New albums from Father John Misty and Car Seat Headrest.


Pure Comedy, Father John Misty.

Pure Com­e­dy, Father John Misty.

Pure Com­e­dy is the lat­est album from Father John Misty and it’s as pro­found­ly dis­ap­point­ing as his pre­vi­ous release was impres­sive. And it’s not hard to see what’s happened.

The penul­ti­mate track on that last album, I Love You, Hon­ey­bear, reviewed here, is the melo­di­ous “Holy Shit”. There, he briefly name-checks many of the Big Issues bar­ing down upon us in these our oh so uncer­tain times, before breezi­ly dis­miss­ing them to ask disin­gen­u­ous­ly what any of them have to do with all the real­ly impor­tant stuff that he has to deal with.

It’s impos­si­ble to decide whether he’s being entire­ly seri­ous, dead­pan or a bit of both. Which is what gives the song its charm. And it’s all too easy to imag­ine what’s hap­pened in the interim.

On the one hand, the com­mer­cial suc­cess and crit­i­cal acclaim that that pre­vi­ous album enjoyed mean that the last cou­ple of years must have been a rel­a­tive­ly hap­py time to be Mr. Josh Till­man. And, as fans of Dylan, Shake­speare and pret­ty much any artist who has ever lived will know, noth­ing is as cre­ative­ly stul­ti­fy­ing as per­son­al hap­pi­ness, how­ev­er briefly endured.

The said culprit.

The said culprit.

And on the oth­er, he’s clear­ly begun to believe some of the hype sur­round­ing his prowess as an appar­ent­ly thought-pro­vok­ing lyricist.

So that the new album sees him mus­ing almost exclu­sive­ly on those big, heavy themes which were briefly touched upon in “Holy Shit”. Only now, far from wry­ly acknowl­edg­ing his own igno­rance on any of them, he seems to imag­ine that he’s sud­den­ly become some­thing of a sage, and any sense of irony has been sum­mar­i­ly dis­missed. What’s worse, his mel­liflu­ous voice, impec­ca­ble dic­tion and regal sense of melody mean that it’s quite impos­si­ble to escape all of those dread­ful lyrics.

Imag­ine Mar­tin from the Simp­sons being set as his home­work the task of pro­duc­ing a set of lyrics designed to impress the grown ups. This is what his first draft would have looked like. Not that he’d have ever actu­al­ly shown them to any­one, obviously.

Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial.

Car Seat Head­rest, Teens of Denial.

I stu­dious­ly avoid­ed the lat­est Car Seat Head­rest album, Teens of Denial. The boys from All Songs Con­sid­ered, reviewed here, have been so effu­sive about it these last few months that I’d been thor­ough­ly put off and was qui­et­ly hop­ing to be able to casu­al­ly dis­miss it. There’s a thin line that sep­a­rates infec­tious enthu­si­asm from irri­tat­ing insis­tence. So I’m delight­ed to be able to report that they were right and I was wrong. It real­ly is that good.

There’s a pal­pa­ble air of ear­ly Beck waft­ing from the tracks col­lect­ed here. He inhab­its a very sim­i­lar per­sona to the one that Beck adopt­ed way back when, as a guile­less slack­er drift­ing direc­tion­less like Pound’s hedo­nist bereft of pur­pose, to the tune of a post-punk, new-grunge musi­cal backdrop.

The main man ,Beck.

The main man, Beck.

But as with Beck, the son­ic land­scape is infi­nite­ly more com­plex than it first appears, and you quick­ly find your­self dis­ap­pear­ing from the song’s casu­al sur­faces into the murky depths below. All of which results in a seri­ous album, from one of the most excit­ing new artists to emerge for many a moon.

You can see the video for “Vin­cent”, track 2 from Teens of Denial here

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Sharon Van Etten’s new album “Are We There” Soars.

Sharon Van Etten's Are We There.

Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There.

Sharon Van Etten has been wow­ing the good folks at NPR’s All Songs Con­sid­ered (reviewed ear­li­er here) and the boys from Pitch­fork for some time now. Her last album Tramp (2012) was pro­duced by The National’s Aaron Dess­ner and includes a guest appear­ance from Beirut’s Zach Con­don. And in his pro­file of her in this month’s New York­er (‘Relaxed Fit”), Sasha Frere-Jones describes her lat­est album as “aston­ish­ing”.  In oth­er words, we’re talk­ing indie roy­al­ty here.

Her fourth stu­dio album, Are We There, is a seri­ous piece of work. But on first lis­ten, it seems to be a tad con­ser­v­a­tive, con­ven­tion­al even. There’s noth­ing here that we haven’t heard before. Songs of heartache set to pleas­ing melodies lay­ered with lush harmonies.

The mandatory All Songs Considered podcast.

The manda­to­ry All Songs Con­sid­ered podcast.

What’s “aston­ish­ing” is how the whole adds up to so much more than the sum of its parts. These are songs that real­ly ache, and those melodies and har­monies build and grow with every lis­ten. Before you know it, they’re secure­ly lodged in the com­fort of your subconscious.

This is the album Van Etten has been build­ing up to. Son­i­cal­ly, she’s come a long way from the hushed con­fes­sion­als of those ear­ly record­ings. This is a much fuller sound, but it’s achieved with­out sac­ri­fic­ing any of the inti­ma­cy. On the con­trary, the big­ger sound ampli­fies the emo­tion­al heft. What’s she’s pro­duced in oth­er words is the ulti­mate Fleet­wood Mac album.

You can see the video for Every Time The Sun Comes Up here.

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Metz’ Debut Album is a Power Punk Hymn to the Art of Noise.

New York’s CMJ Music Marathon is fast becom­ing this decade’s SXSW. It is in oth­er words where the future sounds of those who have yet to hap­pen are first spot­ted and duly noted.

Sit­u­at­ed around the Low­er East side of Man­hat­tan, it inevitably drifts over the bridge and into Brook­lyn where so many of today’s most excit­ing bands seem to be born and bred. And the one that made the biggest noise at this year’s CMJ was Metz, an arrest­ing trio from Toronto.

As the review from the boys from Pitch­fork not­ed, where they got an impressed 8.5 here, the band first sur­faced way back in 2007. But it’s only now that they’ve got­ten around to releas­ing their debut album. 

And, as their review notes, the time they’ve spent hon­ing their craft and pair­ing down their sound between then and now is a les­son that all aspir­ing musos should take heed of. 

Metz deliv­er raw, undi­lut­ed noise. Too dis­ci­plined to be called met­al, but far too loud to fall into pop, they’ve the ambi­tion and dri­ve of ear­ly Nir­vana but with­out any of the lat­ter’s need to please. The result is an explo­sion of pure adrenalin. 

You can see the suit­ably angst-rid­den video for their hymn to urban alien­ation “Wet Blan­ket” here.

And you can hear the All Songs Con­sid­ered pod­cast (which you should be lis­ten­ing to every week, and was reviewed by me here) on this year’s CMJ here.

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Blunderbuss” by Jack White, verily a Prince Amongst Men.

Jack WhiteJack White is Bob Dylan’s much younger and much more indus­tri­ous baby broth­er. Incred­i­bly, he very near­ly has the great man’s depth of vision and musi­cal scope, but unbur­dened by the weight of mes­sian­ic adu­la­tion, nice and qui­et­ly he’s liv­ing the musi­cal dream.

Glob­al­ly speak­ing, the White Stripes were lit­tle more than A N Oth­er gui­tar band mak­ing a rea­son­ably good liv­ing doing their thing. With­in the world of music though, they were a phe­nom­e­non. A blind­ing­ly bright light­en­ing bolt that lit up the night skies in a flash of uncom­pro­mis­ing, sear­ing brilliance.

White took that suc­cess and ran with it. He formed a cou­ple of satel­lite bands, The Racon­teurs and The Dead Weath­er, launched his record label Third Man Records, and in 2009 bought a build­ing in Nashville which he trans­formed into a record­ing hub. 

There he’s pro­duced LPs and sin­gles (on vinyl of course) for the likes of Loret­ta Lynn, Wan­da Jack­son, First Aid Kit (reviewed here), Jer­ry Lee Lewis, Tom Jones and Alaba­ma Shakes (reviewed here) as well as duet­ing with Norah Jones for three of the tracks on Dan­ger Mouse’s Rome (reviewed here).

But last year The White Stripes offi­cial­ly called it a day. And then a few months lat­er, White and his wife Karen Olson split up, mark­ing the occa­sion, char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly, with a divorce par­ty. So this is his first out­ing as a sin­gle man. And there were real­ly only ever two pos­si­ble outcomes. 

Either the Stripes depend­ed for their mag­ic on some intan­gi­ble alchem­i­cal com­bi­na­tion of both Meg and Jack. Or, the most potent force in rock will always be Jack White with who­ev­er it is that he’s hap­pens to have paired him­self up with that par­tic­u­lar morn­ing. Blun­der­buss puts that dilem­ma to bed once and for all.

It’s intrigu­ing, not to say gen­er­ous, of White to insist that it was Meg who wore the trousers in the band, as he does in Josh Eells’ superb inter­view in the NY Times here – sit­ed in Pitch­fork’s gen­er­ous review here, not with­stand­ing their skimpy 7.8.

But it’s blind­ing­ly obvi­ous that it was he who was the band’s engine, its fuel, trans­mis­sion and uphol­ster­er. And Blun­der­buss is an impres­sive amal­ga­ma­tion of all of the musi­cal avenues he’s been explor­ing in all of the many musi­cal projects he’s been involved with to date.

Accord­ing to the inter­view he gave to All Songs Con­sid­ered here, he kept two sep­a­rate back­ing bands on hold, an all-male one and an all-female one. And one of the many plea­sures that the album affords is try­ing to spot which one is which.

I’d have a small wager that the funky groves of I’m Shakin’ bespeak a female troupe, and not just because of the lush, Spec­tor-esque female back­ing vocals, includ­ing, again char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly (of them both) his now ex-wife Olsen. 

Whilst it’s impos­si­ble not to con­clude that the pri­mal propul­sion of the majes­tic sin­gle Six­teen Saltines is the work of undi­lut­ed machis­mo – and quite cor­rect­ly, White posi­tioned this as his track 2. The album would have been quite over­whelmed by it had he begun with it.

This is a prop­er piece of work from a very seri­ous musi­cian indeed. Quite sim­ply, the man’s royalty.

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NPR’s Pitch-perfect “All Songs Considered” Podcast, Your Weekly Music Fix.

At the end of last year, the ter­ri­bly clever bean coun­ters at The New York Times decid­ed that what the orga­ni­za­tion need­ed was to make it more like a tra­di­tion­al news­pa­per, and less like some­thing more attuned to the 21st cen­tu­ry. So they axed near­ly all of their superb pod­casts, leav­ing just a skele­tal three. And one of those includ­ed in the cull was, alas, the excel­lent Pop­cast.

So in Jan­u­ary of this year I went in search of a replace­ment pod­cast for all things musi­cal, and was quick­ly point­ed in the gen­er­al direc­tion of NPR’s “All Songs Con­sid­ered”. And despite only tun­ing in to it for the last few weeks, I can con­fi­dent­ly declare it manda­to­ry listening.

Nation­al Pub­lic Radio is an enlight­ened attempt in the US to repli­cate the (at least orig­i­nal) ethos behind the BBC. It’s a non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion and the pro­grammes that are pro­duced there are made by peo­ple because they’re the kinds of pro­grammes that they would like to hear aired, and they right­ly assume that there must be oth­ers who are sim­i­lar­ly curi­ous. They are in oth­er words pro­grammes that are made regard­less of ratings.

All Songs Con­sid­ered is the musi­cal ver­sion of one of their most suc­cess­ful shows, All Things Con­sid­ered, and it first aired on the web a lit­tle over ten years ago. It’s chaired by Bob Boilen, who cre­at­ed it, and Robin Hilton, and between them they man­age to strike exact­ly the right bal­ance of care­ful casu­al­ness and qui­et plan­ning. You get the impres­sion that you’re eaves-drop­ping on a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion, but one that you’re meant to be over-hear­ing. And the areas that they cov­er every week with each of their guest review­ers real­ly are all-encompassing.

A recent edi­tion for instance looked at the col­lab­o­ra­tion between Radio­head­’s Jon­ny Green­wood and the vet­er­an avant-garde Pol­ish com­pos­er Krzysztof Pen­derec­ki. Hear­ing how in awe the for­mer is of the lat­ter, and how unashamed­ly he echoes him on his sound­track to There Will Be Blood was a revelation.

In anoth­er which focused on elec­tron­i­ca, they gave us a taste of the lat­est project from Joe God­dard, one half of Hot Chip whose The 2 Bears, and yes, they real­ly do dress up and DJ in bear suits, is about to release its debut album.

And it was here too, in an ear­li­er edi­tion again, that I was intro­duced to the ethe­re­al delights of the bewitch­ing Julian­na Bar­wick, whose album I reviewed here earlier.

Next week they’re pre­view­ing this year’s South By South­west, and the fol­low­ing week they’ll be cov­er­ing the event prop­er. SXSW is to music what Sun­dance is to film. It has in oth­er words become so much a part of the main­stream that refer­ring to it now as being in any way indie is frankly laugh­able. Nev­er­the­less, it still man­ages to some­how unearth an undis­cov­ered gem every year.

In 2010 it was Sleigh Bells (whose fol­low up album Reign Of Ter­ror has just been released). And on this, its 20th anniver­sary, it’s unlike­ly to prove any less illu­mi­nat­ing. Either way, the best place to keep tabs on it is All Songs Con­sid­ered’s pitch-per­fect pod­cast, which you can find here.