Music getting heavy rotation on my iPhone at the moment:
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
This, like the last one, is going to be mercilessly, relentlessly hyped to the Himalayas and back again. Over the next few years, expect to hear it advertising tampons and Toyota hybrids, soundtracking sexual intense moments in True Blood, accompanying departing losers from Master Chef and (as maximum commercial saturation is reached) torturing heavy metal loving Mexican drug lords under siege from the dystopian shock troops of the Continental Canadian Empire.*
Actually, it’s almost good enough to stand up to this level of exposure. My one reservation is its slightly too self-reflexive revelling in its own beauty. Its a record that’s thoroughly intoxicated with itself and, unlike its predecessor, that makes it a little difficult to get completely lost in.
But, those of you living in lead-lined boxes are asking, what does it actually sound like?
Well, it sounds like the last one but bigger and with more consistently and successful adventurous songs and a Brian Wilson level of layering and attention to detail in the arrangements. Spine-tingling yet earthy choirs of that remarkable falsetto? Check. Elliptical song structures taking twists and turns that go exactly where you think they should but never where you think they will? Check.
It sounds like I’m warier of this record than I actually. In fact I’ve been playing Bon Iver on repeat since Monday (interspersed with the other records below). I can’t recommend it enough as a thing in itself. But its become too much of an event. But the video for ‘Calgary’, striking though it is, encapsulates a lot of my reservations. Especially about the tampon ads.
It’s also an interesting contrast with Dyed in the Wool – Manafon Variations by David Sylvian. These aren’t so much remixes as new tracks constructed out of the same raw materials as Manafon, plus three new songs and a separate CD stereo mix of music created for an installation. The latter is an absorbing headphone listen. Be warned – this is not an album like Dead Bees On A Cake. For last few years, Sylvian’s followed a challenging path of collaboration with free jazz, laptop and improv luminaries such as Evan Parker and Fennesz . It is, however, quite beautiful and (unlike Bon Iver) unselfconsicously so. Or perhaps its more correct to say that it’s simply less impressed with its own beauty.
Boris – Heavy Rocks/Attention Please/New Album
Boris (who I finally got to see last Sunday and who totally rocked) are an iconic kind of group in so many ways. They’ve been putting out astonishing experimental guitar albums in a dozen combinations for fifteen or so years and their output shows no signs of slowing or diminishing. Some records are good, some great, some simply baffling but – not unlike Howe Gelb and Giant Sand – you get on the bus, pay your fare and see where the ride takes you.
So far, that ride has taken in hour long slabs of howling low-end drone and feedback, deconstructions of 70s heavy rock and 80s thrash, ambient soundscapes, unclassifiably eclectic collections of psychedelia and a collaboration as BXI with Ian Astbury of the Cult. This year’s trio of albums falls more the poppier end of Boris’ output. Heavy Rocks and Attention Please came out last month. New Album is a Japan only record from earlier in the year which overlaps slightly with both the US/European records. Wata, whose capacity to make a Les Paul rev like a motorcycle has been a highlight of so many of their records, sings on most of New Album and Attention Please. She’s got a slight, breathy but attractive voice and Boris deploy it well. The music draws heavily on My Bloody Valentine with more of a techno edge interspersed with a couple of dramatic ballads and straight-put rockers. It’s bit like Asobi Secksu but with much better tunes. Heavy Rocks continues to explore the hard rock directions of the trio of EPs Boris release a couple of years back, called (confusingly) Heavy Rock Hits 1, 2 and 3. It’s fun, energizing but a minor work by Boris’ usual standards.
Of the three, New Album offers the most. It duplicates several of the tracks on Attention Please and Heavy Rocks but with much better, compelling arrangements and has a tightness and coherence the other two records lack.
Here’s a snippet of Boris from the Live in Japan DVD, also featuring the awe-inspiring guitarist Michio Kurihara of ghost.
Also on rotation
W by Planningtorock. This month’s groovy Norwegian electro gloomsters. I like it; it’ll do until the Knife get over their opera fixation.
Benacah Drann Deachd by Dalglish. Deeply emotive, organic soundscapes. Sparse, organic, moving.
*In five years, Canada will stand bloodily astride the smouldering ashes of the American dream beating its feral, hockey-playing chest and howling to the moon in anguish and triumph. It came to me in a dream, along with the bones of some small animals I have yet to identify.