I feel like I'm constantly writing about how disappointed I am by artists I used to love (I'm beginning to just feel like music just belongs to a moment, not forever). I guess because the only bands I've truly loved over the last two years or so are Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad, and really, how much do you want to hear about them? (But seriously, go listen to both of those bands. Now.)
Anyway, enough about those Scottish bands because it's a new year and new records are being released (and lemme just say, it's already been a great year, three weeks in). And this week saw the release of albums by two bands I listened to a lot of in college: Belle and Sebastian and The Decemberists. The latter, let me tell you, was one of my favorite bands about 10 years ago or so, and their first three albums are very important to me. I can still listen to "The Bagman's Gambit" and "We Both Go Down Together" and "The Island" and get excited and overwhelmed (tell me the tempo change in "The Bagman's Gambit" isn't incredible). The lyrics to "On the Bus Mall" are some of my favorite of all time, and you know how I feel about lyrics. Colin Meloy is a genius, and they are a terrific live band. I admired The Hazards of Love (my favorite thing about it was probably Shara Worden's vocals) but didn't care much for The King is Dead (sounded like a bunch of late-era R.E.M. b-sides) but once I heard they were releasing a new record this year I was like YES! NEW DECEMBERISTS! But basically that was out of habit. Everyone gets excited when they hear a band they really like/liked is gong to release a new record, especially now when you can stream everything so there's nothing to lose by listening to it. It was nice to have The Decemberists back, even if I didn't end up enjoying the record.
Well, now the record is out. Meh. But this isn't going to be a post about how disappointed I am about What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World because I had no expectations. And it's a nice album. It's been called "unambitious" in a lot of reviews, and I think that's probably the best way to describe it. All of the songs, to me, sound the same, and that is never the case with The Decemberists. I get it, they're getting older, I understand the path they're going, whatever. It doesn't seem as offensive to me as The Avett Brothers (because I don't feel like they have anything to gain from changing their sound). I accept it. They may never write a song as epic as "The Wanting Comes in Wave/Repaid" and may never use a harpsichord again. I guess that's...okay. My only issue is that those things, the harpsichord, the elaborate string sections, the songs about rakes and knaves and pirates and whales and chimbley sweeps, the whole epic nature of it all, that's what makes The Decemberists The Decemberists. All of the down tempo songs, the Americana on the new record are fine but not for The Decemberists. It's nice to have you all back, truly, but I'll be listening to Picaresque and Her Majesty The Decemberists and Castaways and Cutouts (and some of The Crane Wife, actually) while being very glad of the fact that you're no longer on hiatus.
(I just want to say that yes, you're right, I did think ever song on Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave sounded the same upon first, second, and third listen but...the great reviews made me want to keep trying. I am going to keep trying with What a Terrible World... too but nobody is saying much about it other than, "uh...it's nice.")
Speaking of Scotland...Belle and Sebastian also have a new record out. My love of that band lasted about...six months, and over the years, I've basically distanced myself from them. They are very twee, yes, and sometimes kind of lame but when I heard the new album was coming out, I thought, "Well, something to listen to." I mean, they're always a band I felt affinity towards (probably because "Dress Up In You" is one of my favorite songs ever), and I always want them to do well (this is the story with every Scottish band, isn't it?) So, I'm not in love Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance yet but it excites me. Every B&S record should sound like ABBA. (Every record ever should sound like ABBA.) I don't want you to think that I love (or even like) every track but Jesus Christ, when it's good, it's good. I thought "The Party Line" was good but holy shit, "Enter Sylvia Plath" and all its europop-goodness! We're less than a month into 2015 and I'd be hard pressed to find a) a better song this year and b) a lyric I'll like more than "be your sidecar if you want to race." And then you get to "Play For Today," which is such a sweet song, and Stuart Murdoch's vocals are so incredible, they almost make me emotional (and my goodness, Dee Dee Penny has some voice, doesn't she?). Or maybe the rush of emotions is just from the fact that song is so good. Or...and I had this thought too but...maybe it has to do with the fact that Murdoch's voice just brings me back to being younger, and listening to "Lord Anthony" and "If You Find Yourself Caught in Love" or "If She Wants Me." It's a comfort. In the same way Colin Meloy's is. The only difference is that where Meloy is writing less-exciting songs that could have been written by anyone, Murdoch stepped up his game and embraced a new sound. I may never love the B&S record beyond these three songs (but I will say, "Nobody's Empire," "The Cat With the Cream," and "The Everlasting Muse" are very good) but I cannot not like it. These three songs are some of the best to come out in a long time, and dare I say better than anything that came out last year?
In other early 2015 releases, Panda Bear's "Mr Noah" is another fantastic song. My God. When the percussion comes in in the beginning! I'm still a bit cold towards the rest of the record but I plan on giving it some more time. Animal Collective-related work really needs some time before it reveals its greatness.
The Viet Cong record (also out this past week) is incredible. Incredible. I can't believe how exciting it! It's a no frills, guitar-heavy record, and it's beautiful (although I find the drums even more exciting than the guitars!) "Continental Shelf"is a fantastic song, and tell me you don't get chills during the tempo change at 1:30.
I'm overwhelmed by how many great tracks we've already gotten so early in the year. That was my big problem in 2014: there were a lot of songs I really loved but nothing spectacular. Nothing like "The House That Heaven Built" or "Dance Yourself Clean" or "Bay of Pigs," even "Acts of Man." But so far, so great. And I'm sure there are a ton of others to come. (Also, props to Dan Mangan for "XVI," even if I'm kind of so-so on the record. The A-side is strong but the B-side seems like a whole lot of filler. Like most of his records. But his voice!)
Know what I don't care for? Brace yourself: the new Sleater-Kinney. Seriously, I am really trying with it, waiting for it to get better. Maybe it's just not for me? It's not like I've always been a fan anyway. But all I keep hearing is how fantastic it is and I'm like, "whatever, nothing special." I'm beginning to think it's just a whole lot of people expressing their pleasure over them coming back from hiatus. Lately I feel like people just have knee-jerking responses to records and are all like IT'S FANTASTIC! and then their opinions come to change. We all know I have the opposite responses to records. But for me, it's the opposite, and it is an amazing feeling when a record finally clicks with you. For me, it's the stuff I love right away that I end up listening to less.