Hey, There’s a Bird in This Mirror!

Diversion Enthusiast Society, est. 2007

Music Marathon 2007, Part 3 (Beirut – Caribou)

with 8 comments

And he just won’t shut up…

Beirut – The Flying Cup Club

Beirut is, essentially, a novelty band. I don’t care how unusual the gimmick is (and it’s not really, with Devotchka and others doing the Balkan cabaret thing), it’s still basically novelty at its heart, and I don’t think it’s (or, rather, “he’s”) transcended that. Unlike other bands that might have started as ethnic revival novelty acts, but became much more, like the Pogues, the songs never transcend the style. The lyrics are nothing special, the melodies are repetitive, and the performances are perfectly adequate, but there’s no fire to them. Zach Condon’s monotone (okay, he hits maybe three notes – is that “tri-tone?”) vocals just sit there, waiting for the chord change so he can hit the next obvious note. It’s notable that the best performances come on “Cliquot” (sung by Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallett*, who did the string arrangements) and the spectacular extended instrumental section of “In the Mausoleum.” I’m probably being too hard on The Flying Cup Club, because it’s, in truth, not that bad an album, and it shows promise. But it just seems like such an exercise in style that the songs were overlooked in a big way.

* Oddly enough, it took this album to make me realize that Pallett sounds a little like Christopher Cross. Once you hear it, you can’t unhear it.

The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse

I was looking forward to listening to this again after putting it away for a few months. Unfortunately, The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse didn’t work for me this time. It leads off with the winning Beach Boys/Sigur Ros hybrid that is “Disaster” and the Sigur Ros/Sigur Ros hybrid that is “For Agent 13,” but the third track, “And You Lied To Me” (bass parts are just not meant to be repeated that many times in a row, folks) falls into a shoegaze-y mush from which the album never quite extracts itself, though it comes close a couple times. It’s that rarest of beasts – a slow, meditative album that actually works better on a first listen than a fifth.

Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha

Bird, like the Arcade Fire, is a must-see live act. Usually accompanied by the sparest of lineups (often just a drummer), he manages to capture and innovate upon his studio sound through frenetic multi-tasking and looping, while simultaneously maintaining a rapport with the audience and investing the performances with verve. On his last studio album, The Mysterious Production of Eggs, he somehow got the songs across every bit as artfully as he does onstage, but that vigor was missing amidst all of those perfectly hit notes and immaculate arrangements. On Armchair Apocrypha, he seems to have found it via the most reliable rock’n’roll energy booster, the electric guitar. Bird’s a whiz on the violin and who knows how many other instruments, but when it comes to bringing passion to a recording, it’s hard to beat some chords and distortion. It’s practically a cheat for a musician as accomplished as Bird is, but damned if it doesn’t make for a terrific album. “Plasticities,” “Fiery Crash,” “Dark Matter,” and “Heretics” are essential listening. (Also, Raina’s in love with the parakeet-centric cover – I have to admit it’s pretty cool-looking.)

Black Kids – The Wizard of Ahhhs EP

Someone needs to do a study on this little mystery. How does a young band with no actual releases to its name put four free songs up on MySpace and somehow end up the Next Big Thing with a featured review on Pitchfork, a writeup in Rolling Stone, etc.? This happened with the Arcade Fire, to some extent, but their album was in the can if not released, and they had an incredible rep as a live act (the Black Kids don’t, which is too bad). I’m just fascinated with this idea.

In any case, is the hype deserved? Maybe. The EP is like candy, with all four songs delivering keyboard-driven dance-pop with vocals that make like Robert Smith on a particularly happy Friday. “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You” is one of the best singles of the year. But with such a slim selection of songs, it’s impossible to know whether they’re a one-trick pony putting all four of its best feet forward*, or if they’re in it for the long haul. I’m not sure the vibe on these four songs could fill an entire album, but the EP is worth a download, and you can’t beat the price.

* Mixing metaphors like oil and water for chocolate.

Blitzen Trapper – Wild Mountain Nation

As mentioned in a subsequent post, I forgot to write this one up, so I’m editing this post way after the fact. Anyway, since I listened to this one last week, and, like the other times I listened to it, it didn’t make a huge impression, I figured it merited a fresh listen (again). It worked a little better this time, but Blitzen Trapper makes the mistake of attempting to split the difference between a sort of laid-back classic rock and spazzy indie-rock, and they’re clearly better at the former. The rhythm section attempts, again and again, to sound angular and disjointed (maybe the attempted goal is sort of Voidoids or Brainiac?), but it never fails to sound sloppy instead. Meanwhile, the guitarists toss out some nifty leads and the vocals are more The Band than Dismemberment Plan. When they de-emphasize the quirk and play up the songwriting chops, like on “Country Caravan,” the title track, and “Futures and Folly,” it just illuminates the problems with the awkward attempts at injecting postpunk into “Devils A-Go-Go,” “Woof & Warp of the Quiet Giant’s Hem,” “Murder Babe,” and a number of other songs.

Bright Eyes – Cassadaga

Pretty good, but unbelievably spotty compared to the consistently great I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. I’ve heard it mentioned that the Four Winds EP, released last year, is a much better collection, and, considering it shares one of the three or four really good songs on Cassadaga, I believe it (I have the EP, but haven’t listened to it, strangely). Along with “Four Winds,” “Soul Singer in a Session Band” (which has Oberst singing a line about how he was a “hopeless romantic” now he’s “just turning tricks” that echoes The Who’s “I’ve seen magic and fame; now I’m recycling trash” from “They Are All in Love”) and “If the Brakeman Turns My Way” are worth checking out.

Also worth checking out: my Ryder/Harris postulate. Observe the pattern – Ryan Adams dates Winona Ryder, makes after-hours, alcohol-fueled, acoustic-oriented, critically-acclaimed breakthrough album, Heartbreaker, which features prominent backup vocals from Emmylou Harris. Conor Oberst dates Winona Ryder, makes after-hours, alcohol-fueled, acoustic-oriented, critically-acclaimed breakthrough album, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, which features prominent backup vocals from Emmylou Harris. I hear Blake Sennett’s up next, but is it wrong that I want to slip Jason Isbell’s number to Ms. Ryder?

Caribou – Andorra

One-half of a great pop psychedelic album. The first few songs on this riff on “Tomorrow Never Knows” and do it so brilliantly that you don’t want it to stop. Then it stops, along with the melodies, and you’re left with meandering psychedelia in search of a song.


Written by Dave

November 29, 2007 at 1:36 pm

8 Responses

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  1. And I’m back…

    So, I’m a bit surprised that I didn’t realize that was Final Fantasy singing Cliquot. It’s definitely the standout track on the album. I do like Cherbourg a good bit as well. This album hits the criteria for a perfect “at work” album. It sounds nice and it’s easy to listen to, because it never bothers to draw any attention to itself.

    Bird’s latest didn’t do a thing for me, but I’m going to give it another shot through good headphones. I tend to “whiff” on subtle music when played through laptop speakers. “Heretics” is fantastic, but some people I’ve played it for are a little put off by the hook, perhaps understandably.

    Black Kids is a blast. Whether they falter or not in album form, I don’t know. (Then again, I was generally pretty favorable on Voxtrot’s LP, so maybe I’m not the best judge.) I do know that the four songs they’ve got are great, and more importantly, they’re “danceable indie pop” that someone could actually be bothered to dance to. Also, I’ve listened to “Hurricane Jane” probably 6 times I day since I got the EP. that’s at least proof of the durability of the songs.

    I never got Cassadaga, despite being a Bright Eyes fan. I love “Four Winds”, but the more I listen to it, I can’t decide whether the lyrics are clever or just lame.

    Thoughts on the Ryder/Harris postulate:
    I hope this doesn’t touch Blake Sennett. His songs are almost universally skippable on Rilo Kiley albums (though I’ve heard positive word about his solo project). Isbell’s not a bad call, but I think he has brilliance in him as it stands. I’d be curious to hear (and I’m prepared to get reamed for saying this) what effect Winona Ryder would have on Rhett Miller. At the very least, it might knock some of the insufferably bland songwriting that crippled “The Believer” out of him.


    November 29, 2007 at 2:15 pm

  2. I thought Miller and Ryder had already had their little public moment together.

    I kind of like Sennett’s “Dreamworld” on the new Rilo Kiley, if only because it’s a perfect Lindsay Buckingham aping, which is far more interesting than his usual breath-y Elliott Smith aping.

    I like Isbell as is, too. I just think he’s got a Heartbreaker-style album in him, and it seems the key to making that kind of album is Ryder as a muse and Harris as a contributor.


    November 30, 2007 at 8:34 am

  3. On the mix-cd that I received from the CHUD mixtape exchange earlier this year, there was Andrew Bird’s “Scythian Empires”, and that just exploded me. I made my friend burn me everything she had of his, and yelled at her because she was a fan of his but never told me how great he was. I get that feeling a lot, that people are holding out on me. Like The National’s The Boxer. No one took me aside and said “Hey, Patrick, this album is pretty incredible, you should listen to it.” Secrets, man, everybody’s keeping secrets.

    Patrick Ripoll

    December 16, 2007 at 11:01 am

  4. I’m surprised you haven’t/didn’t review Bon Iver, as I would be curious to know your thoughts on such a unique album, music and backstory-wise.

    Euge (soul)

    December 26, 2007 at 7:13 pm

  5. I downloaded that Bon Iver album after I’d started the marathon, so I haven’t listened to it yet. The official U.S. release date for it is February ’08, so I’ll probably just end up including it next year. I think the version out now is a non-label self-release thing.


    December 27, 2007 at 11:12 am

  6. Yeah, he just signed with Jagjaguwar, so I guess you’re right. I just got it as an xmas gift from a friend, and so far it’s blown me away.

    At least you’ll have this original version to compare with the proper release for next year’s marathon. That is, if the Rapture doesn’t occur first.

    Euge (soul)

    December 27, 2007 at 2:23 pm

  7. […] time to refine and elaborate upon the Ryder-Harris Hypothesis first introduced last year in my review of Bright Eyes’ Cassadaga, which, at the time, suggested that, upon dating Winona Ryder, any given artist will record an […]

  8. […] – Furr Time to be smug (don’t worry – I’ll be contrite later, when I get to Deerhunter). Last year, I covered Blitzen Trapper’s Wild Mountain Nation in the Marathon and mentioned that they sounded […]

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