Sunday, August 26, 2012

Down at the Roller Rink and Tonality*Star

My unnamed friend responsible for last year's To My: Long Lost Love album is back about, creating more melancholy bedroom pop.  He's been busy, as in the last few months, he's released not one, but two new albums.  The puzzle is closer to completion, with these two works seemingly finalizing a trilogy.

The first of the two is titled Down at the Roller Rink.  Judging from the cover photo above and the album's contents, it's based on a romance that was berthed and solidified at the old Oaks Park Roller Rink in Portland.  Being that I have my own fond, yet blurry, childhood memories of visiting the skating rink as a child, it figures that this album is an automatic emotional connection for me.  Where To My: Long Lost Love was a stark, borderline bitter, in-the-moment capturing of pure feeling, Down at the Roller Rink is more reflective, more appreciative of the past.  It has just as much of a feeling to it of one guy sitting alone with his thoughts, but there's just more of a brightness to some of the material here.  The title track, which awesomely features the narrator playing the rink's vintage Wurlizter organ, is a floating waltz homage to both the previously mentioned lost love and the overall youthful atmosphere that burgeoning love produces (and that places like roller rinks facilitate).  This album is just as unified as To My: Long Lost Love, but it is a lot stronger in the diversity department, as a handful of the album's tracks feature a full band backing.  The best of which, and also the album's highlight, is the mildly 'Boys Don't Cry'-ish 'I Fell in Love.'  Sure, it's just as lo-fi as anything else on here, but it's so good, to say it sounds like a Belle and Sebastian demo feels like it would be unfair to both sides.  'The Star' seems to be intended as the album's centerpiece and it definitely feels like the most soul-wrenching thing this musician has yet recorded.  A building synth symphony that finds our narrator practically screaming "You are the star, yes you are" in the middle portion only to invite his muse in the conclusion to, "Shine your light on me, make me believe."  It's so venerable and bare, I have hard time not, at the very least, admiring the earnestness of the whole thing.  Just so happens there's catchy tunes going on as well.  For all the more fleshed out, more produced moments on tunes like 'How Lonely' and the nearly arena-worthy 'What's it's Worth', I have to admit that I prefer the more sparse material that recalls To My: Long Lost Love.  Side one piano ballad closer 'Woman of Wonder' wobbles along dreamily like a reflection on disrupted pond water, while 'Just Like Ghosts' closes out the album much the way 'What Do I Do With You' did on To My: Long Lost Love, with a slightly folky, mildly bouncy little strummer.  Like To My: Long Lost Love, the album clocks in at around twenty five minutes, but also like its predecessor, it feels like a world unto itself.  A small, dimly lit corridor whose walls contain intriguing bookshelves of countless unfamiliar volumes and large intricate paintings that we, as the visitors, are only allowed to scan briefly before being urged to move on.  It's a wondrous album that doesn't demand repeat listens as much as it does romance the listener into them.  Charmingly naive and fascinatingly catchy, I dare to say it's even better than To My: Long Lost Love.

It's pressed on gorgeously heavy, 45rpm crimson/purple/magenta/maroon splatter vinyl:

Try shooting an email off to this address if you would like to buy one:

The revelation inside the album's notes is information this time, besides titles.  Not only are there lyrics printed on an insert, but actual musician credits.  Granted, these might be all pseudonyms, but the one big reveal here is that the album is credited to have been "produced and written" by the handle Tonality*Star.

And now we have something!

The self-titled album by Tonality*Star is a drastic change in direction, musically speaking.  The heavier reliance on keyboards and the likeable melodramatic tone on Down at the Roller Rink (exemplified on songs like 'How Lonely') is explored for eleven songs and our narrator's so-far longest endeavor to date.  The booming drum machines, programmed MIDI-synths and lush, dreamy atmospheres conjured up here are nothing short of a musician truly finding peace at the end of an emotionally taxing journey.  Granted, the songs here are just as yearning, just as lovelorn and just as gorgeously melancholy as before.  But there's a sense of finality and inner peace here that is downright redemptive and rewarding as hell.  'I See You' is most representative of either of his two previous albums, while the rest of the album strikes an optimistically revisionary chord like on 'Be Happy With Me.'  Throughout the whole thing, I'm reminded very much —in the best possible way, thank you very much— of stuff like the Postal Service, for a more recent example.  But truly, the whole thing has a technology-obsessed mission to create lo-fi heartbroken synth-anthems.  The best of New Order's deep album cuts, Depeche Mode's Vince Clarke-less second album, and mostly, the Cure's incredible 1982 and '83 b-sides are a very clear inspiration here.  'Over and Over' is such a wonderfully longing piece of modern synth pop.  And, let's get this out of the way right now: I'm a guitar fan, plain and simple.  And yet, following this story and getting to this album as an evolution, I can't help but feel the pure connection here between listener and creator.  Whether it's the surreal 'Dreams and Fantasies' or the Bowie-aping highlight 'Heart and Soul,' everything here feels very much like an author tying up all the loose ends in their blockbuster series.  The tunes are perhaps Tonality*Star's best crafted thus far, as even though they are presented in a very much synth-pop revival fashion, there's a sad, but genuine and danceably relateable aspect to them that recalls the best pop music from generations past, without being sentimental.

You can stream or purchase —which I highly recommend— the Tonality*Star album here.

Unarguably strong and heartfelt pop music.

The more I play it, the better it gets.

Not a whole lot you can say that about these days.


Monday, August 20, 2012

What's New?: 8.20.2012

Still playing that good old catch up game. Shout to Grassroots, once again, for a good chunk of this update. . .

Kenny Burrell —Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane (1958)

Can't believe I didn't already have this one.  I've certainly had the chance to buy it on numerous previous occasions.  Trane didn't record with guitarists very often, so it's a unique one in terms of his catalogue.  And it's great to hear Kenny Burrell inspiring him to dig down and get soulful with his playing.  The classic rhythm team of Paul Chambers (bass) and the always amazing Jimmy Cobb (drums) is assisted here by the great Tommy Flanagan on piano, so the whole thing is just a meeting of giants.  The ballad 'Why Was I Born?' is a duet between Kenny and John and it's a good one.  The super easy and groovin' Tommy Flanagan original 'Big Paul' closes the album on a downright badass note (check out Trane's long solo — it's almost like he's laughing at how good Jimmy Cobb is!).  When Kenny finally enters for his solo nearly eight minutes in, the groove has hit simmer and it's just a masterpiece.  The whole thing is just about as classic as it can get for this style and time period.  Really excellent music.  This generous person put the entire album up to stream, check it out.

Kenny Burrell — Blue Lights Volume One (1958)

Recorded about a month after the above album, this was definitely a Blue Note affair.  Amongst the band here are definitely players that were known as Blue Note artists: Art Blakey on drums, Duke Jordan on piano and the one and only (and criminally underrated) Tina Brooks on tenor.  As the title implies, this is a heavily bluesy affair, which makes sense, as it's essentially a jam session caught on tape.  An interesting tune here is the long, album closing workout 'I Never Knew.'  It's of note because Kenny had just recorded it on the album discussed above in a much more soul jazz groove.  The version here swings a lot harder and it's interesting to hear what Tina Brooks (one of Trane's forgotten peers) does with his solo.  Good stuff.  The Andy Warhol cover art is pretty "groovy man." 

R.E.M. — Eponymous (1980's)

Darn good hits collection.  It's got all the reasons why R.E.M. got so popular in the 80's: 'So. Central Rain', 'Fall on Me', 'The One I Love' and 'It's the End of the World as We Know it.'  The draw here for me as a huge fan are the four rarities: the even more garagey original recording of 'Radio Free Europe', the secondary take on 'Gardening at Night' where Michael Stipe nearly shouts his vocals, the "Mutual Drum Horn Mix" of 'Finest Worksong' that indeed adds a big cheesy 80's horn section and the otherwise unissued (at least at that point) 'Romance.'  Good stuff.  I can't imagine how overwhelmed I would be if this was my first time hearing some of these songs.

Chris Isaak — Silvertone (1985)

Very easy at this point to just write Chris Isaak off as a one hit wonder.  A borderline crooner that managed to make a career out of one incredible song.  But what a lot of us snobs like to ignore is that the guy had been recording since the mid-80's.  And yeah, those first couple albums?  Totally great the whole way through.  Yeah, he sounds like Roy Orbison and Elvis vocally, but the musical backing here is a jangly, understated 80's update of the best aspects of those two icons.  There's an incredible melodrama present, especially on this first album, that some people might hear as cheesy, but that I hear as an instance of how the infamous 80's production sheen could actually make someone sound entirely unique, despite clear as day influences.  'Back on Your Side' and 'Another Idea' are just a magically jangly numbers that somehow manage to validly conjure up images of Roy Orbison in equal measure with the Smiths.  'Funeral in the Rain' even manages to sound vaguely Cure-ish (!), while 'Gone Ridin' seems like the jumping off point for Morrissey's excursions into faux-rockabilly.  I can't even convey how much butt this album kicks.  Seriously, play 'Dancin' for anybody who doubts you when you say you like Chris Isaak (because, after hearing this album, you should).  Beneath it all, there is a base of that good ol' twang, which keeps it all grounded and human.  The pedal steel-laden ballad 'Western Stars' should be a good indicator of this.  Man, it's good.

Chris Isaak — Chris Isaak (1987)

Basically just a reassertion of the first album.  There's nothing here that stands out like anything from the first album, but it hangs together a lot stronger in the bigger picture.  It's a bit darker in overall mood, highlighted by the single 'Blue Hotel.'  'Waiting for the Rain to Fall', despite being the album closer, is actually my favorite tune here.  But the whole thing's great.  It's perhaps a little less rockabilly-revival-ish than the first album is (if Silvertone can even have that tag thrown at it), but in place of that, it's even more jangly.  Which is just a complete win for me.  Check out 'Lie to Me' while you're at it.  That's a good one too.  Again: the whole album is strong.  I've gotten into Chris Isaak previously, but I ditched him because of my own snobby inhibitions.  This time, I can see clearly.

Kenny Burrell — Blues-The Common Ground (1968)

Kenny Burrell in his Verve prime hitting a perhaps predictable note.  Horn charts and arrangements by Don Sebesky are definitely in the Creed Taylor mold of the time, so the band is not really allowed to let loose very much here.  Kenny's up front the entire time and his solos are pretty much as good as always, it's just those big horn blasts mid solo that rub me the wrong way. A surprise cover of Buffalo Springfield's 'Everydays' kicks off the album, while the acid jazz of 'Burning Spear' gets funky funky.  While elsewhere, Kenny explores his thoughtful side on the solo 'Were You There?' and the closing ballad 'Sausalito Nights.'  It's not a total wash, as Kenny plays with his heart the entire time, but those larger arrangements do begin to grate after a while.

Kenny Burrell — Blue Bash! (1963)

Kenny and the godfather of soul jazz himself (that would be one very incredible Mr. Jimmy Smith on organ) getting down to it and meaning it.  It's all quartets here, with Kenny and Jimmy taking the leads.  Plenty of soulful licks here; just check out 'Travelin' for some serious business.  The boys' take on 'Fever' is almost laughably good, while the ballad 'Easy Living' is as bluesy and beautiful as they come.  The album closing rendition of 'Kenny's Sound' is in favorable contrast to the version recorded for Kenny's Blue Note session the same year, just on the basis of the sparseness of this recording.  The bonus tracks on this 1999 reissue present the majority of the album in alternate takes, nearly doubling the running time (the highlight of which is the considerably longer take on 'Easy Living').  Early soul jazz at its best.  Hard to go wrong here.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

What's New?: 8.19.2012

Still catching up. Partial thanks to Grassroots. . .

Bob Dylan — Slow Train Coming (1979)

Certainly not Bob's best piece of work here.  I quite liked his previous album Street Legal because Bob's sense of simple, but hauntingly melodic tunes was still around.  This is infamously his first "born again" album and it just seems more about the words than the tunes.  The musical backing is very much in a late 70's slick studio production mode.  I thought, considering Mark Knopfler plays on it, that this album would be musically awesome.  Instead, it's just really MOR.  A lot of the songs end up sounding pretty similar because of this.  Mark Knopfler's playing is immediately recognizable and Bob's phrasing in his singing seems to be a little influenced by Mark.  The lyrics are predictable ('When he Returns') and sometimes embarrassing ('Man Gave Names to All the Animals'), but the album highlight 'Precious Angel' is the one time when Bob actually sounds like he means what he's saying.  All of Bob's 70's albums post-Blood on the Tracks all seem a little lost, but none more than this one.

The Beatles — Past Masters (1960's)

The Beatles have been impressed upon me —pretty much all of my life— as the original "album" band.  I knew there were lots of non-album singles and I thought I had the best ones on either this album or this one for years, so I just dismissed this set.  When I finally went for it, I thought I was confirmed in my procrastination for all those years when the first track is an inferior single mix of  'Love Me Do.'  Glad I stuck around though, because the rest of disc one plays like a damn good 60's pop album.  Granted, I could also have done without the German versions of 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' and 'She Loves You' but literally the rest of the fifteen tracks on disc one were new to me, in some form (obviously I knew 'She Loves You' and 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' — just didn't have them in my collection).  The twelve string lead of 'I Call Your Name', the odd structure of 'I Feel Fine' and the absolutely great ballad 'Yes It Is' are highlights for me.  If nothing else, disc one knocked my socks just based on the fact at how hard the material rocks, considering when it was recorded.  Disc two is, more or less stuff I knew already.  But still, some of my favorites are there: the early folk rock of 'We Can Work it Out', the implied psychedelia of 'Rain', the more rockin' single version of 'Revolution' and the brilliant soul-influenced 'Don't Let Me Down.'  There's less stuff I didn't already know on disc two, but some good ones regardless: George's trippy 'The Inner Light', single versions of 'Get Back', 'Across the Universe' and 'Let it Be' along with 'You Know My Name (Look Up My Number)' which is just about the most esoteric thing the band did post-White Album.  Highlight of the whole thing for me.  Sorry it took me this long to finally wise up.

César Frank — Piano Music (composed 1880's/recorded 1996 by pianist Stephen Hough)

It's been a long search for César Frank music.  I picked up Leonard Berstein conducting Franck's Symphony No. 1 years ago on the cheap and have been fascinated by it ever since.  He does seem a bit reserved and conservative in retrospect, but there's always a definitely pronounced mood to whatever he writes.  The very first piece played here is 'Prélude, Choral et Fugue' and it's so good, layered with so many emotions and moments of stark beauty that I'm having a bit of a hard time expressing it beyond that.  Nothing else here really tops it in terms of sheer vision, but it's all in a very similar thoughtful mode.  The shorter pieces ('Danse Lente' and 'Les Plaintes d'une poupée') are just as good as the longer form ones and I couldn't be happier overall.  Really gorgeous and thought provoking music.  Glad to finally have a little bit more Franck around.

Prince — The Rainbow Children (2001)

Prince converts to the old JW and goes super sexy acid jazzer.  This is technically a reacquisition, but it's been so long since I ditched it, I had forgotten most of it.  At that point, it was definitely Prince's most naturally funky and soulful album in at least a decade.  And the songs were good, religious message or no.  'The Work Pt. 1' is just pure, let it loose, funked out madness.  I just can't get over how a James Brown styled groove is trying to sell me a religious conversion.  That is awesome, on so many levels.  Very next track 'Everywhere' packs so much into its three minutes and that final coda breakdown is classic Prince.  Wow, it's good.  '1+1+1 is 3' is another classic Prince groove, sounding like a 1999-era b-side.  And I'm left asking, "Wait, this is supposed to be church music?"  The last twenty four minutes of the album is taken up by three long conceptual songs.  The message is the most blatant here, but the grooves are so strong, it's easy to put them aside and just vibe on the music.  Certainly one of the stranger and inexplicably likeable albums in Prince's post-80's output.  It's good and has been reissued, buy it if you're a fan.

Illinois Jacquet — Desert Winds (1964)

Good old soul jazz from when that whole thing was really starting to jump off. If you even remotely like the early west coast "cool" sound, it would be of serious interest.  Mildly funky backbeats and straight out likeable riffs and tunes.  Nothing brilliant occurs, but it doesn't need to.  This is co-credited to Kenny Burrell and his soulful licks definitely have a way of subtle domination.  Overall, it has an implied element of early funk to it and a sense of melodicism that's to be expected from something from the Argo label at the time.  Reminds me a lot of the Ike Quebec Blue Note stuff in that respect.  Check out the title track for an idea of what I'm getting at here.  It's just really easy music to like for me.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Trembling Blue Stars — Correspondence (2011)

That the last Trembling Blue Stars recording begins with nearly six minutes of undefined ambient noise is one of the most confounding moments in the long career of Bob Wratten.  And yet, as appropriately great and triumphant as that epic twelve minute Robert Hampson ambient revision of 'Half-Light' is (retitled here 'The Light Outside'), it kicks off this farewell EP in an unpredictably predictable way. 

I only say that it's unpredictable in the way that the fanfare preceding it, advertising that it would be the last record to bare the Trembling Blue namesake, seemed to propose that Bob and the gang would have a curve ball.


Business as usual here for the Stars, as far as their album follow-up EPs go.

Some moody ambient experiments, a brilliant pop song, a cover tune, a slow acoustic number or two and we're done.

This is why they're amongst the best.

Because, you see, even when I can pick up a record a year after it was initially released (because at the time I was like, "Only 500 being pressed?  Forget it.  I don't have a chance."  Lucky, am I, it seems in the long run), understand the hype behind it being the last thing one of my favorite bands will ever do, put it on and just completely understand it, simultaneously anticipate every coming second and fear its conclusion in equal measure. . . well, that's a brilliant moment for artist and fan.

Bob Wratten's music has come to mean so much to me — whether through the Field Mice, the Yesterday Sky, Northern Picture Library, the Occasional Keepers and or indeed through his longest running handle, the Trembling Blue Stars.  He is one of the greatest songwriters and creative antennas of all time.  This EP is not unlike the EPs that have followed the Seven Autumn Flowers (Bathed In Blue) and the Last Holy Writer (Beautiful Blank).  There's a scattershot of styles tackled, but it all feels worthwhile and in line with its preceding full length (which, in this case, is 2010's Fast Trains and Telegraph Wires/Cicely Tonight_Volume One) in the best possible way.

Off the bat, 'Sunrise on Mars' strikes me as one of the greatest tunes in Bob's cannon.  It's just. . . a moment of pure, resonating pop bliss.  He actually says, "I"m never coming down.  You can't catch me now, absurd little world.  Floating above it all."  And then talks about looking forward to the sunrise on another planet.  The very next track is an Occasional Keepers reunion where he and the band dig deep to pull out an exceptional, purposely 80's-sounding cover of 'Kidney Bingos' (originally by Wire).

The man (and his collaborators, by proxy) is a cornucopia of brilliant music.

The EP closes out with two quieter, acoustic-y songs; one sung by Bob, one sung by Beth.  And it's entirely fitting that the end to such an increasingly strong catalgue of material ends on such a nondescript note.  The band has been all but ignored for the majority of its existence, so here's a quietly confusing EP for the clamoring fans (me) to sort out for themselves.

It's a limited edition of five hundred copies and is pressed on opaque orange vinyl.

It's going to be a long time before there's another band like this.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What's New?: 8.14.2012

Falling behind again. . .

Andrew Bird — Anonanimal / See the Enemy single (2009)

'Anonanimal' on Noble Beast proper, has long been one of my favorite sleeper Andrew Bird songs.  It's buried way too deep in the album's running order for anyone, other than the devoted, to really see it's brilliance.  So, gathering up the stray Andrew Bird stuff at my availability, I jumped on this 45 quickly.  And. . . it's okay.  The re-recording of the a-side doesn't differ much from the album version and 'See the Enemy' is kind of like a dub version of the song.  After this year's 'Crown Salesman / So Much Wine' single was such a nice addition to his current repertoire, my hopes were higher.  Still, good song and good mixtape fodder.

William Ackerman — Past Light (1983)

Will settles into a more stock, stereotypical Windham Hill sound on this album (his fifth overall).  Is it cheesy?  Yeah, a little bit.  There's no swingin', post-bluegrass pickin' to be found and there's only one song where Will is playing unaccompanied.  The opener 'Visiting' is pretty darn cheesy, if you ask me.  But the very next tune 'Garden' is a collaborative effort between Will and the Kronos Quartet and it's actually up there with Will's best tunes.  The one solo tune 'Pacific II' is a sparse number and also definitely a highlight.  But then, immediately following, you get 'Synopsis,' which features Mark Isham playing one of the worst synthesizer tones I've ever heard.  So, yeah.  It's up and down.  Side two is mostly a wash, drowning in cheese, but the trio performance of 'Threes' with Michael Manring and Michael Hedges is worthwhile (as is the other Michael Hedges appearance on the brief closer 'Night Slip').  The good stuff is reminiscent of Will's best past work.  The rest is pretty boring. 

William Ackerman — Conferring With the Moon (1986)

No more or less "stock" in its overall sound, but there's a slight change for the more sparse here that I really dig.  Thematically, it reminds me a lot of the Cocteau's Victorialand (coincidentally released the same year) in that it's polishing and stripping back of the essence of Will's main idea with his music.  It's calm and mostly just meditates on themes, but there's something to the tunes this time out that tells me that there was something important happening behind the music that inspired its creation.  An astute awareness of sparseness and a grasp on the importance of space is fully realized here.  A listen to Will's solo performance of the title track (which closes out the album) and I'm pretty much sold (a more arranged quartet version opens the album).  'Improv 2' (sparse twelve string loveliness) and 'Singing Crocodile' (awesomely reminiscent of Archer Prewitt's 'The Bay') are definitely in the top tier of Will's compositions.  'Lago de Montañas (Mountain Lake)' finds Will playing the charango like the boss that he is, while 'The Last Day at the Beach' is a study in odd, well thought-out chord progressions.  He should have been doing duets with Vini Reilly at this point.  Probably his calmest album, but also easily his strongest outside of his first three. 

William Ackerman — Imaginary Roads (1988)

And while Will's last album of the 80's isn't amazing, it's got a very nice "soundtracky" quality that, despite some cheesy flourishes in the production, makes for a pretty decent album.  I do kind of get the feeling that Will is playing to his audience here, but the actual themes of the tunes are darn nice.  'A Region of Clouds' (one of two solo pieces) is so reminiscent of the Durutti Column, I really don't have any other choice but to love it.  There are some intrusive synth moments, but for the most part, this is just a really nice, warm album where I don't feel like the classification of "background music" is a bad thing at all.  Closer listens may reveal the flaws, but there's only a few.  Will's liner note that begins with the sentence "I drink beer." is completely hilarious and worthwhile, as well.

Joe Pass — Virtuoso #2 (1976)

A solo jazz guitar album.  I was mainly on the hunt for this one because album opener 'Giant Steps' has been written into the sample bible by this point.  The whole rendition of the tune is good, but that ten or so seconds of looped up goodness is just pure bliss.  The rest of the album definitely lives up to its namesake, as Joe gets more out of those six strings than seems imaginable.  Considering he plays the head, comps along for himself and takes solos, all without overdubs, it's pretty technically impressive stuff.  His tone is warm and lovely throughout and the selection of tunes is pure class.  He does go off fairly often, making this more of a dedicated music nerd piece overall.  Though not without its across the board excellent moments, it will take a concerted effort to get the most out of it.

Keith Jarrett — Solo Concerts (1973)

This beautiful three record box set on the ECM label is a testament to Keith Jarrett's unwavering creativity.  While he may be too intellectual sometimes, the simple idea of him sitting down to just play what he's feeling at that particular moment, in front of a crowd of onlookers, was completely radical and brave at the time.  It's hard to think that Keith had so many ideas just flowing out his brain, but here it all is.  He will create these themes and just build on them, throwing in little flourishes and nuances.  I mean, really, there's six sides of vinyl here to be explored.  Hard to sum it up quickly here, but I'll just say that he convincingly plays pretty much every established piano style.  Music to get lost in.  There's over two hours of it here, after all.  And I've seen him in person myself.  He can hold a packed hall completely captive just on the anticipation of what he will play next.

Cal Tjader — Soul Sauce (1964)

More Tjader to re-add to my library.  Cal's getting deep into a rhythmic Latin vibe here.  The title track nearly invents salsa music before your very ears, while the follow up tune is an irreproachably strong rendition of 'Afro Blue.'  So, yeah.  As usual, Cal's out to prove he can play just as authentically as anybody.  The ballads kick butt and take names here.  'Somewhere in the Night' (spotify link) and 'Leyte' (also spotify; also a sample favorite) are so good, it'll completely blow your mind how I could have ever given this album up in the first place.  Through and through, Tjader in the 60's was just about as consistent as they come.  Is this his best one?  Well, I'll just have to reacquire the rest of them to properly decide.  But it's in the running, that's for sure. 


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Poor Moon — Poor Moon

I should say up front that Poor Moon's album would have come as a complete shock of perfectly jangly, harmony-laden 60's retro poppy goodness if it had been released a decade ago. 

But here we are in 2012 and there's a new album that exists that sounds like it belongs in 1972.

But, considering the current landscape of contemporary music, it's a very refreshing thing for a band with the stature of containing two (former?) members of one of the most critically acclaimed groups in the past few years to release an album that's vaguely reminiscent of the group from which they came.  I know Christian has other previous musical endeavours on his resume, but considering this is his first initial kickback, post-Fleet Foxes, it's an immensely important work in his trajectory. 

All of that baggage aside, this is the most awesome retro-sixties pop album I've heard in a really long time.  Seriously: the Beatles colliding head-on with Fleet Foxes.  A natural stance on strummy, narrative, modestly-orchestrated pop songs hitting an echoey wall of vintage dream pop goodnesss.  Nothing revolutionary occurs on Poor Moon, but what does occur is so well-wrought, so pure, that it quickly begins to defy timelines.  It's one of those rare albums that wears its influences audibly on its sleeves, yet still manages to be a breath of refreshingly catchy air because of the succinct passion displayed in the performance of the material.

Christian Wargo has the seemingly aloof (yet potentially and explosively intense) sixties lead singer mode absolutely nailed.  There are some jangly numbers here, some mildly bossa nova strummers and some numbers that are so passionate, so smart and so well sung that I have a hard time not drawing the comparison between this and the fantastic 70's pop revival of about a decade ago that found people and groups like Archer Prewitt and Beulah churning out wonderfully layered and masterfully constructed pop albums that nobody seemed to care about.  Reminiscent of a time within a time, if you will.

Opener 'Clouds Below' says all of this within the first minute.  Acoustic arpeggio, solitary narrative, whistling, it's all here.  By the time the cutesy music box piano intro explodes into the glorious harmony and vibraphone intro to 'Same Way,' it's a complete and pure winner.  The Gary McFarland-meets-Buffalo Springfield of 'Holiday' is kitschy, but pure fun, while songs like 'Come Home', 'What We're Waiting For' and 'Birds' are instances of a band using its roots and influences to build something timeless; something truly great.

And it's there, amidst that brief harmony vocal right before the quasi-surf rock solo during 'Come Home' that any astute listener should recognize the power and feeling of these songs.

Nothing but pure fun and feelings, Poor Moon's self titled full length is one of the year's best albums.  It's one of those records that's just so musically and technically sound that it's either destined for complete stardom or total cult status.

I say go see them live regardless.

Amongst the year's most pleasant surprises. 

Man, it's good.