Andrew Bird, Weather Systems
An Andrew Bird album that doesn't fall in the "best" category? It's hard for me to believe too. I bought Weather Systems while in a bit of a listening funk—wanting something new but not wanting anything in particular. So my ambivalent state of mind might have had something to do with my failure to really latch onto the record. Or maybe it's because I've been listening to Bird pretty consistently since early 2007 and that's just a lot of Bird to listen to. Or maybe it's because Weather Systems feel largely like a sketchbook. Bird has claimed that he made this record as a repository for the overflow of ideas he had while making The Mysterious Production of Eggs (which came out one or two years after Weather Systems), which means even when it was released it wasn't the album he was most concerned with. It shows, especially in retrospect, that much of this album might have been released into the world prematurely. Both "I" and "Skin" would turn up again on subsequent albums much more fleshed out ("Imitosis" on Armchair Apocrypha and "Skin Is My" on Eggs). Here they feel unfinished, both in terms of their composition and Bird's lyrics and vocals ("Skin" is instrumental here and "I" finds Bird repeating the same four lines over and over). Though there are a handful of fully completed songs that match up against the best of Bird's other albums ("Lull" and "First Song" especially), others are more ponderous exercises that seem like they'd be fun to play, maybe even fun to see live, but not as compelling to listen to on record.
- Andrew Bird: Lull
Gene Clark, Echoes
The first Gene Clark solo album I ever bought was No Other, from 1974. It had a few nice spots but for my tastes was a little too bloated, too MOR, and not at all close to his work with the Byrds ten years earlier. Not giving up on Clark's solo material, I told myself I just needed to start from the beginning, with Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers. At least a year has gone by since that decision. I've checked the bin at the record store with some frequency but the album has never been in stock. Then I realized Echoes (available on eMusic) is the first album plus a mini-album's worth of bonus tracks. I downloaded it! Then I found out it's actually not quite the same as the original album; it's a different mix, largely the same as the original but pushing Clark's voice a little further up in the mix so he feels like the leader and not equal to the Godsins. I'm always a little suspicious of people messing with the original versions of albums, and hearing the original mix of "Keep on Pushin'" bears this out. It's a subtle enough difference but the Echoes version is the lesser version. So now I have a hard time listening to Echoes at all because I feel like I'm hearing the wrong album. It is perhaps an overreaction but it's how I feel.
- Gene Clark: Keep On Pushin' (from Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers)
- Gene Clark: Keep On Pushin' (from Echoes)
Engineers, Three Fact Fader
I have no idea who Engineers are—where they’re from, whether this is their debut or not, how many people are in the band, etc. Nothing. My wife just brought the album home one day, on loan from a friend. So, with zero expectations going in I can say I enjoy Three Fact Finder. It’s vaguely My Bloody Valentine-y—not as warped or dense but it is hazy and at times ethereal. I hear shoegaze, I hear a little electronica in there, a little modern-day indie. All that is great and it adds up to an album I like putting on and never feel the urge to skip through. That said, four or five listens in and I still only really notice maybe two songs. So Three Fact Finder falls into that dastardly category of “great background music.” I love writing or otherwise working to it; just don’t really feel compelled to listen to it. Recommended with caveat.
- Engineers: Clean Coloured Wire
Joel Alme, A Master of Ceremonies
Purchasing this album was a direct result of my brilliant wife wanting the Ida Maria record. We started talking about the water up there in Sweden, and how those who drink it magically gain the utmost pop songwriting skills. This reminded me that I'd been meaning to hear more from Swede Joel Alme. His song "The Seven Islands," from this album, was one of my favorite songs of 2008, but I'd never gotten around to picking up the full length until recently. While I haven't had the album for too long, I do find that the rest of the record is not as good as that song. Alme's got a bit of a Will Sheff thing going—moany, not much of an indoor voice—which is fine, though at times it makes me just want to listen to Okkervil River. That might be too harsh, too reductive—A Master of Ceremonies is still a good album, still growing on me.
- Joel Alme: In Your Arms
Ida Maria: Fortress 'round My Heart
Due to details too mundane to enumerate, I can only listen to this album in the car, and I'm rarely in the car long enough to hear an album all the way through. It seems to work for Ida Maria, though. This album feels very single-oriented—every song great fun, hanging its hat on each chorus. It doesn't feel to me like an album I'd normally buy, but it is fun.
- Ida Maria: Oh My God
Wye Oak: The Knot
Once I wrote about this record I pretty much stopped listening to it. It’s not bad—and I like many of the songs when they come up on shuffle—but as I said in my original post, I just get antsy to hear the records The Knot reminds me of rather than The Knot itself (though "Tattoo" is still pretty terrific).
- Wye Oak: Tattoo