Monday, June 22, 2009

Music reviews

Prior to this famine, my economic boom funded a lot of uncharacteristically expansive spending. One particular area for my extravagance was music. And though the party is indeed over, I’m still merrily continuing this indulgence. Listening to music has always been enjoyable, usually with a taste for the esoteric, dark or extreme. Here, I’ll review a few of my recent purchases:

Portishead, Third

Until this purchase, I only possessed one single, burnt, live album. Paradoxically, it is one of my favourites. My penchant for dark music is deep and the lead singer, Beth Gibson, must have had extraordinary pain in her life, for what else could she be channelling when she sings? If it is all a pretence, then she is simply extraordinary. And if it be from a truly dark vein of her being, then we should all buy the records for her psychotherapy.

Though Portishead, admittedly, doesn’t have that much variety in tone (only one song is any from the respite of intense blues, purples and greys: a ukulele song in the middle!), they innovate constantly and texture each song further and further; deeper and deeper. The sound is rich and you can feel yourself easily getting lost in it.

Bristol is their hometown; and should I go to the United Kingdom, I’d have to do a pilgrimage there. Massive Attack and Tricky, whom I adore, both originate there. A lot of the music of all three has an underlying bleakness and austerity. Opening the Third CD case, the tone is minimal with an electric dark blue tinting an urban scene with powerlines draping across. The picture on the back shows Beth, seemingly overwrought with sadness, microphone in hand, while her bandmates are at their instruments at their stations completely unaffected.

Overall, it is a darkly beautiful album. For me, it is one song too long; even I have my limits and the last song was probably the song that was most similar to their previous work, and broke from direly true to drearily despairing. I might just have to get their other two albums, though.

The Eels, Hombre Lobo

The Eels are a favourite of mine, and one of the musicians that I boast almost every recording. Much of the music has an autobiographical tendency and as such comes through as some of the most genuine, touching music you’ll ever hear. I was a little disappointed for the record and happy for him: there seems to be no more demons for him to exorcise and the album seems to be just him having fun and making music. It disappoints me in that without the emotional depths of the other albums, it leaves the music to speak for itself; and the music isn’t that original. It sounds like his previous work or him imitating other singers. There are a couple of songs which have sustained themselves through repeated listens, but others urge me to skip them. And it is not that they’re anything bad, just that they don’t inspire the listen to listen any closer.

Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest

Grizzly Bear was one of the two bands that I heard on the terrifically good Australian radio station, Triple-R, that compelled me to buy. The song I heard was what I’d only call abstract folk, a folkish sound and instruments yet the vocalist set about being an instrument veering close to incoherence and sometimes singing in a fragile yet crisp clear words. The album I bought, at the brilliant Polyester Records on Brunswick no less, was Yellow House, thus named as it was recorded in a yellow house. My first listens were difficult, I recall; but then after returning home and properly listening to it unlocked a door to wonder. It had such a rich sound! The complete set of lyrics are written on the centre of the CD case, showing that the words are few, but repeated, rhythmically and with permutation. It was true listening music. The timing of their second release was perfect: I would buy anything from them.

Veckatimest, incidentally the name of the town they recorded in, on first listen disappointed me. They had discarded the folk sound of Yellow House completely in favour of more modern rock instrumentation. But the ethos remained the same: the voice is the richest instrument of all, winding its way through the sound and bursting through with sparks and, occasionally, ferocity. The lead singer is more audible but the songs are just as theatrical and non-standard. It is the perfect accompaniment to a winter’s day on the couch, in a sun beam.

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