After the Ides – Best of late March

Posted: March 23, 2012 in Sounds
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

As you can tell, so far I have not been one for having much of a schedule for these entries – weekly, monthly, whenever – instead I’ve been checking in whenever I seem to have enough to talk about. Which is the case again, and which explains why, though the last one was subtitled “March edition,” this one’s also from March. So sue me.

When I returned from my Denver-by-way-of -NJ trip a few weeks ago I’d just seen an awesome show, and arrived home to some new sounds delivered by (gasp!) snail mail. I’ll start there.

Ever since I happened upon The Decemberists several years ago, relatively late to the game in the eyes of most purists, I’m sure, I’ve hoovered up everything I can find by the band and its various offshoots – Black Prairie, we’re looking forward to your latest output – so I was excited to hear We All Raise Our Voices to the Air, a collection of performances from the last tour, in support of  the very strong latest disc The King is Dead. I even saw that three of the cuts were recorded at the show I’d seen on that tour at the Cobb Energy Centre in Atlanta (a gorgeous looking and sounding venue), which made me even more psyched.

So I was a little disappointed to find myself, well, disappointed at many of the tracks. The mix wasn’t quite muddy, but it does sound imbalanced in places, with drums overpowering all else one moment, and Colin’s vocals dominating at others. Some of the harmonies, usually close to flawless, weren’t. Sure, you expect the live experience to be a little more raw and unpolished than studio sessions – that’s part of the fun – but I don’t remember things like that standing out as they do here in the shows of theirs I’ve seen before, so I’m puzzled as to why some of these specific versions were chosen for this compilation.

That’s not to say there are no bright spots for fans new and old. Suicide pact perennial favorite “We Both Go Down Together” shines, and even though I already have multiple versions of that one, this one’s a keeper. Ditto for “The Bagman’s Gambit,” which has never been one of my favorites but which is given a poignancy here that I must have been missing in previous listens. “Rise to Me,” “Calamity Song,” (one of the Atlanta tunes), and concert closer for most of the tour “June Hymn” were all in fine form on this collection, too. It’s not that the others sucked, really, but that I was surprised that the questionable mixes and tired harmonies were acceptable and deemed worthy of release.

I rambled on for way too long last time about the Girlyman show, I know. At that show, though, I bought a few discs (and got a free one in a nice B2GO variation) and have now had time to listen to them properly. The latest, Supernova, succumbed the day after the show as I was driving through the beautiful Rockies on the way to Vail.

I’ve since listened to that one again, along with a slightly older one, and – ecstatically – to the collection of their infamous Tuning Songs. Several times a show, it seems, whenever one of the girls has to pause for a tuning break, Nate Borofsky shows off his considerable improv/songwriting skills to the delight of the crowd and the fake consternation of his bandmates, who always join in on the made-up-as-they-go harmonies. Great stuff, that being the free 3rd disc, and not a dud in the bunch – over 20 examples that give a little glimpse into the between-song banter that’s always so light and airy, in stark contrast to the depth and weight of set list itself. Again, can’t wait to see them in May at Eddie’s Attic here in town.

I’d been hearing/reading about Of Monsters and Men all over, it seemed, when I finally heard one of their tunes on a recent Paste mPlayer. From what I’ve read they killed at SXSW, leaving lasting impressions with some heavyweights there, and if “From Finner” is indicative of their entire canon I can see why. Totally infectious, it pried a tweet out of me last week on St. Pat’s (‘Diggin hard on “From Finner” by Of Monsters and Men on this fine Sat afternoon.’ – I’m so proud of my command of the vernacular…) and still feels like that, some 30+ listens later.

I’d been purposely avoiding any teasers for Jack White’s first solo record (really? his first?) for a couple of reasons. I’m the first one to defend his unorthodox approaches to music and life, but several of the last few ventures have not been particularly thrilling for this fan. Also, I kind of wanted to wait for the release and hear it all at once, total weirdness submersion in a normality deprivation tank of his devising. But, alas, my willpower is not so strong, and when I pre-ordered Blunderbuss I got an auto-download of “Sixteen Saltines,” which I think is just about perfect. Strange, nonsensical, and vaguely dirty, it’s vintage White, and the combo of raunchy guitar and twisted carnival organ that he’s been perfecting with The Raconteurs and Dead Weather dovetail seamlessly. If this song is a bellwether for the rest of the album, and everything I’ve read tells me it very likely is, we’re in for a treat, and I can forgive things like Insane Clown Posse collaborations and just move on.

One of the better Daytrotter sessions I’ve grabbed of late is from The Boxer Rebellion. I love it when bands go into the Horse Shack and rework their own songs a touch, and even more when they choose interesting covers that matter to them, and put their own spin on them. TBR does both (they provide a haunting, low key cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” the original of which I always thought was a little too fey,) and that makes it one of the finest of these healthy experiments I’ve heard to date.

Slow Club‘s session is equally entrancing and shouldn’t be missed.

But the best DT session, and most immersive musical experience I’ve had in the last few weeks, has been from Wye Oak.

I wrote about them when compiling my list of 2011’s best albums, and promised a detailed recap of their incredible show in a future, as yet unrealized, review of the best concerts I saw last year. (In my defense, they were all pretty damned good – I wouldn’t have bought tickets and gone if I didn’t already like the bands, and the disappointments were so few and so small as to have already been forgotten. Therefore, they were practically impossible to rank or score; they crossed genres and styles and venues and moods, and couldn’t really be compared as much as reported on, which I may yet do.)

Of the 18 shows I saw in 2011 theirs was probably my favorite of the year. Notice I didn’t say “best,” though it could probably be considered in the top 2 or 3 on that list, too.

The Tabernacle is one of my favorite Atlanta venues, as well. Good size, great history (as its name implies it’s a huge old church from the 20’s or 30’s and still looks it) and it it serves loud bands well, even when they’re not being loud. When writing about Civilian, one of my very favorite albums of last year, I briefly described that show and how suprising it was to find that they’re a 2-pieece, with “Jenn Wasner playing all the masterful, many-hued guitar sounds, and the equally incredible Andy Stack playing drums, keyboards and working the BGVs – all at the same time. To see his left hand and foot playing a staggered stack of keys while his right appendages played a small but explosive drum kit left me reeling.” It’s impossible to describe the  thickness and tangibility of the waves of sound Jenn produces from one guitar, and it’s never more powerful than when she revs it from zero to 60 at the end of a quiet verse, filling the air with sometimes angry, sometimes plaintive, always compelling volume and texture.

Their Daytrotter session, which has mysteriously vanished or I would link to it, is maybe the best one I’ve heard so far. A few songs I wasn’t aware of – and which promptly forced me to find and buy their previous album, so mission accomplished, everyone – some that I knew well, and a gorgeous cover of Neil Young’s “Pocahontas” – all the ingredients providing what these sessions should be: both new and familiar, adding to your appreciation of the artist, never rehashing what you may have already heard in the same ways you’ve already heard it. Until hearing “Pocahontas,” (never one of my favorite Young tunes, and I have many,) I never heard the now-obvious parallel between the fuzz-drenched, distortion-heavy sonic assault of Jenn Wasner and that of Neil Young, one of the sloppiest excellent guitar players I’ve ever loved. Staying in tune, not generating feedback, and keeping things neat and tidy have never been high priorities for Neil – to great effect – and while Jenn eschews the sloppy she’s every bit the aural architect as her shaggy predecessor, welding many-roomed mansions as glowing and as alive as his, on her very own (but neighboring) hill.

Don’t miss it – if you can find it. If not, let me know and I’ll see what I can do. . .

  1. Sandy says:

    You might enjoy listening to Lera Lynn. She is touring with Sarah Jarosz. Here’s a link to her banjo version of TVOTR’s “Wolf Like Me”. Sooo awesome.


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