PopMatters Music for the Gifted (or, December 2011 Presents)

by PopMatters Staff

10 November 2011


Nirvana and more...

Lykke Li
Wounded Rhymes

“I Follow Rivers”, a standout song among an album (Wounded Rhymes) full of them, has Sweden’s Lykke Li in voyeur mode, tracing her intended lover as if he were a flowing river from start to sea. Yttling’s staccato guitar and hand-clap beat make the song pulse with the sexual energy of Li’s lyrics, all barely controlled restraint. “Love Out of Lust” swells with an aching beauty, Li’s breathy vocals begging her lover to take a chance with her: “We will live longer than I will, / We will be better than I was, / We can cross rivers with our will, / We can do better than I can.” Her candor is utterly disarming, a moment where the lovelorn tropes of pop music sound captivating and heartfelt in a way that doesn’t even approach the sentimental.—Corey Beasley

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
Mirror Traffic

Sometimes, the best way to get over the past is to embrace it. Although it can be nearly impossible to outrun your history when your earliest material has defined you, Malkmus seems to have come to terms with his legacy, rather than bristling against it. Instead of being just a blast from the past, Mirror Traffic succeeds on its own terms. It’s not simply a heartening, satisfying nod back to the glory days with Pavement that made Malkmus who he is as an artist, but a reflection of what’s possible for him going forward.—Arnold Pan

Buddy Miller
The Majestic Silver Strings

This feels like a keen experiment, a thrilling lark, rather than what we might be used to. Usually, Buddy Miller concocts a reasonably rocking band sound that fuses country, gospel, rock, and pop songcraft into something focused and piquant. The Majestic Silver Strings is subtler, sneakier, often prettier, and certainly more varied. The litany of guests is wonderful—they justify the way the band makes every song different, molding its sensibility around different vocal personalities. The flux between Miller’s traditions, Bill Frisell’s textural impressionism, Greg Leisz’s muscle, and Marc Ribot’s feel for the peculiar is a constant thrill—but a bit of a challenge too.—Will Layman

The Mountain Goats
All Eternals Deck

John Darnielle, for years the lone permanent member of the Mountain Goats, knows how to apply horror imagery to music where it is unexpected and thus startling and effective for its sudden presence. Perhaps the most striking moment here is not one that offers anything new to Darnielle’s still-expanding sonic palette, but rather one that reaches back to the past. “Estate Sign Sale”, while far removed from the murky hiss of the pre-Tallahassee Mountain Goats, is driven by the kind of hard and furious strum that was standard practice in the old days, Darnielle’s acoustic guitar played with frantic speed-punk violence and matched with a gnarled intensity he has essentially retired in his vocal delivery since the more confrontational moments on We Shall All Be Healed.—Jer Fairall

Nevermind (Deluxe Edition)

Presentation and content go hand in hand, and Nirvana brought their rock anarchy and their pop sensibilities to a rocky but fruitful union on Nevermind. To hear the extras on the deluxe edition only confirms their meticulous approach. “Even in His Youth” is a fine b-side, as is “Curmudgeon”. They’ve both got the piss and vinegar, but neither dig their hooks in as deeply as anything on the record. An early version of “Aneurysm” here is excellent, but it comes off as a bit too dark for Nevermind. There are live tracks that show how the band honed their sound around this time, but perhaps the most instructive stuff comes on the second disc with the songs from the original Smart Studio sessions and boom box rehearsals. There are some notable outtakes here—like “Sappy” (another version was on No Alternative) and a cover of Velvet Underground’s “Here She Comes Now”—but mostly it just shows these songs in embryonic forms. The hooks aren’t quite tightened yet, the guitar tones mostly uniform, the lyrics not quite sharp in places.

The raw power of the songs is there, but you need the finished product to see where these songs went, just how good they got when the band focused and polished them into gems. “Polly” perhaps shows best where the band was going. The album version is virtually unchanged from the Smart Studios take, complete with cymbal work from Bleach drummer Chad Channing. Its brittle acoustic sound insists that this is tossed off. But that faintly crashing cymbal, the layered vocals on the choruses, the way Novoselic’s bass comes into the mix—it all gives it away as something more. Like the rest of Nevermind, its elements are simple, but the way they are framed and delivered is deceptively intricate. The purity of rock music and the sweetness of pop. Cobain wasn’t making statements about these things; he was struggling with the want for both.—Matthew Fiander

Ozzy Osbourne
30th Anniversary Collector’s Editions

Ozzy Obsourne’s two best albums have been spruced up yet again, but this time with much more exciting results. The special “Collectors Edition” box set, which is only available through Ozzy’s official site, is the real draw. The 30 Years documentary is enjoyable, but at 42 minutes, could have been longer. Whether you choose to buy the individual albums or splurge on the $150 box set, the Osbourne camp and Sony Music have done an admirable job putting together a reissue package that does these albums justice.—Adrien Begrand

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