Saturday, July 11, 2009

Listening Log 04: Bob Dylan, Sonic Youth, Wussy

Posted By on Sat, Jul 11, 2009 at 9:25 PM

Coming out of a month-long NBA Draft coma with records piling up. Let's start with these three:

d0b2/1247364597-dylan_together.jpgTogether Through Life — Bob Dylan (Columbia): "I'm listening to Billy Joe Shaver/And I'm reading James Joyce/Some people they tell me/I got the blood of the lamb in my voice," the Bard of Hibbing sings near the end of Together Through Life. It's a classic self-description, but one of the few real quotables on this album from a man who will be remembered primarily for his words. In its casual musicality and vocal playfulness, Together Through Life is a less momentous companion to Dylan's 2001 masterpiece "Love & Theft", a compilation of folk rock, 12-bar blues, and crooner pop this time supplemented by some Tex-Mex accordion courtesy of Los Lobos' Dave Hidalgo. Unfortunately, the songs — simpler, more romantic — don't hold up like those on "Love and Theft" (or even the more recent Modern Times): The mystery doesn't deepen, the jokes don't retain their snap. A good record made better by its relatively snug 10-song/45-minute length and gathering momentum, but minor Dylan. ("I Feel a Change Comin' On," "It's All Good," "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'")
Grade: B+

a944/1247364789-sonic_youth_eternal.jpgThe Eternal — Sonic Youth (Matador): Their best album title since Daydream Nation, because 27 years and twentysomething albums and EPs into a career that seemed primed — if not designed — for a short shelf life, they seem like they can do this forever. There's something both serene and invigorating about the way this now-classic band's discordant guitars and tuneless voices come together. It's been nearly 20 years since Sonic Youth enjoyed their brief pop moment — topping critics polls, sparring with rappers, playing godparents to grunge — and while some of the albums that have followed stand out ("Rather Ripped" — most tuneful; A Thousand Leaves — most epic), most blend in. This one blends. Beautifully. ("Poison Arrow," "New Day," "Sacred Trickster")
Grade: A-

62b2/1247364943-wussy.jpgWussy — Wussy (Shake It): I was a fan of Cincinnati rocker Chuck Cleaver's ’90s band the Ass Ponys, so when I heard a few years ago he'd started a new band, Wussy, I made a mental note. (No, I don't know what the deal is with this dude and his band names.) But a record never crossed my desk, limited discretionary music spending always ended up elsewhere, and appearances at SXSW always conflicted with something more pressing, so I never got around to checking Cleaver's new band out. Until now — and oh, what I've been missing.

Here Cleaver shares or trades the spotlight with fellow singer/songwriter/guitarist Lisa Walker. They're an extraordinary pair trafficking in the most ordinary of styles — sturdy Midwestern bar rock. He's a big man with a flat, high-pitched, nasally Neil Young tenor. She's a slim woman with a deeper, more fraught vocal tone. He specializes in loopy metaphors and leftfield imagery. She's conversational — concrete but poetic. Together they are perfect.

Having backtracked through the band's earlier albums, the precursors are terrific too, but not as urgent as this one. On Wussy, it feels like something really important is at stake. Maybe it's a relationship. Maybe it's a band. The music is romantic and doomed but still grounded, dissonant but still tuneful. The songs — which seem to be tracking a disintegrating relationship — are evocatively fuzzy in totality but crystalline in shards.

His: "I finally got your letter and the punctuation hit me like a truck." Hers: "We met the other day/On a sinking ship/We're trading souvenirs/From our summer trips/Your hollow teeth are tasting/My lower lip/Now my heart is on my sleeve/Or what's left of it/It always ends/It always ends like this." ("Muscle Cars," "Gone Missing," "Maglite," "Happiness Bleeds")
Grade: A

Not a lot of Wussy on the web, but here's a nice little acoustic performance of "Maglite," though you have to forward through about 50 seconds of NSFW chatter to get to the music:

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