Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Albums Of Note!

Yesterday was my birthday! My b-day swag included some excellent new albums.

The Dexateens have just released their 5th album Singlewide. This one is a bit quieter and more reflective than their previous efforts, but it also features some of their strongest songwriting yet. On these tracks, The Dexateens invoke the particular melancholy of the South without dipping into condescension or nostalgia, and they manage to bring these songs alive with a folk-tinged rock that has one foot in the pure guitar pop of Big Star and the other in the rootsy sophistication of The Band. Longtime readers of this blog (not that there should there be any) may remember that I have a personal connection to the Dexateens, in that lead guitarist/songwriter John Smith and I used to play in a band together prior to him forming the Dexateens with Eliot McPherson in 1998. Most of the prior Dexateens albums featured a song that he'd written for that band, back in the mid-90s. This one doesn't, and I have to say that I'm glad he and Eliot are turning out new songs that are as good or even better than those older ones because, honestly, it makes me feel a bit less like a Pete Best. That feeling has never been fair to them - not only was I never in the Dexateens, but I'm proud of their success and happy for them personally, and, moreover, I have no claim on those songs - but when I hear the Dexateens' (far superior) versions of those songs that I used to play with John (and Mike and Jeff), I got a sense of how special our band was, back in the day, and I'm struck with how dusty and aged all my rock dreams became. And see, here's the thing: they deserve all the credit they're due. They're better without me. But it's been hard in the past for me to get my ego clear so I could appreciate their work for what it is. But this album gives me that necessary distance. It's nostalgia-free for me, and I still love it as much or even more than their prior ones.

More swag: Darcy James Argue's Secret Society has just put out their first album Infernal Machines. The Secret Society is an 18-piece big band assembled by Mr. Argue to play his compositions, although he himself conducts without contributing instrumentation. The music is delightful, seven compositions that have elements of Gil Evans, Tortoise, and Ellington (at least to these ears), without any overriding debt to any single source. The largeness of the band is matched by Argue's tasteful compositions and arrangement, giving the songs some real dynamic. And while the music is definitely somewhere between modern compositional work, jazz, and post-rock, the overall effect is highly emotional and beautiful. Because this is my blog, I'll point out that I have a personal connection here, too. Argue is an acquaintance. We used to frequent the same message board, and I even had a meal when visiting Boston back in 2002 with him and two other acquaintances with whom I've mostly lost contact. So I know that he's a super-cool guy in person, too, which makes it that much easier to wish him all the success in the world.
Other swag was Mastodon's excellent Crack The Skye, the new Akron/Family album Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free, and a piano at which I've been learning to butcher "Bemsha Swing," thanks to my darling wife, who is the sweetest, coolest, and most awe-inspiring human being I have had the pleasure of knowing. I'm a lucky guy.


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Cary, NC, United States
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