PASTE magazine's 38th issue caught my eye with this byline: "These six guys made THE BEST RECORD OF 2007 Do you know who they are?" I scrutinized the six shadowy (but easily discernible) figures, and, no, I did not know who they were. I flipped to page 69, read the article, and got the sense that the writer really, really liked these six guys. So far as I knew, I hadn't heard them play or sing a note, so technically speaking I still didn't know who they were. I thought I'd seen the album cover somewhere, though ... but where?
Oh yes -- eMusic's list(s) of 2007's best: #5 by eMusic staff, and #2 by its "users." Noting that Neon Bible by Arcade Fire received raves from both groups, I held my nose and hit "download."
First impression: I like Boxer by The National better than AF's Neon Bible. Being a bona fide baritone-bass, I tend to cut a lot of slack for any rock act with a frontman who adamantly refuses to budge toward a middle C. Lyrically speaking, an album that takes "Fake Empire" as its starting point and swims deeper from there is well worth a listen. Musically speaking ... I'm still not sure I "get it." But I've got no objections to giving it another spin. Or several more after that. Zenyatta Mondatta was like that for me, back in the day, and I eventually came to regard it as one of The Greats. Definitely worth a further look, and a listen.
eMusic (and Paste) were also laudatory of Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, which I had an easier time getting into. Nuanced music/lyrics galore; though when it comes to what these nuances may be indicating, your guess is probably better than mine. Brains and rock, eh? When I was young and smart, I lamented the absence of intelligence in the reigning pop scene. Now that I'm older and a few million brain cells have withered away, I'm not so sure IQ is all that helpful to rock 'n' roll. But if the scene is bringing comfort to the kids, I'm all for it.
Bruuuuce luvs Boxer, but my own inclinations hew closer to those of Little Steven. He digs Peachfuzz, and so do I. They're being pigeon-holed as a "garage band," but I just don't get it. I've always figured the garage sound to be jangly, rough around the edges and steered by a drummer who doesn't concern himself with staying in the pocket. Peachfuzz is none of that (well ... maybe live they are). The harmonies are tight, to the point of being nearly reminiscent of The Mamas & The Papas. The band rocks, the drummer makes giddy use of cymbals, but everybody in the band is a master of their chosen instrument. I get a big kick out of this group. If you're a newcomer, start with "Hero Of Nineteen-Eighty-Three" from Catch Your Snap. "Filles Des Murs Du Sud" is similarly infectious, as are "So Why Not Now," "Have You Always Known Me" and the title track to About A Bird. And finally, a personal aside: "Bevar Christiania" seems to confirm my long-held belief that the hardest rockers have almost always spent a few anxious Friday nights in a church basement, scarfing down cold pizza and flat pop while hearing "The Word."
Speaking of which, I believe a contender for best rock album of 2008 has just been released: Angels Of Destruction by the Philly-born/Manhattan-based Marah scratches my aural itch in a most satisfactory way. I've always thought the most unnerving rock 'n' roll isn't the "heavy" stuff produced by shaggy louts who emerge from their suburban basements with "intense" songs that "come from a very dark place." No, the stuff that really shakes me up tends to have one eye on the eschaton, and one eye on the speed limit: the apocalypse set to an infectious beat, in other words, and Angels has it in spades. "Sure, it's the end of the world ... but is that any reason to keep us from having fun?" Any critic who compares this band with The Rolling Stones isn't paying attention. Marah has the decency to leave the question open-ended, making this album as spicy and discomfiting and as genuinely rock 'n' roll as any bowl of mushroom-laced five-alarm chili. Highly recommended.