The dB's/Yo La Tengo
The dB's: Falling Off the Sky (Bar/None)
Solo or in tandem, neither the easygoing Peter Holsapple nor the lapidary Chris Stamey has put his hand to an album nearly as good as drummer Will Rigby's 2002 Paradoxaholic since Reagan was president. They've sounded stiff, tired, twee. But although it's nice to have Rigby's drive (and his hickster kissoff ditty) dirtying up this reunion, motor problems weren't what sunk H&S's 2009 Here and Now with Jon Wurster in the drum chair. And in 2012, it's like H&S never went away. The difference could be parallel life changes or the luck of the songwriting draw or even what never seems to work in the reunion hustle, pride in the band brand. But it's unmistakable. As ever, Holsapple's songs have more life than Stamey's, with the lead "That Time Is Gone" a song about finality a 25-year-old could get behind that's as rousing as anything in their book. But dreamy Stamey has just as much right to a premonitions-of-death title closer a 15-year-old could get behind. A MINUS
Yo La Tengo: Fade (Matador)
Their quietest and most fragile album is also their most orchestrated‑-horns! strings! live! (on four songs total). Even so, the songwriting is so diffident it tempts us to fill in the blanks by concluding that what we've long been told is all there is to know. This music's ground is a warm, sweet, committed relationship troubled by withdrawal issues each partner enacts in his or her own way‑-silence met with impassivity, say. But on their quiestest album, for the first time, mortality has crept through the door. Conclusion: "Find the comfort in our life/Before it disappears." (Hence the orchestrations?) A MINUS
12. Dirty Projectors
26. Grizzly Bear
160. Animal Collective"
2009, and specifically those poll-topping acts, was the year that made me wonder if I had grown too old and out of touch to keep up with pop music. This is the first year since then with them back in force, so I was curious how they would fare -- they do appear to have lost their "next big thing" lustre. (Tame Impala is the other 2009-2012 band -- a late breaker in 2009 and a leading contender in 2012 -- I was projecting them for 3rd but they came in 6th.)
On the other hand, the most significant P&J statistic is the number of voters: 493, down from 700 and 712 the last two years. As I recall, the ballot went out to the same number of voters, but between being sent out late and closing early and more software glitches and fewer people paying attention and the generally declining importance of the Village Voice . . .
Somehow this thread compels me to leap to a few comments about Jeannie Seely. I started to think about her while doing some curating of our host's mostly pre-CG longform work for Tom Hull's website last year. Seely gets a brief, enthusiastic comment for her first single "Don't Touch Me" and then a four paragraph career update/third album review in late '67.
Five years after that, a "greatest-hits" review of these Seely albums by Xgau is pretty much "one song and meh". And nothing else about her by our host ever.
I got fascinated by this. I recognized "Don't Touch Me" when I heard it from early years listening to country radio, but it's not part of any pantheon of country music that exists today. But listen to it now: slightly slower than "Stand By Your Man" and far creepier and more relevant.
Peaks like that aren't rare on this 1972 album (Jeannie Seely Greatest Hits on Monument). Seely is ever-so-slightly hippy compared with the few other country-music divas of her day, and her songs of lacked commitment and dissolution transcend the tawdry. Lyrically, her choices never seem to be part of the political sculpture, so she doesn't end up on the wrong side of the cultural shift taking place while these recordings happened.
Couples band connection: She was married to Hank Cochran at the time of her Monument recordings (her middle album was the first LP tribute to Cochran, we've heard Jamie Johnson's latest in 2012. I want to hear hers).
R< connection: Is there some deep connection between Seely's plaintive drawling verites and LT's slightly thin scotch threnodies? Because, accents aside, they could be singing exactly over each other. These are two singers who are worth comparing notes on.
It's sad but predictable that Seely's Monument records are impossible to find now. Here are those greatest hits: http://goo.gl/HJaEW
One way around this lack of conflict is to write about the music, an artistic achievement spanning over 20 years, and while there’s a fair amount of musical discussion here, I’d have preferred more. Another way around it is to expand the scope of the book, which Jarnow did, as indicated in the subtitle “Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock”. There’s a wide-ranging story here about the indie music world, with recognizable names such as DBs and Feelies and Sonic Youthers showing up, plus various zines and radio stations that could have been your life. And Yo La Tengo’s slow rise through the indie world seems more inevitable than improbable, their commitment to the band and each other (minus the affairs and drug problems and hotel trashings) making it all possible.
I saw a show on the same Smokey Robinson "Up Close and Personal" tour that Jeff did, and everything he said described the show I saw to a tee—the man was just masterful, with a song, a piece of a song, a dance step...the audience. I gather from what Milo says I wouldn’t like his politics, but I probably wouldn’t like Merle Haggard’s either. Great damn show anyway, all the "role model" stuff notwithstanding.
Mekong Delta, *Intersections*
OK, Capt. Eddy, you got this one. If *Intersections* was all-new material by an all-original-members group, it would be by far the finest metal album of the year and would be in my Top 10. As it is, they seemed to do everything possible to raise skepticism. For instance, each one of the five players recorded their part in a different studio -- take that, spontaneity! But the sonic torrents swept away my resistance. The finale, "Prophecy" (from, yes, *The Music of Erich Zann*) is, as they say, an absolute corker.
(The lyrics are printed in the booklet, but I don't wanna find out how bad they are.)
Also: I like Big Boi's new album plenty.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.