Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hosapple and Stamey: Memories and Ambivalence

So here is an ongoing internal question I have. Since this blog is intended to be about the love of music and sharing that music, should we include reviews of albums with which we are, let's say, less than impressed. My first reaction is to stay focused on the positive, but then I realized that that might make me write reviews that were a bit misleadingly positive (this one comes to mind) in my effort to be supportive. And then, I keep imaging this discussion between me and a good friend.

GF: So I just picked up the new album by "random artist" and boy was that a let down.
Me: Yeah, I know.
GF: What?!
Me: I mean I thought it was pretty unimpressive too.
GF: You have that album?
Me: Yeah, I got it a couple weeks ago.
GF: What the hell?
Me: Huh?
GF: You didn't write anything about that on the blog--you could have saved me the trouble!
Me: Sorry, didn't know that was my responsibility.
GF: You stink!
Me: YOU stink.
Me: Like poop.
GF: I am never reading your stupid blog again.
Me: Fine.
GF: Fine.
Okay, so that is a bit of an exaggeration (other than the fact that I do now argue like my children) but it does strike me that perhaps it would be fair to at least mention albums that have met with my ambivalence in case that might matter to anyone. But I will try to keep such posts short rather than long Pitchfork-like tear-ups.
So, a while back I read that Peter Hosapple and Chris Stamey, formally of the dBs were about to release a new album. This news caught my attention because I had such fine memories of their last effort Mavericks from way back in 1990. I hadn't heard that album in forever as I had it on a long-gone cassette. So I ordered up the recently re-released disc version which includes a few extra tracks as well as the new album Here and Now.
You can see what is coming right? Disappointment.
Now these guys still know how to craft a pop song and they still have really solid harmonies, but the problem (for me) is that most of the songs are, well, corny. Now you have to realize that "Mavericks" was basically a whole set of love songs (true and broken), so nothing all that fancy. On H&N they take on a variety of topics including one of my favorite these days--growing older--but they end up coming across as more silly than reflective. So we get songs about "just wanting to hang out with you" and how it's okay that now they "get up early in the morning."
Then there is seeming obsession with self-refernce to the reunion itself which is the text of the title track. As PopMatters notes in their review:
Indeed, Holsapple and Stamey reference their new connection so often that even songs on a different subject begin to feel like more steps along the same path. For example, once you’ve heard “Here and Now” and “Broken Record”, “Begin Again” (Holsapple’s ode to his fragile New Orleans home) seems like a reunion reference. And after hearing “Long Time Coming” and “Tape Op Blues” (a tune about being in the studio), it’s hard to wonder if even “Santa Monica”, with its chorus of “I want to hang around with you… until my life is through”, should be interpreted not as an ode to a lover, but to a treasured bandmate.
There are some great sounding pop tunes more reminiscent of the dBs, which are wonderfully boppy background music, but lyrically just don't make it for me. Then there is some odd use of saxophone on a couple tracks which I joked was probably added in because they had some friend who plays sax that they wanted to give a shot. Turns out it is Branford--oops!
Of course, once I started deciding to write through my disappointment in the album, I kept listening and started to feel like perhaps I was being too hard, but I don't think so.
Now that said, if you don't have Mavericks, I would still recommend grabbing a copy of that. It still holds together well despite the 80's sounding production and the somewhat heavy use of reverb or chorus (or whatever you call that somewhat echo-y sound with techno sounding drums). So let me serve up a couple tunes from that album as well as the opening track from H&N, a cover of My Friend the Sun, which had me hopeful the first time I listened to it. And if you want to hear more from the new album--they have much of it streaming over at their site.

Mavericks (Buy Album)

Here and Now (Buy Album)

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