Rock Is Alive an Well
Yesterday and today, I was listening to three brand new albums.
I thoroughly enjoyed each of them. It made me think about the pundits that try to shove "rock is dead" down your throat. My thoughts were that these people are also the kind of people that want you to think the whole world is nothing but crap. The peddlers of fear, disease and pestilence. Look at the headlines. The opening of every newscast. Fear, fear fear and more fear. "If it bleeds, it leads" is what these cynical people live by.
Try out any or all of these three brand new albums: Boygenius "The Record," The Hold Steady's "The Price of Progress" or the New Pornographers "Continue as a Guest."
Boygenius are three artists who have successful careers in their own right: Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers. They have united for a tour that happens to kick off on my birthday, April 12th. They thought before the tour, maybe they'd put together a single and/or a cover song. They started exchanging songs they were working, found five days that they could get together to work and voila "The Record" was created in those 5 thrilling days.
The second song on "The Record," "$20" grabbed me by the ears immediately. "It's a bad idea/and I'm all about it," sings Julien. It's driven with a rocking guitar, has a dreamy-like bridge and then back into a screamy powerful drum crashing finale. It's irresistible. So is the next one: "Emily I'm Sorry," which seems to me like it was mainly Phoebe Bridger's creation. The three notes of Emily are kind of like 5 notes that summoned aliens in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." The song is about a relationship that's both a delight and a sorrow. The next song is "True Blue," whose lines "But it feels good to be known so well, I can't hide from you like I hide from myself
I remember who I am when I'm with you. Your love is tough, your love is tried and true blue, ooh" There's a feeling of resignation throughout the song and the three women's blend of voices gives you tingles. The three women kicked all men out of the studio even though the initial sounds of what they were creating made the guys want to hang out just to hear. I believe that Baker, Dacus and Bridgers wanted to make a statement as they had only women play on the record and they produced it themselves. The album is nothing but one joy after another. Go get it. You can thank me later.
The Hold Steady takes no prisoners. Craig Finn's singing is a deadpan world weary know-it-all delivery. The band tears through "Sideways Skull: "She flew a flag she made from a bedsheet/A sideways skull and a lopsided pentagram/Said "Asymmetrical's way more diabolical/You don't want to make it look too perfect, man"
The trick is not getting cynical/She had a hairbrush mic and a fantasy band/She opened up with We Are The Champions/Went into right into Under my Wheels/I was trying to figure out how I feel." Just when you need a breath, the band stops for a short bridge of tenderness before slamming into the ending. The song ends with the line "Boy It's nice to meet some fellow musicians." Another standout on the record is "Carlos is Crying." It has the sticatto feel of Garland Jeffreys "Wild in the Streets." It's set a bar with some guys having a few beers and Carlos is one whose life is unraveling: Carlos had been distant since his sister went to Denver with that dickhead/The dude claimed he was a carpenter but no one ever saw him pound a nail/And Carlos knew his sister was old enough to make her own decisions/But he hopes she isn't home when they finally come to take that jerk to jail." "Sixers" is another character sketch of a man and a woman. The man has a good job, makes good dough and spends "another Friday at the steakhouse with the suits." He's new to the building so he' surprised "when he hears a knock at the door. He had seen her at the mailbox. "Now she's here in his entrance/Shaking up the bottle like she's paying the maracas./Says she's high and she's restless./He puts something on the stereo. It sounds like it's Sinatra./She thinks that seems a bit square./But there's things you over look/When you're getting with the guy upstairs." They spend a fun night dancing, but she turns him down as he goes to kiss her and things become awkward. They go their separate ways. She stays the same, but he gets married. And life goes on. The album is great. Another creative rock and roll tour de force.
Finally, there's The New Pornographers "Continue As A Guest." The band formed in 1997 from Vancouver, British Columbia. They would be considered a supergroup from the indie-rock world. I was first drawn to them because of a distant fascination with Neko Case, who is in and out of the band because of her demanding schedule as a solo artist and live performer. She was from Alexandria, Virginia but met the members of the New Pornographers when she attended the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, notably Carl Newman the founding member who came up with the band's name from a Japanese movie. "Continue As a Guest" is the band's 9th album. Kathryn Caler is Carl's niece and she started with the band to fill in when Neko Case couldn't because of scheduling conflicts. Favorites from the new album to my ears are "Really, Really Light," "Pontious Pilate's Home Movies," and "Marie and the Undersea." The New Pornographers have a pop element to them, but they are hard to define because they always blend so many styles. Once again....listen for yourself. And as a waiter who serves up a delicious dish always says, "Enjoy!"