Wednesday, January 31, 2007

2007: A Great Year for Music...So Far

January isn't even over yet and I may already have heard the two best albums of the year. We'll see how they hold up, but I have already listened to both albums several times over and I am still enthralled by them. For my money, my favorite album of the year will likely be...

Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
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Bird's previous album, The Mysterious Production of Eggs, was a quirky, off-kilter beauty that hinged upon swirling melodies and Bird's crystalline vocals and glorious whistling. Armchair Apocrypha is a less idiosyncratic work, but it is indubitably an album only Andrew Bird can make. Many of these songs have been floating around in various incarnations, released in EP's, performed at concerts before arriving in their current form on the album. The songs are sure to be reworked again when Bird goes on tour, but the versions that appear in Armchair Apocrypha are in perfect shape.

Bird is, if anything, a scholar of indie/pop music. He has taken apart these songs, figured out what works, and meticulously pieced them back together to arrive at their current state, and he does so without tampering with the heart and soul of each song. These songs have not been butchered into Frankenstein's monster but rather smoothed and polished, their best qualities highlighted before finally stringing them together into the gorgeous, graceful album I'm listening to now. It's hard to pin down which songs I like the most. The best thing about the album is that the songs work well together and on their own. If forced to identify favorites, though, I'll just say that the back to back pair of "Heretics" and "Dark Matter" are my most listened to tracks.

Grade: A

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
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I was worried that Arcade Fire's follow-up to Funeral would be disappointing. Thankfully it is not. In fact, in some ways, it is a more affecting work than Funeral. Neon Bible abounds in rousing, glorious songs and no band can do big, sweeping music like the passionate individuals that make up Arcade Fire. The songs in Neon Bible can sound dark and forbidding, but there is an element of hope in them. The album opens with "Black Mirror" with its portentous keyboard line and threatening strings that come on late in the song, and the lyrics talk about a mirror that can see through things to reveal the essential truth. But just when it looks like we're in for some heavy songs, the band brings on the clap-along rhythm of "Keep the Car Running." This may sound jarring, but it's not. They complement each other, as if to say that there's no hope without hopelessness. Now, I'm not sure if that's the central message, but that's what I get when I listen to these songs.

As in Funeral, not all the songs work here, but the ones that do can make you forget about the clunkers. The good news is that there are no god-awful songs on here. Even the song I've been skipping over, "Black Waves/Bad Vibrations," is serviceable. The title track sounds unfinished, but songs like "(Antichrist Television Blues)" and "Windowsill"--the beating heart of the album--are astounding creations. The album ends with an enigmatic song about transcendence called "My Body is a Cage." With the song's use of church-like organs as a centerpiece and a closing lyrical plea to "set my spirit free," Neon Bible ends on a note of uncertainty, sounding both jubilant and lamentable. The album leaves us with a sense of doubt and no sure answers, so we start the album over again hoping to glean a little more understanding.

Grade: A

1 comment:

Faithful Soles said...

My name is Robert Key and I am a runner from Houston, Texas. I saw your blog listed when I was looking through the RBF directory and very much enjoyed reading some of your entries. I have a web site at that is inspirational stories for walkers, runners and athletes of all ages and abilities. A new feature I have recently added to the site is a categorized and searchable Running Blog Database where members of my site can find a blog of interest to them based on other walkers, runners or athletes of similar abilities, goals and interests. To my knowledge it is the only one of its kind specifically for walkers and runners on the internet. I would appreciate it if you would take a moment to put a link to your blog in our Running Blog Database. Just click on "Link your running blog" under "Free Features" from the home page. If you want to learn more about my running background, just click on "Meet Robert" from the main menu , or to learn more about my involvement in the running community, click on "Faithful Soles in the news" in the left column under "Weekly Features". I also have a blog that I just started at, but most of my running information is on my web site. Also, if there is anyone else in your blogger network that you think would be interested in listing their blog, please feel free to pass this information along to them. Thanks and continued good luck in your training.