Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Josh's Listening Journal, 10/19

"...We're uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don't have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we're smarter... Great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love..."

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character says those lines in the film Almost Famous, and you know, he's right; indeed, there are few pop music traditions as old and as common as the Break-Up Album. Blood on the Tracks... Sea Change... seems like every artist has got one. And I love a good Break-Up Album as much as the next guy-- they can lead us into increased empathy and compassion, and sometimes result in surprising catharsis. And then there's the rare Break-Up Album that goes beyond the pain, reaching for grace and hope in the midst of troubled times-- albums like Sam Phillips' A Boot and a Shoe and Dylan's Time Out of Mind.

We haven't had any albums like that this year, but there have been a number of worthwhile musical documents of heartbreak and loss. Like Maria McKee's new album. And the new Caitlin Cary/Thad Cockrell disc, Begonias. Heck, even the new Eels collection might fit the bill.

Fiona Apple's new album, Extraordinary Machine, is the best one yet. Critics have been singing its praises, and for good reason. Though the actual music is sometimes overshadowed by the album's sordid, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-ish back-story, it's still one of the most memorably creative albums of the year, filled with quirky string arrangements, unrelenting hip-hop beats, subtle flourishes of horns, and plenty of Fiona's typically aggressive piano playing.

And then, of course, there are the lyrics. Fiona's apparently been in a pretty nasty relationship, and man... the guy she was with sounds like a real jerk! But this album isn't about name-calling or bitterness. I am impressed by how Fiona takes us on a tour of all the different ways in which grief manifests itself-- denial, the desire for revenge, confusion, lamentation, and, in the end, a glimmer of hope. It's as if Fiona is playing the role of Juliette Binoche's character from the movie Blue, trying everything she can do to cope with her sadness until she stumbles across something that works-- Grace.

And that's not the only great Break-Up Album in my stereo right now. I was just recently introduced to Feist, and I am immediately a fan. Her new album, Let it Die, is a beautiful, enthralling, hypnotic affair, a mixture of folk, pop, soul, and disco(?!?) that has completely swept me off my feet. Leslie Feist's smoky voice is heartbreakingly beautiful, and the production casts the whole album in a warm late-night glow that's absolutely spellbinding. I haven't had too much time to dig into the lyrics just yet, but I can tell you that they're very, very sad... and hey, she's got a Ron Sexsmith cover on here, which automatically makes this album worth a spin.

In fact, both of these records are likely to end up on my year-end Top 10 list. So check 'em out folks... if you're, you know, not prone to depression or anything.


Blogger John said...

Feist's album is one of my recent favorites. That Sexsmith cover is a treasure, and I pretty much dig every track on there.

Under the category of breakup albums, I'd have to list a sub-category, "Almost Breakup Albums", of which my recent favorite is Over The Rhine's Drunkard's Prayer.

8:45 PM  
Anonymous opus said...

I've been planning to pick up the Feist album for quite some time now. I heard a couple of tracks, and they just floored me.

11:49 AM  

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