Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Wooden Finger Five – July 2016

Sometimes, in the last hours of the day, I look on Wikipedia at the birth dates of celebrities to compare what they have done compared with what I have done at my age. With Bat For Lashes/ Natasha Khan the comparison is particularly appropriate as she is almost – down to the day – exactly the same age as I am. Khan has released four albums, I have none … Still when I first found this out I felt a twinge of delight, and felt that in the unlikely scenario that we ever met this would mean we’d get along better than I would with most other celebrities, or indeed many non-celebrities – even though I have no real basis for feeling this other than, in interviews that I’ve heard or read with Khan, she seems like she’s quite polite.
Bat For Lashes’ latest album ‘The Bride’ is ‘the story of a woman whose fiancé has been killed in a car crash on the way to the church for their wedding’ and she decides to ‘take the honeymoon trip alone’. It’s as much a downer as it sounds. I went back to work out in which track the grisly event itself takes place – it’s in third track and lead single ‘In God’s House’: ‘In God’s house I do wait / For my love on my wedding day … But I’m feeling something’s wrong … What’s this I see? / My baby’s hand on the wheel / Fire / Fire …’
With the deed done early the place of ‘In Your Bed’ at the album’s end seems a bit after the fact, as the narrator seems to be looking forward to a life of settling down with her love, not mourning his loss: ‘I don’t want to party no more / Somehow that scene can be such a bore … I just wanna be in your arms instead’. Has this song been positioned to make the Bride’s loss feel even more painful? Or: coming as it does after a song called ‘I Will Love Again’ does it signify that she has found happiness with a new love?
‘I don’t want to party no more …’ Fictional character aside could it be that Khan, at age 36, has decided there is something missing in her life? I, on the other hand, while having released no albums have been settled with a family for a while. Perhaps we each have our accomplishments, and even for those who seem to have accomplished a lot they too have their disappointments and sorrows.
(Or maybe it’s just the part she’s playing … ?)
Both the new Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Biffy Clyro albums are better than I thought they would be. ‘The Longest Wave’ is essentially what you would expect, and hope for, from RHCP at this point of their career. Perfect for standing in a field with your arm around your 30-or-40-something year-old partner Anthony Kiedis’ ‘the wave is here’ line recalls just about every image his band has ever invoked about convertibles and Californian beaches.
It strikes me, that like Radiohead, the clear majority of RHCP’s career has in the end been built upon an album that originally seemed to depart from the sound that made them popular – 2000’s ‘Kid A’ for Radiohead, and 1999’s ‘Californication’ for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. And while I am sure Kiedis and Flea can still pull off ‘Give It Away’ when they have to, in terms of longevity they probably made the right move.
Scottish gingers Biffy Clyro did not hit the big time until their fourth or fifth album, and I had kind of dismissed them as a band that enjoyed a brief peak before slipping back into being ‘honest toilers’ again. There are some really strong songs on the new album though. ‘Medicine’ is high quality acoustic pub rock, with a tune that seems made for the round before last call. I could imagine drinkers singing ‘I shouldn’t waste my time / Having you around’ to their best mate or significant other in non-ironic endearment. Other songs I considered for this slot are the lupine duo of ‘Howl’ and ‘Wolves of Winter’, and fellow Biffy ballad ‘Re-arrange’.

‘Wildflower’ may be The Avalanches’ first album in sixteen years(!), but for me it actually sounds like a further retreat into their past, to the hip hop of their early days in the late 1990s rather than  following on from the beautiful patchwork suite of ‘Since I Left You’. Not so much ‘Subways’ though. ‘Subways’ is full of children singing and summery noises, recalling a sunny day on a New York playground, like ‘Sesame Street’ for elementary schoolers. It’s exactly the type of track you’d imagine emerging from ‘Since I Left You’.
Except that The Avalanches never were kids in America. Their first album kind of recalled American youth but only to the extent that growing up in Australia in the early 1990s meant growing up with Nike swooshes, ‘Home Alone’, MJ/MJ, and Prince. Not that it matters too much, they’re still a great band. I just don’t know – particularly given the stars ‘n’ stripes like album cover – that I’d call them a great Australian band anymore. Again, not that it matters; it’s more just an observation.
The Avalanches’ don’t actually use any samples from Sesame Street, although they do come close to replicating the sound of the Cookie Monster on ‘The Noisy Eater’. With a 1½ year old daughter I have watched a looooot of ‘Sesame Street’ recently. These are five Sesame Street-related samples which I would have enjoyed seeing them work somewhere into the album:
1.      SuperGrover 2.0
Every now and then I check out the ‘Best Ever Albums’ list of the highest-rated albums so far for the current year. This is what led me to Car Seat Headrest. But after being ambivalent last month over what was my favourite album of 2016 to date I can say with absolute certainty that Car Seat Headrest’s ‘Teens of Denial’ is now way out in front, and may actually be my favourite album of all since this one dropped.
Car Seat Headrest’s sound is clearly reminiscent of the 1990s American lo-fi indie bands such as Pavement, Built To Spill, Guided By Voices, and Neutral Milk Hotel – I’d call them a version of Pavement that sound like they are actually trying. (The horns though are more like NMH.) But they also sound like a satirical take on the ‘90s ‘slacker ethos’ – to the extent that there ever was one. Fourth track ‘(Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School For Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t A Problem)’ turns the ‘Dazed And Confused’ cool-as-hell vibe on its head: ‘Last Friday I took acid and mushrooms / I did not transcend / I felt like a walking piece of shit / In a stupid looking jacket’. And later: ‘I laid on my friend’s bedroom floor for an hour / And tried not to piss my pants’. I reckon more people can relate to that than would care to admit.
Opening track ‘Fill In The Blank’ seems to skewer the self-loathing fans of early ‘90s rock right off the bat: ‘You have no right to be depressed / You haven’t tried hard enough to like it / Haven’t seen enough of this world yet’. It initially sounded to me like the ‘wizened advice’ of a band in their thirties, and then I discovered that the band is actually built around a kid Will Toledo who is only 23. And the third track is called ‘Destroyed By Hippie Powers’, whose line ‘That guy I kind of hate is here / Shouldn’t have had that last …’ suggests Toledo is a bit fed up with Northwestern keg parties.
Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ is not one of the ‘satirical’ tracks, but it’s the best. Teenage recklessness isn’t just stupid; it can be dangerous and have lasting consequences. The narrator of this track stands on the edge of responsibility: ‘Here’s that voice in your head / Giving you shit again / But you know he loves you … Get out of the car / And start to walk’. Melodically, the shift in the chorus from ‘drunk drivers’ to ‘killer whales’ takes it up another level. There is a huge amount going on with this album, and it’s meant to be taken seriously. Dense as a novel, and easy on the auditory cortex: I’ve been singing it as I walk around each day and recommending it to any indie lover within earshot.

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