Thursday, February 9, 2017

2016 Albums: #10 to #6

10: Jane Siberry Ulysses' Purse

Nearly 30 years after I was first charmed by her quirky, stylish, clever, and polished music—one part Peter Gabriel, one part Laurie Anderson, one part Suzanne Vega—Jane Siberry released her 15th studio album, initially as Angels Bend Closer (which I tend to call it). Part of what’s great about my favorite Siberry albums is that she balances ethereal new age-y music, driving pop music, and somber ballads at the album level. She returns to that musical sensibility here.

She also managed to get her “shit-kicking friend from Alberta” (I’m paraphrasing her acceptance speech on k.d. lang’s behalf when Jane picked up lang’s trophy at the CMJ Awards back in 1989) for another duet.

9: Drive-By Truckers American Band

I discovered Jason Isbell last year, so it’s probably timely for me to get around to his former band this year. I suppose if you’re gonna record 11 albums maybe I can take a minute to check out your stuff…

Comparing them to Neil Young is too obvious, but too obvious to pass up. I suppose I could consider them country to bolster that genre’s contribution to my year end lists (I think Isbell counted), but lyrically, no way. Don’t make me parse why Sturgill Simpson = country and Drive-By = not, but it’s mostly about Simpson being embraced there.

I assume he is. I actually don’t know. Does Portland have a country station? And how is Keith Urban taken seriously with that hair? (That’s not a music question, that’s a hair question.)

The album is a great set of observant, current songs on America: politics, society, religion, guns, immigration. The worst thing I can say about it is the timing of its release, about 5 weeks before the Presidential election, somehow preserves these high-minded songs in amber. That seems to amplify all the shit that’s going down today. But maybe that’s just me paying attention to the world around me while the album plays. It stings.

8: Pinegrove Cardinal

I hadn’t heard of the band prior to year-end lists mentioning this album. There are still a handful of albums that were regularly included among best of 2016 releases that I didn’t get to at all (Mitski, Leonard Cohen), or owe a second listen (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), but sooner or later you have to post the fucking list and get on with your life, so here we are. Oh, what’s my point, these guys. Yeah, loved this album!

The music is loose, breezy, jangly, harkening equal parts Guided by Voices, Wilco and Marshall Crenshaw. If that doesn’t explain my enthusiasm then we probably haven’t discussed music very much.

7: Kanye West The Life of Pablo

Let’s get this out of the way: this is the ugliest album cover I’ve seen in the last 20 years. There’s no way it isn’t intentionally provocative. No one sees beauty there, right? Shit. I am reminded of the movie Pollock, Ed Harris’s biopic of Jackson Pollock – when asked why his drip painting is beautiful (or possibly art) his response “why are flowers” (beautiful or possibly art)? There’s a lot of subjectivity in art, but c’mon, this is awful.

When I described it to a friend and invoked the shade of hosiery worn by Hooters waitresses to describe the background. He pulled the cover up on his phone and just nodded. The typeface, the alignment (and lack of), the photos, it all feels amateurish, random, unfinished. But all of that the text, the images, the seeming randomness of distribution/lack of alignment, are hallmarks of artist Peter DePotter. Which just goes to show, art is subjective and, more importantly, you can call yourself an artist and no one really can say you aren’t. If DePotter called himself a graphic designer I’d say his work sucks, but as an artist, well, maybe I just don’t get it (also this cover sucks).

But it doesn’t surprise me at all that a Kanye West album vexes me like this.

Like the cover, the lyrics to “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” are some of the ugliest (stupidest) I’ve ever heard from West.
Now if I fuck this model
And she just bleached her asshole
And I get bleach on my T-shirt
I'ma feel like an asshole
The song gets better (it would have to), and both it and the cover might be examples of not letting initial impressions limit your experiences… but wait, fuck, if the album cover is actually art, then that wouldn’t be the case. I do this shit, this overthinking, with Kanye West albums.

It’s been called Kanye’s gospel album, and gospel elements are evident here, but I don’t think labeling anything he’s done is useful. West is probably the most musically curious and ambitious musician working today; for reals. There are a lot of reasons to dislike Kanye, but his outspoken nature and his musical explorations shouldn’t be among them.

The Life of Pablo parallels the Gospel of Paul the Apostle, from the blinding light  of his transformation to lyrical references to Bible verse. I didn’t want to love this album.

6: Anderson .Paak Malibu

Last year country, this year hip hop. Shit, this isn’t really hip hop. Hip hop/urban alternative? Maybe it’s hip hop enough. Whatever, there’s no editor to second guess me… hip hop!!!

I’d never heard of Paak before the best of lists and I adore this album. There’s a lot on here to love. I’ve written too much about Kanye West, just listen to this album, you’ll dig it.

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