Thursday, February 4, 2010

Spoon - Transference (Merge Records 2010)

I literally watched this band grow up. I was at their first gig. My shitty band played several shows with them. Does that make me important? No. Will it allow me to present an unbiased opinion? No fucking way.

I dug that up cleaning out our extra room the other day. What does it have to do with Tranference, Spoon's latest offering? Nothing. I just thought it was cool.

Tranference has a mellower style to it than Spoon's 2007 offering Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but that's not to say the music has lost any edge. Daniel's songs have always been edgy, even the mellower cuts, with a feeling that the tension and release could fall out of sync at any moment and result in almost visceral disaster. That Daniel takes such pleasure and is so adept at fucking with tension and release pop music paradigms only serves to take it up a notch.

Sound experimental? Spoon has gotten more so with each progressive release, and Transference takes Daniel's odd combinations of minimalist post-punk, krautrock, world beat, and just plain wierdness to the highest level yet. There's just no pigeonhole for this band. Nor should there be. They exist in Britt Daniel's own unique musical vision.

Album opener "Before Destruction" and "Written in Reverse" are the two big winners here, but there aren't any losers. It's also going to make the wait to see what Britt Daniel and Spoon come up with next practically unbearable.

4 out of 4 Can records

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Vampire Weekend - Contra (XL Recordings 2010)

Ever listened to "Graceland" by Paul Simon? Well, if not, he took a bunch of musicians from Africa and made a pop world beat record. People went nuts for it. It shipped gold and was Paul Simon's most successful record in years. The fact that Peter Gabriel had already done this and even started his own record label, which he operated at a loss, to record and distribute the artists who had helped him out when he made his own Afro-pop album seemed entirely overlooked by all but a few, myself and my sanctimonious friends among them.

What does this have to do with Vampire Weekend's latest release?

Imagine Paul Simon making "Graceland" but having to substitute samples, electronic rhythms, and poorly layered production to make up for the fact that he didn't have some 150 actual African musicians and vocalists to back him up. Imagine that he also didn't have 30 years of experience writing pop songs. Well, there you have "Contra" by NYC foursome Vampire Weekend.

Many might admire their chutzpah and ambition in attempting to recreate this blend of Afro-beat and Western pop, and I sure do. Unfortunately, they have neither the experience nor the resources to pull it off. The record sounds weak, thin, WAY too electronic, and primary vocalist Ezra Koenig tries WAY too hard to sound EXACTLY like Paul Simon.

I didn't like "Graceland" with the stunning, orchestral production and the real Paul Simon at the helm, but I admired him for doing it (even though Peter Gabriel did it first), and I don't like "Contra" with its (deliberately?) poor production and a Paul Simon wannabe at the helm.

People love this band. I do admire what they're trying to do. I just wish they were better at it. Maybe someday.

1 out of 4 vampires