Thursday, March 5, 2009

Neko and Bono and Clem, Oh My!

Three solid thumbs up for first week of March, indicative of the solid year 2009 is becoming for music:

Neko Case, "Middle Cyclone" - This just might be my favorite Neko Case album of all, certainly better than "Fox Confessor," since musical arrangements and lyrics are more focused and fascinating. The recurring themes of tornadoes and animal intuition help string all the songs together. As the New York Times mentioned recently, the layering of found-sounds like animal moans and jack-in-the-box hurdy-gurdy tunes just adds to the album's charm (I could do without the crickets at the end, though). Neko's hilarious and chaotic liner notes and art give you the distinct impression she's had more fun with this whirlwind of an album than anything she's done to date.

U2, "No Line on the Horizon" - While it's still not certain if this album will crack the Top Ten of 2009, I refuse to join the legion of Bono-haters out there, if only because this album has so many fun tunes. One of the problems some have with U2 is that the band, similar to Neil Young or David Bowie, likes to take on different personas. If "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" was full-tilt rock, "No Line" is more Phil Spector blue-eyed soul, not that surprising given the UK's new-found interest in soul revivals from the likes of Duffy and Adele. Whether you like the latest instantiation of U2 or not, certain songs like "Unknown Caller" or "Get On Your Boots" are well-crafted enough to rank within the band's best songs ever. And I'll add a particular sacrilege: With 20 years' distance, "Atomic Bomb" and "No Line" stand out as more interesting albums than "Joshua Tree" or "Unforgettable Fire," because the latter are overly-bombastic anthemic visions of excess. However, speaking of excess, here's where I will pick on Bono: Offering five different kinds of limited editions of this album seems pretentious beyond belief. Since it's 2009, I picked up the $9.99 straight-up CD. Sure, a double-vinyl version might be fun, but three different extended CD boxes based on magazines and hard-cover books? I mean, honestly, Bono....

Clem Snide, "Hungry Bird" - Eef Barzelay finally has this Clem Snide identity laid down to the point where it inhabits a mysterious universe made up of equal parts Thom Yorke, David Gray, and John Darnielle. Sort of. If you could believe such a thing. Even when the songs may grow sappy, their intriguing lyrics and song structure make this album stand up to repeated plays better than, say, Andrew Bird's new album. By the way, look for the version of this CD with the bonus EP, the extra songs are worth it. And that raises an important question for Eef - since the album is rather short, why not just stick the EP songs on the end of the CD, and not make the listener participate in this scavenger hunt? Then again, what fun would that be?

May we get many more examples of fun in an otherwise gloomy year!

No comments: