Musical Accompaniment – September Part. 2

by deerinthexenonarclights

There have been a lot of albums released this month but honestly the majority of them have been rather lackluster, nothing worth writing about extensively if you don’t have too. So this will serve as a place where I throw out some short thoughts of the albums that I have been listening to most, these can and probably will change as i continue to listen to them. The albums in question are Battleborn by The Killers, The Carpenter by The Avett Brothers and The Sound of the Life of the Mind by Ben Folds Five. Let’s go…

First and foremost I feel like I almost need to defend my purchase of this album since The Killers have gotten such a bad reputation among the indie scene that only recently fawned over them. Yes they had some success with Hot Fuzz, some overplayed single’s on Sam’s Town and an ambiguous and decidedly incomprehensible third album in Day and Age but each of those records has also had a number of amazing tracks hidden deeper below what you would hear on the radio, and in some cases more again floating outside the album itself, their B-sides strangely strong. Battleborn, more than any of their past albums, sticks to that established dichotomy, sticks far too close to it in my mind.

Those hits that the band have had are epic affairs and the same could be said of Flesh and Bone or Runaways, the album’s one-two opening punch of pop, but to me they sound less like cinematic songs and more like stadium rock. When I hear them I don’t picture any powerful narrative imagery, I see football players in slow motion; the song streaming over a post break montage. Objectively I’m not really sure if this is a compliment or a criticism but subjectively I don’t really like it. While the songs worked immensely well when I was walking out of the AFL prelim in Sydney last week (which occurred after I had made the above observation) that is a rare occasion, so for the most part they just seem shallow.

On the other hand though the deep cuts towards the back of the album and the B-Sides included on the deluxe edition especially are almost too obtuse: Slow tempo, silent Flowers and mercurial melodies make them almost inaccessible, even to the ‘arthouse’ half of the band’s audience. Battleborn sounds more like the idea I had of The Killers than any of their past releases have but for me that is its biggest flaw; it doesn’t surprise but it also doesn’t really satisfy. Had they simply released a full album of fast stadium rock ala The Black Key’s El Camino or a small alt-rock piece then that would have been fine, but delving deeper in both directions at once really just tears the band apart for me.

As someone who first started listening to Ben Folds records after he had split from his titular Five I have a sort of skewed perspective on the band; for me records like Reinhold didn’t come first but simultaneous to the likes of Silverman and so I was somewhat less loving of them than many fans are and thus less excited for this reunion. A new Folds album though is always a good thing, so I did go in with high expectations and came out only slightly dissappointed.

I said the same thing about Lonely Avenue after the album proper dropped and was so different to the early demo’s that Ben let leak but for me Folds works best alone at his piano; give me his ballads over the sound effect blockbusters everytime. So when I heard how the band recorded this album – the three of them jamming in purposefully jarring ways and then attempting to temper these messy melodies with clean vocal orchestrations that come later – I knew that it maybe wasn’t going to be the Ben Folds work that I most wanted.

Strangely then it was the ballads here that I struggled with the most, they were in a lot of ways rather boring, lacking the energy provided by the full band. The difference between now and then I think is with wit. Folds is a simply brilliant songwriter and while there is still some very clever writing on show here – Erase Me has an erased line of vocals in its chorus, Do It Anyway has a great hidden darkness and Hornby’s title track once again shows off his storytelling style – instead of being the norm here his brilliant lines really stand out here as exceptions.

I don’t know if maybe Ben maybe tones himself down when working with others, less willing to go out on limbs on whims, but the songs here are very safe and feel very standard because of that. For some standard Ben Folds songs will be enough, but I don’t know, I guess I expected something a little better. While it’s great for all the old fans that the Five have found each other again, personally I’m hoping that the reunion only lasts this one album and that Folds goes solo again for his next.

The Avett Brothers are still a sort of new band to me, their last album 2009’s I and Love and You the first and only that I have heard. I’m well aware that they have a veritable ranch of records released before this but to my mind starting where I did really helps make sense of their latest record The Carpenter. I and Love was a really great album with a uniquely innocent romanticism to it; the boys sang of genuine love over good old country sounds and structures, it was like teenagers coming at the country music genre before their hearts were broken. The Carpenter though shares a very similar sound but show off just how old the guys have gotten and just how mature their minds now are.

The tracks here don’t talk of finding a flawless female, of fawning over one, of adventures with your buddies or any other such stuff; instead the songs are about break-ups, death, demons and religion. I’m not sure if the band themselves consider themselves to be ‘christian’ and I honestly don’t care to find out because their treatment of the topic is balanced perfectly on the precipice as it stands. There is no condemnation of Christianity, nor are any of the tracks hymns, their songs simply borrow some of that potent imagery and put it to use in telling their own stories. The Carpenter is not Christ but a lost young man looking to find himself in modern America.

Those wanting another Summer album of sizzling country songs with indie cred to throw on for their barbeques’ or beerfests would do best to look elsewhere I reckon, lest they want to throw something of a downer, but as an album you listen to alone The Carpenter is a great mixture of classy constructed, cerebral country songs with catchy choruses and viscerally angelic vocals. At this rate I rather expect the band’s next release to be something akin to Tempest or American Recordings.