Friday, October 14, 2016

On Getting Excited for Sad Albums

When I learned last year that Nick Cave's 15-year-old son Arthur had fallen to his death, my reaction was of course one of sadness and horror and deepest sympathy. However, when I learned earlier this year that Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds had a new album coming out, I was excited - not just because I like Nick Cave's music, but because the circumstances surrounding the new album's conception would surely make for an extremely emotive listen.

As long-time and possibly even short-time readers of this blog will know, I love depressing music. I love listening to sad songs and sinking into that sadness and luxuriating in it, feeling what the artist is feeling as I listen. Here's something I wrote in anticipation of Skeleton Tree, that at-the-time forthcoming Bad Seeds album, back in July:

This, Nick Cave's sixteenth album with The Bad Seeds, has the potential to be a very harrowing listen indeed. It's Cave's first set of new material since his son died at the age of fifteen last year, and one can only speculate how he will translate this tragedy into music. I'm personally hoping for something along the lines of 1997's gloomy The Boatman's Call.

When I wrote that, I was actively trying not to sound too ghoulishly thrilled that Arthur Cave had, in death, provided his father with some A-grade material for his next album, but in truth I was really, really looking forward to hearing the bleak aftermath of that accident (Nick Cave described himself as feeling 'paralysed' after it happened) set to music. And that's kind of horrible, isn't it? Obviously I would never hope for Death to darken the doorstep of a favourite artist and cast the shadow of sadness over their songwriting, but I have been feeling kind of guilty nonetheless.

Skeleton Tree came out last month and it proved, if anything, to be an even bleaker listen than miseryphiles like me could reasonably have hope for. It doesn't sound very much like The Boatman's Call at all; whereas that record took a simple sadness that we're used to hearing in pop songs (the sadness felt at the end of a relationship) and expressed it using death as a metaphor, the altogether more complex new album looks into the abyss of death itself, inevitably resulting in a far more confrontational listening experience. Listening to The Boatman's Call is like putting on a hoodie that you purloined from an ex-lover: it might make you feel a little melancholy, but it's warm and it's comfortable. Neither of those adjectives could reasonably be applied to Skeleton Tree, on which the Bad Seeds create a sparse, barren soundscape just to see if life can still flourish there. Skeleton Tree is the sound of Nick Cave unflinchingly challenging himself to find wonder and beauty and reasons to carry on in a world that was harsh enough to rob him of his child. In the end, he manages it - Rings of Saturn and Distant Sky offer a glimmer of hope, a sense of life somehow going on - but this is still easily the most devastating CD you'll put in your stereo this year.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Super Low

Warehouse are a band from Georgia, and their music sounds a bit like what early R.E.M. might have sounded like if Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe had taken a field trip back to 1920s Germany and spent a day deep in thought at the Bauhaus.

Super Low - reportedly named after a supermarket that's just across the road from the studio where this album was recorded - is a dense, intricate slice of tightly-wound art indie that's kind of difficult to pin down. Each song is full of musical ideas, and even the most accessible, straightforward track (lead single Simultaneous Contrasts, a krauty number that has something of Electrelane about it) features several surprising colour changes and gear shifts.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Happy Birthday Dog Man Star

Suede, the debut album from the band of the same name, came out in 1993. It topped the album charts, spawned a top 10 single in Animal Nitrate, and arguably laid the foundation for the Britpop movement that would come to dominate the mid-nineties.

However, as much as I love Suede, but I'm not a particularly big fan of Suede. I find the production a little too murky, and the songs - bar the exhilarating Moving and one or two other exceptions - never really grabbed me as tightly as it seems like they grabbed everyone else.

Perhaps my opinion would be different if I had heard the album at the time, when it presumably sounded fresh and new and exciting, but I wasn't even two years old when Suede first appeared on the racks at HMV. In actual fact, Suede wasn't even the first Suede album I heard when I eventually *did* get around to investigating them: that was Dog Man Star, the band's sophomore effort.

Dog Man Star was released on 10 October 1994, which means that today is the record's 22nd birthday. A couple of months earlier, Oasis released Definitely Maybe, one of the defining records of the Britpop era and an album so overrated that it makes Suede, which I find somewhat overrated, look not at all overrated. But while Oasis were codifying the sound we now think of as standard Britpop fare - swaggering guitar rock with no interest in moving hearts, minds or feet - Suede were working on something far more ambitious, far more grandiose, and...well, far better.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Review: Cosmetic by Nots

I think Memphis four-piece Nots were being deliberately ironic when they named their second album Cosmetic. Their music - delivered with ragged aggression and tousled by raw, lo-fi recording techniques - is pointedly not interested in cosmetic concerns. Rather, it's just here to beat you about the ears with pummelled drums and a harsh, hard cocktail of guitar, bass, and burbling synth noises.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Burst Apart

Last week, I blogged about Mutual Benefit's Skip a Sinking Stone, an album that's all about getting over past breakups and learning to believe in love once more.

Today, I'd like to talk about an album that's similar in theme but far more visceral and desperate in its delivery: Burst Apart by The Antlers.

Released in May 2011, Burst Apart is the sequel to Hospice, also known as The Most Depressing Album of All Time™. Hospice was a concept album about an abusive relationship with someone who has terminal cancer, although it's possible that the terminal cancer was just a metaphor for the gradual deterioration of the relationship itself; either way, it made for very miserable listening.