Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Xx I See You 2017

I have to laugh at myself. I blogged about the first Xx recording not long after it came out in 2009, and I gave it a pretty bad review. I then listened to it repeatedly, and it became a favorite of my wife, so it and the follow-up, Coexist 2012, have gotten plenty of play on the system. I've come to fully appreciate the skill of this band, even if none of them have the chops.

Like Ringo. Ringo was never a flashy drummer, and he was frankly not capable of the flashy stuff. But he never needed more than what he could do well. He was a human metronome, and his pace and timing were impeccable. And everything he chose to do was the perfect choice, unquestionable in its rightness for the song at hand.

These guys are kinda like Ringo. They either don't have much instrumental skill or they deliberately play minimalist when they could do more. Not important really, they have built the perfect vehicle for their skill set.

This, their third, is a fine record indeed.There's real human love in these chilly, sometimes distant songs. There are also a few tempos above slow, which is very nice indeed. Dangerous kicks the record off with a nice dance groove and a duet vocal testimony to the risks of love. Say Something Loving is maybe the best lyrical capture of insecure love, and the Tracy Thorn-like vocal shows how Romy Madley Croft has grown as a singer. Lips and A Violent Noise are both pretty seriously chill, but in a good way, as this band has always done. Simple guitar figure, strong bass line, layers of synths to flesh things out, dramatic slow development of the song. Performance features another gifted vocal from Madley Croft. And oh! the romance of Brave For You, with another skeletal frame embellished to a sheen. On Hold has a driving rhythm, I Dare You another throbbing pulse, and Test Me is a spacey dirge. All three feature slowly developed ideas on top of simple instrumental motifs.

The thing is, if you asked me if I was into minimalism in my music I'm sure I wouldn't answer as enthusiastically as I love this band. They are gifted songwriters, they have two compelling singers, and have been able to develop their ideas over three excellent records. All three are solid, this is the new one. Go for it.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Drive-By Truckers American Band 2016

Drive-By Truckers have done something very unusual. They have made a great record with overtly political lyrics. Shocking really.

Lots of bands and artists have made politically-themed records before, and some of them are OK I guess. Actually I say that only because I certainly haven't heard them all. The ones I can think of are all pretty bad. And I don't mean records with one political song and the rest is a mix of romance and fast cars. Or the records with some serious stuff between the lines. I am talking about the message record. Neil Young's done it. Springsteen, too. And Jackson Browne made two or three of them in a row. Not coincidentally, it was when nobody listened to Jackson Browne for a while.

The Truckers have certainly produced plenty of sociological observation over the years, and have told some very telling political tales. They are clearly left of center, but they are also from the South, so there is always "the duality of the Southern thing".

Can this one actually be compared favorably with Southern Rock Opera 2001, The Dirty South 2004 and Brighter Than Creation's Dark 2008? Each of those can vie for record of the year with the best of contenders. And they are profound statements from the best possible mix of Neil Young, The Clash, The Stones, and Skynyrd.

The answer is a rousing Yes. An exploration of the divisions within the title country, the record is impressive in its anger and focus. And like their greatest records, this one also contains the perfect trilogy that encapsulates the themes of the record. Like Southern Rock Opera's The Southern Thing, Three Great Alabama Icons, and Wallace, and Brighter Than Creation's Dark's Two Daughters And A Beautiful Wife, Three Dimes Down, and The Righteous Path, this one contains Ever South, What It Means, and Once They Banned Imagine.

The band continues with just the two songwriters in Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley that forged the fine English Oceans 2015, and I stand behind what I felt about the writing on that record. They have both become better writers than on the early outings, and they don't need more help.

I'll leave this with the first stanza of What It Means, one of several songs that ruminate on our love of guns and the racial tensions that we only thought were getting better before the last few years:

He was running down the street when they shot him in his tracks
About the only thing agreed upon is he ain’t coming back
There won’t be any trial so the air it won’t be cleared
There’s just two sides calling names out of anger and of fear
If you say it wasn’t racial when they shot him in his tracks
well I guess that means that you ain’t black, it means that you ain’t black
I mean Barack Obama won and you can choose where to eat
but you don’t see too many white kids lying bleeding on the street