Monday, August 27, 2012

The Boys are Back in Town

So far 2012 has been a pretty big year for new music on my end, which is certainly a great thing. A couple of months ago (eek, I’ve really been slacking here lately) I gave my thoughts on three recent releases by some gal-fronted artists. Now I’m going to ramble about three new ones from some of the boys in my life.

Yeah, that sounded a little weird, but that’s ok.

Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten – In a lot of ways these guys are a godsend. They’re young fresh fellows who, instead of cashing in on what the other kiddies have been up to for a quick flash of success, are kicking the dirt up on bare bones rock n roll and adding a little alt-retro twist just to keep it interesting. They’ll be the first to admit that what they’re doing isn’t the most original sound in the world, but when you’ve got a great set of songs, that really doesn’t matter. As I’ve mentioned here before, their 2008 sophomore release, The ’59 Sound, was one of my faves of the year and remains on regular rotation today. Their 2010 follow up, American Slang, though I sorta panned it initially, has certainly been a grower that shows these Jersey boys’ maturing ambitions really beginning to blossom. Now we’ve got the highly anticipated Handwritten, another collection of heartfelt and heart driven anthems that slide as easily into the ears as they do from the lips as you sing along with belief and excitement. It’s a good blend of the immediacy found on ’59 Sound and the more cerebral sweet spots of American Slang, proving these guys can still write a catchy tune, but also want to flesh out the possibilities of their sound. There’s something about these songs that makes you want to get up and dance, while a deeper listen reveals an introspective soul that more often than not cuts to the quick, painting pictures of every day love and life not just as Brian Fallon sees them, but as anyone can.

Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania – Man, leave it to Billy Corgan to come up with the concept of an album within an album, as the songs comprising Oceania are part of the ongoing Teargarden by Kaleidyscope album. After the mostly maligned Zeitgeist (which is wrongfully so, ‘cos that album has many great moments), Billy seems more determined than ever to prove his vision is as vibrant and intact as it ever was, and with Oceania he succeeds in spades. There is a bit of a familiarity, that classic early 90s Pumpkins sound on opener Quasar, but there’s an equal amount of newer territory, with Billy further exploring the classic rock roots he first touched on with some of the initial releases for TbK in 2009. In addition, there is a fair dabbling of retro New Wave keyboards and electronic noodling, some quasi-folky balladry and about halfway through the title track he basically reinvents Kraut rock. All of these styles and sounds are (seemingly) effortlessly fused together by Billy’s furiously precise guitar playing, heart stopping melodies, airtight production and an overwhelming cohesiveness within the band as a whole that it feels like rock is being forged, not synthesized. Time will tell for sure, but (for this listener) at this point Oceania takes a solid third place below the impossible to re-harness or duplicate brilliance of Gish and Siamese Dream, which begs the question if Billy lost it and found it again or we simply lost Billy and are just now catching up.

The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now – Dear Kristian, I love you… I’ve gushed plenty about this Swedish Dylan-esque folk artist, and his latest offering does nothing to diminish those adulations. Sure, there were sighs of disbelief and skeptic remarks overheard when he revealed that there would be drums and bass on a few tracks (oh, it’s 1965 all over again!), but I wasn’t worried even for a minute. And while Matsson may be following in his main mentor’s footsteps with a knowing wink, these additions are about as intrusive as the drums and bass found on Dylan’s Corrina, Corrina way back in 1963. As always, the main draw is Mattson’s haunting melodies, gorgeous finger picking, cryptic imagery and the way he presents it all in an emotively cohesive fashion that Dylan found again on Time Out of Mind and lost again after Love & Theft (yes, I said it, fools). Lead single 1904 is a wistful, perky number that’s repeat-listen-good as it both taps your foot and makes you a little sad all at the same time. And this is Matsson’s magic, to conjure both feelings of elation and melancholy within the same three minutes, and often at the exact same moment. As I’ve said before, he’s an inspiration to music, both those who make it and simply listen, and There’s No Leaving Now, from start to finish, affirms this statement track for track.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you like The Tallest Man on Earth. Your description of the way he can bring you joy and sorrow simultaneously reminded me slightly of the famous line from Jarmusch's Down By Law "It is a sad and beautiful world."

It also made me wonder what you think of Antony and the Johnsons.

I've also noticed that several of your entries speak favorably of Bjork. How would you rank the stuff she's done?