Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Week in Music

So what am I listening to this week?

Radiohead, King of Limbs (2011)

I for one welcome our new shufflebeat, scratchy-scritchy, waily-Thom-Yorke-top-end, blumpy, peepy-peery, broken-breathéd overlords.

Elbow, Build a Rocket Boys! (2011)

I like this a great deal. I would enjoy it more, I feel, if I were more Northern.

REM, Collapse Into Now (2011)

The best REM in a long time. Not saying much, but true. Musically it’s a little overfamiliar I suppose, but Stipe’s voice is in fine, sardonic fettle and his lyric-writing is as good as it’s ever been (my favourite moment: ‘All The Best’ and its articulation of what it means to have a ‘quasimodo heart’—‘That’s where I slipped and fell/I rang the church bell til my ears bled/red/blood/cells’). It only occasionally missteps itself. ‘Oh My Heart’ lacks the reticent eloquence of the rest of the album (‘the storm didn’t kill me/The government changed’ Stipe sings; as if superrich rockstars were the ones at risk of being killed by the George W. Bush administration. When he adds ‘the good of this world might not see me through’ the odour of self-pity comes unpleasantly into our nostrils). And 'ÜBerlin’s refrain, ‘I know, I know, I know what I am chasing’, provoketh me to reply: I don’t believe you. But by and large this is an eloquent, controlled, effective piece of work. ‘Alligator Aviator’ and ‘Someone is You’ are both nicely forceful and driving, and (in the former) I particularly like the way Stipe sings ‘me’ in the line ‘if I didn’t like the way you stared at ME!’ ‘Blue’ is a touch too reminiscent of ‘Belong’ on Green, though the way it segues back into the opening track at the end is very sweetly done. The whole thing is not profound, but it does what classic REM did, and which they haven’t managed for a long time: it creates the perfect simulacrum of profundity. Which is harder to do, and in a way more interesting.

P J Harvey, Let England Shake (2011)

Soursweet, musically and lyrically, to the point of being a little rebarbative in places; but powerful, and a work that grows in effectiveness the more you listen to it. It is almost proggy, actually, in its ambition—though, obviously, not in its actual music—to make a concept album about what it means to be English in the early 21st-century. It’s dark, overshadowed by Iraq and Afghanistan, and interpenetrated (as of course it must be) by Americana. Occasionally it’s a little over-obvious (‘England/the country I love/you leave a taste/a bitter one’). Usually, though, it gets the balance of love and the-horror-the-horror just right. For example, the shimmy-shake rhythm, and the salmon-leap vocal line, of ‘The Words That Make It Maketh Murder’ articulate a grim-enough message (‘I seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat ... arms and legs were in the trees’); but the song ends up quoting ‘Summertime Blues’, and does so only partly ironically. ‘On Battleship Hill’ is particularly lovely.

Beady Eye, Different Gear, Still Speeding (2011)

Imagine if modern science were able to resuscitate John Lennon. Imagine that he got back together with Paul and Ringo to release a brand new Beatles record! A really really weak Beatles record! Derivative and lyrically vacuous, though with an unmissable Beatly flavour! This--is that album! It is a record that makes one think: ‘but why did the scientists have to meddle? Why not leave well alone? This John Lennon is but a brain-wrecked zombie, gasping half-remembered fragments of the Lennon-McCartney backlist ... Ah, me, for Death will not be trifled with, inevitably it exacts its terrible price, and Entropy is Lord of All.’

On one or two of the songs here, Different Gear, Still Speeding raises itself (musically speaking) almost to the level of the Rutles. It has none of the Rutles’ lyrical panache, though.


Niall Harrison said...

King of Limbs: Feels most like Kid A to me, by which I mean it feels very cohesive as an album, but without individual tracks that greatly stand out. Oddly easy to listen to, but Radiohead standards; the last two tracks are almost mellow.

Build a Rocket Boys: Guy Garvey's voice is the best thing ever to come out of Bury. I barely know what I think of most of the album yet, because I keep going back to the start after "Lippy Kids".

Collapse Into Now: what is it with people reviewing this REM album and comparing "Blue" to the wrong thing? You think it's like "Belong", other people say it's like "E-Bow the Letter". It's clearly most like "Country Feedback". This is not a bad thing. As for "Oh My Heart", I like the fact that it's a riff on "Houston" (The storm didn't kill me / the government will). So far as three-piece REM goes, I don't think I like this as much as either Accelerate or Up, though.

Let England Shake: This hasn't gelled for me at all. Bits of it I actually find quite creepy ("The Glorious Land" in particular), most of it seems hazy and vague. My failing, I'm sure.

Different Gear, Still Speeding: I suppose you had to add something I haven't listened to here to make it look like you haven't just stolen my ipod.

David Millington said...

That's pretty much my listening list at the moment, although I've swapped out 'Beady Eye' for 'The Low Anthem' and 'British Sea Power'. A decision I'm happy with following your comments on it, I'd definitely give then both a listen. Poor old 'Lippy Kid' Liam - more entertaining in interview than on record these days.

booketta said...

Similar music tastes there. I don't know Beady Eye, will have to check them out.

Andy said...

What I've heard of "Collapse Into Now" sounds promising, but I reckon the best new REM song out there is actually "Calamity Song", from the new Decemberists album.

SpaceSquid said...

@Niall Harrison

I'd argue Blue is the exact Cartesian midpoint of those three songs. Indeed, if Stipe didn't actually waltz into the studio and say "Fuck it lads, I'll just drawl Belong over Country Feedback and have some E-Bow wailing from Patti, yeah?", then he might as well have.

(FWIW, I'd say Collapse... is easily their best since Up, and even beats that in a few ways.)

Adam Roberts said...

Niall: "I like the fact that it's a riff on "Houston" (The storm didn't kill me / the government will)"

I feel a bit disappointed in myself that I didn't see this straight away; that does make me think less dismissively of the line actually.

Perhaps this is indicative of something deeper. It's the IRS R.E.M. that I listened to over and over, until the lyrics (or such of them as I could fathom) imprinted on my brain. When they jumped to Warner, I stuck with them for Green and Out of Time, but Automatic for the People felt dilute to me, partly as a complete album, although in part because of the ghastly ubiquity of the gluey 'Everybody Hurts'. Of the later albums only Monster properly works for me, in the sense that I go back to it all the time. I occasionally listen to the later albums, but neither Accelerate nor Up live vividly in my heart the way the earliest albums do.

"Let England Shake: Bits of it I actually find quite creepy, most of it seems hazy..."

To be clear: you're using 'creepy' and 'hazy' as terms of dispraise, here? Odd.

David, booketa: I have a soft spot for ersatz Beatley stuff, and genuinely do rate the Rutles. But BDI are quite rubbish.

Andy: I think I need to persevere with the Decembrists. Such a great name for a band! But I've been underwhelmed by the stuff I've heard so far -- you'd recommend the latest, then?

Spacesquid: Oh, better than Up, I'd say!

SpaceSquid said...

After another listen last night, I'm coming round to that opinion. I think Up can claim to be more sonically interesting, and certainly it sounds less like REM have just assembled a dozn off-cuts from earlier albums*, but Collapse... is a more energetic and enjoyable listen, so I may have to hand it the crown: best three-piece R.E.M. album to date. Not that Reveal's muddle or Around The Sun's torpor leaves much competition, of course.

*Playing "What album could this have been on?" is actually quite fun, and it's telling that the two songs that are hardest to place ("Every Day"... and "Walk It Back") are also the weakest.

Adam Roberts said...

'Walk it Back' is lame, isn't it? I assume it's an attempt to do an 'Everybody Hurts' for this album: a slice of heartfelt sentiment.

Al R said...

Haven't got hold of King of Limbs yet, but am obviously very keen to do so.

Just listened to the Elbow album for the first time; is there a better lyricist operating in the UK at the moment than Guy Garvey? Really wonderful stuff. Lippy Kids - "cigarette senate" - fan-bloody-tastic.

As for the REM album, well I'll give that a whirl a bit later this evening. But I'm always wary of any REM release trumpeted as a brilliant return to form.

Also on my desk: the Fleet Foxes album, which I'm sure everyone else heard ages ago, but which is new to me and rather lovely too, and the last Midlake album, which I'm saving for one of those days when you need to listen to something you know is going to be fantastic.

Adam Roberts said...

Al: beautiful lyrics on Build a Rocket Boys!, I agree; and such an extraordinary voice. The worst you could say about the album is that it's a bit samey, tonally speaking -- though that one tone is a lovely one.

I'm downloading the last Midlake now.

pixi666 said...

I'm loving Collapse Into Now, personally. 'All The Best' is just spectacular, and I'm also enjoying, 'Blue', 'Everyday Is Your's To Win', 'A_A_A_A', and Discoverer. Not quite what to make of 'Marlon Brando' or 'Mine Smell Like Honey', so I think some further listening is required there...

The album this reminds me of the most is actually New Adventures in Hi-Fi. If pressed, I think I could match up each song from each album pretty well.

Jamie said...

I thought the last Midlake album was gorgeous, although I know Mr SpaceSquid doesn't agree with me. Am getting mightily intrigued by the Athens' trio's latest now though, as I'm a big fan of Accelerate...

goals said...

try Kiss Each Other Clean by Iron & Wine. it's a wonderful album.

SpaceSquid said...

You're probably right about "Walk It Back". Mind you, I didn't like "Everybody Hurts", either. Indeed, I wonder if I'm the only person to own all 15 REM albums but think "Everybody Hurts" and "Losing My Religion" are both staggering over-rated.

@Jamie: Don't think calling me "Mr" is going to distract me. Midlake's second album is a beautiful, sepia-tinged rock album. Their third is a tuneless, plodding dirge, with "Fortune" in the middle to remind you of what you're missing.

Jamie said...

The Courage of Others on first listen was, indeed, a tuneless dirge; however, it is the very definition of a grower and only gets better with each new listen. I can vouch for the fact that it really works live too.

I agree about 'Everybody Hurts', although I'm still a big fan of 'Losing my Religion'; spotifying Collapse into Now as I type, impressed so far...

David Chute said...

I love your description of "the salmon-leap vocal line of ‘The Words That Make It Murder.’" Even though you're misquoting the lyric. And by so doing missing the Olde England note struck by the word "maketh." In the sense of "cause." The line is either a quotation from a hymn or she wants us to think it is.

Adam Roberts said...

David: you're right about the typo -- thank you for spotting it. I've corrected. I think I silently (unconsciously, indeed) corrected the title -- since 'maketh' is the third person singular, and 'words' is plural.

Andy said...

Sorry, v. belated response occasioned by a combination of a holiday and a bug-hit laptop. Yep, I'd give the new Decemberists a try (I first picked up an album of theirs because of the name, too). It's a stripped-down, much simpler record than the previous neo-prog monstrosity, and the aforementioned "Calamity Bong" features none other than Peter Buck himself jangling away merrily. Plus what appears to be a nod to David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest" in the lyrics.