I’m a bit late in getting around to this, but I had intended to write up reviews for the albums I listened to in January. It’s not particularly time-sensitive — only one of them (Tennis) is “recent” for the music world and only two others actually came out in 2010 — but my own laziness dictates that the more time passes, the less likely I am to actually review them. So it may be a week+ into February now (ugh), but here you go. (You’re welcome.)
(1) Beach House – Beach House (4/5)
I semi-dated a guy not so long ago who professed a deep and abiding love for Beach House, and since I trust his taste, I gave this one a shot. I’m glad I did. Wikipedia research (wikisearch?) informed me that Beach House is of the genre “dream pop,” which I find both enthralling as a musical type and staggeringly accurate. There is nary a disturbing jolt to be found in the album’s entirety.
Their name, too, is spot-on… the album calls forth dim, sleepy summer evenings. You might be nursing a cocktail alone at a vinyl-tableclothed picnic table under a straw thatched roof, sad but also oddly, deeply content. Or you might be gently holding the hand of some slow and stupid conversation with another as you both watch the stars shiver on some big, dark body of water. But wherever you are, it’s night and dreamy and warm and slow.
Highlights: “Tokyo Witch,” “Master of None”
(2) Björk – Debut (2/5)
Y’all know how I feel about Björk.
Highlights: “Human Behavior,” “Aeroplane”
(3) Britta Persson – Top Quality Bones and a Little Terrorist (3/5)
As the second of four Scandinavians that I chose this month, Britta does a decent job of fulfilling my rapacious need for English-language, moody, Scandinavian folk (see: Frida Hyvönen, Emiliana Torrini). I’m not sure what it is about those shifty blondes up north… sometime in between raping & pillaging and universal healthcare & paternity leave came a real knack for the piano & acoustic guitar.
While Britta is pleasant, though, she doesn’t live up to the aforementioned women. At least, she doesn’t come near striking the same chord for me. You can hear her reaching — and having the potential — but falling short both emotionally and melodically. I tried to see if repeated spins would bring the album to life, but no dice. My favorite track of hers remains the elusive “In or Out,” from 2008’s Kill Hollywood Me, due as much to a strong sense identification with it at the time of first hearing as to quality.
So: not amazing, not bad. Decidedly alright. Give it a try if you like. *shrug*
Highlights: “Winter Tour,” “This Spring”
(4) Matisyahu – Light (3.5/5)
Part of my goal in listening to new music was listening to different music, and I think Jewish reggae falls squarely into that category. I had heard the name Matisyahu a lot before finally deciding to give him a shot. I’m not sure whether it was the seeming insincerity/preciousness of Hasidic Judaism + Reggae that turned me off before even hearing him or his popularity (I tend to avoid popular things under the assumption that they’re bad, based on the underlying assumption that people have bad taste. I sometimes then explore them with fascination inspired by their all-consuming popularity [e.g. Twilight], usually then confirming my assumptions).
The interesting thing about Matisyahu though, is that even though his unusual elements have no business working, they really kind of do. The music detaches from the novelty of its composition and stands on its own. And it’s pretty good.
I guess the thing is, I don’t know how often reggae is really my cup of tea. I never had a Bob Marley phase, and still, while acknowledging he’s a great musician, can’t get really excited by his stuff. Matisyahu’s music falls into that same sphere — objectively I will give you credit and high fives. But I probably will not duck into my bedroom and put on my headphones and turn off the lights and rock out to your stuff. ‘Cause we’re on different wavelengths somehow.
This doesn’t apply, of course, to “One Day,” the clear and runaway hit. It’s made of sunshine and world peace and people hugging each other and happy tears. And everyone can tune into that wavelength once in a while.
Highlights: “One Day”
(5) The Morning Benders – Big Echo (3/5)
After seeing a video for “Excuses,” and fallin’ a little in love, and realizing the lead singer was East Asian, and loving that fact because East Asian boys have so little representation in American music (especially indie pop!), and also feeling a sense of connection having just read “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami (which is riddled with Japanese people engaging very intensely in Western culture), I really wanted to love this album. Maybe I’m just an Orientalist.
I didn’t love this album, though. Instead, my response was just kind of “meh.” It brings in a whole boatload of instruments, and it uses those instruments, sure. But while “Excuses” has a revamped-50s flavor to it, right down to the yearning lead vocals, the album afterward collapses into something like boredom and occasional discontent. It picks up every so often, but remains unengaging after starting out with such a pitching, pretty anthem.
Oh, but that video! Watch it, for me, at least. I am largely charmed by the line, “I taped my tongue to the southern tip of your body,” being partial to lyrics that eloquently feature The Sexy in some way; although the song’s meaning is intentionally pretty ambiguous, I’d say.
(6) Robyn – Body Talk (Part 1) (4/5)
Well now, here’s a Swede we haven’t seen since 1993’s ubiquitous, sweet, and predictable “Show Me Love.” Based on knowledge of that song alone, and possibly conjured memories of rollerskating to it at the Rollerama, I wasn’t exactly dying to try out Robyn’s album released last June. But I was intrigued by the amount of hype it was generating, and thought it might be good to try out some capital-P Pop, the kind they play in European discotheques at 3am.
This album can best be summed up by T., who declared, while we made dinner to Body Talk (Part 1), “This is so gay.” As the purveyor of this identity, he knows what he’s talking about. This observation was reinforced by my new gay roommate and his boyfriend, who saw Robyn perform just last week. If “Gay Pop” were a genre, Robyn would be, if not its queen, at least its lady-in-waiting.
But I must be a little gay, because I really kinda dig it. It’s techy, dirty, and weird — Lady Gaga for the third wave of nightclub-goers, when things get slightly more Dionysian. It’s terribly catchy too, which is, of course, essential for pop music.
If you’ve been stalking my Grooveshark lately, it’s probably accused me of being “obsessed” with the anthemic “Indestructible.” Guilty as charged, I guess — in the past week, before cruelly getting my GS access revoked on the Droid ($9/month?!), I have used the song as a morning starter, workout material, and post-work relaxer. Why? ‘Cause it’s awesome: “I’m gonna love ya like I’ve never been here before/I’m gonna love ya like I’m indestructible.”
I encourage you to listen, even if you’re not gay. The video, featuring The Sexy, is racy enough to require you to sign into Youtube. Which just goes to show that Robyn is kind of a badass. Or that Youtube is kind of a prude.
Highlights: “Fembot,” “Indestructible”
(7) Sigur Rós – Von
Rounding out the Scandinavians for the month of January is Sigur Rós, who’s been a Big Deal for a long time now, and who people have been recommending, and I haven’t gotten around to, for years. Now that I have, I’m just confused.
It’s possible that I just don’t get Sigur Rós — it may be beyond my level of sophistication. Because listening to it, I don’t feel relaxed or awed or compelled to stretch out and continue listening for a nice, long Sigur Rósy session. Instead, I just feel really, really creeped out. Like I’ve been violated by night demons. Like if I were listening to it on hard drugs, I would be very, very scared.
Von isn’t exclusively a creepfest; there are moments of warmth and respite. In those moments, I can get a glimpse of what people like — sort of a Philip-Glass’s-Aguas-de-Amazonia feel. But those moments are so few and far between that I end up wondering why people want to traverse Hades’ dark underworld to get there.
Basically, I am not ready for Sigur Rós. I need to transcend a few levels first, musically speaking. I need to prepare a sacrifice and undergo a trial before I’m told the secret. For now, I’ll just be dipping my toes in every so often, hoping I start to “get it” through osmosis.
(8) Tennis – Cape Dory (4/5)
And now to shift gears completely!
Have I told you how much I hate February? I’ve been complaining about it a lot lately, if you’ve somehow managed to avoid it. So I’m glad to get to Tennis. I started with an artificial summer, so I’ll end with one, too.
Tennis and Beach House have a lot in common, apart from both being Summer Objects. Both are indisputably summery, feature softly-warbling female vocalists, never rise from soft pop into aggression. The difference lies in the time of day the music dictates that you listen to it — Tennis is crafted for the sunny, sunny day, and Beach House is all about the warm summer nights.
Everything about Tennis radiates sunshine. The whole time I listened to it — I no longer remember where I was — I imagined it coming from a CD player propped on the deck of a shimmering white boat. (I was sunbathing next to it, by the way.) The song “Marathon” (pretty much universally the chosen favorite) has elicited montages of summer memories I have yet to make, as I hungrily imagine the glorious heaven of June waiting patiently in my future. Jumping off of tall rocks into pools of water! Ice cream! Picnics! Swimming in rivers! Lots of swimming imagery really, but the album is called Cape Dory, so I can hardly be blamed for my lack of creativity there.
Note: As my sister reminds me, this band is Colorado-based — something of a rarity in the music world. Maybe they spent last summer sailing in the Chesapeake Bay?
Not a bad month, all in all. Some predictable ventures for me (Britta Persson, Beach House), but some oddities too (Matisyahu, Robyn). A good mix. Start with the highlights and then branch out from there, if you’re curious.