What I'm Listening To

Mark Olson and Gary Louris -_Ready for the Flood_

Saw these guys in concert a few weeks back, and I have to say that seeing these songs live helped put the record into perspective. On the first few listens it falls flat, absent of the pop sparkle and supersized hooks of the Jayhawks days. Even the harmonies sound lazy. But seeing these two guys on stage together, you realize thisrecord is all about the unconscious connection between the two of them, the way their voices complement each other, and the way each of them fit into each other’s songwriting style like the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Not a classic like Tomorrow the Green Grass, and for Olson a step down from his solo effort The Salvation Blues, but still not half bad.

Jenny Lewis -_Acid Tongue_

This is a good one. I really loved Rabbit Fur Coat, and was expecting a significant letdown from that M. Ward-produced gem. Nope. This album is bigger, badder and yes, better (too much alliteration? I think not). Everything that shouldn’t work does: “The Next Messiah” should be pretentious, but it’s just exciting; “Jack Killed Mom” should be over the top, instead it’s one hell of a fun romp that reminds you why you liked the White Stripes in the first place; the unfortunate Elvis Costello cameo on “Carpetbaggers” should kill the song (and it does a little bit), but instead you walk around with that guitar hook in your head. I’m impressed. This record has immediacy and staying power.

Jolie Holland -_The Living and the Dead_

I’m still not sure what I think about this record. On the one hand, “Mexico City” blows up with all the world-weary decadence and danger of Roger McGuinn on a bad peyote trip in Death Valley (and check how Holland turns “living” into a three-syllable word). On the other, so many of the songs feel long (even though they’re not), suffering from unimaginative arrangements and uninspired playing. So I don’t know. This could either be one of those records I listen to for a few months before it disappears into the “do not sync” section of my iTunes, or it could be one that blows my mind when I pick it back up again in a year or two. Stay tuned.

Thao & the Get Down Stay Down -_We Brave Bee Stings and All_

Good, but thin. If you need a pick-me-up, put this on because it will work every time. And doesn’t sound quite like anything else you’ve ever heard. Still, for all that, the songwriting feels weak, and much of the sound seems contrived and quirk-driven rather than fully integrated. I doubt I’ll be listening to this in a year, but I’m enjoying it now.

MIA -_Kala_

I enjoyed this way more than I thought I would. I’m not cool enough to totally get the MIA thing, but I’ve got to admit that “Paper Planes” is one monster of a song. And the rest of it…well, it helped me get through a day of editing XML files in stellar shape. So it’s got that…

Fleet Foxes -_Fleet Foxes_

I just can’t get excited about this record. I mean, I’m cool with reverb-soaked choruses of oohs and aaahs, but as the man said, everything in moderation. Sure, it’s evocative and unique and all that, but what’s the point of getting me floating in outer space if you’re not going to take me anywhere? Thanks but no thanks.

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Now this is more like it! From the opening harmonica notes of “Seven-Mile Island” to the cathartic coda to “The Last Song I Will Write” this sucker is solid. It’s a vast improvement over Sirens of the Ditch in terms of songwriting, arrangement and production values. Still, it’s nothing like seeing these guys live, which I suggest you do at the earliest possible opportunity.