Having a child has dealt, if not a death blow, then certainly a direct hit on the Battleship that is our indulgence for music. Partly this is a result of a significantly reduced budget for buying CDs and downloads. (The Hold Steady can do many things, but it cannot provide absorbent comfort to Sam’s nether regions.) Partly this is a paucity of leisure time (though we still find time to read, although in a very stop-and-start manner; movies and TV, however, have suffered greatly). In the eyes of our detractors (Jerry Grit), this musical hiatus — the last time we Voreplayed was April 28, though we did plug Arcade Fire and hotly disagree about Best Coast — may be an exposure of us as lightweights, mere dabblers in serious listening and occasional reviewing.
Whatever your opinion, we stretch back to May to cover what we’ve been spinning over the past seven months.
Starting next week, the Best of 2010 in music as well as books, TV, and (eventually, sometime before the Oscars), movies.
Band of Horses, Infinite Arms. The sound of a band that spent too much time (sixteen months) fussing in the studio, sanding off the edges that made its first two albums, Everything All The Time and Cease To Begin, so likable. Infinite Arms goes down easy and barely leaves an aftertaste. Ben Bridwell and company know how to write a winning song (as in “Compliments“), but what to make of a lyric like, “I was thinking it over by the snack machine/I thought about you in a candy bar”? Is that supposed to be a pick-up line? “Baby, every time I look at a Snickers, I just wanna be on you”? We don’t think that works.
Belle & Sebastian, Write About Love. We covered our enthusiasm for “I Didn’t See It Coming” here, but it bears saying that the rest of the album is the best the Scots have given us since 1998’s The Boy With the Arab Strap. We could’ve done without the Norah Jones duet “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John,” but “Come On Sister” is a breezy blast while “I’m Not Living in the Real World,” guitarist Stevie Jackson’s showcase here, accelerates along with a whistle-like chorus of “wooo woo woo wooooo”s. (Nobody does whistle-like “wooo woo woo wooooo”s better than B&S.) Stuart Murdoch’s lyrics are more overtly religious than albums past, particularly the gorgeous “The Ghost of Rockschool,” which Ben plays for Sam on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays when he drives him to day care at Grammy and Grandpa’s because he’s convinced it is Sam’s favorite song.
Black Keys, Brothers. The soundtrack of our summer, and high on our Best of 2010 list. You’ll be hearing more about it next week. (The Black Keys: Another Thing To Love About Ohio.)
Jenny & Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now. We didn’t. This should have been fun, but it got a few perfunctory spins before retiring to the rack where it has sat untouched since September. Boo.
Local Natives, Gorilla Manor. One of the sturdier musical pleasures of the year. The Local Natives benefitted from good buzz (and favorable comparisons to acts like Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes) as well as the opening spot on Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ tour. These kids don’t lack for confidence, covering the Talking Heads’ “Warning Signs” on their first album. “Airplanes,” an ode to a pilot grandfather, captures a lot of generational lament in the simple lyric, “It sounds like we would’ve had a great deal to say to each other.” It also features a creepily evocative video.
Matt & Kim, Sidewalks. This is the fun Jenny & Johnny should be having. Erin is less enthused with them than Ben is, but Ben makes no apologies for his affection for “Cameras.” Erin thinks Matt & Kim have echoes of the Christian goof-rock band “Lost & Found.” And this is a bad thing?
Noah & The Whale, The First Days of Spring. The band’s name comes from one of its favorite films (The Squid & The Whale) and its director (Noah Baumbach). The band signs off its blog posts with “Sic Transit Gloria,” a nod to Wes Anderson. Clearly if there was a band tailor-made for us, it is this one. The music is appropriately cinematic as well. “The First Days of Spring” opens with timpani and strings before building to an operatic sprawl. “Love of an Orchestra” is a strange and whimsical number that recalls Sufjan Stevens, while “Blue Skies” begins with the lyric, “This is a song for anyone with a broken heart/This is a song for anyone who can’t get out of bed/I’ll do anything to be happy.” The rest of the song does its part to deliver on that happiness; “Blue skies are coming,” lead singer Charlie Fink sings, “but I know that it’s hard.”
Robyn, Body Talk. Also on our Best of 2010 list. In any other year, Robyn’s prolific output (Body Talk follows Body Talk Pt. 1 and Body Talk Pt. 2, both released this year, and collects the best from those EPs plus adds new material) would make her the darling Swedish import of the moment. She must hate Stieg Larsson with a white hot fury. (He probably was a lousy dancer too — although if anyone could get him to shake those pasty white, middle-aged Swedish hips, it’s Robyn.)
Sufjan Stevens, All Delighted People EP. There’s a scene in Rushmore where Max Fischer stages a bike accident so he can scheme his way into Miss Cross’s bedroom. While receiving treatment for his head wound (before Miss Cross discovers it is merely ketchup), Max tells her that his friend Herman Blume (Bill Murray) thinks she’s still in love with Edward Appleby, her deceased husband. She retorts, “Edward has more spark and character and imagination in one fingernail than Herman Blume has in his entire body.” (“One dead fingernail,” Max reminds her.)
Sufjan Stevens has more spark and character and imagination in one EP than most artists bother putting into full length albums. The eight songs on All Delighted People clock in at just under an hour. The highlight here is “Heirloom,” a beautiful acoustic number that channels Simon & Garfunkel. Paul Simon’s “Sounds of Silence” serves as the inspiration for the two versions of “All Delighted People,” a song which Stevens says is “a dramatic homage to the Apocalypse [and] existential ennui.” Because heaven forbid it just be a plain old song about love or some such nonsense.
The seventeen minute “guitar jam-for-single-mothers,” “Djohariah,” closes the EP on a sour note. We are sufficiently skeptical as to have held off on purchasing The Age of Adz for the time being.
Wolf Parade, Expo 86. We were quite critical of At Mount Zoomer, a perfectly inoffensive album that had the misfortune of following Apologies To The Queen Mary. We said then, “[At Mount Zoomer] doesn’t belong in the same breath as Apologies to the Queen Mary — which we’ll listen to twenty times for every one spin AMZ gets.” That ratio has proved about right. Now we’ll say this: We’ll listen to At Mount Zoomer twenty times for every one spin Expo 86 gets — with the exceptions of “Palm Road” and “Yulia,” the best indie rock song about a Soviet cosmonaut you’ll hear this year.