Some Random Thoughts (I'm not dead yet, I promise)

August 3, 2007

Sorry for the lack of updates in the past two weeks. Not only have I been having a particularly tough time in life in general and dealing with a lot of stress related to relationships, school registration, and other various issues, but I have also been going on several college trips. I went to Boston a few weeks ago and I think I fell in love with the city. Completely beautiful, and Boston University was really cool. My trip last week to Minnesota was not very good. And now I hear that a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis killing many people. I think I drove over that bridge when I was there. I assure you death is not following me. I cannot remember ever feeling afraid about death, even once. I’ve always been able to stare it right in it’s face, as distant as it is, looming over everyones horizon. Maybe I only feel indifferent about my own death, but given the chance I would probably get into a fist fight with the grim reaper just for the hell of it. And you know what I would do? I would make him cry for his mother. Anyway, being on summer vacation has opened me up tons of time to listen to new and old music alike, and I have heard so much stuff that it would be unreasonable for me to do page long reviews on all of them. But I guess I’ll go in depth on a few right now to let you guys know I still mean business.

Oh yeah, and I think I’m going to start trying some new things around here. As much as I love doing proper, more official sounding reviews of albums, I kind of don’t think it’s really always the right medium for what I want to get out. I think a lot of times I just want to talk about albums casually, on terms with other albums and my personal experiences with them more so than give them something becoming. So that’s what I’m going to try now. At least for the time being. And I’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, lots of new music lately. In Boston I got a brand new copy of the Radiohead EP Airbag/How Am I Driving for just ten dollars, and I’m pretty sure it was the original issue. That made me happy. I also got a lightly used copy of Vespertine by Bjork for very cheap. In Minneapolis they had a few really good record stores (two stores by the name of Cheapo’s and Electric Fetus) where I bought a really cheap early Aphex Twin EP Analogue Bubblebath 4, Giant Steps by Boo Radleys, and a used copy of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92, because I needed a new copy.

Bjork – Volta
I’ll admit, I have never been too big of a fan of Bjork. I mean, I like a lot of her work, but not enough to consider myself a fan or an avid listener. I always feel like her albums are good, or sometimes even great, so I always buy just one more in the hopes that it will trump the last one I listened to. I now own four Bjork albums, and I think I was easily the most disappointed with Volta. In fact, I’d say this is the biggest disappointment of the year so far. And it’s not like I dislike Bjork, once again. Homogenic and Vespertine are both great albums that I really like a lot, and in comparison to those, Bjork has taken a creative nosedive into oblivion.

I feel like XRTs “Regaler Guy” here, because my vocabulary is somewhat limited and my tone is very blatant. But I won’t lie about this one. Volta sucks because it sucks. There isn’t any one particular reason for the mediocrity of this album besides sheer lack of creative drive or enjoyable songs. Before Volta came out, I heard Bjork perform on Saturday Night Live and I was really impressed. One thing I will give Bjork at this point is that she is still very gorgeous and her vocals have not gotten any worse since the early nineties when she first started out. Her range is really fantastic and she gets out some downright beautiful notes on stage. So with that I felt optimistic about Volta, and yet it ends up being pretty mediocre. I think it’s one of those albums that I really, really wish could have worked out because it just works so well on paper. It is a little bit themed, in that it seems to capture, or at least try to capture that atmosphere of tropical islands. To some extent, she make this apparent. The lead single Earth Intruders actually sounds very fresh with it’s jungle beat and eclectic instruments. But then when the song finally ends, it proves itself unfit for playlist inclusion and leans on the sounds of large steamboats for about a minute and a half. Either way, it’s a good start and a nice opening song.

And then the next song, Wanderlust actually sounds alright too. Bjork can get away with rather brutal sounding techno by laying her voluptuous voice over it, and the result is actually pretty good. But after that, things severely melt down. First, she does an eight minute long duet with some guy named Antony Hegarty, who is apparently fairly well known and respected, but I really dislike his lispy voice. The words are, as usual, pretty cheesy. I can’t stress enough how much I wish Bjork would sing in her native language like her fellow Icelandic compatriots Sigur Ros. And then the unbalanced vocalists sing about…some dull flame of some sort for seven minutes and it is really annoying. It’s just bad. The rest of the album is equally disappointing. I’ve always depended on Bjorks musical and vocal talent to outdo the lack of melodicism in her words, and unfortunately she just can’t pull off the musical part here. The songs Innocence and Declare Independence are both very obnoxious and uninteresting. On Hope, she tries interspersing some more exotic instruments to very mixed success. This was the idea she should have tried to bring to the forefront and stress more often, and maybe this would have worked back in her heyday when she was more poppy and less dark.

It has it’s moments. I really enjoy Pneumonia, and to some extent My Juvenile even if Antony makes a similarly mediocre comeback because the words are very lovely. But for the most part, this album is just very mediocre. I won’t go into individual detail on every song, but honestly, there is very little good material here. Bjork fans seem to like it though, so who knows. If you are a casual fan, like me I guess, you are better off going for some of the more revered Bjork albums instead, namely Homogenic and Vespertine.

Air Formation – Daylight Storms
Shoegaze is just one of those genres that I keep on getting closer and closer to admitting is total BS even if I like it a lot. It just seems like a shoegaze record that actually tries something new and succeeds only comes around once in a blue moon, and most everything in the genre is a My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, or Ride clone. What one has to realize is that sometimes these clones are actually very good. They probably won’t be very memorable in the future because they don’t try anything new or craft their own styles, but they succeed nonetheless by producing some serious beauty. It’s a very narrow genre where the fans are very devout and often disappointed, and depend on these clones to get their satisfaction. Well Daylight Storms is a pretty damn good way to distract yourself until the next great great awakening, or whatever.

So I’m sure shoegaze fans will first ask…MBV, Slowdive, or Ride? It’s Slowdive. VERY Slowdive. The vocals sound very similar to Neil Halsteads, and they pull the typical trick of blurring a random colorful image beyond recognition and sticking it on the cover as well as utilizing a beautiful sounding name. The songs are all slow, with washes of beautiful sound. Most people probably grow tired of this by now. Washes of sound? We have had this on record for years. But here it sounds good. If all a shoegaze record needs are big walls of chords, I would have signed up a long time ago. Well maybe that is really all it needs. And maybe that’s why the genre is such BS. In any case, I like this kind of music. Just crank it reeeally loud and then the beauty starts to surface when your ears are enveloped. These specific clones have always been able to avoid any melodic finesse by making their music all about big, beautiful sound, so you shouldn’t be tricked into thinking you are going to hear a catchy record. But it is a nice, quick, pretty fix for people who always wanted a true Souvlaki sequel and was disappointed that there never was one. These melodies are bittersweet like Slowdives, but this time around are probably more optimistic and full of love than Slowdive’s often brooding personality. It’s actually probably the best Slowdive clone I have heard to date, so you would be doing yourself good to pick this up if you like shoegaze and don’t mind not hearing anything new. Highlights are Daylight Storms, Into View, and Adrift.

Anyway…The window for my mind being inspired or blank enough to fill the slate is very narrow. I have not disappeared and I have not lost any will or anything. I’ve just been busy lately, that’s all. I assure you I am still around and my lapse was temporary. Expect a review of Portishead’s Dummy in a little while.

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