The Mountain Goats – Transcendental Youth
John Darnielle can be a frustrating dude. The highs are high: 2005’s “The Sunset Tree”stands tall as a bonafide masterpiece, but the lows are just as low – try the heavy handed 2009’s “The Life of the World to Come” if you’re curious. It seems that every other Mountain Goats record hits a high note. Last year’s “All Eternals Deck” was fine, but it doesn’t come close to the mastery of their latest, “Transcendental Youth”.
In the two distinct eras of this band – the pre-2002 low-fi boombox recordings and the subsequent studio recordings, Darnielle’s catalog is a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. There’s a startling emotional undercurrent to his work, and here it clicks perfectly.
Horns are all over the album, from the upbeat ‘Cry for Judas’ to the meditative dirge of ‘White Cedar’. It’s lovely, lush with it’s perfectly timed swells. Followed by the acoustic ‘Until I Am Whole’ it creates a great compliment to the previous track’s delicateness. ‘The Diaz Brothers’ is a propellant number that’s akin to Mountain Goats classics like ‘This Year’ and ‘Dance Music’, and the title track has a horn intro that wouldn’t be out of place in a fifties sitcom.
Unlike some of it’s predecessors, none of the elements of ”Transcendental Youth” are overbearing. That’s plagued some of their previous albums. Every arrangement is carefully chosen. There’s no ‘square peg in a round hole’ effect that comes with some of Darnielle’s songwriting. This album plays like a hits collection from the studio-recorded era of this band.
“Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive,” advises Darnielle at the beginning of ‘Amy (aka Spent Gladiator 1)’. Those are pretty wise words. Maybe with album after album that’s what he was doing.
This time, he got it right.
The Men – Open Your Heart
There’s something special about a group that entirely shifts their sound from one record to another. Brooklyn-based The Men are one of those bands. With their new record, Open Your Heart, it’s apparent that it’s miles away from 2010′s Immaculada and last year’s Leave Home both in sonics and songcraft.
Tuneage instead of tonnage is the real story here. For the uninitiated, the prior two albums were variants of blue-in-the-face scuzz rock, low on songcraft and high on volume. (Stuff not for the faint at heart, but if you want to try it, “Night Landing” will surely be disorienting.) Their latest is anything but. They have have ditched that formula for something way more basic, and brawnier. There’s no better example than the album’s title track, a Let It Be-era Replacements cataclysm. Strong on hooks, pleading vocals and an earworm of a bass line, there’s no reason it’s not a song-of-the-year candidate. “Turn It Around,” the album opener, is four minutes of fist pumping heroism and an undeniable show-opener. “I wanna…” choruses and wild soloing will ignite crowds everywhere. Then there’s the oddly named “Country Song,” which sounds more like incidental music from Friday Night Lights than it’s namesake. (“Candy,” which comes later on the album would be more aptly named.)
What’s most impressive about this album may not be the songs themselves. It might be the fact that the band that created it was able to turn out a release so confident in a sound that is nothing like they’ve released before. It also leaves those to wonder what’s next for The Men. They’re a band that’s yet to peak, and every record they’ve made is a fine example of that. Open Your Heart isn’t just a clever title. It’s a request.
Sitting here present day, considering all of the world’s issues or movements, if you will, and I can’t help but feel inundated. I admit that I have not watched the KONY 2012 video, paid much attention to the Treyvon Martin controversy or even vested myself much in this year’s election. I feel overwhelmed instead of outraged. I don’t think I need to give myself up to something. I don’t think it’s complacency either. I just want nothing to do with the flood of information that’s coming my way.
It’s become unpopular to rest in the margins and take this in as a casual observer. Yes, I’m aware of what’s happening in my world, but I’m choosing not to be a part of it. I don’t think that makes me like everyone else. Listening to myself more then ever is not a bad thing. It’s the unpopular thing. I like to learn. But I never like to do it from one source. I’m a firm believer that the best thing you can do is educate yourself from a variety of sources. To never be too trusting of one outlet is the best thing you can do for yourself.
We’ve hit this saturation point where opinion becomes fact when it’s wrapped up in an aesthetically pleasing package. News outlets rely on us to do their jobs for them through social media. How many times have you seen news networks encourage viewers to send in their ‘iReports’ or some other similarly-named submissions? It’s a disrespect to the profession that I went to school for.
Opinion becomes fact rather quickly when it’s wrapped up in an aesthetically pleasing package. I just wish more people paid attention to that. Everything seems to matter now, and we’re all expected to ACT NOW when something outrageous happens. Who has the time for it all? Excuse me for sounding selfish, but having my hands in everything is something I wish I had the capacity for. It’s a burden I cannot bear, at least for now.
Today I spent some time recording the Griffin Technology GuitarConnect Cable for iPhone, iPod, and iPad. I’ve always been a documentarian. If there was a way to record it, I’d do it. I have family movies far past the age that they’re cute, journals from when I was six, and songs. Songs I made with my friends when we were in high school. I’d record every practice, bum song attempt, and final product. But it’s all there. Rudimentary, because it really was just a computer microphone set up in the center of the room with Windows Sound Recorder. It’s also made me think about how things are done these days.
While software did exist, it was expensive and certainly wasn’t bundled with a home computer. I started taking guitar lessons again recently, so ideas for songs casually enter my mind. I’ve started a project as an attempt at taking power chords and finding a way to bash them together into recognition. Instead of buying a variety of amplifiers, I can plug my guitar into my computer and try out hundreds. I can take a simple sound and craft it into something else right from my bedroom. This certainly is no new thing, but it never ceases to amaze me when I sit down and tinker in GarageBand.
Lucero – Women & Work
Lucero are on a hot streak. While they’ve made dependable records with tracks that absolutely slay, it wasn’t until 2009′s 1372 Overton Park did they create an album that fully combined their rough-hewn songcraft with hooks that last for days. Punctuated by Memphis horns and Ben Nichols signature rasp, the record was nothing short of an instant classic, and this year’s Women & Work expounds on the work the last record started. “Downtown (Intro)” is a great table setter for the pulsating “On My Way Downtown”. Singer/guitarist Ben Nichols showcases his sandy croon on the drowsy balladeering of “When I Was Young”, later followed by the ragtime rave-up “Like Lightning”, this album’s best entry into their already impressive canon.
Unlike many of their roots-punk contemporaries, Lucero has had a half-decade head start in record making. With that, they’ve accomplished something rare in the genre: shaving down the rough edges of their material without actually sounding like it. It’s a tribute to the band’s decade-and-a-half together, showing that after all this time, they’re actually just getting started.
Sort of a mixed bag today.
I ate here.
I received this in the mail.
I purchased these.
I helped set up one of these at a friend’s.
That was my Wednesday.