Hey, There’s a Bird in This Mirror!

Diversion Enthusiast Society, est. 2007

Music Marathon 2007, Part 5 (Drew, Kevin – Francis, Sage)

with 6 comments

More entries from the backlog…

(Broken Social Scene Presents…) Kevin Drew – Spirit If…

Since You Forgot It in People, a wonderfully eclectic collection that’s almost as good as its fine reputation suggests, Broken Social Scene has gotten a bit of a free pass from its fans and critics alike. This resulted in the ambitious, but uneven, self-titled album from 2005, which featured the band coasting on that good will, stretching out in a number of directions, occasionally connecting in striking, impressive ways, but most often in need of a good editor (especially one who might have nixed some of the soundalike songs – BSS’s diversity is marked by an inability to do a different style a different way, so that the rockers tend to resemble each other, etc.). Spirit If… is (at least according to Drew) yet another attempt to stretch out, but the returns have greatly diminished. For one, the stretching out has more to do with song length here. A number of the songs hit the six-minute mark, most go over four, and barely any require more than three. Drew hurts himself again and again with choruses and verses that repeat one or two too many times, sloppy transitions, and outros that go on forever. “Lucky Ones” would be one of the catchier songs of the year at half the length; at 6:44, it grates, and you wonder what could have convinced Drew that the best way to connect disparate verses and choruses is to insert a pause every single time.

Also, Drew seems to be blind to his true strengths and weaknessesl (see photo above). In a recent Pitchfork interview, he characterized this LP as an “emotional mixtape,” as if it sounded like a collection of songs by different bands. The problem is, as with the BSS self-titled release, if Drew explores three styles very well, every song in a given style sounds like a retread of the last song in that style (plus, his signature strained whisper ties the tracks together, for better or worse). The interview also mentions Drew’s tendency to use explicit terms to discuss sex in his lyrics, and its casualness. It doesn’t strike me as casual, but deliberately provocative, very show-offy. For comparison’s sake, see how subtly Matt Berninger of the National drops the same type of explicit terms. Anyway, I’m off-topic. It’s a deeply okay album, that, with better editing, would be quite a good one.

Explosions in the Sky – All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone

If you have one Explosions in the Sky album, you probably don’t need another, unless you’re so addicted to their style that you’ve worn out the tracks on that one album. Sure, there are little innovations (“The Birth and Death of the Day” may be their most up-tempo song to date), but no real surprises. This isn’t a negative review, mind you. EITS continues to deliver excellently dynamic and dramatic music, but if you played me something off of All of a Sudden…, I’m not sure I’d be able to to tell you the album from which it came.

Feist – The Reminder

Oddly enough, Feist came a lot closer to making the “mix tape” album that her boyfriend and co-Broken Social Scenester, Kevin Drew, thought he made. Feist’s previous non-remix release, Let It Die, received a lot of press upon release, but, aside from a few oddities like her cover of the Bee Gee’s “Inside and Out,” she stuck closely to an appealing, but kind of uninteresting indie-rock Norah Jones vibe. Here, she’s a revelation, blasting through acoustic rave-ups like “I Feel It All,” grooving on Nina Simone’s “Sealion” (or “See-Line Woman,” depending on who you talk to), charming the squares with “1234,” and one-upping herself on the ballads. At the same time, her personality and style shine through on originals and covers alike. The Reminder took a couple listens to fully sink in, but it sunk in hard. Maybe not in the running for my favorite album of the year, but quite likely in the top ten.

Sage Francis – Human the Death Dance

Having done this thing for a few years now, I don’t really make excuses for the lack of hip-hop, metal, jazz, and other genres on my list. We like what we like and when we travel out of our musical comfort zones, we usually head toward the massively-hyped albums we hope are representative of the genre’s best characteristics or, alternately, artists who remind us of those comfort zones. Francis is clearly the latter, at least for me. In a nutshell, he’s too white and too angsty to serve as my token hip-hop guy (Jay-Z and Kanye West coming up, though). He’s ostensibly a hip-hop artist, but his lyrical concerns are more closely aligned with those of indie rockers than with those of even the more socially conscious hip-hop artists. If you need proof, this is essentially his concept album about mortality. It doesn’t have the standout songs that A Healthy Distrust does, but Francis manages to vent his feelings on death convincingly and articulately for 16 tracks and seldom gets boring. It’s a scary trip that doesn’t necessarily offer any hope, but lots and lots of raging against the dying of the light and such. Worth a shot if you’re into his work, but A Healthy Distrust is probably a better introduction, especially the Will Oldham collaboration, “The Sea Lion,” probably the best indie rap/indie folk hybrid ever (admittedly, there’s not much competition, but I hear John Darnielle collaborated with Aesop Rock this year – I have yet to hear it).

(By the way – yeah, I put this under F. I’ve been led to believe that, contrary to my instincts, “Sage Francis” is actually his given name. If someone has proof that this is not so, please let me know.)


Written by Dave

December 5, 2007 at 8:35 pm

6 Responses

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  1. His name is Paul Francis, from earlier albums like “Sick of Waiting Tables” and “Still Sick (Urine Trouble)”, he mentions it a few times. But you’re still right in placing it under F.

    Soul Ahn Ice

    December 6, 2007 at 6:50 am

  2. Thanks. That makes more sense. Maybe it was this ambiguity that so thoroughly rattled my mind that I listened to his album before the Fiery Furnaces, Fountains of Wayne, the Forms, and the Frames. Whoops.


    December 6, 2007 at 8:22 am

  3. No problem. I’m always interested to see people’s reactions to Sage Francis from a non-hip hop exclusive background, which I had mostly up through college. His lyrical writing style leaves room for more interpretation for people who aren’t just looking for him to say a clever rhyme, even though that’s what he was so great at back when he first started out (even at the cost of the song’s overall quality). I’ll have to go back to Human… and listen to it from the mortality perspective, as I never really liked the album much at all and paid it little attention. On a similar note, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on Atmosphere’s “Lucy Ford” LP, as I think you’d either find a lot of meaning in it or hate it from its heavyhanded metaphors. Check it out if you have a chance.

    Euge (Soul above)

    December 6, 2007 at 8:46 am

  4. Yeah, Francis’ stuff is definitely more open to interpretation than most mainstream hip-hop I’ve heard. He does a nice job of balancing commentaries on the everyday with a symbolism that seems more aligned with singer-songwriters than rappers (no surprise that there was a Johnny Cash shoutout on the last album and some Dylan references on this one). A lot of the hip-hop I gravitate toward does a fine job with political commentary and storytelling, but it’s very literal by comparison.

    I’ve heard very little by Atmosphere. I’ll have to track down Lucy Ford sometime.


    December 6, 2007 at 10:39 am

  5. To me, Let it Die felt too Serge Gainsborough, too twee French. There’s something really honest about The Reminder, but then also the opening of My Moon, My Man is just so dreamy-perfect.


    December 12, 2007 at 1:38 pm

  6. You should have made El-P’s “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” your token rap album. It’s a very fresh and original sounding album.

    Patrick Ripoll

    December 16, 2007 at 11:05 am

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