This week’s Listen to This! features a pair of very different bands. The Cribs remind us of simpler times, when you needed little else than guitar, bass, drums and the ability to both sing and scream to make a good album. On the other hand you have Mount Eerie, the latest moniker of Phil Elverum, a man who I don’t peg as much of a screamer.
Stay tuned for an interview with Mount Eerie (Phil Elverum) in the coming days.
The Cribs – In the Belly of the Brazen Bull
Release date: May 15
Somewhere along the line simply rocking out became frowned upon by many music critics. Maybe that’s because many of the straight forward guitar/bass/drums bands meddle in the same mediocre sounds, or maybe that is because critics and fans alike tend to want innovation; whatever the reason, it does not apply to The Cribs.
With a sound that harkens back to the late 90′s and bands like Superchunk, Pavement, Guided By Voices and the predecessors of those bands, like Hüsker Dü, The Cribs’ fifth album is their best yet. A trio of brothers, Ryan, Gary, and Ross Jarman display as much comfort with each other as they do their style. Having lost legendary guitarist Johnny Marr as a band-member, this fifth LP is less moody and more rocky.
In the Belly… begins with a screeching wall of feedback, but that is quickly pulled back to reveal a very catchy guitar driven track in ‘Glitters Like Gold’. If you are wondering where to start with The Cribs, this song is as good a starting point as any as it shows the band at their best, rocking hard but producing catchy hooks all the while.
The Cribs hold true to their guitar-rock roots, often keeping their peppy songs to under 3 minutes. Despite the short track lengths, songs like ‘Come on, be a no one’ stick with you well beyond their playtime because of catchy riffs and clever melodies that are tied up nicely in choruses.
‘Anna’ is like a song-long chorus, keeping your foot tapping, this is ‘power-pop’ at its crunchy best.
While Marr’s physical presence is no longer with The Cribs, his effect can be felt on tracks like ‘Confident Men’ and ‘I Should Have Helped’, both of which feature subtle ringing guitar and rather melancholy vocals.
That change of pace, into the slower side of things, is paralleled by ‘Chi-Town’, a well executed, slightly punk-tinged tribute to Chicago which sounds as much like Pavement as it does Sonic Youth. The Jarman brothers sound rejuvenated on tracks like this, showing signs of truly enjoying what they’re doing, even if they aren’t breaking new ground.
Anyone hoping for new ground to be broken on this album is misguided, but that is not a knock on this record. The type of indie-rock being presented here is timeless in a good way. The only detriment to In the Belly of the Brazen Bull is the Jarman’s insistence in releasing long albums. At 18 tracks long there is some filler peppered in, but that peppering fills out what is a pretty good meal.
Mount Eerie – Clear Moon
Release date: May 22
Those unfamiliar with Phil Elverum’s work may need a quick brush-up. Elverum has been a wearer of many lo-fi, scraggly hats during his 13 years releasing music. First operating under the moniker ‘The Microphones’, and with one less ‘e’ in his name, the then Elvrum released albums via K Records. The Microphones managed to be experimental while being very much acoustic. Elvrum shied away from electric guitars, took to pounding drums and including howling winds on his tracks.
At first glance that may seem like the beginning of a highschool music project that sounds less like music and more like a foundsound tape you’d find in a dusty corner of an antiques shop. Phil Elverum’s unique approach to music and the world in which he describes through it is the saving grace that’s made his work something more.
Having since changed his name, both in real life (adding an e, becoming Elverum) and musically (shifting to Mount Eerie), the man has taken many detours in recent years, but Clear Moon shows his orbit pulling back towards the centre.
Whether that return is made joyfully or not is in question, but chances are the answer is it is not, as joy hasn’t oft factored into Elverum’s work.
Clues lie in this album, as its opener ‘Through the Trees, part 2′ speaks to accepting the weird nature of the world and stopping the fight against it, ending with the lines “from now on I will be perfectly clear, there’s no part of the world more meaningful, and raw impermanence echoes in the sky.”
New listeners may be surprised by the harshness of the next track ‘The Place Lives’, but Elverum has always indulged in thick walls of noise in between his more soft-spoken tracks; and now that he uses electric instruments (!!!) those walls can be even thicker and noises louder.
After setting yet more atmosphere, including yet another track titled simply ‘something’, Elverum delivers ‘Lone Bell’, one of his better songs in years and a highlight of the album. A song suitable for the weirdest Tim Burton scene, ‘Lone Bell’ features an ascending guitar line, scattering drums and downright otherworldly horns. Elverum’s music has always been better than the sum of its parts, and that is definitely the case here as seemingly dissonant noises join to form something beautiful.
Clear Moon manages what many other albums do not, it builds on album highlight ‘Lone Bell’ to create a great second half. ‘House Shape’ in particular is more lively than Elverum has sounded almost ever, a truly catchy hook propels the song forward. After an out of place ‘Over Dark Water’, another track titled ‘(something)’ prepares the listener for a truly odd epilogue to this album. Titular ‘Clear Moon’ is not what many people expect from a title track, as it is as much spoken word as it is song, but Elverum’s impeccable production is in full force here, where lyrics lack the sounds compensate.
‘Yawning Sky’ is yet another sojourn for the usual introspective and morose Elverum. Make no mistake, this song is still bleak, but there is a catchy undertone here that makes this song enjoyable even on a sunny afternoon. Album closer ‘synthesizer’ proves that although he has shied away from electronic instruments, Elverum’s musicality translates well to them.
This is certainly not an album for everyone, but those who it is for will love it, and rightfully so.