Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The State of my iPod

According to my iTunes, since October 9th, 2006, when I officially moved to Germany, I've added 19 albums to my library (let's ignore the odd song or single and the burgeoning number of TV episodes). Of these, 6 were albums I didn't seek out but ended up in my library -- mostly to help my sister out, who doesn't have a computer, but does have an iPod (thanks to her, I now have John Mayer in my library -- John Mayer! I feel dirty). 4 of the albums I got from friends (thanks!) to fill out some big gaps in my library (Nirvana, Jeff Buckley), although, frankly, there's still plenty of gaps. That leaves 9 albums that I actually purchased in 6 months (and, by the way, all but one was bought via the iTunes Music Store -- damned instant gratification).

In the order I bought them:

1.) Regina Spektor, Begin to Hope -- Singer/songwriter with influences from classical, jazz, folk, hip-hop, and Russian music. "Fidelity" is quite possibly the cutest song ever (I linked a YouTube version of the video), and the album roughly breaks down into thirds -- somewhat more 'commercial' songs; more experimental, interesting songs; and 'is the album over yet?' songs. Once every few months, I also feel the need to listen to "Us" off her previous album, Soviet Kitsch, at her myspace page.

2.) Okkervil River, Black Sheep Boy -- My favorite, along with the companion album (#4). Austin-based, alt-country group. The album begins with a cover of 60s folk singer Tim Hardin's "Black Sheep Boy," and meanders dream-like through the dark imagery of the title track. Lost children wander until they're not children anymore through songs that veer from rock to country to folk to murder ballads (although their most straightforward murder ballad "Westfall" is from several albums back). In videos and recordings (or here under the podcast list) of their live sets, singer/songwriter Will Sheff tends to deliveries wracked with emotion (in addition to being not much of a singer), giving the songs an extra layer of melodrama that they don't need; on the album, however, he is more restrained and the music speaks for itself -- a rich, but refreshingly underproduced, texture of strings, horns, guitar, drums, and voice. Listening to the album is like reading your favorite book; you may have your favorite parts, but you come back to it over and over and sit in your favorite chair so you can start and finish the journey again. My favorites are the violent rumbles of distant thunder in "For Real", punctuated by guitar stings and the pop-y "Black." You can download selected tracks (free!) from each of their albums on their website (including all the songs I mention) and hear a couple tracks on their myspace page.

3.) Tegan and Sara, So Jealous -- Lesbian, Canadian, twin sister singer/songwriters (they both play guitars). Total teenage girl music. Catchy pop songs, angsty -- sometimes hilariously so -- and only about one thing, the object of the songwriter's affection.

4.) Okkervil River, Black Sheep Boy Appendix -- Not quite a full album, but definitely not just odds and ends leftover from the creation of the first album. An alternate reworking of the themes found in the first album, mashing up a Play-Doh castle and rebuilding it:

And kids get lost, lambs out wandering. And bigger, blacker things come calling from outside a tiny garden somebody once laid their hearts on. And kids get lost, and kids get broken. And their diaries get found and opened. And their legs get led astray, and then they lie inside some secret place where the sun looks in the open ceiling. And kids grow up, and kids stop feeling kids, and feel adults, and face away. But in last love dreams, the lost and passed out of this world are softly sighing.
- Last Love Song for Now

5.) Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood -- I hate to say this, but I'm not in love with this album (don't hurt me, Tim!). The songs are pretty; I like Neko Case's voice; and clearly I don't have a problem with alt-country. It just never really draws me in and inspires me to sit down just to listen to it. It feels like great music by which to sit at the bar and have a couple drinks. It does have a couple outstanding songs, but all the best tracks can be downloaded legitly (as far as I can tell).

6.) Weezer, Weezer (blue album) -- When I was at nerd camp during high school, there was a kid who wore the classic Weezer T-shirt (the word Weezer in one color on a basic color tee) everyday (I know he had a least two, since they were different colors). Smart kid. 10 perfectly crafted, charming alternative rock songs from back in the day (1994!) that gently suggest that you don't take these losers too seriously.

7.) Pixies, Wave of Mutilation - Best of Pixies -- On iTunes, it's a double cd (24 tracks) for the price of a regular cd ($10). Unfortunately, my favorite Pixies song is "Wave of Mutilation (U.K Surf version)," which isn't on this album. Still good to have around, I think, for when I really need it.

8.) Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea -- Released in 1998, the second and most recent album from this band, I have the feeling that this group may now be as popular as they've ever been (has some more famous band been name-checking them recently or is it a cult thing?). A 40 minute meditation on tragedy and loss with a folky sound -- strummy guitars, with a brass section, and something called a muscial saw? When you first listen to the album, you'll wonder if the lead singer has any actual singing ability. Later, you'll decide that it isn't important to the quality of the work, which sounds like a criticism but isn't; it's perfect the way it is. The highlight of the album is "Holland, 1945", which is at least partly about Anne Frank.

9.) Cloud Cult, Meaning of 8 -- This is what I know (or have gleaned) about Cloud Cult: they're indie with a big "I," having turned down major record labels so they can be as environmentally friendly as possible. The band consists of a singer, a bassist, a cellist, a drummer, and two visual artists and they're on a North American tour right now (playing Schubas in Chicago in mid-April). Their singer/songwriter used to be an environmental scientist. There are 18 songs on the Meaning of 8 and until April it's only available from their website, where you can buy the mp3s of their album and listen to three of the tracks free (two more tracks from the same album can be heard on their myspace page). "Take Your Medicine" is an infectious earworm of a song that would kill on mainstream radio if it ever made it there (in fact, we'd all be sick of it inside of a month -- maybe two). In fact, most of the first 8 tracks of the album are like that -- i.e., pretty awesome. Then, track 9 is 1:07 minutes of what sounds like the soundtrack of a horror movie, followed by about a good song and a half and 6 tracks of songs that have interesting little musical bits but aren't very good. The second to last track is "The Deaf Girl's Song," a very nice and pretty song, but which somehow makes me feel like I should be watching the climax of the movie, A Mighty Wind. As for what is the music like and what is it about, I'm willing to take suggestions in the comments, since I don't think I can properly describe it.


Anonymous said...

I always like hearing new music, so thanks. Maybe I'll go see Cloud Cult at Schubas. Oh, and happy travelling....


t said...

Hi Jackie. I promise I won't hurt you. I think your description of FCBTF as 'bar music' is pretty accurate, although I still think it's a pretty good 'sitting in the dark with headphones and a bottle'-type album too.

I confess my psycho obsession with Neko only really started after seeing her live (at Schubas, incidentally) -- she's pretty amazing live.

I'm totally with you on Neutral Milk Hotel. Great album, although the singer will never be mistaken for Sinatra. I think they even throw some bagpipes into the mix somehow.

Thanks for the other recommendations -- I'll have to check out Okkervil River at some point.

Sorry about the John Mayer.

Jackie said...

SMH - If you go to the Cloud Cult show, let me know how it is (I think I'll miss being in town for that by a few days). I have to think that any band with two visual artists as members has to be a kick in the head.

Tim - I thought I heard bagpipes too! On their myspace page, there's a live version of "Two-Headed Boy," which is pretty straightforward, but interesting. If I had to guess, I'd say that of fans of Neutral Milk Hotel 70% would like Okkervil River, 25% wouldn't like it because it's not Neutral Milk Hotel, and 5% would complain that it was too much like Neutral Milk Hotel.