Hey, There’s a Bird in This Mirror!

Diversion Enthusiast Society, est. 2007

Music Marathon 2007, Part 4 (Chao, Manu – Dirty Projectors)

with 2 comments

I’ve amassed a huge backlog, since this week’s been full of listening opportunities, but few writing opportunities. I basically had to re-learn algebra and geometry for my GRE general test yesterday, so I’m using that as my excuse (for the record, it went pretty well, all things considered).

Anyway, first off, I should mention that I’ve done some ret-conning. I forgot to include Blitzen Trapper’s album in my last post, so I’ve updated that. Now, on to the next bunch.

Manu Chao – La Radiolina

I’ve heard that this album is sort of this year’s “if you don’t normally listen to World Music…” selection. That’s kind of a silly statement to make about such an all-encompassing genre*, but I guess it makes more sense with Chao than with others who get grouped into that category, since he seems to be making an attempt at diversity… or so many of the reviews I’ve read tell me. But I guess maybe I have a poor ear for this sort of thing, because, despite the multi-lingual lyrics (Spanish, English, and French for sure… probably a few more), the diversity seems to manifest mostly in rockers that don’t quite rock and salsas that don’t really sound all that different from other salsas I’ve heard. There’s some obvious political bile being vented, but everything sounds so sterile and calculated, like Chao and his collaborators were too busy getting that clean tone and adjusting the levels that any real anger got lost somewhere. Also, I listen to a lot of music in the car, so I’m biased against recordings that use police sirens as sound effects, and Chao does it not just once, but several times on La Radiolina. (Also, most pictures of Chao suggest he dresses like a weiner at all times – see above.)

I’m willing to accept that I don’t “get” this one. If my not getting it keeps me out of the World Music section of the CD store with its threats of Afro-Celtic drum circles and the like, I figure I’m all the better for it.

* As if South African township music really has anything in common with Qawwali besides being created by people who don’t live in America or England. By that logic, why the heck aren’t Sigur Ros and Air considered World Music?

Cloud Cult – The Meaning of 8

The Meaning of 8 is exactly why I do this every year. Even though it means having to listen to stuff I don’t want to (I just realized that I have a copy of this year’s Nine-Inch Nails album, and, believe me, I’m not looking forward to that), I find that great disc I didn’t give the attention it deserved the first time. I think I dismissed this as a latter-day Flaming Lips/Polyphonic Spree/Postal Service hybrid, and that’s not all that far off-base (I might now throw in Of Montreal and even Blind Melon in the vocals). What became clearer on a second listen is that they seem to come by this sound organically, and it’s not mere imitation (plus, it’s better than anything the Polyphonic Spree’s released and the last Flaming Lips album). Behind those surface similarities, Cloud Cult has real songs. Upon reading a bit about them, I found out that many of Craig Minowa’s songs are about the death of his son in 2002, which explains the convincing mix of loss and hope that inhabits many of the songs. I haven’t spent enough quality time with this to give it the analysis it probably deserves, but it’ll happen soon. Give “Take Your Medicine” a shot, and that might be enough to sell you on this.

Bobby Conn – King for a Day

His album may not be World Music, but Bobby Conn nails the diversity that Manu Chao seems to have been going for. And that’s only in the first two tracks. The 8-minute “Vanitas” kicks off King for a Day with a prog-inspired violin bit that segues into a squealing 80s metal guitar solo. Naturally, the next track “When the Money’s Gone” is a 70s AM radio white boy light funk, which Conn pulls off as seemingly effortlessly as the opener. He careens back and forth between these extremes, convincingly embracing other styles [both glam and disco on “(I’m Through with) My Ego,” for instance] throughout. If none of the songs stick out, exactly, it’s still a fun listen.

Crowded House – Time on Earth

As one of pop’s great underrated songwriters, Neil Finn is easy to root for. When he’s great, we get “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and the Beatles-level ballads on Woodface. When he’s merely good, we get… well, Time on Earth. It’s not so much that the songs on Time on Earth aren’t up to snuff. In fact, “Don’t Stop Now” and “Pour Le Monde” are up there with some of his best, but the pacing is all off. Time on Earth loses its way about five or six songs in, with a ballad-heavy second half. As mentioned before, I’m a sucker for Finn’s balladry, but they’re just a little too similar to each other here, and there are just too few mid-tempo or upbeat moments to make each sad song count where it needs to. It’s especially unfortunate, because many of these songs appear to be about ex-Crowded House drummer Paul Hester, who committed suicide shortly before this album was conceived (it’s always tempting to put this sort of reading on recordings of this nature, but there’s really no avoiding it here). I have little doubt that any number of these songs would sound wonderful on an album with better track placement, but Time on Earth just doesn’t quite work as a whole.

Dan Deacon – Spiderman of the Rings

Hey, that’s a funny title!

Deerhunter – Cryptograms

Hey, the lead singer’s weird-looking!

(Seriously, Pitchfork… drone tracks punctuated by poorly conceived garage rock is “Best New Music”?)

Dirty Projectors – Rise Above

Hey, that’s a strange way to play a Black Flag song!

Okay, this one I can’t be snide about. For those not aware of this little marvel, Rise Above is the Dirty Projectors’ (aka Dave Longstreth) attempt to reconstruct (deconstruct, really) Black Flag’s Damaged LP from memory. As I understand it, he hadn’t listened to the album since he was 13, but wanted to revisit it in such a way that gave less consideration to its actual sound and more to how it ultimately affected him. I’d be tempted to give him a lot of credit for even attempting such an unusual project (even if he missed a few entire tracks), but damned if he hasn’t made an incredible, original piece in the process. If you’re expecting the full-throttle attack of Damaged, look elsewhere (maybe the other Rise Above from a few years ago, a decent tribute album with infinitely more straightforward Black Flag covers). Longstreth’s idea of tribute involves bizarre time signatures, a falsetto that brings to mind both Craig Wedren and Boy George, Bjork-like dynamics, and Andrews Sisters-style backup vocals. And, while Longstreth’s versions of these songs basically exist in their own universe, he still gives himself adequate room to stretch, creatively. Highly recommended.

I’ll stop here for now. I still have Kevin Drew, Explosions in the Sky, Feist, and Sage Francis to cover before I’m caught up (and the Fiery Furnaces and Fountains of Wayne ominously beckon), but this is getting long.

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Written by Dave

December 4, 2007 at 9:20 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Just chiming in to say two things:
    1) The line about Manu Chao dressing like a weiner had me laughing out loud in my office.

    2)The whole Dan Deacon thing escapes me. I guess the fact that you didn’t have too much to say about it means that I wasn’t too far off in just ignoring it as a novelty.

    Happy Chanukkah to you and yours. (Is the C still used? They were big on getting us to use the C in elementary school, but I can see that Foer doesn’t use it in the Times…)

    Lyndon

    December 5, 2007 at 10:49 am

  2. Up here, you can’t ignore Manu Chao, he’s a local who’s been in every single festival, but honestly, Manu Chao is exactly like your Explosions in the Sky comment: it’s more of the same. And they overplay it in every coffee house around town…

    And the Dirty Projector’s album is indeed really great.

    Keep it up!

    Martin

    December 11, 2007 at 10:32 am


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