Friday, June 22, 2012

What's New?: 6.22.2012

Sigur Rós — Valtari (2012)
To be honest, I thought they were done.  I thought Inni was the end.  It certainly had an air finality about it.  Með Suð had a sense about it as well.  It was definitely the band's most produced affair.  And something about a song of theirs being sung (finally) in English appearing last on that album just had something about that seemed to say "resignation" along with it.  And yet, here we are.  It's four years later and we have new Sigur Rós album.  The "big" aspects played up on Með Suð are mostly gone — along with the shiny uber pop uptempo numbers.  Indeed, this is Sigur Rós more in their Svigaplatan mode than either of their previous two albums.  Only 'Rembihnútur', with its jubilant build recalls slightly something from Takk (and, in an extremely cool move, the percussive ending on the vinyl ends in an infinite lock groove, looped right on beat, so you may not notice it right away — the CD mix is much different with an abrupt fade-out).  The second half of the album begins with 'Dauðalogn' — a choral hymn to the group's homeland.  It's all rather good and therapeutic-sounding, actually.  And then, brilliance occurs.  Sigur Rós, as the c. 1984 Brian Eno discovered ambient masters that some of us had envisioned them as all along, emerges.  'Varðeldur' (actually just a re-recording of last year's 'Lúppulagið') is exceptional — and furthermore, a brilliant lead off into a series of flat out beautiful tracks that I certainly didn't expect.  There are no lead vocals for the last twenty two of the album's fifty four minutes — brave.  I can't even think of the words that describe the sheer beautiful gloom of these last moments.  It's a bold move by a band that had nothing to prove.  And yet, here they are.  I honestly wish they had just done the most subtle middle finger ever and done an entirely ambient record.  Proving once again why they are one of the best ever.  Really excellent.

The Waterboys — s/t EP (1983)
I guess this was an America-only release, grabbing the best tracks from the band's first album.  I have to admit, I took the Waterboys as very much a second tier act for many years.  Not sure why that is — sometimes you just see a band's records and you judge them, that's all.  Well, it's my mistake once again, because these boys are fantastic.  Initially, just based on the overall sound of the first three tracks here, they strike me as a more folky Echo and the Bunnymen.  Yes, to be completely clear, that is a damned desirable comparison coming from me.  Beginning with 'December' is when things hit a note of uniqueness for me.  I mean, wow.  That's closer to the Chameleons than anything I've heard since. . . well, since the Chameleons.  Final track 'Savage Earth Heart' is honestly one of the best songs I've come across in a while.  Glorious new wave ideal, filtered through a folkie's brain.  Hero.  If these five tracks are the best things from that first album, I'm expecting a total masterpiece, if I ever happen to find that one.

The Waterboys — A Pagan Place (1984)
It's good — just a little overproduced.  'Red Army Blues' is clearly the highlight.  And it's a poignant piece of then-relevant political commentary, taken from a very unlikely point of view.  A very brave move, considered when this was recorded.  The rest of the album's songs are pleasant, if not a little stagnant.  There's no less passion involved (as displayed by the title track) but the songs just aren't as good overall.  Still a darn fine record.

The Waterboys — Fisherman's Blues (1989)
And Mike and his revolving cast finally go properly folk rock and the results kick butt and take names.  Seriously, if you're into it after the lead off title track, just go home and read the dictionary.  Because you obviously have no soul.  The rest of the album is a defying leap into the world of the acoustic at a time when that was anything but cool for an "alternative" band.  The very next track sounds like possibly u2's wet dream at the time.  Jeez, it's good.  'And a Bang on the Ear' was actually the single from this album, if you can believe that.  I mean, it's a totally good song.  But imagine that being considered alongside Love and Rockets.  Strangely awesome.  The album closes with the flat out excellent 'The Strange Child' and after a short jam on 'This Land is Your Land', it's all done.  I scooped a 12" single for 'Bang on the Ear' with this, which has a live rendition of the 'Raggle Taggle Gypsy' (apparently a song the band's only ever played live).  The deal sweetens.

William Ackerman — Passage (1981)
A little disappointed in this one.  It's actually just digitally re-recorded songs from his previous three albums, with some new ones tossed in.  Granted, the new stuff is just as good as ever, it's just that it's more musicians involved in those tunes.  And I feel like Will is best when he's alone.  Of the new tunes, there is one solo and it's the title track.  A wonderful tune that recalls The Turtle's Navel, if I might say.  Otherwise, it's stuff that's decidedly overcooked or that you've already heard before (in better performance, too).  Certainly not awful if you liked his previous albums, but nowhere near as good as any of them.

General Public — All the Rage (1984)
Dance, suckers!  Like your life depended on it!  Of course, this was Dave Wakeling's initial kick back against the break up of the Beat and it has one of the greatest pop singles of the 80's on it.  I mean, jeez, that thing is 'Just Like Heaven' status, isn't it?  Play it anywhere, anytime and folks are equally liable to dance as they are to burst out in tears.  Fantastic.  I guess Mick Jones was supposed to be a full time member of the band, but that fell through (although his guitar work appears on a good portion of this album).  It essentially sounds like the next Beat album.  Where Special Beat Service hinted at an especially new wave, slightly jangle pop-informed evolution of the band, General Public just relished in that direction.  It's pure pop; no mistakes about that.  But, it's rather good.  'Never You Done That' is not that far removed from the Cure's synth-oriented singles of the time, while 'Where's the Line?' sounds exactly like the Beat.  This is top tier new wave.  I actually get vibes of New Order at the time, if you can imagine that.  Just top gear.  Excellent.


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