Here Comes the New Year (Part One)
A hectic post-Christmas visit from some friends put me back a bit, but that’s no complaint. Gave me some time to go out and clear my head from the usual drone. I’m not sure when most publications will pick up with reviewing 2014 releases, but you can rest assured it’ll take me a while, just as it did last year. My year-end list is pretty much in place, so the only thing to do is pen some sort of essay (for which I have almost no ideas), write some reviews of albums on the list that I haven’t posted about, and mark minor changes in grades I handed very early in 2013. One of the reviews below I worked on for a while before finally finishing-it-for-finishing-its sake, the other tossed off because I really didn’t have anything else. You can probably guess which is which.
Last thing is that my first post of 2014 is also my 100th post, something that seems small but is some sort of achievement. What sort? Endurance, probably.
ARCADE FIRE – Reflektor (Merge): I figure it’s my place not to jump down the throats of artists I admire when they eventually stumble, so my best advice is to disregard predatory critics, those shouting ‘sell-outs’ and the turncoat fanboys unsatisfied with everything post-Funeral who are tearing Win Butler a new asshole on his James Murphy-produced “disco” double album. Only it’s not too disco-ish and Butler cites Haitian influences rather than platform heels, and furthermore no one should be surprised by that former tendency anyway—do they remember “Sprawl II,” or the dancefloor coda of “Crown of Love”? By the same token, and maybe I just haven’t digested what’s been sitting in my stomach for a couple months, I can’t get on board with the accolades showered upon what I consider their weakest release, especially from those who were iffy on The Suburbs or Neon Bible. The draw is what’s possibly the best song of the year, the seven-minute tour-de-force “Reflektor,” wherein Butler drops references to Kierkegaard’s 1846 essay lamenting talkers-not-doers and frets about a love-hampered technological age. But I guess the reason I struggle so much with this album is my failure to, ironically, connect with a work concerned primarily with connection, as my gut hollers that Butler’s current anxieties are more external to him than they previously were; with previous themes like death in the family, friends and neighbors, big city life vs. suburban nostalgia, and an unstable political landscape leaning evermore religiously rightwing, the switch to the Orpheus myth and existential tomes can’t help but come across as a bit contrived. But the biggest mistake isn’t Butler’s appropriation of material he might not be able to handle, but of the listener trying to make a go at this all at once. Downloaders beware: there’s a reason this is split into two discs, and it’s not just because it exceeds a CD’s capacity of 80 minutes; best played individually, a proper break of anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes is recommended between the end of disc 1 and the start of the second. It’s how, for me, this confusing bag came together and felt fluent when fear had me thinking that Grammy had got to their collective head. A MINUS
DEATH GRIPS – NO LOVE DEEP WEB (free download ’12): Call me crazy, but I imagine Burnett, Morin, and Hill’s brand of rhythmic thrash rap a better amalgamation of hip-hop and jazz than Robert Glasper and his accompanying poseurs. Hill’s ludicrous beats layered with MC Ride’s incomprehensible jibber-jabber, powered by Flatlander’s womping keybs, part Skrillex and part Coleman. And in the spirit of both genres there’s the ‘fuck you’ attitude; dropped for free when their label declined to do it so shortly after their previous release, not to mention a stiff cock on the cover not shown here, But they change with every album, this one measuring up to—and possibly exceeding—2012’s The Money Store, so figure this for one more experiment in an ever-increasing line. A MINUS