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.
- The Flatlanders, Keeper of the Mountain
- Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, When the Other Foot Drops, Uncle
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.
- Okkervil River, Black
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.
- Spoon, The Fitted Shirt
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.