Idlewild – Warnings/Promises

1 07 2012

Listened: Wednesday May 30

I know I said The Remote Part is my favorite album, but as a result of repeated listenings for the project, I’ve really become fond of Warnings/Promises. It has great energy, whether Roddy is gently singing folkier songs (Welcome Home, Goodnight, Not Just Sometimes But Always) or more classic snarling rockers (I Want a Warning, The Space Between all Things). This album is one big singalong for me from start to finish.

As a Californian I love the El Capitan name-check in the song of the same name. Perhaps they’d better watch out for Roddy BASE-jumping it, judging by the lyrics. I’d watch that!

U2 – War

30 06 2012

Listened: Wednesday May 2

I’m sure Achtung Baby was my first U2 and Boy was the last of the historical albums I acquired. But in between I’ve lost track of how things shook out. I’m pretty sure War was early on though, due to its songs that were already classics when I was in high school: Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year’s Day.

As the years have passed, the sound of this album definitely has aged. Two Hearts Beat as One in particular is extremely 80s sounding, and on some days it even sounds dated to me.

Further, while Boy and October were very personal, post-punk albums, something has definitely changed here. With War, the band became big, anthemic, sure of themselves, a voice for young people.

I love how the album is bookended by two very similar lyrics – in Sunday Bloody Sunday “How long must we sing this song?” and in 40 “How long to sing this song?” One question asked with righteous indignation, and one with earnest faith.

War is actually filled with many questions: There’s many lost, but tell me who has won? Where are you going to now? Exactly who are you? Is there nothing left? Is honesty what you want? How can you help me? Through these questions I can hear more of that voice of and for young people (the members of the band were only 22 or 23 when this album was recorded), always challenging authority and looking for answers to questions no one else wants to ask. They might be older, wiser, and have a different style these days, but that’s what U2 is still about.

James – Wah Wah

1 06 2012

Listened: May 1

I bought Wah Wah very early on in my CD-buying career. I don’t remember if I owned Laid yet or not. I think Wah Wah had just come out so I wanted to own James’ “newest one”. But little did I know that this album is just experiments the band did with Brian Eno whilst recording Laid. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a good introduction to “classic Eno”-type explorations. I remember being 15 years old, listening to this album on a family vacation to Maui, alone in the bedroom of the condo with island breezes flowing around me as I tried to make sense of what I was hearing. It’s amazing now how much Jam J & the bass of Frequency Dip sound like Achtung Baby-period U2. It’s clear that Eno was experimenting with a certain sound during the early 90s, no matter who he was working with.

Not that there aren’t some pretty traditional Jamesian songs here amongst the noodling – Pressure’s On and Tomorrow are especially good. At Coachella 2012 I saw James live for the first time, in unusual-for-Coachella rainy weather. When they busted out Tomorrow, it seemed like the clouds parted. I love that about them.



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.