When Eric Bescak visited us last month, he delivered a flash drive containing twenty albums, albums from bands mostly unknown to our ears yet borne aloft by indie cred, favorable word-of-mouth, and — most significantly — Eric’s insistent stamp of approval. His generous gift to us was an invitation to explore new musical frontiers. Perhaps it will not come as a total surprise to Eric that we have — we mean it when we say unintentionally — neglected his recommendations in favor of five new albums from old stand-bys. We have chosen comfort food over the exotic. But it’s good comfort food.
Fruit Bats, The Ruminant Band. The one recommendation from Eric that we did take was this one, after he promised that The Ruminant Band would “make us forget we ever loved Wilco.” That was obviously an overstatement. But The Ruminant Band has its own pleasures to offer. A sunny 70s AM vibe prevails, notably on “Primitive Man” and “Being On Our Own.” There’s an effortless, breezy feel to the whole affair: perfect music for porch-sitting on a summer night. “Everything is gonna be just fine,” Eric Johnson sings on the closer, “Flamingo.” Pass the PBR.
The New Pornographers, Together. The New Pornographers haven’t exactly broken new ground with Together, but this is their best album since Mass Romantic. What was unsuccessful in TNP’s previous album, Challengers — more mid-tempo songs and less pop bombast — has been honed here with the supergroup’s most collaborative effort to date. (Even the Dan Bejar tracks aren’t half bad!) High points: the slow-burning “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” and “My Shepherd,” sweeping “Up in the Dark,” and horn-driven “A Bite Out Of My Bed.”
Here’s the video for “Crash Years.” Anne Evans loves it.
LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening. It would be a shame if this is James Murphy’s final album as LCD Soundsystem, as he has claimed (or threatened). With nods to Bowie and Eno, This Is Happening lives up to its massive expectations, delivering superior art/dance rock and some pretty snappy lyrics to boot. (“Be honest with me, honestly/ Unless it hurts my feelings,” he sings on “Drunk Girls.”) With everyone tripping over themselves to praise his sound, Murphy seems to be taking it in stride; as he put it in a New Yorker profile last month (written by, of course, Sasha Frere-Jones), “I understand that if someone’s going to make me his idea of cool I can’t control that.”
We’re not linking to a video on this one. This means you should go buy it and listen to “All I Want,” a shoo-in for the Top Ten Songs of 2010. Go.
The National, High Violet. This is not a happy album, but it’s the best thing we’ve heard so far this year. Former Cincinnatians-turned-New-Yorkers The National are known for brooding, theatrical pop — anti-summer music. “Sorrow” begins with Matt Berninger’s sad sack baritone singing, “Sorrow found me when I was young / Sorrow waited, sorrow won.” “Conversation 16” features a chorus with the lyrics, “I was afraid I’d eat your brains / Because I am evil.” Remarkably, it all sounds good — and sometimes great. Should sadness sound this pretty?
High Violet has deepened with every listen so far, and we expect there’s more melancholy, social anxiety and heartbreak to come the more we burrow in. “The National aren’t ‘dad-rock’ so much as ‘men’s magazine rock,'” sayeth Pitchfork, “music chiefly interested in the complications of being a stable person expected to own certain things and dress certain ways.” We’re not sure we’d endorse the “men’s magazine rock” label, but the rest of it is pretty accurate.
If the lyrics to “Bloodbuzz Ohio” are any indication, we don’t think they miss home.
The Hold Steady, Heaven is Whenever. Ben has to play this when Erin’s not home, given her towering hatred for all things Hold Steady. Former keyboardist Franz Nicolay left the band after Stay Positive, and his absence is felt. Still, “The Weekenders” and “Hurricane J” deliver the same rousing, raise-a-glass-and-sing-along spirit we’ve come to expect from Craig Finn and–
[Erin takes computer from Ben]
I would rather shred my ears with a cheese grater than tolerate this music being played anywhere, ever, to anyone’s satisfaction, much less the man who will be the father of my child. This is why we don’t own a cheese grater.
[Erin hands computer back]
Yes, well. It’s not their finest but any stretch — more of an album you admire than love, really — but Heaven is Whenever is still a kick. Having never seen them live (by choice for one of us, by circumstance for the other … you can guess which is which), this clip from The Late Show sure gives us the impression Finn is kind of a dork.
Next Voreplay: Black Keys, Tift Merritt and Teenage Fanclub (how we’ve missed you!). Oh, and everything Eric gave us. Also, Dave Powell said we could quote him as strongly endorsing David Byrne & Fatboy Slim’s Here Lies Love, a two-disc song cycle about Imelda Marcos’s rise to fame. You heard it here first.