Friday, June 20, 2008

Rebirth (but not the gross kind)

Summer is rough - for instance, I tend to actually gain weight during the summer (even though I play a sport of some sort literally 6 nights a week), because patio season equals drinking, and everyone always wants to go out. This naturally leads to "blog fatigue" and fewer posts. Shit.

Anyway, I'm going to kick it up a bit, because the jury business goes dry until August, and presumably Deuce and Ryan have, like, stuff to do. Slack-picking-up becomes an art at some point.

I will do a full-on review of most of the best music from the first half of the year soon (hint: Bon Iver, good), but two recent releases tore me in such completely opposite directions that I thought it was best to go all "3-beer emo" on the blog.

Today, nine songs from the long-awaited Chinese Democracy album were leaked - and while demos had leaked for years . . . and years . . . and holy shit, years, these were complete, mastered tracks. Of course, Geffen has now put 14 years and just a shade over $10 million into the album, so the leaks were quashed early and often (including zShare links dropping like The Happening, with the same amount of derision and laughter). This is, of course, longhand for "why there won't be a link here" (but feel free to drop me a line and we'll talk) - but still, for those who got a listen, something incredible happened.

It's actually . . . kind of good.

Believe me, I don't want to play any sort of hipster card here - my daily life muddles that message enough as it is - but I simply did not expect anything resembling relevant music from GnR at this point. To me, Axl had become that annoying girl from high school who runs the reunion committee and really REALLY can't go away without contact information and a brief rundown of whether you'd prefer a potluck or a barbeque. Honestly, I expected a National Treasure-style "all signs point toward relic" re-washing of the past.

Instead, the leaked songs are stunningly relevant. Axl Rose's vocals even stand up, slightly, and the revamped production keeps the best parts of '80s/'90s cock-rock while expanding the sound just slightly so that I don't want to hang myself with my Death Cab t-shirt. Granted, I'm not saying Chinese Democracy will be making any of my top-whatever lists at the end of the year, but the impression remains - and impressed I truly am.

On the flip side, the Silver Jews released a new album this week as well, titled Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea. David Berman is one of the underrated songwriters of the past 20 years, holding up well to similar and now-appreciated artists like Jeff Buckley. Now, I'm not exactly exuding credibility with that sort of commentary - it's somewhere near "you know, Bob Saget's comedy is really actually dirty!" on the scale of "shit everyone knows but people feel special sharing" scale - but this appreciation is rooted in an overriding, nearly crushing depression that becomes latent in the Silver Jews' past works. The new album pulls a neat trick, though - it's hopeful. Sort of.

Berman has overcome things I can't even fathom - drug addiction, failure, destitution, the full nine yards of music cliches. However, the key to great music is telling an old story in a completely new way, and Berman succeeds by tinging the happy songs with a wonderfully dark corollary - that sometimes, happiness leads to sloth, to laziness, to failure. This all comes on the heels of two amazing Silver Jews albums (American Water and Tanglewood Numbers), as well as a recovery from multiple addictions and renewal in his marriage.

I'm not going to deconstruct either album any further - this is long as it is, and obviously the latter album likely deserves its own post. However, I thought the juxtaposition was amazing - a colossally overrated band leaks a stunningly relevant album just as a criminally underrated band releases a mediocre album about the dangers of success. Everyone can relate - I know that some of my worst times have come on the heels of great (and usually easily gained) successes, via sloth or similar. Not to beat the dead horse further, but this is exactly the M. Night Shyamalan trajectory (other possible titular characters: Kevin Maas, Ted Kaczynski, Brett Ratner, Sean Daley, really just tons of names).

I would have never thought that I would like the new GnR album more than the new Silver Jews album. I'd never guess that getting happy would slide Berman's music into the "meh" category like that terrible Old Spice commercial. And who would have thought that Axl Rose, of all people, would flourish in the face of crushing expectations (and his own excess)? Beyond this, in a very specific way, Berman called his own shot. Not in a "oooh I live in Brooklyn and drink PBR and oh, it's 2004" sort of way - it's not meta-irony at all. He's singing about the shit that actually happened. Even beyond this, his album is destroyed by a dude who released The Spaghetti Incident - just a bizarre day, to say the least.

Maybe I allow irony to play too large a role in my daily life - however, I was mind-bent today, and sometimes that's enough to spawn 600 words and a bump on the Google lists. We gots to get paid, son.

No comments: