Yeah, it’s been a while since we Merry Merry Month-ed, but January started off 2010 right with some fantastic releases. The obvious, the one everyone talked about, the one that had people gathered around their website waiting for a hint of what was to come is, of course, Vampire Weekend. Kicking of the new year, Contra didn’t quite knock my socks off on the first listen. Sure, “Horchata” was catchy-as-hell, but I wondered if perhaps their sound could really only sustain them for a short time. But it’s grown on me over the few weeks and, even without anything like the triple threat of “Oxford Comma”, “A Punk”, and “Mansford Roof”, I still feel it’s a worthy follow-up to their debut. No big surprises – it’s fun and insanely catchy in pretty much exactly the way I’d expected – but songs like “White Sky” easily remind us why we all liked them so much in the first place.
Laura Veirs‘ July Flame is perhaps a little less spunky, but still a pleasure to listen to. Here’s where I should admit that I’ve never actually heard a full Laura Veirs album before. I’ve got one EP, and she’s high on that mental list of artists I keep meaning to finally check out properly, but, shamefully, I still haven’t gotten to it. So it is that July Flame is the first one and, as a result, I have nothing to compare this to. I can’t say if it lives up to past releases or if she’s changed her ways since the last; I can only say that “Summer Is The Champion” and “Wide-Eyed, Legless” (below) were my immediate favorites and I expect July Flame to soundtrack many thoughtful moods in the future.
Now, there are a few artists, few enough that I could probably count them on one hand, that blow away the competition almost by default. Unless something tragic happens, other releases don’t stand a change against theirs. One of that few is the lovely Mark Oliver Everett and his Eels. Assuming he doesn’t totally go off the deep end and release, say, a gansta rap album*, his albums are probably always going to outshine the rest. Last year’s Hombre Lobo had bite; January’s End Times is all stunning heartache and loss. It bluntly describes, as Everett himself put it, “the state of the desperate times we live in. The bottom line-ness of it all. The end of common decency. The loss of caring about doing a good job. These are tough times. Who can you trust? Walter Cronkite is just a ghost.” Add to that a renewed sense of personal hurt and aloneness and you have the recipe for some truly depressing listening. So how is it that Eels albums never quite are? There always seems to be a tiny spark of hope, of defiance, underneath it all that keeps it from sinking into total despair. Everett’s talent lies in his ability to be almost painfully honest in his lyrics, while managing to find beauty in even the deepest sadness.
*Though, honestly, I’d totally listen to a Eels gangsta rap album at least once. It would be interesting, if nothing else.
As for singles, it seems that January ’10 had some greatness to offer in that department as well.
These New Puritans – We Want War
This song gives me goosebumps. It starts with a slow drum and gradually turns into a dark force with a choir, middle eastern-inspired percussion and creepy-inspired creepiness. It has the same effect as The Imperial Death March. Seriously, if ever I decide to become a super villain I’d choose this song for my theme. It feels menacing, like the harbinger of evil. Blows my mind.
Lightspeed Champion – Marlene
I first heard this song in concert two years ago (which by the way, was freaking amazing) and I remember looking for it afterwards, because it made such an instant impact. Dev warned the crowd that it was a bit different from his usual stuff. The crowd went nuts, so then he said he wondered whether to be worried that his other songs didn’t get quite the same booming response. To be honest, I’ll listen to anything he dishes out, but “Marlene” truly is a remarkable single with an harder edge and even some psychedelic influences. If you haven’t heard it yet, listen and love, my friend.
The nasal, high-pitched vocals sound like that guy from Empire Of The Sun. I mean, exactly like him! Wait, it’s not the same guy, is it? Uncanny. Anyway, this sounds like a wonderfully, sixties rock-inspired pop song. It’s really sunny and playful and for some reason it made me wish for the warm summer days that ended with a slushy that turned my tongue blue. But I think that might be a personal thing.
Plastiscines – Bitch
Les Plastiscines – following Meredith Brooks before them, aren’t trying to change the world with their earth shattering lyricism, they’re just announcing their superb B-I-T-C-H status with some rowdy Rawk ‘n Roll! “Bitch” has an uncomplicated message, if you can call it that, and mild shock value – well if you’re Amish and consider Avril’s musical endeavors “punk”, but it’s a whole lot of fun.
Oh my goodness, I love this song – from the electronic bleeps to the sweeping guitar. Its lyrics tap into the essence of human emotions without getting sickeningly sentimental. It’s the work of one beardy man with an amazing understanding how to play with words and melody to create something that’ll make a lasting impression. I know it’s not fair to compare, but I’ve listened to them in succession and couldn’t help but note his lyrics make the Plastiscines seem very silly indeed, still fun but so very silly.
OK Go – This Too Shall Pass
So sweet. I forgot that despite the somewhat gimmicky feel of their quirky, memorable videos, OK Go make some really great pop songs as well. This one is ridiculously catchy, upsweeping and uplifting and features a whole dang marching band. It will turn your mood from Tim Burton to Roberto Begnini in a heartbeat. AND it has a quirky, memorable video.
Jay Z, Rihanna, Bono & The Edge – Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour)
The proceeds of this single go to relief funds for Haiti. It’s a great cause, a great single and a wonderful way to spend 99 cents.
Filed under: In The Merry Merry Month, Music Tagged: | Charity, Eels, Indie, Jay-Z, Laura Veirs, Les Plastiscines, Lightspeed Champion, Oh No Ono, Ok Go, Pop, Rihanna, Rock, Stairs To Korea, These New Puritans, U2, Vampire Weekend