Tag Archives: hyena

Top 40 Albums of 2011 (20-1)

And then there were 20.  For those that have followed BDWPS.com all year (all two of you), you may see some entries on albums that look very familiar.  Instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, I decided to save myself time by simply copy and pasting my thoughts on the album from months past.  I hope this isn’t disappointing, but I am only one man and this hobby of mine can be a lot of work. Whatever way I can cut corners I will.  

And now, the Top 20 Albums of 2011…

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Lyric Man

My review of tUnE-yArDs has gotten quite a few responses (well, in BDWPS terms, 3 responses is a reader outpouring) and most comments have said something like “I’m not a lyric person.” This infers that I am a “lyric person”, whatever that is.  At first I accepted this label; I do, in fact, love great lyrics, whether they enlighten me, affect my emotions, or connect to my life and my experiences.

But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I feel that I shouldn’t be branded as simply a “lyric man.”  My enjoyment of many of the albums that have come out this year has nothing to do with lyrics. Many have no lyrics at all (Geotic, Colin Stetson, Earth) while others are in languages I don’t even understand: Davila 666 (Puerto Rico), Aurelio (Honduras), Ponytail (Rivendell).  And even the albums with English lyrics that I’ve been listening to are not filled with poetic language. Snowman’s best song “Hyena” on their album “Absence” (which I recently rated a 9 out of 10) consists primarily of the word “Hyena” being repeated over and over and over again.   Why would I expect a musician to also be a great writer? No one ever expected Robert Frost to be able to write great music to coincide with his poetry (although I heard he was into black metal).

So, no. I’m not a lyric man. In reality, I side more with the masses who responded to my tUnE-yArDs review (yes, all three of them). Brain research would suggest that a lyric “man” doesn’t even exist. I believe that females are more likely to fit in the legion of “lyric people.” The female brain is generally more empathetic and superior to men when it comes to language-based thoughts due to their larger frontal lobe.  The male brain, on the other hand, is more commonly associated with strength in breaking things down and analyzing them.  In a nutshell, women listen to the lyrics while the man is breaking down the music (obviously this a generalized, semi-sexist, uneducated hypothesis, but it is my view nonetheless). This supposed “lyric man” I keep hearing about is about as realistic as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

This brings me back to tUnE-yArDs “W H O K I L L”.  For a guy who can joyfully listen to an hour of Ponytail’s Molly Siegal shout “Wha? Dobeeeda? Jabajojo!” for 40 minutes, it takes a lot for lyrics to annoy me.  But Merrill Garbus accomplished it.  The fact that the music on her album is refreshing, energetic, and fun only magnifies how bad the lyrics have to be to make the album so irritating. Her lyrics are like Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix”, totally taking the viewer out of what is an otherwise great movie. I’m not saying my lyrics have to be like Christian Bale in “The Fighter”. Marky Mark Wahlberg will suffice: sure, he’s getting out-acted by everyone else in the cast, but he’s able to tread generally unnoticed and not totally distract the viewer from the film.

Then again, when lyrics are truly great, they can take an album to a higher level.  Looking at my top 10 albums list of 2011, I can pinpoint five albums that are profoundly impacted by their lyrics.  Titus Adronicus’s “Monitor” is a lesson in allusion, constantly jumping from references to the Civil War, Bruce Springsteen, and Patrick Stickle’s own personal struggles, all woven together into a brilliant patchwork.  Arcade Fire’s “Suburbs” is packed with lyrics that all fit within an overall theme of alienation and lost innocence. And No Age’s “Everything in Between” lyrics aesthetically match the world within the music, with the noise being a character in the narrative, representing that one thing that makes us all ache.

I take it all back. I am a lyric man.  Please welcome me into the fold Mr. Loch Ness.

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Snowman “Absence”

Snowman

“Absence”

[Dot Dash; 2011]

Rating: 9

There is a rule in my car: if you are listening to Fugazi, the stereo must be set at five bars or higher. This rule was set years ago by my friend SongsSuck, and the rule has generally been limited to Fugazi because, well, they fucking rule. But today, I dare to add another band (or at least album) to my Honda Element’s “five bar” pantheon: I present to you, Snowman’s “Absence.”

Snowman have been a dominate force in the Australian music landscape for the past 10 years, so it’s pretty disheartening to find out that I just discovered them and their latest release “Absence” a few weeks ago, especially since the album is being released as a footnote to their recent break-up. Not since At the Drive-In’s “Relationship of Command” has a band sounded this cutting edge and on the verge of shattering all molds on their final release.

As a music reviewer (I feel like a douche referring to myself as such) an easy approach to reviewing an album is comparing it to what has come before. Whether it sounds like Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” or Ziggy Stardust, the use of compare and contrast helps guide the reader toward what they are in for with a certain album. With “Absence”, my guiding light is, well, absent.  It is both brooding and sinister like Earth and Pyramids, but you’d be hard-pressed trying to find any distortion here. It’s filled with harmonizing, ghostly vocals, but it is far and away from anything resembling Bon Iver or Panda Bear.  It has the synthy pulse of Four Tet and Flying Lotus, but the drumbeats take more from tribal territories than dance clubs.  There is no need to pigeonhole it: this is Snowman; this is “Absence”.

You try categorizing “Hyena”:

The first time I listened to this album, I had it on while watching a Thunder versus Grizzlies playoff basketball game (listening to music while watching sports is the greatest discovery I’ve made in the past year; hasta luego Mark Jackson, you dolt!). Unfortunately, I had the music on low and much of my attention was on the game as I watched Zach Randolph “over-the-back” his way to another upset win.  The reason I note this is that the album didn’t do anything for me.  It finished without me noticing and left me feeling as empty as anyone outside of Memphis felt watching Marc Gasol and Tony Allen celebrate.

It wasn’t until a few mornings ago that Snowman hit me with a cold shot of brilliance: driving to work, with my stereo set at five bars, “Absence” filled the void of my morning drive with a luminosity that woke me up more than any espresso could ever accomplish. During a journey that is usually pure zombie mode, the atmosphere of Snowman had my mind reeling visions, my heart beating with anticipation. I realize that the word “atmosphere” gets thrown a lot in music reviews (it’s become somewhat of a crutch for me) but in this case, it truly transports you to a temple of both solitude and mystery. It somehow calms the soul, yet builds a tension within.

Turn your computer speakers up for “White Wall”, damn it!:

For the first time in years, I arrived to work and didn’t want to leave the car, didn’t want to leave the fantasy world created within Snowman’s music.  I was in the wardrobe with the Lion and the Witch, I was in Wonderland, I’d found Oz, I’d discovered a solace within the monotony of life. Yet, standing before me, was my place of work. I looked at the five bar status on my car stereo, and slowly lowered it, listening as the magical world vanished, one bar at a time. But I smiled, knowing I would be back – for this I was certain.

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