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Diversion Enthusiast Society, est. 2007

Music Marathon 2008, Part 5 (Frightened Rabbit – Grand Archives)

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Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight & Liver!  Lung!  FR! EP
A slow-burner of epic earnestness, The Midnight Organ Fight is the unlikeliest of “big albums.”  Despite the big emotions on display, it stays rooted in the organic sound of strummed acoustic guitars and tastefully applied fuzzed-out chords – even the crashing drums stay relatively low and dry in the mix.  But most unusual for such an album of such obvious emotional scope is lyricist Scott Hutchison’s commitment to specificity, no matter if it means being crude in language or potentially embarrassingly personal in content.

The first song I heard by Frightened Rabbit was “Keep Yourself Warm,” a churning concoction of overt sexual references that shouldn’t work (“it takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to keep warm”) and a twisting melody that threatens to slip from the reach of Hutchison’s thick brogue at every turn, but never does.  Like some of the best rock’n’roll, it’s perfect because of its imperfections.

As with that song, much of Organ Fight is about relationships and, even more specifically, sex (see the album title, which swings from pretty to clever to shockingly blunt and back again).  It’s easily one of my favorites of the year for its music, but I may be most captivated by how well Hutchison grabs the subject matter, which a lesser songwriter would let float upward toward ambiguious and pretty imagery with the passionate music, and keeps it rooted in the physical and earthbound.

Oh, and the EP?  Well, it’s most of the same songs performed live with a greater emphasis on the acoustic side of things.  After you hear the album, you’ll want it, too.

Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Common Life
I know a fair amount about punk.  I’m pretty familiar with post-punk.  Generally speaking, I know a bit about alternative rock, college rock, indie-rock, underground rock, and music by any other such label by which we characterize the stuff that seems in some way tied to that initial burst of mid-70s energy that was really just a continuation of earlier sub-genre/subcultures that emerged in the early 70s, late 60s, mid-60s, whatever.  But I’m thoroughly unqualified to judge whether Fucked Up’s new album could properly be called “hardcore,” which is the term that the music press uses regularly in describing it (either in the assumption that Fucked Up is, indeed, hardcore; or that this album strays too far from what hardcore is).

All I know is that The Chemistry of Common Life is a tank of an album.  It’s the type of music that the early 80s wave of L.A. punk bands like The Germs or Black Flag would have made if they’d had the budget, time, or inclination to stack 15 guitar tracks on a song or throw in extra percussion and keyboards to thicken the mix.  It doesn’t want to scream at you or even with you, but to encompass you and carry you along in the wash of noise.  And even when it’s not battering along, the band’s ambitious scope remains on flute intros (!) and tracks of shimmering keys.

The downside?  Well, the vocals.  Listening to “singer” Pink Eyes can be rougher-going than taking even some of the most Cookie Monster-indebted metal singers I’ve heard.  You get used to it after a while, but it does limit the album to “you really have to be in the mood for it” status, which is unfortunate.  The occasional background vocals help things considerably (especially on “Black Albino Bones,” the standout in terms of accessibility), but despite the near radio-friendly nature of the music, Pink Eye will keep this band an acquired taste, at best, for most.

Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
How to review an album that’s essentially an album-length DJ set/mash-up project?  There are probably entire papers that could be (or have been) written on its relation to Fair Use, its hybridization of culturally diverse musical styles, and its function as the ultimate example of Fredric Jameson’s misgivings about postmodernism in the form of pastiche.  But to just review the damn thing?

Well, Gregg Gillis (AKA Girl Talk) puts Jay-Z’s “Roc Boys (And the Winner Is…)” over Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.”  He combines Lil’ Mama’s “Lip Gloss” with “One” by Metallica.  He substantially improves “Whoomp!  (There It Is)” with a backdrop of “In a Big Country”!   I’m not sure if I buy the idea that all of this recontextualization really sheds any new light on the songs used.  I have doubts about the intentionality behind it, and I really don’t think anything of substance is really said by, say, layering M.I.A.’s “Boyz” over the Cranberries’ “Dreams.”  But I’m not sure it needs a greater purpose than simply to sound good.  Treated as a “name that song” game or just treated as a shameless appeal to our basest listening habits, Feed the Animals is an undeniably fun listen.

Goldfrapp – Seventh Tree
This was a first-listen, and I have to admit I’ll need more time to let it sink in.  The only other Goldfrapp album with which I’m familiar is Supernature, and the two really couldn’t be more different.  Seriously, it’s like going from Kylie Minogue to a keyboard-laden Fairport Convention with touches of pop soul and even upbeat rock on “Caravan Girl”.  I can’t be certain that this offers a lot more substance than Supernature, which is sort of an experiment in pure sexy superficiality (if not exactly required re-listening), but the style here is soft, layered, and appealing.

Grand Archives – s/t
For every person who’s brought up the Fleet Foxes to me this year, I think I’ve mentioned the Grand Archives.  Not that the bands could ever be mistaken for each other, but the American pop tradition that many seem to prize so highly in the Fleet Foxes is even more represented in the Grand Archives, plus the Grand Archives are spun off from Band of Horses, who sound quite a bit like My Morning Jacket, the foremost sonic comparison point for Fleet Foxes.  Unlike any of these comparison points, though, the Grand Archives eschew any overt folk and country influences, focusing instead on Beach Boys-style harmonies and orchestrated guitar hooks.

The band keeps things slow and mostly mellow until near the end of the album where “Louis Riel” speeds things up to a brisk pace and “The Crime Window” abruptly raises the intensity to an almost Marah-like level.  It’s a little jarring, but it’s hard to complain when the album serves up such terrific, summer-y goodness in any mode.  I’d put a fair number of the songs on this album up against anything by any of the other, better-publicized bands in this little reverb-fixated subgenre.

Note to any more experienced WordPress users out there – my original plan was to start embedding tracks via lala in this update, but WordPress doesn’t seem to like it when I try to paste my forecast or individual songs into the entry (even when I paste directly into the coding without using the inserting tools).  Anyone have any experience with this?


Written by Dave

December 18, 2008 at 9:33 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I don’t really see the point either, in people trying to come up with meaning in Girl Talk. This album was consistently more fun, though never reaching the highs of Night Ripper. Not that that’s a bad thing, as I listen to Feed the Animals more anyway.

    Frightened Rabbit, just an out-of-nowhere album that blew me away.

    I can’t say I like Goldfrapp at all. Didn’t grab me at all.


    December 19, 2008 at 10:59 am

  2. Grand Archives was the first album from this year I really loved. “Crime Window” is a stand-out track. So good.


    January 1, 2009 at 11:58 am

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