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Gerald Brennan "Loves the three Rs: Readin', Ritin', and Reviewin'" RSS Feed (Chicago, IL United States)
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Double Indemnity
Double Indemnity
DVD
Price: $2.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle, Shakespearean, Superb, September 27, 2014
For my money, “Double Indemnity” is as good as Shakespeare.

I remember studying “Hamlet” and “Macbeth” in high school, struggling through the archaic language to learn some vital and horrible lessons about the human condition, and find some real humor amidst the horrors. And hopefully teachers in the coming centuries will supplant those works with those of Billy Wilder, who’s every bit as relevant and insightful, while also deftly balancing tragedy and comedy. I know it’s hardly an obscure movie—beloved by film students and directors, on the American Film Institute’s list of the best 100 movies of the 20th century—but it should be practically mandatory. It’s just that good.

Film noir has its share of tropes: the investigator, the femme fatale, etc. And like many classics of any genre, this dabbles in tropes but also subverts them. There’s investigation, to be sure, but in lieu of private eyes in trenchcoats cooly smoking cigarettes, we get a fussy old man in a three-piece suit who can’t ever seem to find the matches to light his cigars. The woman in question is as icy as any in fiction, but she’s hardly an isolated specimen; here, she more than meets her match in amorality. And rather than some standard gumshoe setup, we get something even stickier, something that would seem absurd if it wasn’t so expertly executed—an insurance sales pitch that leads to a murder.

The business world’s somewhat underused as a dramatic setting, perhaps because it occupies so much of so many of our lives that we’d like an escape in our entertainment. And here, it’s only explored as a backdrop for crime. But the two main male leads offer an interesting microcosm of company life. Smooth-talking insurance salesman Walter Neff’s a perfect exemplar of the front-of-the-house mentality, and how its amiability and concern for appearances sometimes conceal a cynical and complete disregard for morals and ethics. Meanwhile, claims adjuster Barton Keyes is a prime specimen of the office-worker at large, often cleaning up the messes the salesmen have made; he’s unkempt and discombobulated on the outside, but sharp-minded and pure of heart. Like all great art, the interplay between these men not only shows us the particulars of their relationship, but timeless generalities that are every bit as relevant and insightful today as they were seventy years ago. (There’s also something inadvertently prescient about Fred MacMurray as Neff. Obviously Billy Wilder couldn’t and wouldn’t have made a movie about someone who was, at the time, a lowly naval officer, but his lead character ends up looking retrospectively Nixonian, another silver-tongued man from the Golden State whose schemes and intrigues fall apart spectacularly, leaving us with a sweaty jowly stubbly mess of a man trying desperately to explain himself.)

The plot’s sheer perfection. I don’t want to spoil it, but there are no wasted lines, no inessential characters. It’s a masterpiece of economical and inventive storytelling; I first saw it close to twenty years ago, and I watched it most recently last week, and I’m still blown away by it. This is the type of movie that makes people who hate black-and-white movies turn into rapt viewers. (I had to talk my wife into watching it. She thanked me afterwards.) This is the type of movie that makes people love movies. It’s absolutely essential viewing.


Disraeli Gears (Remastered)
Disraeli Gears (Remastered)
Price: $5.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When Blue Turns to...Psychedelic Pink, September 10, 2014
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When I first got in to Eric Clapton, I still believed in greatest hits packages. I got "The Cream of Clapton" and figured I had a good understanding of what he was about, all the high points of a legendary career. Later I saw "The Very Best of Cream" and picked that up, too; I figured I was getting a few great songs (like "Tales of Brave Ulysses") that weren't on the first disc. (Yes, they were discs back then.)

I was missing out. "Disraeli Gears" is absolutely essential in its entirety, possibly the best album in Clapton's career, and my favorite type of musical purchase--an album that hangs together completely, that somehow manages to be both consistent and consistently interesting.

Many great artists go through an apprentice phase of sorts, imitating their masters and churning out workmanlike work that's derivative of what they admire, or maybe just a step or two beyond. Some never grow out of it. Others eventually transcend it, becoming the new masters that others then seek to emulate. Bob Dylan had to try to be Woody Guthrie for a while before he could learn how to be Bob Dylan; Bruce Springsteen tried to be Dylan but eventually learned how to be Springsteen. So it was with Eric Clapton--for a while he seemed to want to be an American bluesman, working on great but evolutionary albums (his work with The Yardbirds, John Mayall's "Bluesbreakers," the first Cream album) until he launched his own revolution. It's the difference between craftsmanship and artistry, between working with the hands and working with the heart.

For this is something unlike anything that had existed before. The album (minus its odd palate-cleansing music hall closing song) is full of fat rich guitar tones that just hang there in the air like beautiful psychedelic balloons. There's mention of blue--the "witch of trouble in electric blue" mentioned on the album's opener, the song "Blue Condition," et. al.--and there are echoes of the blues, but it feels like something else, something warm and acid-tinged and flooded with psychedelic colors. "You've got that rainbow feel, but that rainbow has a beard," Clapton sings on "SWLABR," and it's clear from the song (and heck, even its title) that we're in a new place here, a place where nothing makes sense, but it's OK, because everything is awesome.


Wanted: Elevator Man
Wanted: Elevator Man
by Doug Crandell
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.83
36 used & new from $4.45

5.0 out of 5 stars Down Is the New Up, May 31, 2014
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This review is from: Wanted: Elevator Man (Paperback)
There’s a bit of urban folklore that says that, when you’re unemployed and having a hard time finding opportunities in the business world, you should get a job as a taxi driver. Theoretically you’ll open doors not only for executives, but for yourself. The thinking goes that businessmen make snap judgments about people, and if you hit it off with someone, you can land a job you may not have found through normal means. You can drive a cab for a few months and carry a stack of resumes, and someday some executive will step into your cab and they’ll fall in love with you. (Platonically, or course—or whatever the Greek descriptor is for non-erotic business love.) It’s a nice theory, a comforting plan of attack for everyone who still believes America is a meritocracy.

Peterson’s book speaks to an opposite sensibility. There’s an old joke that the elevator business is full of ups and downs, and this is all about downward mobility, lowered expectations, forgoing the clean white collar in exchange for a grease-stained blue one, and eventually coming to realize you’ll never make it to the other side of that divide, because the people over there view you as little more than scenery.

Fortunately, this book’s so well-written it makes a downer feel like an upper—it’s delightfully whimsical, with a wonderfully magical tone that reminds me of The Hudsucker Proxy. Only here, the attitude isn’t “Go get em!” but rather a smart and world weary cynicism, more like I-once-tried-to-go-get-em-when-I-was-young-and-foolish. Its protagonist, Barnes, gets a job with the Elevator Commission, a job for which he’s woefully unqualified. He’s hoping to rub shoulders with executives downtown and use his elevator work as a career lift; he’s done the things society expects of him, education-wise, and he has no particular reason to embark on a business career other than because it’s what’s expected of someone with his level of education. Meanwhile he’s coming under the tutelage of an elevator veteran named Coneybeare, and reading pamphlets that are somewhat less than inspirational.

(Full disclosure: I know Joe Peterson from the Chicago writing scene. We’ve had a couple of awesome conversations about artistic careers; he seems like a good dude, but I did get the sense he felt a little underappreciated as a writer, which was relatable but slightly annoying, because I also feel underappreciated as a writer. So it took me a while to get around to reading this, but I came away from it with the sense that, yes, he’s a very talented writer, and tremendously underappreciated.)

Long story short, things don’t work out well, but the trip is enjoyable as hell. There’s something timeless about it, something that reminds me of downtown Chicago itself, and all the old magical buildings where you step inside and lose track of the year and even the decade. (I was waiting tables on Michigan Avenue in 2008 in a building that still had honest-to-God elevator operators, one of whom had literally been working there since the Truman Administration.) And yet it’s also a perfect novel for Great Recession America, wonderfully evocative of the post-Millenial angst that comes from realizing that 300 million people are chasing after the same eight slices of pie, and then realizing that all eight slices have already been allocated to the baker’s cronies.

So buy it. Read it. Enjoy it. Down, it seems, really is the new up.


Deserter's Songs (Remastered) ((Remastered))
Deserter's Songs (Remastered) ((Remastered))
Price: $8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Holes and Wholes, May 18, 2014
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Sometimes you hear a critically-praised album and go: “Meh.” Then maybe you start hearing about another album, but always in the same breath as the album you were lukewarm about, so you avoid it for a while. But eventually something compels you to give it a listen, and it grows on you, and you realize that THIS is the album you were looking for, the album you’d hoped the other one would be. Maybe it’s a transference of hope, or maybe everyone was wrong all along—either way, you’ve found something important and essential and vital.

"Deserter’s Songs" feels that way, for me. It inevitably earns comparisons to The Flaming Lips’ "The Soft Bulletin." There was a fair amount of cross-pollination between the two—personnel, ideas, studio time—and both get lumped into one of those cute subgenres, dream pop. But "Deserter’s Songs" is, to my mind, the far superior work, the album I thought "The Soft Bulletin" would be. For all the Flaming Lips’ skill, and for as much as I love "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," there’s something annoying and heavy and self-important in "The Soft Bulletin;" I rarely feel the need to throw it on the iPod. Whereas I listen to this often and eagerly, and miss it when it’s gone. (Every album has its optimum time and place; for me, this is perfect to listen to on headphones while biking along the Chicago lakeshore on a moonlit summer night—it perfectly fits the effortless grandeur of the scene, the way the city’s bright skyline’s dwarfed by infinite nature.)

At first, the epics pulled me in. “Holes” opens the album with verve; it’s one of those rare songs that’s so obviously brilliant that you can’t help but be amazed on the first listen. In fact, I didn’t immediately pay attention to the subsequent tracks; I was afraid the group had shot their load up front until I caught “Godess on a Hiway” and the way its shimmering beauty segues perfectly into “The Funny Bird,” their epic of epics, a stunningly grand piece whose wailing guitars still give me goosebumps.

But I’m a whole album person, so I kept listening, and I’m glad I did, because this album eventually revealed itself to be a tremendously well-constructed whole, a sweeping opus of happy alienation, perfectly encapsulating that feeling you get when you make peace with the fact that you’re too weird for the mainstream. Albums, to me, seem more difficult and more vital than mere songs. Coming up with the latter seems like the bare-bones task of musicianship—not that it’s easy, I’m sure, but there is at least a natural wholeness to a song, an approved verse-chorus-verse structure for the lazy to fall back on. Whereas an album requires an arrangement and a coherence, a progression and a structure that’s far less formulaic. It’s an artwork composed of artwork, a gallery opening, an exhibition; you want it to have some common themes and an overall fell, but without falling into bland sameness. It’s a balancing act, a tightrope walk in public view where it’s easy to fall to one side or the other; consequently, some get so paralyzed with fear that there’s no movement. But this work crosses the void with grace and ease, effortlessly balancing variety and coherence while also going somewhere worthwhile.

So eventually I fell in love with “The Hudson Line”—its jazzy tone, the nicely understated shuffle of train sounds in the background, the way it somehow captures the subtle majesty of the Hudson Valley on a moonlit night. And I opened my heart to “Tonite it Shows” a song as delicate and beautiful and precise as a ballerina. And soon “Opus 40” hooked me with its happy waves of sound surging and crashing joyfully amidst enigmatic lyrics about collapses on the ocean floor. And even the experimental interludes (“I Collect Coins,” the mad scientist orchestral romp of “The Happy End (The Drunk Room),” the late night existential loneliness of “Pick Up If You’re There”) started to feel necessary and important—essential pieces of a coherent whole, giving the listener pause for breath before and after the breathless epics. (Everyone—and I mean everyone—who has ever thrown an extended piece of studio garbage into an otherwise excellent album should listen to this and see how experimentation SHOULD be done. I’m looking at you, Eddie Vedder.)

But that’s another comparison, and this album needs none. It’s deserves to stand on its own, a shining exemplar not only of a small subgenre, but of everything music should be.


The Struggle Trilogy
The Struggle Trilogy
by Nelson Lowhim
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.76
8 used & new from $10.77

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Worthwhile (but Difficult) Struggle, March 30, 2014
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This review is from: The Struggle Trilogy (Paperback)
There are two types of disappointing books. Some are just plain awful; it’s apparent that the author shouldn’t be writing, and that most readers will be wasting their time. Then there are others where the author’s obviously skilled, where they’ve created some memorable characters and images and scenes, but they just didn’t take the time to bring the whole work to that same standard. This book’s in the latter category.

Lowhim has the most important trait for a writer: empathy. There are plenty of bad books out there, even some fairly successful ones, where the author just seems to be writing to gratify their own ego, to create an alternate world with an obvious author surrogate who does great things in spite of implacable opposition from unlikeable enemies. But Lowhim’s more interested in reality than fantasy; he served in Iraq, but he presents the war from the Iraqi side, from the side of people who were fighting the American occupation. And he presents them with empathy. That’s not to say they are likeable, but they are understandable, and one has a sense of why they’re doing what they’re doing. He creates an emotional connection between the reader and the characters—something that’s vital to good fiction.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t have enough empathy for the reader. The pacing’s a little off; there are scenes that drag along a little too long without a break, particularly in the first 20-30% of the book. (I tend to think short fast chapters are better—the reader has no time to get bored, and instead ends up thinking “Oh, I should read a little more.” And I feel like the middle of the front half of a book determines whether it will be a fast read or a slow read; I think the reason "Ulysses" feels so long, for instance, is that there’s some really slow going about that far in. So even though the book speeds up considerably later on, it ends up feeling like a slog.) There were also a few typos here and there. And the American characters who show up in the narrative are little more than pop-up targets—there’s a little bit of shape and form to them, but they only appear briefly, to be shot at or blown up before disappearing. The book might have been a better read if they weren’t in there at all, if Lowhim had saved them for another work. And between all of this, “The Struggle” was more of a struggle than it should have been.

And that’s a shame, because there’s also a lot of great writing here. All in all, it’s a worthwhile read—there are some very memorable and chilling scenes, and it concludes in a way that’s satisfying, yet unsettling. It’s obvious Nelson’s a talented writer; and I do hope he writes more books. I just wish he’d taken the time to make this one as good as it could have been.


99 Problems
99 Problems
Price: $4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars More than Murakami, January 9, 2014
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This review is from: 99 Problems (Kindle Edition)
Less is more.

Ben Tanzer—author of this light and lively collection of essays on running and writing—understands that, in a way that other authors sometimes forget. (Full disclosure: I know Tanzer from the Chicago author scene; he blurbed a book I helped launch, but I’ve only met him once. He seems like a good dude.)

I can appreciate his economy of prose. It’s easy to cram in every last thought on a subject, but that makes for a dense read, a slog, one that leaves the reader waiting for it all to end. I actually felt that way about Haruki Murakami’s book on the subject (which Tanzer cites as an influence). Though I love his novels, Murakami’s running memoir left me sorely disappointed; while it had some worthwhile observations, it felt like the ultramarathons for which he trained.

Whereas “99 Problems” flows briskly, “a series of snapshots” (as Tanzer describes it) rather than an exhaustively detailed mural. He describes various runs, and the stories he’s piecing together during those runs, and the various thoughts about family life and random co-worker interactions that pop into his head along the way, and how sometimes it all feels like it’s falling apart (bodies, stories, etc.) and sometimes it all comes together instead. Overall, it reads like one of those great runs where your legs feel light and your feet feel fleet—it’s quick, and it’s pleasant, and it leaves you wanting more.


The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm Beginning to See the Light..., January 7, 2014
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This review is from: The Velvet Underground (Audio CD)
I bought the other three Velvet Underground albums fifteen years ago but somehow only picked up this one after Lou Reed’s passing. I feel like I’ve been missing out on their best work.

I loved “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” but felt her voice was a little off-putting; it sounded like she was trying to sing with a mouth full of chewing gum. (Also, “Heroin” and “Venus in Furs” were revelatory tracks, but “European Son” felt like noise for noise’s sake.) The title track on “White Light/White Heat” was one of my favorite openings ever, and “The Gift” was a story song like none other, but “Sister Ray” felt like still more gratuitous sound, an experiment that didn’t prove its hypothesis. And “Loaded” has long been a favorite of mine, but with all its poppiness, it sometimes felt a little slick. (Don’t get me wrong—if I can produce anything as memorable as any of these, I’ll consider myself massively successful.)

But “The Velvet Underground” somehow combines every other album’s strengths, while also avoiding their weaknesses. When it slows down, it’s a smooth listen without being bland; when it speeds up, it’s exciting without being discordant. Lyrically, it’s top-notch: “What do you think I’d see, if I could walk away from me?” Reed asks in “Candy Says,” somehow turning a character study of a New York transvestite in the late 1960s into something universal and timeless and true. And “Pale Blue Eyes” might be the truest depiction of adultery ever set to verse. (Or second-truest, after Gram Parsons’ “We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning.”) It gets everything right—the obsession, the tangled emotions, the desire for both safe separation and suffocating closeness.

And that goes for the album as a whole. It’s perhaps fitting that they named it after themselves—for a lesser group, that might make it seem like they’d run out of ideas, but here, it’s more like: “This is who we are; this is everything we’re capable of; this is us firing on all cylinders.” There’s an eloquent and sinful sadness to the first third, and strange and hopeful spirituality in the middle, and even a main experiment (“The Murder Mystery”) near the end that proves that the band’s central premise was sound, that experiments can, in fact, work.


The Marshall Mathers LP 2
The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Offered by Great Price Media
Price: $13.99
88 used & new from $7.96

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars America's Class Clown, January 1, 2014
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“I count my blessings, but I suck at math,” Eminem announces midway though a smartly-lifted Joe Walsh riff on “So Far...” It’s a great, pithy line that epitomizes the new Eminem. He’s cutting-edge without being cutting; he hasn’t lost his edginess or his edge. He’s still angry, even though he at least knows now that he has every reason not to be.

It’s always tempting to repeat past triumphs, and even beyond the title, this album clearly references "The Marshall Mathers LP," which was a black hole of an album, so bleak and dark and massive that it warped the cultural space-time of 2000. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing it, or hearing people argue about it; it was the perfect soundtrack for drunk-driving to the nudie bar with your lowbrow friends, and the perfect topic of conversation for arguing with your highbrow friends about whether he was a genius or an evil genius or simply evil. And it was a genuinely awesome listen, but truly uncomfortable at times—not because he lacked talent, but because he was so clearly focused on using his talents for ill.

The good news is he’s mellowed a bit--but in the right ways. He’s still himself, America’s class clown, the misfit kid who dropped out of 9th grade and followed the exact opposite trajectory from what society expected, somehow turning stupid dick jokes into clever rhymes, and clever rhymes into super-stardom. And he’s getting away with things even he couldn’t get away with back then, rapping Columbine-related lyrics that were deleted from the first album just to see if he can get away with it. Only here, instead of an omnipresent Slim Shady lurking at Burger King and spitting on our onion rings, he’s the ultimate victim of his own misdeeds, hounded by fans and besieged in bathrooms, having his onion rings spat on because, hey, that’s how karma works in our flawed understanding.

But the only thing that really matters is the songs. And I can’t stop listening to the songs. I’ve probably listened to this album every other day since I got it, and I’m still hearing new and amazing lines. Eminem’s chief virtue, besides being a devoted father, is that he’s incredibly hard-working. Society’s gotten stratified enough that it seems like rap stars and athletes are the only people truly able to raise their station in life through sheer hard work, and Em may have slacked off for a few years of addiction and sickness, but he’s working as hard as anybody else in the business, and, most importantly, far harder than his critics, who are lazily taking potshots at the Eminem that used to be, rather than recognizing he’s beyond all that. They’re still confessional stories (except for the character sketch in track 1, which has Stan’s brother hunting him down to kill him), but they’re self-aware, very meta, featuring criticism of criticism, and an awareness of the irony inherent in his situation. If "Relapse" was an outlandish cartoon of an album, and "Recovery" a clear-eyed and intermittently amazing attempt to be something he’s not, this all Eminem, honest and reflective and true, the "Eminem Show" of his later period, embracing self in an attempt to transcend self, and making what might be the best album of his career.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 4, 2014 12:01 PM PST


Altered State
Altered State
Price: $7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond Genre, October 26, 2013
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This review is from: Altered State (MP3 Music)
I'm really not a metal person.

That's OK, because this isn't really a metal album. It might be tagged that way, but I'm starting to think genre's just a way to organize things by something other than quality so that journalists can write about them and salesmen can sell them. You can throw in a lot of genre words to describe "Altered State"--if pressed, I'd say it's a complicated and beautiful prog-rock construction with a fine metallic sheen. But those are just words. And as Elvis Costello (among others) famously said, "Writing about music's like dancing about architecture." The words dart around the music, giving an idea of what it is and what it isn't, but at the end of the day, it is what it is. I can say the musicianship is dense and impeccable and chunky and delicate and beautiful. The songs are just plain well-built--they careen between dissonance and organization in much the same way that, say, Radiohead's "Pyramid Song" resolves itself. And the vocals are clean and soaring and glorious, a great big fricking eagle that soars peacefully one moment and then dives shrieking into the metallic canyons below. But the most important thing I can say is: you just gotta hear it.

I stumbled across this band accidentally; I went to see a Katatonia show because I'd accidentally stumbled across THEM a while back, and TesseracT was one of three groups opening. I was less than pleased to find out there were THREE opening acts--it was a work night, and I wasn't looking forward to making it a late night--but once I heard Ashe O'Hara's vocals, I was like, OK, maybe this isn't a bad thing. (They were great to see live, by the way--he's new to the band and was obviously just having a blast getting to the U.S. for the first time and touring and playing shows.) And the songs--it was that rarest of things, when you hear something once and want to hear it again, and you hear it again and want to keep listening. Listening to TesseracT is like looking at Owen Wilson's nose--there are all these weird and cool angles, and you just want to figure out what the hell is going on with all of it, so you check it out again, and you still can't figure it out, even when it's RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF YOU, but damn if it isn't compelling.

I'm sure those Amazon song snippets don't do it justice. Heck, LISTENING to it won't do it justice, if you only do it once. You're gonna have to put on some headphones and crank it up and spend some time with it. Just trust me on this.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 20, 2014 4:31 PM PDT


Trouble Will Find Me
Trouble Will Find Me
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Whine-Dark Sea, October 23, 2013
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This review is from: Trouble Will Find Me (Audio CD)
Fear corrodes any meaningful relationship--even with a favorite band. One reads volumes into tiny changes, extrapolating frightening trajectories from three points of data, then coming up with a different (but equally terrifying) scenario when a fourth point doesn't fit the others.

Take the track length for The National's past few albums. Alligator's 13 songs made for an incredibly compelling listen, and Boxer's 12 were perfect. Then High Violet came in at 11, and my mathematical mind convinced me these awesome musicians were running out of music, on the verge of downgrading to EPs and compilation singles before running out of steam entirely. Then when Trouble Will Find Me was announced at 13 tracks, I worried they'd abandoned concision for sprawl. (This isn't the first time I've read so much into so little--take album art and titles. High Violet didn't have a predominantly black cover like its predecessors, and didn't follow the logical Alligator-Boxer-C????? progression I'd expected, so I'd worried that'd be their first departure from a trajectory of ascending awesomeness.) These things aren't entirely insignificant. The energetic colorful squiggles of the sculpture on High Violet's cover announced a charged and chaotic album whose ideas burst forth in several interesting directions, while Trouble's black-and-white mirror image of the top of a woman's head heralded a more monochromatic and precise work.

Fortunately, that doesn't mean boring. In fact, like its immediate predecessors, this album's the opposite--there's a denseness and a richness and an intricacy that rewards multiple listens, and even requires them, because you can't take it all in immediately.

Their music reminds me of the ocean. There's a common feel to all of it, but also an incredible variety, and an intense level of detail to the patterns. More importantly, once you've experienced it, you might think you don't need it any more, but something pulls you back. (Like a lot of my favorite music, I'm often perplexed and/or underwhelmed on first listen. Then I give it another go, just to see if I've missed something. And before long, the songs I thought I didn't like are stuck in my head, and I'm hunting down my fellow Nationalists to jabber excitedly about this lyric or that string segment or the other horn arrangement, the one that sounds like nothing you've ever heard before.) You go to the beach as a kid and it seems OK, but you feel like you can take it or leave it. And the next thing you know, you're an adult buying oceanfront property.

Still, this is an album with the rough edges removed, the polished work of pros who have gotten incredibly good at what they do, but who might have also explored all the corners of their sound and are now, for lack of anything better to do, going back and polishing the middle. Or (to keep things nautical) it's, in the words of musicOMH's Andrew Burgess, "A collection of waves that never break." This is a band that's steering away from the rocks and the shoals, and one sometimes misses the crashing intensity of, say, Alligator's "Abel" or "Mr. November," or High Violet's "Terrible Love."

I'm glad they're also avoiding the safety of harbor. For all the energy in its music, High Violet's lyrics offered scenes of uneasy domesticity: fearful parenting, and difficult but permanent relationships. Whereas here, the music's calmer, but the lyrics are more intense, full of angst and self-loathing and confessional recrimination. "Everything I love is out to sea," he offers on "Don't Swallow the Cap," and it seems apropos for the album as a whole; one gets the sense he loves the drama and the chaos, and is afraid of the domesticated life sketched out on High Violet. Instead, he's riding out his own personal rough weather on the high seas, on the gray day after a big storm. It's not exhilarating, but it's compelling--and those of us who signed up for this trip a while ago want to see how long the voyage can last.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 26, 2014 4:31 PM PDT


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