February 03, 2004

CD-shopping results.

I've been buying quite a few CDs lately. A lot of the purchases are motivated by listening to the "Indie Pop Rocks" station on SomaFM. I recommend trying it if you have any interest in the vaguely defined "indie pop" genre, which I got into by listening to a lot of Belle & Sebastian. Here are my thoughts on some albums I've bought recently. (I'll warn you that I don't really know that much about music, so feel free to take this with more than a grain of salt.)

Belle & Sebastian, Step Into My Office Baby. This is a single, with the title track from the recent full-length Dear Catastrophe Waitress album. (Which I highly recommend, though the ideal introduction to the band is If You're Feeling Sinister.) Thus there are only two new songs. I definitely recommend this to fans of the band, though. The second track, "Love on the March," is upbeat and fun, much in the style of the songs on DCW. The third track, "Desperation Made a Fool of Me," has the feel of some of the older songs. Stuart Murdoch sings over a simple guitar, keyboard, and drums line; Sarah's voice enters later. The song avoids the more highly-produced sound many have complained about. (I don't necessarily object to it -- but that's a matter for another time.)

Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Amazon.com reviews of this are full of people saying it's the best album they own. It's been described to me as a rarity -- an indie album that lives up to its hype. Although I'm not yet ready to put it among the best albums I own, I do agree that it's an exceptionally good album, and I've listened to it more times than I care to admit in the past 48 hours. Jeff Mangum's voice annoys some, but after some listening I think most will adjust to it, and the songwriting here is exceptional. The lyrics are a bit odd, many of them drawing on the diary of Anne Frank (most obviously in the fast-paced "Holland, 1945"), and ranging from haunting to disturbing or simply bizarre. Beyond the straining vocals and strange words, there is a band playing an unusually diverse array of instruments, and doing it rather well. On a few of the tracks -- especially "Oh Comely" -- everything comes together so spectacularly well that I can understand Pitchfork's ranking of this as the 4th best album of the 1990s. I highly recommend giving this one a chance.

The Postal Service, Give Up. A collaboration by Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello, done through the mail, you've probably heard of it if you're at all interested in this sort of music. I know I had heard a lot about it before I finally bought it. I rarely listen to electronic music, so I don't know what to compare this to, but it's quite good. There's a lot of catchy, upbeat, solid pop music here, like "Such Great Heights," with good vocals overlaying an electronic background. Other songs are less upbeat; "Recycled Air" and "Nothing Better" are very good, more mellow tracks at the core of the album. Give it a listen; there's a reason people have been talking about this.

The Sea and Cake, Oui. You can download the tracks "Afternoon Speaker" and "The Colony Room" from Amazon, and I suggest doing so before buying this album. I recommend it, but I've heard it accused of being boring, and there may be some truth to that. It's a set of very mellow, jazz-influenced rock songs. None of them are exceptionally catchy; in itself this isn't a bad thing, but it might lead to my initial opinion of the album being lower than it will be after repeated listenings. I worry, though, that these songs blend together too much, and that repeated listenings will reveal this album to be a bit too monotonous. Time will tell.

The Sugarplum Fairies, Introspective Raincoat Student Music. I bought this solely based on Amazon recommendations and the 3 sample tracks there, so again, download those and see what you think. Silvia Ryder's breathy vocals work very well here, and I think this is a very good pop album. Not groundbreaking, not innovative, but a lot of pleasant songs.

I should probably mention that buying all these indie albums is a relatively new thing for me, aside from B&S. My music collection (at least, the portion that isn't classical music) is dominated by older rock, like Pink Floyd, Cream, and the Beatles. So I'm sure there are many very good bands I know nothing about. I'm working on it.

Posted by Matt at February 3, 2004 04:45 PM

Might I suggest occasional perusal of pitchforkmedia.com? They have a wealth of information and reviews of both the indie and mainstream scenes.

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