Sunday, September 11, 2011

St. Vincent / David Bazan / Lindsey Buckingham / AM & Shawn Lee

Four approaches to the guitar that just sound great on some recent/new albums

St. Vincent

David Bazan

Lindsey Buckingham

AM & Shawn Lee

Annie Clark (St. Vincent) has been out of the closet for years now as a guitar nerd with a soft spot for Prog Rock, and that quickly becomes obvious in her sound. She’s interested in the sonic possibilities of volume cuts as well as the atmospherics created by sudden shifts of tone. The guitar is there, it’s heavy, then it’s a completely different sound, barely a guitar at all. It’s light and feathery, then it’s so distorted you can’t make out anything but the fuzz itself. Then it’s gone altogether. It’s simply wonderful the sounds she gets out of her guitar on this album. Though, to be clear, St. Vincent isn’t a prog rock band. Prog rock might be her musical back story, but her song structures and lyrics are smart indie-rock (or something like that).

David Bazan has been kicking around awhile (Pedro the Lion, anyone?), and this is perhaps his best album so far. In the past he’s by and large gone the route of a fairly smooth studio sound, but he’s here in a much more live-sounding album of choppy, chunky, messy, chord-based songs. He just plows along. What you hear from the guitar is what you’re going to hear, full strum. It’s the we-hit-record-while-we-were-practicing feel I love from a lot of Neil Young albums, that, similar to Neil Young, is a good way to set the edgy emotion of the lyrics. Bazan is a serious guy, and it’s good to see the songs themselves performed through the gut rather than the studio.

Speaking of being around awhile, Lindsey Buckingham has been around longer than (just about) all these others combined, and very rarely do I ever see him mentioned on lists of great guitar players. That makes sense only if each artist is allowed only one box to be defined by. Say what you will about his songwriting (it’s too pop, it’s too 80s, or whateves), his guitar playing is virtuoso. Over the last few years he’s concentrated on insanely fast, feathery, acoustic guitar picking. On his new album, Seeds We Sew, he has plenty of that on display, but here and there he tosses in some electric guitar leads that, well, as they say, shred. It’s worth hearing, no matter what you think of the songs themselves. I like them, myself, as I refuse to live in fear of 70s-80s pop music.

Thinking of 70s pop music, AM & Shawn Lee have gotten together to create a 70s-inspired funk-rock (they even toss in a cover of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’s “Jackie Blue”), guitar-synth mash-up apotheosis. In the end, it’s more interesting as an experiment in building tracks than it is in great songs, but it’s still a remarkably fresh listen (considering their source material’s been around for decades).


At 9/11/2011 1:09 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Some female musician should call herself Fitzroy because Plath killed herself at 23 Fitzroy Road. Or Ariel because that was the name of the boat Shelley was on when he drowned. Or Fire Island because the dune buggy--you know where I'm going. Or Brook because Chatterton drank arsenic on Brook Street. Or Bull because Marlowe got knifed in the eye at Eleanore Bull's tavern--though people might think she's reclaiming an epithet for lesbian.

You make me want to hear my favorite Fleetwood Mac song, "Never Going Back Again."

At 9/12/2011 12:11 AM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

The Intl Herald Tribune has Jon Pareles on the Buckingham CD, among others, this morning. Reminded me to check it out, and it is pretty damn good. I like the line "the process of illumination."

At 9/12/2011 8:15 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

Or how about Faubourg? Lautreamont died on Rue Faubourg in Montmartre. Faubourg: I like that. She could team up with Feist. They could cut an album together, an album by "Faubourg and Feist." That has a prog-rock solemnity, like Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. (I don't think they used the Oxford comma, but I need it.) Or Vorstadt and Feist--that'd sound kind of Weimarish, kind of Nico-like. This is turning me on...

At 9/12/2011 2:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi John--Have you ever wondered why your tastes in poetry are at odds with your tastes in music? You like smart indie-rock, tinged w/ 70s/80s smarts-- college-rock radio, extended, as it were, into the new century. But shouldn't you be championing... jazz or classical music? William Brittelle or Nico Muhly? I wonder--because I'm the same, actually... I'm worse! Our poetry tastes are similar, I think--I adore Ashbery but listen, still, to REM, Springsteen, Robyn Hitchcock--and not even their new stuff. I've noticed this w/ friends, fans of "avant" poetry, yet also into The Office ( Billy Collins?) or Pixar (Mary Oliver?) And it's the same in art... film. Odd, eh?

All best--Charlie

At 9/12/2011 2:59 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Charlie! That's funny. But I'd define it a bit differently.

First, I've found that people who like and want to talk about, say, the avant garde, the way Silliman did, don't absolutley translate that across the board. Hence Silliman's taste in movies (general), and TV (Project Runway, etc).

But, you know, I think there's a lot in common between R.E.M., Neil Young, The Flaming Lips, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Bjork, James Tate, John Ashbery, Rae Armantrout, Martha Ronk, Mary Ruefle, Max Jacob, Catherine Wagner, and on . . .

It's a stance toward the creative act, a rush, an incompleteness, a (to use Dean Young's term) recklessness that is open to possibility. It's as much about what's not there as what is.

Or so I tell myself.

At 9/12/2011 3:38 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

John seems to be as open to new sounds as a really young person. He doesn't just shut down and play "Harborcoat" over and over. Anyway, there's something too Western about needing to impose uniformity on your tastes. Like if you enjoy Ashbery, you'd better throw your Edward Hopper books away and write about Jackson Pollock, or your personality will crumble. I don't think people are like that. If you just follow your nose, if you just allow yourself to take an interest in whatever honestly interests you at the moment, there'll be a thread running through every poetry book you buy, every album you listen to, every film you watch: the thread of your character. You'll show for what you are.

At 9/12/2011 3:45 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


That's a lovely notion, that we are the unification of the art we receive.


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