Thoughts about music I've been listening to of late.
Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi Present Rome Starring Jack White and Norah Jones: One of my favorite albums of all time is A Fistful Of Film Music: The Ennio Morricone Anthology (which warrants a slam dunk A+). Morricone is best known for scoring Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, most notably Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name" series. That album also has the benefit of receiving the Mrs. Dcat seal of approval for what she calls "sleepytime music," which is to say music we can listen to at night while we sleep, and so we listen to it all the time. This collaboration between the producer Danger Mouse, who is fast achieving the status as a modern legend, and Italian composer, film soundtrack producer, and musician Daniele Luppi intentionally evokes Morricone's body of work with a contemporary spin. Adding Jack White and Norah Jones to the mix is just the cherry on the gelato. Grade: A-
Death Cab For Cutie -- Something About Airplanes and Codes and Keys: DCfC just rereleased Something About Airplanes, their first album, because, well, any band of note re-releases their albums these days, usually with just enough added material to make the upgrade worth making, at least for fetishists of completism like myself. And the re-release is worth it for me if only because it includes an extra batch of live songs from one of their earliest shows -- on at least two occasions they pimp that they are selling a cassette at the show for $3 (which I assume was You Can Play These Songs With Chords, their first ep, later issued on cd). The most amazing element of both the first album and the live show that preceded it is the fact that the essential elements of the Death Cab for Cutie sound are already established. A slight quiver in Ben Gibbard's tenor vocals, shimmery, jangly guitars, rich production that manages nonetheless to reveal a fondness for lo-fi, smart and visually-oriented lyrics that create an atmosphere. Earlier this year, meanwhile, Gibbard and company released Codes and Keys, their latest album. It is excellent, because just about everything Death Cab for Cutie does is excellent. The band is now on Atlantic (they spent the first half of their career on the indie label Barsuk) and have weathered the storm to a major label with no apparent issues. Somewhat quietly Death Cab has entered that realm of great bands that pretty much places them above their label as they clearly bring more to Atlantic than Atlantic offers them. An added biographical element: I have twice been to Bellingham, Washington, Death Cab for Cutie's home base (they came together at Western Washington University and especially in their early albums there is a lot of Bellingham-centric biography in the songs). The first time was for a conference at WWU in, I believe, 1998. The other was on my honeymoon with Mrs. Dcat in 2007. We flew to Seattle, rented a car, and spent three weeks cruising the Pacific Northwest with the vast majority of the time in the vast expanses of British Columbia. We stopped for a seafood lunch in Bellingham on the drive between Seattle and Vancouver. Something About Airplanes (Limited Edition Re-release) A- Codes and Keys A
Deerhunter -- Halcyon Days: Doesn't the name "Deerhunter" make you think that these guys are going to be some sort of country-metal hybrid, maybe Molly Hatchet moved inland a couple hundred miles? Yeah, well, this ain't that band. This is lo-fi indie sludge for the bed and breakfast set more likely to appeal to wannabe writers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn than wannabe big-game hunters in Williamsburg, Georgia (Yeah, I did the Google legwork just to create a syllogism that works. That's value added!) And Deerhunter is, in fact, from Atlanta (Circle: squared!) even if they sound like they could be from Britain. B+
Roky Erickson With Okkervil River -- True Love Cast Out All Evil: Roky Erickson's autobiography is in many ways a classic tragedy. He was a pioneer of psychadelic rock as a co-founder of the 13th Floor Elevators in the 1960s. But he suffered from mental illness, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, was arrested in his home state of Texas for possession of a single joint and because the politics of Texas sucked even worse then than they do now, he was subject to a decade in prison. Instead he was placed in mental hospitals where he was subjected to various forms of electroshock and drug therapy, including a forced regimen of Thorazine. This album, with Austin's outstanding Okkervil River serving as his backup band, represents Erickson's first new recorded music in nearly a decade-and-a-half. Far from his psychadelic roots, Erickson explores various versions of country and western, gospel, and other roots music. Don't buy the album because of the biography. Buy the album because of the way the biography informs the music. B+
Fleet Foxes -- Helplessness Blues: This is the second album by beard-rock revivalists Fleet Foxes, a (rightfully) critically lauded band from Seattle whose sound somehow reminds us that people in the northern US have always worn flannel as a practical matter and that it wasn't just a grunge fashion statement (which was not, until the zeitgeist got hold of it, a fashion statement at all -- for once in my life some of the most worn shirts in my closet were cool without effort or expense. But I digress.) It's lush and beautiful and shows that these guys were not just one-album wonders. This is the perfect music for a giant party in the woods and in the listening you would not be at all surprised if wood nymphs and sprites came out of the darkness for a pull at the keg or at something a little more herbal. A-