Wednesday

Record Review Corner #1

Adding to my lengthy list of things I am not, I'm not record reviewer. I don't know all the haughty record reviewer terms or have insightful criticisms about nuance. I do not possess any particular hatred toward any particular record labels. Nor do I have a particular affinity for any of the cool "independent" labels either. I just like music. I like what I like. It either sucks or it rules.

I barely even pay attention to lyrics or song titles. I've been in like half-a-dozen bands and still don't know lyrics to songs I wrote or song titles from my solo albums. I hear the big themes of the music, the peaks and the valleys, the rhythms, the essence; I hear in middlespaces. And like all us white guys, I just bite my lower lip, close my eyes, and bob my head up and down to the quarter notes as I do my best Phish-kid twirly dance.

My young college-aged nephew, who I'll call Mike (because his name is Mike, from the whiter side of the family), is my connection to what you kids are listening to nowadays. Musically we both span generations, I got Blueberry Boat and Iron Flag from Mike. He got Nevermind and In Utero from me back when he was 13. I turned him on to Panda Bear and Neutral Milk Hotel. Symbiosis across the generations.

Mike's at one of the prestigious California liberal arts colleges. He's 21 now, so I if I'm not txting him I generally do not hear from him except at Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. But…I got an email from Mike last month directing me to a track from what was to appear on the then forthcoming The Hazards of Love release by the Decemberists. Mike knows me pretty well now so he knew I'd love it. And I did, he was so right. Prep school served him well. I appreciate that he cares too. And I appreciate his taste (except for his "Philly thing" for G. Love – poor misguided youth).

So I passed Mike's link along to Rickey Powell to hear because like with "Animal in Every Corner" from Trying Hartz and "I'm slowly Turning Into You" from Icky Thump, I was excited and knew RP was one person who would know where I was coming from with these types of tracks.

Just yesterday I get an emailing from Apple. Apparently Rickey Powell had gifted me The Hazards of Love for iTunes. How fucking sweet. Friends are good a thing (12 year-old in-joke, haters).

So, just for you, I'm gonna turn on to The Hazards of Love right now on the headphones. I will type what comes to mind over the next 58:37. Give me one moment first....

OK, here goes:
The DecemberistsThe Hazards of Love [Capital; 2009]

[begin – play along at home by starting your recording now]

Side One:

Prelude: What's that, a low G? Deep, foreboding. Second tone oscillating somewhere. Nice. Sets a good mood. A good place to start your donkey ride if one were into that sort of thing. Old heads will hear definite shades of early prog-rockin' Yes here. Builds until a pipe organ comes to forefront, then…choral, vocals. Religious. Dissonance. Nice!

The Hazards of Love 1: A guitar takes baton adds vox. A story begins. A white and wounded fawn singing about the hazards of love. Bass. Shakers in stereo. Textures so satisfying to the brain stem. Plans vexed? Several layers deep. Great use of stereo (two ears & corpus callosum). A tale.

Singing, "Ohhh – ohhhh…the hazards of love."

Ah. Some drums. That's right, rock bands need some drums. No cymbals yet. Just drums. Rough, dark, earthy drums. Like the white kid drum circle at Berkeley. Clean not mean. Textures. Textures and robust orchestration. So far this is a record that demonstrates that there was some planning.

Sweet textures of acoustic picking.

A Bower Scene: This is "the change." Like menopause or a film edit. Maybe the same scene, actually, but a new camera angle. I could do w/o the Olde English, but I get it. Quentin Tarantino angles.

Oh shit! 1:00 into this track – a statement! Something serious just happened here. And…back. Young Margaret's waistline.

And again, for emphasis, The Statement to end this track. Serious business from the nerds. Bill Gates with a pistol grip pump shotgun in his lap.

Won't Want for Love: OH SHIT! A WOMAN'S VOICE. Who's this?! Completes the picture though. It's a play. The balance is nearly perfect. Front to back, left to right, textures and energies. I'm in love with a voice.

The male voice is back, professing love and devotion. But we already know this is a tragedy-in-progress, dude. We can feel it in the music. But one cannot fault a guy from trying to get some love, right?

No question, she's gonna burn you up, son. We can already see it. Ahhh…the hazard of love. Oh shit! I just GOT something! It was right there, yo!

Gotta respect the stacked chimes to transition…to:

The Hazards of Love 2: Nice new voicing position on lead mic. Way out in front now. In my face. Here you are. Hear you are! Hi! Working it.

Your friends will laugh at you. The guys. But mack, son, mack! That's your woman! Love only comes every here and again. Profess it. Swear it. Beg it!

Guitar to organ transition is great. Tambourine…and out. Just like that. Vicious acoustic guitaring. The kind of texture I gave Jason L. on Ark-Ark-Ark.

Take my hand and cradle it in your hand…feel the pull of quicksand.

Conventional yet compelling use of open orchestral ascending chord progressions. Effective emotionally, the world's oldest trick.

The Queen's Approach: A banjo has arrived among dissonance and confusion of witches and wizards. The banjo knows the deal. The banjo always knows the deal. The fool. The joker. The jester. The banjo.

Isn't It a Lovely Night?
: Now this is familiar. Terrific unisons. Accordion and guitar? Yes it is a lovely night, my dear. Well-timed modulations. I fucking love her voice. It's now all Rodgers & Hammerstein like Carousel.

What is this guitar pattern reminding me of? What is this riff? Should I go back? Should I figure it out? It's on the tip of my brain.

No, the waltz section is lovely. 3/4 spins.

The Wanting Comes in Waves / Repaid: Harpsichord. Mother I can hear your footfall. Now. Again, the well-planned, nicely-timed unisons. What's this chord doing? Dissonance and ominous-ness. Ominous-icity. Clouds and animals in the bushes.

Now we're definitely into a familiar territory of modern indie concept rock. But more full and better chord progressions than most.

Oh damn! Big moment @ 1:47. Decemberists just whipped out a case of penises. C'mon, sell it! Sell it! Vocals don't match guitars…Push it. But so what? I don't care. It's loud in here! It's great in here!

There's a great thing happening with the hi-hat. The eighth-note accent travels along the pattern (from 1 to 1& to 2 to 2&, etc.). I wonder if this was played like this (if so, brills!), if created in edit, still great.

Back to unisons with harpsichord. Now big recapitulation of recapitulations. Granting favors. Arcade Fire meets Neutral Milk Hotel at Deerhoof. But with bigger internal sex glands. Arcade and Neutral could never emote to this level; Deerhoof is to sparse.

An Interlude: The well-timed interlude serves as the opportunity to get back up on your donkeys, kids. Conveniently and graciously they gave you said opportunity at the beginning and now you can re-up your donkey. Free of charge. You don't even have to break pace. At all.

See? There's even time for some ferocious French kissing and a quickie bathroom break. Build it up, tear it down...ride your donkey into town.

Now, we're back. Ladies and gentlemen, the rest of the album:

Side Two:
The Rake's Song: So this is the song I think Mike sent me the link to. I believe it to be so. I think I can. Thick with amp fuzz and big, booming thunder of drums (over compressed). All on top of the buzz/texture of acoustic strumming. All right!

Like I said, thunder! Crash! Boom! What? Dave Wave just sent me an email:
"Watching Shine a Light at work here. The line's "life's just a cocktail party". I always thought it was "Knives to the cocktail party" - much better."
I've never seen Shine a Light. I'm working, nigga! Of course it's "...life's just a cocktail party...on the street. Big apple!" Damn, nigga. Damn!

Open roll on the hi-hat (pretty clear 32nds). Nice after exit of toms. Big vocals and orchestrations. Settling.

The Abduction of Margaret: And, back to work. 16ths on the hi-hat. The organ work is subtle here, but great, quite clear. Just slightly trailing the attacks on the guitar changes (delay echo), a good effect (must copy).

Ahhh! Again big with the A Bower Scene builds/statements (I'll have to check that reference).

The Queen's Rebuke / The Crossing: Statement re-launched! Oh shit. This is moving now. Bones of the branches of the brow-beating lies or some shit. Heavy metal vamp. Cymbal ride cuts really nice. Very Alice in Chains vamping. Except the haunting female vocal OOOOOOOs make it more riveting. Very riveting. Not threatening. I saw Alice in Chains in small pre-big-time venue. '92.

Guitar as penis time. But that's what a guitar's purpose is. Again, reminiscent of Alice in Chains.

Now back to prog-rock 101 on KMET (little bit of heaven, ninety-four point seven). Are these guys music school nerds? They have a good feel for style. Better than Lenny Kravitz in terms of historical moment extraction.

ORGAN!!! The ascension. Ascension. Ascension! ASCENSION!

Anna Water: Shake me awake. How'd I get here? It's like waking up. In water. OR on the sea...in a ship. With no context for how you got there or why you're there. The obligatory train song song. Cold water to face like Furious Floyd.

Do it here. I'm cheering you on, people. C'mon. C'mon. I'm waiting. I'm willing. Do it. Do it to me!

The horses shiver and bite against the bridle. So wide and so textural. Nice again.

Again, some beautiful unison voicings. And back to the pony ride. But I only see retarded hippie kids noodle-dancing here. Stop it! Stop it now! I hate the hippie kids' dancing. They so suck. Sit down! You can't dance! Your parents didn't send you to NYU for you to dance like that! Stop the hippie kid images! Sit down hippie kids!

I get what's happening here with the ds al coda. But. BUT, it just blew even my attention span. Good coda though. Just. Too. Long.

Margaret In Captivity: Another familiar riff/sound. Intentional. It works. History of prog/alt since 1969. Love the dissonant overlays. We're back to good places. Safe place.

Nice. Bringing her back to me like that. Even if she's crazy and would kill me if she were my "life partner." She's beautiful, she's intelligent, but she's crazy. You can hear it in the rats. Rats in the walls. Rats on the wall. So dark in the tower. So dire and so serious. She's a suicide in waiting; for your or for me. Perhaps both.

So very heartbreaking. Tender and tragic.

The Hazards of Love 3: Variation number three. The Sound of Music hilltop. Flower children dancing. That vendor from Tommy. Welcoming you to Tommy's Holiday Camp. The camp with the difference, never mind the weather.

It all happens up here.

Shit. I was right. Kid voices. Chil-runs. A brilliant effect for here with that back filter suck-sound thing going on. Dreamy. Loosely dream-like from LOST. Oh, it is a dream. I've been in this dream before. I know you. I know you. Hi! When do I wake? Down there? OK. Yes, I'll have another unicorn, thank you. It's all about now. May I wake?

Oh, OK. Yes. Ice cream. The robots are happy. I love when the robots are happy. Especially when the factory is making more! Robots making (love) robots for robots. We witness.

This carousel is going much too fast. Too fast! TOO FAST! I want to wake up now. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up! Thank you very much to wake up! Narm!

The Wanting Comes In Waves: But there's no waking. Just mountain climbing. In warm sunshine. More of a beautiful hike than a mountain climb. Up. Up. Up! Warm....

She loves me. I love her. Life is love. Up! Up! Flying.

Flying. But I can't fly.
Blog: whas up whas up?
me: writing this thing now there's a story here.
Blog: including this IM msg, or no?
me: of course the IM thing of course, brother, how did you know?
Blog: have fun! produce, man. keeeep produuuucing, pops!
The Hazards of Love 4: Now that the coma is over. Family and friends are all here. How long have I been…away? What? She's dead? How? When? Asleep.

But. But. I don’t want to live without her. She was life. IS my life. My life. My wife. I cannot live without her. Her. Her. Her. Her. Her.

Level two - Now that the coma-coma is over-over. I had such a weird dream that I was in a coma and that I came out of it and now here I am. Barefoot. On this mountain. The wreckage of civilization at my feet. Bleeding from hands and ankles. Stigmata. Blood of sins. Sins and souls.

A pedal steel player. A drummer. A bass player. They're all here. We're a band, Marcus. We're a band! You can't be late for rehearsal. Because we're a band. And we don’t suck. We're the best band. Listen to us! Listen to me!

Listen. Violins. Daisies. Colors.

Licking quietly at our ankles.

Watching a movie. Dark, smoky theater. Just us. You and me. Alone. A film almost over. I lean over and kiss your neck. Grateful that I love you and you love me. Grateful for love.

Such a weird, sad, happy, beautiful movie. So much about life and love. Powerful.

Thank you for letting me down so easy. I love you too.

[End]