Thursday, August 18, 2016

Two Quick Ones: Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool and case/lang/veirs on LP

Honestly, I was going to give each of these two LPs a full review a few weeks ago. I bought them both the day they were available on LP, and I wound up liking them both--a lot. But I got busy, and once again the stack of review music is growing at an alarming rate like a forgotten game of Jenga. Those few weeks passed by and reviewing Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool and case/land/veirs no longer became a priority. Both of these album have already been discussed thoroughly by the usual suspects, and I feel like I have nothing to add.

Well, maybe a little bit, in the form of a couple of "asides."

First of all, I have to apologize to Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs for being so dismissive about their album when I first listened to it. After I'd listened to the entire album on Tidal for the first time I jumped on social media and complained that when Neko wasn't singing, I wasn't paying attention. That was kind of rude of me. First of all, the album is a "grower" and now I absolutely love it. These are mature, complex pop songs that reach far back into your skull and evoke all sorts of crazy beautiful thoughts. We're listening to three women who owned their artistic personas by making intelligent decisions about the music they wanted to make. case/lang/veirs is an illuminated summary--more on that word in a bit--of everything these wonderful singers have accomplished over the years.

I supposed my biases came into play. I absolutely adore Neko Case and want to have her babies, I like and respect k.d. lang (but only own one of her albums) and I'm only vaguely familiar with Laura Veir's catalog. Neko has that big, bold Patsy Cline thing going--put her in a chorus of thousands and you'll still hear her clearly. k.d. has always had that strength and authority going for her--she owns a song like Frank Sinatra owned songs. Laura is a bit more introspective. She's the smart girl in the glasses who has plenty of interesting things to say, but you have to get up close to hear them. So on first listen, I said "Wow, Neko!" Then I said, "Oh, there's k.d. lang." Finally, I asked "Which one was Laura Veirs again?"

After a few more listens, I take it all back. I even deleted my original comments on Facebook. The varying dynamics in their deliveries make unusual and beautiful harmonies. I'm almost glad I waited a few weeks to talk about this album, because now I think of it as a minor miracle--three singers at the top of their game making truly satisfying music together.

I had an opposite reaction to Radiohead's new album upon first listen. I checked it out the day it started streaming on Tidal and I instantly fell in love with it and thought it was their greatest album since OK Computer. I remember when Robert Hilburn, music critic for the L.A. Times, reviewed Talking Heads' 1983 album Speaking in Tongues. He called it a summary of everything the band had done up to that point--streamlined, polished and perfected. I feel the same way about A Moon Shaped Pool. If I took all my favorite Radiohead bits over the course of their career and massaged them into something new, it would probably come out like this album.

First of all, I am a Radiohead fan. But I'm also a fan that's been slowly losing interest. I can't think of a single song off In Rainbows that I've committed to memory. I never even bothered to buy The King of Limbs. For me it really comes down to Ok Computer, Kid A and about half of Hail to the Thief and I have all I need. But now there's this album. I dig every song on it. Every single song. I can't even say that about Ok Computer--back when I taped it on cassette for my car, I left off "Electioneering" and "Climbing up the Walls" because they're annoying. In fact, "Decks Dark" off the new album has officially replaced "Where I End & You Begin" as my favorite Radiohead song of all time. Its haunting, shifting melody has burrowed deeply into my brain. On some mornings I wake up with the song already playing in my mind.

After a few weeks of quietly digging this album--rumored to be the band's last--I finally felt compelled to write about it after seeing some friends of mine playing the "I don't get it" card on Facebook. Really? I thought. This is the Radiohead album that makes you wonder if they're the emperor's new clothes? I had to protest. A Moon Shaped Pool is filled to the brim with beauty, a quality that is sometimes secondary to the band's aesthetic. It's rife with beautiful moments that do add up to create an even greater whole.

Finally, I do want to give a shout out to Tidal. As the old-fashioned vinyl-lover, I've finally figured out how to integrate music streaming with my love for vinyl. Tidal has become a very effective screening tool for me, far superior to the FM programming we used back in the day. (That's why we all owned numerous albums where we liked one song and hated the rest of the album, by the way.) When I hear something good, I'll play it a couple of times through Tidal. If it's something I need to own, I get the LP. So far it's worked for these two albums, as well as the Avalanches' Wildflower that I reviewed for Positive Feedback Online a couple of weeks ago. I stumbled onto the latter by accident, thinking it was something else, and now it's one of my favorites in a very strong year for music.

In fact, as soon as this rain lets up I'm walking down the block to The Sound Garden and seeing if they have Michael Kiwanuki's Love & Hate on vinyl. I've been binging on that recording for the last couple of days. It passes the test. I must own it.

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