Time for the usual roundup of what I’ve been listening to, this time stretching back to the beginning of the year. And for your information, all of it is available right now via Spotify.
I’m not trying to endorse the service, which is systematically fleecing just about everyone involved in the music industry. I'm just letting you know how I've come across the music, and it’s a lot different than it was in “the good old days.”
There was a time about five years ago when I received five or six manila envelopes per week in the mail loaded with promotional CDs. Today, I get about one CD a month (and it almost always sucks).
Instead of CDs, record labels now “service” critics electronically. That means sending us emails with super-secret passwords that allow us to download albums from highly secured “press only” websites. To be honest, I prefer the downloads to cluttering up my office with CDs, even though I can’t trade mp3s for store credit at Homer's.
But lately even those download codes are drying up. Maybe it’s because I’m writing less and less about music in these pages, or because record labels now simply streaming full albums via music websites prior to official street release.
Or maybe it’s Spotify, where one can find every new album streamed on its release date. Make that “almost every new album,” because not everything is on Spotify, or even available online. Which explains why there’s no review of the new My Bloody Valentine album, titled m b v, below. Not only is it not in Spotify, it’s not on iTunes or available as a free stream anywhere. If you want to hear the new MBV, you’re gonna have to pay for it, kids, just like we all used to do.
Now, onto the reviews:
David Bowie, The Next Day -- Some records take time to “sink in,” but how much time do you give? If it’s David Bowie, you give it all the time it needs, I suppose. But after listening to this one off and on for about a week, I’m still struggling to find anything that stands out as being "essential," or for that matter, memorable. Highlights “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” and “(You Will) Set the World on Fire” are as close to straight-up rock as you’re likely to get from the once-Thin White Duke, and are indeed good, if not safe. The foggy, fuzzy, melancholy ballad “Where Are We Now?” is comfortably attractive. The rest of it feels by the numbers, if not slightly dated; functional, but sung well by a voice we all love (and miss). Maybe that’s all we’ll ever get from now on, or all we need, or maybe I just haven’t given it enough time.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away -- As with most of his recordings, Cave is perversely dramatic in his singing/speaking, as if telling dark lies at midnight, which by the way, is the best time to listen to this record. The centerpiece, "Jubilee Street," starts with a quiet repeated guitar line and Cave’s weird story about a street hustler named Bea. It builds slowly over six and a half minutes to a massive crescendo reminiscent of the best moments from the Kadane Brothers -- the guys behind classic bands Bedhead and The New Year. But instead of Matt Kadane’s droll, monotone vocal delivery you get Cave at his most urgent. The rest of the record is merely sublime. From the dark rumble of “We Real Cool” (with the winning line, “Wikipedia is heaven when you don’t want to know anymore”) to the nearly 8-minute-long rock eulogy “Higgs Boson Blues” that calls out both Hannah Montana and her real-life counterpart: “Miley Cyrus floats in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake and you’re the best girl I ever had…” Shades of Robbie Robertson’s spoken-word dramas are conjured (“Somewhere Down the Crazy River” comes to mind), but Cave is never as corny, and never less than sincere.
Foxygen, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic -- One of the most hyped releases so far this year, and worthy of it. Produced by Richard Swift, who worked on the last two Mynabirds albums, track “In the Darkness,” with the line: “There’s no need to be an asshole / You’re not in Brooklyn anymore…” is pure ’70s Stones, as Stonesy as you can get without dragging Mick’s saggy old bones into the studio.
Iceage, You’re Nothing -- Matador Records may be the only label left (well, along with Sub Pop and Merge, and good ol' Saddle Creek) where just the announcement of a band’s signing is big news. It means that the label's brain trust has “discovered” something new, something “breakthrough” that could be as defining as when they signed Liz Phair or Pavement. Unfortunately, the last time that happened at Matador was when they signed Interpol way back in 2002. Still, when word leaked out that Matador signed Iceage it sent people scrambling to the internet to find out what these Danish punks sound like. That answer was only mildly hopeful. Iceage puts a new snarl on post-punk, like a modern version of Husker Du sung by a wasted slacker with a cockney’d scowl and not much to say. Songs like “It Might Hit First” border on hardcore, though there’s something artful beneath the buzz (Maybe it’s the guitar solo that cuts in at the 30-second mark?). When they pull back toward the more conventional (“In Haze”) the ice melts revealing something akin to melody, and the road that all good punks head down... eventually.
Honorable Mentions worth seeing out on Spotify, or at your local record store: Suuns, Images du Futur; Foals, Holy Fire; Yo La Tengo, Fade; Big Harp, Chain Letters; Bleeding Rainbow, Yeah Right; Hookworms, Pearl Mystic.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at email@example.com.