Thursday, February 26, 2009

Two Thousand Eight - 5. The Killers - Day and Age

I love the Killers pretty much as much as any band that exists these days. Yep. Right up there with Future of the Left, the Drones, Max Tundra. And, as you might expect, I pretty vehemently resent the idea that there's no reason to put them in this kind of company. I don't think there's anyway around admitting that the Killers, unfortunately, have the market cornered on melodic pop rock music right now. Just because everyone else in their bracket (with the exception of everyone who unequivocally sucks) is way way past their prime - U2, Green Day, Fall Out Boy - doesn't mean they're irrelevant.

Of course, relevance has nothing to do with it, really. A good pop rock album out to be a good pop rock album and, in fact, is. Day and Age is a great album, as long as you consider albums full of great songs that have nothing to do with each other besides greatness to be great albums.

Something in the appeal that Day and Age and Sam's Town hold almost certainly has something to do with the fact that be very best music in 2008 was not made by musicians with thousands (? tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands? how much money does it take to make a polished studio record for a major lable if you're not Axl Rose?) of dollars to spend in the creation of a pop album. There is something to be said for professional, high tech, clean sound, and not just in hip hop or "pop" pop music, by which I guess I mean Kelly Clarkson. Would these songs sound ok if they had used No Age's studio setup to record them? Maybe, but more likely they would sound flat and boring.

Brandon Flowers as a starving indie rock singer is commonplace: a dude with an average but impassioned singing voice and a stupid and flashy sense of style. If I passed the dude on Bedford Ave on a Friday night I'd wish to stomp his face. But context changes everything about the Killers. What would be annoying becomes charming, what's boring becomes exceptional. What would it sound like if you took the boring pop rock music and dumb, disconnected, naively nostalgic stylistic obsessions of the last decade together and threw a bunch of money into trying to turn them into something cohesive? It would sound a lot like Day and Age.

In that last paragraph I used the word stupid and the word dumb. The Killers are both and I love them for it. They have never recorded a stupider song than "Joyride", or a "better" song than "Goodnight, Travel Well", or a more a confused rambling Steinmanesque concoction than "A Dustland Fairytale". So, it's a broad album, yes, but I don't mean to give the impression that this album is good only because of its breadth, because, while depth is certainly not their forte, the Killers get deeper on "Losing Touch" and "Goodnight" than they have on any previous songs.

But a broad album is what this is, primarily. Broad in its appeal as pop music is meant to be, even if it goes largely unrecognized on the charts or the radio. I'm really looking forward to blasting "Spaceman" out the window of my apartment this spring and shouting "Losing Touch" out of a moving car when it gets warm enough to roll down the windows.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Two Thousand Eight - 6. The Drones - Havilah

I probably listened to the Drones more than any other band in 2008. This worked out pretty well, as I've gone through some obsessive periods over bands during some pretty awkward times in their existences, and that doesn't work especially well. The most intense period of my Radiohead admiration took place between about 6 months to a year after OK Computer came out and the the release of Amnesiac. Roughly a 3 year span, I think, during which time they released an EP, which is still probably one of my favorite records of all time, in any case, and an LP, which definitely is, and did not tour at all. I could just as easily have listened to nothing but Thin Lizzy last year and been left with nothing to show for it but some perpetual blue balls.

So it was nice that the Drones not only released Havilah this fall and toured in such a way that I was able to see them blow about 20 people's minds in a very small basement room, but also that they're definitely still at the peak of their game.

You can see what I wrote about "The Minotaur" for Tiny Mix Tapes. I won't bother saying anything much more about that. It's an amazing track and represents exactly what this band is capable of when they set their sights on boiling the blood.

But the Drones seem to be dead set on being the exact opposite of their name, and that means that they can't just be trying to rock out on every track. For me this is more often frustrating than anything else. Why does Kanye have to sing? Why do the Drones have to follow "The Minotaur" with "The Drifting Housewife"?

Please do not get me wrong. Sequencing is not The Drones' strong suit, but I think "The Drifting Housewife" is easily better than 80% of the music I heard last year. And since it's by far the least good song in the record, that puts the rest of the songs a pretty decent percentile. "Nail It Down" isn't as exceptional as "Jezebel" or "Shark Fin Blues" when it comes to Drones leadoff tracks, but it's still freaking great. "I Am the Supercargo" is a slow burn for the ages and I'm still fucking trying to figure out what exactly it's about. If you know, please tell me.

Unlike, say Thom Yorke's lyrics, or which are impressionistic in the "I'm just trying to get a vibe going" kind of way, this shit is impressionistic in a way that is actually trying to get something across. You know that "Supercargo" is trying to tackle topics, and you get the sense that it's doing a pretty good job of tackling, even if it seems like it's going in eighteen directions at once. Gareth Liddiard's brain is running from colonialism, some sort of narrative about a marriage, to straight up post modern dissatisfaction, and he's doing what he can to make it make sense, but it's more about just getting things out and that's more than enough. When it's focused, as on "Oh My" and "The Minotaur" the vitriol is fucking blinding, and when it's mixed in with more complicated shit it just takes a little more work to get the marrow out of it.

And lest you think I'm down on the ballads, "Cold and Sober" is the heartbreakingest song the Drones have ever committed to an MP3. Rare is the band that can kill you with violence and silence on the same record. Why are these people not bigger than Jesus?

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Two Thousand Eight - 7. The Presets - Apocalypso

Everyone loves Cut Copy, and I suppose that counts for me to. But in terms of albums by Australian dance music groups from 2008, Apocalypso is better than In Ghost Colors. But that's not really the point. Those are two very different records from two very different bands. People were into comparing Cut Copy to New Order, and if that's true than the Presets are Depeche Mode. The bottom line is that Apocalypso is more fun than pretty much any other records that got released last year.

Which I realize is a difficult position to defend: Apocalypso can get kind of dark. It's got that kind of odd sinister sexy as fuck sedo-masochistic vibe that not only worked for the Mode, but for some of the best Moroder fueled Donna Summer tracks, shit like "Tainted Love", take it back as far as you want and the best dance music, arguably perhaps, has a pretty strong current of darkness running through it. And talk til you're blue in the face about Hercules and Love Affair, but there's really only two good tracks on there - Apocalypso blows that shit out of the water if you take it song for song.

Obviously, my love for this record has nothing to do with originality, topicality, or anything fancy like that. The sounds on here are sounds that everyone has used before, sounds that everyone is familiar with if you've heard the stuff I hinted at earlier. And it isn't like they're doing anything new with it, so here is where we get into a nice little battle about craft vs. art. But who's saying this is art in the first place?

There's some great synth sounds on this record. That thing on "My People" that sounds vaguely like background vocals but I think is actually a synth? That thing is amazing. Groundbreaking, no, but it sounds so fucking good and who cares. There's no meaning there, necessarily, so I won't try to explain it. The point of dance music is to unlock something that you generally keep under lock and key, and it does that with sounds like that fucking "na, na, na" sounds on "My People".

And "Yippiyo-ay"? How awesome is it that they named the song "Yippiyo-ay"? That's maybe the best song title since "Song 2", in as much as a song title is meant to represent the meaning of a song. There are other lyrics in that song out of which you can easily cobble together a title. "Girl From the Creature Feature"? "Slide It In"? Those would basically capture the feeling of the song, it's general sexual notions, but "Yippiyo-ay" takes that to the next level. That song is not about sex, it's about the nonsensical euphoria of communal night club experience. These guys aren't articulate, otherwise they might have been able to put something into words that was able to really express what's going on here. "Yippiyo-ay" is damn close though. Damn close.

But they do try to do something other than just put some nonsensical lyrics on top of brilliantly brooding and impeccably produced instrumentals. And "If I Know You" is a valiant effort. The only bad thing I can say about these songs is that they're so complete, frequency wise, it's really hard to mix them in with anything else. I don't think this is why David Lee Roth was talking about, but these songs will melt your records too.

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