SOUNDS GOOD TO ME
By BRIAN BEESLEY
Many is the time I have played an album (new or otherwise) and either declared it an instant classic or dismissed it as inconsequential pablum, only to give the same album another go later — sometimes years later — and come away with the exact opposite reaction.
I chalk some of this up to the evolving nature of my sensibilities. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve sought out music with more sophistication and more reward, both lyrically and musically. Basically, I didn’t “get” it the first time around.
Some of it also has to do with the intricacies (or lack thereof) of the music itself. It’s easy to immediately like something that has a solid beat, enticing rhythms and/or catchy hooks, but that stuff eventually wears off. Often the extra care and effort an artist invests in creating his/her music requires some work on the part of the listener in order to reveal itself.
A case in point is “I’m With Stupid,” a 1995 album by singer-songwriter Aimee Mann. A friend who knows my musical tastes highly recommended it, and I gave it a couple half-hearted listens. But nothing really registered and I gave it back to him with a kind of “I-still-don’t-get-it” shrug.
Fast-forward a few years: I came across a used copy of “I’m With Stupid.” This time, when I played it, the depth, emotion and energy of the songs drilled their way into my brain and I was floored. It still stands up as one of the most complete and listenable albums I own.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I won’t ever pretend to be a music critic. I know what I like and I like what I know. Whether I can — or should even try to — convince anybody else of what’s good or not seems like a specious exercise. But the search for new and intriguing music is a constant for me and with it comes a natural inclination to want to share these discoveries.
So, with that, I offer up a short list of recent explorations, to take or leave, readers, as per your own auditory sagacity.
“3” — HoneyHoney
Yet another example of not rushing to judgment, this third album from the Los Angeles duo didn’t move my needle the first couple of times I listened to it. But the more I played it (mostly while toiling in my garden), the more it grew on me. Its pulsating, roots-rock sensibilities and sensuality — both musically and lyrically — are mesmerizing. The instrumentation is spare but powerful, and Suzanne Santo’s lead vocals have a pathos and weight that compliment the words she’s singing. Partner Benjamin Jaffe’s harmonies also blend in well, and the use of fiddles, banjos and pedal steel guitars gives many of the tracks an earthy twang. My only quibble is the band’s moniker, which is, well, sort of uninspiring. But, like Hootie and the Blowfish, they’re probably stuck with it now.
Recommended tracks: “Yours to Bear,” “You and I,” “Father’s Daughter,” “Sweet Thing.”
“Glass Fool” — Kaurna Cronin
I’d never heard of this Australian singer-songwriter, but his rookie album comes straight out of left field, packing a wallop. An assured and catchy debut, this set of folk-rock tunes has gotten a lot of play among the veggies. Sometimes the danger in liking an album too much right out of the gate, I’ve found, is that it quickly wears off like a cheap sunscreen. But “Fool” has just kept gathering steam. The album is crazy full of the kind of hooks that make pulling weeds an almost pleasurable experience. The best tracks sport jangly guitar, punchy harmonies and intriguing storylines. As is my wont, I will eventually burn “Fool” to the ground, but for now it’s a revelatory release.
Recommended tracks: “The Kind of Woman I Need,” “Still I Fall,” “Learning to Quit.”
“Still” — Richard Thompson
Since becoming a solo act in 1981, Thompson has churned out a succession of laudable albums. Some haven’t been quite as seamless as others, but they have all boasted at least a handful a tracks that demand repeated listens. “Still,” produced with a respectful touch by Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy, emerges on multiple listens as one of Thompson’s most consistent efforts of late. The sound remains a Celtic folk-rock hybrid, driven by his piercing guitar and muscular voice, which over the years has matured into a sort of resonant thunder. Thompson’s sharp lyrical wit is on full display throughout, and he employs a few of the Eastern musical stylings he’s used at previous junctures. There are a few moments when one can detect Tweedy’s alt-rock sensibilities, but they’re subtle and don’t take Thompson in directions he shouldn’t be going.
Recommended tracks: “Patty Don’t You Put Me Down,” “Josephine,” “Long John Silver.”
Beesley is one of 360’s production editors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.