Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 46)


Loudon Wainwright III, Older Than My Old Man Now     (2nd Story Sound)

A death album, certainly, although if that was all it was, who would care - plenty of goth and black metal figureheads have amassed hours obsessively detailing death as both abstract concept and physical process. More accurately, this is a mortality album, a theme hammered unsubtly home beginning with the title, itself solidified through an included photograph of Loudon III literally standing over Loudon II’s grave. “The strangest story ever told / was how I got to be this old” defines these chronicles of body and character failings, laced with wistful refusals to apologize for duly noted personal flaws and occasional bouts of glee at outliving those around him - glee tempered, of course, with self-loathing. Perhaps Wainwright recognizes by this point that his relationships with fellow human beings work best in musical settings, where his humor cuts through solemnity and pathos, where he can rank the loss of his bed-hopping days as a tragedy right up there with his children penning songs entitled “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” in his dishonor. So, call it a family album, too, where influences and collaborative heroes meet up with deceased spouses and estranged progeny, all lending credence to Wainwright’s offhand claim that “the smallest thing is the biggest deal / so and so did such and such”. Despite light-hearted tributes to medications and sagging sexual capabilities, the emotional center of the album remains gorgeous piano ballad “In C,” which opens with the hoariest of songwriter banalities - the key and instrument the tune was written in and on. Ever the master craftsman, Wainwright knows including such working lyrics help lend extra gravitas to his biographical evocation of shattered families, worlds falling apart, and “the great unknown”. Or, as he also puts it, “the heavy shit.”

My Bloody Valentine, EP’s 1988 - 1991     (Sony)

Isn’t Anything and Loveless you already (should) know, so while Kevin Shields’ long-delayed remastered versions of MBV’s major statements are worthy (re)purchases for any fan, this not-cheap two-disc collection of four EPs plus “rarities” is helpful in that it completes a seminal outfit’s small oeuvre. Ignoring several 1986-1987 EPs because they’ve already been collected on Lazy Record’s Ecstasy and Wine and also because they weren’t terribly good, this is where a loose conglomeration of aimless punk theorists barreled down on both noise and hooks, concocting a new sound barely hinted at by their earlier work and hardly suggested by the slim array of influences too often credited with forging the path. Less self-indulgent than Dinosaur Jr., boasting more jam than Jesus & Mary Chain, and never as coyly obscure as the Cocteau Twins, their many followers rarely equalled the winning combination of guitar squall and melodic immediacy on display here, possibly because none of their followers had a guitarist equally devoted to applied science and Celtic soul. With Bilinda Butcher’s increasingly ethereal vocals the perfect antidote to both Shields’ outrageous technology and bland singing, these miniature albums of high quality dropped breakthrough track after breakthrough track: the sexy grind of “Slow,” the Brill Building dance fuzz of “I Believe,” the daft dreaminess of “Swallow,” the thrashy formal statement that is “You Made Me Realize,” and the futuristic swirl of “Soon”. Now where’s that cover of Wire’s “Map Ref. 41 Degrees N 93 Degrees W”? Shields the fumbling perfectionist strikes again.


Best Coast, The Only Place     (Mexican Summer)

Bethany Cosentino’s simple pop music has of course been streamlined in the two years since her breakout Crazy For You, which should surprise and disappoint nobody aside from a few jangle purists. I’d argue the only significant fallout from ditching reverb is a highlighting of lyrical banalities, nowhere more so than on an opening track helpfully bundling every real estate agent’s lie about Southern California into one three-minute anthem. Yet elsewhere, even when her relationship messes aren’t particularly noteworthy, details flesh out cliches, like the flawed hope that sleeping on the floor might increase emotional attachment with her love interest or when she thinks her mom was right and then thinks her mom is a nag. So if “Dreaming My Life Away” seems the only musical/narrative departure from the debut, what with its fragmentary dream logic set alongside minor key vibraphone, Cosentino’s pop instincts and warm vocals continually charm. “It’s no fun when I’m freaking out” remains the most profound moment here. But despite all the judgmental friends, the hastily spent advances, the gloomy resignation and the bleary-eyed confessions and the hopeful sweet confusion, life will definitely get better, and will also probably get harder. 

Lushlife, Plateau Vision     (Western Vinyl)

Philly producer MC Raj Haldar spits decent rhymes for a beatmaster, has an ear for unlikely samples (see the Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark-tweaking “The Romance Of The Telescope”), and a weakness for esoterica hamstringing his appetite for pop culture. Consistently inconsistent, name dropping Richard Hell, Burt Bacharach, Cutty Ranks, and Busy Bee, he screws up the best track here (Heems guest spot “Hale-Bopp Was The Bedouins”) by cutting abruptly to someone chattering in French in lieu of a conclusion, and idles in place with a questionably drawn-out discussion of the role of the shaman across time and space. Even more questionable is immediately following this shamanic ode with the boast “these cock-suckin’ niggas can’t touch me”.


Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974 - 1984     (Chocolate Industries)

Compiled as always with the noblest of intentions by the crate-digger kings at Numero Group, these seventeen tracks of total obscurity do help frame a moment in time when young black artists seized upon opportunities available to any adept with private recording facilities and a drum machine - permitting, as the press release notes, “the aspiring artist to never leave his home, never request the assistance of another human being”. Kinda nicely sums up the problem with this “unheard music,” which is a cultish preference for the solitary oddball over the communal possibilities of give-and-take group dynamics. For every Sly Stone churning out timeless grooves while sinking deeper into paranoia and seclusion, there’s several dozen mediocrities humming over “Rock Your Baby” prototypes, and they’re all here. Sure, some of the crude electronic textures are memorably strange, from the proto hip-hop spaciness of “All About Money” to the groan-filled quasi-dub of an unnecessarily two-part “Are You Ready To Come?” to the “Jingle Bells” synth cuts throughout “Shortest Lady”. But there’s also six minutes of “Japanese” prog from somebody named Starship Commander Woo Woo. Predicated on the importance of nobody ever hearing it before, such archival stunts seem best designed for those curious listeners who’ve already heard everything else. Which is to say, nobody at all.

MV & EE, Space Homestead     (Woodsist)

Not sure how I completely missed out on this “lunar raga” Vermont collective boasting 30-odd recordings and props from such luminaries as Thurston Moore, but their lysergic acid-stained rural psychedelia has a placid commitment to amateurish plod along with enough weirdo guitar to satisfy any openminded Deadhead/Velvets fan. Just keep in mind satisfaction may be less forthcoming if you require more from your music than weirdo guitars. Songs, for example. Vocals that refuse to fetishize off-key anonymity. Greater mysteries than echo and wah-wah pedals. Agrarian philosophies extending beyond strong weed.