I’m so tired, I haven’t slept a wink, I’m so tired, my mind is on the blink…
Seriously, folks, it’s been a hell of a week. I know I was supposed to use this week’s column to catch up on new releases I haven’t reviewed yet. I’m right now looking at the pile – there are albums here from MGMT, Roky Erickson, Gogol Bordello, Caribou, Sharon Jones, the Apples in Stereo, and David Byrne& Fatboy Slim just waiting for some attention. In truth, I simply haven’t had time to listen and absorb most of them. So instead of catching up, I’m afraid I’m about to fall further behind.
Because next week begins the deluge, the two strongest months of new music I can remember. My bank account is not going to be happy, but my ears certainly will be. Since I’m nearly ready to slip into a coma right now, I think I’m just going to give you a preview of the coming goodness, review my #5 album of the 2000s, and call it a week. Apologies in advance, but I need a break.
I’m considering this more of a gathering of strength, though, a respite before the next big battle. It’s going to be a very good summer, and here are dozens of reasons why:
May 4 is the start of the hurricane. Here’s what we’re getting (deep breath): The Hold Steady’s Heaven is Whenever, Minus the Bear’s Omni, the New Pornographers’ Together, Broken Social Scene’s Forgiveness Rock Record, Tonic’s new self-titled album, Deftones’ Diamond Eyes, Justin Currie’s second solo LP The Great War, the Flaming Lips’ take on The Dark Side of the Moon, Richard Julian’s Girls Need Attention, and a live album from Extreme called Take Me Alive. Okay, that last one doesn’t quite fit, but I like the band, so sue me.
We’ll also be hearing from something called the Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt. I only mention this because their album title is my favorite of 2010 so far: I Love You! I Love You! I Love You and I’m in Love With You! Have an Awesome Day! Have the Best Day of Your Life! How can it be bad with a name like that?
May 11 is just as good, with new albums from The National (High Violet), the Dead Weather (Sea of Cowards) and Keane (an eight-track EP called Night Train). Keane has me fascinated – the single includes rapping from Somalian MC K’naan, and the other things I’ve heard sound suitably un-Keane. We’ll also get an early-days compilation from garage-rock duo Japandroids and (finally!) the audio half of the Lost Dogs’ Route 66 project, called Old Angel. I hear this one is superb, and the songs on their MySpace page certainly bear that out.
Seven days later, on May 18, we get another flood of stuff. The big ones are Band of Horses (Infinite Arms), the Black Keys (Brothers), and LCD Soundsystem (This is Happening), but I’m equally excited about Suzanne Vega’s new acoustic album (Close Up Vol. 1), the second solo album from Tracey Thorn of Everything But the Girl (Love and its Opposite), and Swedish prog band Pain of Salvation’s tribute to the 1970s (Road Salt). That one’s the first half of a double record, in fact. Also out on May 18 is a deluxe reissue of Exile on Main St., which I would consider the best Rolling Stones album.
May 25 calms down a little, with new things from Crystal Castles, Hank Williams III, Stone Temple Pilots and Soulfly. But I’ve had this date marked off on my calendar for a while, as it’s when Robert Smith finally unleashes the three-CD remaster/reissue of the Cure’s unbeatable Disintegration. This is my favorite Cure record, the one that got me through high school alive, and I can’t wait to hear it in sparkling digital sound.
We get a break on June 1, as Paul Weller’s Wake Up the Nation is the only thing currently scheduled. But June 8 is back to being immense. Here’s the lineup: Rooney’s Eureka, Sia’s We Are Born, Teenage Fanclub’s Shadows, the Chemical Brothers’ Further, Blitzen Trapper’s Destroyer of the Void, and the debut LP from Eric Matthews’ Seinking Ships project, Museum Quality Capture. We’ll also get the new one from Hanson, called Shout it Out, and I know you’re laughing right now, but the single is good, and the album apparently has a smooth Motown vibe to it, so I’m looking forward to it. Quit snickering. They’re good, man!
June 15 will bring us Sarah McLachlan’s first album in seven years, The Laws of Illusion; the Gaslight Anthem’s new one American Slang; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Mojo; Chris Isaak’s second live album Live at the Fillmore; and the second album from Foals, Total Life Forever. Your local store will also get the first of a four-album series by the Cowboy Junkies, called Renmin Park, but (shh!) you can get it right now from the band.
Eminem leads off June 22 with Recovery, the sequel to Relapse, which wasn’t all that great to begin with, so we’ll see. Stars will release The Five Ghosts, and Helmet will put out Seeing Eye Dog. And speak of the devil, here’s Danzig back again with another doom-laden slab o’ metal called Deth Red Sabaoth. The month is rounded off on June 29 with the new one from the Choir, which is still untitled.
July in 30 seconds: Big Boi, Sun Kil Moon, Hellyeah, Sheryl Crow, and the solo debut of Ours’ Jimmy Gnecco. Also on the horizon: Light Chasers by Cloud Cult, the Beastie Boys’ long-delayed Hot Sauce Committee Vol. 1, Crowded House’s new one Intriguer, a new record from Devo, Iron Maiden’s The Final Frontier, John Mellencamp’s stripped-down No Better Than This, and new ones from the Shins, Rush and Robert Plant. And those are just the ones I know about. Expect more in the year’s back half.
I will need to clone myself at least once to listen to all of this. Be sure to check back here every week and see how I do.
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And now, the next installment in my Top 20 of the 2000s. We’re in the top five now, also known as Records I Know by Heart:
#5. Death Cab for Cutie, Plans (2005).
I liked Death Cab before Plans came out. I think The Photo Album and Transatlanticism are both wonderful little records. But hearing Plans for the first time was like watching a boy genius who’d always shown promise finally come into his own. This remains the band’s most consistent, most heartfelt, most beautiful piece of work, and it’s the one that touches me most deeply. I said this before, but other Death Cab albums are short story collections, while Plans is a novel.
This album is a dark and fully-formed treatise on what it means to be a finite being, one who grows old and loses touch and dies, alone. It is about the different ways people fail to connect, fail to communicate. It’s about how the promise of youth melts away, about how love is watching someone die, about how we all must be happy with our measly sum. It is powerful and direct and painful and heartbreaking – some sections of this album are almost too difficult for me to listen to. And it does all of that in 44 minutes.
Some criticized this album for not rocking enough, for settling into a mid-pace and rarely leaving it. But I think the album sets a dreamy tone from the outset, and maintains it – I’m always perplexed when bands rip up an atmosphere they’ve meticulously created. Only “Soul Meets Body” and “Crooked Teeth” find the big beats, and even those are more pretty than abrasive. Every other song here is a masterpiece of restraint and mood, capturing the magic and loss of growing up, growing old and growing apart.
The whole is much greater than the parts, but some of these parts are simply magnificent. “Different Names for the Same Thing” begins with an old-time piano and Ben Gibbard’s high, clear, unmistakable voice, but soon develops into a whirlpool of sound. “Your Heart is an Empty Room” is deceptively simple, but packs a melodic punch, and a lyrical one as well, Gibbard singing about the freedom that comes with losing everything you own.
The concluding trilogy is still Death Cab for Cutie’s finest hour. “What Sarah Said” details several agonizing hours in a hospital waiting room in wrenching detail, Chris Walla’s piano simultaneously adding hope and taking it away. The final minutes, with the band arcing into nowhere while Gibbard repeats “who’s gonna watch you die” are amazing – you can feel the pain of our narrator being kept from the one he loves at the end. “Brothers on a Hotel Bed” keeps the piano framework for a song of separation, and finale “Stable Song,” a reworking of the much-longer “Stability,” finds our narrator trying to come to terms with life as it is. “The gift of memory is an awful curse, with age it just gets much worse, but I don’t mind…” It’s a gorgeous way to end.
But with all that, it’s the simple, unadorned “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” that captures my heart. It is a song from a lover to his dying beloved, performed with nothing but Gibbard’s voice and guitar. “You and me, we’ve seen everything to see, from Bangkok to Calgary, and the soles of your shoes are all worn down, the time for sleep is now, but it’s nothing to cry about, ‘cause we’ll hold each other soon…” In just a few words and notes, Gibbard finds something real and deep, and sings it true.
You don’t get the full effect of Plans without listening straight through, though – the promise of “I Will Follow You” unfulfilled by “What Sarah Said,” the joy of youth in “Soul Meets Body” becoming the thoughtful resignation of old age in “Stable Song.” It’s a journey, one that becomes more real to me with each passing year. If Death Cab never makes another album this good (and the follow-up, Narrow Stairs, was good, but not this good), then I will chalk this up as one of those rare, precious, inexplicable little miracles that sometimes happen. I feel pretty confident that I will love this album for the rest of my life, and when I look back, old as the singer of “Stable Song,” I hope I feel as peaceful as he does.
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One final note, speaking of old age: I bought the 25th anniversary edition of Mr. Mister’s Welcome to the Real World this week, an album I loved when I was 11. I still like it – it’s a well-made slice of synth-driven pop with some killer melodies – but seeing the words “25th Anniversary Edition” made me feel older than dirt. 25 years! Wow.
Next week, well, just look above to see what’s coming next week. I’ll pick a few and give you my first impressions. Leave a comment on my blog at tm3am.blogspot.com. Follow my infrequent twitterings at www.twitter.com/tm3am.
See you in line Tuesday morning.