Everything

I’m intimidated by the thought of writing about Nick Cave. There’s something so serious about an artist as complex and celebrated as he is. He’s been performing for decades. He has a dedicated, sophisticated fan base. He invites and inspires extremely thoughtful criticism with every new project.

I can write about Grinderman 2, however. It’s a noisy, kick-ass rock record, and I know my way around that kind of thing.

The opening song, “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” is a perfect choice to start the record.  The rhythm section is strikingly reminiscent of the Jesus Lizard’s finest moments, the guitar playing is vicious, and the vocals are pure Cave. I recently cranked this up on the hi-fi after a bad day at work and it absolutely delivered me from evil. At least, a certain kind of evil.  (The Song “Evil” is also a 100mph banger.) This is not a morally righteous collection of songs.  Sex, Lechery and Violence are front and center in this band.  Nick Cave and AC/DC are from the same country after all.

Of course, being a Cave project, there’s a lot more to it than that. Consider the band name. Contrary to popular imagery, the Grindermen of years past did not depend upon the gratitude of a music-loving public for their livelihood. They sat in one place with those fucking music boxes and tortured everyone in the listening area until their suffering audience finally paid up.  They were notorious for doing it at night, underneath apartment buildings. They were finally outlawed.

The Grinderman songs conjure up lots of unwelcome, undesirable thoughts. Monsters are rampant, victims are found, and the lust is selfish and possessive. It comes to a head during “Kitchenette”. Cave sings his horniness to a married woman. Her husband, the sleeping “executioner”, is “sleeping with a fireman’s axe”. The narrator is not exactly a knight in shining armor; he reminds the hapless wife that she has “the ugliest fuckin’ kids I’ve ever seen”. The men in her life leave much to be desired.

But by the next song, “Palaces of Montezuma”, Cave seems to have faced up to the intolerable Grinderman who dominates the first seven songs of this album. In a beautiful, Bad Seeds-sounding “psychedelic invocation”, Cave exorcizes the monstrous side of his desire and asks for  “precious love to hold”. He seems to have found some serenity.

The final song on the album, “Bellringer Blues”, loops psychedelically towards the conclusion that the haunted, anxious Cave can ultimately manage all of this stuff just fine, thank you, and he is willing to do it on his own terms. He ends the album singing, “It’s okay Joe it’s time to go!”

With Grinderman 2, Nick Cave and his band have recorded a challenging, provocative collection of well-written, well-performed rock ‘n’ roll songs. It looks stripped down and primitive, but it ain’t. It’s actually pretty amazing.

Smells Like:

  1. Broken BellsST
    The best pop songwriter (James Mercer) and producer (Danger Mouse) of the last decade at the height of their game.
  2. The Tallest Man on EarthThe Wild Hunt
    Just when you thought one man and a guitar couldn’t sound fresh.
  3. The GorillazPlastic Beach
    Reveals more on each repeated listening; Damon Albarn taps into the schizophrenia of our times.
  4. Beach House – Teen Dream
    Baltimore twosome’s 3rd long-player adds to the strength of their prior two albums.
  5. Deerhunter Halcyon Digest
    Bradford Cox’s most solid and consistent songwriting to date.
  6. Arcade FireThe Suburbs
    Whether folks like the comparison or not, their earnestness, musicianship and big sound brings to mind a certain Irish band in its heyday.
  7. Tame ImpalaInnerspeaker
    Australian youngsters reveal musical chops beyond their years as they create an album best listened to from beginning to end.
  8. Wyatt, Atzmon, Stephen‘……….for the ghosts within’
    Robert Wyatt (and friends) continue to push the boundaries of pop, accompanied by that unique, weather-worn voice.
  9. David SylvianSleepwalkers
    Sylvian takes a break from his avant-pop recent works to cull an “odds and sods” collection of more accessible material that holds together remarkably well.
  10. Eluvium Similes
    Though Eno’s fingerprints are all over this work, Matthew Cooper’s strong songwriting sensibilities and clear talent carry him past his forefathers.
  11. Laura Veirs July Flame
    Subtlety and musicianship separate Ms. Veirs from her (sometimes more commercially successful) singer/songwriter peers.
  12. Field Music – Measure
    This is excellent song-craft at its finest – even as they labor in the shadows of the latest flavor of the month.
  13. The New PornographersTogether
    The strongest effort, from beginning to end, from the Canadian “supergroup”.
  14. Big BoiSir Luscious Left Foot…
    Andre who? Just in case people weren’t already aware of who was responsible for most of the irresistible hooks from Outkast’s work.
  15. Flying LotusCosmogramma
    Kanye who? The adventurous, unpredictable, multi-layered work that some critics keep thinking they’re hearing from Sir Tweet-a-Lot.

Smells Like Pop’s editors and writers listen to hundreds of records every year–not because we have to, but because we need to. We need new music like sharks need surfers. Please take a look at our lists of best albums from 2010 below, and see some of favorites from years’ past here.

If you’re like me (David Bailey), you’re probably wondering what gave me pause to hit the “star ratings” button on iTunes this year. Well, wonder no more, my star-obsessed friend! Here’s a list of songs that were in heavy rotation on my office speakers this year, divided by genre for your perusal.

Of the rock-n-roll type (including pop rock):

  • Superchunk – Fractures in Plaster
  • MGMT – Brian Eno
  • Spoon – Written in Reverse
  • Grinderman – Heathen Child
  • The Apples in Stereo – Next Year at About the Same Time
  • Best Coast – The End
  • Beach House – Zebra
  • Clinic  – Orangutan
  • Los Campesinos – Romance is Boring
  • Fang Island – Life Coach
  • The Ruby Suns – Dusty Fruit
  • Arcade Fire – Empty Room
  • Queens of the Stoneage – Monsters in the Parasol
  • UNKLE (feat. Blank Angels) – Natural Selection
  • The National – Afraid of Everyone
  • New Pornographers – Silver Jenny Dollar
  • Broken Social Scene – Sentimental X’s
  • Black Keys – Everlasting Light
  • Ariel Pink – Menopause Man
  • Belle and Sebastian – I Want the World to Stop
  • Belle and Sebastian – I’m Not Living in the Real World
  • School of Seven Bells – Joviann
  • Le Savy Fav – Let’s Get of Here
  • Robert Wyatt, Gilad Atzmon & Ros Stephen – What a Wonderful World
  • Spoon – Out Go the Lights

Of the danceable variety:

  • Crystal Castles – Year of Silence
  • Maximum Balloon – Tiger
  • !!! – Steady as the Sidewalk Cracks
  • Foals – After Glow
  • Delorian – Stay Close
  • LCD Soundsystem – Drunk Girls
  • Gorillaz – Superfast Jellyfish
  • Janell Monàe – Tightrope
  • Cee Lo Green – F@#k You!
  • Broken Bells – The Ghost Inside
  • Massive Attack (feat. Martina Topley-Bird) – Babel
  • Caribou – Odessa
  • Chromeo – I’m Not Contagious
  • Sleigh Bells – Riot Rhythm

Of the Country-rock style:

  • First Aid Kit – Hard Believer
  • Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – Time of the Season

Of the Electronic / Ambient sound:

  • Four Tet – This Unfolds
  • Eluvium – Cease to Know
  • Brian Eno – Late Anthropocene
  • Eluvium – Similies

Undulating, padded guitars and hints of echoing percussion lull the listener into thinking that this may be another album in the mold of Eno’s Music for Films. Nice. Then abruptly the songs take on the seeming structures of rock and pop from his Here Come the Warm Jets period. Yes! But, that was just another feint in a different direction, as the “songs” take on a lovely and spaced-out electronic/trance shape. But, what’s this? Raw electric guitar slicing through on “2 Forms of Anger”. Yet, as one would expect from the man who brought African rhythms and song structure to pop music via the Talking Heads and his collaborations with David Byrne and others, it still doesn’t sound like traditional Western music. The rhythms are trance-inducing and the melody is almost completely ethereal.

Each subsequent track is like an exploratory scouting party, moving forward, and then just when you get comfortable, the tones and style shift direction. “Dust Shuffle” locks into a nice groove that is here and gone in just under two minutes! The remainder of the album is made up of soundscapes much like the beginning that sound like no place on this planet. Rumbling tones reverberate with a sense of loneliness, while muted piano and percussion treatments echo in-and-out of the Abstract Expressionist sound paintings — familiar to fans of Eno, yet welcome and beautiful as new works of art from a master of the form.

Smells like: 8/10

Midwest “neo-soul” shines at Portland venue

What’s the difference between folk music and the sounds that Bon Iver produced at Holocene recently? I pondered that as I reveled in the beautiful soundtrack to an introspective life that the band (whose name is a play off of what Francophiles and others know translates to “good winter”) reproduced.

I am not a big fan of the watered-down stuff that passes as folk (the stuff you hear in Starbucks, generally); Justin Vernon’s music captures the human experience as only recording in isolated places – like his father’s Wisconsin hunting cabin – can. But it is music also informed by modern anxieties. Vernon himself refers to his music as “neo-soul”.

So, it was no surprise to learn mid-set that Vernon has a punk-pop band called Michael Jordan, as well. Hearing the edge of Bon Iver’s music emphasized in their live set reminded me of when I saw Iron & Wine in town and witnessed Sam Beam and Co. growl, and not ironically cover New Order. It’s the stuff of early Dylan, where traditional sounds were often the shell of a more disturbing sonic narrative.

But it’s the heartache in Vernon’s voice which is the difference (which, especially live, reminded of a cross between Jeff Buckley’s falsetto and the aforementioned Beam’s raspy world-weariness). Bon Iver found new dynamics in its already subtle fledgling debut For Emma, Forever Ago. When Vernon asked the Holocene crowd to sing along to the refrain from “The Wolves (Act I and II)“, nervous looks abounded. The song ended up becoming a magic moment that somehow produced harmony from a group often more concerned with appearing to be coolly indifferent.

Though For Emma is not a perfect album, it is an early front-runner for my record of the year. In these troubled times, this album reflects my hope that a talented guy from the Midwest might bring a good winter.

Lucky Pixel Design Portland Oregon