A Slice of Fried Gold

Sunday Recommendations: Music

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Alongside the typical Weekend Edition's that I run, I'm currently aspiring to put out some recommendations of things to check out. I'm feeling the urge to write a lot more, so I think this will be the blogging equivalent of a shooter in basketball getting to the free throw line - I need the tiniest impetus to catch fire again. No less, I have a number of recommendations today, so I'm splitting it up into movies and music, with this edition being two albums in particular which have caught my ear.

The Thermals - Now We Can See

The Thermals are a bit of an enigma in my book. I always enjoyed individual songs from their albums quite a bit (for example, I completely love "Returning to the Fold" and "Here's Your Future" from the Body, the Blood, the Machine, but most of the rest of the album I never really got into) and think they are one of the most enjoyable live bands I've ever seen (seriously, see them if you ever get the chance), but I never got into whole albums. Perhaps because I never really sat down and gave it a lot of effort, perhaps because I just didn't like their full albums, who really knows. The point is they never produced an album I liked all the way through.

And after two or three listens of new album Now We Can See, it wasn't looking like they were going to break their streak, no matter how much I loved the fourth track that shares the albums title or "At the Bottom of the Sea," the monumentally long (at least for the Thermals) fifth track on the album.

All of a sudden though, it all clicked on listen number three. I realized I was singing along without even being aware of knowing the lyrics. I realized I was tapping my feet and my steering wheel to simulate the drum beats. On album standout "When We Were Alive," I started yelling out high points of lyrics and air guitar-ing to a particularly awesome bit of shredding (yes, I just admitted that last part to the world). In one listen, I went from being okay with the album to being completely in love with it.

Now I find myself listening to it nearly constantly, which works in direct opposition to the idea that their type of music (lyrically driven, under produced power pop - but with a message) is generally mood music for me. This album though, with its smily obsession with death, the ramifications/meaning behind that concept, and the perpetually driving guitar and drums based instruments, consistently surpasses the shackles of their genre in my mind. This album comes highly recommended from yours truly.

The Thermals - Now We Can See: A-

Peter Bjorn and John - Living Thing

Peter Bjorn and John (or PB&J as their fans so lovingly call them) is an interesting group, in that they quickly were one of the many groups who quickly eleveated from being "just another indie band" to being exhaustingly inescapable when their track "Young Folks" from 2006's Writer's Block became the de facto anthem of the world. Blame Shondra Rhimes, blame Starbucks, blame whoever. The fact is this band saw a mountain of backlash faster than any group really could possibly expect it, which is probably why their new album doesn't exactly sound a lot like their last album.

Of course, you don't naturally compare albums to other releases by the artist themself, so that doesn't matter. The question that really matters has nothing to do with the similarities of the two albums, but was this a good album? For the most part, the answer is yes. The strangest thing about the album is that the biggest positive is also the biggest negative - really no two songs feel the same. It gives the album quite the unique feel, but problematically, it also never allows the listener time to settle and get comfortable with the album.

The diversity and the lightness of the tracks definitely make this a fun album though, and the simplicity hidden within the songs make this album remarkably easy to singalong to. From the 80's pop throwback "You Don't Move Me" to the sure-to-be-divisive-but-well-loved-by-yours-truly chants in "Nothing to Worry About" (complete with support from a children's chorus!), there is an anthemic quality to most all tracks. While this album may not do much to bring high art to the world, it does something similar to Phoenix's brilliant album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (but to a lesser and more inaccessible degree) in that it brings pop to high art. That's an idea I can get behind any day of the week.

Peter Bjorn and John - Living Thing: B


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