Friday, February 01, 2008

For Real

I can't remember the last time I heard a song that knocked me out at once like Okkervil River's "The President's Dead." Maybe "All My Friends," but that was more of a hypnotic-waves-of-rippling-bliss effect. It makes me sad that it ends so abruptly, but maybe that's final stroke of craftsmanship that completes it; I do keep playing it over and over to hear that nuclear coda again.

Since I've been writing professionally, I've been mostly an album guy, either because my favorite bands have all broken up (Sleater-Kinney, The Dismemberment Plan, Luna), gone AWOL (Clem Snide, Old 97's) or took the year off (Liz Phair, Sonic Youth, and PJ Harvey--I wish). But I have been bemoaning the fact that I've only been connecting with new artists piece by piece, that I don't trust anyone I've discovered (more like glommed onto) lately to deliver another masterpiece or even a consistent career; just take Against Me! or Maroon 5, two artists I couldn't stand who revised themselves into such wondrous new shapes they went from zero to top ten flat as if they were Lil' Wayne. And I still have my reservations about the beginnings of Arcade Fire, Hot Chip, The Rapture, Clipse, Les Savy Fav, Bright Eyes, Lupe Fiasco, LCD Soundsystem...all of whom have grown into People I Take Seriously, some enough to make my A of the Y. I dearly love at least one record apiece by the above named, and yet I wouldn't count a one of them among my favorite artists.

Where I'm all going with this is that I miss the discovery stage a bit, still being able to travel back, scrape the barrel and end up with some lost career band I'm excited about being able to read through for their whole trajectory rather than in real time. I'm probably the rare critic who likes discovering bands late; I don't like being afraid of getting excited too fast or dismissing something too quickly. The rapid pace of new records I both care about and force myself to care about makes this a nervous, anxious process: both Apples in Stereo and Les Savy Fav's 2007 records I liked a lot in two or three listens, then promptly forgot about (other critics seemed to politely check them off as well) until Christgau's helpfully late reviews reminded me they existed.

But it's easy to lose sight of why people have favorite bands in the first place when you get too used to evaluating criteria piece by piece. Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy is what brings up this entire 2 a.m. rant and makes me sniff for all these "old ways" in the first place. It's only two years old, but that's like an eternity when Pitchfork scratches off 20 a week and still misses a ton. I heard raves about this band at the time, but never really got the picture of what it would sound like, and forgot about it. I also skipped last year's The Stage Names (but checked out Cloud Cult, god I'm an idiot). Oh well.

My critic's nervousness has me worried I'll be through with these in a matter of weeks, but right now, I'm getting that favorite band vibe I missed all over again: the aforementioned "President," one of their most amazing songs is only available on a tour-only EP--and I can't even remember the last act whom I gave a fuck about a b-side. Their sound is epic, broad-brushed, dynamic, and has deeply brave literary value I'm excited to scope out when I'm ready. Just when I never thought I'd hear another band like this, there go my reservations. I'm always trying to enjoy more things, but some aspect usually gets in the way and makes it hard. For me to like, altogether throw myself behind someone like Arcade Fire, who really is as dull as detractors say, makes it chewier to explain that like Britney Spears or Kylie Minogue, I'm in it for the melodies and who cares if they're tried and trued to death?

Okkervil River's making it easy again; I don't hear a thing about them that requires a preemptive defense. They rock hard enough, their ballads are pretty, they arrange majestically but don't make a gimmick of it, and every phrase I've noticed so far is perfectly turned, even if I don't yet have their choruses memorized--or have even noticed choruses. But I can imagine my dad, my girlfriend, and my colleagues all enjoying this, and the best part is that I'm late to the party, so I know off the bat I can trust at least more than one record. Black Sheep Boy is blowing my mind, though, and The Stage Names doesn't sound far behind on one listen.

1 Comments:

Blogger Westy said...

i just found 'Presidents Dead' on Sunday as well. I came on board with their latest album and heard great things about them. On Sunday I saw them play a festival in Sydney and was completely blown away by how much fun, how intense, and how engaging these guys were. They also closed with Westfall from the same EP... which was just as brilliant as President. Great blog, keep on writing, W

4:51 AM, March 04, 2008  

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