Tuesday, July 11, 2006

That's Really Super, Supergirl

I am overdue on updating my recent listenings. And, I've been listening to a lot of music lately. The result: some pretty tough choices regarding my current favorite albums. The competition was fierce! . . . And by that, I mean I fretted for a bit longer than usual when picking the albums to highlight.

Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country
I think my recent post reviewing their live show did a pretty good job of articulating my affections for this group. I still haven't decided if I prefer this new venture to their sophomore Underachievers Please Try Harder. Though the more I listen, the more I lean towards the newer. I instantly liked this album. It's pretty hard to resist the catchy fake organ, incessant catchiness, and clever lyrics of opener "Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken." Or the bittersweet malady of "Country Mile," with its stunning vocals. But on every listen, I find something else to endear me to the record. What can I say, I'm a sucker for smart, heartbreaking lyrics and a beautiful melody.

XTC - Skylarking
Going right along with melody and smart lyrics, XTC reminds me of a slightly less silly They Might Be Giants. They are by no means humorless, but they don't have any songs about people wearing "foreheads on their real heads." XTC's brand of sly pop is very refreshing. The lyrics are memorable, witty, and endearing. But unlike the majority of pop, most songs tackle surprisingly serious subject matter--everything from religion ("Dear God") to paying the bills ("Earn Enough For Us"). It's an interesting contrast with the lighthearted melodies. These songs are very unexpectedly catchy. With some songs, you can categorize the catch-factors, breaking down what makes it stick in your head and tap your toe. I have yet to succeed in doing that for XTC, despite singing "That's Really Super, Supergirl" and "1,000 Umbrellas" to myself all day.

The English Beat
- I Just Can't Stop It
The best word to describe this album is "fun." Plain and simple. It's upbeat and playful, inspiring all sorts of dancing and grooving. But the fun never overshadows the delightful songwriting/arranging and performances. You can't listen to these songs without noticing their deft musicianship. Songs like "Hands Off, She's Mine" and "Best Friend" are prime examples--tight rhythms, great instrumentation, and really excellent playing. I think many more recent ska-type bands focus on the genre's inherent lighthearted and peppy sound too much, forgetting to put the music first. The real fun, though, comes from well made music, not from some excessive horn section. And for remembering that, The English Beat have won my heart.

Jackie-O Motherfucker - Flags Of The Sacred Harp
I discovered JOM this past semester while scanning shelves at WRUW. When I read the name off of the CD sleeve, I was rather curious and picked it up expecting some sort of in-your-face punk outfit. What I got was nothing of the sort. The best description of the Portland-based group of music geeks I can come up with is Avant-Garde Folk-Drone. The band finds a lot of influence in traditional American music and spirituals, but this is by no means grandmother-friendly music (at least not my grandmother). With Flags, they manage to fuse these more traditional songwriting techniques and melodies into a completely avant backdrop of electronic whines and bangs. It somehow really works, though I'm still not entirely sure how. Songs like "Hey! Mr. Sky" are beautiful, understated sighs. There's also "Spirits" that wanders and drones without an established melody for sixteen minutes, but is still captivating. It's a bit difficult pinning down what exactly I like about this album. And that only makes me like it more. It's beautifully intriguing.

Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
I actually got a chance to "see" Beirut in concert a few weeks back. I say "see," because I barely got into the show, and hence was stuck at the very back of an extremely crowded room about the size of my bedroom. Being about 5' 1", I didn't see anything. I did get to hear them, but for me, the visual aspect of watching musicians perform is the greatest fun of a concert. Anyways, I purchased their album after the show, and have been enjoying it quite thoroughly. I am not terribly familiar with Eastern European music, but I really enjoy this adaptation of a Gypsy brass band. As others have noted, there is something very appealing about the trumpet. I'm also really impressed with the song- and lyric-writing skills of someone so young. The songs sound lush and full without losing the more intimate touches of his folk influences. The album hasn't blown me away, but it highlights some serious potential. I look forward to listening as he develops his sound further--as long as he throws me a beautiful catchy thing like "Postcards From Italy" every now and then.

As I mentioned before, these choices were tough. I guess I'll just have to update this more often to get to some of the other contenders. Sigh. If only I were Supergirl . . .


Anonymous maria said...

beirut does indeed remind me of my homeland.... ;)

2:48 PM, July 12, 2006  

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