Monday, October 09, 2006

I bought new albums the other day! But I haven't listened to them all yet, at least not enough to have a fully formed opinion.

I got Yo La Tengo's I Am Not Afraid of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, which is either their best album yet or will eventually tie with I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One and Painful for the coveted top spot. What's great about it is that it sounds unmistakeably like Yo La Tengo in all their myriad permutations, but it also sounds older and wiser than previous albums, as if they've taken the skronk-folk-pop of the past and synthesized it with their recent jazz inclinations and Love-like whispery-dreampop. It's strong stuff, and after 3-4 listens, I love it wholeheartedly. Here's the album cover.

Eric Matthews - Foundation Sounds.

I love this guy's work. Back in the early 90s, Matthews first played bass in a Sebadoh offshoot called Belt Buckle, which transformed into the chamber-pop band Cardinal for their Toy Bell EP. When the Sebadoh guy, Bob Fay, dropped out of Cardinal, the only two members left were Matthews and a brilliant Aussie named Richard Davies, who had been in the psych-punk band The Moles (both of the Moles albums [Instinct and Untune The Sky, re-released as On the Street] are fucking brilliant and you should stop reading this and go buy them now. Back? OK, let's continue...). Cardinal's sole album (re-released last year with bonus tracks) was just perfect, a mish-mash of psychedelia, arch rock, folk, and simulated chamber-pop strings, like if Syd Barrett, David Bowie, and Nick Drake had all been the same person. Matthews and Davies didn't get along well, though, and that one album was it. Davies put out 3 great solo albums in the late 90s and subsequently (and horrifically) appears to have retired. Matthews put out 2 brilliant solo albums in the late 90s and also vanished for 8 years. Last year, he released the EP Six Kinds Of Passion Looking For An Exit, which was sweet and beautiful, although a bit light. It reminded me of Paul Westerburg's Grandpaboy project, on which Westerburg did his best post-Replacements work, but which was also a trifling, disposable thing. Just not a bad one, if you follow me.

So this is his new album, Foundation Sounds. I've only listened to it once or twice, but it lacks some of the spark of his earlier works. There's also at least one track that has a less-than-subtle message proselytizing about his Christianity. Songs of faith work well, I think, when treated as personal statements of subjective truth, like "Amazing Grace" or Richard and Linda Thompson's "A Heart Needs A Home." The same does not hold, though, for songs that treat your beliefs as objective truth, and Matthews definitely steps over the line there. I need to listen to the album more, I think, but it's problematic when the only song that's really stuck out for me is one that I find offputting.

I also bought the Decemberists' The Crane Wife and Mastodon's Blood Mountain, but have given neither of them enough attention to write about yet. I know that Joe Gross mentioned over drinks a couple of weeks back that he's having an issue with the mastering of Blood Mountain, which he thought over-compressed, but I'm not sure that my ear is sophisticated enough to hear overcompression on a metal album. When I think of overcompression, the example that leaps to mind is the Go-Betweens' Oceans Apart, where the clean guitar tones and vocals go fuzzy in every song because of studio-generated volume and depth issues. With a metal band like Mastodon, the fuzz is so prevalent that I just can't distinguish guitar distortion from studio distortion.


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