Other Folks’ Music
The great records of 2012 that I happened to notice were all rap albums (Aesop Rock; Killer Mike), but this year the guitars came back. I’ve yet to parse the 32 tracks on Throwing Muses, Purgatory/Paradise, but it needs a nod. What’s more:
All agree that My Bloody Valentine’s m b v sounds “just like their old stuff,” impressive since they couldn’t have pulled it off by copying Loveless after twenty-two years colored by Loveless. A perspective trick was needed, like the deliberately misaligned mirror in Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, that would crop out the old song structures and leave the texture. The three-minute looped chord of “Nothing Is” is for just that set of listeners who have ever slumped their heads against the guitar cabinet and hit the same chord over and over, stunned in the pleroma of tone.
Neko Case’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You asks a lot in its title, but how I love it. Its weirdness isn’t the mythic weirdness of Fox Confessor, just the personal weirdness of a songwriter who has dived into the bottom of her craft, where the sea creatures are. The structures are surprising but not ostentatious; only after the lush sound has faded do you realize with what parsimony it was put together. Askesis, late style: the production shimmers and the band is in fine form, but it’s still the voice at center, the personality becoming itself.
The auteur theories of Jehnny Beth read very French, but the music on Savages, Silence Yourself, is pure Spirit of Berlin, or just Spirit of Rock. Guitar, bass and drums understand each other the way the instruments did on the great Sleater-Kinney records or the first Erase Errata album; and it’s a real mystery why the points of reference should be all-girl bands, why Spirit of Rock continues not to visit the boys. For all that Beth’s stage presence quotes Ian Curtis, her version of idealism really makes me think of the young Bono, whose embarrassing earnestness was needed as much as the genius guitar to make those early eighties records that still matter to me. The crowd-connection routine still works, too; when she leaned out over the monitors at the Independent this September and looked us full in the face, I felt shatteringly called out from my self-presentation as an invisible thirtysomething in a hat. It was as if I’d failed a test. I don’t know where this band is going, but it’s a good moment.