Known Johnson

August 22, 2007

The Breakdown: Jeremy Enigk, Flaming Lips, Minus the Bear, Josh Ritter

Filed under: Music,News,The Breakdown — Tom @ 9:23 pm

This is the kind of week that I find myself excited for. We all have our favorite artists, but what about those bands that take a back seat to them? I still find their releases rewarding, but for some reason, they sometimes wind up a bit forgotten. And then when I do drop their tracks onto the Ipod, I’m consistently stunned that I neglected them for so long. And that’s what we’ve got this week – some artists who put out great music and yet slip through the cracks . . . okay, and one release by a pretty solid favorite of mine.

Jeremy Enigk – The Missing Link: The former Sunny Day Real Estate singer returns a year after his great second solo album, World Waits, with what is essentially a 4-song EP with 5 “live in the studio” bonus tracks whose original counterparts can be found on that previous album. I’m not quite sure why this release is the way it is, but for the fan, it should be something fun to fill the gap until the next full-length album.

The Flaming Lips – U.F.O’s At The Zoo – The Legendary Concert In Oklahoma City: Another frickin’ MVI. This is just a dumb format. Really, it’s not a format at all – it’s just a renaming of a current format, the venerable DVD. So we get some interactive extras – big deal, most people will play with those one time – and audio files of the music in formats for use on digital audio players (you know, Ipods and the like.) That’s kind of handy, but I am annoyed that they don’t bother to offer wav format files so we can burn lossless copies of the audio. But I digress – I’m not just hear to complain about the format.

Bands always wait one album too long to record a live set. For whatever reason, they never seem to record the tour that is in support of the album that arguably will forever be seen as their peak, and the Flaming Lips are unfortunately no different. While At War with the Mystics isn’t a terrible album, it certainly isn’t the high point that is the preceding Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (or The Soft Bulletin, depending on how you view things.) Luckily, the band seems to be well aware of the many weak spots on Mystics and so this concert offering isn’t so much in support of that album as in support of the later part of their career. I honestly can’t tell you much about the contents besides that – the tracklisting is peppered with a bunch of stuff I don’t recognize and I must assume they’re instrumental interludes or events during the concert itself.

I can, however, tell you that this one comes packaged in an annoying new digipak specially designed for MVIs. It’s just a square, slightly larger than the disc itself, which means that it won’t really fit in your collection very well. I appreciate the attempt to do something new for the format, but drastically changing the size makes it that oddity that never fits anywhere. It’s too big to fit in many CD racks, and those that it will it will sit a good half-inch back from the rest of the spines. It’s too small to fit well in DVD racks, too. I’d really rather see it in a standard DVD-sized package or a CD type of package. Yeah, I’m complaining again.

This, by the way, would be the “favorite” mentioned in my intro.

Minus the Bear – Planet of Ice: I found Minus the Bear’s previous album, Menos el Oso, to be a massive leap forward in maturity. Not only were the song titles not jokes (which was fun at first on their earlier albums, but could leave some with the impression that the band was a novelty act) but the music seemed just a bit more focused.

A pretty straight-forward indie rock act, MtB has one unusual aspect that sets them apart – one of the guitarists employs tapping. We’re not talking the Eddie Van Halen style of tapping, either. Here, the guitarist simply takes a less-widely used technique to make a unique sounding statement. It’s not about showing off or creating million-miles-per-hour solos, it’s about an unusual approach to presenting a guitar’s voice. It’s pretty intriguing to hear and see, but luckily it’s not the sole interest most people have in the band’s music.

Where the band stands with this new album, I can’t be sure yet, but it appears to follow in the vein of their previous album and that’s a good sign.

Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests of . . . (with bonus EP): Ritter took everyone by surprise last year with the fantastic Animal Years, an album of beautiful, folky melodies and intriguing song subjects. Winding up way at the top of many best-of lists, in fact topping many, has expectations for this quick follow-up probably set too high, but early word is that Historical Conquests is rewarding nonetheless.

Early pressings of the album include a four-track EP, so grab one while they’re still available.

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