This afternoon I spent a few hours at the Virgin Megastore downtown bopping around from listening station to listening station. This is something I do about once a month to check out the new releases, hoping, of course, to find something good. In particular, I'm always hoping to find new bands making exciting, interesting music.
I'm not going to lie to you. It looks pretty grim.
Outside of dance music, which is not my scene, and hip hop, which is mostly not my scene and has also been mostly ghastly for a few years now, I was faced with album after album of slightly bleary emo and slightly bleary pop punk and slightly bleary indie darlings and slightly bleary overly-orchestral metal. The few standouts came from stalwarts, which gave me a fine burst of age-pride, but left me concerned for the future of our youths.
The new Foo Fighters album Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace seems to be in good working order. Sliding even further up the age scale, Mick Jones was showing up the kids with his new project Carbon/Silicon which brings to mind welcome echoes of his Big Audio Dynamite days and even of the Clash. I ended up going older still, walking out the door with the new albums from Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young.
Neil Young is sometimes really off, like during 1979-1989, or when he made that weird "Let's Roll" song shortly after 9/11. Even when he's off, he's pretty compelling. But when he's on, as he is throughout Chrome Dreams II, he's irresistible. The plaintive haunting voice is entirely authentic throughout, buoyed by rich acoustic music and welcome occasional trips into seething guitar that puts one in mind of Crazy Horse in full glory.
As for Springsteen, his album, Magic, is. He's playing with the E-Street Band, which leaves him both more rocking and more relaxed than on Devils and Dust. The overall impression is of a master, thirty years on, able to draw on moods and themes from throughout his career and turn them into elegiac vignettes that are musically polished without losing the quality of being heartfelt. I'm especially gratified with the surging "Radio Nowhere" which echoes my own concerns about the musical wasteland: This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?… I want a thousand guitars/I want pounding drums/I want a million different voices/Speaking in tongues
It does look grim, but it is not entirely forlorn.
Putting little KT Tunstall in a miniskirt and boots on the cover of Drastic Fantastic as she hoists her guitar aloft seems like a dirty trick. On the other hand, it's one to which I am entirely susceptible. Actually listening to it, though, filled me with delight that she's grown more fully into the voice in evidence on her debut album. By the time I got to track six, "Hopeless" I just hung up the headphones and added the CD to my stack because she was too darned good to ignore.
Rilo Kiley's Under the Blacklight was an equally delightful surprise. I don't really know them that well so I pictured them as being part of that indie vein that sounds vaguely like everything else in that indie vein. You know, all the Deathcabs and Postal Services and Iron and Wines and what have you. In fact, Rilo Kiley sound like themselves. And it is good.