Sigur Ros – Von Brigði (Recycle Bin)

30 05 2012

Listened: May 1

Remixing Sigur Ros is a weird idea. But Von Brigði works out very well. It’s easy to listen to while working, unlike some of Sigur Ros’ other works. I have good memories of doing a final cleaning of my college apartment as this album played.

The style is quite drum ‘n’ bassy, which makes sense since it came out in the late 90s. Like Von, I had to order this album specially back in the early days of Sigur Ros’ US popularity. It was one of the more expensive single CD purchases I’ve ever made, but it was definitely worth it.

Sigur Ros – Von

27 05 2012

Listened: Monday March 12

When Sigur Ros’ magnum opus Ágætis byrjun came out while I was in college, it was one of the most indie-darling records that maybe has ever existed. And the praise was rightfully deserved.

At the time, one could only get Ágætis byrjun, not Von or Von brigði, even in record stores like Amoeba in Berkeley, where one could find pretty much anything of consequence. I knew the earlier records existed though (thanks Internet!), and I wanted to own them because it was so hard to own them – which is what one did in those days if you were truly dedicated to your love of music. I remember ordering both the earlier albums from a guy in Colorado on a semi-dodgy web site and at a premium (which I rarely did, ever), to really check that music-fan box. I hadn’t processed before reading Von’s Wikipedia page just now that I have an Icelandic CD, not the UK re-release (which was 2004, way after I acquired my copy, in 1999 or 2000). That’s kinda neat.

Von is to say the least a very bizarre album. It’s quite ambient and experimental in tone and many of the songs aren’t much like later Sigur Ros (though the seeds of the sound are definitely here). I didn’t listen to it much when I originally bought it (unlike Von brigði); I’ve listened to it during the project more than I ever did before. The standout track for me is Myrkur aka Darkness (track 5). After quite a few tracks of of noodling and sampling, this track bursts forth immediately with the most wonderful non-English-language Brittpoppy sound. It would have fit right into the landscape in the mid-90s when it was recorded and released. The name of the track is a total misnomer.

I’ve really come to appreciate Von. It’s quite a bit more understated than later works, though also less tight. For fans of later Sigur Ros and generally ambitious listeners, I highly recommend it.

She & Him – Volume One

25 05 2012

Listened: Monday March 12

I had low expectations going into Volume One. I hadn’t heard Zooey Deschanel’s singing voice before, and even after I heard it I wasn’t sure I liked it. However, it’s really grown on me. I also thought more of the songs were covers that I just wasn’t familiar with, but I was surprised to find most of the songs are Deschanel-penned. Her lyrics are decent and the songs are wonderfully old-school in tone. There’re great musical touches as well (I presume M.Ward-influenced), such as the wonderful use of lap steel on Change is Hard.

Zooey’s interpretation of I Should Have Known Better is right up there with other great straightforward Beatles covers. It’s quite similar to the original (plus more of that lap steel), but with that special something. Zooey’s version of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot that ends the album is quite haunting. It’s also quite an odd choice that completely pays off. Much like the rest of the album, really.

Coldplay – Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends

6 05 2012

Listened: Friday February 3

X&Y is a great album, and well done, but when Viva La Vida came out, it became very clear that Coldplay had completely gone all U2, in a good way – the guitars even sound U2-y. The production is fabulous (and a bunch of it is done by Brian Eno, so the comparison is not totally out there) and the melodies and vocals are beautiful and fit together perfectly.

It’s amazing how far they’ve come from Parachutes and playing the Fillmore in 1998.

Morrissey – Viva Hate

4 05 2012

Listened: Thursday February 2

When I was first introduced to the wonders of Morrissey’s live show back in 2002, I didn’t know his solo songs very well. Now I know that he sang quite a few songs from Viva Hate, an album that was at the time 13 years old; this strikes me as a pretty unusual choice for many performers, but then, Morrissey is special, and he knows it.

Morrissey always has a way with words, but this album has quite a few songs that conjure up detailed images as well. It’s easy to see the disco in Bengali in Platforms, the seaside town that they forgot to bomb in Everyday is Like Sunday, the washed-up nervous juvenile in Little Man, What Now, the busy scissors in Hairdresser On Fire, and the very naughty inappropriate relationship in Alsatian Cousin (Do you see a male or female student in that song? I know which one I imagine).

But, as usual, there’s that great wit. In the aforementioned Alsatian Cousin, Moz sneers “Were you and he lovers? And if you were, then say that you were! On a groundsheet, under canvas, with your tent flap open wide.” I love the intriguing imaginary visuals of what’s going on in that tent and the impression one gets that the tent flap could also refer to another man’s fly.

One of my favorite Morrissey lyrics ever, and I think one of his most intentionally funny, is on Late Night, Maudlin Street when he says “No, I cannot steal a pair of jeans off a clothesline for you. But you… without clothes, oh I could not keep a straight face. Me – without clothes? Well a nation turns its back and gags“. The cultivated melodrama of that line cracks me up every time. I also love I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me’s “Your ‘My best wishes’ – they make me suspicious”.

With Alsatian Cousin’s power-laden inappropriate student-teacher relationship (and odd dog references), the whip-cracking percussion on Late Night, Maudlin Street, the fetishism of the power of cutting hair in Hairdresser on Fire, Morrissey’s proclivity to get extremely microphone-cord-whippy when he sings Suedehead, the guillotine sound effect that ends the album, and the creepy weirdness of the album title itself, the sadomasochism theme seems pretty intentional. Like all things Morrissey, it’s wonderful pain and punishment.