Thursday, May 15, 2008

albums of the day

I've just noticed I haven't done a proper one of these since the end of 2007, so I thought I'd better rectify the situation, pronto. I wouldn't want you to think that I either haven't been doing the washing-up regularly, or haven't been listening to the occasional album while doing so, it's just that I haven't had as much time to write stuff up. Anyway, here's a brief synopsis of my recent listening:

Saturnalia by The Gutter Twins.

The Gutter Twins are Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees (and a lengthy solo career), and Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs. If you're at all familiar with their respective output you won't be expecting a collection of sunny bubblegum-pop with singalong choruses, and you'd be right not to, as this is a relentlessly black and sepulchral collection, with lots of industrial clanking and grinding behind the two gravelly vocalists.

Clearly you've got to be in the mood for this sort of stuff, and the tracks Dulli dominates suffer from the same problems as the Afghan Whigs' stuff suffered from, i.e. plenty of dark rocky energy but a shortage of melody. The Lanegan-led mid-section from Idle Hands through Circle The Fringes, Who Will Lead Us? and Seven Stories Underground is the best bit, but it's all pretty good. Even The Sun liked it, slightly strangely.

Ágætis byrjun by Sigur Rós.

We're back in "post-rock" territory again here. Crazy Icelandic blokes playing electric guitars with a cello bow and singing in a made-up nonsense language probably isn't for everyone, and it's all a bit one-paced, but when it works it's terrific. Generally these are slow-building mid-tempo tunes which build towards some sort of anthemic crescendo towards the end - when this works it's fantastic, particularly on the 10-minute Viðrar vel til loftárása which is much the best thing here. A lot of the other songs strain for transcendence without ever quite getting there, though; you can almost see the neck veins standing out as the song lumbers along the runway without ever quite taking off. Jónsi Birgisson's wavering falsetto vocals are something of an acquired taste as well, but, again, as long as you're in the mood, great. Note that this probably wouldn't be the same sort of mood as for Saturnalia, just in case that wasn't clear already.

The Caution Horses by Cowboy Junkies.

Blimey, this takes me back. I seem to recall Doug and I playing this album a lot when we were sharing a student flat, which would have been around the time the album first came out in 1990. Critical opinion seems to have decided that it's not as good as its more lo-fi predecessor The Trinity Session, but I suspect it depends on which order you encounter them in. To the impartial observer this is still pretty sparsely instrumented, just Michael Timmins' softly strummed electric guitar, his sister Margo's vocals and the occasional bit of pedal steel or accordion. The best things here are the opener Sun Comes Up, It's Tuesday Morning and the radical reinvention of Neil Young's epic Powderfinger; some of the other songs can tend to be a bit florid in the lyrical department (Rock and Bird being an obvious culprit). Again, the right mood is essential, so, to recap, what you'll be needing is:
  • Saturnalia: sleazy druggy bleakness and depravity
  • Ágætis byrjun: wide-eyed transcendence and optimism
  • The Caution Horses: lovelorn melancholy, possibly while milking a three-legged goat in a log cabin, or something like that


The Black Rabbit said...

"milking a three-legged goat in a log cabin"

I could go for that.

electrichalibut said...

Well, we've all done it. I know I have.