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Slipped Discs 2007 Part 5

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Stars of the Lid

And Their Refinement of the Decline

(Kranky; US: 3 Apr 2007; UK: 2 Apr 2007)

Review [3.Apr.2007]

Releasing a double album can be a risky proposition for any band. Releasing two in a row nearly unthinkable. And yet, for Stars of the Lid the progression from 2001’s sprawling, dreamlike The Tired Sounds of… to 2007’s even more ambitious ...And Their Refinement of the Decline seems completely natural. Though both albums of creeping strings and precise drone textures unfold slowly over about two hours each, the decision never comes off as self-indulgent. These works don’t just benefit from long-form presentation, they demand it. While ...And Their Refinement continues its predecessor’s studies in careful repetition and subtle variation, here the variations frequently take on greater scope and carry a stronger sense of progression, and the sound palette has broadened to make excellent use of mournful muted horns and strains of distant choir. If they hadn’t done it before (and arguably Stars of the Lid have been on this path for much of their decade and a half of existence), with this work they have fully shaken themselves free of any limitations suggested by “minimal drone”: ...And Their Refinement is both warmly engaging on its own terms and perhaps best viewed not as some extreme form of post-rock but simply as notable 21st century classical minimalism. Nate Dorr


MP3: Apreludes (in C Sharp Major)





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Will Stratton

What the Night Said

(Stunning Models on Display; US: 24 Jul 2007; UK: Available as import)

Review [24.Jul.2007]

As a pop music armchair quarterback, it’s easy to sit back and watch young, emerging artists get buried under critical death-knell words like “derivative” and “rehash”, often because their influences and contemporaries simply eat too much of their surrounding commercial spotlight. Yet every once in awhile, some bright-eyed go-getter breaks out of the gate and offers a new spin on the same tired old formula, dropping an album filled with music so gorgeous that it almost hurts to listen. Will Stratton’s What the Night Said is one of those albums. Though it would be easy for Stratton to tie his own noose out Nick Drake guitar strums and a Sufjan-level of preciousness, he somehow manages to sidestep such obvious comparisons with 12 songs that are as quiet as they are confident. “Night Will Come” is a burst of sunshine from a lo-fi basement, “I’d Hate to Leave You” could soundtrack a thousand Garden State knockoffs without ever feeling too homogenized, and “Katydid” stands as one of the most flat-out beautiful opening tracks in recent memory. Barely touching the legal drinking age, Stratton shows wisdom that’s far beyond his years and never once he try to rub such idealism in your face. What the Night Said is not only one of 2007’s best kept secrets: it’s one of the most honest records you’ll ever hear in your life. Evan Sawdey


Multiple songs: MySpace


Will Stratton - Who Will





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Tender Forever

Wider

(K; US: 4 Dec 2007; UK: 10 Dec 2007)

Review [2.Jan.2008]

Wider, the latest album from Tender Forever (a.k.a. musical polymath Melanie Valera), is not groundbreaking by being exceptionally crafted or by tilling the ground of new subject matter. No, the album features somewhat puerile instrumentation and chronicles various stages in the rise and fall of a relationship. However, what Valera has achieved is the claiming of yet one final square of the musical landscape for indie pop. Where 2007 saw Ed Banger and Co. plant the indie pop flag in electro and the boys and girls at Italians Do It Better claimed Italo-disco, Valera has single-handedly annexed soul and R&B. While equipped with a fairly standard, although gorgeous, indie songstress vocals over organs and fat synths, Valera sings about the physicality of relationships, “mak[ing] love almost every day”, and love on a transcendental, spiritual stage. Do not be surprised for 2008 to feature a cast of imitators with ironic slow jams, completely missing Valera’s wonderful balance of sexuality and sincerity. Erik Hinton


Streaming: Full album


Tender Forever - How Many





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Various Artists

I’m Not There

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

(Columbia; US: 30 Oct 2007; UK: 29 Oct 2007)

Film soundtracks, unless performed by a single musician or band, are rarely fair game for end-of-year “best of” lists. This is because, after all, even at their best they are really just commercially-released mix tapes. But, this extraordinary collection of Bob Dylan covers from the off-kilter biopic of the same name is worthy of our consideration. More a tribute record than a soundtrack, I’m Not There offers a long list of Dylan numbers (some obscure, some deeply familiar) as re-imagined by an unparalleled collection of mostly indie rockers. As a sprawling experiment in rockers playing dress-up, it’s impressive (and appropriately spotty). But the glorious moments when it works—Calexico backing Willie Nelson on “Señor”, Cat Power vamping through “Memphis Blues Again”, Jack Johnson (heretofore my nemesis) owning “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind”, and Jeff Tweedy winking through “Simple Twist of Fate” (dude! he’s singing the alternate non-album lyrics!)—are like porno for Dylan-fanatics. The two house bands (one a supergroup combining members of Sonic Youth, Wilco, Television, and Medeski/Martin/Wood, and the other, the incandescent Calexico) are irresistible. And, let’s face it, if all this record offered was the first non-bootleg release of Dylan and the Band’s resplendently ambiguous version of “I’m Not There”, long a Dylan-fan’s midnight obsession, it’d still be worth your money. Stuart Henderson


Clip from I’m Not There





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Various Artists

Melodii Tuvi: Throat Songs and Folk Tunes from Tuva

(Dust-To-Digital; US: 20 Nov 2007; UK: 19 Nov 2007)

This collection of Tuvan throat-singers had its first release in Russia half a century ago, long before the Vincent Kenises of the world came along preaching the virtues of distortion, and the album has the innocent fidelity of a new gingham tablecloth. The serene treatment wouldn’t do anything for the Congolese street musicians Kenis picks, but it suits throat-singing perfectly. There’s a halo of calm around each note. Simplicity gives the singers’ personalities space to breathe. Oorjak Hunashtaar-ool is down-to-earth, while Kara-sal Ak-ool with his bowed igil has a velvety appetite for melodrama. There have been other throat-singing compilations but none I’ve heard that have had this same combination of dignity and understatement. It counterpoints the more extroverted charisma of an Albert Kuvezin, it’s folk music to his rock—a core place like a white zen pebble. Deanne Sole




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The White Stripes

Icky Thump

(WEA; US: 19 Jun 2007; UK: 18 Jun 2007)

Review [17.Jun.2007]

Color me flabbergasted. For the life of me, I cannot understand how one of the best releases of 2007 doesn’t even make PopMatters’ “Top-60” grouping. I’m referring to the back-to-primal-nature Icky Thump, arguably the White Stripes’ best release in their career. Yes, there are odd twists and turns (a death-metal mariachi trumpet on a cover of Patti Page’s “Conquest”, bagpipes on “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn”), but for heavens sake, Jack White went back to playing a snarling, loud, pertinent guitar. Meg pounds the skins like she’s drumming for her life. Hell, this CD had two huge hits…one of which is on the PopMatters Top 50 Singles list (that would be “You Don’t Know What Love Is {You Just Do As You're Told}” at #25, the other is “I’m Slowly Turning Into You”). “Rag and Bone” is a John Lee Hooker-Z.Z. Top mashup, simple, yet catchy. Oh, sorry—forgot: the White Stripes are a band that has popularity and is now on a major label. They’re just too damn commercial for a lot of critics.  Screw it, just buy the damn CD and groove. Lou Friedman


Multiple songs: MySpace


The White Stripes - Icky Thump





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Wooden Shjips

Wooden Shjips

(Holy Mountain; US: 18 Sep 2007; UK: 17 Sep 2007)

Review [17.Oct.2007]

They may be named after that old hippie anthem of their San Francisco neighborhood, but Wooden Shjips are certainly more Can than Crosby, Stills and Nash, as their brilliant Holy Mountain debut signifies. But that certainly doesn’t mean the essence of their city’s Haight-Ashbury ethos is eschewed from their utterly unique hybrid of the Grateful Dead’s Warlocks-era freak-out grooves and Krautrock’s hypnotic, rhythmic drone. As a matter of fact, not since Jefferson Airplane took their last bath at Baxter’s has there been a No Cal group more celebratory of the Summer of Love’s acid test mania as Ripley Johnson and co. illicit, even though their steez is definitely more in allegiance with San Fran’s legendary anarchist collective The Diggers than the Merry Pranksters. In a MySpace universe full of wanna-be Rokys who think they’re Timothy Leary because they read an issue of Arthur, Wooden Shjips’ massive eponymous debut provides the true measuring stick separating the Owsley Sunshine from that brown stuff bugging everybody out at Woodstock. Ron Hart


Multiple songs: MySpace


Wooden Shjips - Dance, California





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The World/Inferno Friendship Society

Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre’s Twentieth Century

(Chunksaah; US: 11 Sep 2007; UK: 10 Sep 2007)

Concept albums—much less well-executed concept albums—are few and far between. It’s hard to imagine what World/Inferno Friendship Society was thinking when they decided to create their own miniature rock operetta based on the life and times of noted ‘30s and ‘40s character actor, Peter Lorre. As much a blend of every emotion in the human condition as it is a musical pastiche of punk, swing, ska, classical, and even klezmer,Addicted to Bad Ideas has World/Inferno dusting off nearly forgotten Hollywood lore and telling the actor’s story through song. Tracing Lorre’s Jewish/Hungarian roots, self-imposed exile from WWII-torn Europe, his multiple marriages, and second wind of Stateside success; World/Inferno weaves a surprisingly poignant and human portrait, allowing a career supporting actor to take center stage to tell his story. The superlative musicianship of the nine-piece World/Inferno combined with a full orchestra brings every aspect of this disc to breathtaking life, chock full of swinging punk surprises in addition to deftly clever lyricism loaded with both humor, history, and pathos. Lana Cooper


Multiple songs: MySpace


The World/Inferno Friendship Society - With a Good Criminal Heart (Live at Spiegeltent)





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Wu-Tang Clan

8 Diagrams

(SRC; US: 11 Dec 2007; UK: 10 Dec 2007)

Review [10.Dec.2007]

In the last month of 2007, when best-of-the year lists were already flowing like water, the Wu-Tang Clan released their fifth album. Initial reviews and intra-Clan bickering had it tagged as a failure, but—surprise—it’s the RZA’s masterpiece. Seemingly freed up by his film-scoring gigs, he layered the album with atmosphere and surprises, creating a strange, spiritual sci-fi/Western/martial arts ghost story, with ODB as the ghost. And a central part of the magic of course comes from the increasingly diverse rhyming styles of the other Clan members, still some of the best MCs in hip-hop, with Raekwon, Method Man and Masta Killa especially on fire. News of the Wu-Tang Clan’s fall has been greatly exaggerated. 8 Diagrams is one of their strongest albums, and one of the most adventurous albums of the year. Dave Heaton


Multiple songs: MySpace



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