Monday, April 14, 2008

The Hopeful and the Unafraid by Jason Anderson

Jason Anderson is one of the most interesting singer-songwriters working today. He is both prolific (see his song-a-day project) and endlessly creative. His forte is arena rock straight from the E Street school, but he's not afraid to delve into other genres as it suits his muse.

The driving goal of The Hopeful and the Unafraid was to recapture the live sound of the concerts Jason Anderson has been performing practically nonstop over the last few years. It was recorded in Chicago at Soma Studio over a day and a half in January 2006 (except for "Wanting and Regret," a 2004 recording from the Massachusetts sessions that eventually produced On the Street) — and it does have a rawer sound than his previous two albums from K Records.

Anderson is a master of the slow build leading up to an emotional blowout, and this is shown to great effect on "El Paso" (which, at nearly eight minutes, sounds like the live version of a studio track — quite an accomplishment since it is the studio version) and the next track, "July 4, 2004" (which musically channels Paul Westerberg).

When Anderson sings "I love this part," it reminds me that I love that part, too: when he repeats a refrain and gets so caught up in his own effort (as he also does in "Hold On" from New England) you would think he was listening to a favorite tune by someone else. It's a snapshot of a moment and adds to the immediacy Anderson is trying to achieve.

The Hopeful and the Unafraid also contains two definite power-pop masterpieces that get the blood pumping. "This Will Never Be Our Town" has an infectious hook and effectively carries over the pedal steel from "Wanting and Regret." And "The Hopeful and the Unafraid" has lyrics that could be self-reflective: "We couldn't get it out of our heads till the morning / That song that we just kept on singing." I was singing right along with him by the end — and it wouldn't leave my head the next day, either.

By the time the banjo came out on "Ohio" — with an opening that begs to be sung along with — I was ready to follow Anderson in whatever musical direction he wanted to go. "Watch Your Step" merely cements that. Anderson has a fascinating ability to write songs that remind me of other songs I like, instantly making a song I've never heard before sound like a familiar old favorite that I can't wait to hear again. And he has certainly found his perfect vocal counterpart in backup singer Juliet. She enhances the lyrical melody without ever taking away from his lead.

Though The Hopeful and the Unafraid is only available as an LP, a free CD of the album comes with every purchase (along with information about a different free mp3 album), so you really get three albums for the price of one. While this may not musically be Anderson's best album, it is probably his most instantly accessible, and should definitely be a first purchase for anyone who has seen him live.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Glow Pt. 2 by the Microphones (2008 deluxe remastered reissue)

I can't believe it has been seven years since The Glow Pt. 2 was first released (and six years since I first heard it). Now, listening to the 2008 reissue with 20 additional tracks (subtitled "Other Songs and Destroyed Versions") — available on 2 CDs or 3 LPs — the most amazing thing about revisiting it is not that it still stands up, but that it still seems very ahead of its time, even today. (The extra tunes are interesting in context — especially the "destroyed" versions that comprise 14 of the 20 additional tracks — but are not vital to the casual listener.)

The Glow Pt. 2 has long been described as Phil Elverum's masterpiece, and I have to still agree. Its songs flow together wonderfully whether you listen to them individually or in mind of the improvised concept (tied together sonically by the tugboat sounds played underneath throughout — they're very clear during the quiet spots).

And listening with headphones enhances the experience. In fact, I would have to say that the sonic depth is so amazing that headphones are vital to experiencing the full majesty of The Glow Pt. 2. And Elvrum's sweet, high voice adds to the effect. On no other album have I felt as if the music entered through my ears and swam around for a while, not quite able to escape.

This is all because Elvrum (later Elverum) was not afraid of experimentation. Each song has its own distinctive sound. The dual acoustic-guitar sound at the front of "The Moon" has to be heard to be believed. (For the origin of that sound, listen to "The Pull" from It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water.) And his creativity is always surprising. What seems at first like noise, after a few listens unfolds itself like a blooming bud to reveal all its layers. Only after repeated listens do you come to appreciate the imagination — one would almost say "genius" — involved in the making of The Glow Pt. 2.

But even such a personal record cannot be done alone — not and remain faithful to its analog roots. Several of Elvrum's friends helped out. Most noticeable are the angelic voices of Khaela Maricich (of The Blow) and Mirah on a few tracks. I became a Mirah-phile through my research on this album. In fact, over the past six years, I have become rather well versed in the K catalog — from Little Wings to Tender Forever, from Beat Happening to Old Time Relijun — and it all started with this album.

For a while, Elvrum seemed to embrace his soundscaping abilities, agreeing to produce albums for his friends (Mirah's C'mon Miracle and Jason Anderson's New England come first to mind), but after the release of the more ambitious (but less accessible) Mount Eerie, things took a different turn. He changed the name of his band to the name of that album, and the music became more stripped down and even indie-er than ever before once he opened his own label, P.W. Elverum and Sun. (For example, one of the first Mount Eerie releases, Eleven Old Songs from Mount Eerie, merely contained Elverum's vocals accompanied by an old Casio keyboard.) The last we heard from "the Microphones" was a live album that managed to consist of all new material (Live in Japan February 19th, 21st, and 22nd, 2003) and a 7" single containing a couple of daily-life-oriented protest songs ("Don't Smoke" and "Get Off the Internet").

But, though Elverum is currently serving a different muse than the one who led him to create The Glow Pt. 2 (and I don't fault him for that — you've got to follow your bliss, and he does it to the hilt), it's nevertheless great to be able to go back in time, so to speak, and recapture the days when a guy with a vision, immense creativity, and some friends combined to make the first great album of the 21st century.
Related Posts with Thumbnails