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november 2008

I recently bought the deluxe edition of Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy, which includes the Black Sheep Boy Appendix, an EP of songs recorded during the same sessions that was released several months after the proper album.

And I can't help but notice that if you take out the tracks on this EP that are less than a minute long, you end up with seven real tracks, just one less than the eight you are left with on Okkervil River's latest "album", The Stand Ins, after you take out all the songs on that release that are less than one minute long. And you have exactly the same number of tracks, seven, if you subtract "Starry Stairs", which was released last year as a bonus track to The Stage Names.

My point, given that I've harped on this topic before? The Stand Ins is also composed of songs from the same sessions as a proper album, The Stage names, so Black Sheep Box Appendix and The Stand Ins end up looking pretty similar on paper. And it's pretty hard to think of non-crass reasons why one was labled an EP and the other a full album, each sold at the corresponding price points.

Okay, I'm still in love with of Montreal. I was a little put off by Skeletal Lamping at first, but it's sinking in now. "You only like him 'cause he's sexually appealing"——how can you not love that line? And from a song called "Beware Our Nubile Miscreants"? There's genius in pretty much every track on this record.

Neutral Milk Hotel's On Avery Island is the only record listed on the "Listeners Also Bought" list for the Unicorns' Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? on the iTunes store. So I reckon it's about time I picked that one up, especially given that In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is, you know, one of my favorite records of all time.

I normally get pretty irritated when the iPhone plays two songs back to back by the same artist when I have a big playlist on shuffle, but yesterday it played LCD Soundsystem's "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down" and then immediately played "All My Friends". And I was pretty okay with that.

Topping it off with "Someone Great" would have been perfect, but New Order's "Way of Life" was a pretty good follow-up. A lot of diehard fans seem to think Brotherhood was the beginning of the end for New Order, but I think it might be my favorite record from their catalogue.

I downloaded ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead's Festival Thyme EP out of curiosity because I've read in more than one place that it signals some kind of new direction for them. I've only listened to it a couple of times, but I'm still not sure what I think about it. It's not bad, and it's certainly more consistent than their last couple of records, but I can't yet agree that this small collection of songs heralds a rebirth of the band. I'm not necessarily ruling it out, but I'm not sold on it at this point.

Picked up a couple new things yesterday: Q-Tip's long awaited sophomore solo record The Renaissance and the Cure's 4:13 Dream. Only brief listens so far, but each record sounds solid and neither of them sounds like a knockout. I'll be spending more time with them in the next few days.

I haven't written about of Montreal in, like, a week. So let me take this opportunity to once again tell you how great they are, especially their latest album, Skeletal Lamping. I don't know if I'm going to explicitly recommend it, because even though I'm totally obsessed with it, I can see how it might not be everyone's cup of tea. But listen to some clips, and if you find any of it even remotely appealing, take the plunge and let it dominate your playlist for a few days, then tell me if you have any desire to stop listening to it. It takes a litle longer for this record to take root compared to their last couple of releases, but once it's got you, man, it's not gonna let go.

The new Cure record starts off pretty strong——despite the rawer guitar sound, it feels more like a classic Cure record——but then it lumbers off in the interminable, indistiguishable soup of guitar swirls and aggressive tracks that have become the band's signature sound this millenium. The most frustrating thing about it is that they show us very clearly that they could make another classic record if they wanted to, but it's their judgment about what kind of tone they want to set and their instincts about how to construct an album——not their songwriting ability——that is standing in their way.

I loved Tribe Called Quest, and I've been waiting for a while to see if Q-Tip would ever have a solo release that would match the best stuff from the group that made him famous. He does pretty well with The Renaissance——it's definitely a step up from his solo debut, Amplified, and it has a nice smattering of old school samples to buoy the tracks, but I have to say, the upcoming Kanye West disc excites me a lot more.

Q-Tip is reminding a lot of us what we loved about hip hop in the first place, but Kanye is spiralling off to something that is either an entirely new subgenre in the rap/hip hop category or a whole new category unto itslef.

I swear, I'm still primarily an indie rock/guitar guy, but there's a very good chance that my two favorite discs this year could be dance/pop entries from the Faint (who have made their most keyboard-oriented record since they started their blank wav transformation) and of Montreal (although, to be fair, Kevin Barnes uses a fair amount of guitar in his work——but he also uses a fair amount of disco stylings).

Also, I seriously regret not making an effort to see the of Montreal show at the 9:30 last month. I can't imagine how they stage some of this stuff in a live setting.

It makes me a little crazy trying to figure out why the words "basket" and "ball" in Deerhoof's "Basket Ball Get Your Groove Back" are separated into two words. But singer Satomi Matsuzaki's repetition of the phrase "bunny jump" is almost as adorable as when she sings the title word of "Flower" over and over in that song, so I can forgive the odd division of "basketball".

I've never bought a Smiths best-of collection even though they are my favorite band of all time, mostly because I already own everything in the various retrospectives that have been released, but I at least had to take a look at the tracklist for the recently released The Sound of the Smiths, which was curated by Morrissey and Marr.

There were a few live tracks, instrumentals, and assorted other b-sides that I don't have in my collection, but none of them were interesting enough to prompt me to purchase the album, or even those particular tracks. Except for one: "Jeane", which has a loose, raw sound reminiscent of the early BBC sessions that first brought them fame in their native England, and which is also the most straightfoward pop rock track I've heard them play.

It's nice to find something new from them after all these years——for whatever reason, there really doesn't seem to be a treasure trove of unreleased tracks waiting in the wings somewhere——and it also serves to highlight how the Smiths really were greater than the sum of their parts, because even in this simple, uncomplicated song, there's more magic than in just about anything Morrissey or Marr have released in their solo efforts or as members of other bands over the last 20 years.

Weirdness: I was listening to "Jeane" on repeat while writing this entry, and just after writing the sentence about this track having magic in it, Morrissey sang the lyric "I don't believe in magic anymore." And the refrain "We tried and we failed" is, for me, a succinct summary of the past 20 years of their careers, because while both Morrisey and Marr have each found success in some form, neither of them has come close to recreating what they had with each other and the Smiths.

I remember watching this video when I was in high school where the camera filmed Picasso while he did a sketch, and there were several moments during the session when my friends and I thought he was going to ruin it, because it seemed to be at a perfect stopping point. But Picasso drove ahead, never hesitating, never pausing, adding more and more lines. And yet somehow at the end, the simple beginning sketch that had only a very strokes stood out as the primary element, and at the same time all the additions seemed just as vital and important even though they were clearly ancillary.

That's kind of what listening to of Montreal is like, but in reverse: the more you listen, the more intricate details and extra melodies you hear, and you always hang onto the version of the song that you heard during your first listen, but you can grow to appreciate the necessity of all the extra stuff. It seems like it would be really easy to turn these compositions into ornate, baroque messes, but even though there are tons of tiny ideas floating around the big idea in every track, they don't seem superfluous or distracting.

And yeah, I just compared of Montreal to Picasso. Or was it the other way around...?

I enjoy listening to Okkervil River's The Stand Ins, but I still can't get past the fact that nearly every song sounds like a rough draft for a better, more fully realized track from The Stage Names. "Bruce Wayne Campbell Interview", the closing track, initially seemed like one of the weaker tracks to me, but then there's that part where the horns kick in and it almost starts to sound like a lost Beulah track. God, I miss Beulah...

There likely won't be any further posts here until after Thanksgiving weekend, but I'm hoping to pick up the new Kanye West and Los Campesinos next week, so hopefully I'll have some quick reviews of those in December.