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Rewind Review: Acid Tongue

23 Jul

Jenny Lewis

I am enraptured by Jenny Lewis.  Her voice is quite simply intoxicating, and her lyrics are droll and devastating.  Between her work with Rilo Kiley, Postal Service and on her own it is pretty clear that she is one of those soon to be iconic artists of our time.    

Yes, yes – I know, I was once again late to the party on this one.  I vaguely knew it happened but it took me forever to get off my ass and actually get the album.  Holy Hell am I glad I finally did.  Musical addictions seem to pass quickly these days when getting a new album is but a click away and your ipod can carry hundreds of albums at a time.  But I have been listening to Acid Tongue almost exclusively for the last week and the few albums that do squeeze in some valuable tune-time are harshly graded against its high standard.  Its the kind of album you felt you’ve heard a hundred times but still somehow feels completely new.  

Acid Tongue takes many cues from the country rock of decades past.  Not unfamiliar territory for Lewis, especially considering her first release.  Rabbit Fur Coat seemed to strain under the stress of its tightly woven material, as though there were vast reserves of untapped energy in each song.  This album has a far looser composition and almost every track drips with distorted guitar and lush quivering vocals.  Ranging from low tempo ballads like ‘Pretty Bird’ to epic 8 minute raucous medley’s like ‘The Last Messiah’ the album sounds like nothing she has done before, yet clearly borrows experience from each of her previous releases.  

Jenny Lewis

Helping to round out the sound of the album, and contributing most of those seductive guitar licks is Johnathan Rice.  In fact ‘Carpetbaggers’, a duet with Elvis Costello, was penned for Lewis by Rice.  Unsurprisingly, they’re dating.  It is the kind of match indie music dreams are made of and results in some pretty powerful music to say the least.  

In trolling the internet to find out what others had to say about this album I was surprised by the amount of reviews claiming that Lewis’s songwriting suffered under the weight of the genre’s she chose to recreate.  Almost as though they were a straight-jacket on her creativity.  I couldn’t disagree more.  While I do think it’s obvious by listening to it that this is only one facet of an already accomplished lyricist, it also clearly served as a playground for a talent that could already go any direction it wanted.  And frankly I am more than happy to go anywhere Jenny Lewis cares to take me.  Especially if it sounds this good.

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Rewind Review: Dreaming of Revenge

21 Jan

 

Illustration by Tory Sica

Artist: Kaki King

Original Release Date – March 4, 2008

I once read a review that described Kaki Kings newest (though, now almost year old) full length album as a “Happy Milkshake.”  I have to say… it was quite an apt descriptor.  Now I know I’m obviously rather late to this particular party, but it sometimes takes me a while to come around to things.  What can I say, I’m stubborn.  I’ve been a fan of Kaki for a few years, but, while I LOVED her live performances, her albums just never instilled in me the kind of compulsive, dedicated, and repeated listens that are a sure sign of my adoration.  Pair that with my rather severe dislike of the lifeless production (or should I say over-production) of her 2006 release “Until We Felt Red”, an album I felt that, yet wonderfully soulful and exuberant in person, was totally betrayed in the studio.  I must confess I was prone to rants of ‘She’s going down the wrong track…” blah blah blah.  So when she released “Dreaming of Revenge” early this year it wasn’t that I didn’t want to hear it, I just didn’t have the fire under my feet to get me there quickly.  And upon my first listen to the lead single “Pull Me Out Alive” I was convinced all hope was lost, Kaki had sold out and become a pop artist.  Like I said, I’m stubborn.  

I have to say I don’t know what it was that finally made me sit down and listen, maybe I got bored of the music I had been making stale from overuse, or maybe it was a push from a friend.  I’m honestly not sure.  What I found when I finally did get around to listening to the damn thing was an album wonderfully balanced in its presentation of a wholly multifarious musician through a beautifully complete musical journey.   If, like me, you commute over 45 minutes everyday via public transit, there are few better albums to lull you awake on an early morning train ride.  Kaki proves herself to be one of only a handful of musicians who can make me sit still and pay attention long enough to make it through slow songs.  And, while there are a good number of more uptempo tracks, its the slower instrumentals, like “Montreal” that really make the album sing.  In fact the two drum kits dueling between the right and left speakers at the end of montreal has more than once inspired those repeated listens I so covet as my proof of affection.  

It occurred to me on one of those early morning rides to work, that part of the reason I loved this album so much, instrumental tracks included , was the structure.  Something changed pretty drastically between “Until We Felt Red” and “Dreaming of Revenge.”  Part of that is, as Kaki herself has mentioned, that the maturity of her songs and songwriting has grown.  With that comes the fruition of the experiment started on that last release.  By venturing head-first into the land of lyric writing it appears as though she learned more about melody than, even she, may have realized.  The tracks on “Revenge” as a result, be they instrumental or non, are no longer stuck in the realm of navel-gazing.  This newfound familiarity with the process provides an extraordinary leap to her lyric based work giving her context to more freely capture the complex emotions she was experiencing, and, allowing us to hear the wonderfully vivid and thought provoking results.  To me however I see the greatest strides in the instrumental material.  Gone are the days when I would listen to the songs thinking more about what was going on in her head than the music itself.  Or, worse yet, when it was going to end.  The new material guides me with her guitar as skillfully if not more so than her words.  On “Montreal” for example, not only can I conjure a wonderfully vivid picture of a winter sunrise over the city, I can also hear stories, slightly different upon each listen, but always present.  

It seems to me that the true mark of a good album is not that it leaves you wanting more, but rather, and quite the contrary, that you feel satisfied with the amount of material given and eager for the chance to discover new thoughts, sounds, and ideas in the 10th, 20th, or 50th listen.  An album that can continue to prove its worth over that may listens and more is one worth keeping.  Especially if it does in fact make you feel like happy milkshakes.  

 

 

Illustration by Tory Sica.