No Age – Losing Feeling EP

September 29, 2009

NoAge_LP_FRONTNo Age have a new EP, “Losing Feeling,” coming out next week. But you can already stream the whole thing through the Sub Pop webpage.

I enjoyed No Age’s 2007 full-length, “Weirdo Rippers,” quite a bit; last year’s “Nouns” even more. And “Losing Feeling” continues that upward trajectory, at least to my tastes. All of the noise from the earlier releases remains, but here it’s mixed in with more melodic elements, heavy on the reverb, reflecting an influence I suppose from the band’s tour and on-stage performances with Deerhunter (and Dan Deacon) this past summer. Overall, the tracks sound pleasingly melted, warped, and smeared, just like the cover art suggests. And though the lyrics of the three tracks with vocals do seem to revolve around the theme of something lost, like the EP’s title says, upon reflection they’re just as much about something gained.

A really impressive step forward for a band that’s never suffered from a shortage of creativity and talent. My only complaint is that running less than 15 minutes, it’s all over too soon. But, as it stands, this record’s damn near perfect.

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"Most of the Day, They Were at the Machinery" - Eno, Moebius, and Roedelius at the height of their powers

"Most of the Day, They Were at the Machinery" - Eno, Moebius, and Roedelius at the height of their powers

Hamburg-based Sky Records put out a bunch of really excellent records in the late 1970s. Recently, I’ve seen a few of the best come out again, on Bureau B Records, also from Hamburg. Wolfgang Riechman’s “Wunderbar” and Cluster’s “Grosses Wasser” were great to hear again. But more than anything else they left me wondering if Bureau B might also re-release the two greatest jewels from the Sky Record collection: the albums “Cluster & Eno” and “After the Heat” that Brian Eno made together with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, aka Cluster, at Conny Plank‘s studio in 1977.

So I nearly jumped out of my seat when I saw Gustavo Turner’s excellent review of those albums in this week’s Phoenix. They’re now out, also on Bureau B.

Eno was at the height of his powers back then. Having just completed “Before and After Science” and produced David Bowie’s “Heroes,” in my opinion the greatest album that Bowie ever made, and about to embark on his ambient experimentations, which the first collaboration, “Cluster & Eno” anticipates nicely. “After the Heat” is even better, I’d say: with outstanding tracks like “The Shade,” “Old Land,” and especially “The Belldog” containing elements that echo the greatness not just of “Before and After Science” but the earlier masterpieces “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)” and “Another Green World” as well.

I had both of these lps on vinyl back in the early 1980s. Those copies are long gone, but hearing the albums again today, I have to say they sound even better than I remembered, maybe because their influence has grown so much over the years, or maybe just because over time I’ve learned to appreciate this kind of music even more. Really great to have these two essential albums available again.

Polvo – In Prism

September 22, 2009

inprismPolvo have a new album out, their first in 12 years. Seems appropriate, that it should be now: the band titled one of its previous releases “Celebrate the New Dark Age.” Well, if the new new dark age is here, I guess we might as well celebrate again.

This is another case where the cover gives you a pretty good indication of what’s inside. Kind of abstract, but still in the primary colors. Guitar-driven compositions that take their time to unfold and tell their story to those who choose to hang around to listen.

The Trouser Press entry puts it this way: “Practitioners of a particularly slide-rule-dependent brand of modern-day prog-rock, this North Carolinian quartet — whose name is ‘dust’ in Spanish — can, depending on one’s point of view, hypnotize or anaesthetize. Polvo’s lengthy, enigmatic songs have far more in common with Gentle Giant and ELP (on a budget, of course) than anything contemporary, and its disavowal of hooks is all but complete. Of course, to tech-heads and those of a cerebral orientation, those traits are nothing to grouse about.” Exactly, and especially that last part.

Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

September 15, 2009

ole-856.250x250Times are tough, no question there. But maybe even worse than that, times are uncertain. Never before has it seemed to me that so many things might break in so many ways along so many dimensions.

Against that backdrop, Yo La Tengo are out with another consistently great album, titled “Popular Songs.” The individual tracks themselves are varied. Some are long, others short; some rock hard (see the great “Nothing to Hide” video with Times New Viking), others come in more peaceful. Like always, one can’t help but love the band’s willingness to experiment with different styles, borrowing ideas liberally from the past but somehow always adding something new.

But what brings all these songs together is the unifying theme of inescapable uncertainty. That comes through most obviously on the opener, “Here to Fall” (“I know you’re worried/I’m worried too/But if you’re ready/I’m here to fall with you/What else is there for us to do”). But its still there, at least it seems so to me, even in the lighter ones: even “If It’s True,” with its “Can’t Help Myself” rip-off at the start, speaks later of coasts that are never clear.

It’s always tempting to think of Yo La Tengo together with Sonic Youth, partly because of the two bands’ similar demographics. And it’s probably no coincidence that Sonic Youth’s “The Eternal” also dwells heavily on the problem of uncertainty, making these two lps something like companion pieces. But whereas Sonic Youth’s new album emphasizes that little can be known for sure beyond the fact that we’re all gonna die, Yo La Tengo’s reminds us that that very fact means we ought to at least try to enjoy life while it lasts. Two sets of “popular songs” that capture two sides of a basic truth.

Yo La Tengo – Here to Fall

September 14, 2009

From the new lp, “Popular Songs.”

frontThe Point is a new literary/cultural journal started by graduate students at the University of Chicago. In case you haven’t spent time in Hyde Park: the title is a pun.

Their first issue came out last Spring and features a nice article on David Foster Wallace, the full text of which is posted here. It deals with many of the same issues as the New Yorker piece from last March, but focuses on those issues more from the perspective of Wallace’s writing than from his personal life, which is very useful if, like me, you can’t stop thinking about “Infinite Jest.”

And as you can see from the cover, the inaugural issue also features articles on Facebook and the female slacker. Very nice — I look forward to hearing more from these guys.