Saturday, October 17, 2009

The CD Binge, part I

The gloomy thoughts on music that I rattled on about yesterday have not, like you might expect, kept me from buying any new albums. Indeed, last Tuesday I went to a CD store -- keepin' it old school! I entered the shop, moreover, bringing with me a sort of knowledge I used to sometimes have back when I thought "major stress" was the kind of thing that could be caused by a midterm examination. To wit: I knew the date a record would be released. In fact, I knew the date TWO records would be released. And I bought both of them.

The Mountain Goats, The Life of the World to Come

The Mountain Goats was for many years the nom de rock of John Darnielle, a frighteningly articulate songwriter who recorded radically low-fi records live into cheap boomboxes, not sweating the mistakes and background noise. This method, strangely enough, produced some really fun, rocking, and occasionally haunting songs. Since 2002, though, Darnielle has brought on a drummer and bass player, embraced a more normal recording craftsmanship, and released a string of relentlessly intelligent and emotional powerful albums (Tallahassee, We Shall All Be Saved, The Sunset Tree, Get Lonely, Heretic Pride) that could stand against the best work of pretty much any other band over a similar time scale.

The new installment, The Life of the World to Come, doesn't have any song titles on its outside cover. Once you've unwrapped the plastic wrap and opened the case, you can see why the people in marketing wanted it this way: the songs are all named for a Biblical verse, and I imagine there was a certain lack of confidence that a song called "Genesis 3:23," for instance, was going to light the teen market on fire.

It's WAAAY too early in the listening cycle for me to have fully appreciated the songs and tied their content to the associated Biblical verse -- a project for the Bible blog, maybe? -- but I've heard enough to certify that this record is another worthy chapter in the massive Mountain Goats saga. Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs; The 'Goats want to use rock music to figure out what life is like when you're a grown-up and you are the witness to the triumphs and terrors of the people you care about. And yet it all still kind of rocks.

Mike Doughty: Sad Man Happy Man

Mike Doughty used to be the guy in Soul Coughing, except he kind of hates Soul Coughing, and since I'm into Mike Doughty I take his word for it, so I don't know anything about Soul Coughing. Doughty is kind of the American Billy Bragg, a smart working joe taking on the world with a guitar and a fiercely intelligent way with words. Sad Man Happy Man follows in the footsteps of Golden Delicious and the amazing Haughty Melodic, but with more extensive forays into what you'd call "orchestration" if it were classical music. Electronic noises and brighter vocal lines enrich the sound, and Doughty's bass player Andrew "Scrap" Livingston picks up the cello and goes kind of nuts with it, layering interesting melodic lines over Doughty's always rock-solid rhythm guitar line.

Again, I haven't unpacked the songs yet, but there's currently a little religious study going on in Mr. Doughty's life as well, to judge from titles like "Lord Lord Help Me Just To Rock Rock On" and "(He’s Got The) Whole World (In His Hands)." If you fear a Sunday school lesson, though, I'm guessing that track 11 -- "How To Fuck A Republican" -- will put you at your ease. Unless, of course, you are a Republican. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Cosi Fan Tutte!

I don't really know that much about opera, but I know enough to know that Cosi Fan Tutti is my favorite one! I took a stack of about a dozen Cosi recordings up to the dude at the classical desk and said "Hey, sometimes I hear opera recordings that sound like they were made with a wax cylinder in 1902, can you help me find one that doesn't?" He proceded to give me a concise but enlightening explaination of why opera recordings are of mixed quality, indicated which of the versions of Cosi he actually owned himself, and ended with a vigorous recomendation of the recording that also happened to be the cheapest. This is why, although I get most of my music online now like everyone else, I sometimes still like to head back to the record shop.

(Cosi, incidentally, will be put on The Portland Opera in February. I'm all over it.)

So, just to treat myself and reward the classical music desk for being awesome, I threw in a budget recording of some works of Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf. This had the added advantage of letting me look forward to going home to Mrs.5000 and announcing "I got the new 'Goaties, the new Doughty, a recording of Cosi, and some Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf!" Probably I was the first person ever to utter this sentence! And Mrs.5000, being a woman of uncommon good taste, was of course delighted.


Elizabeth said...

I love von Dittersdorf, and am glad you got the CD of the Mozart that has the picture of the man looking up the lady's skirt which I remember from a previous (now defunct, sadly) quiz series, and approve of any group that has any connection with goats. Not sure about the Mike Doughty though.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

Sounds like good tunes to me!

Ezra said...

I still think "The Sunset Tree" is my favorite Mt. Goats (though "All Hail West Texas" is a close second). But I have been pretty excited about this one, and I was washing dishes in the kitchen at maybe 1am when I heard Matthew 25:21 and it just killed me.

"And I'm an 18-wheeler
headed down the interstate
and my brakes are gonna give
and I won't know 'til it's too late.
Tires screaming when I lose control
try not to hurt too many people
when I roll."

Michael5000 said...

@E: It makes me happy that I know people who can say "I like von Dittersdorf." I hope you smirk a little when you say it out loud, though.

@Ezra: The Sunset Tree might well be my favorite record, full stop.

Here's Matthew 25:21 "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'" Let the head-scratching begin! This could be the most work since I spent my sophomore year trying to puzzle out the lyrics to Life's Rich Pageant.