The Listening Post: November 2010

Less time on the tracks, less music in the brain. But what’s there is all excellent this time around.

  • Slanted & EnchantedPavement. When Pavement had a one-off hit with “Cut My Hair” it was easy to assume that they were a harmless pop band…not as classicist as Teenage Fanclub, not as heavy as Weezer. That’s certainly the assumption I made. Never assume. Pavement’s début album is a collection of some of the most perverse anti-pop ever written. At its core, this is a pop album but the core is buried deeply in some of the most aggressively idiosyncratic instrumentation since The Velvet Underground and Nico. The result is that Slanted & Enchanted is one of the catchiest subversions of the pop format you will ever hear. For 14 songs, Pavement turns pop music upside down and inside out. You recognize the format, but it’s unlike anything else you’ve heard. There are familiar elements: some dissonant noise guitar à la Sonic Youth, vocals from the Velvet Underground, melodies from pop music, the aggression of alternative rock. It’s not an album that lends itself to casual listening, but repeated listenings pay off in spades. Unlike other noise merchants, the songs on Slanted stick with you when they’re over. The melodies may rise and fall, appearing like a shooting star and then disappearing just as quickly, but they stick with you. Even the cacaphonic elements, like the repeated scream of “I’m trying!” that provides the…er, hook… of “Conduit For Sale” will get stuck in your head. To be this noisy and this discordant while simultaneously being this melodic and this memorable is a neat trick. In fact, it’s brilliant. You will have to work at liking this album because it is so off-putting at first, but the rewards are immense.
    Grade: A
  • Copper BlueSugar. Following the lamented demise of Hüsker Dü, songwriter and singer Bob Mould released two brilliant albums, the transcendent Workbook and the corrosive Black Sheets of Rain. He then retrenched and formed a new band, Sugar. Copper Blue is closer to Workbook and latter-day Hüskers than it is to the molten heart of darkness at the center of Black Sheets of Rain, and it is another triumph from Mould. The closest kin of Copper Blue is Hüsker Dü’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories or Candy Apple Grey. Melodies and choruses soar throughout. Copper Blue may be Mould’s catchiest album, but the music retains the aggressive combination of R.E.M./Byrds jangle pop and heavy distortion that is Mould’s trademark. Of particular note are the savage tale at the root of “A Good Idea,” the sunny pop music that makes a great counterpoint to the tortured lyrics of “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,” and the Workbook-style “Hoover Dam.” Start to finish, this is a strong collection of music and while it might not be as consistently great as Workbook, Black Sheets, or the last couple of Hüsker albums, it is consistently good with moments of real brilliance. This is the sound of a great songwriter near the top of his game.
    Grade: A-
  • MTV UnpluggedOasis. This is a well-recorded bootleg of Oasis’s famous performance on MTV’s acoustic showcase Unplugged. The music is lush and beautifully performed. Oasis supplemented their sound with horns and strings and trotted out lesser-known, but stunning, selections like “Talk Tonight” and “The Masterplan.” The performance is remembered primarily for the fact that lead singer Liam Gallagher does not perform. Guitarist and songwriter Noel Gallagher ascribed his brother’s absence to illness, but Liam was sitting in the balcony, clearly drunk, waving a bottle of beer, and acting like the git we all know him to be. He was not missed, however. Noel Gallagher is just as strong and expressive a singer as his brother, and the performances are top-notch throughout.
    Grade: A-