Last week was the first mammoth new release week of 2009 and as you might expect, Drake wasn’t going to let it pass him by without a few choice words. Perennial Drake faves, Animal Collective, loom large in this week’s “Take”, garnering a virtual “9.6” from our own erstwhile critic in-residence. On a personal note, this album didn’t instantly blow me away, like it did to so many other folks, but AC have always resided a little bit outside of my personal comfort zone. As always, you can read Drake’s spotlighted reviews below, but here’s my 2 cents on a couple more of last week’s big releases:
While I was a big fan of Antony‘s last record, the new one has been a slow grower for me, but I have a feeling it will reveal its brilliance in the near future (in fact, as I write this while listening to The Crying Light, I’m thinking about changing the beginning of this sentence).
It seems that I keep hearing fewer and fewer “singles” on Andrew Bird records, but i still found Noble Beast to be a very enjoyable album (and songs like “Fitz and Dizzy Spells” play great live), and I think Drake’s “good-to-nearly-great release” statement is a fair assessment.
Finally, though Drake didn’t spotlight it below, I’ve really been enjoying the new AC Newman record, and with irresistably catchy songs like “Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer”, I think it solidifies Carl Newman‘s place as one of the best pop songwriters around. -ed.
Drake’s Take: New Releases 01.20.09
As if to underline last year’s down year for releases, this week’s crop is already heads and tails above any release week from last year. Less than one month into 2009, and we could already start to formulate a best of the year list. Animal Collective‘s latest beats all of last year’s releases, which is why there’s already album of the year talk in January. Besides that, there’s new releases from Antony and the Johnsons, Andrew Bird, AC Newman, Anya Marina, Bon Iver, Blackout Beach (Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes/Swan Lake) and that just covers the first two letters of the alphabet. It’s as if album releases were pushed back to inauguration day, for a better association. There will be no more releases from the Bush years, folks.
Playlist: New Releases 01.20.09
So much digital ink has already been spilled on this release since it leaked earlier a few weeks ago, there’s not much else to say except the bar has been set for releases in 2009 (or, for that matter, what we’ll lovingly refer to as The Obama Years). With the 2007 releases (specifically, Strawberry Jam and Panda Bear‘s solo release (Person Pitch,) Animal Collective was inching closer to mainstream while maintaining their artful peculiarities. Merriweather Post Pavillion is the refinement of both those releases, mixing Panda Bear’s sunny Pet Sounds fixation with the artsy atmospherics and tribal beats that dominate an Animal Collective joint. While the whole album sparkles, two songs standout as among their best ever: “My Girls” and “Brothersport.” Both of those are likely to expand their current fan base, which means that there will be some cries of “sellout.” Just drown out those unwarranted complaints by cranking up the controlled chaos of “Daily Routine,” and carry on with smile intact.
If it weren’t for the brilliance of Merriweather Post Pavillion, folks would be making the all-too-soon argument for The Crying Light as album of the year. As in the past two albums, it’s the voice of Antony Hegarty that’s front and center, and it’s a voice that’s become far more familiar since their debut, singing with the likes of Lou Reed, Bjork, Rufus Wainwright and the Hercules and Love Affair project of New York DJ Andy Butler. His pipes have evolved into the go to for soul+sorrow, with a new sense of maturity, which is partly why Hegarty chose an image of the Japanese Butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno, who is now 102 years old. Much like the use of Candy Darling for 2007’s I Am a Bird represented art and gender issues, Ohno represents maturing as an artist.
When it became known that Andrew Bird was splitting up his recordings into an album of conventional and leaving the more experimental to an EP I was a bit worried, and with good reason. Since the release of 2006’s Armchair Apocrypha, Bird has been inching towards ‘Mountain’ acceptability, which in the Seattle area means, adult-alternative. My dentist always plays that station in the mornings, and while hearing “Imitosis” while getting your teeth cleaned is soothing, having it followed by a Hootie and the Blowfish song makes you spit before the designated time. Since then that song has also been featured in a series of Residence Inn ads, and The Mountain sponsored his recent performance at the Zoo here as well, so one might assume Anti Records had some, shall we say, expectations with Noble Beast. Refreshingly, the album eases back on the ultra sheen production from Armchair Apocrypha in favor of a more natural sound, and there are lots of classic Bird flourishes throughout. While it’s a more even sounding record, much of the spontanaety of past releases is MIA, getting marginalized to the mostly instrumental Useless Creatures EP (available as one deluxe edition). A fusion of the two might be more preferable, but even still, it remains a good-to-nearly-great release.
Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon famously recorded the critically acclaimed For Emma, Forever Ago while holed up one winter in a Northern Wisconsin forest after a break up, so there’s been some buildup as to what he would do in a studio without the heartache and the isolation. While there’s nothing here that will make you forget For Emma, the title track is sure easy on the ears. Extra points for referencing his previous album’s recording with the song “Woods”:
I’m up in the woods
I’m down on my mind
I’m building a still
To slow down the time
Sung using a vocoder, it’s even more haunting. It’s an ending to a nice appetizer that makes you hungry for whatever full length comes next.
More on the radar (and in the mp3 player) this week:
AC Newman – Get Guilty
Blackout Beach – Skin of Evil / “Astoria, Menthol Lite, Hilltop, Wave of Evil, 1982” [mp3]
Matt & Kim – Grand
Six Organs of Admittance – RTZ /
Will Sheff/Charles Bissell – Will Sheff Covers Charles Bissell/Charles Bissell covers Will Sheff
Anya Marina – Slow Steady Seduction Phase II
Robert Pollard – The Crawling Distance / “Imaginary Queen Anne” [mp3]
Coconut Records – Davy
The 1900s – Medium High EP / “Age of Metals” [mp3]
John Frusciante – The Empyrean
Matt and Kim – Grand / Free AOL Album Stream
Cut Off Your Hands – You & I
Ben Nichols – The Last Pale Light In The West
Gin Wigmore – Extended Play (EP)
The Soundtrack of Our Lives – Communion
Black Moth Super Rainbow – Dont You Want To Be In A Cult w/ Feel The Drip
Beausoleil – Alligator Purse / Free album stream from AOL
Odds – Cheerleader
North Mississippi Allstars – Do It Like We Used To Do
Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (Legacy Edition)
Swervedriver – Raise (US Extended Version)
Swervedriver – Mezcal Head (US Extended Version)
Steve Earle & the Del McCroury Band – The Mountain
Titus Andronicus – Titus Andronicus