Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Five Songs, Chapter Thirteen

Some songs hot off the presses, so you know I’m not just listening to records from 1991. I’m mostly doing that, but I’m not just doing that. (A bonus sixth song this time as well, because I love you. Never forget that.)

“Beanbag Chair” by Yo La Tengo

I sometimes think this band is loved more for its cred than its actual music, but then I listen to a song like this and think maybe I’m wrong.

“Somerville” by The Pernice Brothers

Joe Pernice’s best songs are really, really good, and this is one of them. The new album’s pretty uneven, but this is worth snagging. Not impossibly catchy, but testing the boundaries of what's possible vis a vis catchiness.

“Hot Soft Light” by The Hold Steady

This band created a small but noticeable buzz in the press a while back, maybe a year ago, and whatever I read at the time made me think I wouldn’t like them. The references to vocals that were spoken more than sung couldn’t have helped -- I’m not a big fan of that. It was also the kind of buzz that sounds like New York media people just talking to each other, loudly enough to make it seem national, which always gives me pause. But on the new release, Boys and Girls in America, leader Craig Finn is mostly singing, albeit not particularly well. He writes great lyrics, though, and the guys backing him just throw together a ridiculous stew of guilty-pleasure riffs, drawing on everything from AC/DC to Springsteen to the J. Geils Band to early Bon Jovi to Rush. And a lot more. Basically, the band sounds like a million things you’ve drummed along with on the steering wheel, but the first few songs, more than anything, are dead ringers for early Springsteen. Like, to the point where Bruce should be getting a few cents every time they’re played anywhere, not that he needs it. “Hot Soft Light” is my favorite based on the first few listens, but it has a lot of competition.

I’m not kidding about the lyrics. Here’s a passage from the first track, “Stuck Between Stations”:

The devil and John Berryman
Took a walk together.
They ended up on Washington
Talking to the river.
He said “I’ve surrounded myself with doctors
And deep thinkers.
But big heads with soft bodies
Make for lousy lovers.”
There was that night that we thought John Berryman could fly.
But he didn’t
So he died.
She said “You’re pretty good with words
But words won’t save your life.”
And they didn’t.
So he died.

“Penny on the Train Track” by Ben Kweller

I think I was in college when Kweller was the very young (15?) leader of a Dallas-area grunge-ish band called Radish that was getting earnestly profiled in places like The New Yorker because people had an appetite for such things and bands like Silverchair were being taken pseudo-seriously. Amazing. Anyway, Kweller turned out to be much, much more Ben Folds than Chris Cornell at heart, and his three solo albums prove it. This is off the latest, and it’s got the kind of melody that, when it comes over the headphones on the subway, makes you want to peel apart the doors and start running through the tunnels toward daylight.

“Become the Enemy” by The Lemonheads

No, the new record isn’t the most consistent thing. I didn’t download the whole shebang. But yes, it’s mostly a return to form. Start here if you doubt me.

“Out of Control” by Mindy Smith

I listened to Smith’s first album, One Moment More, quite a bit when it appeared a couple of years ago, and this is off the just-out follow-up, Long Island Shores. Not sure the whole thing is as strong as the debut, but that’s a common story. Anyway, she sings in a vague, humanistic way about god and heaven and such (but not exclusively), and her clear voice is so divine that you might end up believing. Heathens (like me), proceed with caution.



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