Archives for posts with tag: album

THE-SHINS-PORT-OF-MORROW

In listening to the fourth record from The Shins, I didn’t expect a great change from their previous, Wincing the Night Away, and that expectation was fair. Port of Morrow carries on in the comfort zone that James Mercer has established for himself as an artist. The songs are melodic, fully orchestrated, and everything carries enough sheen to feel like the work of polish was given its due. And yet throughout most of the record, Mercer’s voice sits close in the mix, so we can feel like he is singing to us from a singer-songwritery stool a few feet away. In general the sounds chosen to accompany him are a mix of classic (think electric guitars with plate reverb) and modern (synths and careful drum-tracking), as we’ve come to expect from The Shins. Port of Morrow doesn’t feature any of the unquestionably retro tendencies of Chutes Too Narrow, and few of the folksy tendencies of Oh, Inverted World. No, this is, like the record before it, an amalgam of those aspects with a studio rock sensibility. And, shit, the songs are just great. Try not to sing along with the chorus of “For a Fool” for example…a difficult proposal after the refrain has come around just once. Besides the general strength of melody and the character of Mercer’s vocals, the lyrics are also as intelligent as we’d expect. They aren’t great poetry, but they sound like Keats next to the kind of lyrics that we find in most popular music today.

Overall it’s a great record, and one I recommend highly, especially if you’ve enjoyed the more recent work Mercer has put out. It even has a song that I don’t particularly like, the final and title track. Which, in my mind, is the sign of many great records: it serves as an anchor against the highs you feel throughout the rest of the record, making them richer.

James Mercer is a gift, and even if his music evolves slowly, it would be a pleasure to listen to him sing the same note over and over.

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HAIM sounds like Sheryl Crowe listening to Richard Marx listening to the Bangles listening to Vampire Weekend listening to Tinariwen.

Three sisters from Los Angeles make a catchy rock album and everyone has an opinion. Frankly, I think most of what we can say about it is that it’s catchy. After that, it gets a bit wooly and grey in terms of critical discussion.

For example: plenty of critics think I should be hearing reminiscences of Fleetwood Mac. I don’t hear it. There’s a likeness in the timbre of the voices of Danielle Haim and Christine McVie, but that’s about as far as it goes. Production-wise, the album is layered with more of the 80s retrograde that we’ve been going through for the last several years. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s also not Fleetwood Mac.

It’s a nice record. Polarizing, though? We are rather boring as a society if this is the grit in our teeth.

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I have no idea what Fabrizio De Andre is singing about, but what a voice!!!

Ever since my friend Emma first introduced me to Fabrizio, I’ve been slowly making my way through his discography. It’s safe to say that I’ve truly enjoyed every album thus far, even if nothing was quite as striking as that first listen to Vol. 1. This record, like the rest, still makes me happy, though. While listening to Fabrizio sing, I have a hard time imagining a more beautiful voice, even if one exists.

And his aesthetic suits me;  in general I’ve been more interested lately in the folk revival throughout Europe in the 60s and 70s. Without any disrespect to American folk heroes (in the past few years I’ve been acquainting myself more, and happily, with early Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell, for example), I’ve really been enjoying the European folk revivalists. It started with my discovery of Scottish singer, Ewan MacColl, whose (weirdly inauthentic) album Scottish Ballads with Peggy Seeger is amazing. I’ve also, suitably, come to love George Brassens since moving to France, and so the jump to Fabrizio was almost a simple matter of time.

One thing that stands out, though, is there’s more production, orchestration, and color to the compositions than we normally get from folk artists of the time. I want to guess that some of what we here is a direct influence of Serge Gainsbourg, for example. Either way, I think Fabrizio De Andre’s records through the late 60s and early 70s are gorgeous. Even the momentary moment of camp is pretty palatable. And one more time, THAT VOICE! Thank you, Italy.

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This album is terrifying.

How so? Not like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, but rather it is terrifying like the bleakness of the cosmos in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Yet it is beautiful. In that, it is certainly outer space music. It is otherworldly. There is space between sounds, long reverberations, digital bits and the noise of inscrutable radio waves. There are also bright flashes of warmth and dark pulses. The clicks and the drones. Robotic speech. Airy synthetic organs. Static. Everything opens up like some kind of nebulae. It feels like the cosmos, it does.

It has a cohesion like I’ve never heard in an album before, at least not in any good album, and particularly within electronic music. It repeats without being repetitive: in a sense it is a long variation on a theme. Melodies and rhythms and timbres of sounds come back and redevelop themselves, so that every new song still sounds, somehow, familiar, while reinventing the material. We are orbiting an alien moon.

This is album is terrifying, but I can’t stop playing it.
This album is terrifying because I can’t stop playing it.