Abjuring the hyperactivity of their early-’80s youth, the original lineup of these college-rock pioneers reunites to test the extent to which power-pop smarts can accommodate maturity. Peter Holsapple’s hard-rocking “That Time Is Gone” might be taken at face value if it weren’t infused with Neil Young chord changes from 1967—and if Chris Stamey’s “Collide-oOo-Scope” didn’t mention Delaney & Bonnie. But both songs are strong. Will Rigby’s funny “Write Back” and Holsapple’s sad “She Won’t Drive in the Rain Anymore” are even stronger.
Chris Demakes writes and sings like someone with something to say, but often all he ends up articulating is his inarticulateness. “This is not meant to apologize for any place or time,” he sings in “A Return to Headphones.” “This is not meant to eulogize for years gone by.” Yet apologizing and eulogizing are what he does best. As for the cognitive dissonance that may result from his denying the contradiction, it’s blunted just enough by the infectious, high-energy ska at which he and his band excel.
Both the fluttery and the buttery qualities of Aaron Neville’s singing remain undiminished despite his having recently turned 72. That these dozen doo-wop and R&B classics remain similarly durable might lead one to expect My True Story to embody the culmination of a remarkable career rather than that career’s latest remarkable chapter. It doesn’t. Not that Neville doesn’t have his heart in the material. It’s just that he seemed to have had even more of it in 2010’s all-gospel I Know I’ve Been Changed.
The agnostically philosophical parameters of this subtly virtuosic electronic folk-rock can be found in Ira Kaplan’s singing “[T]his is it for all we know” in “Ohm” and “If our story’s being told, / that’s the point of being born” in “The Point of It.” In between, he takes what solace he can from telling his longtime wife and co-band member Georgia Hubley, “I always know that when we wake up / you’re mine” (“Stupid Things”). It’s a declaration as sad, beautiful, and resigned as the music itself.
In December, the experimental popster Beck Hansen bequeathed a fascinating anachronism to the music-reading public: Song Reader (McSweeney’s), a 20-song “album” available only as a lavishly illustrated book of old-school sheet music. What at first seemed like a gimmick (and, at a list price of over $30, an expensive gimmick at that) has exploded into a phenomenon. Musicians from all over the age, talent, and stylistic spectrums have rushed to perform and record the pieces.
The phenomenon could eventually turn out to be a fad. For now, however, it’s doing what Beck has said he set out to do—namely, to free songs from the narrow and elitist interpretive prisons that they’ve inadvertently found themselves in as singer-songwriters have morphed into auteurs. The most fully realized interpretation so far is the Portland Cello Project’s Beck Hansen’s Song Reader, which turns Beck’s compositions into a lush, 62-minute art-song cycle. But it will have competition.