I don't consider the season of Spring to be much of a mood enhancer. Whatever people tell you, it's an overrated season. One day it’s freezing and the next, it’s warm, humid and rainy. Every once in a while, there’s a lovely day, but you’re probably working late that night anyway, so you miss it. Then you go out the next day, under-dressed, and catch pneumonia because somehow it’s below freezing again.
But if you’re really lucky, you find an opportunity to go to my favorite record store Other Music and sidle up to their used CD bin. By definition, it’s a crapshoot. But that's where I find Sufjan Steven's Greetings from Michigan (2003) and Deerhunter's Halcyon Digest (2010).
Michigan is just as sprawling, if somewhat less frenetic than Illinois - one of my top CDs of the 2000s. It's also more mournful, which suited my mood perfectly. Muted, yet melodic, it was exactly what I needed for feeling shitty overall, and a drive to the cemetery. A-
It was surprising to find Halcyon Digest in the bin, since it did so well in many 2010 year-end polls, But somebody's loss is my gain. Friend Robin had burned a song of theirs for me a couple of years ago, and while it had a great spacey guitar sound, I didn't detect much of a song underneath it. HD is much better. It's still got the striking atmospherics, but this time there are tunes and words to back it all up. There are a couple of hazy spots, but overall it's very strong, and "Desire Lines" (link) is just amazing. Having by now been softened up by Sufjan (a possible gay porn movie title?), Deerhunter were just the thing to lift me out of my funk. A-
But it took the Insect Trust to make me laugh. I stumbled upon (in Other Music, of course) Hoboken Saturday Night (1970) and to say that the Insect Trust is an eclectic group of musicians is to vastly understate the case. There's music journalist/saxophonist Robert Palmer. (Not that idiot from England, but rather the writer of "Deep Blues" and of a NY Times column on pop music, including a famous dis of poor old Billy Joel.) Then there's guest jazz drummer Elvin Jones. But before you go thinking it's a jazz record, listen to the one that opens with a banjo playing a standard Middle Eastern riff. There's a slight whiff if 60s to it, but unlike most hippie music it's got a great rhythm section. Like a favorite uncle, it occasionally shows it's age, but is very entertaining, especially if at least one of you is drinking. B+
Belle and Sebastian's The Boy with the Arab Strap (1998) is an ever so slightly less than great B&S album. There's nothing quite so titanic as the best stuff on Sinister. And nothing quite as joyful as the best of Tiger Milk. But once you get past that, you realize you're listening to a wonderful record. Sweet gentle tunes with the old B&S sting in the lyrics. Lovely. A-
So now I’m getting a little cocky and it's back to Other Music for the third time (There seems to be an invisible bugee cord attached to me and the store.) where I find the Pixie's Bossanova and Portishead's Dummy.
Here's my take on the former. B+
Now I admit that I was expecting something different from Portishead. Although they had a weird little hit with "Sour Times", I thought that Dummy would be more of an accent on Beth Gibbon's vocals, and girded myself for "too pretty". I needn't have worried. Dummy is a "trip hop" record, and thus, was not meant for Springtime. (If I got it back in January I would have either loved it, or slit my wrists.) So I put it away for a while and found that it worked pretty well in the fall. But at night, for heaven's sake! B+
So by now music was doing a good job of uncurling me from my assumed fetal position. With summer coming, I was even considering standing up.
Next: Summer of Jaybee