But first, a word from Otto, our literary editor, on Franzen's Freedom: As usual, NY Times critic Michiko Kakutani's intern was reading a different book than I read. A surprisingly trashy (in comparison with The Corrections) 800+ pages of gossip following mostly unlikeable people as they fail or succeed despite their personality flaws, Freedom's only defense could be as a comedy, in the vein of Henry Fielding, Sot Weed Factor, et al. Yet I can't shake the suspicion that JF just phoned this one in, knowingly or inadvertently entitling the novel in reference to his life after the Oprah-money hit(s) his checking account. He certainly betrayed his literary intentions with The Corrections by denying Oprah in '01, back when no novelist with high intentions wanted that self-fulfilling notch on their word processor (nowadays, money talks&immortality walks). Franzen's first novel (The 27th City) remains his most entertaining, his second (Strong Motion) his biggest failure, and The Corrections his high water mark. Freedom is his gift to sales. I will bet beer that his next novel takes 20 years while he meanwhile achieves his current goal of becoming an eminent essayist, which will keep him off Oprah's list, forever and then some.
Fresh & Onlys - Play it Strange
A music writer needs to name the current (Wavves, etc) reverb-drenched punk pop movement. Oh, I think I should? Ok I, I will: Beachpunk! you heard it here first, and probably nowhere else second. The F&Os travel in Beachpunk's cleaner avenues, less distortion, more Johnny Cash/Sadies than Deerhunter. And, like many of Beachpunk bands, they owe the Rock-a-Teens a royalty check.
Brian Eno - Small Craft on a Milk Sea
Enough tracks surpass and advance his work to date ("2 Forms of Anger" and "Dust Shuffle") to make up for those so reminiscent of earlier work ("Emerald and Lime," "Slow Ice, Old Moon") as to suggest outtakes or, to be unfair, lazy re-hashings; the fair argument being that when no one else, to this day, executes what you achieved in 1983, you can do it again in 2010. Fans like me have been waiting for this, and have no reason to be disappointed.
Deerhunter -- Halcyon Digest
Hurrah. I went away after Cryptograms, but I can return for this. Real songs, real songs, creepy reverb and clickety-clack percussion. Guitar in the right spots. Grownups!
Bryan Ferry - Olympia
If we won't have a new Roxy album, this could suffice. Immediate listens yield un-mistake-ably Eno touches, like the syth-keytar, or electric piano salted on most tracks. A pointless cover of Buckley-T's "Song to the Siren" should have been a b-side; otherwise, there hasn't been a more solid batch of solo Ferry originals (note I didn't say Roxy Music originals) since the late eighties.
Belle & Sebastien - Write About Love
I can't imagine being them. The bar is so, so high, and the fans getting so, so, old. I was never as gaga for B&S as some, and I suppose you're either all the way in or out. This release is no more than other albums, no less. I can always close my eyes and re-catch them on the Sinister tour. They were delightful.
Glasser - Ring
The duo is the new power trio. Glasser's perfectly executed combo of soaring soprano-alto vocals and inventive production leaves them acceptably unidentifiable from maybe five other current, similar bands. Their carefully placed quirks (yelping, hand claps) leave no doubt that NPR will do or has done a piece on Glasser.
Gareth Liddiard - Strange Tourist
Dudes try to write songs, and most go back to pumping gas. Or go back to pumping gas after they hear Liddiard, (formerly?) of the wonderful & noisier Drones. Solo con guitar here, rage-ful and dour, playful, sarcastic, and versatile -- he can bring it with tightrope walkers over Niagara Falls (Blondin Makes an Omelette") or narratives unique to his Perth hometown, all with turns of phrase grabbing a listener by the neck: "There are more bodies in the snow/than there are things you can know/you notice you don't have to die to walk the netherworld" ("Highplains Mailman").
Mark Ronson and the Business International - Record Collection
Anyone who can fully hate this is a buzzkill. What's more fun that a song matching Ronson's silly boasts ("My teeth are bright and my hair is clean / I wear Paco Rabanne like I was Charlie Sheen") with a chorus sung by Simon Le Bon? Or a tune about enjoying a bike? This isn't rocket science, it's tossed off pop, totally for sale, from a producer who's making coin and art elsewhere.
Catpsan Shafts - Revelation Skirts
Wowza. Most quirky lo-fi pop outfits seem to lose something when they go hifi (GBV, Blank Dogs), the trick being to go hifi before the songwriting powers have faded a tad. Like Arile Pink, the Capstan Shafts' mastermind Dean Wells has chosen the right moment, delivering a set (if overlong by three) of his best songs to date, rounded with a Superchunk-type rock arrangements sprinkled with power solos that, if not for their slight distortion, wouldn't be out of place on a Ratt record. Or a Superchunk record.
Zola Jesus - Stridulum 2
I'm not convinced.
Older but no less relevant:
LCD Soundsytem - That Happened
This might be the best record with a terrible single I've ever heard. "Drunk Girls" approaches self-parody, although therefore might also be his first legit hit. The less-ignorable rest of the album does it for me when my ear gets lazy enough for spiraling 1982-via-2003 guitar and oozing electro textures.
Finally, some youts' who listen to Felt and Durutti Column. Me likey. Live, a total failure, but I saw them with a brand new drummer.
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffitti --Before Today
I think it takes appreciating what a mindfucker Pink chooses to be; much like Beefheart deconstrcuted R&B, Pink has chose to the do the same with eighties synthpop. "Round and Round" is not a Ratt cover, and yet it is.
Bonnie Prince Billy and the Cairo Gang - The Wonder Show of the World
The first track, "Troublesome Houses," ranks in Oldham's top 5. With the size of his catalog, that's saying something. Also, lyrically, it sounds like he knows what he's talking about, unfortunately. The rest of the record? Good napping music, I suppose.