In another of my occasional attempts to add some aesthetic depth to this blog, I'd like to offer up a few brief reviews of some new music that I've been listening to a bit lately.
Aimee Mann, The Forgotten Arm
Regular readers of this site will know that I'm an absolute star struck freak for Aimee Mann. Bachelor No. 2 remains on my Top 5 Desert Island album list (and long may it wave!), and Lost in Space was absolutely brilliant. I particularly like the live pieces and B-sides from the limited edition.
Unfortunately, while I like The Forgotten Arm, it doesn't measure up in terms of inspiration, depth or range to those other two albums. While there are a number of good songs, and perhaps one truly great one, it doesn't measure up to Mann's best stuff. I like the concept album approach, but Mann doesn't offer enough story to keep the listener interested in the tale she's weaving, and the usual Aimee Mann tone of transcendent despair is undermined by her attempt to wrest a somewhat happy ending from the mess she makes of her characters' lives. Don't get me wrong, I'll gladly listen to this album, but if I'm in the mood for Mann, it'll definitely place third behind Bachelor No. 2 and Lost in Space.
Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine
I'll confess that I wasn't one of those who hopped on the Fiona Apple bandwagon when she was big back in the late '90s. I liked "Criminal," but I wasn't rushing out to buy her albums. Neverthless, when I got wind of the shelving of Extraordinary Machine and the availability of some phantom tracks on the internet, I decided to check and see what all the fuss was about. I have to say, I was pleased with what I heard. I like the rough, raw edge of the cuts, and the effects and instrumentation that John Bryon brought to the music. It got to the point where it was probably the most frequently played album on my iPod.
So, I felt duty-bound to purchase the "official" version when it was released earlier this month. My reaction: Feh. It's okay. Many of the songs are virtually identical to the "unofficial" version that I downloaded earlier, and insofar as others were different, they weren't enormously different. So, I wasn't repulsed, but I wasn't impressed either. Much of the rawness of those earlier tracks was taken away. Her voice is less husky, the melodies less edgy, and the whole thing just slightly more, well, commercial. Again, still a worthy album in it's own right, but I'll still listen to the rough cut tracks over the official release any day.
The Decemberists, Picaresque
This is really just a review of three songs. I happened to stumble across an interview with these folks on NPR one afternoon and immediately went hunting for them on iTunes. The two songs featured on the NPR piece, "The Infanta" and "Eli, the Barrow Boy" were great, and I was hooked, but not enough to buy the whole album. I love these two songs though. But then, I happened across the video for "16 Military Wives" and I realized I was onto something big. This was a band with a wicked political sense of humor, an ironic take on the stupidity that is the Iraq war, and a compassion for those who are caught up in and mangled by its bloody machinery. I haven't yet knucked under and bought the rest of the album, but at this rate, I may have the whole thing before I'm through.