Saturday, February 9, 2013

Olde Cthonic Music

So, I've got 3 new CDs looking at me. The new Richard Thompson  "Electric" double CD,  and the new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds CD "Push the Sky Away".  At first blush, they may not seem to fit, but I think they do in this fashion- both men fashion deep dark tales rooted in music so organic that calling it "roots" doesn't connote the proper depth. Thompson constructs Celtic Rock hybrids that put lessors like the Pogues ( who are no slouches, but still less deep than Thompson. His stuff sounds like it was composed by a druid with a friend in Robert Johnson) squarely into the "pop" category. On this one, recorded live  at Buddy Miller's house,  the blues are writ large. It's raw and charging in a way Thompson did back in the late 1970's- this doesn't sound like Dire Straits on whisky like his 1980's output did, nor his burbling  early 1990's output. The man is a fretboard demon on a level with Hendrix, Tom Morello and precious few others, so absolutely nothing is sloppy, but don't confuse his virtuosity for polish- He's just one of a dying breed- the kind of musician who nails it live, and any extra tracks are just ornaments, not patches. The subject matter is dark, as always- tales of unrequited lust and revenge ( Stony Ground, Sally B,  Another Small thing in  her favour, Straight and Narrow)  and general malaise and bitterness ( Stuck on the Treadmill My Enemy, Where's Home? Good Things Happen to Bad People) with moments of pure beauty ( the Snow Goose- with Allison Krause). So, if you want to hear the dark roots of what shiny happy people like The Arcade Fire, or Mumford and Sons are referencing, you really must go to Thompson. Country, Rock, Folk, it all comes from the Gaelic ore that Richard Thompson mines with more fervor than any other.
Nick Cave is less obvious, this time around. Now, apart from a rather grim lyrical outlook, I can understand how, on paper, Nick Cave seems very different from Richard Thompson. However, as Nick  ages, his voice is starting to take on some of the same weathered, and yet still mannered qualities as Richard's voice. Yes, he's a deeper baritone, but the same sandy, antique distressing is evident. Like a desert borne Victorian quality- Allan  Quartermain as a vocal quality. Because of this, and because there is something primal to it, "Push the Sky Away" seems like a great fit .With the Bad Seeds, Nick Cave is wont to explore an eerie Gypsy/vagabond Carnival ambiance, like his closest American analog, Tom Waits. This time out, though, the music is more skeletal, and raw.  Often, it evokes a more Francophone Doors type of feel- with prominent keyboards, and single note guitars.  As such, he's moved into stranger territory, something almost Gaelic, albeit of a different stripe- Think Jacques Brel's persona inhabiting Jim Morrison's crude Mojo Risin' . It makes perfect sense that his tour dates start with Los Angeles and Paris. However, you'll note that this is much more modern than some of his more "tin pan alley" forays. So, why am I still seeing it as primal? Because his themes and wording are still an unholy admixture of the profane and the profound. It's a voice straight from the limbic, reptilian brain. I'm not going to go over song titles other than to say the two "Jubilee Street" songs are the core and emblematic songs on the short LP. Instead, go to the Guardian and stream it.
I'd have a lot more to say, but honestly, these are just serving as a tonic to MBV for me. I'm sorry if that seems dismissive, but these two fantastic records had the misfortune to arrive on my doorstep shortly after the album of the year, for me.

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