Previously known as “What We’re Spinning,” now changed to “Voreplay” thanks to the suggestion of Mark Hoobler, this is a sporadic series — shamelessly copied from Eric Bescak — in which we share what’s in our CD player. (We get our iPod back soon. We think.)
Beck, Modern Guilt. Beck, like Christian Bale, is on that shortlist of men whom Ben feels compelled to randomly disparage on a semi-regular basis. “What was Beck thinking when he made a cameo in Southlander?” he might say during a lull in dinner conversation. “And what was with the fire-breathing mechanical T-Rex at the end of the movie?” This causes Erin to slam down her silverware and storm out of the room. When Ben clears the table later, he is disturbed to see that his wife has shaped her mashed potatoes into a startling likeness of Beck, with the green beans spelling out YOU’RE HOT. Ben sets the plate down and stares off into the middle distance, his heart heavy, and oh so brittle.
(We like the album, especially the song “Walls” featuring Cat Power.)
Dr. Dog, Fate. Sunny, catchy pop, with a winning combination of low-fi rough edges and harmonizing backing vocals of the doo-wop variety. At first listen, Dr. Dog will probably remind you of someone else: part-Beatles, part-Beach Boys, with a dash of The Band. Those are lofty comparisons, but Fate delivers several songs that justify them, namely “Army of Ancients” and “My Friend.” “Uncovering the Old” makes Ben giddy like a schoolgirl. Thank you, Anne Evans, for introducing us to these retro-pop hipsters. Whether or not Fate is better than past efforts Easy Beat or We All Belong we’ll leave to Anne and the experts.
Mason Jennings, In The Ever. The title, a significant improvement over his previous album (Boneclouds), is taken from Mason’s son asking him where he was before he was born, “You know dad, when I was in the ever?” Jennings has a gift for tackling religious and occasionally political themes without being overbearing, “I Love You and Buddha Too” being one particularly catchy example. Jennings also did two songs for the I’m Not There soundtrack, both lip-synched in the movie by the one-and-only Christian Bale.
Conor Oberst, Conor Oberst. What can we say, except that this is turning into a lesson on Erin’s crushes … before Ben punchisized them in the face. (For free!) Erin gets a little weak in the knees for voices that sound like bleating goats, and Conor is no exception. We go up and down with Bright Eyes; some of his songs are spectacular, others sound like what we imagine that moment before death must be like. Still, this is a pretty solid album. Looks like all that time in Mexico really paid off. Pass me some guacamole!
(Smog), Supper. A classic from the vault. Perfect music for winding drives up and down West Virginia backroads. Tracks five, six and seven — “Vessel in Vain,” “Truth Serum” and “Our Anniversary” — are a fantastic trio, and they give way to the shambling, impressionistic “Driving,” with whisper vocals, banjos and even fireworks. A high point in the (extensive) Smog/(Smog)/Bill Callahan discography.
(Smog), A River Ain’t Too Much To Love. A gorgeous album all around. Erin has listened to “The Well” on repeat from Exit 54 when NPR gets a little staticky until she arrives at school to teach kids about books and stuff. His voice is so deep, so crisp. Like an apple in fall. Or the Grand Canyon, if it was filled with ice cold lemon-lime Gatorade. Or the Mariana trench if it was holding a trillion crisp baby carrots.
Spiritualized, Songs in A & E. Spiritualized strikes us as the pop equivalent of Taize worship, striving for transcendence through monotony. The lyrics are simple and straightforward, building into choruses that repeat over and over and finally crescendo into, ideally, a spiritual experience. Some songs reach those lofty heights (notably “Sweet talk” and “Soul on fire”) but others just spin their psychedelic wheels. Nothing we have written here, alas, is as punchy as Eric Bescak’s distillation of the band as a “sad-but-willing-to-please Pink Floyd.”
David Sedaris, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. We’re big fans of audio books on road trips. We justify the expense by loaning them to friends when we’re done. So if you want this one, let us know. It’s both darker and mellower, with Sedaris clearly preoccupied with death. (Skeletons talk to him.) Our favorite essays include “It’s Catching” and “Solutions to Saturday’s Puzzle.” While we would’ve liked more of his brother Paul, Sedaris makes up for it by introducing us to a monster named Mrs. Peacock in “The Understudy.” But why settle for our recommendation? This is what others say about it on Amazon: “screamingly funny,” “PISS YOUR PANTS FUNNY!!”, “Had me laughing out loud several times!”, “pleased with purchase,” “when you are engulfed in laughter,” and “like a cold martini thrown in your ex’s face.” It’s exactly like that.
(Note: Voreplay officially takes the place of this week’s Friday Recommends. But if you find yourself going into Olympic withdrawal this weekend, may we recommend the greatest Winter Olympics movie of all time, The Cutting Edge, to prepare you for Vancouver in 2010?)