I still haven’t had much chance to listen to music as of late, what with moving and all, but here are my thoughts on two albums that came out this year:
Decemberists, I’ll Be Your Girl – I listened to this band’s first three albums pretty often, but wasn’t as excited by their later work. It was still pretty good, but seemed not to contain as much of what I found appealing about them in the first place, like the sense of humor and the traditional English sound (or at least that’s how I interpreted it). I actually heard one of the songs from this album, “We All Die Young,” on the radio, and wasn’t even sure who it was before they announced it. It’s a pretty darkly humorous number, a stadium-style sing-along with a morbid message and a chaotic saxophone bit near the end. I thought the rest of the album was worth a listen, so I bought it, and I do enjoy it. I might have to give their last few records another chance. Also similar to “We All Die Young” is “Everything Is Awful,” with a cheerful arrangement to contrast with its title. That seems to be the general theme of this album, if there is one. Some other tracks also stand out for me. “Cutting Stone” is a folky sort of ballad. “Severed” has a cool synthesizer background part. “Your Ghost” is short and energetic. “Rusalka, Rusalka” is about a sort of Russian river nymph that I’ve written about before; I guess that, thematically, it bears some similarity to “The Crane Wife” in terms of being about a supernatural bride.
Neko Case, Hell-On – It’s been a while since Neko has put out a solo album, although she did have that one with k.d. lang and Laura Veirs. From what I’ve heard, she’s apparently been dealing with stalkers and her house burning down, so I can certainly forgive her for being less prolific. The album art shows Neko with cigarettes in her hair, possibly a reference to the fire. There are also some interesting photographs in the album art, including a Charlotte’s Web reference and a cow investigating a piano. Neko’s voice is just as amazing as ever, and while I haven’t yet determined what all the songs are actually about, they contain some fascinating turns of phrase: “God is a lusty tire fire,” “Come on, sweet girl, let’s find you an ocean that goes with your eyes,” etc. I love the line “I’m not even wearing underwear” in “Oracle of the Maritimes,” because it just comes out of nowhere. Previous collaborators Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, and Rachel Flotard all provide backing vocals, as do k.d. lang on “Last Lion of Albion,” fellow New Pornographers Carl Newman and Kathryn Calder on “Gumball Blue,” and Beth Ditto on “Winnie.” The title track is a great opener, rather sparse-sounding and melancholy. She performed “Bad Luck” on Conan O’Brien recently (well, recently when I first started writing this, which is no longer all that recent).
Is it really a bad idea to wake a dog from a running dream, or is that just like the urban legends about waking sleepwalkers? “Sleep All Summer” is a duet with Eric Bachmann, who also wrote the song, and has a rather gruff voice. Neko’s songs generally always SOUND good even from the first listen; she has an amazing voice. They occasionally take some time before they really grab me, though.