Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Listening Journal 05-28
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City - “Daine Young” has to be one of the most annoying songs I’ve heard this year: farting MIDI Springsteen sounds and Ezra playing with his favorite little vocoder toy that nearly tanked Contra. In fact, none of the fast and furious tracks on this album make anything worthwhile out of their harsh, blinding sheen. I guess their fans just need something to pogo to at shows? Meanwhile, the ‘important’ song, “Ya Hey,” is a jumbled mess, all flashbulbs and half-formed Judaic references. Two of the last words I would ever hope to use to describe this band are ‘serious’ and ‘gothic,’ so “Hudson” follows right after it with another four straight minutes of awkward. But! There are also some really nice dreamy songs here: “Hannah Hunt,” the first three tracks on the album, and Rostam’s closer “Young Lion” (sort of an adulteration of the Jurassic Park theme). If the idea behind this collection is to take a more thoughtful, grown up look at the post-hipstercratic Manhattan life these guys have always flaunted and search for corridors to the wider world and eternity itself, these are the most successful stabs. They’re melodically rich, sonically open, lyrically evocative, and conjure a kind of head-in-the-clouds pleasantness, as if Vampire Weekend were imagining a soundtrack for the prettiest, most idyllic New Yorker covers. You take the bad with good with this band, and though this certainly isn’t the greatest or most original way for them to mature, there’s half an album here that’s worth a solid listen. 
The National - Trouble Will Find Me - Every band that is good at something is more fun to watch and listen to before they know they’re good at it. If it’s a nationally-known indie rock band, it’ll usually take two successful records for it to dawn on them and for the sound to then ossify. By the end of that second record, they’re done (or at least they should be). So lots of people might want a new National album, but nobody needs one. Big drums, soupy everything else, and Matt Beringer mumble-mope-crooning about how hard it is to be a white collar adult in a big city. We’ve been here before and it all smells the same. I can’t be the only one who saw that title and wondered if it was a lyric from one of their older songs, right? And I can’t be the only one who thinks this whole album sounds like a cough syrup remix of The Kinks. Prevailing wisdom suggests that it’s an enviable position for this band to be in: they earned themselves a name and now they can coast from record to record, pulling the same musical taffy over and over again, and enough kids will pay forty bucks a pop to see them play that they won’t need day jobs. But artistically, what’s left? I’d never want to discredit anyone’s enthusiasm for this band just because they weren’t into Boxer at the same time I was, but unless this is the first time you’ve listened to them, you’re better off elsewhere. Because very few bands have it in them to make compelling music for ten years, and as thorough as they’ve been about wringing every drop out of Alligator's basic pallet, The National are clearly living on borrowed time. 
Alpine - A is for Alpine - Australian indie pop that seems to have plans on international infection, if not exactly domination. They’ve got Instagrammy videos for about half the songs on the album (including the one with all the skinny girls in unitards that made the internet rounds), distribution through Atlantic, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear them soundtracking auto ads before the end of the year. All of this to say: you’re familiar with this type of band, if not musically then at least culturally, and the sort of shallow artsy-not-artsy impact they seem to shoot for. That, for me, doesn’t take much away from this record. Their shiny, mewling new wave—tweesco?—pivots as much around the angular lead guitar as it does Alpine’s tag-team singers, which means looking for strong, catchy songs is mostly a fools errand (“Hands” and “Gasoline,” both strong singles, are exceptions to the rule). What you’re looking for, and what’s going to yield the greatest rewards when listening to this thing, is mood and groove. Think of it like Len’s “Steal My Sunshine”: the lyrics make no sense and the chorus is only half a hook, but that piano bounce stays with you. There’s a loungey quality to a lot of these songs that implies more sophistication than is maybe really there, but the band appeals to me as a stylish outfit with coy, slick, springy sounds. Summer stuff, this is: disposable as a popsicle stick stamped with a corny joke but enjoyable as the treat that comes on it.