Paul Simon and others release albums in time for Record Store Day

by Paul De Barros

The Seattle Times (MCT)

12 April 2011


Remember records? Musicians hope you do.

But if you need a reminder, the people who sell talking platters would like to see you Saturday for Record Store Day.

Conceived by a klatch of independent owners in 2007, Record Store Day is not just about vinyl, though that’s part of the focus. It’s about celebrating music — and buying physical albums plucked from wooden bins in real-life stores on actual streets. How retro is that?

We salute Record Store Day with reviews of some new albums we thought you might like to buy — maybe even in an actual record store.

Paul Simon, “So Beautiful or So What” (Hear Music). Paul Simon conveys a curiously winsome melancholy even when he’s celebrating, an ambivalence mirrored in the alternative between wonder and cynicism suggested by the title and story lines of his excellent new album. Hey, he seems to say — I’m happy to be alive, but it ain’t always sweet, and that’s part of the mystery — and the beauty. There are some terrific new songs here. In “The Afterlife,” the narrator imagines those chosen for heaven take a number and wait in line, just like everywhere else. The Vietnam vet of “Rewrite” isn’t just trying to rejigger a screenplay, but his past, too. “Questions for the Angels” inquires, rhetorically, “If you shop for love in a bargain store/And you don’t get what you bargained for/Can you get your money back?” (You know the answer.) Such sharply-sculpted lyrics are gently buoyed by world rhythms — and instruments (accordion, kora, soukous guitar) — collected by a boomer who has learned to flavor his folk songs gingerly, if respectfully, with global spice.

The Head and the Heart, “The Head and the Heart” (Sub Pop). Now that The Head and the Heart has been picked up by Sub Pop, the Seattle band’s debut has been rereleased and remastered. It’s not vastly different (they’ve added one new song), but it’s a good reminder that if you don’t have this sweet, infectious album yet, you need it. Adding a playful pop punch to alt-country twang, the sextet winds piano hooks, exuberant harmonies and tender acoustic arrangements around cut-to-the-heart lyrics. There’s not a bad song, but standouts include rollicking piano romp “Coeur d’Alene” and the Ryan Adams-tinged “Down in the Valley,” which shows off perfect, whiskey-raw vocals.

Beat Connection, “Surf Noir” (Moshi Moshi / Tender Age). University of Washington electronic duo Beat Connection’s debut “Surf Noir” EP, independently released last year as a free download, is medicine for the seasonally depressed: good-vibes dance music and relaxing, atmospheric sketches. The EP’s beach-y songs still sound fresh, particularly the throbbing “In the Water” and closing-credits pop gem “Silver Screen.” The new “Surf Noir” is only slightly musically different from the old one, but it generally sounds better. The remix/remaster job accentuates the bass and makes the drums sound more slapping.

USF, “Jamaica Plain” (Highfives and Handshakes). A big brother to Beat Connection is USF, two recently graduated University of Washington students making electronic music that evokes tropical scenery. Their “Jamaica Plain” EP is beautiful and ambient, full of shimmering synthesizers and echoing drums that fade in and out. Listening feels a bit like doing yoga, or getting massaged at a New Age spa. The 10-minute title track requires a little patience as it unfolds its several movements. But that’s USF’s thing: You have to give in to “get” it. Luckily that’s easy to do, and a passive ear is almost better when a jittery synthesizer might turn into dreamlike chanting, and that into grunting hippo noises. You’ll wonder, “How did we get here?”

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