Continuing with the goal of reviewing all of the new-in-2012 albums I've heard, starting with the stuff I heard earlier in the year and (very) slowly crawling out towards newer stuff....
Sharon Van Etten - Tramp -- To me, Sharon Van Etten's previous album, Epic, is probably the greatest singer-songwriter record since the '70s. Where Epic masked often unpleasant, hyper-personal subject matter with gorgeous melodies and perfect instrumentation, Tramp is a decidedly uglier listen.
Best songs: "Serpents," "I'm Wrong," "Leonard."
Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth -- The much-hyped reunion between the Van Halen brothers and "Diamond" David Lee Roth, this album succeeds simply by not being an utter disaster. To prep this album, the band famously mined their vaults, in several cases rewriting songs they never used the first time around and thereby cashing in on riffs Eddie actually wrote back in the '70s. Appropriately, Diamond Dave's lyrics are still as brainlessly hilarious as they were on those early VH albums. To wit, a few corkers:
4.) "I wanna be your knight in shining pickup truck!"
3.) "This suburban garage-a-trois was worth exploring!"
2.) "Your I.Q. plummets fourteen points, her thunder thong around your neck!"
1.) "With a Chevy for my summer home, let's get this party started! It's looking like the city towed my other apartment!"
Oh, wait, I forgot to mention those zingers are ALL FROM THE SAME SONG, "She's The Woman," in which Diamond Dave actually seems to cop to living in his car. Not too shabby.
Best Songs: "She's the Woman," "Outta Space," "Tattoo."
Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II -- These days, if I'm actually going to be revisiting Earth's catalog, it'll be for either of their latter-day masterpieces, 2008's The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull or 2007's almost as great Hibernaculum. To me it seems the last few albums have just been kind of middling and aimless dilutions of the perfection they'd already achieved. Which is not to say that this is a 'bad' album; just that the last few years of redundancies leave it with no real reason to exist.
Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror -- Has there ever been a band that's gone from 'kinda hip-seeming' to 'totally embarrassing' so quickly? I mean, there probably is, but I usually don't listen to music marketed at tween girls, so I probably wouldn't know. Not that I can begrudge Sleigh Bells; there's obviously oodles more moolah to be had playing Terminal 5 in front of throngs of screaming children than there is playing some Brooklyn hole in the wall in front of a handful of stoned, unwashed beardos.
Well, so much for getting reviews done in a timely fashion. I guess it makes it kind of difficult when I'm seeing a new show pretty much every night (yeah, I know, cry me a freakin' river), and when I don't really get up until like 10:30 or so every day (*YAWN*. Have I mentioned that retirement's awesome?). As I sit here right now, my apartment has reached a level of filthiness heretofore unimagined. I should be cleaning, or even more importantly at the gym, but I've got Social D tonight and I can't risk pulling a hammy or wrenching my back before then.
So, yeah, frickin' Pelican, d()()d. Their new record, City of Echoes is fantastic. Since I'm such a sucker for post-rock/post-metal type bands it's pretty embarrassing for me to admit that it's the first album I've heard by Pelican, but whatever, I've just got some catching up to do. On that tip, overall I'd have to say that Pelican's sound pretty much evenly splits the uprights between Explosions in the Sky and Russian Circles -- incredibly emotive and expressive without being the least bit wimpy, and still unafraid to finger-tap and do some serious chug-chugga-chug riffing. As such, Pelican just might be the perfect band.
Hopped in the car and headed in for the evening. Parked on Delancey below Essex and headed up to Bowery Ballroom... a pleasant evening! After quickly buying a Pelican CD at the merch table, I ran up the stairs just in time to see Priestbird take the stage. Before even so much as playing a single note, these bastards had already established their hilarious / 70sish hard rock cred, thanks to the following : 1.) transparent, rainbow-colored drum set 2.) double-neck guitar/bass 3.) cello! 4.) at least one band member who looked like he should be in Brightblack Morning Light 5.) singing drummer 6.) blonde, curly semi-mullet 7.) GONG!
I dug these guys and they were pretty entertaining, although they drifted a bit too frequently into total nebulousness (nebulosity?) to really be _totally_ awesome. I was really impressed that they found a way to amplify the cello to where it wasn't totally drowned out by the dude on the double-neck, while still not being eardrum-splittingly shrill. And the drumming was spectacular. Basically, the double-neck guy's clean tone left open spaces for the one-man string section to really shine, and in turn the cello really added an element of creepiness to the heavy riffing sections. These fellows definitely have their chops, that's for damn sure.
Earth was up next. To my knowledge, Earth is semi-famous for two things: 1.) inspiring the fuck out of the guys in SunnO))) and 2.) guitarist Dylan Carlson was Kurt Cobain's best friend during high school. Me likey droney, repetitive stuff, and I came away from these guys with an appreciation for their ability to play SLOOOOOOWLY and not rush the tempo. Having never heard any of their shit before, I was expecting more of a low-end Absolutego-style sludgefest, which thankfully wound up not being Earth's bag at all; Carlson's tone evokes a demented, twanged minimalism, with many songs seemingly consisting of elements of one chord, fleshed out through patience and repetition. Really nowhere near as heavy as I'd anticipated -- kind of like an Endless Boogie record played at half-speed. Dug it.
Pelican was up next and goddamn did they hit the nail right on the head. Just simply some great guitar work, at times gentle and plaintive while at other times absolutely bone-crushingly brutal. I wisely was standing right in front of the dude playing the SG, so watching homeboy's fingers tarantula-ing up and down the fretboard took my mind off the drummer's, um, "creative" timekeeping. I was shocked that the crowd up front was mostly young kids, with few of my fellow heshers around. But who the heck cares, I'm used to being outnumbered at concerts, and if the kids these days are listening to good tunes like this, then all the better.
Before the amps had died down following the encore, the dude playing the SG ran downstairs to man the merch table and I followed suit, buying a *second* CD and a tour poster. As usual, I couldn't think of anything intelligent to say other than "great fuckin' set, man," but honestly that's probably all that needed to be said anyway. Great fuckin' set, man, indeed.