Monday, May 28, 2012

May Roundup: The House on the Hill

Photo Credit: Kate Wurtzel
After an evening of karaoke at The Highball, we found ourselves stranded at our friend’s house by a violent thunderstorm. Somehow, our children all slept through the maelstrom while we watched the storm roll in over the hill country with respectful awe, an awe that gave way to intimidation as the lightning struck the cell towers around us. It was another one of those unexpected bonding experiences that strengthened our long friendship with this couple.

We slept in their guest bed that night, and when we woke up in the morning I rolled over to my wife and said, quite matter-of-factly, "let's move out here." As the Little One grows increasingly active, it is becoming more and more obvious that she is going to need her own space before we decide on our PhD research agendas. In addition to getting into a nice community with reasonably sized lots, this seemingly straightforward decision also offered the opportunity to be close to our friends and their own little one, who is less than a month older than ours.

Of course, things got real complicated real quick, and the simple idea turned into an achingly difficult two-week decision process. In about six months, however, we will be moving into our house at the top of the hill. Not only will friends be around the corner, our daughter will grow up with a friend around the corner as well.

On tap this month:

Frank Zappa - Hot Rats: Zappa released several albums in the 70s that were mostly instrumental, but on Hot Rats his prowess as a guitarist was on equal footing with his constantly evolving compositional approach. A unique, perhaps even definitive entry in Zappa's ridiculously varied catalog.

The Beastie Boys - Check Your Head: Although many fans of the Beasties will cite Paul's Boutique as their artistic coming of age, for me it was Check Your Head. When they started playing their real instruments, they had me hooked.

Kraftwerk - Man-Machine: The synergistic influence of British synth-pop and Kraftwerk's innovation is difficult to disentangle. In any case, Man-Machine is certainly a move towards a more commercially viable Kraftwerk, but is in essence a powerful social commentary on late 70s Europe.

Junius - Reports from the Threshold of Death: I really want to like this album, but I remain suspiciously ambivalent. It checks a lot of boxes, but there is still something about that has not clicked for me.

Secret Chiefs 3 - Book M: This was a killer reader suggestion from early last year that sort of got lost in the shuffle like Great Civilizations. Listening to it now, I don't see how I could have overlooked its amazing "Mr. Bungle goes to Persia" feel.

The Mars Volta - Noctourniquet: This frenetic and sometimes downright noisy album is their most accessible, which says a whole lot about how frenetic and noisy they have been in the past. Still, it has some very sweet, contemplative moments.

The Sound of Siam - Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz And Molam From Thailand 1964 - 1975: The most interesting ethno-pop compilations are the ones in which you can really hear the global and the local rub against each other. There is a very Asian veneer to these tracks that is appealing, but in at least one case, I can’t convince myself that the out-of-tune bass is intentionally microtonal – its just out-of-tune.

Brendan Benson - What Kind of World: Benson's newest album is perhaps his most dark and melancholic. Still, his characteristic ease with songcraft permeates even the moodiest tracks.

M83 - Before the Dawn Heals Us: The cosmic grandeur of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming has its roots on this 2005 release.  M83’s music heads straight for that liminal space between reality and imagination, and makes it OK to be angry when the two don't match.

Skysaw - Great Civilizations: There are several killer tunes on Great Civilizations, but more importantly, the album captures the enthusiasm that Skysaw has for complex pop music. It is an excellent listen worth returning to.

Beach HouseBloom: A critically lauded dream-pop album that, based on first impressions, is actually pretty good. I would like to make a request to all bands, however: please stop adding bonus tracks at the end of your albums after “x” minutes of silence – after two decades, its officially annoying.

Willis Earl Beal - Acousmatic Sorcery: I think that Beal's best work is still ahead of him. If he plays into his strengths, I think that it could evolve into something truly unique.

The Year in Rush Sub-Roundup (and yes, I am speeding things up – the new album comes out next month!)

Grace Under Pressure: Perhaps not Rush’s most technologically advanced album, but certainly their most cybernetic. I remember sitting in the back of my parent’s minivan listening to this with awe in the church parking lot.

Power Windows: When other bands were reinforcing my idealized teenage worldview, Power Windows caused me to consider what it was that made me get up in the morning. There was a book of piano reductions that I used as a study guide when I was learning the album on bass, and yes, I still have it.

Hold Your Fire: I waited every day in my car outside of an HEB for two weeks waiting for tickets to come out for this tour. Getting third row floor tickets was one of the high points of my Johnston days - and made me incredibly popular for about a month.

Presto: I can’t help but recall being a wide-eyed freshman at UNT and seeing the Dallas skyline at night as Available Light played on the tape deck in my prized blue Subaru. It’s a lasting impression that I will always associate with this greatly underrated gem from Presto.

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