Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tom Waits, St. Vincent

Tom Waits – Bad As Me

I have long been in love with Tom Waits, so I was really looking forward to this album.  His first album of all new material since 2004’s Real Gone (and his first new music of any kind since 2006’s Orphans: Bawlers, Brawlers and Bastards.
And it doesn’t disappoint.
He doesn’t really break any new ground here, but he doesn’t need to.  He has broken enough ground in his career.  He is equally at home in dirty, shuffling blues (“Chicago”, “Bad As Me”), tender ballads (“Talking at the Same Time”, “Last Leaf”) and dark tales of post-war life (“Hell Broke Luce”).  There are a couple of songs I’m not overly fond of (“Raised Right Men”, “Satisfied”), but, for the most part, this is Tom Waits at his best, taking sounds from his previous albums and melding them into something new that can be equally beautiful and terrifying.
On top of some of his regular musicians (his son Casey on the drums, Marc Ribot on guitar, Larry Taylor on bass), he is also joined on this album by some pretty big names: Keith Richards, Flea, and Les Claypool all appear on at least one track.

Favorite track: “Hell Broke Luce”
Rating: 4.5/5

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

Upon the release of her first album (Marry Me), Annie Clark (the mastermind of St. Vincent) was seen to be a quirky songwriter, somewhere in the vein of Regina Spektor, but with less piano.  The second album (Actor) took her a little bit away from that, with her carefully sculpted soundscapes that brought about a marriage of chaos and beauty.
With Strange Mercy, Clark delves more into the latter description.  The songs are filled with distorted guitars and huge synths, while her voice floats over it all, and sometimes dips back down to join.  It’s a beautiful, organized chaos, and it’s amazing.  Turn it up loud enough, and you can easily lose yourself in these songs.
Even the slower songs are extremely interesting.  There are so many layers and textures to them.  And her phrasing is perfect.  The sublime "Champagne Year" just wouldn't sound the same in the hands of anyone else.
She has a way of twisting melodies that is just fascinating to hear.  There is a Pixies documentary that came out a few years ago in which PJ Harvey tried to describe Joey Santiago’s guitar style.  She said he seemed like he was bending the music in such a way that you almost had to twist your body to feel like you were hearing it correctly.  It’s an odd description, but I completely understand what she is saying.  And I feel the same thing about this album.  This happens especially towards the end of “Cruel”.  The music just keep building and her voice just keeps getting higher, and it’s almost impossible to listen to it while sitting still.  And I love it.

Favorite track: “Strange Mercy”
Rating: 5/5

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Zola Jesus, The Weeknd

Zola JesusConatus

Spooky, glitchy, and lush.  This album feels like a combination of Kate Bush, Bjork, Bat for Lashes and Florence + The Machine.  Her voice is amazing…haunting and threatening and heartbreaking (sometimes all at once).  It’s 55 and rainy outside right now, and this album feels perfect.  

Favorite track: "Vessel"
Rating: 4.5/5

The Weeknd – House of Balloons

I had been hearing about this guy for a while, so I thought it was about time I’d give him a shot.  I like it.  It’s a nice little R&B album.  A little different from what I usually think of when I think of R&B (he uses a lot of interesting textures), so that certainly helps (some songs have a touch more Reznor than your typical R&B album track).  There are times when some of the songs kind of bleed together, but, for the most part, I really like it.  He’s no Frank Ocean (who is?), but, if you’re looking for a good R&B album, you could do a lot worse than The Weeknd.  (The same review pretty much applies for his second album, Thursday.)

Favorite track: “The Knowing”
Rating: 3.5/5