Saturday, December 18, 2010

#s 25-21

25. Swans, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

Michael Gira dusts off Swans to remind the Mile End anarchists who did what first. This actually sent me on a listening expedition the other night, into the remote wilds of '90s "post-rock," instrumental scores to the films in doom-minded musicians' heads, soundtracks to movies never made, funeral dirges for the still dying. Think Godspeed, Rachel's, the Boxhead Ensemble. What amazed me was how much it all sounded like outtakes from Nick Cave's and Warren Ellis's score for The Road. The second surprise was how much more affecting I found it, how difficult were the images of "mothers clutching babies, pick[ing] through the rubble and pull[ing] out their hair" -- it hurts more when you have more to lose, I suppose.

But Gira, and by extension Swans, have more bile than that other gang, more bite, as well as more room for redemption, it would seem. That last bit wouldn't have been true in the past, but perhaps the man has mellowed in his own peculiar way. His own young daughter duets with Devendra Banhart on "You Fucking People Make Me Sick." Classic!

That he cuts songs with vocals is something of a red herring; the assortment of noises and pummelling crescendos that dot his songs mark Gira as the first post-rocker, or perhaps more accurately the first post-apocalypse-rocker, since this (like every Swans record) sounds like the noise that greets the first day after the end of the world.

24. Gaslight Anthem, American Slang

I don't know about these guys. They've turned Boss-aping pop-punk into a cottage industry, earned Bruuuuce's approval, and spread their sound over three full-lengths, all with a bit of a tenuous grasp on the real nature of Springsteenian songcraft. They repeat the tropes, but lack the depth. And yet they do it all with such gusto, and make it catchy enough that you're moved to overlook their shortcomings, pogo along, and hope they'll one day turn out that breakneck cover of "Spirit in the Night" they seem destined to make.

23. Marc Ribot, Silent Movies

The swoon and clang of Marc Ribot's guitar is a sound both velvety and metallic. His solo guitar work, now documented on several albums (2001's Saints being an earlier highlight), is always engaging. Silent Movies consists of 13 pieces that serve as accompaniment to silent films both real and imagined, fragmentary explorations of image and mood that have the ability to lull, please and intrigue. Ribot is one of my longtime favourite musicians (and he's appeared on lists past), a key piece of a number of seminal recordings (Tom Waits' Rain Dogs, the Lounge Lizards' Voice of Chunk, to name two), but the material he's turned out for the Pi label since 2005 might be his most important work yet.

22. Best Coast, Crazy for You

Hands down the micro-trend of 2010: lo-fi girl group pop with a side of surf rock. Seriously. The best of the bunch is Best Coast's debut, a hazy, reverb-laden ode to weed, laziness and young love.

21. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

Okay, alright, yes, it is good. Despite my misgivings over Win Butler's single-source theory of modern anomie, the fact that Arcade Fire (the U2 of the '10s) have birthed their most accessible record to date musn't be overlooked. A few lyrical duds ("Business men drink my blood / like the kids in high school said they would") are forgiven in light of the music that backs them. Overall AF have matured, and in doing so they've cemented their place in the vanguard of contemporary avant pop, and confirmed that they'll be with us for a long while yet.


Nirmala said...

Yeah, sometimes Win Butler's dismissal of the working world is grating, but I'm glad with the suburbs he's acknowledging the strange appeal of settling down (or at least returning "home"). Also, "We Used to Wait" -- fantastic song with one of his best vocal performances.

AGF said...

So much to love about The Suburbs, but every so often, yes, I wince. If suburbs = evil, what's the alternative? For most of us, I mean, notwithstanding the urbanites among the readership.

Green space! Bikes! Road hockey!

Anyway, I'm probably being a bit defensive and/or reactionary about it, given that I've basically moved to Blackburn Hamlet.

Nirmala said...

I think that's what I'm doing as well, being a bit defensive, because I am one of those people working in the building downtown or whatever. Even though I live in the city proper, technically, I live in a suburb-approximating subdivision on what used to be a steel mill plot. Win Butler AND The Boss would be appalled (although, obviously, we'd need to see where Bruce is living these days, haha).

AGF said...

You work in an office building and I work in a mall, and one day our children will grow up to join anarchist collectives. They will launch molotov cocktails at the very places that sustained them during their bland, subdivided childhoods.

Anyway, Happy Christmas to you and yours! (Miss A demanded and got Zhu Zhu Pets -- and so it begins!)