You've no doubt heard me ramble on numerous times (on social networks, if not on this blog) about the perfect summer album of the year being The New Pornographers' fifth studio album, Together. This is their first undeniably A+ album, with every song a keeper, every song perfect for beach parties and endless sunsets, complete with four-part harmonies and riffs you will remember all summer long.
Still, there were more jewels offered up in mid-June, before a drought that precedes the August-September flurry of Arcade Fire, Strokes, Belle and Sebastian, REM, and Interpol (oh, and did we mention, New Pornographers' own Kathryn Calder with her first solo album? Watch out, Neko "I'm white trash and I will pummel your ass" Case!) To wit:
1. Laurie Anderson, ""Homeland" -- A remarkable, eerie work that takes off where "United States" left off. Yep, on beyond Sharkey or Strange Angels. It's imperative to get the full Fenway Bergamot experience by picking up the 12" vinyl single and "Pictures and Things", a companion to "Another Day in America." And if the CD/DVD pack seems pricey, it's worth it for the DVD in which Laurie explains how the harmonic violin works, and Lou Reed tells how he had to play dictatorial hubby-editor, to convince Laurie she couldn't use 106 tracks on an album, and that "Laurie can do anything except the practical You would not want her to be a tour director, or negotiate a contract." And Eyvind Kang plays violin, what more do you want? One of the year's best.
2. Devo, "Something For Everyone" -- OK, I admit I really wanted to hate this album after seeing the band on Letterman and Regis & Kelly. Of course I've always loved the Mothersbaugh/Casale crew, but in the late 80s and 1990s, they were getting pretty insufferable. If I never see another flowerpot.... Sure, in the new album they use all those idiotic catch-phrases like "Don't tase me, bro," but the end result is more than a 21st-century whip-it disco, though it will never be as scary as Devo's Booji Boy roots. Devo just wants us to consume and dance until the edifice falls, and that's OK for now.
3. Robert Pollard, "Moses on a Snail" - I won't go along with reviews calling this morose or inconsequential, but it is not a Pollard party album. Despite a couple upbeat songs, it is the Pollard version of a Michael Gira "Angels of Light" project - pensive, introspective, all that. OK with me, but if I could change one thing, I think the cover art is hideous, even if it's supposed to be ironic.
4. The Roots, "How I Got Over" -- It would be understandable to worry about Jimmy Fallon's house band going uber-commercial, but that's not what is going on here. They've adopted a chilled-out Gil Scott-Heron type of sound, except many of the songs are in a minor-seventh key, so they drift together as a continuing riff, with guest singers and rappers fading in and out, including such odd collaborators as Monsters of Folk, Joanna Newsom, and John Legend. And of course, since it's The Roots, you know the lyrics are culturally-socially conscious, if a little down.
5. Elephant Micah, "Live at WNYC" -- Many thanks to Gavin Hobson for saying this was one folkie voice I had to hear, and WNYC for making this a free "Spinning on Air" download (http://beta.wnyc.org/shows/spinning/2010/may/16/) Hearing this guy is like hearing Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer for the first time - not because Joe Connell's/Elephant Micah's voice is like Dave's, not because the lyricism is similar, maybe because they're both transcendentalists, though Dave was a Buddhist transc., while Joe is more of a Thoreau/Emerson type. Songs about canoes on Indiana lakes are about as direct as anything gets these days. Really worth hearing.