The Sea & the Rhythm
Normally, when a person records a record with ambient noise, plaintive self-harmonizing, and lots of acoustic plucking, you listen. You listen 'cause it's usually something a friend recorded on his damn four-track, and he or she put his or her heart into the thing, dammit, and you'd be a dick if you didn't. Of course, then you also have the Will Oldhams of the world -- you know, artistes, man -- doing the same thing. Except, of course, that their copious releases get put out by some ultra-hip indie label with something like religious fervor. Most of these releases become something like outsider art: kind of neat when you first see it, but redundant once you see that all the person has in their painting repertoire is space aliens, chickens, and American flags.
One-man-band Sam Beam is committed to making no (Iron &) wine before its time. The college teacher (Beam teaches cinematography at a college in Florida, notable here only because it helps to explain his music's expansive, decades-at-a-time sweep) knows you don't turn in a paper without at least a couple of drafts. Delicate yet driving, it's a perfect salve for those with an Iron deficiency: much like his stellar debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle, The Sea contains equal parts heavy and philosophical (er, the iron) and the love-stricken and heavenly (yep, the wine). The matte CD cover, in classic Sub Pop style, is made to look like someone spilled coffee all over it. It fits, I suppose. Spillin' it in order to make art is what this EP is all about.--Timothy C. Davis
Kings of Leon
Youth and Young Manhood
A lot has been said about Kings of Leon -- the so-called "Southern Strokes" -- and most of it, while well-meaning, has about as much to do with the South proper as a plate of goulash.
The Memphis-by- way-of-Oklahoma "Kings" have a hell of a lot more to do with the 1970s, even though at least three of the Followill boys (brothers Caleb, Nathan, and Jared, plus first cousin Matthew) never even took a breath in that decade. Perhaps one can get a better sense of the band from their fashion, which, after all, has as much to do with their shit-hot buzz as anything else. The band tries on all matter of vintage attire -- faded Blackfoot three-quarter-sleeves, Foghat, The Kinks, God knows what else -- and, though the fit's a little tight, manage to give the old rags some new life.
Evidently, the boys' father was a traveling preacher, which might explain why a lot of Youth and Young Manhood sounds so damn good when you crank it up. You can almost picture their father going into a church and the boys -- heretofore sitting there like little angels -- cranking up the local classic rock station to jam out for a couple minutes, just barely getting the sound down and the hair combed before the old man gets back.--Timothy C. Davis
Columbia/Legacy By the mid 60s, when these solo piano recordings were cut, bebop pioneer Thelonious Monk was no longer considered hip or cutting-edge. The original issue of Solo Monk was largely overlooked or critically derided. Nearly four decades later, we have the benefit of hindsight. The music is timeless. Crisply remastered, the 12 songs on the original LP, along with nine bonus alternate takes, neatly capture Monk's idiosyncratic harmonies and rhythmic sense. The music ranges from whimsy to melancholy, from the stride-influenced "Dinah" (popularized by Fats Waller in the 20s) and "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)," to probing takes on originals "Ask Me Now" and "Ruby, My Dear." Monk's playing was a sublime synthesis of traditional, modern and highly individualistic. What better way to experience it than with the master alone at the piano.--Eric Snider
Neil Young & Crazy Horse
You could call Neil Young's Greendale a musical novella. It tells the story of the extended Green family who live in and around fictional Greendale on the northern California coast. Shit happens: A cop-killing, grandpa dies of a heart attack, a frisky 19-year-old girl flies the coop. Amid the narrative, Young comments on the environment, corporate greed, media invasiveness, family dynamics, bad decisions, grief and loss. Greendale resonates with tragedy, anger and sly humor.
I downloaded the lyrics off neilyoung.com, printed them out and sat through the entire album without interruption. Enjoyed it immensely. But I'm not apt to do it again any time soon. Which leads me to the problems with Greendale. As stand-alone songs, they leave quite a bit to be desired. It's as if Young did not want melodies to detract from the stories. They're simple, repetitive and often sound alike from tune to tune. Most of the rhythms are straight, mid-tempo rock, and at times they can sound downright sluggish.
Young dialed down Crazy Horse's thick, agro attack into something more laconic and flowing. Most of the tracks include Young on guitar backed by Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Bill Talbot. The production has a garage-y, warts-and-all quality. Young's ragged guitar tone is still on display, but the solos are more contemplative than fiery; at times they're even nondescript. Again, it seems as if Young took this subdued approach on purpose to accentuate the storytelling. --Eric Snider