seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
I haven't done my Album of the Week project in quite a while, because there was a backlog of albums that I listened to and didn't know what to say about, and that made me reluctant to add more to the backlog. I think I'd like to start it up again because it's a great way for me to discover new music, and I always like learning about new music.

So I think I will clear out the backlog quickly and move on to accepting new recommendations.

Albums I listened to and didn't review, from my cheatsheet:

Vienna Teng- "Inland Territory"

-Acoustic piano ballads. I think this album has more good songs than the other Teng album I know, "Dreaming Through the Noise", but it doesn't have any that are as good as the best songs on that album. "Antebellum" and "No Gringo" are gorgeous, though. I've never quite gotten the hang of "In Another Life".

Los Campesinos!- "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed"

- High tempo indie rock. Nothing specific I didn't like, really, but I didn't find the music very memorable. Title song was the best track, "Miserabilia" my second favorite.

Steely Dan - Aja

-Chamber Jazz as played by a rock and roll band? Some very pretty songs, particularly "Peg", but a tendency to noodle for longer than I would like. I feel like the best use of this album is as background music at a party that wanted a little bit of class. I feel like this album is better enjoyed without paying too much attention, which is ironic because it is music that clearly had a lot of attention put into its construction.

The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow (Jon)

-Neo-folk duets. Very, very pretty singing, gorgeous harmonies, but the lyrics don't connect for me. It's worth listening for the music, though.

There, done!

Now, here are the albums that have been requested and noted in my cheatsheet but I haven't listened to yet:

My Chemical Romance- "Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys"
Girl Talk - "All Day"
Amanda Palmer - "Who Killed Amanda Palmer"
Secret Chiefs 3 - "Book of Horizons"
BT - "The Binary Universe"
Moosebutter - "See Dee"
Antony and the Johnsons - "Swanlights"

I will say that from that list, I am particularly looking forward to the Girl Talk album and the Secret Chiefs 3 album.

So once I finish that, I will start listening to new suggestions.

The rules, as always: Recommend an album you think I should listen to for a week. No requirements. Any genre, any style, any era. Preferably, it should acquirable on Amazon's MP3 store, but it doesn't need to be. I will listen to it on my drive to and from work and then post a review.
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And finally I catch up on AotW reviews.

Fogarty's Cove is a collection of folksongs- Canadian folksongs. Stan Rogers is so apparently beloved in Canada that when another Canadian-originating friend saw that Rogers had been recommended to me, he starting furiously campaigning me to make sure that I listened to the correct Rogers album to properly appreciate his music. Fogarty's Cove was the consensus choice that eventually emerged.

I mean, what can you say against music like this? It rankles no feathers. There's merry guitar, cheerful and enthusiastic singing, and lyrics that are charming if more than a little hokey. There are overdone ghost stories and lurid tales of shipwrecks and more sedate pictures of life on the shores of Nova Scotia. It's campfire music. I didn't feel that it quite held together as an album. Its momentum flagged at times, especially in the middle with "Fisherman's Wharf" and "Giant." But "Rawdon Hills" is lovely and "Plenty of Hornpipes" is an excellent fun instrumental to pick things up again.

The most hyped song on the album, "Barrett's Privateers", I didn't feel lived up to the hype. Wikipedia has quite the lengthy article on the song, documenting both its attention to historic detail and its occasional failures of accuracy. But for all that obvious care, its narrator's self-pity didn't capture me at all. I found the song dreary and lacking in drama, and I'd rather not say those things about a song involving privateers. I did like the amateur sea-shanty feel, though. I enjoy sea shanties, generally speaking. I have a suspicion this song is more fun live.

<-- I've been holding on to the above post for a while. I was hesitant to post it, as I often am about AotW albums where I didn't like it as much as the recommender did. This is a problem with AotW that I haven't quite solved. But let me add this one addendum and post the damn thing: I have discovered that I like "Barrett's Privateers" when I'm drunk. It is a delightful song to sing when you've been drinking with friends, but as I started to sober up, I stopped liking it again.
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Trying to play catchup on AotW reviews. I still need to review Stan Rogers's "Fogarty's Cove" and then I'll start listening to stuff again.

A Hundred Lovers by Timbuk 3

Yet another album where I find myself resorting to comparisons to early '90s alt-rock groups like The Offspring that I never knew well when they were big and certainly don't know much about now. Also, Hootie and the Blowfish, who had that one song whose title I don't remember now that sounded like a lot of this album. See, back in the early '90s I only listened to classical music on purpose, so any exposure to rock was incidental or accidental. (And all along, all along, there were incidents and accidents, so I do have some familiarity with the popular music of the era. But it's kind of random. Like, I first listened to "Graceland" when I was a senior in high school.)

Mostly, though, I'm holding back the urge to rant bitterly about how all my friends send me leftist propaganda, as I mentioned. Because um... yeah, Timbuk 3 really doesn't like conservatives. At all. Though to be fair, this album was suggested by someone who doesn't know me well. But my friends send me leftist propaganda too! Remember that time I listened to Vienna Teng for AotW and we ended up arguing about gay marriage for months? That was delightful, wasn't it?

So anyway, I don't really want to get into that again. That way lies madness. I don't really want to fight with people about what "Prey" suggests about how left-wingers regard religious people. I don't want to argue about the way "Legalize Our Love" simplifies a complicated issue. I don't want to try to detangle "Shotgun Wedding" and piss off people who are misunderstanding an argument I only half-understand myself.

But then, I don't have too much else to say about the album. The bullet points:

-I really only had one thing I loved about the title song. "A Hundred Lovers" had a lyric where all the numbers added up to a hundred."She's 23 goddesses, a couple of Queens /Half a dozen sirens of the silver screen / And 69 bathing beauties lying in the sun /A hundred lovers rolled into one" That was well done. About the fourth time through, I sat down and added them up as I listened and appreciated that it worked. Yay good math in music! Because no, U + ME != Us.

-I think I liked the male vocalist better than the female vocalist. But I didn't like either enough to bother looking up their names. In fact, other than the three or four songs I've mentioned above, I can't really remember anything about the rest of the album. In general, it was pleasant, forgettable music.

The Milk-Eyed Mender by Joanna Newsom

-Huh, this was interesting. Singer-songwriter stuff, by Newsom, who seems to be quite the multiinstrumentalist and is certainly quite the songwriter. Songs are mostly anchored by her harp playing, but occasionally by effective piano. If the album is held together, it's by the song titles, many of which are alliterative lists: "Bridges and Balloons,", "Peach, Plum, Pear", "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie." etc... If, like me, you are good at spotting patterns, you will notice that more than just alliteration holds these lists together. I'm not sure exactly what else does, though. Glue, perhaps.

-As a singer, Newsom is somewhat nasal, a little awkward, and kind of pushy. She's the type of singer that makes you want to seek out cover versions, like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. You hear the songs, objectively say "These are great songs," and then you kind of guiltily think "But I bet if someone else sang it I would like it more." Guiltily because we have built such a cult of the performer as artist that we can't let anyone stay in the background anymore. But there's nothing wrong with being a great songwriter who can't sing well!

- As a songwriter, Newsom throws down phrases with such casual authority that it's as if she's daring you to challenge one of them. They're marvels of rhythmic purety, each line a self-contained marvel that adds to the ongoing narrative. And her vocabulary is magnificent and well-marshaled. I complained that when the Decemberists throw big words at you there's a feeling of artifice and falseness that throws me off. That's the complete opposite of what Newsom achieves. She sings about esoterica like an "Inflammatory writ" with such confidence and command that the songs just flow without any missteps marring them.

-So since I loved these songs and I wished for a better singer, I went out and found some. "Versions of Joanna" was released as a charity effort last year to help the Pakistan flood victims, and consists of 21 covers of Newsom songs by a variety of artists. I thoroughly recommend it, and it's for a good cause!
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Dessa- "A Badly Broken Code"

Dessa's a female hip-hop artist from Minnesota. Um... I don't know anything about rap, females, or Minnesota, so bear that in mind as you read this review. She's apparently the sole female member of a Minnesota hip hop collective called Doomtree. I bring this up because it'll be relevant later in the review, but also because I want to ask if anyone else was aware that there were Minnesota hip hop crews?

On the album, Dessa raps, sings, talks, and makes interesting sounds with her voice. It's an impressively versatile set of performances. Her... flow? Is that the right word? I told you, I lack the vocabulary to talk about rap. Her flow is aight- nah, I'm just kidding, I can talk about her flow more specifically. She clearly takes influence not only from mainstream rap, but from slam poetry. Her lines are constructed as fluid lines, not as mere rhymes but as rhythmic streams. (I saw Donizetti's "The Elixir of Love" the other night, and the classic bel canto vocal line has something in common with what I'm trying to describe.)

Oh dear, that last paragraph was brutal. Let's move on to something I'm actually qualified to talk about, like the lyrics.

There are thankfully few lumberjacks in these songs. Actually, none at all that I could detect, though I wouldn't put a hidden lumberjack past a Minnesotan. Instead, I guess, it's the usual mix of subjects on a debut rap album- reminisces about childhood challenges, boasts brags and taunts, a little bit of light political commentary...

The part of the album I was on the clearest footing on was the boasts, brags and taunts part of the album. The string of songs with "Dutch" "The Bullpen", "Crew" was witty, fun, well-spoken, and thoughtfully classic. Great choruses, flowing verse, references to the Chicago Manual of Style, Minneapolis Edition. And also it's the right balance of personal and impersonal, generic feminist critiques contrasted with specific incidents, vague platitudes about friendship built up with classic in-jokes. The chorus of "The Bullpen", to give an example, is "Forget the bull in the china closet, there's a china doll in the bullpen" and it declares Dessa's intention to crash the men's party that is hip-hop by being smarter than the men, better than the men, classier than the men. But the song is a boast song in the grand tradition of rap, so she's not declaring her intention to destroy hip-hop, just clear out enough space for herself. And her chorus is wryly self-deprecating, acknowledging her position of vulnerability in the same moment it's proclaiming her triumph. And at the same time proclaiming her cleverness- the thing I love about a good boast song is the overloaded meaning every word carries, because when you're cleverly and smoothly rapping about how clever and smooth you are, the song is its own proof text.

In "Crew", she talks specifically about Doomtree, the hip hop collective she's a part of. I admit I find that fascinating, music as team sport. It's hard to get to grips on someone's solo album of how the personalities interoperate, though I gather a number of her crewmates produced various songs on the album (unlike the only other crew I have much experience with, Wu Tang Clan, where the music gains a sense of cohesiveness from the production efforts of RZA). The collaborations probably explain the sense of eclecticism on the album. In a way, an album like this anthologizes talent in the exact opposte way to Tiesto's "Kaleidoscope", where that showcases the talent of a skilled producer by complementing him with a variety of vocalists, while this showcases the talent of a skilled vocalist by complementing her with a variety of producers. I think if my familiarity with the vocabulary of hip hop music were deeper, and if I'd had past experience with these producers as I had with several of the vocalists on Kaleidoscope, I'd be better positioned to appreciate the value the crew adds to the album.

I liked some of her other rap songs- "Children's Work" and "Mineshaft II", especially. Aha! Mineshafts are a Minnesota thing, aren't they? I just read a book that had a scene in a Minnesota mineshaft. Still no lumberjacks. I don't have any real objection to her sung music, but I didn't particularly warm to it. I liked some of the songs that skated the edge between rap and song, too.

Metric- Old World Underground, Where are You

Now that Alai is no longer recommending me Iron Maiden albums, we're heading into new and different territory. This is, I suppose, indie pop? Which is a meaningless label. Sometimes, a better label would be Casio Pop. Actually, the best I can tell about Metric's style after listening to the album a half-dozen times through is what they don't want to be. As "Dead Disco" proclaims, Metric regards disco, funk, and rock and roll as dead forms. They're clearly interested in creating a pop sound, but what they're looking for is a new pop sound. They're almost obsessive about it, in the way musicians who live deep in the shadows of their predecessors can be.

"The List" coyly quotes a half-dozen pop hits in its opener, from "All Along the Watchtower" to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and seems to dismiss them all as of a moment that is now past, yet it acknowledges their greatness at the same time. And by quoting them, Metric gets caught in a funny trap, unable to fully establish their irrelevance. Or perhaps I'm misreading them. Perhaps they're not trying to shove Nirvana out the back door in a song that says, "Who we are now we will always be- the best haircuts are taken." I suppose the song could be read as daring contemporary bands to create something as outrageous as those tunes from the past, but I find that less interesting and certainly less persuasive, not to mention less consistent with the rest of the album..

Emily Haines's voice is the star of the album, capable of conveying dark or bleak without dampening the party. But it's abused or misused at various points in the album, as when she sings the deliriously nonsensical "Now that your wallet is all lit up" 8 consecutive times in "Hustle Rose", pushing the lyric's value far beyond the breaking point.

As I mentioned before, there's an element of casio pop on this album. And in case that's unclear, that's not a compliment. Much of the time, I wanted this music to challenge me more, to offer a richer musical experience. Instead, it was often content to offer simple beats, blips and beeps to back Haines's voice. She's capable of better than this. I mean, a couple weeks ago I heard her do better than this on Tiesto's album "Kaleidoscope".

I'm happier with songs like the opener, "IOU", which let a guitar chug along in the background to give at least the sensation of motion to the song. And I have to admit that the minimalism of "Calculation Theme" grew on me a little over the course of the week, because it made no demands on Haines and just let her tell a story. But all in all, I think I'd say this album is a disappointment. The potential is here for much more ambitious and impressive music.

I also listened to Timbuk 3's "A Thousand Lovers" before Passover screwed up AotW plans. I uh... don't really have much to say about it. But give me time, I'll find an angle that isn't bitter ranting about how all of my friends send me leftist propaganda.
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Tiesto is strange and hard for me to interpret, in that on a lot of songs, it's not Tiesto's contribution to these songs that seems to matter. But let's back up a moment.

Tiesto, fka DJ Tiesto, is an electronic musician. Er... he is a musician who makes electronic music, not a musician who is electronic. I think. He might be a robot. Who can really say, these days? My past exposure to Tiesto's music came primarily through the thin and sometimes nonexistent walls of my college apartment. My roommate often listened to his music while studying. So my first response, on the first listen, was nostalgic as I looked back on those times and mused. As I listened, other reactions pushed the nostalgia away.

The album consists of a dozen and a half dance songs, the majority featuring a guest vocalist or vocalists. And the few songs that are purely 'instrumental' were unmemorable, worth ignoring and eventually worth skipping as the week proceeded. The thing that makes this album worthwhile to listen to are the guest vocalists.

It's a varied crew. Jonsi from Sigur Ros. Tegan and Sara. Nelly Furtado. Kele Okereke of Bloc Party. A bunch of others. They're all smart choices for the album. They're interesting voices and intelligent, expressive singers. Every one of them takes the song they sing on and makes it their own. And the music is carefully structured to bring out what makes their voice interesting. These are really, really effective partnerships of DJ and singer.

Still, it's funny. I have no interest in Tiesto as Tiesto, per se. I find his music fundamentally boring. But he's really good at making these singers sound better and I really liked quite a lot of this album. So I must concede his talent, though I question his ambition.

Standouts included Jonsi's song "Kaleidoscope", ethereal and post-rocky yet still danceable, in a way that strongly reminded me of Sigur Ros's fantastic album "With a Buzz in our Ears We Play Endlessly" from a few years back. And Priscilla Ahn's "Strong", with a forceful female voice whose playfulness kept surprising me. And Tegan and Sara's "Feel It In My Bones", probably the best dance song on the album.

Something worth noting is that the songs I liked best were the ones that found some sort of accommodation between acoustic and electronic music. Real and/or synth pianos and strings dueling it out with a drum machine, for example. Autotuned and non-autotuned voices duetting. Intelligent gestures in this direction are the future of music, not some sort of extreme push to one side.

Also, thumbs up for the umlaut in Tiesto's name, though I've been too lazy to type it out.
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-Okay, my best theory on "Behind the Sea" is that it's a mondegreen song and it's a play on "Behind the Scenes" and the whole song is about how people mishear songs and get things out of them that are absurd and yet kind of deep. Like how "Hold me closer, Tony Danza" has an unexpected profundity to it. Except that we're getting a behind the scenes view of it- the songwriter manufacturing these false koans, rather than watching them develop organically. The notion that the songwriter sits at his desk and writes poetry set to music meets the reality that nobody actually listens to the lyrics. "We're all too small to talk to God" meets "We're all too smart to talk to God" seems to epitomize this contrast between constructed cleverness and mass-cultural obliviousness. There's also probably a nod to Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea" somewhere in this interpretation.

Otherwise, that song makes no sense.

-Ha, I put that bullet point first for no reason other than to avoid talking about "We're So Starving" first, because you'd expect me to cover it first and I aim for the unexpected. But uh... yes, it's a Sergeant Pepper ripoff and it's kind of silly and 'sets the tone' for the album in ways that are probably pretty incoherent. "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" sets the tone for the album by telling the listener to focus on a number of things: dense orchestration, intense interest in structure as an ends instead of a means, characterization of the narrator(s), reflecting on the past, rejection of conventional boy/girl romance pop... and then the album delivers on the promise of its theme. That's why it's such a brilliant song on a brilliant album. I'm not so sure that I can pinpoint the thematic references in "We're So Starving" and I'm not sure it says anything other than "It took us a while to create a new album because we were playing with a new style." And the rest of the album is so musically at odds with itself that we can't really say that it matches the statement of theme. Like, what is "Folking Around" doing on this album? Can anyone explain that?

-Panic has a spectacular gift for bad choruses. I was astounded at how many times they chose some absurd line for the chorus of one of their songs, some statement that doesn't make sense, makes less sense each time you repeat it, and lacks attractive euphonies. It's okay if you have ridiculous lyrics, but chorus matter. Choruses are the part of a lyric that really needs to stand up, and Panic is really bad at this.

Like "It's the greatest thing that's yet to have happened/Imagine knowing me/It's the greatest thing you'd ever imagine/But you'll never know until you're there". That's the chorus of "Pas de Cheval", whose maddening vagueness might slip by you (or even pass as cleverness or wit) if it were buried in the verse, but which nags at you as you listen to it repeated.

And perhaps the greatest example is the perplexing "I know it's sad that I never gave a damn about the weather, And it never gave a damn about me." I have no idea what that means, but that's not the problem. The problem is that I had to listen to it not mean anything ten times in that song.

- Huh? Oh, If I don't have anything nice to say I shouldn't say anything? Fine, then. Panic's vocal harmonies are catchy. I'll give them that. I like that sort of vocal harmony, it's tinged with nostalgia. It exudes innocence.

-The anxiety of influence*. Um... the obvious influence, the one they're trying to point you to, is the late Beatles. This album, needless to say, is nowhere near as good as Sergeant Pepper's or The White Album, no matter how hard they try. But this album owes a lot more to early '90s alt-rock than to late '60s experimental pop. The Offspring, Green Day, something of Devo, that's what comes to mind (Wary of my knowledge of genre labels, I consulted Wikipedia, which labels both Green Day and The Offspring as punk rock bands, but hah, if they're punk rock then Blink 182 has punk rock cred. So I'm back to calling this alt-rock, even though I don't know what alt-rock is.). I wrote about Gomez that I felt like they were splitting the middle between Fountains of Wayne and Barenaked Ladies, and I think Panic is mining a lot of the same material. If you like Panic, you'd probably like Gomez. Not quite clever enough to be geek rock, not quite refined enough to be art pop.

*I kicked that out as a catchphrase, not really intending it in anymore than a quippy sense to refer to the fact that I was about to discuss the album's influences. The anxiety of influence as a critical theory, as I understand it, is this theory that in order to create 'strong poetry' an artist needs to wrestle with his influences and overthrow them. But I've always studied the theory in terms of strong poets. We never looked at weak poets, the ones who failed to overthrow their influences. But... this album is probably an example of that.
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I'm still in love with Thersites, my new laptop. It is apparently incredible all the things Agamemnon was holding me back from with his lack of features, lack of RAM, and lack of hard drive space. :D Last night I got Virtualbox running and threw on an XP virtual image so I can deal with the few MS-only pieces of crap I have to deal with. Fuck Silverlight and fuck Novell's crappy Moonlight. But the point is, I was able to allocate a half-gig of RAM to Virtualbox and have everything keep running without a hiccup at all. Fantastic.

Another fantastic thing about Thersites is that I have a Lightscribe drive installed (lets me laser etch stuff onto the label side of specially coated CDs) and getting the driver working in Linux turned out to be fifty times easier than expected. Add that to some GIMP extensions and I have the ability to make pretty CD labels. So I'm starting to reconsider BoAotW.

BoAotW, for the uninitiated, is my incredibly catchy name for Best of Album of the Week, wherein I create a CD of my favorite songs from my Album of the Week project and distribute it to friends. I tried to do this a long time ago and came up with a Volume 1 playlist and burned it to CD and gave it to Lisa. And then I forgot to give it to anyone else. But I think Lisa liked it? Maybe she was lying though. Lisa's really polite. :P

So the question I'm thinking about now is whether it's worth it to distribute BoAotW Volume 1 now or if I should just create a Volume 2 playlist, with music from the stuff I've listened to since I came up with Volume 1, and just declare Volume 1 to be a limited edition never to be seen again.

But in any case, whether Volume 1 or Volume 2, let me know if you'd like a CD and I will try to be unlazy enough to actually send it to you this time.
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Hourglass by Kate Rusby

-This is a really, really beautiful English folk album, with great melodies, great instrumental work, and Rusby's clear, unshowy, nimble voice at the center of it.

-If you're a Decemberists' fan, it's probably a must-hear simply for great versions of "Annan Waters" and "Drowned Lovers", a pair of folk songs that were clearly among the inspirations for "The Hazards of Love", given that "Drowned Lovers" is about lovers named Will and Margaret who drown together and "Annan Waters" is about crossing the Annan Waters. I gained a lot of insight into "The Hazards of Love" from listening. Especially into the way "The Hazards of Love" constructs something literal, a fantasy story, out of metaphors.

-The album opens with a dragon-fighting song! And it's awesome. And I know I made fun of Iron Maiden for that, and Alai can rightfully call me a hypocrite or something, but... look, a dragon-fighting song! *runs away during the distraction*

I mean, I think what I was making fun of wasn't the dragon-fighting song but the dragon fighting song that took itself seriously. Everything Iron Maiden does seems to take itself overly seriously. "Sir Eglamore" is sort of about heroism but it's mostly about a comic mismatch in size and strength. And as expected in this sort of song, it has a punchline, though admittedly not a particularly good one. I love songs with punchlines. The Fullerenes' "Little Fits" is my favorite.

Also, there's another reading of "Sir Eglamore" that's probably worth looking at: That it's a metaphorical rape scene. After all, the dragon is clearly gendered as female, while Sir Eglamore spends a lot of time trying to shove his sword into her.

Out came a dragon from her den,/ That killed God knows how many men So we have established that she kills men, i.e. perhaps, she's a man eater. This dragon had a plaguey hide, /That could the sharpest steel abide, /No sword could enter through her skin, /Which vexed the knight and made her grin. No sword could enter through her skin... i.e., she's a virgin. He fetched the dragon a great good turn, /As a yawning she did fall, /he thrust his sword up, hilt and all. And in the song's moment of climax, figurative as well as literal, he thrusts his sword, his phallic object, into her, and she flees. There she lay all night and roared, \the knight was sorry for his sword.

That last line, the punchline of the conventional narrative, becomes a really interesting inversion in this interpretation of the song, because it implies some sort of revenge on the part of the maiden, I mean dragon. Has the knight been made to feel remorse for his liberties taken? Has he contracted a disease, as part of me wants to suspect from the reference to a 'plaguey hide'? What exactly does Sir Eglamore feel sorry for in regards to his sword?

Or perhaps the dragon got pregnant? Does 'lay all night and roared \ the knight was sorry for his sword' imply a labor and a remorseful father-to-be? The more I reflect, the more this seems the most compelling explanation.

-Yeah, I'm sorry for that little detour. Unexpectedly thorough. But it illustrates something more serious that I wanted to mention, which is that Rusby never changes the genders of the narrators of the folk songs she's singing. This leads to moments she refers to herself as a boy, some when she's a girl, and there is a certain amount of incongruity produced. These songs are deeply entrenched in the patriarchy, like "Rose in April" about a girl who can't marry her true love because her father forbids it. And Rusby is situating herself within the patriarchy, accepting it for what it is, and yet there's an element to which she can't help being a squeaky wheel when she sings songs not intended for her. That fascinates me, the way the act of not taking any kind of extraordinary action becomes a sort of rebellion because the system itself is so flawed.

Still, we get lines like "would make a grown man cry". This music is so deeply broken from a gender perspective that I don't think that having a female singer is enough to completely rehabilitate it.

- One thing I really found rich and interesting about this music was the sense of the immediacy of death from causes we find almost shocking today. The feeling of ordinariness surrounding a death by drowning is what drives "Annan Water", and the striking thing was that the obvious solution "And over you I'll build a bridge" is expressed as this wistful, almost impossible thing. Of course if people are drowning in a river the thing to do is to build a bridge over it. But in these folk songs that level of technology was too expensive, a luxury they were ill-able to afford. We talk so much about how medicine was responsible for the dramatically increased life-spans of people, but think about how much technology, too, has done! And think of how much our changing attitude about death, our refusal to accept it as unavoidable, has had an impact. We don't sing songs like that about drowning anymore. Instead, if someone drowns because there wasn't a bridge, we sing protest songs about how someone should goddamn well build a bridge. Fast.

-Great instrumentals here, too. It's always funny to figure out how, on a supposed 'solo album', to give credit to the other musicians, but several of these songs gave big, meaty roles to the rest of the players. So let's give credit where credit is due. The wikipedia page lists all of them.
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I want to bring back my Album of the Week project again, now that my car is out of the shop and I'm getting a little tired with the music on my iPod.

(Just a little tired, though. I've been having some good music days lately. Listened to all of Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" on my morning drive one day last week, and this morning listened to Haydn's "Le Matin" symphony (Symphony #6 in D). Those are pieces which, no matter how many times I listen to them, remain sources of constant discovery. I love the attention to individual instruments in the "Le Matin". In the later symphonies Haydn's increasing mastery over the whole orchestra meant less of an interest in individuating voices (there are, of course, exceptions to this generalization). In "Le Matin" we see a composer still learning what each instrument can say, not quite in full command of the bigger picture, but still inspired to create beautiful sounds. The structure, the edifice that Haydn erected in something like "The Surprise", is missing. But... I digress)

The last time, I think I tried to be too specific about the parameters of the albums I sought. In requesting Top 10 albums, I don't think I was making an unreasonable request, and I'm glad I got a chance to listen to Gaga, but well... my friends are nerds and tend to have an instinctive mistrust of the popular. Even if we do like Top 10 albums, I don't think we would realize that they're Top 10 albums. I'll admit I was thrown off my game earlier this year when the Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs" hit #1. It was an odd sensation, to have purchased a #1 album the week it hit #1. In any case, I had difficulty getting recommendations.

So I'm going back to the basics.

Recommend an album you think I should listen to for a week. No requirements. Any genre, any style, any era. Preferably, it should acquirable on Amazon's MP3 store, but it doesn't need to be. I will listen to it on my drive to and from work and then post a review. Past reviews can be found at My AotW tag
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-Needless to say, even relatively averse to pop music as I am, I haven't totally avoided Lady Gaga's music or videos. She's everywhere, and I kind of like to pay attention to the world around me. So I'm not unaware of "Bad Romance" or the controversies surrounding her performance, her costumes, her statements, etc... Which puts me in the position of feeling the need to say something interesting or worthwhile or unique about someone who has had so much said about her already. So I'm going to try, even though it feels futile. I suspect this will be a common experience as I go through a bunch of top hits on this leg of AotW.

-Gaga draws easy comparisons to Madonna and Britney Spears in the way she's constructed a provocative identity for herself. I think, however, that what distinguishes Gaga from those previous performers is the way she dares her viewer to deconstruct her construction. For Madonna and Britney, the Medium is the Message. For Gaga, the Medium is the Medium. In this sense, among many others, I think Lady Gaga is a nerd (This, like all other observations about Gaga, is not a novel insight. Google turns up 10 hits for "Lady Gaga is a nerd.")

Gaga as nerd turns up several times on "The Fame Monster". "Bad Romance" namechecks Hitchcock. "Speechless" bases itself on elaborate extended puns. The mixture of musical styles offer homage to a variety of pop artists from Michael Jackson to ABBA. And of course the "Telephone" video is film nerd central by way of Tarantino.

But centrally is this idea of self-conscious deconstruction. On "Monster", she opens with "Don't call me Gaga"- obviously a pun on the meaning of the word "gaga", but also an invitation to think of the Lady Gaga identity as something separate from who she is. All of this is preserved through a certain opacity in her voice, which initially struck me as a lack of expressiveness and as successive listens developed into my perception of a very deliberate mystery. It seems clear that she is a better singer than her material suggests at first glance, perhaps even that the amount she is holding back her voice is part of the artistic effect. Deconstruction being merely part of the game, all you'll find underneath is another layer.

My other theory about this is that after two successful and provocative albums, the script she's following likely calls for a dramatic reinvention very soon. Holding back allows her the flexibility to "reinvent" herself without actually revealing any more of herself.

-On "Bad Romance", she sings "We could write a bad romance." It strikes me that this phrase doesn't mean what she thinks it means, or possibly she's playing on the contrastive meanings. Which is to say that if you were handed the lyric out of context, you would think the allusion was to bad romance novels. Bad because poorly written, illogically plotted, emotionally inconsistent. Lady Gaga doesn't mean any of this. By "bad" she means naughty, subversive, broken. By "bad romance" she means a relationship that is dysfunctional, not one that is bidden to the tropes of the romance novel genre. Which I think makes "We could write a bad romance" somewhat obscure. My inner theory geek wants to relate it to the previously discussed ideas about Gaga as constructed identity: Her bad romance is just as much a fiction as the rest of her performance identity. Writing a bad romance, it follows, is about inventing a relationship the way she wants it- ostensibly, playing out her fantasy, but actually playing out a widely held fantasy in front of an audience that shares the fantasy. Again, for Madonna, this would be the same and different. Madonna would be performing the same procedure as Gaga, but Gaga is calling attention to it through the lyrics. For Madonna, the construction holds a purpose. For Gaga, the construction is the point.

-Last week I saw someone complaining about Lady Gaga's songwriting. One complaint was that rhyming peoples' names with Alejandro in the chorus of "Alejandro" was, in their terms "lazy". I listened to the song for the first time this week. Every time I listen, my giggle gets a little louder. The whole point of the song is to luxuriate in the foreign sounding names! The song doesn't have anything going for it sonically beyond "Ale Ale Ale Alejandro!" Lazy? If the came up with other rhymes for Alejandro, the song wouldn't work! It's not like Lady Gaga is Sondheim here.

-We all need to watch Joe singing "Bad Romance" again, right? I'm pretty sure I can never watch that enough times.

- "Speechless" would be a top hit for Kelly Clarkson. In Gaga's hands... it's a mediocre song hiding out on "The Fame Monster". And I think this says two things. First, it talks about how overshadowed it is on an album full of much, much better songs. But second, I think it talks to the opacity I've mentioned before. To sell a ballad like "Speechless" you need to let yourself all out there, the way an American Idol-style singer does. Lady Gaga, in the present incarnation at least, would never do that. "Speechless" ultimately isn't the song it could be because there isn't enough depth of personality revealed in the singing voice.

- I guess I ought to say something about the relationship between Lady Gaga and "the club". I've written before that I crave specificity in my music. I love nothing more in my pop songs than a sense of place, a sense of character, a sense of individuality. Storytelling, to put a name to it. And this is mostly absent on "The Fame Monster," to its detriment. But there is, to a certain degree, a sense of place inherent in Gaga's conception of "the club", especially as it appears in "Monster" and "Telephone."

There are echoes of TMBG's critique of the club scene from "Man It's So Loud In Here": "When they stop the drum machine and I can love again" in "Telephone"'s "I don't want to think anymore. I left my head and my heart on the dance floor." And even more so the danger of the club scene courses through "Monster", "I wanna just dance, but he took me home instead/ Uh oh! There was a monster in my bed." And yet for all of Gaga's awareness that lurking amidst the fun are far more serious issues, we see instead of unmitigated critique an ambiguous acceptance: The club is Gaga's home. She sees it with open eyes, but she loves it despite its faults.

- I told Soctt I couldn't post this until I wrote the bullet point on Lady Gaga's war on masculinity. This is that bullet point, but I don't really know what to say except that I think there is a lot in this music that is purposefully anti-erotic, which is an odd thing to see in pop music. In some senses, a disturbing thing.
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I'm finally getting back into the swing of things with 50books_poc. I'll be posting reviews of The Last Days of Louisiana Red by Ishmael Reed and Don Demaio de La Plata by Robert Arellano shortly, and I'm really excited to start A History of the African-American People (proposed) by Strom Thurmond, as told to Percival Everett & James Kincaid soon. Whee non-white post-modernists!!!

In the meantime, AotW has restarted with a pop twist, kicking it off with the eighties rock of the Top Gun soundtrack. So some thoughts follow:

-Everything here revolves around "Danger Zone". If a soundtrack can be considered a musical vehicle on its own, this one is driven by "Danger Zone". Other songs feed off the energy and mood of "Danger Zone" in various ways. And songs that otherwise would be on the album were left off and ultimately only restored on the deluxe edition because they would tonally clash with the musical ideas that "Danger Zone" plays with. More about that later.

-"Danger Zone" itself is a difficult song to comment much on alone. I'd characterize it less as a song than an extended chorus. There's a few other lyrics, but they're sparse, mostly incoherent, and pretty comically delivered. The chorus itself, though still largely incoherent and certainly not dangerous, is at least heart-pumping. Which I think is the point. You're not intended to feel the danger. The song isn't about making you empathize with the danger the characters are facing. It's about making you empathize with the reasons they seek out the danger.

Wikipedia points out that Kenny Loggins was not the first choice to perform this song, and I think it shows (Bryan Adams was allegedly the first choice). Oh, not to say that he doesn't pull it off, but he does so in a very... performative... way. He's singing it with a very self-conscious awareness that it's a soundtrack song, perhaps one might say that there's a Greek Chorus feel to his lyric delivery. This is acceptable on "Danger Zone", less so on "Playing with the Boys", where he just sounds like he's trying too hard.

-Other standouts include Cheap Trick's "Mighty Wing" and Berlin's "Take My Breath Away". I don't really have much comment on them other than to say they accomplish what they set out to do. They're good, solid, 80s pop songs.

-Several times this weekend the Top Gun anthem popped into my head and compelled humming. Several other people joined in. I think this is all the comment I need make on the Top Gun anthem.

-The deluxe edition that I listened to adds in "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay", "Great Balls of Fire", and "You've Lost That Loving Feeling", adding in this whole mini-soundtrack of 60s tunes that tonally clashes with the rest of the soundtrack. It was a wise decision not to include them in the original soundtrack, and while I guess completists won't mind having them, I'd imagine the right thing for me to do in the future would be to stop listening to the soundtrack after the Top Gun anthem. But hey, I guess bonus tracks are usually ill-fitting to the rest of the album. The difference is that whereas in a normal album, bonus tracks often offer interesting insights into the creative process that led to the rest of the album, here on an album with a narrative rather than musical unifying direction the bonus tracks don't offer anything musically interesting.

This week I'm listening to Lady Gaga's "The Fame Monster", and as always people are encouraged to play along at home.
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Now that I'm back at work again, I want to revive AotW (Album of the Week). For those who are new to this journal or who have forgotten, I have a forty minute commute to and from work and that can be soul-destroying. I've seized it as an opportunity to learn about new music, since I love learning about new music of all types. So I have people here recommend albums to listen to and then I listen to each album on my commute for a week and write a reasonably in-depth review.

I still have a few albums on my queue, but I think I'm going to junk the queue for the moment because I want to try something different.

I was talking to Laurel's dad last week about how my musical education was totally backwards, compared to my peers. While everyone else was growing up with the Top 40, I was almost entirely listening to Haydn and Mozart and Bach, the great classical composers. Through Schoenberg and Cage I discovered Coltrane and Coleman and Zorn and the stranger Sonic Youth stuff and eventually this bloomed into a passion for jazz and rock. And there's nothing really wrong with that, but I came to pop music comparatively late and it's a weak spot in my repertoire.

So recommend an album to me that you think I'll like or that you think I won't like, that you like or that you don't like, but it has to have been a Billboard Top 10 album. Or um... the equivalent. If it's top ten on some other country's charts, I'm okay with that.

(BTW: All my old AotW album reviews exist under the aotw tag on my livejournal)


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