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A bit of a misnomer, as I’ll address the new Circuit des Yeux album next time, and anyway I’ve succeeded in hearing all this stuff before the year’s up. Still, I feel I’m always losing the new music chronicler’s race against time.
Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum
For about three seconds it sounds like Le Bon, with chiming guitar and fast, steady beat locked together in a groove, will now try to conquer time, but then the guitar peels away from and slides across the rhythm and again we’re adrift on the sea of time, a little bit lethargic and dizzy. So much great stuff here, mostly in the guitar parts (a recurring sigh of contentment, as each song makes its first statement), and also: the way “Wild” compresses the mid-point magic of last year’s two-parter “Ploughing Out” into a single song, with a coda eruption that’s almost an exact quote of Elvis Costello’s “Man Out of Time” (Costello worried what Gershwin would say if he heard it, but neither he nor Le Bon need imagine anything but total approval); the soft, beautiful voice of Mike Hadreas (Perfume Genius) on “I Think I Knew,” which triumphantly dirties the tradition of the duet as each singer rises to the level of each other’s fragility. And last, the attitude: about the great band Sleeping Bag, I wrote that “no one’s done the detached, obtuse thing with such high feeling since Pavement,” and Le Bon belongs in that company, maybe not quite detached but refusing to tell me the secret of my emotional response.
Jeremy Jay – “Covered In Ivy,” “Sentimental Expressway”
As goes Malkmus, so goes Jeremy Jay: I’m not exactly sure how Jay’s discography lines up with his expatriation to Europe but these singles from next month’s Abandoned Apartments sound like first evidence of the move. It’s not a creative rebirth, exactly, but a return to the cold, early, lonely sound of his 2007-2009 output, the kind of reset that eludes most artists. The city makes him young again, offers mirages of heat everywhere he looks. But, outside those visions, these are some icy songs, so much so that I like to imagine Jay walking on purple snow in my own town, as if it’s here that he moved. Recasting the Minneapolis Sound? I think there’s always been an affinity in his work to Prince’s first albums, and “Covered in Ivy,” the real keeper among these new songs, sells that idea, especially with the strange and suddenly overtaking energy of its instrumental break. Its b-side is all afterglow; the b-side to more vaporous “Sentimental Expressway” could more strictly be called epilogue. Put all together, it’s a neat bundle of sensations, so that I feel compelled to draw conclusions about Jay’s present artistic mode even as I wait for the album.
Kim Deal – “Are You Mine?” / “Wish I Was”
More mirages of heat on this, the finest of Deal’s three singles from this year. It’s simple stuff, a love song as basic as Twin Peaks’ “Just You and I” and a buzzing instrumental b-side, but damn are they beautiful, the cymbals in particular sending out waves of shivery warmth. The single’s been available since August, but as a holiday release it might’ve supplanted “Mele Kalikimaka.”
Weekend – Jinx
“Adelaide”: Live drummer imitates Big Black’s Roland, live human imitates Greg Sage’s guitar. Title character’s savior sings sentiments that would’ve been out of place in the context of those earlier sounds. There and elsewhere, it’s more interesting to think about the sounds on Jinx than the songs or the scene, but this is one of the best sounding albums of the year, so who cares? (Chris Funk says more, and knows more.)
Guided by Voices – English Little League
Bear in mind it’s a different lineup of the band, but it’s funny that a decade after nearly perfect albums like Isolation Drills and Earthquake Glue, GBV is making albums even more scattershot and bizarre than the ones from two decades ago. That might sound like a grim estimation of the band’s life cycle, but I find post-reformation album #4 hopeful: all its chaos, fumbling, howling and occasional brilliance more closely resembles reality than the most exquisitely realized rock song.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – English Electric
Francis Ford Coppola shook off sleep with Youth Without Youth and then regained the pulse, if not always the art, of his greatest work with Tetro. OMD have just completed a similar trick, and after the fitful History of Modern, English Electric thrills with its sense of conviction and sells all its ideas.
Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady
A quick note about the organization of these top ten lists: It’s all about the priority of the (imagined) reader’s attention, so this brilliant yet months-old and much praised album gets placed down here, where the weary reader can be reminded of its existence, then skip the commentary. I’ll only add that you ought to distrust any reviewer who has a constructive criticism complex and has dared imagine a better version of this album. The idea of the unsolicited placing themselves on Monáe’s creative team (or Kelela’s, etc.) is absurd.
Neko Case – The Worse Things Get…
I’ve heard it now, so let’s look again at some of my theories about Case’s new songs from my live review. The new songs:
a. “…were catchy yet remote, requiring patience on account of being lyric-driven”
b. “…seem to last until they run out of words”
c. “…remain latent examples of the qualities the title expresses (truth, determination) until I figure out their own processes”
I can see how I might’ve said those things, but it turns out the album is very immediate, with plenty of weird but manageable digressions in its 38 minutes.
Yeah I heard it:
a. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
b. Death Grips – Government Plates
c. Kanye West – Yeezus
d. Lady Gaga – Artpop
Real and assumed iconoclasm, along the spectrum of actual relevance? No, these albums don’t really deserve to be lumped together, but I attended to all of them with a certain sense of duty, even as I’ve loved or liked or at the very least tolerated all these artists in the past. So far I find each one about half as good as the artist’s previous album (decoded: I find Reflektor very fun, a bit unfulfilling, Artpop generally unlistenable), but albums so overloaded with context also don’t really deserve to be called disappointments.
Sebadoh with Octa#grape – Turf Club (St. Paul, MN) – Monday, November 11, 2013
A packed bar on a cold, cold Monday night in St. Paul must mean that Sebadoh is still loved. Rightly so: the night’s perfect balance of Lou songs and Jason songs must mean that this is still a properly functioning band. Lou may have imagined he was playing in a Sebadoh cover band (“they had one or two decent songs”) but that’s a distinction reserved for lesser reunited acts.
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