June 12, 2009
ART OF SONG
“So Come Back, I Am Waiting”
Black Sheep Boy
2005 | Jagjaguwar
I have always likened Will Sheff’s particular genius to that of Bruce Springsteen and Jeff Mangum. At their best, these artists’ compositions and performances seem so deeply organic and inalterable that its hard to conceive of them having been written. In their songs, there is such an incredible and inextricable confluence of emotion, dynamic, and lyric that they seem like some ancient earthen documents, like discoveries rather than efforts; they seem not artisanal but divined, delivered.
“So Come Back, I Am Waiting” is the thematic and emotional culmination of Okkervil River’s masterful Black Sheep Boy, and it is flawless, in composition and performance. Birthed as a whispered dirge, it naturally and effortlessly develops into an anthemic, cloud-parting, breathtakingly grandiose statement of purpose. Okkervil River’s performance is inimitable – admittedly scrappy, but possessed of a maniacal frenzy that ultimately crescendos into magisterial grace. It is, simply, the sound of musicians, mid-performance, stumbling into greatness.
More on Okkervil River | “So Come Back, I Am Waiting”
April 16, 2009
2005 | Lookout! Records
In August of 2005, I was on my fourth tour ever. It was the first time I had traversed the entire continental US. Ivan Sandomire, Dan Treiber, and I were driving up the coast, from San Francisco to Portland. (Thankfully, my connections have improved over the years, and I haven’t had to make that arduous, albeit beautiful, drive since). Outside Medford, OR, about fifteen miles north of the California state line, the Crafty van threw a piston. Terrified, I carefully guided our now-dead home on wheels to the side of the highway and began to try to figure out what the fuck to do, 3,000 miles away from New York. (For those who have never toured, it’s a horrible feeling to lose your vehicle – like losing a child, or having your home foreclosed.)
More on Hockey Night | Keep Guessin’
October 19, 2008
2005 | Lost Highway
For better or for worse, or, perhaps more aptly put, for his better or for his worse, Ryan Adams suffers from a case of too much brilliance. For a significant part of his earlier career, including the period during which Love Is Hell, one of the best rock albums of this decade, was begrudgingly released piecemeal by Lost Highway, he was practically blamed rather than lauded for his prodigiousness. Some critics wagged their fingers like disappointed parents at his inveterate instinct to go-go-go, rather than to edit-edit-edit, wrongly labeling such dedication to writing music as art, rather than as product, a self-indulgence that ostensibly stifled his potential.
More on Record Review: 29
August 15, 2008
Echo and the Bunnymen
2005 | Cooking Vinyl
A growing retrospective critical buzz has Echo and the Bunnymen as one of the finest alternative bands of the ‘80s. They had a unique sound which has been reworked by successful acts like Coldplay and Arcade Fire. Their music had a gloomy edge behind Ian McCullough’s yowling vocals and Will Seargent’s braded guitar lines, but always retained a kind of cool detachment. Unlike contemporaries like The Cure, they were never accused of being whiny. If they had a fault it was Ian McCullough’s ego, as oversized as his black greatcoat, or their regrettable sellout single: “Lips Like Sugar.” Like The Psychedelic Furs, they broke up after a low point of MTV pandering. Unlike the Furs, they pulled off the near-impossible: a commercially and critically successful comeback with Evergreen, containing a killer single, “Nothing Lasts Forever.” Siberia is merely the latest in a series of strong albums, but one which sees the Bunnypersons mildly selling out again, and doing it right. Discarding the abstract textures of their classic style, they borrow from their own descendants, adding a heavy dose of Britpop melodicism. A first listen to the single, “Stormy Weather,” will instantly confirm that this is nothing to complain about.
At the time of the band’s initial comeback, almost ten years ago, Ian McCullough still displayed a healthy amount of self-love. He boasted, unbelievably, that he was the best-preserved of the older stars. This mid-noughts album finds him in a more reflective mood, looking wistfully back on years past in “All Because of You Days,” “Parthenon Drive,” and “Everything Kills You.” Though a little worse for wear, McCullough has lost none of his detached, stylish outlook, and it serves him well here. We shake our head along with the singer, then straighten out our lapels and continue along the rain-glossed streets of Liverpool, bruised but unbroken. With relentless low-key hooks enlivening each song, McCullough’s introspectiveness gets the chance to descend into self-pity. In latter-day Echo, the poetic pretensions of “The Killing Moon” are almost completely gone. The guys no longer pose as art school gods, and also avoid any misguided attempts to “update” their sound or image. It is this comfortable maturity that makes Siberia the band’s most likable album, a grower that will reward a long stay on your playlist.
by Robin Mookerjee
July 30, 2008
2005 | Mute Records
It’s Monday, I’m off from work and the sky is overcast, threatening rain. A light drizzle trickles over 4th Avenue but not enough to open the umbrella I’m carrying. What better reason is there to throw a jacket over my head, rush indoors and pop in Richard Hawley’s Coles Corner?
A guitarist for The Longpigs in the 90’s and later, Pulp, Hawley has been releasing gems such as Coles Corner (supposedly named after a street corner from his native Sheffield) since his self-titled debut in 2001. Much like Elvis Costello did with Burt Bacharach with Painted from Memory, Hawley records his albums as if he and his music were from another era, carrying himself like a crooner from the 60’s without letting you forget that he is from our time.
The orchestration which opens Coles Corner sets the overall tone of the album; that of lost love. Hawley happily admits over shining guitars, “Here’s where the sound/of my tears hits the ground/just like the rain” on “Just Like the Rain”. Imagine every woman in the audience swooning when he pulls the microphone close, pleading “Darling, wait for me,” on “Wait for Me”. “The Ocean” is the most epic song on the album, erupting in the end into a chorus of strings, keys laced in tremolo and Hawley’s slightly hoarse baritone vocals hitting you like waves crashing against the shore. “Born under a Bad Sign” is hands down my favorite track on the album. Hawley weaves the tale of a Brando like character, the tough but sad underdog, strumming his guitar all alone. “(Wading Through) The Waters of My Time” could have easily been penned by Johnny Cash or strangely, Neil Young. Hawley strips the song down to its elements like an old 45 record release; acoustic guitar, vocals coated in reverb, slide guitar and light percussion. The album ends with the surprising Eno-esque “Last Orders” an ambient piece consisting solely of piano and swirling guitars that echoes like a song lost in a cave.
Besides Hawley’s talent to pen a great tune, it’s the production that makes Coles Corner as well as his other albums so successful. Where others might make Coles Corner sound merely nostalgic, Hawley lifts directly from his influences without seeming like a thief, putting a fresh spin on classic songwriting while making each song his very own.
by Justin Weingartner