Thursday, February 19, 2009

Since You've Been Gone - What I've Been Listening to Since the New Year

Jeff Buckley - Grace

This album came out fifteen years ago, yet I heard it for the first time about a month ago. It was given to me by fellow Felstein, Randi, who was shocked that I had never heard Grace, her favorite album. I have no apologies, however, for never hearing this album until now. I get the joy of hearing it for the first time. This album is new to me.
Grace is rather legendary. It is the only proper release by Jeff Buckley, who died young in an accidental drowning before he could finish his second album. I realize that this album was never meant to be an opus, but I can't help but think that it sounds like one. Ballad after rock ballad, by the time the final song closes the album feels as finished as a weeping Roger Federer after losing the Australian Open.
I'll save you the in-depth analysis. There is enough scholarship on this album already. But if you are one of the few who like me were also ignorant of this album until recently, just know that it is Buckley's voice that makes this album so beloved. Most of the songs sound like Radiohead precursors, but Thom Yorke could never pull off a Leonard Cohen song like Buckley does on "Hallelujah." It is breathtaking, as is the rest of the album, whether you heard it fifteen years ago, or whether you are reading about it for the first time right now.

Lucky Dragons - Dream Island Laughing Language

Late last year, this LA duo released their 13th proper album--all from this decade. This album was my introduction to Lucky Dragons, and it is a mesmerizing, exciting, and exhausting collection of ideas.
At 22 songs, Dream Island bursts with all kinds of different sounds. With almost no vocals, it is filled with sundry percussion and varying electronic noises. What I can't really convey here is the rush that you get when these songs smash on to the audio canvas. Anyone who has heard "Spirit Fingers" by Four Tet will understand. For those who have not: these are sounds assorted in ways you have never heard before. They invite interaction, but leave quickly before you get to know them too well. Whimsical, bouncy beats and blips that are intellectually catchy--similar in a lot of ways to Sufjan Stevens electronic album, Enjoy Your Rabbit--the artificial sounds never seem cold.
I am not sure if there is a running theme to Dream Island. A lot of it sounds very tribal, but the constant electronics keep it from ever feeling organic. Maybe it is a testament to the shrinking barrier between real and virtual reality, or maybe it is just an exhilarating collection of songs, as random as it is novel.

Matt & Kim - Grand

One of the first few really good albums of this year, Grand is a party for those that matured from the Warped Tour circuit. Just as the suburban "punk" kids stop drinking Natural Light and/or Vick's, they too will put away the emo bands and search for something a little more filling. They will hopefully find this album, which is just as fun as walking through the Silverdome parking lot, but more rewarding.
Grand is filled with synths, whiny vocals, and more than several refrains that try successfully to get stuck in your head. It is fun. It is meant to be shared and danced to. It is meant to be sung along to at concerts. Despite all of the deep, meaningful moments in life, all of the late-night epiphanies, all of the significant achievements; Grand shows how vitally essential it is to just have a great time.

Beach House - Devotion

Released last year, this is the second effort by the Baltimore band. It follows along the same pattern of their first: hazy, dreamy vocals and instrumentation. Beach House make cough syrup music for indie-kids.
There is something very timeless about the recording. It makes you long for the days when you can dance sweetly with your significant other, as your kids grimace in embarrassment, and honestly forget when this album came out. Nothing about Devotion gives any clue that it is a record of this decade. It could just as easily be a tape you found in your attic that your mom's friend recorded during her "freedom" years in college.
The keyboards and pianos are incessant, which is not a bad thing. It helps the "hot tub" effect of when you stop thinking and just let the whole thing melt over you. Devotion is sweet, warm, and as ageless as the very relaxation that it conduces.

Francois Virot - Yes or No

I can't get away from this French singer-songwriter dude. I want to, but I can't. When I open Windows Media Player, my mouse goes for this album, that came out this past year. It is as catchy as a splinter, and I can't get it out.
Francois sings all in English. Actually, he shouts raspy English phrases mostly about romance, which in my opinion, is pretty French.
There is just something so engaging about it all. He isn't the pretty boy at the party. His voice cracks; wavers. His guitar strumming isn't exact. And there is something absolutely sinister about many of the songs, especially the "I just broke up with you, whoops!" opener: "Not the One."
It is all intriguing though, because it is so unapologetic. I had this professor that did not teach us one thing we were supposed to learn all semester. We talked about current events and the nuances of life. I admired him, though, because in the end he did not regret his actions one bit. I am not sure exactly what Yes or No is supposed to be, but I don't think Francois knows either. And I get the feeling that he doesn't really give a damn. I can respect that.

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