If memory serves, this time last year I was hoping that Free Kitten's Inherit would sound like the Magik Markers album Boss. I think this hope was buoyed by them both coming out on Ecstatic Peace and having female singers. Now I am listening to the new Magik Markers record, Balf Quarry, on Drag City, and thinking it sounds like Free Kitten. This paragraph is inscrutable to all but a certain kind of nerd.
Other records to come out this year so far to be disappointing compared to an artist's older work include pretty much everyone that's not Black Dice. (And I guess despite my problems with the new Animal Collective record, it's still an interesting evolution and a little bit cooler than Strawberry Jam was.) Apparently there is going to be a new Lightning Bolt record coming out in a couple of months.
The reviews for the new Swan Lake album, Enemy Mine, are interesting to read for how a press release can skew critical thought. The argument being made is that it's a more cohesive record than their previous album, Beast Moans. Swan Lake is a band with three different songwriters, each with distinctive voices. On the new record, their tics are ever more pronounced: Dan Bejar does this theatrical style of singing which gets in the way of melody, which has been a problem for me on probably every Destroyer record released this decade. He doesn't do this on New Pornographers records, and he didn't do it on Beast Moans. Carey Mercer's songs on that record were little drips into the murk of recording. On Enemy Mine, his vocals are mixed as high as they are on Frog Eyes records, and are just as unlistenable for them. The Spencer Krug songs are the only ones that aren't distastefully obnoxious, and end up sort of operating on a last-Wolf-Parade-album layer of being basically bland. But I was maybe the only one who liked Beast Moans.
The new Akron/Family record has its moments, like a noisy instrumental called MBF, and it doesn't have anything as ugh-this-sounds-like-Phish-or-something as the last album's "I've Got Some Friends," but it doesn't seem like the peaks are as high as that record either. Maybe I should listen to it more. But the initial song has this bass sound that really makes it seem like jam-band lite jazz. What a weird case that band is: I saw them after their Angels Of Light split came out. Sure, that is still their best record. But they blew me away, totally transcendent, in the basement of the Eagles Hall in Olympia, Washington. Approaching religious experience, sure. And my interactions with them really painted them as world-class dudes. To this day, I have no reason to believe they're not world-class dudes: They are good friends with the Lexie Mountain Boys, and one member quit the band to live in a buddhist monastery. But they've become increasingly jammy, and the last tour schedule was really disconcertingly lame: A few dates in hippified zones like San Francisco, Austin, and Denver, each, and no shows anywhere on the east coast besides New York. Total jam band niche audience style, like they would rather play Bonnaroo than do the sort of shows that impress the hell out of everyone in attendance. They're not on Young God anymore, and maybe not even acting as Michael Gira's Angels Of Light backing band. I would still like to see them again, on a tour with Fire On Fire and Lexie Mountain Boys, playing in places that would be appropriate. God, this new record really is boring on the whole.
Oh yeah, Fire On Fire: Their first official album came out in the last days of last year, but I don't think it's available in stores, maybe only through the Young God website? That album's fine. Normally I like Big Blood more, but these are good songs, and I can't help but feel like they're fighting the good fight of what once was the toast of the underground.
Speaking of "freak folks," or "new weird americans" (were those things synonymous or not?) I wonder what the next record will be like from the guy who once called himself Wooden Wand? The last album was done under the name James Jackson Toth, and released on Rykodisc (through Slim Moon, former runner of 5RC, who rereleased the awesome Harem Of The Sundrum and The Witness Figg), and sounded like Tom Petty. The new one's coming out on Ecstatic Peace, (who put out the also pretty great James And The Quiet) under the name WAND, and I have no idea what it will sound like. Probably it will continue down on this road of blandness-as-artistic-maturity. (See also the Mirah record that came out this year, and remark to yourself that holy shit it's been ten years since You Think It's Like This But Really It's Like This. Maybe she was always kind of bland, but it was also charming and interesting, then.)