Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Albums I've Been Listening To

The National - High Violet

The National found many new fans with their last album (Boxer), and with good reason.  It was a dark, melodic album with shimmering guitars, thundering drums, and the ever-present baritone of Matt Berninger.  High Violet picks up where Boxer left off.  The album kicks off with "Terrible Love".  The first couple of times I listened to this track, I thought there was something wrong with my copy of the album.  The guitars are fuzzy, and the drums sound like they were recorded behind a curtain of mud.  But the piano is crystal clear...and it gives the song a haunting sense of beauty.  It starts slow, but the song ends in a cacophony of noise and beauty.
Where the drums seemed to be the central instrument on Boxer, the piano seems to be the central instrument here.  When it shows up, it takes over the song...whether you realize it on first listen or not.  Much like Boxer, this is an album that needs time to sink in.  You may not love it right away, but, with multiple listens, you'll find that each song has more going on than you originally thought...and that all the songs work perfectly together to make a terrific album.  Boxer is great.  High Violet is better.

Rating: 5/5
Favorite track: "Conversation 16"

The Black Keys - Brothers

The Black Keys have been releasing a steady stream of blues albums since 2002's The Big Come Up.  They released a number of albums, all pretty much the same as the last.  They were good, but there wasn't much to separate them from the last.  You knew what you were getting with The Black Keys: blues music, played by two guys.
That changed with 2008's Attack & Release.  On it, they teamed up with master producer Danger Mouse, who took their traditional blues sound in a different direction.  The blues was still very much present...but there was something else.  A little more atmosphere.  Some more inventive arrangements.  More instruments.
With the exception of one track on Brothers, Danger Mouse is gone.  But some of that experimentation remained.  To call this a blues album would be accurate...but not 100% accurate.  They channel T. Rex on the opener ("Everlasting Light").  They throw a harpsichord into the mix on "Too Afraid to Love You".  They bring out an old-soul sound on "Unknown Brother".
Yes...The Black Keys are still a blues band.  But, rather than just playing straight blues, they play music with a blues base...but they're still free to throw in different arrangements and influences as they see fit.  These past two albums have shown a new Black Keys...and I like it.
I do have one complaint: at 15 tracks and clocking in at nearly an hour, it's a little long.  By the time I got to the end, I felt like I had heard a couple of the songs twice.  Yes, they have expanded their music...but not enough to keep you interested the entire time.  It's a good album...but it's just a little too long.

Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Track: "She's Long Gone"

Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame

Dr. Dog hasn't changed much over the years, but there's not really anything wrong with that.  They make 70s-inspired pop music, and they do it extremely well.  Those sweet backing vocals.  Those slightly fuzzy guitar solos.  The songs that all seem to be building to something.  Those head-nodding bass lines.  I can't explain what it is about this album, but it's hard not to smile when you're listening to it.
This is one of those albums that I liked immediately...but some of the sheen started coming off with repeated listens.  Listening to it now, I realize that I like it...but there are a couple of songs I'm not fond of ("Unbearable Why", "Later", "I Only Wear Blue").
Most unexpected moment of the album: around the 2:30 mark on "Someday", the band breaks into a guitar solo that sounds a lot like a moment from Disney's Robin Hood.
It's not a great album...but it's a very good album.

Rating: 3/5
Favorite Track: "Where'd All the Time Go?"

I'm trying to get back to this on a regular basis.  I have a backlog of albums that I want to talk about, so hopefully I'll get to more of those in the not-too-distant future.

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