Wednesday, May 30, 2007

albums of the day

Been away all weekend, so there was a mountain of washing up to do when I got back, enough for two albums in fact. So here they are. I have some ranting to do shortly, so I'll try and keep them brief and to the point.

A Ghost Is Born by Wilco.

Kenny Rogers and Glen Campbell I can take or leave; same goes for Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, really, but the stuff that gets loosely grouped as I really quite like - see my earlier posts on Gillian Welch and Ryan Adams. It's a tradition that goes back to the late 60's and early 70's and bands like The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers as well as more obvious candidates like The Eagles - though it was generally called country-rock back then.

Anyway, this is where Wilco (which is really just singer-songwriter-instrumentalist Jeff Tweedy plus a rotating cast of hired hands) started out with early albums like AM and Being There; by the time of A Ghost Is Born, though, they'd started to mutate, Incredible Hulk-like, into something rather different. The opening track At Least That's What You Said illustrates the transformation - it starts off as a whispery acoustic number, but halfway through some rude Neil Young-esque electric guitars batter the studio door down and drag the song through to its feedback-laden conclusion. Later tracks like Hell Is Chrome and Handshake Drugs perform a similar Jekyll-and-Hyde trick, while the standout track Spiders (Kidsmoke) comes from somewhere altogether different - a hypnotic 10-minute Kraftwerk-esque pulsing synthesizer groove punctuated periodically by a massive descending rock guitar riff, just to break things up. It's great. No, really.

Bubblegum by The Mark Lanegan Band.

After the austere dusty folky-bluesy tone of Field Songs (also the subject of an earlier post) this is a lot more robust, in an industrial rock sort of way (hence the newly-acquired "Band" in the title, presumably). Actually it's all a bit Tom Waits, particularly in the slower, starker numbers like the opener When Your Number Isn't Up; it's all gravelly vocals and strange clanking percussion, like someone beating a badger to death with a lightning conductor in a graveyard. Generally the slower numbers work best, ones like Wedding Dress, Bombed, Strange Religion and Morning Glory Wine. The faster ones like Methamphetamine Blues and Sideways In Reverse aren't quite so good (though the shouty collaboration with PJ Harvey on Hit The City is great), but really, One Hundred Days (which is a bit dreary) excepted there isn't a duff track on the album.

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