I think it’s been a while since I’ve done an album review. I’ve had both the new Robyn Hitchcock and New Pornographers records for a few weeks now, and had taken some notes on them, but had trouble articulating all of my thoughts. I think I have them pretty well down now, though. I also have the digital version of Amanda Palmer’s album with Edward Ka-Spel of the Legendary Pink Dots (a band I don’t know that I’ve ever heard), but I might need a little longer to fully digest that one. I like it pretty well so far, but it’s definitely a departure from her usual sound.
Robyn Hitchcock – I’m still not sure I understand the point of self-titled albums, and it is perhaps even weirder when an artist who’s been recording for a long time puts one out. I try not to judge albums by their titles, however, and this is a good record. Robyn has released a lot of records over the years, and I still haven’t heard all of them. I love some of the ones I’ve heard, and others haven’t really grabbed me. I think this album really plays to what I see as his strengths: catchy songs with surreal lyrics, often funny but with real emotion behind them as well. “Mad Shelley’s Letterbox,” for instance, largely comes across as a love song, but that doesn’t mean I can make any particular sense of the refrain “Mad Shelley’s letterbox is full of birthday cards.” I also quite like the line in the nostalgic “1970 in Aspic,” “Your bacteria will live in me forever.” “Raymond and the Wires,” which I remember Robyn playing the last time I saw him live, mixes memories of trolley buses with those of his father. Why does it seem like every British writer had a distant relationship with their dad? There are a few different styles covered here, including the country-tinged “I Pray When I’m Drunk” and the psychedelic “Autumn Sunglasses.” The lead track, “I Want to Tell You About What I Want,” mixes telepathy and robot takeovers.
The New Pornographers, Whiteout Conditions – You know, I don’t know that I’ve been able to determine what a New Pornographers song is actually about, which is strange considering my general penchant for lyrics. That’s not to say I don’t LIKE their lyrics, which tend to be interestingly bizarre, just that I’ve never been able to make a lot of sense of them. I mean, Robyn and They Might Be Giants use a lot of obscure lyrics, but I can still usually discern what they’re getting at. Maybe I’m missing something obvious. That said, their songs are very catchy and poppy, with a lot of focus on arrangement. And just about anything with Neko Case on vocals is bound to be a treat. While I’m not currently in the mood to listen to the NP albums in order to discern any changes, I find that they’re still quite similar in many ways to their earlier work, but their sound now tends to be less bold and more…dreamlike or something. It’s also worth noting that this is their first album without Dan Bejar, who apparently hasn’t officially left the group but was working on another project at the time. His style, while still catchy and full of difficult-to-interpret lyrics, is different enough for A.C. Newman’s to make the band’s earlier albums more varied, so I miss him here.