Playing Ketchup: Short Takes on a Few Albums from Last Year

I’ve got some catching up to do from last year, if I’m ever going to get my head above water on the albums that are coming out this year. And there are going to be a flurry of them in the next couple of months that I will be very itchy to talk about (new albums by Ted Leo and Titus Andronicus drop on Tuesday). Sometimes, I plan to review albums and don’t have much to say about them and other times, I listen to an album and just forget to write about it because something else has distracted me. So here are the last albums from 2009 that I am going to talk about:

Ramona Falls, Intuit. I just missed this album. My shame is great. But serendipity struck when, somewhere in the bowels of the internet (okay, on a Fark music thread, of all places – do you know how rare it is to find anything that isn’t about Rush and/or how all non-Rush music made after 1975 is awful on Fark’s music page? I had thought it was impossible) I came across one of the coolest music videos I have ever fucking seen. It’s the video for “I Say Fever” by Ramona Falls. Ramona Falls is Brent Knopf from Menomena (now would be a good time for you to look up their Friend and Foe album and listen to it until your face explodes from joy) and some other people, but that’s not important right now. What is important is that Intuit was a totally under-the-radar slice of awesome. Listen to it. Now.

Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard, One Fast Move or I’m Gone and Son Volt, American Central Dust. I’m talking about these two albums together because one does a very good job of exemplifying what Jay Farrar is doing right these days and the other shows us what he’s doing wrong. Oh so wrong. American Central Dust is dull. Frightfully dull. One Fast Move Or I’m Gone is inspired (sure, it’s adapted from Kerouac, but still), simple, and beautiful. And Farrar did most of the adapting himself for One Fast Move (which is still no Mermaid Avenue), which brings me to the solution for Son Volt: add more harmonies (Gibbard, a.k.a. the guy from Death Cab for Cutie, a.k.a. Mr. Zooey Deschanel), stop trying to be country rock, and just be okay being country folk. It’s always been what Farrar does best (with a few notable exceptions from his Uncle Tupelo days, like “Factory Belt”).

Imogen Heap, Ellipse. I get a lot of mileage out of saying that everyone’s girlfriend loves Coldplay and I’m willing to bet that everyone’s girlfriend loves Imogen Heap – or will, given time. The surprise here is that I don’t not love Imogen Heap. Ellipse is far better than its predecessor (the name of which eludes me at the moment) in one very important respect: it doesn’t sound like the technology used to record is the star of the album. At its best, Ellipse is Heap moving toward actual songwriting from electronic composing. While there’s no denying that she is excellent at the latter, I don’t want to reward anyone, guy or gal, for humping a pile of electronics (looking at you, Thom Yorke)*. Of course, there is still some electronics-humping on Ellipse but it’s less obtrusive and the album is quite enjoyable to put on when you know you have to put on something that your girlfriend/wife/sensitive boyfriend will find palatable. It’s that or Tori Amos, and nobody should have to listen to Tori Amos. Right?

Lou Barlow, Goodnight Unknown. I unabashedly adore Lou Barlow’s last two solo albums, the hilariously named Emoh and last year’s Goodnight Unknown. I never got around to doing a full review of Goodnight Unknown because I was too busy enjoying it. Also, there’s not much to say about it. Did you like the last Lou Barlow record? Then you’ll like this one. This is a compliment because Barlow cranks out things at an alarmingly consistent level of quality, not because he just does the same album over and over. Try this the next time someone asks you to put on Snow Patrol (I know, it happens all the time, right?): put on Lou Barlow and wait for them to ask you, “When did Snow Patrol learn to write songs?”

Death Cab for Cutie, Open Door EP. I was worried about Death Cab after Plans and then they made 2008’s Narrow Stairs and I was well-assured that they are still a good band. The Open Door EP continues Death Cab’s new trend of actually sounding like they’re having fun.

Them Crooked Vultures. I don’t like the word “supergroup” and I won’t use it anymore. But Them Crooked Vultures consists of Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh “Rhymes with Tommy” Homme, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, and Nirvana/some other band’s Dave Grohl. The good news is that Grohl is back behind the drum-kit, where he should stay for the foreseeable future. The drums on this album kick ass. I could dismiss Them Crooked Vultures as some sort of compromise between Queens of the Stone Age and Led Zep, but that’s lazy and mostly untrue. Mostly. The truth is, Them Crooked Vultures is a lot of fun to begin with but, at nearly 7o minutes (perhaps a bit more than that), it runs a little long. I’m excited to see these guys at Coachella to see how they sound live, but the album tells you what you’re in for with the first five tracks. Still, for fans of honest-to-goodness, meat and potatoes rock, Them Crooked Vultures is a nice alternative to the Scream0 (that’s “screaming emo”, and I’m not the first person to use that phrase, sadly) that so pathetically dominates the airwaves these days.

*Note: not saying I don’t like electronic music. Good electronic music is still about music. Bad electronic music (*cough*Thom Yorke’s solo album *cough*) is about electronics. LCD Soundsystem is fucking amazing electronic music and, to some extent, so is pretty much everything Mad Lib does.

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One thought on “Playing Ketchup: Short Takes on a Few Albums from Last Year

  1. I thought I was the only person who disliked Thom Yorke’s solo album. I am glad to be wrong about this.

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