Regardless of the circumstances of the actual show, it always seems like somewhat of an event when My Bloody Valentine comes to NYC. For me, it's a thrill to see the members of the "classic" MBV lineup perform tunes from Loveless, and it's always amazing to me that they're able to capably recreate the densely textured layers of sound that Loveless is known for.
I was as surprised (and delighted) as anyone when MBV reformed in 2008, and I was fortunate enough to be present at both of their Roseland shows that September. (Here's my review of night 1.) The '08 shows were truly landmark moments for hardcore fans who thought they'd likely never see Kevin Shields and Co. perform these songs live again. And earlier this year, the totally out-of-nowhere release of mbv was met with shock and wonder. (Too bad the album is kinda boring.)
On this night, we arrived midway through opening act Dumb Numbers' set. Murph from Dinosaur Jr. was on drums, and his heavy-handed primal pounding livened up the set of otherwise commonplace doomy, stoner licks. We were surprised to find plenty of room way up front near the stage before realizing that this show was woefully undersold. Oh well.
MBV's set was, literally, mind-blowing. This was the loudest concert (and, quite possibly, the loudest 'thing') that I've ever witnessed - despite double-stacking earplugs, I was still concerned that I was inflicting significant damage upon my eardrums. (About 2/3 of the way through the set, we took refuge at the rear of the room, only to find that it was somehow JUST AS LOUD in the way-back.) What's more, the effect of the music launching off the stage and colliding with our torsos was responsible a bizarre physical phenomenon similar to being in plane turbulence - throughout the entire set I noted that my ribcage was shaking something fierce. Kinda alarming!
I do have a couple of not-so-positive observations about the show that need to be made, however. First, MBV really needs to either play smaller rooms, or drop their ticket prices, or both. The balconies at Hammerstein were largely empty, which is a real shame. Furthermore, we got the feeling that some of the music was being piped in, a theory underscored by the fact that Bilinda didn't even play her guitar for the very vast majority of the set. Had she, you know, actually learned her parts, one would think the necessity of having a new "touring member" onstage during the set would be eliminated. No?
Regardless, as I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed this set. It's not often that godhead is splayed out in front of me like this, and I appreciated the bejeezus out of this show. The setlist was fortunately slanted heavily in favor of the classics from Loveless, with only four tracks from mbv being performed. And, of course, the evening ended with the lengthy feedback / noise freakout that's tacked onto the end of "You Made Me Realise."
I've tried (and subsequently given up) writing a review for this album several times, mainly because it seems whenever I get a few sentences in, I wind up stopping and shitcanning it because I realize that it sounds like I actually don't like the album, which isn't at all the case. (At this point it's among the top three records I've heard all year, along with the new Thermals and that Hendrix joint). Sure, like any (well, almost any) album, New Moon has flaws. But none of these flaws is ultimately enough to get in the way of this album being worthy of many repeat listens.
OK. First off, the singing on here is pretty rough. This time around, with The Men exploring songwriting in less harsh / more melodic musical territory than they did on their early releases, the gravelly vocals can grate at times. Fortunately, this winds up not being too big of a deal, because particularly on the grungier songs, precision would sound sterile, and, face it, it's not like the artists who most obviously inspired this album (Neil Young, J Mascis and Paul Westerberg) have conventional lead singer voices, either. My feelings generally are "the less polished the better," which has worked for these guys.
Second, shitty lyrics don't usually bug me, but boy howdy are there some distractingly bad clunkers on here. Mind you, I'm not looking for fucking Rimbaud here, just something a little less cringeworthy than "won't you slip on by my side / and drive thru the countryside." Again, clearly they're going for simplicity (in the tradition of a Neil Young or Tom Petty), but they should be mindful that one of the side effects of them streamlining their sound is that they're going to be added scrutiny on what they're actually singing this time around.
Third, I'm not going to pretend to know who composes what in this band (the album credits are absolutely no help), but this article definitely implies that former bassist Chris Hansell was largely responsible for the bulk of the harder-edged entries in The Men's catalog. With Hansell out of the band, not coincidentally there's nothing on New Moon that comes close to "Think" or "Shittin' with the Shaw" or "Grave Desecration" or "LADOCH" for sheer power. Sadly, this leaves a void that practically no other band in the "indie" world is capable of filling.
Fourth, and this has been a complaint commonly levied against The Men, these guys steal a lot of licks. While earlier albums had plenty of instances of The Men liberally "repurposing" other people's tunes, this album seems to go one step further, in many instances seemingly ripping off a given band's entire aesthetic (specifically Tom Petty, Crazy Horse, Dinosaur Jr., and The Replacements). I, for one, have no problem with a band wearing their influences proudly on their sleeves, as long as they're the right influences.
The Men are a band that's seemingly always in the middle of significant stylistic flux, and growing pains are to be expected as a side effect of significant experimentation. For all the genre hopping that they've done over the course of their relatively brief career, to their credit these guys seem like real students (and practitioners) of "what makes rock music great," instead of simply hipster dilettantes.
I, for one, think this was a fine year for music. I've been called out for giving out too many B+'s amongst my album grades over the last few months, but, if you think about it, it makes sense: at this point, I'm not going out of my way to listen to albums I think are going to be horrible. There are at least, what, 40-50 acts every year that are going to put out albums that I'm going to listen very closely to just based on my previous history enjoying the work of said acts; the rest of the stuff I end up hearing is based on either a (well-informed, I'd like to think) hunch or ideas from friends (usually Beafvy and Bricer). Again, it's not like I'm going around listening to the new Danielson or Grizzly Bear or Best Coast or Vivian Girls or whatever just so I can write something snarky and rubber stamp a "D-" on that garbage. Believe it or not, my time is actually worth more than that.
When 2012 was all said and done, I heard nearly 80 albums, with the final one being the EP Mogwai sneakily released this morning (spoiler alert: it's not worth spending actual money on). The majority of the albums listed below reached double digits in my play count on iTunes.
So, here's the list, unadorned by such frivolities as relevant information about the albums, cover art, or helpful links that would make it easier to locate the individual album reviews, wherever they may be on this site. [EDIT: fixed that.] I'd love to dress this post up and make it a little less bare-bones, but I'll be heading towards JFK in a few short hours, so yer on yer own.
So that's it for now, and I'll check in with y'all before Phish's upcoming 4-night run at MSG (unofficially titled "Four Bros, Four Shows"). HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
Bill Frisell - Solos: The Jazz Sessions -- This album is the "soundtrack" to Original Spin Media's Bill Frisell installment of their Solos series. Haven't seen the DVD, but this recording intersperses brief interviews with unaccompanied, live Frisell performances of some of the finest tunes from his catalog, and it contains some of the most gorgeous music you will hear all year. The interview segments, however brief, are awkward and distracting, however.
Best song: "Wildwood Flower / Poem for Eva."
Dinosaur Jr - I Bet on Sky -- It's not that this is a bad album in the least, it just seems a little phoned in. And don't get me wrong, it has everything we've come to expect from Dino's post-reconciliation output - J's joyously sunny riff-tastic rockers; J's wistful, glowing ballads; J's bashful, sensitive-dude semi-laments; Lou's lumpy and dense songs that stick out like a sore thumb; plenty of effortlessly nimble guitar soloing. But, like their previous Farm (and unlike '07's triumphant return, Beyond), there aren't really any standout tracks on here to sink your teeth into.
Best song: "See It on Your Side."
Swans - The Seer-- Man, people seem to love this. I guess I was hoping for something that would be as immediately accessible as 2010's excellent My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky. But fuck me, I really haven't put in the time necessary to fully digest a two-hour double album (includes a 32 minute song, a 23 minute song, and a 19 minute song). If you need me, I'll be listening to (and enjoying) Lonerism for the millionth time so far this week.
Occultation - Three & Seven-- I first heard of this band when they opened for Harvey Milk at their sold-out Union Pool residency last year. This album is frickin' WEIRD, and I really can't say I've ever heard anything that sounds quite like it. The music is very much in a doom / prog vein, and although it's not really 'loud' in any traditional way that would rely on sheer volume, it's still 'heavy.' Echoey female vocals, insanely reverbed guitar, bouncy bass lines and little proggy flourishes every so often. Like I said, frickin' weird.
Best song: "Sea of Snakes and Souls."
The Raveonettes - Into the Night EP -- over the past few years, the Raveonettes have largely used their EPs as a means of experimenting; the Sometimes They Drop By EP reimagined the band as new wave / synth pop acolytes; the Beauty Dies EP introduced jazz-noir elements into their sound, and you can probably guess what Wishing You a Rave Christmas and Raveonettes REMIXED did unusually. They've taken a yet another approach on this EP by not being different; this is basically as standard a Raveonettes release as they get. You have pensive, gloomy, occasionally percussionless tracks, a standard mid-tempo number, and even a legit uptempo rave-up. By this point in their career, the band knows what they do well, and this EP does a fine job of highlighting their strengths.
Best song: "Too Close to Heartbreak" is the standout, but they're all pretty good.
The Electronic Anthology Project - The Electronic Anthology Project of Dinosaur Jr. -- Electronic Anthology Project is Built to Spill's bassist Brett Nelson reworking selections from a band's work (one full band's output is surveyed per release) against a backdrop of almost MIDI-sounding synthesizers. This approach worked better with Built to Spill's catalog than it does with Dino Jr. primarily because J Mascis' rough, hoarse vocals really kind of grate against the vintage '80s synth sounds.
Death Grips - The Money Store -- How anyone can say something like this is 'groundbreaking' or 'revolutionary' is a total fucking joke. This is absolute garbage made by spoiled attention whores.
Come were a great band, no doubt. Is it heresy to admit that I like Thalia Zedek's solo work even better, though? Although she has augmented her live personnel since the previous time I'd seen her perform (opening up for Dinosaur Jr. late last year), the musical recipe thankfully remains the same: thick, driving, minor key jams with morose lyrics.
But, yeah, quite the formidable live unit. The drummer's crafty hi-hat ornamentations run the table, with the sonic bedding being built by Thalia's persistent chording. Discordant, evil viola twists into and out of the melodies, fucking with the conventional "fills only" mentality that usually applies to non-guitar string instruments in rock bands. And while at first it may seem as though the keyboard is lost in the mix, eventually it became obvious that it is the mix, washing through and over the notes and pushing the extended codas into stunning crescendos. Best show I've seen so far this year, hands down, and the best show I've seen at Tonic since Petra Haden's a capella extravaganza last year.