Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Week Two

Second week back and it just keeps getting better! The show this week was a major Bright Eyes fest. I took the time to freely indulge in the genius that is Conor Oberst, reviewing and selecting tracks from his two new albums, released simultaneously, 'I'm Wide Awake, it's Morning' and 'Digital Ash in a Digital Urn'. He is such an enigmatic guy; obscure, indulgent and always pretentious but he very cleverly gets away with it. These two albums add to the rather large collection of LPs, EPs and collaborations with other artists such as Son, Ambulance. Could anyone pick up the major Bob Dylan influence in 'I'm Wide Awake, it's Morning'? Just to add, the guy is gorgeous and has one of the best haircuts in indie rock. Check out the review at the bottom of this post.




Thought I'd look at some musical issues, not too seriously of course, but I briefly talked about...

The 'sellout'. I know it's talked about a lot but it's a big deal with indie music. I used to hate it when a band I loved started to gain a lot of momentum in the press and then what seems like overnight exploding onto everyone's radio. Ah, I could no longer claim them my own little treasure and risked being labelled pretentious if I insisted I loved them before they got big. So what do you do? Diss them? Put them in the back of your CD collection and pretend you never liked them? It took me a while to realise that this is stupid, as good music is good music, it doesn't change because the band gains a lot more fans. Of course, the band can get sucked into the fame machine, at which point you have to re-evaluate their integrity. But hey, Brandon Flower's was voted sexiest man alive in the NME music awards and The Killers still kick arse (of course we have to wait for new material...).

Originlity in music - does it exist these days? Have we exhausted our musical limits? Wolfmother are an Aussie band who pretty much sound like a reincarnation of Black Sabbath, particularly the vocals which sound uncannily like Ozzy Osborne's. I think they sound great, but are they credible if they sound exactly like what was happening 30 years ago? This has been argued a lot now, what with the whole garage rock revival, with bands like Jet.

Ok, so enough music philosophising. Something to get excited about this week is The Dears gig tomorrow night at Melbourne's Prince of Wales. It should definately be a show to remember. A band I can claim I did know before they hit commercial radio! Also listen out for the Doves review on my next show. Cover song last night was by The Futureheads , who gave us Kate Bush's 'Hounds of Love'. Bluebottle Kiss also did this song on their 'Tapdancing on the Titanic' EP, something worth checking out. Any suggestions for cover songs, email me!

Playlist for Monday 28th Feb:

Kasabian - Club Foot
Death Cab For Cutie - We Laugh Indoors
Mexico City - No Sympathy
The Killers - Jenny Was a Friend of Mine
Bluebottle Kiss - Everything Begins and Ends at Exactly the Right Time
Bright Eyes - Landlocked Blues
The Arcade Fire - Neighbourhood Part 3 (Power Cut)
The Cure - Pictures of You
Love Outside Andormeda - Gonna Try and be a Girl
Wolfmother - Dimension
The Walkmen - Little House of Savages
American Analog Set - Hard to Find
Young Heart Attack - Tommy Shots
Bright Eyes - Easy/Lucky/Free
Elliott Smith - Let's Get Lost
The Dears - Lost in the Plot
The Futureheads - Hounds of Love (original by Kate Bush)

Bright Eyes Album Reviews:

The voice of Conor Oberst, the enigmatic genius behind Bright Eyes, is one of intrigue, both in terms of its fragile, heartfelt delivery and the magnificent words that pour out in storytelling mode. The 24 year old indie rock veteran has been writing poignant songs since he was 13 and as such has often been labeled as rock’s boy genius. His releases are often obscure and impenetrable to the impatient listener, but for those persistent enough, Oberst’s voice is like an addictive drug that will reduce you to tears in no time.

The first of the two simultaneously released records is ‘I’m wide Awake, it’s Morning’. After listening to this country flavored acoustic offering it is no wonder why Oberst has been called the contemporary Bob Dylan. Often he simply strings an acoustic guitar and belts out a story in what seems like whatever words pop into his head at that instant. ‘Landlocked Blues’ sounds like early Dylan; lengthy verses over a simple, yet captivating, acoustic guitar. It is the simple songs, featuring Oberst and his lovelorn guitar, that are the most effective.

Then there are the songs with a laidback melancholic country feel. The blissful piano and the all too familiar slide guitar feature throughout ‘I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning’. ‘Another Travelin’ Song’ is more upbeat, with playful drumming and Oberst’s stream of consciousness like singing. At times he tries to pack in as many words into one sentence as he can, but he never sounds clumsy.

Oberst is a true wordsmith. He will touch your heart with lyrics about driving all night to meet someone in the morning all the while making acute observations about everyday life, like an overflowing ashtray. His voice is delicate and brittle, at times shaking under the weight of the emotion pouring out. Just when you think he’s going to falter the music bursts and his tremoring voice rises above it all. It is made all the more heartfelt with the help of Emmylou Harris’ subtle harmonies. His images are evocative and empathetic. Take a sample from ‘Poison Oak’ which reads “Now I’m drunk as hell on a piano bench and when I press the keys it all gets reversed. The sound of loneliness makes me happier”. Oberst’s records are often very indulgent and lengthy but I feel that ‘I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning’ is almost flawless; the songs are more stripped back in comparison to pervious releases, the record is succinct and by the time the final, most intense tune ‘Road to Joy’ rolls around, it leaves you wanting more. This is Oberst’s best acoustic pieces to date; sincere and always passionate.

‘Digital Ash in a Digital Urn’ is more of a challenge to listen to and is ‘Wide Awakes’ polar opposite. Here is more of a self-conscious studio experiment. It’s constructed of robotic beats and drum loops, dressed in sonic sounds and ambience. The orchestral element that enters many of Oberst’s songs is stripped away in ‘Wide Awake’ but is welcomed back in ‘Digital Ash’. The result is a claustrophobic, moody, electronic record.

Many of Oberst’s opening songs are strange choices to begin a record with. They can be long winded and repetitive and first song ‘Time Code’ from ‘Digital Ash’ is no exception. It begins sparsely and is ambient, making for a very gradual build up before robotic drums kick in. Unfortunately, it’s not at all captivating. Track two, ‘Gold Mine Gutted’ is more redeeming, the keyboards creating a desolate mood. ‘Arc of Time’ is interesting; molding jittery drum loops with an acoustic guitar that has a slightly classical feel to it. ‘Take it Easy (Love Nothing)’ is a joy to listen to. Jimmy Tomborello of the Postal Service lends a hand in this first single, a band who Oberst takes inspiration from in this record.

The heartfelt emotion is still evident in Oberst’s voice but the music somewhat distances the listener from experiencing it completely. But there are certain lyrics that will once again, have you sighing with their sensitivity. “I feel like a piñata won’t u take a swing at me if you could just crack the shell open I think inside you would find something sweet”. In ‘Hit the Switch’ Oberst takes a good, hard look at himself and the drunken images are stark and painful.

‘Digital Ash’ is more excessive than ‘Wide Awake’ and some sequences can be a little repetitive. But aurally it is very interesting and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs proves to be a worthy collaborator on five of the album tracks. Indulgent and pretentious as always, but only Conor Oberst could get away with it.

3 Comments:

Blogger Adam said...

Hey, great playlist. Especially the Death Cab for Cutie track. I love it. I didn't actually catch your show (I'm in the UK), but Elle told me to check out your blog.

Great stuff!
Adam

7:27 AM  
Blogger amanda said...

Hey thanks for your time Adam! Glad you like the playlist, I've heard all about you from Elle. We saw the Dears last nite, was awesome. Thanks again!

11:50 PM  
Blogger El said...

Ah, Adam & Amanda meet at last! This has got to be weird somehow.

The Dears were amazing last night, thanks for coming with me!

Your reviews are beautifully written Amanda, don't cut them out. Likewise for the playlists, love it all!

El

12:37 AM  

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