is probably the best thing about the two best songs on the album, "The Walls are Starting to Crack" and "The Fire is Waiting."
So it's not the new guy. The problem, rather, is that the Secret Machines seem to be turning into the Brandon Curtis Show. Starting with 2006's Ten Silver Drops, Curtis has stepped forward as a bona fide front man, putting his vocals higher in the mix, making his lyrics the centerpiece of most the songs, and structuring more and more songs around the chorus. This is a bad thing. All you need to do is listen to the album's single, "Atomic Heels," to know that. Vocal hooks have always been a part of the Secret Machines' arsenal, but they were mostly effective because they were deployed with a refreshing discipline, dropping into and enhancing a song that could just as well succeed as an instrumental ("Marconi's Radio," "First Wave Intact," "Nowhere Again").
"Atomic Heels" opens the album. It is also the worst song on the album (and worst song of the band's career). But to call it the worst is to praise with faint insult most the rest of this record. The entire first half treads similar ground as the opener, chugging through rote structures and mediocre choruses. "Have I Run Out" is the first song to attempt to stretch out musically but doesn't really go anywhere other than sounding like a plodding retread of Ten Silver Drops' low point, "Daddy's in the Doldrums."
But just when I was ready to throw in the towel with this album, the band goes and flips the switch in the last third. "The Walls are Starting to Crack" spends its first half meditating at mid-tempo before unexpectedly dropping into an abstract musical crevice, then suddenly reemerging with a burst of David Gilmour-like wailing guitars. It's not the cleanest left turn the band has ever taken, but it's surprising, and the first time on the record the band comes even close to feeling compelling. The track is followed by the drumless "I Never Thought to Ask," which juxtaposes itself to the monstrous closer "The Fire is Waiting"—an eleven-minute wall of sludgy riffs, bordering on out-and-out metal. It's the second time on the album that the Secret Machines feel unpredictable—which once upon a time was the whole fucking point.
I'll admit to being too hard on this album. It's not bad, just mediocre with two spikes of greatness near the end. Ultimately it just isn't that essential. Even if you prefer Secret Machines with more verse-chorus-verse structures and less instrumental jams, you'd still be better served to go for Ten Silver Drops, which has the breathtaking "All at Once" and "1,000 Seconds," two of my all-time favorite songs by the band, even if they are fairly straightforward. Most of the songs on Secret Machines could (and should) play well to the KROQ crowd—I'm just not part of that crowd.
Cat Stevens, Greatest Hits
Midlake, The Trials of Van Occupanther
Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs
Animal Collective, Strawberry Jam
Peter Bjorn & John, Writer's Block
The Radio Dept., Lesser Matters
The Monks, Black Monk Time
Faust, s/t and So Far
The Fiery Furnaces, Blueberry Boat
The United States of America, s/t
Paul Simon, Graceland
Animal Collective, Feels
Secret Machines, s/t
Various, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto
The first few albums were all from one day. Based on all my posts this week, you can probably guess which segment of this list took up most the rest of the week. I finally put on Graceland as a kind of palette cleanser.
I'd never heard of the Monks until earlier this year, when I came across their song "Monk Time." The track is immediately visceral, as singer Gary Burger shouts "You know we don't like the army. What army? Who cares what army? Why do you kill all those kids over there in Vietnam? Mad Viet Cong. My brother died in Vietnam! James Bond, who was he?" It's part stream-of-conscious spew, part protest, part undirected rage. When the rest of the band attempts to chime in with a discordant volume swell, Burger says to them "Stop it! Stop it! I don't like it!"—as if he truly were a man on the edge of cracking; even his own band might break him. The song stinks of paranoia and distrust.
That feeling permeates all of Black Monk Time, the Monks' 1966 debut, for which "Monk Time" is the opener. Unlike so many other U.S. bands of the era, protesting the war and the administration from Laurel Canyon, Greenwhich Village, or Haight Ashbury, the Monks weren't hippies: they were vets. The band came together while they were were GIs stationed in Germany. Many of the songs on the album are full of barely articulated rage and conflicted interests ("Do you know why I hate you baby? Because you make me hate you, baby! But call me.") Most songs are made up of a single verse at most, if not just a few words, yet you can feel the swirl of conflicted thoughts running through them. "Complications," in all its brevity, points to the band's unique perspective on the country's protests of U.S. military action:
People die for you.
People will for you.
Ain't it fun for you.
To their deaths for you.
The song seems to be pointed directly at the hippies, despite the Monks' "dislike" of the Vietnam War itself. None of the songs on Black Monk Time arrive at any kind of clear statement, but in a way that makes them feel more genuine than, say, Joan Baez or the Byrds righteously tolling the chimes of freedom. Complications!
The second time I heard about the Monks was about a month ago, in a thread on ILM about the origins of krautrock. Apparently the Monks factor into the birth of that genre. On paper, it seems plausible: nearly the full extent of the Monks' success in their day was in Germany, the only country in the world where Black Monk Time was released at the time. The band toured all over that country, and in a German documentary about the band, called Transatlantic Feedback, Faust's Hans Joachim Irmler apparently describes seeing the band at a local club, where he had a musical epiphany—maybe it's no accident that the cover of Faust So Far is so similar to Black Monk Time. (I haven't seen the documentary—anyone know where I can find it? I heard about Irmler's comment from yet another thread at ILM.) Julian Cope's book Krautrocksampler makes a similar claim, I'm told. (Ditto the book—I can't find a copy.) On record, though, I'm not hearing it. The Monks clearly come from garage rock roots, and certainly are part of punk's foundation. If someone can better elucidate the kraut connection, please shine a light!
My journey deeper into krautrock continues, after recent purchases by Neu! and Amon Düül II, with the first two Faust albums. I've had them for a few weeks now and have been listening to both pretty religiously; in fact, I'd say these are my favorite kraut acquisitions of the year by far—not as cold as Neu!, not as aimless as ADII.
For the longest time I was put off by Faust, mostly because of their album covers and their band name, both of which radiate a kind of proto-goth/industrial vibe. Once again I was guilty of imagining what a band must sound like, only to find I was completely wrong. The music on these two records blends psychedelia, kraut, avant-garde tape-splicing, even hints of proto-punk at times. The tone of the records also slides from dark atmospherics to outright humor, each balancing out the other so as never to go over either edge.
In my Amon Düül post linked above I wondered how ADII could even be considered to be part of the same genre as a band like Can: Faust is the bridge. Just play Faust and So Far back to back and hear the former's closer, the sprawling spaceout "Miss Fortune," segue into the stripped-bare propulsion of "It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl." The evolution of Faust's sound from one record to the next might be seen as a microcosm of how at least some of their peers related to each other.
Faust is comprised of just three tracks (nine minutes, eight minutes, and sixteen minutes in length), each an amalgamation of many other fragments spliced together. The effect is something abstract, freeform, yet never without intent—there is an underlying compositional structure to the whole record (unlike ADII's improvisations). Opener "Why Don't You Eat Carrots" is abstract with elements of humor—some of the circuslike sounds remind me of the United States of America's self-titled album, released a couple years earlier. Elsewhere, the harmonized spoken/shouted lyrics at the core of "Meadow Meal," and the short, politically charged spoken outro of "Miss Fortune" remind me of Gang of Four's vocal approach in their classic "Anthrax." "Meadow Meal" is the real highlight of the first record. I was listening to both albums on shuffle along with a few other albums I'm into right now, and the song came on just after something from the Fiery Furnaces' Blueberry Boat. I felt the ancestral roots linking the two bands in their stitched-together aesthetics (though the Fiery Furnaces also have a maximalist math-rock thing going on as well... not Faustian).
It says something—about Faust or about my own taste, I don't know—that the vocal section of "Meadow Meal" is the best part of the record. It's the most structured section of the entire album, holding down what could otherwise feel meandering. With So Far, the band seemed to have learned that lesson and presented a batch of songs far more balanced. "It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl" is practically a pop song compared to everything they'd done prior—but it's also a kind of commentary on pop music of the era. The singers, in a loose harmony, intone the title lyric, an overtly cliche 60s pop image, juxtaposed with an otherwise anti-pop structure. The song is built around a simple 4/4 tom beat, joined incrementally by piano and guitar, each pounding out just a single chord. The song marches linearly—no chorus, no ringing guitars, no layered SoCal harmonies—until a wonderful sax solo hooks the ear right at the end, before the whole thing fades out.
The whole album is an exercise in balancing pop with anti-pop, structure with atmospherics. The ten-minute "No Harm" is all meandering atmosphere before coalescing into a barely contained nonsensical rocker—"Daddy! Take the banana! Tomorrow is Sunday!" The title track is a tightly wound, conservative-by-comparison instrumental, prodded along by a clockwork two-note horn riff, followed by the heady "Mamie is Blue," with its cult-like chants. "I've Got My Car and My TV" is almost like two or three Saturday morning cartoon theme songs spliced together; the bouncy, hypnotic riff taking up the second half of the song is the biggest earworm of the record.
Four Tet, Rounds
Françoise Hardy, La question
The Fiery Furnaces, Blueberry Boat
Faust, s/t and So Far
Josh Rouse, Nashville
Monks, Black Monk Time
Most of this week I was in an "Acts that start with F" phase, apparently. That Françoise Hardy album is excellent, by the way. A few tracks kinda remind me of Astrud Gilberto; really relaxed, less self-consciously sexy (as so many other French female singers can seem). Recommended.
I don’t know where I got the impression that they were boringly gentle, either. It’s weird how you get these weird impressions of bands - I’ve been hearing about them for so long that I kind of accidentally built up this little cluster of impressions around them, mostly, it seems, plucked from thin air.
This is something Song By Toad said last week about Neutral Milk Hotel, whom Mr. Toad just heard for the first time. It stuck out at me because I'd just finished saying something similar about Brian Eno the day before, in that the pop of Another Green World—even the overall melodicism of the proto-ambient tracks, for that matter—was at odds with my expectations. I was prepared for minimalism. Vocals, guitar solos, even the general sense of warmth that permeates the record—all were a surprise to me. Like Mr. Toad, I'd built up a "cluster of impressions... plucked from thin air."
I said something similar about Neu!, too, who are more less new to me this year. I like Neu! more than Neu! 75 in part because, as I said last week, "I long had an impression of what Neu! was supposed to sound like, and Neu! 75 wasn't really it." (My preference for one over the other is more complex than that, but nevertheless I recognize that expectation is part of it.) In the comments to that post, Richard had a similar response:
As for Neu!—I was really surprised by them. Since, like you, Stereolab was how I got interested them, before the reissues, I expected a certain type of sound (and I was coming from the Transient Noise Bursts period of Stereolab). Only one or two of the tracks on Neu!2 have ever really met my pre-conceived notion
On one level or another, every album that has been described to you prior to your hearing it will cause some disconnect between your expectation and your actual perception. (I'd argue that any album that doesn't cause this disconnect probably doesn't stay in rotation for long.) Dear Science Comma [Comma?] has been out for less than a month, but that doesn't mean you're not developing a "cluster of impressions" about what it might sound like—ice skating to heaven, perhaps?—only to reframe your understanding of the record once you've listened to it (imho, it's more like windsurfing through purgatory). Not only might you have to reconsider what the band is "supposed" to sound like--what you thought they were supposed to sound like—but also perhaps where they fit into the musical landscape at large.
I had that kind of disconnect/reconnect experience, for example, with the Fiery Furnaces when I heard them for the first time earlier this year. I was expecting something like a second-rate Yeah Yeah Yeahs or perhaps a lo-fi Animal Collective—don't ask me why, but that's the cluster of impressions I'd built for myself—only to hear a band that is aggressively more complex, and probably the band of the day that I would laud for having a firm, considered, fresh aesthetic perspective on pop music and where it is capable of going.
It's one thing to have your cluster of impressions about a fairly new band or album dispersed upon actually hearing it. It's far more pronounced when it happens on a musical blind spot—an album or artist that is firmly part of the history of rock and roll, which you've managed to never actually hear. Like Eno, or any krautrock band, or Neutral Milk Hotel (whose album is, after all, more than a decade old now). To go ten years or more with an impression of a band, only to have it dissolve within thirty seconds of hearing the first track—it can be a dramatic musical epiphany, causing you not only to rethink the artist in question, but also all of the artists that came after. Just think: you thought Jeff Mangum was a twee, Sarah Records–loving sadboy lamenting the tear in his sweater; then you hear "The King of Carrot Flowers," with its morbidly surreal/surreally morbid imagery. You thought Eno was droning synths and blurbs and bleeps, then you hear the jagged guitar, fluid bass, and harmonizing refrains of "Sky Saw"; You thought Neu! was supposed to be the uber-definition of "motorik"—one steady drumbeat, no fills, rigid as a factory assembly line—only to hear the light-as-air ambiance of "Isi" or "Seeland."
Mr. Toad talked about how, after listening to NMH, bands like the Decemberists or Beirut suddenly existed in a new context. It's acutally the perfect illustration of what I'm talking about. You listen to either of those bands and everyone tells you that they owe a debt to Jeff Mangum. So you build up an impression of NMH that their lyrics must have a literary edge to them; that Mangum's voice probably occupies a certain range, and maybe he carries on a little while he sings; that maybe there's an accordian or some kind of world music influence. All of those things are somewhat true. But the reality is whatever the Decemberists or Beirut are lifting from Mangum, it's not the essence of Neutral Milk Hotel. Personally, I'd argue that those acts are barely skimming the surface of the waters NMH treads in, to the extent that it's almost offensive to align the groups. Neither is as intimately connected, on a kind of personal level I can barely understand, to their lyrics or imagery. Neither has sewn together a single album into the kind of tapestry that In the Aeroplane over the Sea is. Neither has made a record that congeals its historical, personal, and musical components into a perfect whole.
At the same time, I saw a documentary on Syd Barrett a few months ago, and hearing snippets from his post-Pink Floyd material—which I've never heard in full—opened at least a small window for me; namely that Mangum owes his own debts. To what extent, I don't yet know. (Wait 'til I buy more Barrett and I'll pick that thread up). The thing that jumped out at me was a similarity in their vocal delivery--a kind of wailing moan--over simple acoustic guitar. That may well be the extent of what Mangum lifts, leaving the rest of Barrett's distinct style and personality to Barrett. Just as the Decemberists barely lift anything worthwhile from Neutral Milk Hotel. Just as Stereolab didn't so much as rip off Neu! as riff on one or two specific Neu! songs. Just as the many musicians who credit Eno as an influence are not really thinking of "I'll Come Running" when they say so.
I'm sure I could think of others. What about you? Any albums (new or old) you finally heard that sounded completely unlike what you'd built them up to be in your mind?
The Ruby Suns, Sea Lion
Fleet Foxes, s/t
Spoon, Girls Can Tell
Faust, s/t and Faust So Far
All this talk about krautrock this week made me finally pick up a couple of Faust records. I've only listened to Faust once, but So Far is really pretty great. It's pretty much been all I've listened to for the last three or four days.
Pitchfork has a pretty exhaustive list of what's coming down the pike in the next three months. Here are a handful that are piquing my interest in one way or another.
Margot & the Nuclear So & So's, Animal and Not Animal (Oct. 7)
Yeah, I just finished saying that Margot's only other album was a disappointment. Why do I hold out hope? For one, I think Richard Edwards is a good song-crafter, and the record sounds good; its flaw is in its delivery. That's something that could, conceivably, be fixed. Then I heard about the band's travails with their major label—such a 90s throwback narrative for a band that itself sounds a bit like a 90s throwback. Anyway, the little trick of releasing the album they "wanted" (Animal) on vinyl and digital only, while referring to the album endorsed by the label (Not Animal) as "a collection of songs our label likes"—what can I say, it appeals to me. My expectations are properly adjusted, but I am a little curious.
The Little Ones, Morning Tide (Oct. 7)
The Little Ones' EP from earlier this year, Terry Tales and Fallen Gates, was good, though in truth it didn't really stick. If only because I so loved their first EP, I'm inclined to give them another shot. I know these guys are capable of a great pop record. We'll see if this is it or not.
The Spinto Band, Moonwink (Oct. 7)
The Spinto Band were kind of like my Dr. Dog of two years ago—a totally straightforward indie rock band that I enjoyed probably more than they deserved. Mostly that was due to "Oh Mandy," one of the most perfectly executed pop songs of the last few years. The rest of Nice and Nicely Done didn't really measure up to that song, but I've held out hope that it was a sign of where they were going. "Pumpkins & Paisely" doesn't exactly bear that out, but hey, if there's even one more of the level of "Oh Mandy," then the record will be worth it.
Secret Machines, s/t (Oct. 14)
I felt like some kind of junior high outcast in 2006, when everyone else was slobbering over TV on the Radio's mess of a record Return to Cookie Mountain and I was in the corner obsessing over Secret Machines' Ten Silver Drops. That album didn't get much critical praise. Since then, their guitarist quit and the band parted ways with their label. So, a lot of question marks surround their self-titled third album. Will they return to the more experimental structures of Now Here is Nowhere? How will a new guitarist replace Brandon Curtis' unique style? All I've heard thus far is "Atomic Heels," which is shiiiiiiiiity. Like, really disappointing. I do feel a certain kind of stubborn loyalty to the band, enough that I'll probably pick up the album.
Of Montreal, Skeletal Lamping (Oct. 21)
A lot of people thought Hissing Fauna was an ascension to the next level for Of Montreal. I thought it was a mixed bag, a noble effort but ultimately an ambitious failure. Ambition is no bad habit though. I do think Kevin Barnes is capable of a masterpiece. Hopefully Skeletal Lamping is it.
School of Seven Bells, Alpinisms (Oct. 28)
Speaking of Brandon Curtis leaving Secret Machines, here's his new band. Based on this, the one song I've heard, School of Seven Bells at least seems to be more interesting than the current incarnation of Secret Machines. I'm not expecting a life changing album in Alpinisms, but I am curious.
Beyond October, nothing much is really ringing my bell. How about you? What's on your radar? What's got you excited?
When you pick up twenty-five albums in three months, it's inevitable that some percentage of them will disappoint, if not outright suck. For me, these six albums let me down, and/or have almost completely evaporated from my memory.
Most disappointing were My Morning Jacket and Pas/Cal, both albums I was looking forward to and had high hopes for. MMJ seemed to get slagged for taking too many risks on Evil Urges, but in fact it was all the risky songs—essentially, the first three or four tracks and the album closer—that succeeded for me; everything in between was boring, trite, and in spots completely insipid. Evil Urges is easily the band's most uneven album to date. As for Pas/Cal, I think I summed it up in my review of the record. In short, they tried way too hard to be interesting, sacrificing nearly all of the enjoyment.
Tied & Tickled Trio's 2007 album Aelita was another record I'd been waiting on for a while. Their previous full-length, 2003's Observing Systems, has proven to have surprising longevity in my rotation. I find the group's seamless blend of electronica and jazz to outdo just about everyone else who I've heard attempt it. So why, after all these years, would they choose to remove all the jazz elements? There are no horns to speak of on Aelita, nor any noticeably acoustic instruments. The joke of the T&TT has always been that they are a septet, not a trio; here, they sound like a solo project. It's a mediocre electronica record.
Beck: I can't say much more than I already have about Modern Guilt. I'll just offer this: I've never counted myself a great fan of his—I like him, but I also don't typically give much of a shit about what he's up to—and I don't even really recall how this album made it into my household. I also don't recall the last time I listened to it. Trying to psyche myself up for his appearance at Hollywood Bowl last week, along with Spoon and MGMT, I put all three bands' albums in a playlist and hit shuffle. Every time something from Modern Guilt came on, I reflexively hit the skip button. (P.S.: his Bowl performance was fairly boring as well.)
Margot & the Nuclear So & So's: based on one outstanding song downloaded years ago, "Skeleton Key," I picked up this album which more often than not doesn't hold up against that track's quality. As I've said before about this record: it's all earnestness, no authenticity.
Finally, Coldplay. To tell the truth I didn't even really care about buying this album, so to call it a disappointment is unfair. Somehow, despite not caring about Coldplay since some time around A Rush of Blood to the Head, I still own all of their records. In Viva la Vida's case, my brilliant wife and I were vacationing in Hawaii, where we'd rented a convertible (for the record: Hawaii is sooo much better with a convertible). But we had no music and our only selection of CDs to choose from came from a slashing-its-music-section Starbucks. Viva la Vida it was. The only real standout is the title track. There are a couple other earworms (notably "Lost!"), but it is otherwise a pretty uninspired album. There were times, driving on the road to Hana, that I found myself wishing I had X+Y instead. So that's saying something.
So we come to "the rest." These are albums that aren't bad; in fact many of them are quite good. They just, for whatever reason, didn't force their way into that part of my brain that compelled me play them over and over and over. Nevertheless I still recommend everything here. Sometimes the albums in this category are slow burners, either melting into a bunch of my playlists or just consistently sneaking their way into rotation.
The Flatlanders, More a Legend Than a Band
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, 100 Days, 100 Nights
Perfect example of albums that I don't really crave in full but am still ingesting song by song through playlists and shuffles: the Flatlanders and Sharon Jones. Back in July I placed both in the "best" category; I haven't changed my feeling on the quality of the albums, but I will admit that their sameness makes me less inclined to keep putting them on. Each album contains maybe four songs that are really, utterly fantastic, and a lot of other songs that are good, solid, but less identifiable.
Neil Young, Rust Never Sleeps
Likewise, here are two records that are great, but I find myself listening to them more when I just put on my "Everything by R.E.M." or "Everything by Neil Young" mixes. Until July, Reckoning had the distinction of being the only R.E.M. album I'd yet to hear in full, from beginning to end, despite knowing most of the songs from isolated circumstances and despite R.E.M. being among my favorite bands of all time. I have to admit that I had assumptions about how I'd feel about the record, based in part on how I felt about Murmur and Fables of the Reconstruction; that is, I'm less of a fan of the early stuff, mostly due to how it's produced and how willfully muddled the records are. (That's not to say I don't like it... I just have a pretty firm personal perspective on the band.)
Rust Never Sleeps also boasts/suffers from intentionally poor production: it was recorded as a live album, with the audience subsequently pulled out of the mix. Additionally, the first half of the record is Neil and his acoustic guitar, and the second half Neil and Crazy Horse rocking out. The first half fares a lot better; not only are the songs better, but they handle the production limitations better too. The rockers just aren't that enjoyable to listen to, especially in comparison with the clarity of the epic jams of Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, which I can't help but compare it to since I bought that one fairly recently too.
Amon Düül II, Yeti
Like I said on Monday, I'm having a krautrock moment. And I think I'm especially having a krautrock moment because Amon Düül II was so unlike what I expected. There's nothing "motorik" about them; I don't think it would even occur to me to put them in the same genre as Neu! or Can if I were taking the Pepsi Challenge. While not entirely without structure, Yeti is very freeform, and not really influenced by minimalism at all, in the way those other bands are. It's much closer in spirit to psychedelia than what I previously understood krautrock to be. And that's a good thing: it makes me want to seek out more of their records, to hear a few more Can records which I've never gotten to, to finally pick up some Faust (which I just did, yesterday), La Dusseldorf, Harmonia, Cluster, and others. That's not to say that Yeti is a perfect album, though. At nearly seventy minutes, it loses all focus in the last third, mostly due to the eighteen-minute title track, an improvised jam with occasional howling vocals. Like any improvised exercise by any band with aspirations toward the epic, the song flits between genius and tedium. More reined-in songs, like "Eye Shaking King," are wonderful, though.
Neu!, meanwhile, are the other end of the spectrum. Crisp, spacious, repetitive. I bought Neu! 75 a few months ago—and I liked it—but I like this more. I long had an impression of what Neu! was supposed to sound like, and Neu! 75 wasn't really it; this is. Neu! 2 is on my immediate horizon.
Okkervil River, Black Sheep Boy
By now, I've exhausted myself as far as writing about Okkervil River goes. Newsflash: I like this band. Double-newsflash: I like the slow songs less than the fast songs. News analysis: The ratio of slow songs to fast songs on Black Sheep Boy (and the Appendix) is lower than on the later two albums, therefore I enjoy this one somewhat less. That said, "Black" may be the best song the band has ever done. Top two or three, at least.
Spoon, Girls Can Tell
Girls Can Tell was one of two Spoon albums I'd yet to pick up (the other is the recent Telephono reissue). I've heard others describe this as the acme of the band's output. It's a great record, but either it hasn't sunk in enough with me or I've just heard too many other Spoon albums prior to this one for it to feel revelatory. Me, I'll take Kill the Moonlight and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga before this one. Of course, when you're talking Spoon, "better" and "worse" is all a matter of degree. These guys are like peanut butter to me—I'll take 'em any way you wanna give 'em to me; I know they'll be good.
Air France, On Trade Winds
Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood, Nancy & Lee
Both of these albums, while good, pretty much slipped right past me. I devoted very little time to listening to them, though when I did put them on I enjoyed them. Hey, you pick up the equivalent of a new album every three days, some of those albums are going to get lost in the shuffle. On Trade Winds is just four songs, adding up to less than half an hour; every time I put it on it was over before I started paying attention. I had a few songs from Nancy & Lee via Nancy's greatest hits album and a few stray downloads; from those I was expecting something a little darker—"Some Velvet Morning," for instance, is so creepy good—but a lot of the record is kinda goofy. That's not a bad thing, just not what I was expecting. I think the fact that it didn't match up to what I was expecting explains at least in part why I was less inclined to put it on. It is a good album, though, for what it is.
Later today: the disappointments.