But let's go back four months, when the Jaybee family did its typical Father’s Day routine by getting Mr. Jaybee a bunch of records.
And Jaybee himself did his best to ensure they would be “summer-y” albums. (The whole thing is stage-managed to within an inch of its life, thanks to amazon.com wish lists, shopping carts, etc.)
And how did I do? Pretty good, actually. Not everything is as summery as I would have expected but it didn’t keep me from listening.
One of the themes I couldn’t help but notice (as a rule, I'm too dense to notice these things) is that a few of these artists would end up shaking off some of their original weirdness and go on to make better records. I’m usually pretty skeptical of that strategy since it’s usually their weirdness that put them on the map to begin with.
But it worked for Car Seat Headrest, the New Pornographers and Jens Lekman, and I benefited from that happy turn of events.
God, I LOVE being wrong!
Yo La Tengo: Painful (1993)
I’d avoided this one for a while because I assumed the title referred to the extreme guitar noise that Ira Kaplan is inclined toward. But on this one, he holds back a bit on that, and only lets loose during the climax.
Instead, YLT dig deep into that 60s garage rock sound. So the melodies and classic chord structures don’t seem very original but when you’re mining such a rich vein, it’s got its nostalgic pleasures. Ira Kaplan’s got a brilliant 1960s songwriter in him, or at least one tied up in his basement.
On the other hand, there are themes here that I’ve heard on other YLT albums, which makes this one less than essential, which isn’t fair since this one came first.
But such is life. And knowing me, I’ll come to love this is six months.
Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now (2017)
My first stab at a current year record. Last time I checked out this guy, he was doing his best to imitate a tacky overwrought 60s lounge singer, and succeeded! To a point.
Here he tones down the melodrama a bit, and sticks to very straightforward, almost inevitable melodies. There’s still a deceptively bland style, but the lyrics keep me paying attention, and the accompaniment is perfect.
Which means by making those little adjustments, he makes a great record. So even when he edges toward lounge singer-ness, I’m fine with it.
Future Islands: Singles (2014)
No, not a best of. How could that be? Nobody’s heard of them. They mean the other kind of singles.
I got this one blind. No recommendations other than from those questionable raves on amazon.com.
This is wimpy synth-based dance pop, so I should really hate it.
Plus, the singer is semi-constipated (is that a thing? Note to self, google it.) The first listen was one of fascinated horror.
But on the second spin, I began to notice that those synths were just this side of the line dividing tasteful from cheesy.
And the singer isn’t a bad guy. Maybe a bit too dramatic. But his voice beats the hell out of those nasally, choked vocals of Brits like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, who are trying to simulate a feeling, whereas this guy - limitations and all - is actually feeling them.
Turns out they’re from Baltimore! No, that can’t be right. But it says so right there.
What the heck is going on here? I don’t know, but I like it. (Well, I admire it more than like it, but I like it a hell of a lot.)
The arrangements are melancholy to the point of almost being...soulful. And for some nerdy white boys from Baltimore, that’s saying something.
Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Style (2015)
After being completely bowled over by last year’s Teens of Denial, I felt I owed it to frontman Will Toledo to try out his band’s first record.
And while it’s not quite as stunning as TOD, it is, in fits and starts, brilliant. If anything it’s even more melodic. If only he wasn't yelling from inside an airplane hangar... TOD is clearer, more varied and more consistent. The excesses here have to do with the lo-fi sound. It does lend itself to the overall effect. It's just not a long-range career option, but he knew that.
And it does mean he’s going for broke every time.
And to prove it, here is my current nomination for best song of my year:
New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions (2017)
Here's another shot at current year music. And it pays off big-time.
I have the NP's first album which is like a kitchen sink rush of sounds and ideas - both weird and exhilarating. It worked great almost all the time, but you would only put it on for special occasions.
Here they damp down the weirdness a bit (ah, that theme again!), and single-mindedly focus on pleasure. The songs are tuneful, the singing is excellent (what do you want when you’ve got Neko Case?) and the playing - especially the drumming - is tight as hell.
So much fun you’ll feel guilty.
Given all the praise I’ve dumped upon a number of other albums this year, it might seem strange that this one gets the only straight “A” so far. It’s a combination of factors. One being consistency - all the songs are really good. Another is that this one is in my favorite genre - melodic pop-rock. Then they’re Neko Case’s voice which is lovely, even if it never quite hits the highs of Fox Confessor. And every time I make out the lyrics above the insistent drumming and ever energetic band, I hear jokes, wordplay and general cleverness, which is something I treasure.
Or maybe it's because I just got back from Canada. Ay!
Let's talk about this autumn sometime next year!