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December 29, 2008 |

By TK Burton | Music | December 29, 2008 |

Welcome back, kiddies. Hope you all had lovely Christmases or Hannukahs or whatever else one celebrates this time of year. Today, we’re continuing our Year End series. Enjoy.

catpower.jpgCat Power: Jukebox
[Matador Records]

I was going to go on about Jukebox as a full record and how the cover record is such a great model and experiment for any recording artist. How it can help them tune up their focus and chops, learn through reinterpretation of other artists material. Blah blah blah…. Bullshit.

Jukebox is a fair record. I like it. I’m not jumping up and down about it to anyone though. Mostly, the originals of all of these songs are better or at least equal. That’s not to say that Crazy Chan doesn’t do a good job with the record. “Aretha, Sing One for Me” is an excellent cover, full of smoke and heartache and sexiness. But if you can get your hands on George Jackson’s version, you’ll probably find Cat Power’s a little flat, just for the lack of a horn section.

No…what I’m going crazy for is just one track. My favorite track of 2008. A cover of “Silver Stallion,” originally by Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson, (unofficially) aka the Highwaymen. The original charted, barely, in 1990. It’s a piss poor piece of crap. I love three of the, ahem, Highwaymen (Kristofferson can shit in his hat), and it’s heartbreaking to listen to this song, because it’s a real turd. But the lyrics are good. Like, really good man. And Chan Marshall knew it.

So, do what I did…get a copy of both versions and back them up to each other, old then new.

The instrumentation (slide guitar and pedal steel), her voice and the bone shattering lyrics all come together to make this, well, just goddamn incredible.

That’s it. That’s my favorite of the year. One song. And it’s just great.

Rabbit_Habits.jpgMan Man: Rabbit Habits
[Anti Records]

Mashing evil carnival music with ritualistic voodoo chants and Balkan dance party favorites (not to mention occasional R&B/doo-wop), Man Man delivers a performance that oozes animal instinct and pure, non-stop energy. Upon first seeing them, I could only imagine this is what Oingo Boingo must have been like in their prime. After hearing songs from their forthcoming album Rabbit Habits (Man Man’s third full length) live; it became my most anticipated record for 2008.

Unfortunately, their performance is so amazing that it is crazy boring to try and compare them live to a recording. So with Rabbit Habits, Man Man gives us a polite representation of their live show. They have created an album that you can feel comfortable taking home to show mom. Aside from the sweet hook in their soulful, genre-breaking song “Doo Right,” no crazy hooks puncture and implant themselves into your brain. And while their first two albums had tracks that captured the style and energy of their performance, only “Harpoon Fever” comes close here. Sure, they still leave their unique calling card of chants with the child-like chorus in “Mister Jung Stuffed” and their aggressive grunting backed by xylophone in “Ballad of Butter Beans,” but these hooks are under-supported by the music. The tracks lack musical depth which makes a song better upon repeat listens.

This is not to say that the record lacks all typical Man Man energy. The synthesized beat of “El Azteca” is quite funky, and the wacky electronic vocal effects sound like they were pulled from the droid army in Star Wars: Episode One. “Easy Eats” possesses a Star Wars Cantina band feel, which makes it an instant Man Man classic, and the lyrics “You get the girl/ You lose the girl / The girl walks back, but you’ve already moved on / You take her in / She changes her mind / You lose the girl, now you’ve lost out twice” are incredibly fun to run around with in your head. Lyrics, if you can decipher Honus Honus’ gruff growls, are one of the most intriguing qualities of the band. The words and the metaphors that Honus writes to paint his imagery are very unique, yet are astonishingly simple concepts. One of my favorites is from “Top Drawer,” where Honus sings about fading love; “You wonder where the true love went cause the breeder in your bed don’t butter your bread.” He also exemplifies loneliness by singing “He don’t even taste the food he eats anymore / and there’s a space in place of where his heart was before” in the slow tempo title track “Rabbit Habits.”

“Mister Jung Stuffed”

But perhaps the most unique and unexpected aspect of this Man Man outing is contained in the final two lengthy songs. “Poor Jackie” is a beautiful, slow, three part ballad. It details an eccentric story of a woman fleeing her identity in part one, followed by a more cryptic part two, where she seemingly wants to return to her former life, and it ends in chanting, repetitive chorus explaining her resolution as it is mired by confusion and distress. The final section is very mellow and it paves the way for a very un-Man-Manly way to end the record: the quiet lullaby of “Whale Bones.” It is a sobering and somber klezmer piece, sung with gritty vocals and a bluesy sadness.

After all is said and done, my disapproving critiques are small blips that barely register on a negativity scale. Man Man has made a great album here with Rabbit Habits. It is superb compared to what is out there. Unfortunately it only ranks third best in their three album catalogue.

SkeletalLampingCover2.jpgof Montreal: Skeletal Lamping

For my money, one of the best albums of all time was Brian Wilson’s SMiLE. The reclusive and infamously unstable songwriter spent decades making the album, his personal madness driving a need for absolute perfection to a level that the term “obsessive-compulsive”. And when he finally released it, his magnum opus was met with critical praise but public indifference, the Beach Boys long since relegated to playing casinos and plowing listeners with tired hits about a bland beach life that never really existed. But anyone who listens to SMiLE is bound to feel something, a range of emotions and reactions ranging from “This is completely insane” to “This may be the most beautiful piece of music in the history of rock and roll”, and everything in between. SMiLE goes all the way with every idea. Power tools and farm animals and full orchestras and choirs and wind chimes, and above it all, the maestro’s droning voice, weary with life but still passionate and affecting. SMiLE is what an album should be: Cohesive. No matter how wildly different the songs and musical ideas might be, they move together and make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes has made his SMiLE. And it only took him a year.

When Skeletal Lamping was released in October, it polarized critics and fans in a way that few albums ever do. Some people wondered if Barnes had gone too far with his musical experimentalism and overt sexuality. Still others wondered if he’d completely lost his mind. The singer didn’t really help his case when he explained the album’s concept: Throughout the album, Barnes takes the perspective of Georgie Fruit, an ex-convict middle-aged black man who’s gone through multiple sex changes.

As Mark Twain used Huckleberry Finn to speak about the controversial subject of slavery, Barnes uses Georgie Fruit to talk about the grand exploration of human sexuality and how it makes us who we are. Hiding behind another persona allows Barnes freedom that few artists ever truly achieve. In one of the album’s great highlights, the soulful “St. Exquisite’s Confessions”, Barnes sings, “I’m so sick of sucking the dick of this cruel, cruel city/I’ve forgotten what it takes to please a woman/But that’s all gonna change.” Past Of Montreal albums have relied heavily on literary references and subtle sexual innuendo. On Skeletal Lamping, the references are well represented, but the innuendo is completely gone, replaced by a blunt honesty that can be shocking, even comical. But in the overall depth of the lyrics, the listener finds reason to question themselves as much as the artist. It’s an achievement of epic sexual proportions.

But the lyrical tale of Georgie Fruit is almost secondary to the almost maddening musical inventiveness of the band. In fifteen tracks, Of Montreal progresses more than some bands do in an entire career. These fifteen songs really number in the dozens, each track going beyond just verse/chorus and sounding more like song/song/song/song/song. The second track, “Wicked Wisdom” has somewhere between three and five completely separate musical ideas which transition into each other breathlessly, never resting and always surprising.

Skeletal Lamping is an artistic statement of the highest, most challenging order. It sounds like the best album that Prince never made. It is the four ancient elements: It’s fluid and passing like water, yet can rage like a tidal wave. It constantly pushes you, like wind. Like the Earth, it’s ever-changing. And it burns with the intensity of the hottest fire. But, more pertinently, Skeletal Lamping is one of the best albums released in 2008, and possibly in the last decade.
Christian H.

Pajiba Music

The Year In Review, Day 4
/ Pajiba Music Writers & The Eloquents

Music | December 29, 2008 |

TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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The Year In Review Part 5

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