See this post for information about the Stack project. This is another update covering the last two months, consisting of mini-reviews for a bunch of albums.
The Cardigans – I listened to two albums: The First Band on the Moon and Life. Neither really grabbed me. There was some nice hooks and pleasant poppy melodic structure, but the lyrics didn’t inspire. It’s not that they weren’t interesting — I think this band has a curious, quirky lyric style — it’s just that they didn’t draw me into the songs. In short, I found both albums quite forgettable.
Cat Power – I was very negative on Cat Power after seeing her give a terrible show at the Folk Fest Mainstage some years ago. I shouldn’t have judged her so harshly. I listened to The Greatest and You Are Free, and both were excellent. Marvellous mood, engaging lyrics, insteresting song structures. I’m all for it.
Cibo Matto – I’ve loved the album Stereo Type A for many years, ever since someone gave me a copy in my late teens or early 20s. Cibo Matto is excatly the right kind of bizarre and whimsical. I also have a copy of Viva! La Woman, which I haven’t really listened to until now. It’s just a strange as expected, being almost entirely composed of songs about food. I loved it. White Pepper Ice Cream is the standout track, with bonus points for a mournful and eerie cover The Candy Man Can (a song originally written for the 1971 Gene Wilder version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – I knew that their debut eponymous album was a big deal in the indie scene. Now I understand why. I’d listened to two tracks previously (Details of the War and Over and Over Again), but never really listened to the whole album. Now, I think that half of it is on my favourites list. Really great stuff. I also listened to their sophomore release Some Loud Thunder. It has a couple lovely tracks, but doesn’t live up to the debut. As an aside, the vocalist really does deserve the award for the worst diction in all of popular music.
The Cure – I’ve always known about The Cure without every really knowing their music. At some point in the past years, I acquired a copy of Disintegration, which was next up for the Stack project. The album is really great, in a strange synth-driven 80s way. Even with the 80s snare, which usually drives me crazy, I really liked the sound. Lyrically, I found it ran the gamut all the way from effortlessly sublime to immaturely saccharine. More or less what I expected from their reputation. I should probably listen to some of their other classic albums.
Damien Rice – Ah, Damien Rice. So ridiculously emotional, overwrought, self-indulgent. That said, I quite like the album 0, which I’ve listened to frequently in the past. The pathos is just believable enough to move me, when I’m in a certain mood. Unfortunately, the album 9 which I listened to for the Stack project was simply terrible. Just as overdone as 0, but without any of the saving graces. There is nowhere to hide from the angsty grade-9 lyrics.
Danny Michel – I bought In The Belly of a Whale after seeing Danny Michel at Folk Fest years ago and loved it. It’s aged a bit poorly, but I still think it’s a good album. For the Stack project, I listened to a second old acquisition: Tales from the Invisible Man. It was a lovely listen. It’s most a pop-rock album, but the songwriting is incredibly solid. The best track on the first half of the album is the amazing pop anthem We All Fall Down. I particularly like the voice overdubbing, which strangely works well with his quirky voice. The second half of the album has a couple nice stylistic variations, including the amazing use of saxophones on the very traditional miner’s tragedy folk song Thunder in the Mountain. Good stuff.
Dar Williams – We have a strange non-retail promotional release of a live album version of Out There, which I really love. I’ve listened to it many times but still tear up every time I hear The Christians and the Pagans. For the Stack Project, there were two Dar Williams albums previously ignored: My Better Self and The Beauty of the Rain. The latter I found really quite disappointing, other than the stirring opening track. My Better Self is much more consistent in quality; I really like the majority of the album. The opener Teen for God brought back a bunch of my own strange memories of Christian summer camps and managed to capture a great balance of mixed emotions towards the experience. The cover of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb is also particularly excellent, mostly due to the simplicity of Dar’s treatment of the song.
Dave Matthews Band – I’ve decided that I find DMB boring. Sorry, all the big DMB fans out there. Doesn’t do much for me.
David Essig – Somewhere along the way, we acquired the EP titled A Stone in my Pocket. Other than the track Declaration Day, which I already knew and enjoyed from the album of the same title, there were six new tracks here. Most were forgettable, but I have to talk about the first track, Walk Back Into Town. For the first 2.5 minutes of this 4 minute song, you think it’s a simply lovely folk/country love song, giving the account of how a fellow originally bonded with his future wife when their car broke down and they had to walk miles back to town. However, over halfway through the song, without any warning or change in tone, it suddenly changes into a song about police brutality, where the same character (now a police officer) takes some violent offender to a field out of town and leave him to freeze to death. (I don’t know if this is mean to be fictional or an account of such incidents which have occurred on the Canadian prairies.) It’s incredibly dark and depressing. I feel that David Essig should be fined for abuse of his songwriting privileges; such a setup is simply cruel to the listener. I was caught totally unaware. Even now, I believe it is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard.