Friday, February 26, 2010

The Fiery Furnaces- Take Me Round Again

I think if you listen to music long enough, you develop something like a relationship with certain bands or artists. You're willing to follow them into whatever territory they wish to explore and will happily listen to everything they release even if the reviews have been awful. It goes beyond being something like “a fan.” I'm a “fan” of Kevin Smith's movies, but I don't rush out to see every new thing he does, especially when it gets critically reamed, like with Jersey Girl (which is not an awful movie, but that's a review for another day). No, with this “relationship”, you engage the band on a level as much intellectual as it is emotional, at once having an emotional “I like this or not” reaction as well as trying to figure out vague concepts like “what they are trying to say.” You're willing to indulge them a few missteps here or there because you have faith in their abilities when you might not even give another band a chance if you don't like their stuff on first listen. You find yourself saying or thinking things like “I love the band, but I'm not too big on such-and-such-release...” This is precisely how I feel about The Fiery Furnaces: I love them, but I'm not too big on Rehearsing My Choir or Matt Friedberger's solo albums.

Over the past three years the Furnaces have proven just as unpredictable as at their start, moving from 2007's excellent 70s inspired Widow City to 2008's dense, challenging “live” album Remember to the classicist rock/pop of last year's underrated I'm Going Away. Then came, with little coverage and even less fanfare, Take Me Round Again. In essence, this MP3-only release features covers/reworkings of songs from I'm Going Away done by siblings/main Furnaces Matt and Eleanor Friedberger. Since the band are famous for changing their songs drastically for live shows (something born out by Remember, which stitched together radically different takes of a single song more often than not), this release is neither a surprise nor a revelation. What it is, however, is enjoyable. Not amazingly enjoyable or occasionally enjoyable, states I vacillate between with their other releases. No, Take Me Round Again is just...enjoyable.

As it was recorded by the two siblings without their backing band as well as away from each other, it's even more stripped down than the I'm Going Away originals. Perhaps it's best to think of Eleanor's takes as “covers”, since the press for this album quotes her as saying something about long wanting to do an entire record of folk covers of Fiery Furnaces songs. And yes, her tracks here are mostly just played with an acoustic guitar for accompaniment. 'Cups + Punches' somehow retains its sense of groove and cadence in its new minimal instrumentation, as does 'Keep Me In The Dark.' Had someone handed you her half of Take Me Round Again and claimed it was demos for I'm Going Away, you'd believe them. Her half dozen tracks are consistently good but unsurprising, mostly making me wish she would go back and record some folk covers of older material.

Matthew, meanwhile, stays truer to the usual Furnaces modus operandi of skewing and stretching songs in new, different directions. On the press site for the album he says something about how he envisioned this as an “alternative version” of the album. As such, his half of the release is more interesting but not always successful—the same criticism could be leveled at the weaker moments of the Furnaces's entire catalogue, but I digress. Matthew's 'Drive To Dallas' is a short wank workout for keyboards and drum machines that sounds nothing like the original (I'm still not convinced it isn't some kind of joke), while his slurred, carefree 'Keep Me In The Dark' is both “slurred” and “carefree” in bad ways. But his White-Stripes-cover-band-ish take on the title track, and the fun off-beat solo piano (with some electric guitar toward the middle) of 'Staring At The Steeple', reveal that he is as much the obvious composing/instrument playing key to the Furnaces as well as, when he takes the mic, a surprisingly good, woefully underutilized vocalist.

Since Take Me Round Again is only available as a $10 download...since it's—depending on which Friedberger you ask—a cover or reworking of I'm Going Away...since it's inessential and only hardcore fans would care anyway...since it's pretty good but nothing that I feel particularly strongly about...Since all of these things are true, it's difficult for me to know how to conclude. “Take Me Round Again is a pretty good, interesting covers/reworkings collection but it will only interest the faithful and even at $10 it's inessential”? Yeah, that'll do.

3 Inessential Stars Out Of 5

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Moonface- Dreamland EP: Marimba and Shit-Drums

There was a time in the mid 90s to the early 00s when Chicago was an incredibly prolific and incestuous scene for independent music. Bands freely shared members and put out a lot of material, often as obscure solo or side projects. Even when you thought you had a handle on a relatively well known band like Tortoise, it would turn out that, say, Jeff Parker put out some solo album you've never heard of. Today, though, this kind of cross pollination and proflicacy belongs to the Canadians. It's easy to play "six degrees of separation" with many of the bands since most of them have members who do solo material or serve time in side projects, collaborations, and other bands. Perhaps none of these axes is more tangled and large than the one centered around the Spencer Krug: he is a full time member of Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, and Swan Lake and a sometime member of Frog Eyes...oh, damn, he also had that Fifths Of Seven band, too...

And now he has added Moonface to his deck of cards. Presumably a solo affair, this EP is possibly connected to an obscure 7" put out by Krug's Sunset Rubdown band titled "Introducing Moonface." As if to combat any complaints from fans of his other bands, he not only released this as Moonface but also with a completely honest, literal subtitle: the only instruments used on this 20 minute single track are marimbas and cheap sounding drums.

For fans (I'm tempted to say "scholars," considering how complicated Krug's discography is), the
Dreamland EP will be little more than an interesting, inessential experiment. Often artists can produce amazing work within self-imposed limitations, and Krug has proven he is sometimes at his best with little to work with: 'Child-Heart Losers' from Sunset Rubdown's Random Spirit Lover is devastating in its simplicity. But while the long tracks on last year's superb Dragonslayer worked through several sections, focusing on different instruments or atmospheres, this EP is limited to the aforementioned two instruments and is double the length of even that album's longest song.

Dreamland makes for a monotonous and trying listen for the Krug faithful and a baffling, pointless exercise for non-fans. There aresome good moments here or there during the track's 20 minutes, but there are also too many parts where the same marimba pattern cycles for the 20th time and you wonder if he's putting you on or not. Since this EP was initially a "pay what you want" download in the now standard Radiohead In Rainbows mold, it makes me wonder if this was something Krug dashed off as a personal challenge and thought it was worth releasing as a obscure curio for the hardcore. Even as much as I love Krug, though, I wish he had taken the ideas and sections and turned them into shorter, full fledged songs instead of a rambling, often-outright boring single EP-length track. To be honest, I'm not sure this EP is worth any amount of money. I am sure, however, that it's for the completionist fans only and even they will find little nutrition in it.
2 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Re: Views On Owen Pallett's Heartland

As this was my first video made with iMovie, I'm not altogether happy with how this came together or looks/sounds. Also, using Safari to post stuff to this blog seems to be really wonky. Ah, the tribulations of technology...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Happy Birthday, Me

Yes, I turned 26 today. I think I might have used this song last year around my birthday, but who cares?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Game Shots: Uncharted, Torchlight, and Prototype

Due to various circumstances, I ended up buying a MacBook this weekend, so videos made after this one may look and sound slightly different since I'll be using different programs for both. Just thought I'd let you know, in case you care.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Red House Painters- Songs For A Blue Guitar

The history behind the last two albums by Red House Painters is at least as well known as the music. The band were dropped from indie stalwart 4AD before the release of Songs For A Blue Guitar. Depending on which story you believe, this was: A) because of its stylistic change toward longer tracks with guitar solos B) because of the band's problems with the U.S. branch of the company C) because it was, in all but name, a Mark Kozelek solo album. At any rate, the band's final album, Old Ramon, was held up in release hell for three years due to record label mergers and other business-side bureaucracy. Kozelek finally bought back the rights and it was released by Sub Pop. Though he would soon form his own record label to avoid any such issues, creative freedom or otherwise, it's interesting how unfettered and focused Kozelek sounds on both Old Ramon and Blue Guitar.

My task here is to dispense with the latter. Having no experience with Kozelek's work pre-Blue Guitar (in terms of Red House Painters's discography, I mean), it's impossible for me to speak to how it compares to his earlier work. Anyway, there's no reason to go into comparisons or speaking of developments toward or away from a certain style. Songs For A Blue Guitar is a rich, lengthy album in its own right and a full demonstration of everything that makes Kozelek's music, under whatever name, so great. Like most of his work under the Sun Kil Moon moniker, it's roughly divided between delicate, poetic musings about love and the past ('Have You Forgotten') and long, Neil Young/Velvet Underground-circa-Loaded classic-style rock with solos and all ('Make Like Paper', a transformative cover of Wings's 'Silly Love Songs'). On a side note, this album also points the way toward releases, under both Kozelek's own name and under the Sun Kil Moon moniker, focused on covering other artist's songs, since three of the tracks here are covers...but I digress.

Most of Songs For A Blue Guitar ultimately can be divided between the two aforementioned styles, but it isn't entirely binary. 'I Feel The Rain Fall', a mellow country rock tune, sounds like Creedence Clearwater Revival with less groove. A cover of Yes's 'Long Distance Runaround' careens into a sudden stop and raucous guitar outro that sounds way more like sludgy, metal-y 90s alt rock than it does 70s prog rock. 'Priest Alley Song' namechecks the band's first album and has an intricate acoustic guitar melody that beautifully blooms into a full band arrangement roughly halfway through. And another cover, this time of The Cars's 'All Mixed Up', allows Kozelek to let loose on vocals, with his plaintive cries of "alllll mixed up."

The music of the Red House Painters, like all of Kozelek's work, has the air of cult-ness about it. The very things that people love about this band, and by extension this album, are the very things that other people hate. "The songs are depressing and the album is overly long," the detractors say. "No, the songs are poetic and emotionally affecting, and cutting any of the material would either dull the impact of the rest or muddle its flow and atmosphere," the fans say. As a critic first and a fan second, it falls to me, then, not to defend the band/Kozelek's music but to help qualify Songs For A Blue Guitar. Well, judged against either the standards of other music or the parts of Kozelek's discography I'm familiar with, this album is excellent, and a good introduction to his work for its transformative covers, melancholic acoustic numbers, and crunchy guitar rock.
5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

I don't think it's unfair to say that, post Silent Hill 3, the series has followed a troubled path. The fourth entry originally wasn't even going to be a Silent Hill title, which explains many of the ways it broke from the series's conventions. However, the true break comes when the franchise headed West. A much reviled film (which I actually love) and two mediocre-to-just-kind-of-good games shook the faith of fans and critics, leading to poor sales and low-to-middling reviews.

The problem with the Silent Hill games has always been the gameplay. I've only played about half of the series, but everything else about them has always struck me as unique and brilliant: the settings, the atmosphere, the music, the characters and plot...yet the clunky controls and awful combat mechanics have dogged the series all along. Much as Silent Hill 2 is one of my favorite games, I only enjoy it so much because I set the combat difficulty to Easy so I don't have to try. The Silent Hill: Origins and Homecoming titles tried to amend this by making weapons breakable and giving the combat more depth, respectively, but neither the "different combat" nor "emphasized combat" approaches worked well.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, then, is an attempt to bring the series, and the survival horror genre, back toward the story/puzzle based side of things, making it at times more akin to a point and click adventure game than an action game. The title also symbolically 'reboots' the franchise by being an almost-remake of the original, keeping the premise--a guy named Harry gets in a car accident near Silent Hill and his daughter disappears in the process, so he has to find her--but changing everything else.
Presentation-wise, Shattered Memories is a decent looking Wii game. I don't know that I'd say it looks as good as the best Wii games, let alone the best looking Gamecube or PS2 games, but for its (likely) modest budget and what it aims for, it looks fine. The music and sound effects are appropriately eerie, though the voice acting does deserve special mention for being above average. Best of all is the way the game makes use of the Wiimote's speaker. I don't want to spoil anything, since this is the only truly great thing Shattered Memories does with the unique aspects of the Wii, but if you thought the speaker's bad sound quality couldn't be put to use for anything other than reloading sound effects in shooters or the 'thwunk' of the bowstring in Zelda, you'll be pleasantly surprised here.

Intentionally or not, the game is divided into discrete halves, both story-wise and gameplay-wise. Half of the story transpires in interesting first person segments where a therapist asks you questions, as well as to do things like color a picture and fill out questionnaires. The other half, the majority of the game, is in the third person segments where you have direct control of protagonist Harry Mason, as he explores Silent Hill. The game tries some really interesting things with his cellphone, such as eerie phone calls and the ability to take pictures to make ghostly apparitions appear, but by and large all of the stuff it does with the Wii's motion sensing quickly goes from novel and tactile to tedious and unnecessary. Having to manually open cabinets doesn't make a game more immersive or "better", it just makes it annoying to play. This kind of thing doesn't bother me in games like Metroid Prime 3: Corruption or Killzone 2, but that's because it's used sparingly there and works well. Motion control issues get worse, but we'll get there in time.
I will say that the game's story and characters, and how your various answers to the therapist alter both, are pretty groundbreaking and interesting even though, judging from the plot summary I read, the major plot twist is a bit much. Every Silent Hill game has some major earthshaking twist in it, and at this point it's starting to become a cliche. Anyway, I feel like the positive reviews you might be seeing elsewhere for this review are disingenuous because they emphasize the plot and characters aspect at the expense of just how awful the actual gameplay is. There is no combat in the game, for starters, which isn't necessarily a bad thing for a game except that, in Shattered Memories, the gameplay is quite literally divided between exploration/puzzle solving and the chase sequences.

You always know you're headed for the chase sequences because suddenly everything freezes over and your character starts to run everywhere. It's a completely transparent way of saying "now there are enemies and you can be killed, so don't bother to take your time enjoying the environments or allowing any tension to build." So the chase sequences aren't scary, and since you are never in any danger while exploring, this robs the game of all of the series's normally rich atmosphere and spooky vibes. As for the chase sequences, they are inarguably bad. No, I'm sorry, there is no argument here: they are not fun, exciting, or scary. They are just tedious, frustrating, and completely un-needed. They wouldn't be half as bad if the controls functioned properly, but because the enemies move so fast they will inevitably catch up to you (or ambush you), start dog piling on, and force you to flail around with the controllers, trying to toss them off. You'll end up trying every possible combination of motions to break free, but it either never works or never works consistently. Even if you manage to get one of the things off of you, it doesn't work enough times in a row to function like it probably was supposed to. I am not exaggerating when I say that I looked up every possible tip and message board thread about these escape sequences and ended up trying the same one 23 times until I gave up in a fury. Yes, I'm serious: 23 times. I haven't even played through the good sequences of games I like 23 times. Yes, as it turns out, having no combat is worse than having bad, clunky combat.
I think that I understand what people see in this game, and what the developers were going for. But as I ranted and raved to everyone in earshot (and instant message-shot, and on a YouTube video) when I quit the game: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories reeks of some wannabe auteur making the game he or she wanted to make, without realizing that other people would have to play the damn thing and attempt to enjoy themselves. If Shattered Memories was a movie or got rid of all the Wii motion control stuff (mostly the chase sequences), it might be an experience worth arguing for. It is, after all, ambitious and different, which is more than you can say for 98% of the Wii's library. But as the most crucial part of a videogame is being able to control it, Shattered Memories is more failure than success.2 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Beatles- Abbey Road

Imagine my confusion when, on a whim, I browsed the music section of my local Best Buy and saw Abbey Road, new, on vinyl. At first I assumed it had to be some kind of calendar, but no; handling it and turning the iconic cover over confirmed it was, indeed...a new copy....of Abbey Road....on vinyl...for $15. Still stunned into disbelief, I--no exaggeration--looked up at the ceiling, as if it had fallen from heaven or this was some trick. Surely this odd serendipity must be some sign that I'm supposed to review the album, so here we go.

Sure, you've listened to the Beatles. You've listened to them over and over until their music has become part of your DNA, until you're able to pick out even the non-single tracks when Muzak versions of them are played out in the world. But how long has it been since you really sat down, turned off your iPhone, TV, computer(s), and all those other modern distractions so you could actually hear the Beatles? Specifically, let's focus on Abbey Road. Bring to mind your memories of the album, then we'll continue. No rush; I've got all day.

OK, ready?

The run from Rubber Soul to The White Album justly gets the most attention and discussion, but I've always held a soft spot for Abbey Road and Let It Be in my heart. The former, in particular, is an album that I'm not sure has ever gotten its due. For example, the dizzyingly rich vocal harmonies on 'Because' are arguably the best they ever did. And 'Octopus's Garden' is a fun nautical Ringo ditty that hearkens back to his similarly themed spotlight turn on 'Yellow Submarine', complete with bubbly effects and all.

Abbey Road is the quintessential late-period Beatles album. It contains the best bits of both the sprawling, weird White Album and the throwback, classicist pop/rock of Let It Be. From the former camp we have the epic jam ballad 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)', as well as the famous suite of songs on side two that have always felt "of a piece" with short White Album novelties like 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road?' and 'Wild Honey Pie.' Meanwhile, the Let It Be elements arrive with the cool grooves of 'Come Together' and Paul McCartney's soulful, raw throated performance on 'Oh! Darling.' Knowing, as we do now, that most of Abbey Road's songs were extant (albeit in early forms) during the White Album and Let It Be sessions, it's still worth appreciating how well Abbey Road manages to capture the feel of both of those fairly different releases while still holding together as a whole.

Abbey Road is neither what I consider the best Beatles album nor is it my personal favorite. Moreover, I wouldn't even call it their most underrated. However, I could see someone making a strong case for any of these positions. Setting aside the confusing chronology of its release in comparison to Let It Be and all the background politics behind its recording, I suggest you take the 48ish minutes to give the album a fresh listen with your full attention. You just might find yourself being that person, arguing those positions.

5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5
(as if there was any doubt)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dragon Age: Origins

A review of Dragon Age: Origins. Yeah, I didn't put the usual "Re: Views" title at the beginning, but in my defense I was in the late stages of a cold while making this video and so all the audio stuff took me forever to complete because I kept having to cough or clear my throat.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Killzone 2

If the first Killzone was unwisely posited as a Halo-killer, then Killzone 2 was also unwisely said to be the PS3's answer to either Halo 3 or Gears Of War 2. Thankfully, the more time that goes on, the more Killzone 2 has been allowed to stand on its own, judged by its own merits rather than a bullet point comparison versus the exclusives of the 360. This is a nice development, since Killzone 2 is a very different FPS than many are used to and not 1-to-1 comparable.

The game has you as part of a military fleet invading the planet Helghan, home of the Helghast, who did something in the last game, I guess, that warranted such revenge. You don't really need to know, and the game doesn't do much to encourage you to care. Killzone 2's worst element is its plot and characters. It doesn't give you enough backstory or motivation at the beginning, and along the way never builds any sympathy or interesting developments for any of the characters. Everyone seems to fall into stock cliches of the FPS genre, and you could easily replace the cast of this game with almost any other from another FPS and it wouldn't matter. In other words, Killzone 2's Alpha Squad may as well be Gears Of War's Delta.
I don't come to FPS's for their plot and characters, so it worked to the game's favor, in my book, that it attempts so little with them. Instead, the game is borderline daring with its gameplay, and specifically, its controls. Coming to Killzone 2 from other games, your first impression will likely be that it's sluggish and unresponsive. Even with the sensitivity jacked up all the way, your aiming reticule moves about as slowly as Call Of Duty's set to its lowest speed. At the same time, your character's movement, even when sprinting, seems slow and awkward. However, the more Killzone 2 I played, the more I began to embrace this difference. The game is aiming for a very deliberate pace, as well as a sense of heft, weight, and visceral-ness that is missing from most titles. You aren't as nimble as even the thick necked Gears Of War dudes, but Killzone 2 feels all the more distinctive because of it.

I had to stop myself from typing "realistic" in that last sentence, but maybe that is a better way of describing it. If the Halo series has a weapon design philosophy that screams "I grew up with Nerf guns and don't care how absurd things are as long as they're fun", then the Killzone 2 team likely grew up watching History Channel documentaries on the guns of World War II. All of the weapons in this game feel heavy and (for lack of a better term) realistic. The sheer sound design and reloading mechanisms of the guns are excellent and tell you more about the two opposing sides than any of the story. Your side's assault rifle has a laser dot scope and a sports-car like finesse to it; the Helghast assault rifle--which I used for 90% of the game--is raw and LOUD, with old school iron sights and all. Better still are the parts where you get on turrets or vehicles. Rather than having the usual "weapon heat" gauge pop up on screen, you can tell the turret is overheating because the gun barrels begin to glow red hot. Furthermoer, the 'robot suit' section doesn't have health or heat meters; you know you're getting messed up because the thing starts emitting alarm noises and the glass on the cockpit cracks. It makes the game more immersive, though I could have done without the parts that use the Six Axis motion controls to turn wheels and plant bombs. They work fine but do feel unnecessary when a simple button press would suffice.
Killzone 2 is a great looking game even if it's nowhere near as stunning as it was back when it was first being shown. On top of everything looking good, it has a real sense of "place" and setting due to its well thought-out aesthetics. Helghast troops vary in their uniforms and amount of armor depending on what their primary weapon is; those with SMGs have very little and will whip out a knife at close quarters, while those with flamethrowers take a hefty amount of shots to put down since, realistically (there's that word again), you would want as much armor as possible between you and a ruptured fuel tank. All of that said, the level design of Killzone 2 is your bog standard FPS stuff, with endless house to house urban combat, industrial warehouse crawls with vertical mazes of catwalks, and even an assault on a palace, complete with a section where you have to fight waves of enemies to get a boss to fight you himself.

Speaking of the bosses, the difficulty of Killzone 2 seems to vary wildly depending on what your current objective is. If it's just making your way through areas, it can be fairly easy to slightly challenging. If you're trying to do something specific, like, again, fight a boss or out-shoot some snipers, it becomes frustrating and unfair. There's a boss fight early on against a flying robot that nearly made me quit the game, since having to rapidly hit certain things, switch to a different weapon, and shoot the boss throws into stark contrast how deliberate and unresponsive the controls are in a situation where you need both accuracy and speed. It doesn't help that, while you can revive your downed teammates, they can't do the same for you. Moreover, Killzone 2 suffers from the usual modern day, Call Of Duty-design philosophy of "difficulty" meaning the following: all of the enemies have preternaturally good aim at distances they shouldn't with the weapons they have; all of the enemies seemingly focus entirely on you; if you get shot more than a few times you have to desperately backtrack and hide until your health repairs itself. This last bit is especially troublesome during the boss fights, because they can kill you very easily while you have to unload on them again and again, all while balancing this with trying to stay in cover without getting shot so your health can restore itself.
Yet despite these problems, I came away from my experience having some newfound appreciation for the FPS genre. Killzone 2 has its flaws, and isn't the most original or deep game, storywise, but the ways it is different from other FPS's make it a standout title that I think everyone should try. Maybe even after a couple hours you will hate the way it controls and feels, but its deliberate pacing, sense of thickness, excellent graphics and weapon design, and "realistically" visceral combat are unlike any other FPS I've played.

5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5
(For the record, I didn't try any of the mutiplayer, but it's not like that would ever detract from my scoring of a game)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

PJ Harvey- Is This Desire?

For a full 19 seconds of silence, your breath hangs in the air. Then PJ Harvey's voice suddenly springs into your ear, sounding as if her lips are right against the mic. A stuttering drum beat begins just as she sings: "Joseph walked on and on the sunset/went down and down coldness/cooled their desire and Dawn said/let's build a fire." A muffled guitar chords after them in the background and we eventually reach the chorus: "is this desire/enough enough/to lift us higher/to lift above?" Soon the song ends just as suddenly as it began, leaving the listener with a sense of unease and palpable lack of resolution.

Is This Desire? is the sort of experimental, highly personal album that an artist has to make in order to have a career. Up to this point, PJ Harvey was only known for her earlier "trio" albums that featured bluesy, minimalist rock, as well as 1995's To Bring You My Love, her commercial and popular breakthrough. It's pretty telling that it took her three years to follow it up, a period of time in which she had a love affair with Nick Cave and likely got sick to death of touring and doing press. The end result is an album that tries all sorts of things, such as the lower singing voice on 'Catherine'; things that may not always work, but inarguably informed Harvey's music from here on out. Never again would she be known as just "that bluesy rocker chick" or "the chick who did that 'Down By The Water' song." It's hard to imagine her making an album like White Chalk without something like Is This Desire? to pave the way.

Like the title track described above, this is an album that lacks any sense of definite answers or resolution. The songs often feature no obvious big hooks or melodies, subsisting on intricate instrumentation, like the subtle use of piano set against the menacing bass of 'The Garden.' At the same time, there's a huge influence from electronic music on the album, taking Harvey far from her blues rock roots. Hell, 'Electric Light' could pass for a Portishead b-side if it wanted to. At the same time, 'No Girl So Sweet' attempts to meld Harvey's guitar rock side and her newfound electronic one, albeit not very successfully.

One can hear elements of Is This Desire? in every subsequent PJ Harvey album, although they're mostly done better on those occasions. This album's strength and weakness is the same thing: its sprawling, chance taking nature. In her own words, Harvey was using different techniques than she ever had before, also confessing that it was the most difficult album to make, one that was nonetheless "probably the highlight of my career." I think I know what she means. Even if her music is mostly fiction, Is This Desire? definitely strikes me as her most personal (one might say, insular) album. Despite its electronic beats and sometimes raging guitars, it's a headphone album in disguise: there's a lot of nuance, atmosphere, and subtlety to these songs. To put it another way, you need to have it right up against your ears so you can feel her lips as she sings about throwing your pain in the river ('The River') or the girl who only has nightmares, whose "sadness never lifted" ('My Beautiful Leah').

To put it yet another way, Is This Desire? is a very human album. Like all of us, it has flaws; like our lives, it is full of uncertainty and lacks definite resolutions. It may not be the best album Harvey ever made, but it is her most personal and human.

4 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Re: Views on Beach House's Teen Dream

As promised!

Let me reiterate that from now on I'll be either doing written or video reviews of stuff, never both. It's just kind of redundant and I don't have to change the writing much to adapt it to a video or vice versa.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Re: Views on Spoon's Transference

Yes, "Re: Views" is just a pointless way of writing "review" differently, but a few days ago I had the phrase "regarding your views..." stuck in my head and liked it enough to want to use it. Anyway, I went ahead and did a video version of my review of Beach House's Teen Dream, too, though the content is practically identical to the written review. From now on I'll probably keep the video and written stuff mutually exclusive, but doing these two videos at once helped me decided on a format for all future videos of this sort, so...think of it as a bonus.

Oh yeah, the Beach House one will be up tomorrow.