Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca
I'm not familiar with any of the Dirty Projectors' other albums, but on the strength of so much positive word of mouth I downloaded Bitte Orca from eMusic without hearing more than a snippet of the opening track. And... it's good! Not the pinnacle of brilliance, but good. As with a band like Grizzly Bear, I can sort of see why some people might regard this album or the band as a high-water mark of contemporary indie—it's certainly an ambitious record—though it ultimately doesn't get me in my gut, sorry. The band has a strong aesthetic—the skeletal songs are propelled more by the vocalizations of David Longstreth and his female co-horts than by the music itself. But as with other acts that have honed their overall sound to such a unique degree, the album itself starts to feel samey after awhile. I had a similar beef with Panda Bear's Person Pitch or Deerhunter's Microcastle; sure, one or two songs here are pretty outstanding, but what am I getting out of the album that I'm not getting out of those songs on their own? Then again I haven't owned the record for very long, and in Bitte Orca's favor I will say that different songs are still revealing themselves to me with each listen.
(A couple of other small peeves: Longstreth's vocals are at times too mannered—which might be why I feel like my good-not-amazing reaction to this album reminds me of how I felt about Shearwater's Rook last year; second, the sequencing of the album is a little jarring, as Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian take lead vocals for a few songs in the middle before returning the reins to Longstreth. Not major complaints, but these things to prick me a little when I put the record on.)
- Dirty Projectors: Cannibal Resource
Tortoise, It's All Around You
Wait—this isn't the Tortoise album everyone is talking about! I know. I haven't got that one yet. Meanwhile, I did add their last album to my collection partly in anticipation of the new one. Like I mentioned in my Tortoise post a little while back, I skipped this one when it came out five years ago. My verdict today? It's good, it's fine, it's nice. I don't really hear anything here that justifies some critics' complaints that Tortoise lost the plot, though at the same time it's not as adventurous as their first two or three albums. As someone who likes having a stockpile of instrumental jams I can put on while I'm writing or editing, this is a worthy addition to my collection.
- Tortoise: The Lithium Stiffs
Fennesz, Endless Summer
Likewise, so is Endless Summer, which I like about the same as It's All Around You. As an album it hangs together well and is a nice listening experience. I've never listened to Fennesz before, though have always been meaning to ever since hearing a lot of buzz around Venice and this album. I was expecting something a little more groundbreaking that what I found, but that doesn't mean I don't like it.
- Fennesz: Caecilia
Echo & the Bunnymen, Songs to Learn and Sing
Like the Morrissey album I talked about yesterday—actually acquired on the same day—Echo & the Bunnymen are just one of those bands I never spent much time with. Really the whole Brit Pop universe is something I've never had more than a casual relationship with. When these guys were at their height of popularity I was listening to metal. When I got into grunge and alternative and decided to get into older stuff I went to older American punk and indie. So I'm playing catch-up. This is a great collection of songs, no question. In the horse race that is all of my new acquisitions competing for my attention, I can't say Echo won a whole lot, but I do like everything here.
- Echo & the Bunnymen: Seven Seas
Grateful Dead, Workingman's Dead
Some of these acquisitions, like the Morrissey and the Echo & the Bunnymen, were piked up at the Beverly Hills library. Whenever I find myself there I always rifle through the selection and simply pick up any blindspots I've never heard or owned before, often regardless of exactly where my head is at. So it was with Workingman's Dead. I had a pretty heavy phase of 60s/70s country-influenced rock in the last few years and this disc follows on that taste trend. And while I do like this more than American Beauty—the only other Dead album I've heard—I just can't say this is the kind of music I've been craving lately. Like the Echo record, I'm just glad to have it in my collection.
- Grateful Dead: Uncle John's Band
Peter Bjorn & John, Living Thing
Sadly, the more records Peter Bjorn & John put out--last year's instrumental Seaside Rock, Peter Moren's solo album, and now Living Thing—the more Writer's Block seems to have been a fluke. Peter Bjorn & John have willfully avoided replicating the guitar pop sound of that excellent record, for better or (more accurately) for worse; perhaps if they did they might regain some of that magic. In the meantime, we're stuck with Living Thing, the trio's attempt, I guess, at a dance record. Guitars, bass, and live drums are not altogether absent but they have been pushed back in the mix in favor of programmed beats and synthesizers. A handful of the resulting tracks—"Lay It Down," "Stay This Way," "Nothing to Worry About"—are fun, but overall the twelve songs here are boring and repetitive. Living Thing lacks the depth that made Writer's Block so wonderful, so surprisingly rewarding beyond the hook of "Young Folks." There's comparatively little variation on this album; just simple beats, bloodless music, and mostly uninspired melodies. Both Peter and Bjorn, who share lead vocals, have somewhat lazy deliveries. Writer's Block's music somehow serviced Peter's sandy, laid-back drawl and Bjorn's laconic monotone perfectly. Here the cold music is dragged even further down by their mostly unenthusiastic vocals. Save a couple of bright spots (though nothing as bright as Writer's Block's best bits), Living Thing mostly disappoints.
- Peter Bjorn & John: Lay It Down