Archive for indie

Hum – You’d Prefer an Astronaut (1995)

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You have probably heard Hum and may not even know it. They had a relatively popular single when this album first came out that was all over WHFS. At the time, I was striving very hard to pretend I didn’t like most of the stuff HFS would play because I was definitely too cool for all that commercial crap, but I secretly loved Stars and hoped the band would fall out of radio rotation. Which it did. Of course, if you don’t remember the radio play of 1995 – entirely plausible – you likely have still heard Stars. Its bad-ass guitar breakdown is featured prominently in that Dr. Addison Montgomery-Shephard car commercial where she asks, “When you turn your car on, does it return the favor?” Yes, so racy. And there it is – Hum, hammering the point home.

In hindsight, I’m really shocked this band every made it on to the radio, though. The music is way too introspective and legit to garner mass appeal, but I guess there was a brief period of indie curiosity in the mainstream at the time (see Nada Surf, Superdrag, and Mazzy Star). Anyway, when I finally got up the nerve to get the album for myself, I was treated to a rich delightful album full of skilled music-playing and contemplative lazy-voiced lyrics.

Tracks 1 and 2 are respectable and in no way bad or wrong except for the fact that they stand between me and track 3 – the aforementioned Stars – which is among the most standout songs (for me) of the ’90s. So, I encourage you to skip straight to 3 (let the album loop back around to 1 and 2 if you want) and crank your volume. It is totally worth it to hear the quiet intro without straining your ears and it makes the oncoming crash of sound that much more intense. Seriously, if your heart doesn’t skip just a little bit at that transition, you simply are not listening right. This song is the perfect combination of nerdy space vocals and just enough guitar feedback goodness. Following that, the next noteworthy song is The Very Old Man, which actually comes off a little out of place on this album. It’s a little bit folksy – very simple – but is beautiful in its earnestness. It has the feel of that Hey There Delilah song that’s so popular with the kids, but without the suckage. It has been guilty of making me cry a little. Why I Like Robins is an excellent zone-out kind of song – and apart from a slight overdependence on the old phaser pedal is perfect for taking you to a think place if you’re feeling pensive. I Hate it Too is sad and sweet and gorgeous. The lyrics “She don’t hold me right, she’s never gonna get me there,” could be the anthem of vulnerable rock and roll boys – arguably the best kind of boys.

This cd is a great one, lovely for summer – especially late at night. In fact, this would be exactly the right album for party wind-down mode where it’s only the close friends hanging around, not ready to say goodbye.

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Cursive – Mama, I’m Swollen (2009)

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First of all, kudos to me for reviewing an album that actually came out this year (in the last two months, even). See, I’m not that out of touch, after all.

So I really love this album. It’s dark and disaffected without being depressing. Like pretty much all Cursive’s other stuff, Mama, I’m Swollen is a concept album – the theme, hell. It’s really theatrical inĀ  a way way way off broadway way, and I don’t know if it’s theatrical because it’s a concept album or if they do concept albums because they’re theatrical. It doesn’t matter. Mama, I’m Swollen employs horns for a number of songs, in a completely subtle and acceptable way (take notice, ska), as well as cellos, flutes, and even what sounds like a child’s toy piano. The overall effect is a lush, but somewhat scary sound. Love it.

The album single is From the Hips and I can see why it’s a single, but as is usually the case it’s pretty much my least favorite tune on the cd – too obvious, maybe. I really love track 3, I Couldn’t Love You – it’s probably the happiest sounding song they’ve ever recorded and it sounds really sweet even if it’s not the intended meaning. I can’t help but belt out the “I couldn’t love you anymore” lyrics when I’m listening alone in the car. Donkeys returns to the pinocchio* theme first visited by Driftwood on The Ugly Organ, but is less sad. Dark, still, but less sad. And very clever lyrics. We’re going to hell is the best song on the album and maybe the best of ’09 (so far, at least). Using the aforementioned toy piano and a toe-tappable tempo with sickly sweet vocals singing sinister lyrics, Cursive achieves a really sexy sound. This is one of very few songs that I like to listen to twice – or more – in a row. Mama, I’m Satan is intense – especially the chanty lyrics at the end. The title track is good, but not amazing. And the closing song, What Have I Done? is reflective, sad, and the perfect cool-down for the album.

The whole album is worth a listen, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be listened to all the way through. It’s not exactly what I’d consider a springtime album – probably would have been better to drop in winter – but regardless I can’t take it out of my cd-player. It’s great for solitary deep-thought listening – a quiet time album.

*Correction – When originally posted, this blog entry incorrectly referred to the theme of Donkeys as a peter pan one, when it fact it is a pinocchio one. I regret the error.

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