Okay, so you might not think RIB buys records anymore. Well, we do. And we’ve bought a ton recently. Certainly since the last time we actually wrote a record review here. We’ll never get fully caught up, but here’s a look at five albums we’ve picked up in the past few weeks:
R.E.M. – Accelerate
Obviously, we didn’t buy this one yet, as it doesn’t come out ‘til Tuesday. But we’ve preordered three copies for friends and family and will be dutifully grabbing a hard copy of our own after we brave the cold to catch their performance on the Today show on release day morning.
A lot has changed since we shared our first impressions of the album, following a once-over at Warner Bros. headquarters. We’ve now lived with the album for a couple weeks, and we are happy to report that we are absolutely thrilled with it.
Accelerate is not only the best R.E.M. album in a decade (which isn’t saying much), it’s an honest-to-goodness classic.
For the first time in the Post-Bill Era, this band is rocking again, thank God, and they sound fantastic. After the mediocre and mostly forgettable Reveal and the giant turd that was Around the Sun, we angered many of our good buddies at Murmurs by calling for them to hang it up on a nearly daily basis. Especially on ATS, the band could do little right; the production was horrendous, the lyrics embarrassing, the music dull and lazy.
But if Accelerate could only have existed because of ATS – which we believe is the case – then it was worth it. The trainwreck lit a fire under this band, got them to finally drop Pat McCarthy as their producer (open letter of thanks to Jacknife Lee forthcoming) and start writing urgent rock songs and record them in days instead of weeks and months. It also helped give Stipe a stiff kick in the pants, and he found something to say again (even Sing for the Submarine, which we hated originally, has charmed us completely – and, lyrically, it is a direct reaction to ATS).
We’re actually shocked that the band was able to turn out a record this good after being so unbearably lame for so long. But they did – the music is tight, it has drive and a pulse, it’s packed with good ideas well-executed - and it’s once again a great time to be an R.E.M. fan. In 34 brilliant minutes, the band goes from being over-the-hill and fading fast to one of the world’s best rock bands again.
If we sound like we’re doing for Stipe & Co. what Monica did for Bill Clinton, then so be it. Love may be blind, but they’ve earned ours again.
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Not to keep gushing, but…
Bon Iver is our first great discovery of 2008. We may be a bit slow coming to the party (Bob Boilen has been gushing for awhile; we took our time getting to it), but we’re early enough to think of this as a personal treasure, and it earns that distinction.
Justin Vernon, who named the band from the French “bon hiver” or “good winter” and sings in a soulful falsetto, wrote the album while living in a cabin in the woods of northwestern Wisconsin after his previous band’s breakup, and it shows both in the content and the sound of the music. Slow, beautiful, warm, intimate.
It’s worth Googling the lyrics when you can’t make them out. Take this from our favorite track, Re: Stacks, a song about internal spring cleaning:
This my excavation and today is kumran
Everything that happens is from now on
This is pouring rain
This is paralyzed
I needed to replace
The fountain in the front yard is rusted out
All my love was down
In a frozen ground
There's a black crow sitting across from me; his wiry legs are crossed
And he's dangling my keys; he even fakes a toss
Whatever could it be
That has brought me to this loss?
This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization
It's the sound of the unlocking and the lift away
Your love will be
Safe with me
At the end of the song, the album’s last track, you can make it out as he gets up from his seat and walks over to the phone. The winter is over and it’s time to reach out to the world again.
The Mountain Goats – Heretic Pride
We just picked this one up yesterday (finally!) and we have not been disappointed. There are soaring moments here (Sax Rohmer #1 and Heretic Pride especially), and at least one song that hits home enough to qualify as our personal theme song of the moment, Autoclave:
I am this great, unstable mass of blood and foam
And no one in her right mind would make my home her home
Another very strong effort from Mr. Darnielle, who grabbed the five spot in our 2006 Album of the Year countdown.
Counting Crows – Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings
Loathe Adam Duritz all you want, but Counting Crows made two of our favorite albums of all time in August and Everything After and This Desert Life.
They’ve also made some crap (I’m talking to you, 2002’s Hard Candy).
SN&SM falls into the latter category. David (Mr. Gillette) Lowery does a great job again on the production, but Duritz is impossible to stomach on this one, both for his lyrics and his delivery. The way he sings on this album at times, we feel like slapping him, either for a shallow, cutesy earnestness or an annoying bravado. In Los Angeles, he talks through the last minute or so, doing his best Brother Love impression (“No more Boston…no more Nashville…no more Oakland! Oh baby, come on out to the sea. Come on talk a walk down Sunset with me! Oh we’re gonna get drunk, find us some skinny girls and go street walking! Street walking, baby, in Los Angeles! And man it's a really good place to find yourself a taco.”) and he sings the following pseudo-political nonsense in Cowboys:
Everyone's in bed tonight/But nobody can sleep/'Cause all the satellites are watching through our windows/She says she doesn't love me, like, like she's acting/But it's as if she isn't talking/'Cause Mr. Lincoln's head is bleeding/On the front row while she's speaking
They Might Be Giants – Here Come the 123s
Another children’s album to go along with No! and Here Come the ABCs and probably the first disappointment of the lot.
Not that it’s particularly bad or anything, but none of the songs have grabbed us really. Apartment Four, Seven Days Of The Week (I Never Go To Work) and Figure Eight are the only numbers we'd be able to recall off the top of our heads, and none of them are essential.
Maybe it's too much kids stuff already, but No! and ABCs were both a riot.
We’ve also picked up back catalogue from The Decemberists, Shearwater, Okkervil River, The National,Cat Stevens, Ryan Adams and several others, but our fingers hurt from typing.