On The Charts
I have gushed before about The National’s Matt Berninger and his deep baritone voice and their songs with highly literate and intimate, if a bit self-absorbed, lyrics. The two albums of the Brooklyn-based band that I like—Alligator and Boxer—do routine overtime on my playlists. I like the sad (yet not soppy) undertone in many of their songs and the nice dose of intellectualism and wit. It would be fair enough to say The National is among my favourite bands.
So when I heard that the band was releasing a new album (titled High Violet) next month, I was naturally excited. Then I got hold of a sample mp3 of one of the songs from the new album, free off the band’s website. The track, Bloodbuzz Ohio, has everything that I’ve grown used to expect from The National: Berninger’s deep, moody vocals, sadness and wistfulness. So, I can’t wait for the new album, details of which are out, by the way: 11 songs, to be released on the 4AD label, an independent British label.
Not being much of a country or folk aficionado, I hadn’t heard much of John Prine, the 63-year-old singer-songwriter who, as I recently discovered, (still) writes marvelous songs. I discovered Prine’s music from a single track called Bruised Orange sung by, not Prine, but by Justin Vernon. Now, Vernon is a familiar name, well-known as the frontman for Bon Iver, the band that has released two albums, For Emma, Forever Ago (a full-length) and Blood Bank (an EP). For the first, if my memory serves me right, Vernon shut himself up in a remote cabin for four months (a broken relationship may have had something to do with it) and wrote songs in near-isolation. The songs, as you may have guessed, were sad ones. Blood Bank, the four-song EP was less sad, had more instrumentation and, well, I thought, was less depressing to listen to. I like Bon Iver but sometimes when his vocals turn falsetto, it can get a bit trying, particularly if you’re not going through any emotional crisis yourself!
So when I heard the track called Bruised Orange, delivered in non-falsetto, by Vernon, it was a pleasant surprise. Of course, Prine’s excellent lyrics made a difference (My heart’s in the ice house come hill or come valley/Like a long ago Sunday when I walked through the alley/On a cold winter’s morning to a church house/just to shovel some snow. /I heard sirens on the train track howl naked gettin’ nuder,/An altar boy’s been hit by a local commuter/ just from walking with his back turned/ to the train that was coming so slow). Bruised Orange is from an album called Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows: The Songs of John Prine that has contributions from various people as a tribute to Prine. At least that’s what I’ve been able to gather. Whether the album is out or is to be launched soon, I have no idea despite having trawled the Net to find out. In any case, listening to Bruised Oranges has led me to try and discover more John Prine. There are a lot of his albums to choose from, given his fairly long active career. If, like me, you’re a noob, I’d recommend Fair & Square (2005).
The other band whose new album I’m waiting for are The New Pornographers. The Canadian indie supergroup—if there can be something like that—has at its core Dan Bejar (from the indie band, Destroyer), Carl Newman (of Zumpano) and indie singer-songwriter, Neko Case. The first Pornographers’ album I’d heard was Twin Cinema (2005), a delightful, witty and uplifting piece of work that was experimental as well as rooted in rock traditions. Two years later, they released Challengers, which was as good as Twin Cinema. And now, after a three-year break, a new album, Together, is on its way. I heard a track from Together (due out next month) called The Crash Years, which, in keeping with a practice that bands are adopting increasingly, was released as a sneak preview and going by what it sounds like, I’ll buy the album for sure.
Three to Tango:
- The Best of March Compilation: I know it’s April already but here there are some indie music gems from last month’s releases.
- Records, Speed, Glue & Shinki: Care for some 1970s psychedelic rock from Japan? Check this band out. Oh, and Chen Shinki was considered a Japanese Jimi Hendrix!
- Deer Tick: You’ve read here about this Rhode Island band that makes blues and folk sound grungy, right? Here’s a new track called Twenty Miles from them.