Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Josh's Listening Journal, 11/9

It's one of the most overused phrases in all of music criticism: Her voice is so beautiful, I'd pay to hear her read the phonebook!

I keep thinking about this line as I listen to Aerial, the new album from Kate Bush. Because while Bush may not sing the phonebook, she does sing... the digits of pi. And she tells stories about a woman watching her clothes swirl around in the washing machine. And she makes heroes not of warriors or kings, but of architects, painters, and mathmeticians.

And I haven't heard a more sensual, seductive, or downright sexy album all year.

That's Kate Bush's gift. She sings about the most mundane things, and yet she charges these seemingly unimportant, everyday moments with spirituality and romance. Thus, Aerial-- a two-disc collection, and her first recording in twelve years-- is a profoundly beautiful, charmingly idiosyncratic celebration of humanity and lives well lived.

Musically, it's as weird as anything she's ever done... and probably as good. It's every bit as ethereal as Hounds of Love, but with much crisper production. There are elements of jazz, folk, and even a dash of rock, as well as a few spellbinding piano ballads. And, with some tracks clocking in at over eight minutes long, there are some impressively complex song structures that would make Sufjan Stevens proud.

I've also been listening to another new album from a veteran artist... Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, by Paul McCartney. Sir Paul's continues his latter-day career rebirth with what is one of his most critically celebrated solo albums in decades, thanks in large part to Nigel Godrich-- the same producer who has worked with Radiohead and Beck.

Godrich brings out the very best in McCartney. This is, simply put, the most beautiful-sounding collection Sir Paul has released; the sound is crisp, clean, and pristine, and the songs hold together remarkabley well as a collection. In fact, this may be the first McCartney solo album to ever come entirely devoid of filler.

Lyrically, McCartney is just as sentimental as ever, indulging in his love for love songs to usually fine results. On some songs, though, his optimism turns into mere platitudes; on "Too Much Rain," for example, he basically tells his listener to simply not allow himself to feel any more sorrow or despair... easier said than done! In fact, every time McCartney seems to be reaching for profundity, he ends up sounding empty and trite. Thus, the album doesn't really give us much to think about, making it less memorable than it would have been had his words met the high standard of his music. Still, there are plenty of simple charms here-- "English Tea" is a delight-- and the production alone makes it well worth a listen.

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