Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Loney, Dear

In probably the last five or six months I have been considering myself a lover of Americana music, listening to great bands like Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, M. Ward, Midlake, My Morning Jacket, and Band of Horses. I figured that maybe at the age of 26 I have found my distinct genre of music. Bands that sing about God, heartache, and the United States are not bad at all. And I can deal with going straight to the Americana section at CD Central in Lexington and feel just fine.

But life and music are not that simple. Music is not like picking out a sports team that you live and die by. Our ears allow us to be bipolar. We can love one thing a lot at one point and then the next minute we fall in love with a new band, but our ears will always come back to what we love unless it is DMB or some other absurd band that came out of the 90s.

So my point is that I fell in love with a man from Sweden three weeks ago. Americana, move over, because this guy is good and the album he put together flows brilliantly. The band is Loney, Dear (Emil Svanängen), and this album released in the United States by SubPop is called Loney, Noir. This album was originally recorded and released in August 2005, and now it gets to grace our beloved country as of January 2007.

Svan√§ngen is multi-instrumentalist and on this album he records everything by himself, and does a good job of it. One of the songs that stand out on this album is “I am John,” which is the heralded track off the album and a featured video on YouTube. The next track on the album is “Saturday Waits.” I love this track. The final song is “And I Won’t Cause Anything At All”—a great song to end a good album. This was the first record I think I bought on its release date in a long time. I forgot how special it is to buy an album without the certainty that you will like it. Fortunately, I do. And even though the last two days I listened to Midlake and BOH, today I am listening to Loney, Dear. My bipolar ears are being good to me.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

El Perro del Mar

When Alex and I used to go to shows in college, we were hopeful. We'd look at each other, before the music started, and would say, "What if this is the best thing we've ever heard?" Usually it wasn't, though we did make it to Elliott Smith in Chicago, Wilco in Detroit and Columbus, Damien Jurado in Bloomington, and of course, Appleseed Cast came to our measly campus and tore my ears off. So sure, we were setting ourselves up for disappointment by asking the question, but we were also opening ourselves up to possibility, which isn't a bad thing at all.
Now, Alex and I have kids, and we don't really go to shows much. (I saw Of Montreal in Lexington and the Strokes in Minneapolis [sorry, Dan], but Alex couldn't make it - maybe that makes him a better father, I'm not sure). And the closest thing either of us has to that pre-show experience is going to the Jessamine County Public Library. And we can't really do that together any more. He goes with Elliott, and I go with Margot.
On Sunday last, Margot and I went to get some movies and see about some music, and I saw this stunning cover in the popular section. The last time I judged an album by its cover was Jenny Lews and the Watson Twins, and I'm glad I did. This time, however, was El Perro del Mar's self-titled 2006 album.
The first time I played it, my mind was out of control with geek-music-lover thoughts: I wish I had a time machine, and I would go back to 2006, and I would re-write my top-ten list on Alex's blog's comment section, and I would add El Perro del Mar at about the #5 slot, or maybe, no, maybe the #4 slot, or, well...It is really good...it could be #2. And then, on the second listen, I checked myself and realized I had begun a thought sentence with, "I wish I had a time machine..." and I felt embarrassed, though I was home alone at the time.
The album is, for lack of better terms, nearly perfect to me. Not as stripped down as Beach House, but not as lush as Air can sometimes be. Not as dour as CocoRosie or Chan Marshall, but not unlike all of these acts either. And what's more: El Perro del Mar has smartly employed that little southern-soul-60's-pop tool that Cat Power and Jenny Lewis found so useful in 2006 as well.
The first track, "Candy," makes me think of the Velvet Underground, not so much through its sound, but through its sensibility: this is "candy" no one is sure about: "candy" on a Saturday night, "candy" that must be bought. In short, "candy" that makes me a little uncomfortable, being from the Mid-West and all. That said, the track is an extremely strong opener, and the background vocals, the shoo-be-doo-wah-bahs, slide you right into the sonic space you need to occupy for the rest of the album.
The second track, "God Knows (You Gotta Give to Get)," sounds like The Crystals, or maybe even Dusty Springfield, on [insert anti-depressant/mood adjuster joke here]. El Perro del Mar runs into Cat Power's The Greatest here as well. The sentiment of the song, stripped of all sentimentality, is suitably contemporary - dark, unsure, ambiguous, and anxious.
"Party" sounds like the sort of party I wouldn't want to go to, or the sort of party I would leave quickly. But again, the hooks grab you: "Be-bah...Bee-bop-a-lulah," and things become sad and pretty at the same time.
Other highlights:
"I Can't Talk About It" - not dissimilar to something Arcade Fire might shoot for, at least in part, and just as catchy as anything.
"Here Comes that Feeling," which employs a horn section that'll draw you back to a strange and synthetic soul - a soul heard through bad memories, a sound that has survived the 80's, the 90's, war, famine, and translation by a Swedish singer.

Go to her myspace. See if you agree. If you're at all interested in well-crafted pop, a little jingle-jangle, tapping your feet or clapping your hands, then this might be your album. As it happens now, when we put it on, Margot stops crawling, rocks back and forth "to the beat," and seems to get very attentive. This is the litmus test in our house. If you can't come with a beat, come not at all.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Indie Rock For A New Millenium

"Some Loud Thunder" is the much anticipated follow-up album to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's internet phenomenon debut. CYHSY gained immense popularity through MySpace and word-of-mouth promotion, instead of relying on a record company promoting through traditional means. The unsigned (truly) indie rockers relied on good songs -- instead of image -- to sell records (take that Julian Casablancas). The self-titled debut made most Top 5 lists in 2005.

So, will they suffer the same fate as many unsigned artists who gain popularity...Would they be a "flash in the pan?" The release of Some Loud Thunder surprised many inattentive fans, but was quickly brought to light by being featured on the front page of the iTunes Store. The band has stayed true to form by self-releasing this album as well.

What about the music? "Sophomore slump" is a term we often use to let bands off the hook for releasing a sub-par album that doesn't live up to their potential (or for something that is different, and therefore scary, from a debut). This is not a sophomore slump. CYHSY has demonstrated again their urge to be unique -- Some Loud Thunder is quite different from the self-titled debut. The production is decidedly more "experimental" with the "blown speaker" production on the title track. (If you've heard the album, I bet you, like everyone else, checked your stereo/iPod/computer speakers/headphones)

There is that distinctive sound that we've come to expect from the vocal delivery of Alec Ounsworth. On "Emily Jean Stock" he sounds deliberately out of control, forcing his voice to bend and contort in a way that mysteriously sounds...well...good.

The album flows nicely -- one of those that could repeat in your car for a few days without sounding repetitious.

Overall, as a follow up, this album is very good -- though it definitely borders on being too experimental at times, "Five Easy Pieces" drones on for 6:49 with no payoff. Another negative is that the most catchy track is questionable in terms of lyrical content. I can't listen to "Satan Said Dance" without running the hook (satan, satan, satan...) in my head for a couple hours...also don't really want my son to sing along with that song as he is wont to do in certain car situations.

"Love Song No. 7" (listen) and "Yankee Go Home" (listen) are the stand out tracks.

4 out of 5