Known Johnson

December 3, 2007

Two for one

Filed under: In the ears, on my mind,Music — Tom @ 8:39 am

I got a bit of a late start this morning, but it seemed like it was going to be a good morning. As soon as I plugged my Ipod in, I knew I needed to hear some XTC – and you don’t go listening to XTC when you’re not in a particularly good mood. I could hear the bright opening strums of “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” in my head, so that got me going, but as Nonsuch played, I realized what I really wanted to hear was Apple Venus, Vol. 1.

Man, what a beautiful album. Seven years on and it still works its magic on me in precisely the same ways it did in 1999. It’s kind of a follow-up of sorts, in my mind, to Skylarking – the flip-side to the story maybe I alone hear in the album of a couple that gets married and starts a family, and here in Apple Venus we see the tattered shreds of the marriage reflected in songs that recollecting their past love, followed by the eventual dissolution (with a gloriously beautiful statement at the end of the acidly bitter “Your Dictionary.”) That all of this is surrounded with such stately and grand orchestration (courtesy of the London Session Orchestra) makes it all that much more powerful.

And there are always little things that give me a thrill. Colin Moulding, for one. He’s simply an awesome, overlooked bassist, playing some of the prettiest bass figures you’ll hear – if you listen close enough. Or how in “Easter Theater,” when they sing “stage left” the voices emerge from the right speaker and vice versa for “stage right.” Ear candy, I guess – not necessary, but it adds to the fun. Every time I listen, it makes me happy that someone takes the time for things like that. The album is full of little details like that – most of it in the orchestration, and I simply lack the vocabulary to make any sense of it.

My drive was so long and arduous this morning that I heard all of Apple Venus and had to choose something else, so I opted for one of this year’s more ignored releases, Grant-Lee Phillips’ Strangelet. Why I have forgotten about this, I don’t know, but I gave this a spin last week after months gathering dust and remembered how much I loved it when I reviewed it way back in late March. I’m going to highly recommend this to REM fans – this has a real nice, loose, satisfying jangle to it that I think they would really identify with (drumming is handled by REM’s replacement drummer Bill Rieflin and Peter Buck drops in some really guitar and really tasty ukelele work.)

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