Sonic Youth's "The Eternal," Out June 9 on Matador

Sonic Youth's "The Eternal," Due Out 6/9 on Matador

Sonic Youth‘s next album, “The Eternal,” is due out June 9 on Matador Records. And, as is often the case when I’m looking forward to hearing something new by one of my all-time favorite bands, I’ve found myself returning to the Sonic Youth catalog over the past couple weeks, listening again to and thinking again about all of their earlier releases.

Which leads me back to “New York City Ghosts and Flowers.” Though much maligned both when it first came out (for a leading example, see this review) and in the years since, I’ve always really liked the album. Sure, the compositions lack the awesome power of the wide open jams that appear on each of the excellent SY records, “Murray Street,” “Sonic Nurse,” and “Rather Ripped,” that have come out since. But much of songwriting on NYCG&F is as poignant as anything any of the band’s members did before or have done since. Here, I’m thinking about the poetry of Thurston’s “Free City Rhymes” and Kim’s “Nevermind (What Was It Anyway)” and, even more, “Side2Side.”  Overall, the album is like a small painting hanging in the corner of a gallery, one that’s all too easy to overlook at first but that once you see it, just pulls you in. Maybe that’s what Robert Christgau is getting at, too, in his review of the record here.

Of course, what up until recently has been one of the most interesting things about NYCG&F is that it’s an album of songs about New York City that came out just 16 months before the September 11 attacks. But what ought to make the album, particularly the title track by Lee Ranaldo, even more compelling today is that while, admirably, New York City didn’t fall to the foreign invaders then, now it’s been hit even harder, bitterly and ironically, by the colossal greed, selfishness, and stupidity of our very own ruling economic class. Karl Marx might be amused, but I’m certainly not. Still, at least there’s a new Sonic Youth album to look forward to.

Metro Area – Fabric 43

March 23, 2009

metro-area-fabric-43Yeah, you know, I’ve really liked quite a few of those recent Fabric DJ mix cds, including Ellen Allien’s #34, Ewan Pearson’s #35, and M.A.N.D.Y.’s #38. But #43 in the series, by Metro Area, has kind of pretty much become my favorite of them all – what you might call a “go-to” item on the iPod after a hard day’s work at the proverbial car wash.

Released late last year, the 23 tracks on this one are dominated by the classic disco sound that I love, with a few familiar favorites from the ’80s thrown in for good measure. And when it all culminates in a stroke of genius, in the form of Devo’s “Freedom of Choice,” well,  any listener myself included would have to admit that here, Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani succeed brilliantly in putting together a serious dance mix that, fittingly and perfectly, doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Julie Doiron has a new album out, called “I Wonder What You Did With Your Day,” and it’s really great. Like the album title suggests, most of the songs focus on the details of normal, day-to-day life. And while the arrangements are stripped down to vocals, guitar, drum, and bass and/or keys, Doiron’s excellent acoustic and electric guitar work keeps things interesting; for an example, you can download one of the best tracks, “Consolation Prize,” from the Jagjaguwar website. Overall the feeling is kind of like what you get from the Spinane’s first album or even more so from Tsunami’s “A Brilliant Mistake.” And, indeed, this new album is as good as or perhaps even better than either of those two, featuring what’s maybe the best music Doiron’s ever recorded, either with or without Eric’s Trip. It’s another leading candidate for 2009’s top ten list.

The Black Lips also have a new record out, titled “200 Million Thousand.” Their last album, “Good Bad Not Evil” from 2007, was really great, but this latest is even better if you ask me, as the band continues to bring elements of garage and psychedelic rock together in standout tracks (a couple of which you can stream from the band’s Myspace page) like “Starting Over,” “Short Fuse,” “I’ll Be With You,” and “Again and Again,” that all sound like instant classics. The Black Lips are from Atlanta not Boston, but if you’re like me and love that classic Boston sound of the Real Kids, Unnatural Axe, the Prime Movers, and so on, you’re sure to love this new cd too.

Finally, Lotus Plaza is a solo project by Lockett Pundt, guitarist from Deerhunter, and his new cd, “The Floodlight Collective,” out soon on Kranky records, confirms that Bradford Cox is by no means the only creative force behind that great band. This album has the same mix of dreamy shoegaze, psychedelic, and haunting Flamingos-like 1950s pop that’s featured on Deerhunter’s latest, “Microcastle,” as well as on the Bradford Cox-solo-project Atlas Sound’s “Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel.” And if you count the “Weird Era Cont.” cd that came along with “Microcastle,” that makes four outstanding full-length records by these two guys over the last 14 months. Truly amazing.

A great essay by Anne Carson on Homer, Alberto Moravia, Jean-Luc Godard, Brigitte Bardo, and the tensions between art and commerce appears here, in the latest issue of the journal Arion.

If you’re ever searching for proof that the Humanities and especially the Classics have something to teach us about the way the world works even today, I’d say just take a look at any issue of Arion, online or at the library.

Mi Ami – Watersports

March 13, 2009

Suppose that after the Talking Heads made “Fear of Music” and “Remain in Light,” David Byrne cut it out with the very-funky-but-oddly-mild-mannered-man routine, and adopted a new persona, still kind of funky but mostly insanely wild, to scream and wail in falsetto on top of tribal beats and screaming guitars, mixing elements of dub and punk in with the sound of those previous albums. And suppose that, somehow, he was able to do to all that without the huge supporting cast of “Remain in Light;” suppose in fact that somehow he was able to do that with a just a stripped-down, three-piece, guitar-bass-and-drum setup.

If that sounds good to you – and it certainly sounds good to me – then I’d highly recommend this new cd, “Watersports” by Mi Ami, to you. This album burns and smokes from start to finish, over seven compositions that, like those on side one of “Remain in Light,” take their time to spin their stories. The intensity level is astonishing, particularly through the first four tracks, “Echononecho,” “The Man in Your House,” “New Guitar,” and “Pressure,” and lets up only slightly thereafter. Really awesome stuff!

Michael Patrick Brady has a nice short review of “Watersports” here, in the Boston Phoenix, and according to his blog will soon have a longer piece about Mi Ami in ALARM magazine. So check that out too and, in the meantime, have a listen.

These Are Powers’ first album, “Terrific Seasons” from 2007, was very noisy and very good. So it’s surprised me that their latest full-length, “All Aboard Future,” hasn’t received that much attention: it’s been out for two or three weeks now, and I haven’t seen many reviews posted elsewhere.

Too bad, because “All Aboard Future” keeps the noise from “Terrific Seasons,” but adds something unexpected: electronic samples and beats that bring a whole new dimension to the sound. The result is something like a cross between early Sonic Youth and more recent Gang Gang Dance. Really creative and really nice, and a major step up from the first lp which was, as I said, already quite good.

You can download an excellent track, titled “Life of Birds,” from the Dead Oceans website. But other standouts, like “Light After Sound,” “Parallel Shores,” and “Glass Blocks,” are as good if not better. In fact, “All Aboard Future” is a great album straight through. Certainly NOT to be overlooked or missed.

David Foster Wallace

March 4, 2009

An interesting and insightful article on David Foster Wallace appears here, in the latest issue of the New Yorker. The essay is similar to, but longer than and better than, one that appeared here, last fall, in Rolling Stone magazine. An excerpt from Wallace’s unfinished novel, “The Pale King,” also appears here, in same issue of the New Yorker; the book is due to be published next year.

The New York Times called David Foster Wallace “the best mind of his generation,” and I agree. His generation is my generation, by the way; and the only thing I’d add is to say that the only one who comes close is Stephen Malkmus.