Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Knife: Shaking the Habitual (2013)


(Rabid)

Listening to the Knife is akin to willfully subjecting yourself to something that isn't really fun but you feel sort of an obligation to go through with it, maybe for the satisfaction you'll feel afterward -- like the hardest level in a video game, or a first date. The Dreijer siblings' political leanings are a little heady for me and sit beyond my dim understanding of the outside world (only a slight exaggeration, people) but their hearts seem to be in the right place, and their stance on the melding of corporate conglomeration and pop music is certainly righteous. Spending time with their music just proves how little ideology can finally matter in appreciation of a band. They could be fascist stand-up comedians for all that it matters for our purposes here in actually reviewing this goofy, vastly overlong record. It's full of ideas and dense, but I can't find a proper way into the musical portion of this satirical media empire (one that made its fortune by, no sense of irony here, lending a song to a Sony ad).

"A Tooth for an Eye" and "Full of Fire," our two opening cuts, are chaos of the right sort, evocative of the Rapture or Crystal Castles with a filthy, relentless pulsating undercurrent. You may or may not appreciate the education film vibe of the watery little synth trills and flute tones, and the entire record that follows is nothing if not playful. But even at its bounciest, it's the dance music of guilt and frequently undercuts its own appeal, more than likely on purpose. Sometimes I love that sort of thing, sometimes I don't; when I ask why, the answers can take very lonnnng but it's probably a question of how interesting the self-imposed bumps and fuckups are, and kinda stupid voice effects fall into the category of "unjustifiably irritating." And for nine minutes, fuck that. "Full of Fire" is the sneak preview of how most of the sequence here is going to run, bumping up slightly with outside influences on "Without You My Life Would Be Boring," a sort of Kelly Clarkson-fronting-Art of Noise art installation with a stronger chorus and whinier sounds, but at its worst it suggests the Bee Gees covering something from Vespertine.

Most of the Knife's songs are too long. Maybe that's intended as a sort of fuck-off maneuver, but with Justin Timberlake well on the way to redefining "epic" dance music in his own image, they have to lump up and kill their potentially crafty mood record with a lot of semi-ambient meanderings, one of which is entitled "Fracking Fluid Injection" because of course it is. They can't be tender without being menacing, they can't annoy us without also putting us to sleep with the basically silent sprawl of the nineteen-minute "Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized," pretty much a reenactment of the soundtrack of 2001 with music and dialogue both removed, thus about as dull a time as I've ever had listening to recorded music (and I sat through it twice and was not paid).

Mood albums are fine, by the way, but they typically need a few songs on the back half to sustain properly. Each cut here can be reduced so easily to a quick idea: here's paranoid disco Ben E. King, here's some jittery tomfoolery, good grief here's more yet. None of the compositions or... arid little "grooves" can sustain for as long as their authors seem to think. But Shaking the Habitual is just a platform for the stuff these two really care about, and if some people have the patience for it, they will enjoy the souvenir. If (like me) your patience is tried not just by The 20/20 Experience but This Is Happening, best to wait for the movie, the TV special, the interactive CD-ROM.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Art of Noise: Best Of (1983-92)


(Polydor)

!! CAUTION !!

Maybe it's just that the great @horse_ebooks letdown has me cranky this week, but there's really something irksome and phony about "performance art" in general, right? Not talking about the kind that has some sense of wit about it but mostly those confused examples of weirdness for its own self-important sake. Witness the juvenile behavior we're currently witnessing of those who now assign what seemed strange and surreal and genuinely offbeat with, uh, Meaning. The most interesting thing about Art of Noise now, divorced from the time when their 12" singles made massive waves in the electronic music marketplace, is that there was an acrimonious divide at the center of the story.

The problem comes because both before and after said divide, the Noise wasn't much good and the Art was worse. Prior to the split, which separated '80s aural architect Trevor Horn and rockcrit Paul Morley from their pointy-DJ buddies, the group as operated in quintet-ish form (though it would always be disputed how much Horn and Morley really did) was a mishmash of dandy sampling and massive beats -- adept, to be sure, but just as easily found elsewhere -- with an oblique passion for pseudo-anonymity that likely had some impact on Daft Punk years later. But the songs are so arid and detached, it seems as if they are not really designed to be enjoyed, or to prompt something so gauche as dancing. The vocal pile-on "Opus 4" is at least playful, even if kind of impossible to listen to. "Beatbox (Diversion One)" and "Moments in Love," both legendary for their impact on a wide world of Fairlight synthpop and club music (especially in the UK), now sound like the terminally insecure twiddlings of very embarrassed sound engineers -- which is pretty much the reality. Like a lot of awful things that have variously been labeled "intelligent dance music," it's dance music for people who hate both the dance part and the music part. Doesn't mean there isn't historical interest, but that's the limit.

Still, everyone is correct that what came after Horn and Morley's departure is far, far worse and a depressing portrait of the losing battle between "Art" and commerce in the Thatchereagan 1980s. Here's a song with everpopular voice of the people Max Headroom, subject of lots of commercials and a dismal sci-fi series. Here's an entirely unsavory recording of Tom Jones schmoozing over a Prince song that deserves no such obscenity, to which AoN add... kind of a beat, I guess. Here's a straightforward cover of Henry Mancini's Peter Gunn theme, with Duane Eddy's twangy guitar boning for some reward money. Here's a fucking song from the fucking '80s remake of Dragnet, which features samples of the dialogue from the film; that is a thing that someone put on an album that you are expected to actually listen to. Taken in full, it's a dreadful career rundown indeed, missing only a Pepsi jingle or two, but one doubts there's much else to deeply and enjoyably investigate. Why not scrape the barrel, then?

So the one genuine score is the kooky, stylish and slightly menacing "Close (To the Edit)," a tricky layering of car sounds, mysterious vocal noises, very Trevor Horn synth hits and highly digitized "funk"... and even it is as much an artifact of its time as such highly commercial techno artifacts as M/A/R/R/S' "Pump Up the Volume" and Herbie Hancock's "Rockit." At best, this compilation is a quaint experience. At worst, it's a chance to hear Tom Jones change "women, not girls" to "women and girls" on an antiseptic, toothpaste-commercial cover of "Kiss" and depressingly realize that neither he nor the group is in on the joke. And the modern equivalent of Art of Noise sit in an installation answering phones with "businessy" phrases, and it's supposed to be... something. Art indeed. This is shit.

Friday, September 20, 2013

One-sentence reviews #9

Wire
Change Becomes Us (2013)

(Pink Flag)

Post-punk football chants and jingles, the vices of a veteran act with the freedom and cachet to dick around inanely, albeit more cheerily than usual.

***

DJ Koze
Amygdala (2013)

(Pampa)

The parts that sound like methamphetamined Everything But the Girl circa Temperamental are a nostalgic rush that makes me want to go shopping for clothes in a 1999 mall, but the absence of hooks (save some contributed by well-chosen samples) shatters the illusion.

***

The Haxan Cloak
Excavation (2013)

(TriAngle)

!! CAUTION !! - Dirgecraft Through the Ages, undoubtedly to be accompanied by complimentary Rothko coffee table book.

***

Arab Strap
Monday at the Hug & Pint (2003)

(Chemikal Underground)

!! CAUTION !! - All of the things about the early-2000s indie boom that griped the hell out of me at the time (and caused me to stay away from modern alt-rock for several years) in one package: snide, witless, empty, rote in performance and emotion -- but perhaps not as bad as I'm predisposed to hear it.

***

Cake
Comfort Eagle (2001)

(Columbia)

"Short Skirt / Long Jacket" still charming and funny, the rest more melodic and spirited than usual but still easy to describe in full as "minor" just as much as this perpetually growth-stunted band's whole discography; now-concluded experiment in trying to decipher my long-ago enthusiasm for them an utter failure.

Index of posts 1-500

Starting to wonder what exactly I'll do when this thing gets too unwieldy, which some would say it already is. Ideas?

***

ALPHABETICAL INDEX
KEY: [A+] / [hr] = highly recommended / [r] = recommended / [c] = caution / [NO] = avoid

(Keep in mind, we're using iTunes alphabetization here. I am well aware that from a cataloging standpoint that's total bullshit, but it keeps me from having to deal with surname ambiguities. I'm a library assistant in real life so I know this is offensive, and all I can tell you is... I like pissing you off.)

STUDIO ALBUMS

10,000 Maniacs: In My Tribe (1987) [c]
10,000 Maniacs: Blind Man's Zoo (1989)
10,000 Maniacs: Our Time in Eden (1992) [c]
13th Floor Elevators: The Psychedelic Sounds Of (1966) [hr]
13th Floor Elevators: Easter Everywhere (1967) [r]
2 Many DJ's: As Heard on Radio Soulwax, Pt. 2 (2002)
3 Mustaphas 3: Soup of the Century (1990) [c]
The 6ths: Wasps' Nest (1995) [hr]
The 6ths: Hyacinths and Thistles (2000) [r]
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead: Source Tags & Codes (2002) [c]
A.C. Newman: The Slow Wonder (2004) [r]
A.C. Newman: Get Guilty (2009) [r]
A$AP Rocky: LongLiveA$AP (2013) [r]
Actress: R.I.P. (2012)
Adam Green: Jacket Full of Danger (2006) [r]
Advance Base: A Shut-In's Prayer (2012) [hr]
Aesop Rock: Labor Days (2001) [r]
Air: Moon Safari (1998) [hr]
Al Green Gets Next to You (1971) [hr]
Al Green: Let's Stay Together (1972) [hr]
Al Wilson: Show and Tell (1973)
Alanis Morissette: Jagged Little Pill (1995) [r]
Albert King: Best of (1968-73)
Alexander "Skip" Spence: Oar (1969) [hr]
Alexi Murdoch: Time Without Consequence (2006) [hr]
Ali Farka Touré (1988) [r]
Anal Cunt: I Like It When You Die (1997)
Andrew Bird: Noble Beast (2009) [hr]
Andrew Bird: Break It Yourself (2012) [r]
Andrew Bird: Hands of Glory (2012) [hr]
Andy Statman: Nashville Mornings, New York Nights (1986) [r]
Andy Stott: Luxury Problems (2012)
Angelique Kidjo: Logozo (1991) [c]
Angie Stone: Black Diamond (1999)
Animal Collective: Sung Tongs (2004)
The Animals: Animalism (1966) [r]
Annie: Anniemal (2004)
Annie Lennox: Diva (1992)
Anouar Brahem: Barzakh (1991) [r]
Antietam: Rope-a-Dope (1994)
The Antlers: Hospice (2009)
The Antlers: Burst Apart (2011) [hr]
Antibalas (2012) [r]
Antony & the Johnsons: I Am a Bird Now (2005)
Any Trouble: Where Are All the Nice Girls? (1980) [c]
Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992) [hr]
The Apples in Stereo: Fun Trick Noisemaker (1995) [r]
The Apples in Stereo: New Magnetic Wonder (2007) [r]
AraabMUZIK: Electronic Dream (2011)
Arcade Fire: Neon Bible (2007) [hr]
Arcade Fire: The Suburbs (2010) [hr]
Ariel Pink: Worn Copy (2005)
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Before Today (2010) [hr]
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Mature Themes (2012) [NO]
Atlas Sound: Logos (2009) [r]
Atlas Sound: Parallax (2011) [hr]
The Avett Brothers: I and Love and You (2009) [hr]
The Avett Brothers: The Carpenter (2012)
The B-52's (1979) [hr]
The B-52's: Wild Planet (1980) [hr]
Bat for Lashes: The Haunted Man (2012)
The Bats: Free All the Monsters (2011) [r]
The Beach Boys: Surfin' Safari (1962) [r]
Beach House: Devotion (2008) [r]
Beach House: Bloom (2012) [hr]
Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (2011) [r]
The Beatles: Please Please Me (1963) [A+]
The Beatles: With the Beatles (1963) [A+]
The Beatles: A Hard Day's Night (1964) [A+]
Belle & Sebastian: The Life Pursuit (2006) [hr]
Belle & Sebastian: Write About Love (2010) [r]
Best Coast: Crazy for You (2010) [r]
Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot- The Son of Chico Dusty (2010) [r]
Big Star: #1 Record (1972) [A+]
Big Star: Radio City (1973) [A+]
Big Star: Third / Sister Lovers (1978) [A+]
The Bird and the Bee: Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future (2008) [hr]
Björk: Selmasongs (2000) [hr]
Björk: Volta (2007) [r]
Björk: Biophilia (2011) [r]
Blur: Think Tank (2003) [hr]
Bob Dylan: Together Through Life (2009) [r]
Bob Dylan: Tempest (2012) [hr]
Bon Iver (2011)
Bonde do Role: Tropical/Bacanal (2012) [r]
Brian Eno: Lux (2012) [r]
Brian Eno & Rick Holland: Drums Between the Bells (2011) [c]
Broken Bells (2010)
Broken Social Scene (2005) [hr]
Buddy Holly: The "Chirping" Crickets (1957) [hr]
Buddy Holly (1958) [hr]
The C.A. Quintet: Trip Thru Hell (1968) [r]
Cake: Motorcade of Generosity (1994)
Cake: Fashion Nugget (1996) [c]
Cake: Prolonging the Magic (1998)
Camera Obscura: My Maudlin Career (2009) [c]
Camera Obscura: Desire Lines (2013) [r]
Cass McCombs: Wit's End (2011)
Cat Power: Sun (2012) [r]
ceo: White Magic (2010) [r]
Chatham County Line: Wildwood (2010) [r]
The Chemical Brothers: Further (2010)
Chromatics: Kill for Love (2012) [r]
Chuck Berry: After School Session (1957) [hr]
The Clash (1977) [A+]
The Clash: Give 'Em Enough Rope (1978) [r]
Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory (2012) [c]
Crystal Castles (2010) [hr]
Crystal Castles: (III) (2012)
Cults (2011) [hr]
Curren$y: Pilot Talk (2010) [hr]
Curren$y: Pilot Talk II (2010) [r]
Curren$y: Weekend at Burnie's (2011) [r]
Curren$y: Muscle Car Chronicles (2012)
Curren$y: The Stoned Immaculate (2012) [r]
Cut Copy: Zonoscope (2011) [hr]
D.L. Byron: This Day and Age (1980)
Daft Punk: Homework (1997) [r]
Das Racist: Relax (2011) [hr]
Dawn Richard: Goldenheart (2013) [r]
De La Soul: The Grind Date (2004) [r]
Death Grips: The Money Store (2012) [NO]
The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love (2009)
The Decemberists: The King Is Dead (2011) [hr]
Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest (2010) [hr]
Deerhunter: Monomania (2013) [c]
Dent May: Do Things (2012) [r]
Depeche Mode: Sounds of the Universe (2009) [r]
Depeche Mode: Delta Machine (2013)
Delorean: Subiza (2010) [r]
Destroyer: Kaputt (2011) [hr]
Devo: Something for Everybody (2010) [NO]
DIIV: Oshin (2012)
Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan (2012)
DJ Quik: The Book of David (2011) [c]
Drake: Take Care (2011) [NO]
Eels: Tomorrow Morning (2010)
El-P: Cancer 4 Cure (2012)
EMA: Past Life Martyred Saints (2011) [r]
Emeralds: Does It Look Like I'm Here? (2010) [c]
The Essex Green: Cannibal Sea (2006)
The Everly Brothers (1958) [hr]
The Everly Brothers: Songs Our Daddy Taught Us (1958) [hr]
The Extra Lens: Undercard (2010) [r]
The Faint: Blank Wave Arcade (1999)
Fairport Convention (1967)
Faith No More: Angel Dust (1992) [NO]
Faithless: Reverence (1996) [c]
Fang Island (2010)
Feist: The Reminder (2007) [hr]
Feist: Metals (2011)
The Field: Looping State of Mind (2011) [r]
Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel... (2012) [hr]
The Flaming Lips: Embryonic (2009) [hr]
The Flaming Lips: The Terror (2013)
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends (2012)
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (2011) [c]
Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma (2010)
Flying Lotus: Until the Quiet Comes (2012)
Four Tet: There Is Love in You (2010) [r]
Foxygen: We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors... (2013)
Frank Ocean: Channel Orange (2012) [r]
Frankie Rose: Interstellar (2012)
Fucked Up: David Comes to Life (2011)
Future Bible Heroes: Partygoing (2013) [hr]
Galaxie 500: Today (1988) [hr]
Galaxie 500: On Fire (1989) [hr]
Galaxie 500: This Is Our Music (1990) [A+]
Gang Gang Dance: Eye Contact (2011) [r]
Gang of Four: Content (2011) [r]
Girls: Father, Son, Holy Ghost (2011)
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend (2012) [NO]
Goldfrapp: Head First (2010)
Gonjasufi: A Sufi and a Killer (2010)
Gossip: A Joyful Noise (2012) [c]
Great Lake Swimmers: Lost Channels (2009) [hr]
Great Lake Swimmers: New wild Everywhere (2012) [NO]
Grimes: Visions (2012)
Grizzly Bear: Shields (2012)
Grouper: The Man Who Died in His Boat (2013)
Handsome Boy Modeling School: So... How's Your Girl? (1999) [NO]
Herbie Hancock: Head Hunters (1973) [hr]
Horse Feathers: Cynic's New Year (2012) [r]
Hot Chip: Made in the Dark (2008) [hr]
Hot Chip: One Life Stand (2010) [hr]
Hot Chip: In Our Heads (2012) [r]
How to Dress Well: Love Remains (2010) [c]
Ice Choir: Afar (2012) [r]
Iceage: New Brigade (2011) [r]
Ice-T: O.G. Original Gangster (1991) [r]
Ida Cox & Coleman Hawkins: Blues for Rampart Street (1961) [hr]
Imani Coppola: Chupacabra (2011) [r]
Information Society (1988) [hr]
The International Submarine Band: Safe at Home (1968) [r]
Interpol (2010) [c]
Iron & Wine: The Shepherd's Dog (2007) [hr]
Iron & Wine: Kiss Each Other Clean (2011) [r]
Iron & Wine: Ghost on Ghost (2013) [c]
J Dilla: Donuts (2006) [A+]
James Blake (2011) [r]
Japandroids: Celebration Rock (2012) [NO]
Jay-Z: Magna Carta Holy Grail (2013)
Jay-Z & Kanye West: Watch the Throne (2011) [r]
Jessie Ware: Devotion (2012) [r]
Joanna Newsom: Ys (2006) [hr]
Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me (2010) [A+]
John Coltrane: Giant Steps (1960) [A+]
John Coltrane: Ballads (1962) [A+]
John Coltrane: A Love Supreme (1964) [A+]
John Maus: We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves (2011) [r]
John Talabot: fIN (2012) [r]
The Joy Formidable: Wolf's Law (2013)
Julia Holter: Ekstasis (2012) [c]
Julian Lynch: Mare (2010) [r]
Julianna Barwick: The Magic Place (2011)
Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience (2013)
Kaki King: Everybody Loves You (2003) [r]
Kanye West: 808s & Heartbreak (2008) [hr]
Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) [A+]
Kanye West: Yeezus (2013) [A+]
Kate Bush: 50 Words for Snow (2011)
Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city (2012) [hr]
Killer Mike: R.A.P. Music (2012) [hr]
The Kinks (1964) [r]
The Kinks: Kinda Kinks (1965) [hr]
The Kinks: The Kink Kontroversy (1965) [hr]
The Kinks: Face to Face (1966) [A+]
Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring for My Halo (2011) [NO]
L7 (1988)
L7: Smell the Magic (1990) [hr]
L7: Bricks Are Heavy (1992) [hr]
Lambchop: Mr. M (2012) [r]
Leonard Cohen: Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967) [A+]
Leonard Cohen: Dear Heather (2004) [hr]
Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas (2012)
Lisa Germano: No Elephants (2013)
Little Richard: Here's Little Richard (1957)
Lord Huron: Lonesome Dreams (2012) [r]
Lotus Plaza: Spooky Action at a Distance (2012)
Lupe Fiasco: Lasers (2011) [NO]
Lupe Fiasco: Food & Liquor II (2012) [c]
Lykke Li: Wounded Rhymes (2011) [r]
M. Ward: Duet for Guitars #2 (1999) [r]
M. Ward: End of Amnesia (2001) [r]
M. Ward: Transfiguration of Vincent (2003) [hr]
M. Ward: A Wasteland Companion (2012)
M83: Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (2011) [c]
Mac DeMarco: 2 (2012)
Madonna: Hard Candy (2008)
Madonna: MDNA (2012)
The Magnetic Fields: Distortion (2008) [hr]
The Magnetic Fields: Love at the Bottom of the Sea (2012) [r]
Male Bonding: Nothing Hurts (2010) [hr]
Male Bonding: Endless Now (2011) [r]
Marvin Gaye: What's Going On (1971) [A+]
Marvin Gaye: Let's Get It On (1973) [A+]
Marvin Gaye: I Want You (1976) [hr]
Mates of State: Mountaintops (2011)
Matthew Dear: Black City (2010) [r]
The Men: Open Your Heart (2012) [r]
Metz (2012) [c]
Midnight Juggernauts: The Crystal Axis (2010) [hr]
Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream (2012) [r]
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (1950) [A+]
Miles Davis: Walkin' (1954) [A+]
Miles Davis: Relaxin' (1958) [hr]
Moby: Destroyed (2011) [r]
Mount Eerie: Clear Moon (2012)
The Mountain Goats: The Life of the World to Come (2009) [hr]
The Mountain Goats: All Eternals Deck (2011) [hr]
The Mountain Goats: Transcendental Youth (2012) [r]
Muse: The 2nd Law (2012) [c]
My Bloody Valentine: mbv (2013) [r]
Nana Grizol: Love It Love It (2008)
Nas: Life Is Good (2012) [hr]
The National: Trouble Will Find Me (2013) [hr]
Neil Young: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969) [hr]
The New Pornographers: Challengers (2007) [r]
Nicolas Jaar: Space Is Only Noise (2011) [hr]
No Age: Everything in Between (2010) [c]
Oasis: Definitely Maybe (1994) [hr]
OFF! First Four EPs (2011) [r]
Okkervil River: I Am Very Far (2011) [r]
Old 97's: Blame It on Gravity (2008) [r]
Old 97's: The Grand Theatre, Volume One (2010)
Old 97's: The Grand Theatre Volume Two (2011) [c]
Old Crow Medicine Show: Tennessee Pusher (2008) [hr]
Old Crow Medicine Show: Carry Me Back (2012) [c]
Oneohtrix Point Never: Replica (2011) [r]
Otis Redding: Otis Blue (1965) [A+]
Otis Redding: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul (1966) [hr]
OutKast: Idlewild (2006) [r]
Over the Rhine: The Long Surrender (2011) [r]
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Belong (2011) [r]
Panda Bear: Person Pitch (2007) [r]
Panda Bear: Tomboy (2011) [c]
Pantha du Prince: Black Noise (2010)
Parliament: Osmium (1970) [hr]
Passion Pit: Gossamer (2012)
Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What (2011)
Perfume Genius: Put Your Back in 2 It (2012) [r]
The Pernice Brothers: Goodbye, Killer (2010)
Pet Shop Boys: Yes (2009) [hr]
Pet Shop Boys: Elysium (2012) [c]
Pet Shop Boys: Electric (2013) [hr]
Peter Gabriel: Up (2002) [hr]
PJ Harvey: Let England Shake (2011) [hr]
Prince: Dirty Mind (1980) [hr]
Prince: Controversy (1981) [hr]
Prince: 1999 (1982) [A+]
Prince: Purple Rain (1984) [A+]
Purity Ring: Shrines (2012)
Quakers (2012) [r]
R.E.M.: Murmur (1983) [A+]
R.E.M.: Collapse into Now (2011)
Radiohead: In Rainbows (2007) [A+]
Radiohead: The King of Limbs (2011) [hr]
Ray Charles: Genius + Soul = Jazz (1961)
Ray Charles: Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962) [A+]
Real Estate: Days (2011) [r]
Red Hot Chili Peppers: I'm with You (2011) [r]
Robyn: Body Talk (2010) [r]
The Rolling Stones: England's Newest Hit Makers (1964)
The Roots: Rising Down (2008) [r]
The Roots: undun (2012) [r]
Royal Baths: Better Luck Next Life (2012) [c]
Saint Etienne: Words and Music By (2012) [hr]
The Saints: (I'm) Stranded (1977) [hr]
The Saints: Eternally Yours (1978) [r]
The Saints: All Fool's Day (1986) [hr]
Sam Cooke: Night Beat (1963) [A+]
Saturday Looks Good to Me: Fill Up the Room (2007) [hr]
Saturday Looks Good to Me: One Kiss Ends It All (2013) [r]
Schoolboy Q: Habits and Contradictions (2012) [c]
Sepalcure (2011) [r]
Shabazz Palaces: Black Up (2011) [hr]
She & Him: Volume Two (2010) [r]
The Shins: Wincing the Night Away (2007) [A+]
The Shins: Port of Morrow (2012) [c]
Sleigh Bells: Treats (2010) [NO]
Smith Westerns: Dye It Blonde (2011) [hr]
Smith Westerns: Soft Will (2013)
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: Make It Happen (1967) [hr]
Spiritualized: Sweet Heart, Sweet Light (2012) [r]
Spoon: Transference (2010) [r]
St. Vincent: Strange Mercy (2011) [r]
Stevie Wonder: Music of My Mind (1972) [hr]
Stevie Wonder: Talking Book (1972) [hr]
Stevie Wonder: Innervisions (1973) [A+]
The Strokes: Angles (2011) [r]
The Strokes: Comedown Machine (2013) [hr]
Suckers: Candy Salad (2012) [hr]
Sufjan Stevens: Illinoise (2005) [hr]
Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz (2010) [hr]
Swans: The Seer (2012) [NO]
T.I.: King (2006) [r]
Talking Heads: 77 (1977) [hr]
Talking Heads: More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978) [A+]
Talking Heads: Fear of Music (1979) [A+]
The Tallest Man on Earth: There's No Leaving Now (2012) [hr]
Tame Impala: Innerspeaker (2010) [hr]
Tame Impala: Lonerism (2012) [r]
Teddy Thompson: Bella (2011) [c]
Tegan and Sara: Heartthrob (2013) [hr]
Television: Marquee Moon (1977) [A+]
Television: Adventure (1978) [hr]
Tennis: Cape Dory (2011) [r]
Terry Malts: Killing Time (2012) [hr]
The-Dream: Love King (2010) [r]
Tim Hecker: Ravedeath, 1972 (2011) [c]
Times New Viking: Dancer Equired (2011) [r]
Titus Andronicus: The Monitor (2010) [hr]
Titus Andronicus: Local Business (2012) [hr]
Toro Y Moi: Underneath the Pine (2011)
tUnE-yArDs: BiRd-BrAiNs (2009) [hr]
tUnE-yArDs: whokill (2011) [A+]
TV on the Radio: Dear Science (2008) [hr]
TV on the Radio: Nine Types of Light (2011) [hr]
Twin Shadow: Forget (2010) [r]
Twin Shadow: Confess (2012) [hr]
Twin Sister: In Heaven (2011) [hr]
Ty Segall: Slaughterhouse (2012)
Vampire Weekend (2008) [r]
Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City (2013) [A+]
The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) [hr]
The Velvet Underground: White Light / White Heat (1968) [A+]
The Velvet Underground (1969) [A+]
The Walkmen: Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone (2002) [hr]
The Walkmen: Bows + Arrows (2004) [hr]
The Walkmen: You & Me (2008) [hr]
The Walkmen: Lisbon (2010) [hr]
The Walkmen: Heaven (2012) [hr]
The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient (2011) [NO]
Washed Out: Within and Without (2011) [r]
Wavves: King of the Beach (2010) [r]
Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt (2013) [r]
We Are Scientists: Barbara (2010) [NO]
WhoMadewho: Brighter (2012) [r]
Wilco: The Whole Love (2011) [hr]
Wild Nothing: Gemini (2010) [r]
Wild Nothing: Nocturne (2012) [r]
Willis Earl Beal: Acousmatic Sorcery (2012) [r]
Wire: Red Barked Tree (2011) [r]
WU LYF: Go Tell Fire to the Mountain (2011) [NO]
Wye Oak: Civilian (2011) [r]
The xx: Coexist (2012) [hr]
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Mosquito (2013) [c]
Yeasayer: Fragrant World (2012) [r]
Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs (2009) [hr]
Yo La Tengo: Fade (2013) [hr]
Youth Lagoon: The Year of Hibernation (2011) [r]
Yuck (2011) [r]

REMIX ALBUMS / MIXTAPES / FILM SCORES
A$AP Rocky: LiveLoveA$AP (2011) [hr]
Aimee Mann: Magnolia OST (1999) [c]
Big K.R.I.T.: Return of 4Eva (2011)
The Chemical Brothers: Hanna OST (2011) [r]
Curren$y: Return to the Winner's Circle (2011) [hr]
Curren$y: Verde Terrace (2011)
Curren$y & The Alchemist: Covert Coup (2011)
Das Racist: Sit Down, Man (2010) [r]
Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx: We're New Here (2011) [r]
Lupe Fiasco: Friend of the People (2012) [c]
The Mountain Goats: All Survivors Pack (2011) [r]
Radiohead: TKOL RMX 1234567 (2011)
The Weeknd: House of Balloons (2011) [r]

EP's
Alexi Murdoch: Four Songs (2002) [hr]
Animal Collective: Fall Be Kind (2009)
The Antlers: (together) (2011)
The Antlers: Undersea (2012) [r]
Arcade Fire (2003)
The B-52's: Party Mix (1981)
Burial: Kindred (2012)
Colleen Green: Cujo (2011) [r]
Crystal Stilts: Radiant Door (2011) [hr]
Darkside (2011) [r]
The Decemberists: iTunes Session (2011) [r]
The Decemberists: Long Live the King (2011) [r]
Dum Dum Girls: End of Daze (2012)
The Flaming Lips: With Neon Indian (2011) [r]
Girls: Broken Dreams Club (2010) [r]
Hot Chip: We Have Remixes (2010) [r]
James Blake: CMYK (2010)
Nicolas Jaar: Don't Break My Love (2011)
Okkervil River: Golden Opportunities 2 (2011)
PAPA: A Good Woman Is Hard to Find (2011) [hr]
R.E.M.: Chronic Town (1982) [A+]
Radiohead: TKOL RMX 8 (2011)
Sufjan Stevens: All Delighted People (2010) [r]
Surfer Blood: Tarot Classics (2011) [r]
The Tallest Man on Earth: Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird (2010) [hr]
TNGHT (2012) [r]
Vampire Weekend: iTunes Session (2011) [r]
Yo La Tengo: Stupid Things (2012) [r]

LIVE ALBUMS
10,000 Maniacs: MTV Unplugged (1993)

COMPILATIONS
The "5" Royales: All Righty! The Apollo Recordings (1951-55) [r]
The "5" Royales: Complete King Masters (1954-60) [A+]
? & the Mysterians: Best Of- Cameo Parkway (1966-67) [hr]
101 Strings Orchestra: 20 Years of Beautiful Music (1969) [hr]
1910 Fruitgum Co.: Best Of (1968-70) [hr]
Aaron Neville: A Collection of His Best (1966-2006) [NO]
The Action: The Ultimate! Action (1964-68) [r]
Adam and the Ants: Stand and Deliver- Very Best Of (1977-95)
Adriano Celentano: Best (1975-99) [r]
The Adverts: The Singles (1977-79) [r]
Afrika Bambaataa: Looking for the Perfect Beat (1980-2001) [hr]
Al Green: Definitive Greatest Hits (1967-2007) [hr]
Al Martino: The Ultimate Al Martino (1952-79)
Alabina: L'Essentiel (1996-2000)
Alan Lomax: The Alan Lomax Popular Songbook (1933-59) [r]
Albert Ammons: The Boogie Woogie Man (1936-44) [r]
Albert Ayler: Free Form Jazz (1963-69) [hr]
Alex Chilton: A Retrospective (1967-95) [r]
All Saints: All Hits (1997-2001) [r]
Amos Milburn: Bad Bad Whiskey (1947-55) [r]
The Andrews Sisters: Best Of (1937-50) [hr]
The Animals: Best Of (1964-65) [hr]
Ann Peebles: The Complete Ann Peebles on Hi Records Vol. 1 (1969-73) [r]
Archie Bell & the Drells: Tightening It Up (1967-79) [hr]
Aretha Franklin: 20 Greatest Hits (1967-74) [A+]
B.B. King: His Definitive Greatest Hits (1951-93)
B.T. Express: Best Of (1974-80) [r]
The Beach Boys: Summer Love Songs (1963-71)
Buddy Holly: Greatest Hits (1957-59) [A+]
Cabaret Voltaire: The Original Sound of Sheffield (1978-82)
Chuck Berry: The Great Twenty-Eight (1955-65) [A+]
The Everly Brothers: Cadence Classics- 20 Greatest Hits (1957-60) [hr]
The Everly Brothers: Walk Right Back (Warner Years) (1960-69) [r]
Faces: The Definitive Rock Collection (1970-75) [NO]
Fat Boys: All Meat No Filler (1984-89) [r]
Gene Vincent: Best Of (1956-63) [A+]
Hall & Oates: The Essential Collection (1974-2001) [NO]
Hank Locklin: RCA Country Legends (1956-68) [r]
The Impressions: Definitive (1961-68) [hr]
J.B. Lenoir: Vietnam Blues (1965-66) [hr]
Jack Nitzsche: Hearing Is Believing (1962-79) [hr]
James Brown: In the Jungle Groove (1969-86)
K.C. & the Sunshine Band: Best Of (1974-89) [hr]
Oasis: The Masterplan (1994-97) [r]
Otis Redding: Very Best Of (1962-68) [r]
Ray Charles: Ultimate Hits Collection (1953-90) [hr]
R.E.M.: Eponymous (1981-85)
Sam & Dave: Sweat 'n' Soul- Anthology (1965-71) [A+]
Sam Cooke: Portrait of a Legend (1951-64) [A+]
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: Ooo Baby Baby- The Anthology (1961-72) [hr]
Taj Mahal: Best of (1967-74) [r]
Talking Heads: Sand in the Vaseline- Popular Favorites (1975-92) [r]
Talking Heads: Bonus Rarities and Outtakes (1975-92)
Van Morrison: Best Of (1965-89) [r]
The Yardbirds: Ultimate! (1964-69) [hr]

BOXED SETS
The Beach Boys: The Smile Sessions (1965-67) [c]
Big Star: Keep an Eye on the Sky (1970-74) [r]
Chuck Berry: The Chess Box (1955-75) [r]
James Brown: Star Time (1956-84) [A+]
Little Richard: The Specialty Sessions (1954-60) [hr]
Phil Spector: Back to Mono (1958-69) [A+]
Sam Cooke: The Man Who Invented Soul (1957-61) [hr]

BOOTLEGS
Oasis: The Early Years (1992-95)

SINGLES & MISC. TRACKS
non-LP cuts: #

LISTS & COMMENTS ETC.
The List of Lists 2012
The Best Records of 2012
Top Artists + Index
The List of Lists 2011
The Best Records of 2011
Top 100 Music Videos + Index
All-Time Top Albums + Index
The List of Lists 2010
The Best Records of 2010
Welcome & Introduction

***

REVISIONS & CHANGES
I had planned to use this space to go through the posts from this blog's first year and make comments on things I have changed my mind about / wish I hadn't said, but actually to my surprise I'm fairly happy with most of it, and the things that displease me are too minor to bother covering and editing at this point. Mainly I wish the review of Joanna Newsom's Have One on Me was less flabby, and maybe less labored in its song-by-song analysis thing; there's also too much concentration on lyrics, I reckon. Newsom's lyrics are great but they're not the reason that is one of the defining records in the last few years of my life. Only three and a half years after its release, that record already brings forth a sea of memories and associations on each revisit; it's very, very hard intuitively to believe it is not a classic album from another era.

I stand completely by the outsized praise of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, even if Yeezus serves as an act of ridicule against the earlier record and may in the end be the (slightly) greater accomplishment.

No, the only thing I really strongly want to change is the "best songs of 2010" list, and then only to switch out a few things that I've already mentioned somewhere else. "Good Intentions Paving Company" is too powerful a noise not to be the crucial selection from Have One; I was too close to it at the time. I'd pick "Alley Cats" as the best of One Life Stand now, and maybe the best Hot Chip song period. And as mad and disappointed as I am at the Surfer Blood trajectory, "Anchorage" is still the song of the decade so far that most reliably puts me in a certain place -- driving and knowing you're headed somewhere, maybe getting into something or getting over it. Oh, and "All of the Lights" over "Runaway," major as the latter is. You might think these choices to hold just as much potential for change as the earlier ones, but I started to turn the corner on every one of these matters just a couple of months after posting the original list, and two years and change have not altered my convictions. (Though significantly, the list was made at a time when I was hearing these albums constantly and nothing else, whereas they've only been pulled out since when I had the itch, so maybe that's a factor.) Anyway, there's no need to make a new list because 2010 will cycle around in the List of Lists before we know it, frighteningly enough.

2010 was a great year and I would have to also mention that because I didn't properly begin my current scheduling process until halfway through the year, I never reviewed The ArchAndroid, High Violet, The Wild Hunt, or Two Thousand and Ten Injuries and that is something I would go back in time and change, because I have no idea when I will slot them in now.

Since I don't usually step out of review context on this blog, let me quickly say that a very large number of the "big" album reviews you might be expecting from me won't be up until November, including but not limited to: Arcade Fire, Janelle Monae, MGMT, Cut Copy, Goldfrapp, and anything that's not out yet. I generally take a vacation from Real Job in November, ignore most of my movie-reviewing obligations, and new music becomes my world: I sink myself into the year's LP releases to review everything I haven't reached yet, listen to some stuff I'm curious about, etc. This year I have to do that in October, which will complicate matters on both the listening and list-making I have to do; it's just too damn early, and it will be harder to embrace a wide enough expanse of what's available.

Coming to the point. There are a lot of albums coming up that will require a lot of research on my part because I don't know the respective artists very well. Therefore, it makes sense to delay bands whose work I'm pretty intimately familiar with until the final string of writeups for 2013. Doesn't mean I won't be listening to these albums well before that. I do like the freedom of not having to be "on time" with anything anymore, and the ability to wait until I know what exactly I think. Hope you understand, etc.

Currently expecting everything to be wrapped up by December 16th, but depending on major releases in the fourth quarter, that could be postponed a little. No later than the 23rd. Thanks for reading, this has been fun so far and I can't believe how many fucking albums have been looked at here, christ almighty.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Clash: Give 'Em Enough Rope (1978)


(Epic)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Establishing their lateral movement of punk as filtered through western movies, war mythology and male camaraderie, Give 'Em Enough Rope is by no means the earth-rattling revelation of their debut album or the act of mastery that is London Calling. The Clash's second album tends to be buried now in their discography but was an extremely important moment at the time, having been their first official release in America. (The Clash was initially only available by import.) Now, it's hard not to see it in light of their other records but it remains a pleasurable listen from a band that was seminal in so many ways. Certainly the arrival on record of canonical member Topper Headon -- a more technically accomplished drummer than any other punk group could claim -- represents a leap forward of some fashion, but in general the brief and muddy collection uncovers the hard truth about a confusing moment in the group's life.

At a time when they remained unconvinced of the Clash's marketplace validity outside the UK (and even within it), CBS set them up with producer Sandy Pearlman, known well for a slew of Blue Öyster Cult albums and for -- by some accounts -- turning around the fortunes of the Dictators. Pearlman is a strange choice for the Clash, whose ruthless invention doesn't bend well to the imposition of a uniform sound. Rope contains a good number of songs that would eventually become as famous as any of the unmistakable classics from the band's debut record, but they seem forced here. It's a looser, freer record compositionally but almost oppressively tight in terms of the performances and production.

For instance, a song like "Tommy Gun" that is such a titanic thing on stage, borne out by an enormous number of bootlegs, falls flat here because Pearlman weighs it down with painstakingly overdubbed guitars and an oddly maximized drum sound (supposedly because he hated Joe Strummer's hoarse, histrionic singing). You can hear a great song somewhere in it, but it's overwrought to the point of seeming rather staid, like applying the techniques of a Cars or Raspberries record to an act that never demanded such treatment. The awkwardness is more noticeable yet on the second half, with the spontaneity of "Drug-Stabbing Time" overrun by detail and plod, with the epic aspirations of "Last Gang in Town" buried in self-conscious rockism and the inexplicable hiding of the vocals.

The Clash do their part too, however, to make this the weakest of their first four records by far with a few repetitive and uninspired selections. Having generated an astounding quantity of music in 1977, including an absolutely classic LP and one of the best runs of singles ever managed by anybody, they now dredge up some of the rust: the half-assed "English Civil War," as weird a choice for a single as "Remote Control" had been, just sounds like some external party's idea of what a new Clash single should sound like (a criticism that would later apply to their two biggest hits, lamentably). "Guns on the Roof" is a rerun of "Clash City Rockers," with the city rockers now getting themselves thrown in jail over petty nonsense. And "All the Young Punks" suffers the same fate as "Last Gang in Town": an anthem squandered by Pearlman, except in this case the anthem isn't terribly strong anyway.

The overproduction occasionally has its benefits: the most essential Clash tune here is "Safe European Home," which widens the scope of the first album's coy lashing-out music into what sounds like the end credits theme for some modernist take on The Battle of Algiers, and the usual bitterly funny lyrics to boot. It has a sprawl and enormity that points ahead to the next two albums, and nearly justifies the collapse of the could-have-been-phenomenal "Cheapskates" under the weight of all Sandy Pearlman's emphatic "heaviness."

The other bit of foreshadowing comes in the shades here of the band's later extreme eclecticism. Already more skilled and varied than a lot of their peers, they begin here to prove themselves capable of more than even their greatest champions might have imagined. "Julie's in the Drug Squad" is still a left-field delight after all these years, a rockabilly chronicle of an LSD-ring bust that's overflowing with jokes and, inevitably, more gung-ho enthusiasm than a band like the Sex Pistols or the Damned would ever have permitted. There's that perfectly-timed "hi, man!" after the line "everybody's high-yi-yi"; there is Strummer's "Cruella DeVille"-worthy jibe "she'll even look you in the eye"; and there is, best of all, the line "they arrested every drug that had ever been made." And through it all, the Clash seem to know their way around this wildly unexpected stylistic turnaround like old-world professionals. The song's nearly peppy.

However, the strongest legacy of Give 'Em Enough Rope will probably always be its housing of "Stay Free," the first in a series of Mick Jones-led ballads that would become populist highlights of the records to come. Though it can't quite claim the actual ache of "Train in Vain," this might contain his most moving vocal. Pearlman hangs back and avoids interfering in the forceful, tough-as-nails arrangement that conceals the song's central vulnerability. It's a tribute to a friend who's hopped in and out of jail since his time in Mick's orbit. The intense sentimentality and nostalgia from the very first lines -- "We met when we were at school / never took no shit from no one, we weren't fools" -- is enough to choke you up, and as Jones memorializes more and more about his childhood and his and his pal's divergent directions, it only grows a more moving and deeply felt display. By the time Jones sends out a toast to his buddy in the crowd, even he seems gone, and you can't criticize the song for being goopy because it's so damned obvious that Jones means and feels every word of it. It's as beautiful a ballad about childhood and loss as we were given in this era.

If "Stay Free" and "Safe European Home" were all this album had to offer us, it would be enough, and it is an absolutely crucial purchase for anyone who even casually enjoys the Clash. With or without Pearlman, it's an indispensable building block in their maturity, and even in its false moments, the righteousness and dedication of the band remains a marvel. Sure, buy it after Sandinista!, which you should buy after The Clash and London Calling. We're all lucky this remarkable band made so much music for us to hear; to skip any of it because it isn't London Calling would be a sham and a slur onto oneself.

[SEE ALSO:]
The Clash (1977)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Pet Shop Boys: Electric (2013)


(x2)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The best we could've hoped for from Pet Shop Boys' twelfth album (and first not recorded for a major label) was that it would continue their pattern of disappointment followed by rejuvenation. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have been making music together longer than most rock bands even dream of lasting, longer than a lot of successful romantic relationships even. And at this point, stagnation would seem an almost natural conclusion, borne out by the bizarre blandness of their final Parlophone record, Elysium, just last year. But it turns out all they were doing was saving the best stuff for their own benefit; this intensely focused, unapologetically modern dance album is their best since the masterpiece Bilingual -- and for any new PSB recording to even stand in the same room as that sobering chronicle of post-maturation, post-AIDS, new-love hangover is an achievement indeed.

Track two, "Bolshy," features some of the same cutesy Tennant tonguetwisting as was so prominent on Elysium and is the sole weak point on this quite impressively economical package, which seals nine grooves into forty-odd minutes and takes each and every one of them to their banging, massive conclusion like nothing since Introspective. Unlike reluctant peers Depeche Mode, these two remain an entity that's ahead of the pack -- rather than shrinking away shyly from the fact that commercial radio, even in the U.S., has caught up with them (which doesn't mean they'll score any hits over here, mind), they embrace this. It's not a stretch to imagine the boldly sustained "Axis" at a trendy club, the staggering "Inside a Dream" or "Thursday" on top-40 radio in a world in which acts ranging from Lady Gaga to Bruno Mars to Ellie Goulding have scored on a distinct four-on-the-floor glitziness and aplomb that was once solely the province of Lowe's beats and Tennant's deeply affected vocals.

The most excellent decision, in a break from the last decade-plus of Pet Shop records, is to stop attempting to court the alternative rock scene. Indeed, the sudden dropping of a such thin and weak aesthetic association implies that it was always an A&R scheme. (And hey, I owe a lot to it, having discovered PSB -- not merely one of my favorite existing groups or one of my favorite dance acts but one of my favorite musical artists of any kind ever -- thanks to the pushing of a few Bilingual tracks to modern-rock radio back in 1996. Atlantic Records probably never saw much return on that investment but the Boys have sold a lot of records to a surly, ostensibly straight white dude from the south since then.) There is no ironic nod or wink to be found here except perhaps on "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct," but even that seems to be more of a nod to Stephin Merritt's work with the way its sarcasm hides a ferocious pain.

The ideas here are hardly new to PSB. "Axis" returns to the arid, almost foreboding artificiality and menace of the brilliant b-side "Some Speculation," and is the group's most fearless album opener ever. "Bourgeois Construct" goes one better on the hidden heartaches of Nightlife. You can hear, in "Thursday," echoes of "Saturday Night Forever" and "Metamorphosis"; echoes of "Rent" in "Fluorescent"; of "The Samurai in Autumn" or "Euroboy" in "Shouting in the Evening"; and of the early bleeding shows of humanity that shocked so many listeners on Actually, Behavior and later Release in the stunningly beautiful "Vocal." And the magnificent Springsteen cover "The Last to Die" brings us back to the wonderful years when PSB was a regular Devo, turning U2 and Frankie Valli into disco queens. In a catalog this rich, though, repetition pales next to consistency.

And it's by looking into their past that Pet Shop Boys find new ways to entertain and stretch themselves, and to move us. No one has done more than this band to establish just how expressively beautiful a house beat and synth punch can really be; how many of those lucky enough to be let in on Tennant and Lowe's secrets can honestly say they have not shed a few tears to "Being Boring," "Your Funny Uncle" or "King's Cross"? Electric creates moments and memories that so clearly belong in that pantheon, and you can feel it happening -- you might not even realize how special a thing that is at first, much as with Leonard Cohen's Old Ideas (an album I thought of as an instant classic and still think I probably underrated) last year.

What seems clearest thus far -- and it's too early to know just how deeply impactful this record will be on its audience, but I suspect it is more of a Behavior or Very than a Fundamental -- is that, on their own terms, Pet Shop Boys have regained their vitality not by an artificial transformation, which has been their dubious tactic so many times before, but by looking squarely backward at what has made them such a remarkable presence in so many lives the world over. What they have done here that surprises me so much is that they have looked at something like the glorious, hedonistic, almost impossibly touching disco-strings hook in the single version of "It's Alright," the time-stopping moment when you feel connected to a whole world of people dancing on the volcano, and somehow expanded it to LP-length.

I remember Chris Lowe talking on the PopArt commentary about how he longed for the old days of great clubbing, and how long it's already been since that commentary was recorded, and how remarkable it is that so many generations down from the silly gesture that was "West End Girls," this pair is still bringing it like a young, fresh to the world group, yet so conscious of the passing years. You know they won't be around forever, but with something like Electric on the table it feels almost like they could be. That the record can stand up so well as both a party record and a private headphones experience is just further indication of how undiminished their expertise and craft are.

But can I sort of hope that "Thursday" -- my anthem of the year, given that the serious relationship I'm in is currently limited to weekends -- somehow gets airplay in the U.S.? I don't want this album to be a Stateside secret for just the few Americans who still love and appreciate Pet Shop Boys. I want its exuberance to be celebrated by everyone. (And okay, I want to have an easier time finding their 12" singles in my record store.) I want the relentlessness of "Inside a Dream" to race through as many bobbing heads as possible. Whether that happens or not though, of course, what does that old song say about the music playing forever?

[SEE ALSO:]
Yes (2009)
Elysium (2012)