As sad as a commentary as this is on my recent listening habits, the excitement I feel about purchasing new music is as of late hardly ever a tangible one.
Really, it’s just the thrill of acquisition, and the subsequent thrill of careful examination and deconstruction. I could just as easily be a philatelist or a numismatist, so irrelevant can the actual fact that I am acquiring or examining a song be.
That said, at the moment I have two discs on my desk that I’m profoundly excited about.
The first is Grace Potter and the Nocturnals This Is Somewhere.
GP&N were one of the bands I had penciled into my Bonnaroo itinerary last summer. The festival was dotted with a precious few front-women, and most of the review I read were positive. So, on Saturday shortly after noon I planted myself in a dusty side-tent to hear the band for the first time.
They utterly blew me away. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals sounded like a feral, weedy, Joplinesque overgrowth of Sheryl Crow’s funky self-titled disc. Grace was an incendiary lead singer, wailing, screaming, thrashing her guitar, dancing behind her Wurlitzer, and leaping off of stage pieces to mark a number of huge crescendos. However, through all of that she was somehow still folksy – more an analog to Bonnie Raitt than to the PJ Harvey she was invoking.
Also of note, guitarist Scott Tournet was terrific, not only to listen to but to watch – a trait so many of the jam band guitarists I witnessed in passing didn’t seem to possess. (Listen below to his superb solo on the still-unreleased “Over Again” – I’m in there, screaming, somewhere. It’s currently available only on the overseas versions of the new disc.)
On the drive back I insisted we stop at the first civilized-looking mall to pick up the debut GP&N disc, but I was quickly disappointed – the disc was a calm, sterile affair, showing none of the vim of the live performance that had riveted me the day before. And, all of the best songs were absent from the disc!
This Is Somewhere has a few of those songs, and I’m hoping it fulfills the promise the Nocturnals made to me last June. Even a whisper of it would make my day.
If Grace Potter represents yet-unheard promise, then Rilo Kiley’s Under the Blacklight is a reverent hope for a return to form.
In 2002 I had no idea what Rilo Kiley sounded like – just that they were fronted by a woman and on Barsuk Record (which, back in the Death Cab’s better days, really meant something). I remember distinctly my first listen to their second disc, The Execution of All Things; I was meant to be drifting off to sleep in Elise’s bed, but I was instead riveted and wide awake.
At first RK seemed like a sort of indy-rock version of Garbage to me, one whose lead singer – lacking the queer confidence of a supervixen – instead wrote wryly about friends and potential apocalypses. But as I continued to listen I came to appreciate the significance of contributions from co-leader and guitarist Blake Sennett, who brought a tuneful, Elliott Smith-like melancholy to the proceedings, even when he was relegated to the background.
As my appreciation for the Rilo increased I also continued to play – and, now, co-write – with my best friend and musical partner Gina. One day, listening to two of Gina’s best paeans to the end of the world – “Real End” and “Fisher Price” – I realized that the strange pair of us had a chance at the same hooky, kitschy relevance that I had grown to love about RK.
It was like realizing for the first time what you want to do when you grow up – because I had. So, it was with great excitement that I purchased 2004’s More Adventurous – hoping to vicariously live out the next chapter of Gina and my musical development. Unfortunately, my excitement was quashed from track one – despite its title, the disc was a shapeless lump of peculiarly unhooky narratives, headlined by a spare duo of the superbly indie “Portions for Foxes” and the 60s Country spin through “Never Again.”
Having conceded that Rilo had lost their touch to the sappy post-folk, it came as no surprise to me when lead singer Jenny Lewis struck out on her own with an acoustic solo disc – Rabbit Fur Coat. More meandering nonsense, I assumed.
Well it wasn’t. Not quite, anyhow. As opposed to Adventurous, on which the band often seemed aimless if not excessive, Rabbit seemed like an eager bed made for absent riffs. And, it made some waves – indy and not.
Under the Blacklight is Rilo Kiley’s first major label disc, and its first after Jenny’s solo breakthrough. And, from the throbbing bass and reverberating guitar on the – yes, queer – lead single “Moneymaker,” I think the band may be back on some sort of track, even if Gina and I have since gone off the rails in our own direction.
I can’t yet recommend either disc, but I recommend getting this excited about a record. Not because you have to have it to complete your collection, or because you love an artist so much you can’t stand the wait, but because you have a fervent hope that you are about to be introduced to life-altering music.