“He’s not even a very good singer.”
It’s easy to forget about Lambchop. I seem to “re-discover” their discography every couple years, and each time I’m struck by how long it’s been since I last dove in. I don’t mean to suggest, by any means, that Lambchop is forgettable, only that there’s something in the low-key Nashville outfit’s sober, calculated methodology that readily lends itself to the background. There’s something about the dependable sturdiness of their catalogue, or maybe the authority of frontman Kurt Wagner’s hushed but confident boom-croon, that makes its quiet excellence unsurprising.
Nixon always seems to be the record that pulls me back. It’s likely some combination of the trippy gospel choruses, the dripping wet string arrangements, and the polite touches of Motown brass that color this tidy collection of great-on-their-own songs. Subtle electronic flourishes bubble up from the margins and evaporate through the house like a sweet steam, making room for Wagner’s singular vocals while the band demonstrates that all-too-rare and admirable ability of knowing when to scale back and when to tower over its own landscape.
If you’re looking for an example of a perfectly produced audio recording, this is it. There’s space for everything here. For a band whose shifting membership routinely tops double digits, Nixon never comes close to sounding crowded. This carries over thematically as well, with Wagner’s lyrics touting a breezy, observational quality while simultaneously embodying an unpretentious poetic wisdom. Lines like “The lights outside tonight are far from home / and I’m out drinking in the yard,” in the tradition of the great American domestic minimalists like John Cheever and Raymond Carver, communicate more than the sum of their parts, prompting the listener to color the negative space of its image and help push it toward profundity.
From the opening nostalgic wash of “The Old Gold Shoe,” through the near-neoclassical arrangements of “The Book I Haven’t Read,” one thing’s clear: Lambchop has “Americana” in its crosshairs. This isn’t to imply that the band has determined such an opaque idea as being in need of a good assassination — although it might be in our best cultural interest to retire the term from our musical lexicon entirely — but rather that they’ve determined the idea in desperate need of a thorough re-imagining. And that’s exactly what Nixon does so successfully: it explodes American roots music in the smallest terms possible. It tinkers, prods and pokes at the very idea of it, until the end result leaves us looking simultaneously back at our rich musical history — from R&B to country music, folk and even punk rock (see: “The Butcher Boy”) –while nodding forward at the possibilities of our inheritance.
I was recently telling Chris how badly I wish we could take credit for “breaking” Neon Indian in the blogosphere — after all, we were beating the hype drum nearly five months before P4k inducted “Deadbeat Summer” into the bastion of Best New Music — but alas, we at Silence in Architecture are all too aware of our insignificance in the sea of white noise that is, ahem, “online music criticism.”
Delusions of self importance aside, the truth is that Alan Palomo’s new project (yes, the veil of anonymity has been officially lifted) would have been wildly successful in any capacity. Psychic Chasms, Neon Indian’s debut LP which is due out on Lefse Records in October, is not simply one of the best releases of 2009; it’s the kind of long player that feels comfortable in its own skin while boasting a creative restlessness that rewards frequent, repeated listens.
If you’ve been following the tracks that have been trickling down the wire these past few months, odds are that you — like us — have been helpless in your inability to stop jamming them. If you’re among those unlucky virgin ears, check out these gems below and have a better summer for it. The dude from Grizzly Bear is daggin’ on it, and we think you should too:
“Terminally Chill” (mp3)
“Deadbeat Summer” (mp3)
[Neon Indian’s official MySpace page]
“What’s really good? / What’s really food? / What’s really good?”
I’d venture to say that most people who keep up with “the blogs” are already familiar with the Wallpaper remix of this Brooklyn duo’s tribute to fast food ego death. After you’ve recovered from — well, whatever that is — you’d be well advised to check out this equally bizarre cut, “Chicken and Meat,” which finds the ethnically ambiguous duo spittin’ about everything from Hannah Montana to black Republicans:
[Das Racist’s official MySpace page]
“Let me tell you right off, okay? I’m not a likeable guy.”
Finally, the film we’ve been quietly (or not so quietly) anticipating for the past year — Whatever Works, Woody Allen’s newest flick starring enthusiastically curbed Seinfeld creator Larry David. This marks Woody’s triumphant return to NYC and, from the looks of the trailer, a pretty by-the-numbers return to form:
– First person narration? Check.
– Underage love interest? Check.
– Existential crises? Check.
– Bouncy jazz number? Check.
Aside from Larry’s brief cameos in Radio Days and New York Stories, this marks the first major collaboration between two of my favorite Jews. If someone could have convinced Philip Roth to participate in the writing process, we’d be dealing with the the ultimate trifecta of psychoneurosis.
This alternate video was directed by Lance Bangs — whose resume boasts videos for Sonic Youth’s “The Diamond Sea,” GBV’s “Game of Pricks,” and a slew of other greats — and, while keeping with Pavement’s affinity for the absurd, captures the dreamy, pensive nostalgia of this Terror Twilight standout:
Following up the first single (“Give the Drummer Sum“) from 2008’s phenomenal Tronic — the cleanest, freshest and most out-of-control rap production of last year — is Black Milk’s newest jam, “Losing Out.”
Aside from being the strongest track on Black’s near-perfect album, it finds the Detroit MC/Producer working with the assaultingly gifted Royce da 5’9″ (see: Elzhi’s “Motown 25“) in one of the most harmonious vocal pairings this side of Madlib and Guilty Simpson:
“We are a part of a rhythm nation.”
It’s no great secret that lo-fi is becoming at the end of the decade what dance-punk revivalism was in the early 00’s: it’s ubiquitous, inescapable, and a seemingly free ride to the hyperbole-studded avenues of critical fawnery. No Age’s 2008 snooze parade Nouns, in particular, demonstrated how easily substance can take a backseat to style and still manage to hold the feelers of the blogosphere in an irrepressible vice grip.
That being said, Ruff Demoz — the first collection proper from SiA-approved, one-man powerhouse Death Knelly — is not that kind of record. On one level, these songs are the “rough demos” they claim to be; still, there’s a sort of rag-tag cohesiveness here that keeps the tracks from feeling less like a haphazard throw-some-shit-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks effort, and more like a collection that — while it may not favor the sort of narrative strategy of A leading to B, then B to C and so on — is irrevocably indebted to the tightly focused vision of its maker.
Considering the tongue-in-cheek didacticism of “White Tigers,” or the lyrical intimacy of “Ladies of the Lake,” Ruff Demoz is a refreshing example of an artist doing something for his medium, rather than following the example of the slew of bratty lo-fi bloghounds whose recording quality is their only discernible claim to relevance. More than charm, which this collection has in strides, it’s got soul.
DK’s Chase Jackson has an impressive knack for mutedly discussing big-top human complications in a surprisingly small amount of room: from the trifecta of love, lust and sexuality (“Child O’ God”) to the power of narrative and storytelling (“Don’t Shoot Out the Lights”), Ruff Demoz does more than display a remarkably effecient economy of language — it reminds us why we listen to music in the first place.
[Download the album here.]
[Read Silence in Architecture’s interview with Chase Jackson.]