Friday, February 1, 2008

In Threes

I have been in a decidedly non-pop mood of late, opting instead to fill my ears with improvised and twentieth century classical music, but three records have coaxed me back into the guitars-and-drums fold.

The first is by Matthew Houck, who records under the name Phosphorescent. It seems to be an apt handle; his latest, Pride, is the sound of torch light on the cabin wall. It's twenty-first century backwoods gospel - reverent, haunting, yearning. This is Phosphorescent's third (plus an EP), but the first I've heard of him. A quick scan of his press yields scores of comparisons to Will Oldham, but Pride's got me thinking of an all-male Low. Whoever else it may sound like, the album's got a stillness at its core that I'm particularly drawn to right now.

Next, I've had a week now to live with Jukebox, Cat Power's latest, a sort of a thematic follow-up to The Covers Record, and a sonic sibling of her last, The Greatest. Flak will be dished because Jukebox's covers don't reinvent the originals the way The Covers Record did, and Cat, a.k.a. Chan Marshall seems to be getting comfortable in the skin of a palatable chanteuse, a skin she first donned on The Greatest. But here's the rub: it works. Call sellout if you must, but I'm at a point (age?) where I see it as a trade-off: we're losing a volatile and unpredictable artist, a cauldron of nervous energy and stylistic tics; but we're gaining a helluva soul singer. Maybe artists don't have to reinvent the wheel with every release. Maybe it's enough to cut a good set of songs.

And finally, nothing revelatory here, but after hearing an inter- view with Mick Jones on NPR earlier this week, I dug back into the Clash's catalog. Started with London Calling, then spent an afternoon with (Super) Black Market Clash. What's there to say? The Clash are peerless. The albums are cultural milestones, not frivolous pop artifacts.

There are few (non-jazz) artists I can return to with as much regularity as I do to the music of Joe, Topper, Paul and Mick and not feel that I am chasing my own youth or attempting to recapture some lost feeling of excitement. The Clash are still startlingly relevant, and I imagine they always will be.

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