Friday, June 13, 2008

Stephen Fretwell's Man On the Roof and other recent purchases.

A little history before I get fully into my thoughts on this album: I saw Stephen play an opening set for Feist about two years ago at the tiny
Great Basin pub in Sparks promoting the American release of his first album Magpie (which had been out in Europe since 2004) and I had never heard the guy before. When the host of the evening introduced him as being 'all the way from Manchester England' I was paying intently close attention. To shorten the story, he blew me away. Anybody who can stand up in front of a group of people and just sing and play his guitar and still be able to absolutely captivate those people and, especially, keep me interested for the entire duration deserves my keenest of listening ears (Feist was good too... haha). So, I went out and bought Magpie the very next day. It was and still is awesome. I'm far from a singer/songwriter/contemporary folk fan, but I really felt like I found the one of those variety that was fine tuned for my ears. Fast forward a couple of years. He puts out a new record and, not to my surprise at all, it isn't released in America. Because, at the time of this writing, it still hasn't seen a US release, I waited about eight months impatiently hoping. I couldn't wait any longer and finally picked up the British import this past week. Initially, I thought, 'Well, that first album was a fluke after all' as a sort of nod to Holly's cynical resistance of Mr. Fretwell and my particular fondness for him. I certainly didn't expect the brief squalling feedback that opens the album on 'Coney' and I initially hated the song. Halfway through the album and I was just about ready to shut it off, but then I thought that was unfair. I took to Magpie pretty quickly because I recognized about half of the songs from his live set and, with Man On the Roof, I had no touchstones or foundations to take off from. Well, it took three front to back listens before I found myself singing '...and the band plays BOOM-CHA-CHA BOOM-CHAA and the night draws in...' and I realized that, oh SHIT, this album is pretty fucking great. 'Darlin' Don't' and 'Bumper Cars' are straight out of the Magpie sessions to my ears, while other full band works like 'She' 'Dead' and 'Sleep' find Stephen looking for a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. And that would be my one complaint: while Magpie felt like a series of fond recollections (perhaps bittersweet, but fond nonetheless), this album feels like a downright sad breakup record. But, who knows, I like that sort of melancholy sad bastard shit. I'm such a dork for liking music that resonates. Can't say if I like it better than Magpie, but it does feel more complete and all around more accomplished and reassured initially. I am so down with this record.

Al Green — Lay it Down (2008)
I feel lucky, as it seems like I can't buy bad music these days. Questlove from the Roots had been talking about recording this album for the past two years on the message boards and I was honestly surprised to see it actually materialize. I was skeptical when I first saw that Questlove and right hand man James Poyser were purposely making a throwback record to sound like Al's classic albums from the 70's on Hi Records with Willie Mitchell. But, you know what? I can't even front like that. This is a gorgeous album. And why shouldn't Al Green make a classic Al Green album? His last classic album was roughly thirty years ago, so I'd say he's due for another. I can't even comprehend how good this record is. I hate to do this sort of thing, but i don't forsee anything that's on deck for the rest of this year competeing with this album. Unless that new Maxwell comes out (not bloody fuckin' likely, mate! © Johnny Marr). It's albums like this that come along and and then you really realize how bad contemporary music really is.

Luscious Jackson — In Search of Manny (1992)
I'm not even into LJ like that, but I've always liked this little EP. It's everything that's great about them packed into a nice little cohesive, concise package. I've had it before, but traded it in. Nice to able to re-acquire things like this.

The Cure — The Only One/NY Trip (2008)
Yeah, so I had 'The Only One' on bootleg from live performances last year, but the studio recording has revealed itself to be a rather nice, classic sounding Cure single. By the third or fourth listen, I have to admit, I was rather excited. 'NY Trip' is the typically strong Cure b-side by this point. It feels like the noisiness they tried for (and failed at) with the last album has finally been conquered and they are actually good at incorpoating that sort of thing into the songs again. A very good single.

The Cure — Freakshow/All Kinds of Stuff (2008)
Well, this is why us Cure fans are so cynical of you, Bob. The a-side here is absolutely trite piece of gimmicky wank. I mean, I understand that the Cure has always been a little toung-in-cheek, but come on! The b-side is more noisy, aggro stuff and it's not bad in comparison to 'Freakshow', but pretty mediocre overall. A very disappointing single.

Electronic — Raise the Pressure (1996)
I don't know. One listen through and it felt like every song was either a New Order throwaway or a Smiths throwaway (insults recognized and intended). The first one didn't strike me right away either, though. And now I like it quite a bit for a side-project-y sort of thing. We'll see on this one, but on one full listen, I thought it was somewhat forced.

I've been buying a lot of new music lately. That's a quite unusual thing for me.

But I have been reading Mark Burgess' wonderful autobiography View From A Hill and, in addition to all my Chameleons records, it has prompted me to play the Sun and the Moon's one and only album quite a bit lately. That's a lost classic if such a thing even exists.

See you soon.


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