The Music of the Moment – 2/11/08

More album reviews… you’ve probably already stopped reading

To prevent myself from rambling on and on about the past/present/future of Democratic politics, I think I’ll yammer on for a bit about a few albums currently cluttering up the airspace around my ears. Some good, some not so great, some completely unnecessary, but all have one thing in common… they are in fact collections of songs pressed onto discs then uploaded into my iPod for later consumption.

Bauhaus – Go Away White
Bauhaus Music
2008

Rating: D

Looking for a reunion record that was, as I stated earlier, completely unnecessary? If so, then look no further than Go Away White, my friends! I can’t exactly be sure which demographic in world society was clamoring for a new release from Bauhaus, but speaking as someone who found the concept remotely interesting, I can only express regret for all involved and sympathy for all excited. Here’s a band that has inexplicably grown quite a cult following on the strength of a few good singles, a creepy image and the ever-necessary search for darkness in a world filled with happy-go-lucky pop stars.

Look, Bauhaus, you’re not bad… but let’s not pretend that you’re good. You were never as good as Siouxsie & The Banshees or Joy Division, and you were immediately eclipsed by the likes of The Cure and Sisters of Mercy, no matter how many times you’re lowered to the stage upside down while bellowing about the late Mr. Lugosi. Go Away White is an excellent example of exactly why certain bands are best left in the past. The endless caterwauling layered over repetitive, dated music tracks make the entire effort not only impossible to listen to a 2nd time (I made it through once… barely), but do a great disservice to the legend of the band itself.

When an album’s standout track is the bleak, nearly spoken word six and a half minute epic Saved, then you truly find yourself in a struggle to locate a genuine high point. Go Away White is, essentially, exactly what you expect it to be, a handful of ever-moody grown men attempting to recapture the genuine moodiness that once made them minor celebrities. Unfortunately, the entire act comes off as contrived and rather pedestrian when compared to their previous works. I guess it’s just a little difficult to believe that these guys could still be suffering from such angst while in their mid 50’s. But who am I to say, perhaps that kind of darkness never subsides with age, Wilford Brimley be damned.

Nada Surf – Lucky
Barsuk
2008

Rating: B

There are very few acts left these days that crank out good ol’ fashioned pop-rock (that doesn’t suck). With the entire world breaking its collective neck to create the next revolutionary sound, to bang on the next undiscovered object with even a hint of reverberation and/or discover the newest and most interesting bleep or boop, an entire genre is dying a slow death. Thankfully, the “never say die” trio of Nada Surf are still hanging around, still making good records and aging with grace (something the previous band could learn from). Their wry, early 20’s angst has been replaced with melodic pop-rock for grown ups… or as we call it around the dinner table, Aaron Saylor rock.

Lucky is the next logical step for a band once written off as a one-hit-wonder (even by me, until I caught a few minutes of a show in Chicago a couple of years ago). The songs are sophisticated pop, catchy hooks, lush vocals and pleasant melodies. These songs won’t change the way you view music in the future, and they aren’t trying to. These songs are exactly what they are, a collection of very good three(ish) minute pop songs that offer the perfect soundtrack to a night on the town or an evening at home with old friends.

Thankfully, albums like this surface from time to time to remind us that life is about growing older, and that progress is always welcome, but shouldn’t be forced. Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s fun to accept the fact that your hairline is receding, that you’re not in the best shape of your life and that your wild days are behind you, then sit back and tap your feet for about 45 minutes. In between changing the world one record at a time, I think I’ll settle in with Beautiful Beat and I Like What You Say… we can beat on trash cans later, for now let’s just have a beer.

Lightspeed Champion – Falling Off The Lavender Bridge
Domino
2007

Rating: A

After hearing some of the buzz bubbling up over this record, I felt compelled to see what all of the fuss was about. Mostly it was just my inner monologue saying, “So, wait, the guy from Test Iciciles relocated to Omaha, where he teamed up with a few of the folks from Bright Eyes to record some kind of folk record… ok, I’m in, let’s hear it.” Amazingly, Falling Off The Lavender Bridge isn’t the disaster I had expected, but rather is some kind of rootsy masterpiece that could probably never be recreated.

The songs vary from fragile to epic, giving equal time to sways and half-hearted fist pumps on what turns out to be a remarkably short album. Each track allows for repeated listening and dissection, finding something new in the dark corner of a song that you may have missed on the first dozen or so spins. Whether it’s the almost Jonathan Larson-esque feel of Salty Water or the twangy goodness of the album’s centerpiece, Midnight Surprise, Falling Off The Lavender Bridge is a truly spectacular album.

It’s very difficult to nail down a genre or pigeonhole Lightspeed Champion, which happens to be the real selling point of the album. He’s a true original, rooted in the traditional and an iconoclast that you’ve heard before. In a very subtle way, Falling… may be one of the most progressive works of the year, using something so incredibly familiar to convey something so beautifully different. I find it very hard to believe that anything will come between now and the end of the year to knock this fantastic piece of work out of heavy rotation around my house. It’s not just good, it’s at times scary good. I fully expect this to be a breakout release and a remarkably large underground hit (think: LCD Soundsystem in a completely different genre), and if not, then there’s just no justice in this world.

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
XL Recordings
2008

Rating: B+ (for the music), D- (for the hogwash surrounding the band)

Writing about this album is an absolutely agonizing process. On one hand, I absolutely love the album… on the other hand, I hate the damn band. I caught their debut single on MTV’s Subterranean a month or so ago, and was instantly hooked by the Brian Wilson-esque flavor of the songs and the uniqueness of the band as a whole. Unfortunately, a world of “hipper-than-thou” bloggers also saw it, and bought the album, and turned this quirky, very listenable band into a flavor of the month the likes of which The Strokes never saw. So, here I sit, admittedly liking a band that I wish more than anything I could hate.

To talk about Vampire Weekend on a purely musical level is now almost impossible. Separating the actual band from the music grows more difficult with every shockingly pretentious interview and blog post… but I’m going to try. In a nutshell, Vampire Weekend is a very good pop band that has managed to inject some very basic African and Carribean styles into their very basic pop songs. That is it, nothing more to see here. They have not pioneered a new type of “fusion,” they have not made countless Lacoste sweater wearing hip kids “third world-cool” and they have not formed a brand new type of post-globalization sound. They have made a very good record, end of story.

The self-titled debut is fun, interesting and certainly worthy of the praise it receives. However, like everything else in the world, it’s entirely possible to let things get completely out of hand. For now, I plan to just point out that I actually like the album, enjoy listening to it, and take it at face value. Had Vampire Weekend been produced by five guys from Pikeville, KY with absolutely no fuzzy sweaters or hipster haircuts to their credit, it would still be just as good (and you have no idea how much I wish that was the case). So, I’d certain recommend picking it up, if you can sift through the ever-mounting piles of b.s. surrounding the band and just enjoy what is nothing more than a very well made pop record.

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