Saturday, September 26, 2009

Preferring the Former to the Latter: The Dodos and Joe Henry

When I first heard the Dodo's Visiter album last year, I, like so many others was impressed. It wasn't perfect, but it seemed to me that these guys were potentially on the verge of developing into something unique and special. And so I, like so many others, looked forward to their next effort. But if Visiter was a series of wonderfully fresh songs that served as the peaks of the album that were interrupted by a few notable valleys, their new album, Time to Die, is more of a series of consistent hills with fewer peaks or valleys. As you listen, you don't have any of those "what the hell is this doing on the album" moments, but there are few fewer "wow" moments. But I feel like I am just rewriting the Pitchfork review here which sums it all up quite nicely:
So you really can't call Time to Die a disappointment, not when it actually improves on Visiterin some ways. It's not the full-out leap into "pop" that it would initially seem (for that, you'd need to hear the difference between Visiter and their self-released full-length, from back when they were called Dodo Bird), and for all its charms, Visiter wasn't exactly the tightest hour going. Time to Die bests it as far as consistency goes-- might not get a "Fools" here, but you won't get a "Park Song" either. And it's hard to envision Time to Die slowing the momentum of the Dodos' ascendance, not when their live performances are still thrilling as ever, but Time to Die comes off like a temporary decision to forgo made them lovable, flaws and all, and stress what makes them likeable.
Now if I were in charge of the world, I would rewind time knowing all the tunes that would be on both of these albums, and I would have turned two albums into one glorious effort (which would have been about 70 percent Visiter and 30 percent Time to Die). Here are two of the songs off the new album that would go into that mix.
Dodos / Time to Die (Buy Album)

The new Joe Henry disc, Blood from Stars is both a similar and a bit of a different story for me. When College Roomy gave me a copy of Civilians, JH's previous release, I wondered how I had missed this guy. The Tom Waits like voice, the wonderful lyrics and his sense of timing--it was an album I kept going back to (and if you do not have it, you should pick it up). So like with the Dodo's, I anticipated the next album from Henry.
Now Henry is not moving to safer or more pop-oriented ground here, but he is moving to a sound he has been toying with and that would be jazz. And when he gets there on this album it is quite wonderful. The musicians he pulls in here, most notably Jason Moran who opens the album and Marc Ribot whose guitar work is really enjoyable, add wonderful texture to the album. But unlike Civilians, it just doesn't hold together and the less interesting spots detract from the album as a whole.
Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad album by any stretch, it just isn't Civilians where his lyrics seems to scratch at the surface of the everyday and get inside relationships, motivations, and generally the messiness of life. But here as the NY Times review points out "His lyrics can feel too artful, too self-conscious. . . . Mr. Henry sings, repeating the word disarray as a meaningful echo. Still, he sounds as if he has everything pretty much under control." Still he has some absolutely wonderful songs on this effort.
Here are a couple that include the fine contributions including Moran's beautiful opening and the first tune, which had me really jazzed--no pun intended. The next tune has some wonderful guitar-work by Ribot and also exhibits one of my favorite characteristics of Henry's--the way he plays with words, and rhyme schemes to create tension and resolve (which usually masks more tension).
Joe Henry / Blood from Stars (Buy Album)

Update: just got hit with a copyright violation for the JH's tunes, so they are now unlinked. You can hear them streaming here.

Prelude: Light No Lamp
The Man I Keep Hid
This Is My Favorite Cage
All in all, I prefer the albums that precede both of these, but that doesn't mean these aren't still worth checking out and both artists definitely worth watching to see where they go next.

No comments: