I’m having one of those weird in-between weeks.
It doesn’t help that I spent half of it in San Jose, California for a science conference. For half my week I enjoyed 80-degree days, and for the other half I’ve been suffering through sub-freezing temperatures and walls of cold air. Jet lag messed with my internal clock, and I’ve been getting up earlier than I’ve intended. And my natural tendency toward introversion took a beating this week, and I haven’t had the proper time to cocoon myself away and recharge.
So I’m feeling between poles right now, drifting a bit. And this week’s column feels that way to me too. Next week, I have a solid plan – I will be talking at length about Transgressor, the fine fourth record from Quiet Company. I have been ordering and re-ordering my thoughts on this disc for a while now, and I feel ready to write about it. But that’s next week – Transgressor doesn’t hit shops until Feb. 24. So that leaves me with this week’s, stuck between Copeland and QuietCo, unsure of what to do.
Here’s what I can try, though.
As I’ve mentioned before, most music I hear falls in between my extreme love and hate reactions. Most of it – I’m thinking roughly 75 percent of it – fails to rouse any strong reaction in me one way or another. I thought, since this is an in-between sort of column, that I would run down a few of the new things I have bought this year, those records that don’t inspire me one way or another, and talk about why they leave me adrift. I don’t know if it will be interesting, but it certainly won’t take very long, and that’s attractive to me right now too.
The latest record to make me shrug is I Love You Honeybear, by Father John Misty. I totally get why this is a fascinating release for some people. Josh Tillman, drummer for Fleet Foxes and prolific singer-songwriter, has fashioned this mad alter ego that is, on the surface, sort of head-spinning. Father John Misty records (there are two so far) are full of lush, classic balladry – think Roy Orbison and Glen Campbell, all strings and big arrangements. Tillman sings these songs in a rich tenor, diving right into the contours of the sound.
But his lyrics are absolutely insane. They are stream-of-consciousness tales of debauchery with no holds barred – the first verse includes the line “mascara, blood, ash and cum on the Rorshach sheets where we make love,” and songs like “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment” (yes, that’s the title) spin stories of unfortunate convergences: “I hate that soulful affectation white girls put on, why don’t you move to the Delta? I obliged later on when you begged me to choke you.” It’s meant to be a little too much, and the first time through, it is.
It doesn’t stand up to repeated listens, though, and by the time I’d taken three trips through Honeybear, I was bored with it. The songs themselves are unspectacular, though the arrangements are meticulous and rich, and the lyrics feel like someone spray-painted graffiti all over them. I don’t hate this, and I can see why people like it – whether it’s meant to be satire or just goofy, it does call attention to itself. But I don’t feel anything from it. I haven’t been able to give my all to it, because it holds me at a distance, preferring that I gape at it from afar rather than hold it close. I definitely prefer Tillman under his own name, and with his band.
Let’s see, what else.
A slew of good reviews convinced me to try Fall Out Boy’s new record, American Beauty/American Psycho. This is the first FOB album I have heard since Infinity on High, and the reviewers were right – it almost sounds like a completely different band. I’m not absolutely sure it sounds like a better one, but the electro-pop Cuisinart that turned out this album is certainly more interesting. Patrick Stump is still annoying as hell, but the band has written a few truly catchy numbers – “Irresistible,” “Centuries,” “Uma Thurman,” a few others.
It’s a slick piece of work, and it makes use of some interesting cultural touchstones, most notably the Munsters theme on “Uma Thurman.” And yeah, it’s surprising and confident and quite unlike what I was expecting from an album with the words Fall and Out and Boy on the cover. But it didn’t blow me away, like it did many of my cohorts in criticism. I might buy the next one. I might not. Depends on where they go, and if they keep evolving at the same rate.
I was definitely with my fellow critics when discussing the long-awaited new Aphex Twin album, Syro. That thing was impressive, a welcome return for Richard D. James, one of the few geniuses electronic music can claim. And there’s no doubt that his recently released follow-up EP, Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt. 2 (there is no Pt. 1), is something of a toss-off in comparison. It doesn’t have the benefit of the 10-year absence like Syro did, and it’s a much shorter and less amazing affair.
That’s not to say it’s bad, but it does what it says on the tin – these 13 tracks, ranging from nine seconds to five minutes, are sound collages made from acoustic-sounding instruments that have been processed into new shapes. And it’s, you know… fine. It’s interesting for me to have such a muted reaction to an Aphex Twin release after missing James’ work for so long, but there it is. This EP is a minor statement from a guy who can do much better.
I had the same reaction to Goin’ South, the new album from Richard Page. I’ve been a Page fan since I was 12 years old, and he sang for a band called Mr. Mister. Page has a strong voice and a knack for progressive pop – his work with Patrick Leonard in 3rd Matinee was great, and that fourth unreleased Mr. Mister album, Pull, is highly underrated. As a solo artist, Page has been hit and miss, but when he gets hold of a good pop song, he can still drive it home.
Goin’ South, though, is baffling. It’s a bog-standard, fairly boring pop-country album, recorded in Nashville with a bunch of session players. The songs are below Page’s usual standard, his voice is often affected to match the twangy arrangements, and the whole thing smells like a money grab, like an attempt to get played on country radio. I bought this based on Page’s track record, and this disregards everything I like about him. As a pop country record, I guess it’s OK, but I don’t have a lot of interest in those, so it’s hard to tell.
Finally, there’s Jamie Cullum, who made the album I like best of all of these. Interlude is billed as Cullum’s jazz record, but the British wunderkind has always played jazz – he’s as much a jazz singer as Harry Connick is. This time out, though, he’s focused primarily on older tunes, ones that are not quite standards, but are written on significant pages of the Great American Songbook. The title track is a Dizzy Gillespie tune, “Don’t You Know” belongs to Ray Charles, “Out of This World” is Arlen and Mercer, et cetera.
The arrangements are great, Cullum’s voice is in fine shape, and he gives his record the edge by adapting a few surprises to this setting, most notably Sufjan Stevens’ melancholy “The Seer’s Tower” and Randy Newman’s lovely “Losing You.” Gregory Porter guests on “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and Laura Mvula takes a vocal turn on “Good Morning Heartache.” It’s all quite nice, an interesting diversion more than a next chapter for young Cullum, but an enjoyable one nonetheless.
Interlude is the perfect example of what we’re talking about this time, though. It inhabits that weird place in between the essential and the disposable. It’s a record that’s just sort of there, bringing a smile while it’s playing but never quite planting its flag. That’s about the best you can expect from these in-between days, in the end.
See you in line Tuesday morning.