Thanks to all who offered recommendations for how Ben should spend his iTunes gift card. (Sorry, Tad, but we passed on 2 Skinnee J’s.) We have noted below who recommended what before delivering our critical judgment upon those recommendations, verdicts which may or may not shatter friendships!
First, a concert review of Bonnie “Prince” Billy at The Southgate House on June 11.
Yes, he’s a weird-looking dude. We were pleased he played only a few songs off his latest, Beware, which we have found a bit somnambulant. (Erin: “Somnambulant?” Ben: “Well, it is.” Erin: “You’re pretentious.”)
Bonnie “Prince” Billy band members fall into one of three categories: Weird-Looking Hillbilly; Weird-Looking Nerd; and Hot Violinist. BPB is a theatrical guy who can write some pretty sexually explicit songs, so we won’t mince words here: It sure looked like he wanted to eat the violinist. During duets he would level an almost predatory gaze at her. Given 1) his appearance, and 2) his relative age compared to hers (we’d guess a 20-year difference), this was creepy. Roughly translated, his sultry stare said, “I want you right here, right now, and I don’t care if everyone in this room watches.” She seemed unfazed by it. We felt uncomfortable.
The songs were gorgeous, and we were in good company with our friend Dusty. But it was a bizarro crowd, especially by Cincinnati standards. (We found ourselves asking, “Do these people really live in Cincinnati? And if so, where do they hide when the sun is out?”) We also played a fun game as we walked to Southgate called, “Is That Person Over There Going To The Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy Show?” We were quite good at it. We would’ve scored 100% if not for the man in the button down shirt and dress slacks. We saw him grooving with a chick during the opening act like he took a wrong turn and thought he was at Bang.
In the parking lot after the show, a dozen hipsters bludgeoned him to death … with irony!
Avett Brothers, Emotionalism. Ben was mostly enjoying this (especially the opener “Die Die Die”) until Erin heard it and said, “I know what this reminds me of – countrified They Might Be Giants. Which explains why I find them a little annoying.” That basically ruined these guys for Ben, probably maybe forever. Sort of like how Ben thought he liked Miller Chill (with its smack of lime) until Erin tried it and said, “This reminds me of the aftertaste you get when you throw up.” Ben couldn’t finish the bottle he was holding at the time, and he hasn’t had another since.
Bat For Lashes, “Daniel.” An Eric Bescak iTunes recommendation. Containing what Pitchfork calls “one of the most insidious choruses of the year,” “Daniel” sounds like a long lost 80s single. We don’t miss the 80s that much. We are prepared for Eric’s withering contempt.
The Boy Least Likely To, The Law of the Playground. Recommended by Carolyn. If we had kids, this is music that we could stand playing for them. Meaning, shelve it next to the Curious George soundtrack, Schoolhouse Rock, Renee & Jeremy, Gustafer Yellowgold’s Mellow Fever and Dan Zanes’s Catch That Train. (Zanes’s label appropriately calls this brand of music “age-desegregated,” a moniker both more preferable and accurate than “kid’s music.”) Also along the lines of I’m From Barcelona, who we like. Thank you, Carolyn.
David Byrne and Brian Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. A 2009 favorite (although it released last fall). What the duo calls “electronic gospel,” Everything delivers some real gems (“Life is Long,” “One Fine Day” and the title track) and others you will not want to listen to more than once (“Poor Boy” and “I Feel My Stuff”). But the highs far outweigh the lows.
Bill Callahan “Too Many Birds.” Another iTunes recommendation from Eric Bescak. We’ve confessed our love for all things Bill Callahan and (Smog) before. His voice is so deep, so crisp. Like a coal miner eating Crispy Crunch at the bottom of a shaft. Or Coco Crisp reading Kierkegaard.
Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career. Think early Belle & Sebastian (fellow Glasgonians) with a dash of 60s girl band twee pop. Which is also to say: We love it. You’d be hard pressed to start an album better than this one does, with its downer-lyrics/sunny-melodies trifecta of “French Navy,” “The Sweetest Thing” and “You Told a Lie.” We intend to atone for missing them recently at Southgate by putting this one on our 2009 Top Ten.
The Decemberists, Hazards of Love. We were a little afraid of this one, though it’s not as bad as some reviews have suggested. But it is bizarre. A prog-rock-tinged concept album without song breaks and a first track that sounds like a overlong vamp for an Elvira “Midnight Madness” show, Hazards of Love has its moments, “Hazards of Love” (the song) among them. That said, we miss little pop gems from albums past like “Myla Goldberg,” “We Both Go Down Together” and “Sons and Daughters.” Come back, Decemberists. All will be forgiven.
Dent May, The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukelele. The title pretty much sums this one up. Whether or not you agree this is “good feeling music” will depend on how feel about 1) an album where the songs all sound the same, and 2) whether the ukelele deserves to be called “magnificent” or not. If so, have we got an album for you!
The Hold Steady, A Positive Rage. We think you know how we felt about this one.
Iron & Wine, Around The Well. Most bands would kill for a b-sides album this good. There are some great covers on here, notably “Waitin’ For a Superman” (The Flaming Lips) and “Such Great Heights” (Postal Service), the latter of which you may recognize from an M&M’s commercial.
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, Outer South. This one is getting pretty well panned by critics. We’ve made peace with the fact that Conor Oberst is not the next Bob Dylan and decided to like him for who he is. There are several tracks on South sung by other vocalists which, depending on your tastes, will either be a relief or a letdown. We’re guessing that if you’re paying for a Conor Oberst album, you’ll probably fall in the “letdown” category. “Slowly (Oh So Slowly)” and “Nikorette” are high points.
Passion Pit, Manners. Recommended by Dan Vore, who knows our tastes well. An instantly likable album in the same mold as MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular. This is the soundtrack of choice for those spontaneous, late night living room raves for which we have become both famous among our friends and reviled by our neighbors.
Sam Phillips, A Boot & A Shoe. Recommended by Mark Hoobler. And we are glad he did. As we were unfamiliar with Sam Phillips until this album, it took us until track two to realize Sam is a she and not a he. Further research revealed that Phillips played a mute terrorist in Die Hard With A Vengeance, is T-Bone Burnett’s ex-wife and was once dubbed the “Christian Cyndi Lauper.” She’s also featured in The Believer’s 2009 Music Issue.
Regina Spektor, Far. This one is actually still in the shrink wrap, but given the joy that Begin to Hope brought us, we’re excited for what’s in store. We’ll report back next Voreplay.
St. Vincent, Actor. A Matthew Leathers recommendation. He calls this the best album of 2009 (thus far). But gauging from his review, it also sounds like listening to St. Vincent, a k a Annie Clark, might cause vehicular catastrophe. So … should he really be recommending it so enthusiastically? What kind of person desires seeing a twenty-car interstate pile-up? A monster, that’s who. Clark, a former member of The Polyphonic Spree (for whom we have a very soft spot in our hearts), has also played with Sufjan Stevens and will open for Andrew Bird this fall. Confession: We don’t love it. We like it, but it hasn’t inspired us to veer into a guardrail. We’ll keep listening.
You Shall Know Us By The Trail of Our Dead, The Century of Self. Recommended by Erik Brueggemann. This is not exactly our cup of tea, but we’re all for expanding our musical horizons. May we also say that there’s no family we’d rather share a van ride to Lexington with than the Brueggemann clan. (Although young Lena isn’t very good at coloring inside the lines!)
Separate reviews of Wilco’s Wilco (The Album) and Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse’s Dark Night of the Soul coming soon!