-->
Music

Jason Anderson: The Wreath

Jon Fischer

Jason Anderson

The Wreath

Label: K
US Release Date: 2005-01-18
UK Release Date: 2005-01-24
Amazon
iTunes

So much of Jason Anderson's career has revolved around idolatry. Inspired in 1996 by an Elliott Smith concert, the singer/songwriter formed Portland, Oregon's bedroom-folk-cum-indie-pop outfit Wolf Colonel. With his solo debut -- 2004's New England -- he seemed to worship at the altar of labelmate and Microphones frontman/boy genius Phil Elvrum, crafting an album awash in analog fuzz and subdued arrangements and conforming with seeming disingenuousness to the institutionalized K Records "sound." While most notable for the album's inclusion of the Elvrum-penned and sung "Thanksgiving" -- which was first found a month earlier on The Microphones' Live in Japan -- New England was largely a collaborative affair, with vocal appearances by Elvrum, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn, and label head Calvin Johnson serving as an interesting replacement for Wolf Colonel's occasionally band-oriented approach. And while all this resulted in some decent lo-fi folk, it was confusing to see the veteran Anderson -- already at least four years into his career --relying so heavily on the contributions of his peers.

Perhaps it made sense; K Records has always functioned more as a collective than a proper label. Just as Anderson welcomed the assistance of Elvrum et. al., he himself has toured and recorded as a member of Yume Bitsu, The Microphones, Little Wings and other acts from the Pacific Northwest. New England had an interesting quirk, however: a cover of "A Book Laid on Its Binding" by B-list Saddle Creek Records outfit and Nebraskan mainstay Son, Ambulance. Anderson once played guitar for that same ensemble, and is still a member of Omaha's Legend of Zelda. When I first heard the record, it seemed paradoxical to me; two diverging sounds seemed to coalesce within Anderson's debut, balancing -- for better or for worse -- his own label's understated yet uniquely lush elegance with the oft-overstated and instrumentally elaborate charm of many of the Saddle Creek acts, particularly the neo-folk of current wunderkind and Bright Eyes mastermind Conor Oberst.

Though not abandoning the minimalist arrangements of New England, Anderson sets his sight exclusively on the latter of the two influences with his second solo release (and fifth overall), The Wreath. In "When Will You Say?" he sings, "I've toured to New Hampshire by way of Nebraska / Yeah, there's some good friends in Omaha / I've been wanting to see."

Much structurally tighter than its predecessor, The Wreath is another torn-out diary entry of Anderson's reflective bedroom confessionals and self-conscious musings. And despite an increased emphasis on melody, his melodrama-infused lyricism and Oberst-meets-Robert Pollard vocals claw for prominence throughout. It is decisively his true solo debut, and -- consistently beautiful vocal contributions from Rachael Jenson and Karen MacDonald notwithstanding -- carries a sense of autonomy absent from New England. Anderson played nearly the totality of instruments on both records, but New England's boundaries were clearly defined within the K universe; The Wreath almost seems anomalous alongside his labelmates' work. So the album displays growth; unfortunately, it's also exceedingly and inescapably boring.

"I'm not giving up," he begs in opener "O, Jac!", demanding, "Well, are you?" Anderson's easily fingerable formula soon emerges: lightly strummed acoustic guitars, resonant piano, alternatively flat and warbly vocals, and heartfelt yet embarrassingly clichéd utterances like, "And everyone I know, well I haven't told them / but if they knew they'd say stop / before you get bruised." In "If I'm Waiting," he sings, "I'm slowly embracing the concept of you as a ghost"... later continuing, "Leaving the house has started to feel like a fourth grader's Christmas Eve." These contrivances relentlessly pervade the album's span as Anderson laments over loves lost. "When Will You Say?" contains the album's most cringe-worthy moment:

When will you say:
'Oh, Jason Anderson,
You're so awesome!
Do you love me?'
Hallelujah, I love you!

Those offenses aside, the album is not entirely without merit; in a reworked "Citizen's Arrest" (originally found on Wolf Colonel's 2003 split EP with The Paperbacks), the painstaking restraint plaguing the disc's subtler numbers is replaced by an infectiously-noodled guitar lead and a wonderfully unexpected horn section come song's end. Even lyrics like "You're just lazy / You're just selfish / And so am I" are among the album's most digestible. "Citizen's Arrest" just may be the first great power-pop anthem of 2005. But more importantly (and disappointingly), it's just proof that somewhere beneath the tape hiss, balladry, and oft-indulgent self-awareness, a great pop writer may reside. Here's hoping for next time.

Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image