Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Column: Try Not to Try

Well, my new year's resolution is already falling by the wayside. I'm working like a madman to get my site up and running, and I barely had time to bang out the quick column you'll see on the front page of right now.

But bang it out I did. This week I took a look at the determinedly slight new Decemberists album, and tacked on a pair of quick takes, one of Joy Division wannabes White Lies, and the other of Portland, Maine supergroup Space vs. Speed. As always, click on over to read the column, then head back here to leave me a comment.


  1. With all due respect, I have to disagree on a couple of points about this album. While it lacks the grandiose structure of Hazards of Love (and don't mistake me - I am a prog rocker at heart and love that record dearly), I don't get any "slightness" or "lack of trying" from The King is Dead. Rather, I hear an intentional and admirable focus on individual songs with oftentimes huge, soaring melodies, and on a pure delight in playing.

    A clumsy metaphor: to my ear, this album sounds like what the band that wrote Crane Wife and Hazards plays at the end of the night, third set starting 1 AM. In my experience, these are often the most memorable parts of a gig. The audience is primarily comprised of diehard fans, friends, and family. Nobody has anything to prove, and the band gets to revel in the unadulterated joy of making music in the company of pals with whom you have the best kind of unspoken connection. Maybe the song structures are simpler than those in the first two sets of the evening, but they're also more anthemic, and the mainline of emotion more than makes up for any complexity left out.

    An equally clumsy but more concise metaphor: if Hazards was the Decemberists' Marillion album, full of intellect and ambition, this is their Alarm album, all gut and fire and earnestness. Rather than being disappointed that they didn't repeat Hazards, I'm blown away at the depth and skill that allowed them to put something like this together as a followup.

  2. First off, thanks for the comment re: my post on my mythical Beatles album. Honored that someone with more sophisticated musical tastes enjoyed it.

    I knew going in to "King is Dead" that it was heavily influenced by early REM, and as a huge fan, that would make me like it even if it was just a weak jangle pop album. I'm not a huge Decemberists fan, and haven't yet picked up Hazards, but do have Crane Wife. It's pretty rare to find a band that can do epic concept albums and a simple 40 minute collection of folk songs and excel at both.

    One thing I don't like about the digital music age (or the CD age that preceded it) is that bands seem to think that they NEED to give us more. Now, if you're a huge fan, then outtakes and bonus tracks are great. But most often, I'd rather have a solid, shorter album of 10 great songs than a 60 minute opus where I end up skipping 2 or 3 songs when I listen. Too often, a great album is reduced to good, or worse, but the idea that anything less than 15 tracks is cheating the fans.

    2011 is off to a great start. I really like "King", and also am enjoying the new Smith Westerns album. Iron & Wine's new one just came out, and by all appearances, the new REM album in March will be their best in quite some time.

  3. Hello,

    This is a comment for your March 9th post. I don't know if Emmylou Harris is on your radar but she's got a new one on April 26 called Hard Bargain.

    Also, on April 5th Hip-O is reissuing Material Issue's International Pop Overthrow.