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Autobiographers & Effects
In which I hook you with Morrissey, or, if you find him alienating, Bob Mould, and then we set forth toward further reaches of the electric guitar.
1. Morrissey – World Peace is None of Your Business
After responding at length to all of Morrissey’s latest provocations, some reviews have deigned to mention that World Peace is musically strong, as if that’s beside the point. But no, he’s not a spoken word artist, so he announces himself with and should be judged on the music, and it’s easy to say that few of his contemporaries continue to make albums as varied, robust and adventurous as this one. As for the words: the listener might earn a little distance by treating Morrissey not as an angry person but as a character in his works, which is of course what the singer of any song becomes. An increasingly widespread inability to make this concession for him is precisely what leads me to conclude that Morrissey wins again, despite all attempts to make him appear foolish and insane.
Let me horribly misinterpret a great Tom Ewing quote, again:
“About” is a false friend to pop music. The idea that a song is “about” some bigger, grander thing than itself can ennoble some records. But it also works to reduce them.
World Peace achieves nothing like the narrative perfection of “Papa Don’t Preach,” obviously, nor does it try to, but I just want to point out that music is not nearly as direct a form of communication as people often mistake it to be.
2. Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin
I prefer the more ruminative Mould we’ve heard from in the current century (on Life & Times and Modulate, especially), but he smuggles some crucial, confounding energies onto his most recent and energized albums. Beauty & Ruin says things about middle age, often via its oppressive production, that I’ve never heard committed to tape before. “Nemeses Are Laughing,” in particular, locates unnameable strands of confusion and disorientation that I’d thought couldn’t survive adolescence and/or poison years. Last time I referred to him as man, perfected, but what’s perfect is the way he remains in full command of a lifetime of toxic, triumphant, and contradictory psychic states.
3. Nothing – Guilty of Everything
My favorite shoegaze albums always come from out of nowhere, nothing, and this is the best new one I’ve heard since The Sleepover Disaster’s Hover, five years ago. Guilty of Everything is a similarly rare achievement, nine long tracks without a single boring moment, the identity of the performers, and their words, shrouded not in mystery but in irrelevance. And yet the effect of the music is quite concrete and specific, an anchor to whatever environment I’m hearing it in. I remember a few words: “On nights as dark as this.” Some others might come back to me, but that’s all I’ve got for now. Please listen, this is huge.
4. Should – The Great Pretend
Three years after the excellent, long-in-the-making Like A Fire Without Sound, which paired lullaby voices and impossibly tamed, bell-like guitar sounds (and bells) for something close to devotional music, it’s great to hear Should adding a wealth of messier textures on The Great Pretend without disrupting their music’s serene poise. Once again I thought I heard the skeleton of shoegaze, but was wrong. Real Estate are a novelty for being a young band working in a similar vein (and are thus mistaken as retirees from reality when in fact reality is the precise thing to which they’ve graduated), but there are countless little-heard, older bands simultaneously declaring the significance of their private lives, guitars in tow, and I’d venture that Should are one of the best.
Words on Music
5. Sleeping Bag – Deep Sleep
I overlooked the pun in the title, or else might have known what to expect. This is not the same beautiful and beguiling Sleeping Bag I became acquainted with a few years ago. That band has gone into hibernation, while a new one has emerged with two members replaced, and heavier guitars (first track: “Riff Randall”). But what keeps the guitars from reaching obscene or unpleasant proportions is the fact that Sleeping Bag is still a drummer-led band. Resolute town-dweller Dave Segedy guides the proceedings with his deep, sleepy, mellifluous voice, and though at first I hated wondering what bizarre yet mundane language contortions (a la “in the night come the songs of tone,” et al) I might be missing under the crush of the guitars, and hated missing such an exquisite bounty of guitar filigrees, after many listens the riffs transport, the drums clarify, and Segedy reasserts himself as an essential frontman of our times. What’s become increasingly evident and what really sticks, on Deep Sleep, is how thoroughly Sleeping Bag transcend any discussion of the currency of rock music in the 2010s. No, not because they’re so unique, so smart, so talented, but because of the attitude, which would regard such a discussion with a blank, clueless stare that directly corresponds to an elegant interior life.
6. Slowness – How to Keep From Falling Off A Mountain
Twenty years ago, people would have been told this album sounds expensive and paid accordingly. Today, with infinite other choices at their fingertips, they’ll likely not find time to listen to it on Bandcamp, but if they do, they’ll hear an inexhaustible array of guitar effects supporting seven long, distinct mood pieces that sometimes double as tuneful songs. Best at their most disorienting (“Mountain”), succinct (“Division”) and Stereolab-esque (“Illuminate”), Slowness get things off to a strong start, but even the four-part suite of the album’s second half doesn’t strain patience.
7. Literature – Chorus
Chorus: a group of singers; a piece of choral music; an assembly of nature; a repeated part of a song; a guitar effect; a figure who comments on the events of a play. So many options for an album called Chorus! Erasure alluded to the first three definitions and included many fine examples of the fourth on its 1991 classic. The new band called Literature mainly intends the fifth on its debut album. The front half brings to mind Meat Puppets’ Up on the Sun, in the way an instantly identifiable guitar sound (lush, ringing, chorused) winds up for increasingly swift and intricate, almost manic, melodies. As the ears adjust, the listener can begin to more fully appreciate a young band’s spiky energy and songwriting talents. [Out now on Slumberland Records, of course.]
8. Allo Darlin’ – We Come from the Same Place
The guitars are too chaste to make a big deal of it (compared to the plentiful effects elsewhere on this list, Allo Darlin’ sound like Young Marble Giants), but Same Place is as total an experience as anything by The Wedding Present or The Sundays. For Allo Darlin’, being young and in and out of love is a feeling so rich that it requires no further amplification beyond the words. Still, I’d suggest reflecting on the way Merrill Garbus ends her new Tune-Yards album (“I’ve got something to say”) before pursuing Allo Darlin’, for fear of overlooking their music’s importance and urgency. Thus primed, Same Place’s opening couplet becomes a major occasion: Elizabeth Morris makes “southern Spanish bar” rhyme with “cheap Jagermeister,” not because of her accent but through careful manipulation of her environment. [Out 10/7 on Slumberland.]
9. The History of Apple Pie – Feel Something
It was 20 years ago today… that Lush’s Split filled CD players on both sides of the Atlantic. Feel Something is kind of like Sgt. Pepper’s, but with its nostalgia tied to a much later era of feels, and its impact appropriately softer. The crucial difference is that The History of Apple Pie lend much more significance to their decade of influence than they do to themselves, which is noble of them but not exactly shrewd. For those who don’t care about a band’s shrewdness (me!), and maybe even for those who do, the can’t-miss moment is “Keep Wondering,” a latent image of which rattles through blown speakers before the song explodes to full, vibrant life. Elsewhere, it’s funny to remember that the album’s called Feel Something, as it’s considerably less arrogant than most in that regard.
10. The Jigsaw Seen – Old Man Reverb
The title could be understood in two ways: Is Reverb the name of an Old Man, as ancient and demanding of deference as Time himself (first track: “Let There Be Reverb”), or is “old man” a self-deprecating adjective to describe Jigsaw Seen’s outdated brand of reverb? I’ll allow both. The confluence suggests a band forever determined to endure, whether the average listener comes to their music with reverence or with indifference. Not to deny their agency or idiosyncrasies or anything, but I wonder how long before The Jigsaw Seen are revealed as XTC following up The Dukes of Stratosphear with another thought experiment: What if we disguised ourselves as a band still making modest, compelling 20th century pop music in the 21st century?
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