It's easy to love an artist's music, easy to hate an artist's music, easy to be indifferent to an artist's music. What's hard is evaluating a new release of an artist that I like, like a lot, like enough that I want to make a commitment but just haven't been able to make that leap to love.
Two albums have just been released by artists I want to love. One, Neko Case's Fox Confessor Bring the Flood, is generating much buzz: here's a Wash Post review in today's paper, though Case is on the cover of Harp and can be found pretty much everywhere now. She's going to be famous.
Her voice is simply unique, powerful and passionate, unmistakable. She doesn't sing on most of the songs on the New Pornographers' albums, but the songs she does sing dominate the albums. (Click on that link and find the audio files - click on Letter to an Occupant; you only get 30 seconds, but quite a good taste.) And this, perhaps, is a key to my resistance to the solo work: she has this big, animal instrument of a voice which she never lets off the leash the way I want her to. Maybe my formative years listening to Kate Bush has created in me a need for emotional theatrics, a need for the timely screaming climax in a song. I listen to "Hold On, Hold On" off Fox Confessor, it's almost, almost, perfect. Almost.
Similarly, The Gourds new Heavy Ornamentals.
As long as I've been listening to The Gourds, they've almost been one of my favorite bands, enough so that I own most if not all of their albums. I've often wondered if my acquired taste for what can be badly if necessarily be called alt-country or roots-rock or whatever hindered my appreciation; of the bands I listen to who could be grouped together under that limiting label, The Gourds are my favorite. This picks at the scab of genre that seems to be so popular at picking, and in this case indicts me: in order for me to commit my love I am asking them to exceed my expectations of what alt-country should be. There is always a point in my favorite Gourd songs where I feel if they just kicked it into some indefinably sublimer plane, gush would go my heart. The first cut off the new one, "Decline*O*Meter," starts strikingly, the chorus is catchable, but the bridge... almost, almost.
I've bought both albums without regret, and they are in my rotation and will stay there for awhile, and I will in all probability buy Neko Case's and The Gourds' next albums, but when I stock up the car for the family trip this summer I doubt these albums or any of the previous will make the cd case. I recommend both, and hope the listener loves them. I wish I could.