Holy musical overload, Batman!
It's been a ridiculous couple days of new releases, unlike any I can remember for many months. I've spent the night listening to the new efforts from Radiohead, Beirut, Sunset Rubdown, and Band of Horses while writing. As may go without saying at this point, that's a damn fine soundtrack to an evening. My generally positive initial impressions, for what their worth...
Just over a week after we were alerted to its coming availability, Radiohead's In Rainbows is all over the place. After some payment difficulties, I've given the initial 10 tracks a single listen. First impression is quite positive. They grabbed me about 40 seconds into opener "15 Step" and didn't let go for the duration.
I thought Yorke's The Eraser was downright mediocre, riddled with excessive bleeps, bloops, and laptop trickery coupled with lackluster songs. Thankfully, In Rainbows is quite different. The band relies less on digital escapades and more on actual instruments. Synthesizers and strings feel equally appropriate, and Yorke's signature voice soars. I don't feel qualified yet to comment much on the songwriting on In Rainbows, but I will say it seems more akin to OK Computer than the band's more recent efforts. Remember this sucker is available only from Radiohead for the time being, but will hit stores early next year. In Rainbows will certainly take several listens to digest properly, and it appears to deserve them.
Beirut's The Flying Club Cup hit store shelves yesterday. After a successful debut album and EP, Zach Condon's terrific output should be old hat. Thank goodness that is not the case. The record is a departure from Gulag Orkestar in some ways, primarily in its improved production and greater tendency to be content with understated beauty in spaces that might earlier have been occupied by horn flourishes. Condon and his ukulele on "Forks and Knives (La Fete)," for example, illustrate that his songs can be as gripping even without accordion, strings, and the like. That xylophone on "St. Apollonia"? Hell yes.
Moments on The Flying Club Cup are nothing short of gorgeous. While that shouldn't surprise us with regard to Condon at this point, it's nice to actively notice it rather than have the record passively in the background. This album demands attention. The breakdown 2/3 of the way through "La Banlieu" is a great example -- even while I was staring out at Athens traffic it refused to be ignored. If you've enjoyed Beirut's prior output, there's no reason not to add this record to your collection.
Another Tuesday release was Sunset Rubdown's Random Spirit Lover. Just as Zach Condon has come to occupy a revered place in the "indie rock" (whatever) community, Spencer Krug has risen in a few short years to a place of prominence. Sunset Rubdown may have began as a side project of sorts, but released one of my favorite records of 2006 with Shut Up I am Dreaming. Here Random Spirit Lover picks up where that album left off.
Sunset Rubdown - Winged/Wicked Things
Sunset Rubdown - Up on Your Leopard, Upon the End of Your Feral Days
Krug's unmistakable voice carries the record, in my humble opinion, but the presence of unusual and seemingly found instruments (are those pots on "The Courtesan Has Sung"?) also gives the album a good deal of personality. Some of the tracks even have a tinge of prog-rock, including "Up on Your Leopard..." linked above. The lyrics are often surreal, which doesn't bother me one bit, and there are psychedelic moments as well (e.g., the mid-album "Colt"/"Stallion" pairing). Lots to like about this one, and I imagine it'll be getting a lot of spins in the coming months.
Perhaps the least urgent of these new releases from my point of view was Cease to Begin from Band of Horses. I've suffered from "The Funeral" burnout for quite some time, so new material is quite welcome. I hate to compare it to the records above rather than judge it on its own merits, but it is the lone release among the quartet that I found somewhat disappointing.
Band of Horses - Is There a Ghost?
Perhaps it has just been a while since I listened to Everything All the Time, but I don't remember Band of Horses being as dull as the flat first half of Cease to Begin. Until the piano and handclaps-driven "The General Specific" midway through the record, it ventures dangerously close to Dad-rock territory. Egad! There's more evidence that the band is awake on the second half, but there seems to be a tendency to strive for the "epic" here that sometimes turns me off to Arcade Fire and their umpteen flawed clones (not that Band of Horses is one). The record is far from awful, but I don't find it particularly compelling. Your mileage may vary.
So, um, how's that new Jens Lekman?