Wednesday, July 22, 2009

David Bowie - Low


This was the third Bowie album I bought, after Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust. I put my headphones on and pressed play, and within about three songs in I was thinking, why isn't Low generally considered Bowie's best work? The songs were more streamlined and extremely catchy. Bowie doing euro-synth-pop just made sense.

That should have been my warning sign.

The albums I love on first listen nearly always lessen over time, and most of my most adored albums didn't really grab me initially. You see, the pattern is hardly ever broken.

From that first listen on, the album hasn't grabbed me as much. I do still love the first, poppy side, but the second - the atmospheric and instrumental side - seems like an afterthought of meddling and wandering atmospherics.

The other thing I've come to realize is that even the songs from the first half don't seem complete. It's frustrating to listen to the opening instrumental, "Speed of Life," and think of what Bowie could've done with that song if he'd added vocals and maybe expanded on it a little more. Instead, I feel like I'm listening to house music being played while waiting for the final act to come on stage.

When things do come together, they come together very well. "Breaking Glass," "Sound and Vision," and "Be My Wife" are prime examples of how well Bowie can pull off pop music (albeit with a little help from some guy named Eno).

If you split the album into two and reserved them for different listens, I'd probably give the second side more respect. As it is, the drastic change in direction is way to arbitrary and nonsensical and ultimately detracts from the album as a whole.

To me, this will always be Bowie's album of unfulfilled potential.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - I See a Darkness

This is the only Will Oldham album I own, but it's about all I need from him. I don't often feel the burning desire to put it on merely because it requires a very specific mood. I got it at a time in my life when things were kinda gloomy and I wanted an album to commiserate with. But although it's definitely a darker album, there's an element of detachment I feel when I hear it. Like I'm hearing someone else telling their sad story, but I'm the neutral listener just absorbing the story without feeling much of an emotional response. Even when Will sings "Death to Everyone," I feel like he's telling some sort of mythical story or old legend of some sort, rather than a sad, pity-seeking lament. Good thing, too, because it'd be way too dramatic otherwise.
That said, the "story," or album, is very much worth listening to, even if you're not down in the dumps. It has a very reflective, sad, and even mournful mood, but there's a ray of hope and light that strikes through it all. The perfect example of this would be the title track, where Will sings:
Oh, no, I see a darkness
Did you know how much I love you?
Is a hope that somehow you
Could save me from this darkness.
The overall highlight for me has to be "Nomadic Revery (All Around)," which has a climactic buildup with a very effectual peak.
I don't normally talk about production, but I have to here because the production on this album is sublime. Everything is so subtle and clean, and so crystal clear. The drums, his voice, the piano...everything sounds as if it's being played live right in front of you. And there's an excellent use of overdubbed vocals.
I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this album to anyone who likes the idea of darker singer-songwriter music with a hint of gothic gloomy storytelling (or something like that).