Saturday, October 20, 2012

Band Wars 2: Two More Opening Matchups

In this weekly installment, we have some pretty interesting matchups.  First, we have

Frank Ocean, Channel Orange

Pitchfork review and Allmusic review

up against The Sea and Cake's Runner

Pitchfork review and Allmusic review

Frank Ocean's album is one of the few R&B albums that I considered for this round of band wars because, frankly, a lot of R&B albums are shit these days.  But Channel Orange is absolutely fantastic.  The lyrics of so many of these songs tell a series of stories, and almost all of them are interesting.  From drug addiction ("Crack Rock") to the lives of rich kids ("Rich Kids," "Sweet Life") to his story of first love ("Thinkin Bout You"), you feel like a listener as if you are diving into something that is both person and important at the same time.  And as I said, I'm not much of a fan of R&B.  So you know that this has to be good.  Pitchfork agrees with a 9.5/10 rating, perhaps the highest the website has given in a year for a new issue.  Allmusic gives the album 4 1/2 stars (out of 5).

Here's "Sweet Life"

The Sea and Cake have long been one of my favorite bands.  Top 20 at least.  Lead singer Sam Prekop has a relaxed, lazy delivery that fits well with such a mellow band.  At its best, it's just really good chill music.  At its worst, the album finishes and you can't even remember what you just heard.  If you want to get into this band, Runner is not the place to start.  Instead, try any of their first four albums: The Sea and Cake, Nassau, The Biz, and The Faun.  They're a solid indie band, but Frank Ocean by almost any review has released one of the best albums of the year.

Anyhoo, here is "Harps."

In the next matchup, we pit

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Mature Themes

Pitchfork review and Allmusic review

against Mount Eerie, Clear Moon

Pitchfork review and Allmusic review

As with the first matchup, we have two very different types of albums competing against one another.  We start with Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti's Mature Themes, a title which as tongue-in-cheek as the songs themselves.  The album has the zaniness of Captain Beefheart or Frank Zappa, in that it experiments with a half-dozen musical genres.  And the lyrics are wacky and jokey, such as the following from "Is This the Best Spot":

Is this the best spot, is this the spot?
Is this the best spot, is this the spot?
Go! The best spot, is this the spot?
Is this the best spot, is this the spot?
G-spot, (is this the best spot?), H-bomb
G-spot, H-bomb, let's go!

In another song, the dude takes a break from his singing to order fast food.  So mature?  Not exactly.  But wacky and imaginative enough to be fun.  For some.  In all honesty, this album comes down to your tolerance for weirdness.  If you can handle it, then you'll enjoy playing this album every once in a while.  But you'll probably want to play it with no one around, because inevitably someone is going to want to turn that silliness off.  Here is "Only in My Dreams"

Then you have Ariel Pink's opponent, the band Mount Eerie.  Which is quiet, soothing music, so humbly played that the lead singer rarely rises above a whisper.  Clear Moon is great late-night mood music, and the album is good.  My only issue with it is that, as with The Sea and Cake's Runner, it seems kind of boring.  I guess the challenge with such mellow music is that it's hard to pull off without the boredom problem.  Yo La Tengo can do it with their mellowest songs, and they do it album after album.  Maybe Clear Moon just takes some getting used to.  Here's the best track on Clear Moon, "Lone Bell."

Pitchfork and Allmusic would have the contest appear closer than it seemed to me.  Pitchfork prefers Ariel Pink (8.5/10) over Mount Eerie (8.3/10) by a nose.  Allmusic gives both albums four stars out of five.  For me, Ariel Pink's Mature Themes is takes the greater risks, has more fun, and seems more interesting.  Especially because the last song on the album is a straight-up R&B remake named "Baby," which is sung with such earnest emotion that the listener realizes that Ariel Pink may be joking around, but he knows he's joking around.  In other words, the dude ain't crazy.

So, here are the updated brackets:

A few first-round matchups that I am especially looking forward to: Hot Chip vs. Matthew Dear (one of my new favorite artists), Four Tet vs. Grizzly Bear (two powerhouse bands), Animal Collective vs. Tame Impala, and TNGHT vs. the Walkmen (who have been one of my favorite bands since they released their first album).

Anyhoo, that's that.  Have a good week.

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