May got away from me in terms of writing for this blog, unfortunately. Too bad because I acquired a lot of albums I'd meant to write more about. Well, here's the rundown of everything I acquired this month, in the order I got it. In short: this was a month where a lot of past favorites put out new albums, most of which were pretty good but few of which surpassed previous efforts.
Klaus Schulze: Dune
Prior to this month I only had one other Schulze album, his first, Irrlicht. It's an extremely dense bit of drone, with three 20-30 minute tracks. For my next dalliance with Schulze I thought I'd skip ahead ten albums to Dune. Though there are more electronic elements here (and a little spoken word on the second track), it's still of a piece with that early material. I like most of it but it's not something I'm going to spin regularly. (Actually, my favorite track here is the bonus track that came with the reissue, "Le Mans"—it's a little more active, relatively speaking.)
Okkervil River: I Am Very Far
I had a long period of severe infatuation with Okkervil River a couple of years ago, more or less coinciding with the release of The Stage Names and The Stand Ins. And though I still love those records (and, to a lesser degree, Black Sheep Boy), I also feel myself at or near the stage of having enough Okkervil River. I Am Very Far is a consistently good album that doesn't detract from my love of the last two albums, nor does it build on that love much. Will Sheff is still singing in that moany way that verges on too much if you're not paying attention to his excellent lyrics. Following on the trend of the last two albums, he and the band are upping the ratio of rockers to ballads—a good thing, though sometimes the production takes away from the clarity of the many instruments piled onto each track. I Am Very Far can often seem like a blur—an angsty, rockin', pretty good blur.
- Okkervil River: The Valley
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues
I'm an unabashed, unapologetic fan of Fleet Foxes' debut. I was thinking the other day about how it's been a really long time since a new record has really bowled me over from front to back—one of those albums where every song becomes my favorite song over the course of months and months of repeat listens. Fleet Foxes was one of those records for me. That's a lot to live up to. Helplessness Blues is not that kind of album; it's a good record—listen up! it's a good record!—but merely being good in the shadow of an excellent record can't help but feel like a disappointment. A mild disappointment, but a disappointment nonetheless. I've listened to it a lot since buying it and there's little that I outright dislike about it. It's just not EXCELLENT.
- Fleet Foxes: Blue Spotted Tail
Cass McCombs: Wit's End
One glorious track followed by seven oppressively dull slogs. Review.
- Cass McCombs: County Line
My Morning Jacket: Circuital
This is, thank God, a positive rebound from the often embarassing Evil Urges, though Circuital is not without its flaws. As on every My Morning Jacket album, there is at least one track that stands among the best they've ever done (even Evil Urges had "Smokin' from Shootin'"). Here it's the title track, an epic seven-minute opus that feels all the more epic in context since it follows the constantly building album opener, "Victory Dance." By "The Day is Coming" you've already been riding high on Circuital for almost a quarter of an hour, and the album sustains that level for a while longer before dropping into the weak middle third—the kinda dumb "Outta My System," the especially awful "Holding onto Black Metal," the generic "First Light." It picks up again for the final portion of the record, going out on a surprisingly subdued note with the back-to-back ballads "Slow Slow Tune" and "Movin' Away." Ending Circuital on a melancholy note is refreshing for this band, but that's about the only thing on the album that is. Maybe by album #6 and year #12, My Morning Jacket doesn't need to reinvent themselves. Circuital is a satisfying album, even if there are a few others in their catalogue (Z and Tennessee Fire, for starters) that are superior.
- My Morning Jacket: The Day is Coming
Wild Beasts: Smother
I was not previously familiar with Wild Beasts but I picked up Smother, their third and newest album, on the recommendation of a few people on twitter. I've been playing it pretty consistently since buying it but, aside from the terrific opening track, it's not sinking its teeth into me. The whole album is good but keeps fading into a vague background music regardless of whatever activity I'm going while listening.
- Wild Beasts: Lion's Share
Talk Talk: Laughing Stock
I made a comment on twitter that Wild Beasts reminded me of the Antlers, to which Matthew Perpetua responded "I can't imagine what Wild Beasts must sound like to you." Once I got past my immediate impression, I realize that I was responding to the hints of Talk Talk on Smother—a band I think the Antlers are also influenced by if in slightly different ways. As I thought about this, I nudged myself into getting Laughing Stock, an album I've been meaning to get for a while now, ever since being bowled over by Spirit of Eden. God, what a beautiful pair of albums these are. They're not terribly dissimilar from each other—I think I might like Spirit of Eden just a hair more, perhaps because I heard it first—but Laughing Stock is among my favorite acquisitions of the year so far.
- Talk Talk: Ascension Day
Mountains: Air Museum
I've been looking forward to a new Mountains album for a long time now, and I'm glad to say that Air Museum does not disappoint. It does surprise, however—a hard thing to do for an ambient record! Mountains' last album, Choral, was a glacially pased guitar-oriented album, not too far off from, say, Stars of the Lid. Air Museum, while still working in the same genre, is about 180 degrees from Choral. It's mostly synth-based, and the tones bubble and pulse at a (relatively speaking, mind you) quicker pace. In general the album feels more akin to the new breed of kosmiche acts that have been popping up in recent years that have tickled my ears—Arp, Emeralds, Rene Hell, etc. I'd accuse the duo of trend-hopping if I wasn't so enamoured of this trend.
- Mountains: Sequel
Peter Bjorn & John: Gimme Some
After the let-downs of the last PB&J album and Peter Moren's solo album, I was ready to let Gimme Some pass by. At the urging of my brilliant wife I picked it up, and lo and behold, it's pretty good! While it's not as effortlessly perfect as Writer's Block, there's still a sense that the trio isn't taking themselves too seriously here. The whole first half is fun and effervescent; it dips slightly in the second half, where the songs veer into more guitar-centric rockers, but it recovers again by the last few songs, including the album closer "I Know You Don't Love Me," one of Gimme Some's highlights.
- Peter Bjorn & John: I Know You Don't Love Me