Who’s got some words of wisdom?
So today’s the day I had to have my year-end top-fifty-albums list into Pitchfork, and fifty albums is a whole lot of albums. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been going on a real binge listening to every 2007 album I remembered sort of liking and trying to get my list bashed into acceptable shape. When you’re writing one of these daily music blogs, you’re supposed to stay up on everything, writing about music as soon as it becomes available. Initial opinions certainly aren’t invalid, but they do change; I remember writing nice things about Young Buck’s Buck the World, for instance, and I can barely make it all the way through that record anymore. And I sometimes end up missing albums that took a little while longer to sink in. Looking at my list, I’ve got a few albums on there that I haven’t written hardly anything about despite writing a couple hundred blog entries this year. These three albums aren’t slept-on; every one of them is a critical favorite on some level or another. But they’re albums that I needed to hear a few times before I really heard them, and I think it’s interesting to look back at them and to think about the ways they work and why I might’ve underrated them early on.
Grinderman: Grinderman. Nick Cave’s new band isn’t really a new band; all the members are longtime Bad Seeds. But it is his return to creepy-obsessive clangor, and the album’s sound seems designed to be as repellant as possible. At first, I just couldn’t stand listening to the thing. Its assaultive qualities reminded me of all the deliberately terrible mid-90s pigfuck stuff I couldn’t stand in high school, and I had trouble empathizing with the frustrated old deviant character Cave plays on a lot of these songs. I listened to the album a couple of times and then promptly forgot about it until I saw Grinderman opening for the White Stripes at Madison Square Garden and putting on a roiling show that came pretty close to overshadowing a great Stripes set. Back when I gave the album its first cursory listens, the feedback-squeals tended to get in the way of some serious churning bottom-end grooves and the self-mocking hilarity in Cave’s posturing. Looking back, I have no idea how I missed that stuff. These songs sound a whole lot different after I heard them coming from four men who looked like well-dressed swamp-creatures onstage like they were arena-rock anthems and doing it in an actual arena. Spectacles like that have a way of recontextualizing things.
Gui Boratto: Chromophobia. Chromophobia came out around the same time as the Field’s From Here We Go Sublime, another album of wistfully melodic minimal techno from the Kompakt label. At the time, I got stuck on the Field album and barely paid attention to Boratto’s. The Field has these gorgeous gleaming textures, and he pulled tiny pieces of songs I recognized and used them to craft quiet but immediate hooks. Chromophobia took a whole lot longer to sink in. It’s a long album full of long songs, and I don’t much like long songs as a general rule. All the elements work a lot more subtly: pittering heartbeat drums push up against each other and form tiny little counter-rhythms, synths hum and twinkle contentedly, nothing ever builds up or breaks down. The album never quite forsakes rhythm, but it’s basically an IDM album; I can’t imagine ever hearing it on a dancefloor. But tracks from the record kept coming up on shuffle, and I kept confusing them with tracks from Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92, which is about the nicest thing I can possibly say about an IDM album. Boratto also loves to use lush, twangy New Order guitars, and he knows how to make them fit perfectly with his pings and ripples. The kicker is “Beautiful Life,” an ethereal new-wave jam so blissfully warm that I become physically unable to feel grumpiness whenever it’s on.
Magik Markers: Boss. Whenever I hear about a band from the No Fun Fest horrible-noise axis making its pop move, I get suspicious. Accessibility means different things to different people, and I’ve seen people keep a straight face while describing something like Sung Tongs as straight-up pop, like it was a Fergie record or some shit. That new Sightings album is supposed to be their accessibility move, but that thing still pretty much sounds as much like ass-ugly gut-rumbling skree as all the other bullshit I’ve heard from that band. So when critics started praising Boss as a pop move from a band previously known mostly for nauseating squalls, I didn’t put a whole lot of stock into it. When I finally got around to listening to Boss, though, I found a truly welcome surprise: it’s basically Sonic Youth’s Goo, except with psyche-rock organs and prominent basslines in place of sardonic pop-cult commentary. It’s not a pop record by any stretch, but it has a compulsively listenable apocalyptic heaviness that can be weirdly soothing. And I think it’s interesting that Magik Markers and Grinderman both arrived at their strikingly comparable evil groove-snarls from such opposite ends: one moving toward darkness, the other moving toward light.
Voice feature: Zach Baron on Magik Markers