Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Shins - Wincing the Night Away

I guess I'm slightly late to writing about the new Shins album Wincing the Night Away that recently leaked (about a week ago) like a sieve that had been blasted with a shotgun. I got it off OiNK and have listened to the album twice. I read all the comments on stereogum which ran the gamut from "life changing" to "mediocre." Pretty much all of the comments bothered me on some degree.
How did music come to this? What I mean is the inability to adequately judge albums on their own merit (or lack thereof). Here is the scenario I'm referring to: Band comes out with debut LP. LP is praised as changing the face of music as we have known it. Band tours as saviors. Band goes back into studio with extremely high expectations. Band toils endlessly for months or years honing their sound and writing another 12 songs. Finally, LP #2 comes out to eager fans. The album is either: A) More of the same great music, but more finely tuned B) A different direction but executed perfectly C) A different direction but kinda "out there" D) Dreadful.

These have all happened to bands that made great music. Unfortunately we've entered the Age of the Single, Internet leaking, and rediculous scrutiny. Would someone say to The Who or Led Zeppelin back in the day and say, "yah know guys, it's all sounding great, but kinda the same...and that sucks." It just wouldn't happen. Today, if a band does something the same but exceptionally well the reviewers say "They're playing it safe. Even though it sounds good, they're not evolving as a band or trying new things to step out of their comfort zone and create something new and exciting." OR "The band has taken too many risks and gotten away from what they produced so well on their last effort. It's as if they didn't know they had something great sitting in their musical lap, and went forward trying to show off and take down Music. It's all sounding pompous and should stick to what they do best." This is the state of Pop music...unless you're Kanye West, in which case everything you do is safe from criticism.

Think about the bands that have yet to release anticipated Sophomore efforts: Bloc Party, Arcade Fire, The Shins (technically), Maroon 5, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and I could go on. All the these bands have to hit the mark perfectly to come away unscathed. You know that critics are waiting anxiously to tear them to shreds and call them out as only having one great album in their tank. I hope they all knock it out of the park. Why would I want to listen to mediocre or crappy music from some of my favorite bands? This is the definition of a Catch-22. Which is better and less damning; a new direction that might "scare" fans or the same great stuff but lacking any real musical growth?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tuesday's 2

The guy that reviewed this album for Pitchfork pretty much panned it and gave it an arbitrary 5.9. Personally, Pitchfork has turned for the worst. Although this is a different topic entirely here is my mini-soapbox rant: I remember when Pitchfork was just starting out. A friend would always rave about finding new music through them about 5 years ago. Since this time, they have gotten so much smoke blown up their asses that their writers feel obligated to write about anything and everything unrelated to the music they’re supposedly reviewing. Welcome to highbrow writing in its most esoteric form. They’re constantly trying to prove how smart they are and 98% of the time forget to say what the band sounds like. I used to blindly follow their ratings and buy albums site unheard, until they slowly began getting a lot wrong. You may ask, “how can an opinion be wrong about something aesthetic?” but as far as I’m concerned their ratings now deserve a 0.439, anyway...

What Made Milwaukee Famous aren't from Milwaukee or Wisconsin nor are they famous...yet. In fact, they're a byproduct of the burgeoning indie music scene in Austin, Texas. The band is comprised of Jeremy Bruch (drums), John Farmer (bass), Michael Kingcaid (vocals/guitar), and Drew Patrizi (keyboards). They came together a scant 3 years ago in 2003 and quickly shot onto the Indie-dar with a performance next to Franz Ferdinand at Austin City Limits while still be an unsigned act (unprecedented). They also performed at SXSW (South by Southwest) as home-town favs.

This album, Trying to Never Catch Up, is actually a remastered re-release of their 2004 debut. There are four additional tracks and the same cover art in blue instead of red. The album begins with an electronic drum beat and taser-like keyboard glissando up and back down which continues through most of the song. WMMF definitely have a unique sound. They are equally at home with this hodgepodge of rock with minor electronic elements or singer-songwriter rock of "The Jeopardy of Contentment." The standout tracks are: the aforementioned “Jeopardy,” “Hellodrama,” and the title track.

I enjoyed this album from WMMF. I heard them perform live on Morning Becomes Eclectic and had a great vibe over the live airwaves. For a new band they're still finding the sound that fits them best, but they have a lot of great options. §

The Decemberists have been making their brand of indie rock since 2002 fronted by Colin Meloy (and his creative writing degree), backed by Ezra Holbrook (drums), Nate Query (upright bass), Jenny Conlee (accordion), and Chris Funk (pedal steel guitar). The band is often compared to the incomparable Neutral Milk Hotel if not only for their sound but poetic lyrics. The albums prior to this major label debut were Castaways and Cutouts, Her Majesty, and Picaresque which were all released on the Kill Rock Stars label. The Crane Wife is with their new people at Capitol Records. Luckily for us listeners they didn't sacrifice themselves on the Altar of Shame before the feet of a major label. Meaning, Capitol let them make the album they wanted to without telling them how to go about doing it.

According to AMG (All Music Guide) "The Crane Wife is loosely based on a Japanese folk tale that concerns a crane, an arrow, a beautiful woman, and a whole lot of clandestine weaving." If this ins't intriguing and make you talk to yourself outloud then you need to get out of your musical coma. Just because this sounds like thinking-man's music doesn't mean it's inaccessible. On the contrary, The Decemberists bring you into their world with melodic folk-tinged pop. Examples of their poppier side are the opener The Crane Wife, Pt. 3, or Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then). Whereas fans of more ambitious tunes that show musicians at their most daring and dynamic will love the extended songs The Island, Come And See, The Landlord's Daughter, You'll Not Feel The Drowning (12:26), and The Crane Wife, Pts. 1 & 2 (11:19). Overall, The Decemberists score another success while turning to the Indie Dark Side of signing with a major label. Some bands can make it work and while other have their sound put through finishing school (losing their edge). This album shows The Decemberists are going to keep doing what they've been doing for 4 albums now.