Saturday, May 12, 2007

Another in a series


Question for you: Name one indie band with more than two albums under its belt that continues to get better and better with each new release.

Only one comes to mind: Electrelane, whose latest No Shouts, No Calls, continues to improve on a sound that will never be groundbreaking, but remains intensely compelling. (I suppose there are a certain set of folks that'd make a case for Wilco but, come on, they've shit the bed and are daring you to love the smell.)

Those of you that already like 'em will find the same elements you're used: graceful and awkward harmonies riding the top, rhythms from the Rhur from 30 years ago, and (boy this should come as a surprise) Albini engineering.

So, what's different this time? Hard to pin down as the formula really hasn't changed, but if you forced me to comment, I'd say there's a little less wistfulness, a little more specificity. My object example: Instrumentals, like "The Lighthouse" seem to completely resolve rather than drift pleasantly until they're over. And more standard guitar line/lyrics numbers ("The Greater Times") pack a little more punch.

Any bands I missed? Argument anyone?

The Lighthouse - Electrelane

The Greater Times - Electrelane

No Shouts, No Calls at Amazon, eMusic.


Blogger Amy said...

Jon: "Better" is so subjective, so it's sort of an unanswerable question. At the very least, most bands get better at singing and playing their instruments from album to album (because they tour), which I know is especially true of Electrelane (and isn't exactly what you mean). But off the top of my head, I'd say The New Pornographers. They always had good songs, but seem to make big leaps in songwriting and particularly album-making from release to release. Then again, I bet some people would argue that Mass Romantic is better than Electric Version (they'd be wrong!).

4:42 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

1) Yes, you're so wrong about Wilco, even if superficially the new one is a step back -- follow the complexity of the songwriting instead of the guitar tones.

2) The Fiery Furnaces, Destroyer, The Clientele, Okkervil River, Smog up until his new record -- all these bands keep getting better. There are more.

4:23 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

Amy: Jury is out on the New Pornos. I have a feeling (and hope) you're right, but we gotta wait for the next one. There were some highs on Twin Cinema, but also plenty of filler.

Dave: Thanks for the comment. As I was waking up this morning, the Fiery Furnaces came to mind. So did High On Fire and Mastodon.

Destroyer and Smog have never been exactly to my taste, so I'm gonna take your word for it. I've tended toward the Shearwater end of Okkervil River... that I'll explore further. I gotta plead ignorance on The Clientele... Amy, anything coming up to enlighten me?

On Wilco, as Amy said, better is a sort of straw man. (True confession: The watered down, NPRing that started on Kicking Television made me want to slit my throat and I'm not sure I'll ever recover.)

I can hear the complexity you speak of, but the there, at least in my opinion, ain't there anymore. Does an increased level artistry make it great art? Seems to me that would make ELP the greatest band ever.

On another level, many people I really respect love Tweedy and co. with all their hearts. If it gives you that much pleasure, who I am I to really care that you aren't loving Electrelane more?

6:30 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Was actually planning on writing a Clientele post (maybe/maybe not). The new album is very good, but I don't know that it's better than Strange Geometry. Just different. Again, that's the problem with this exercise.

I might agree that Okkervil River qualifies, though. But Smog? Smog got better over time because it started out virtually unlistenable.
But I don't think each of Callahan's records marks progress from the last. Lots of fits and starts there.

Yeah, Wilco. As far as I'm concerned, it was all downhill from AM. Speaking of NPR, guess who guested on Prairie Home Companion last night?

11:13 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Okkervil River is the one that jumped out for me. Not surprisingly, they've been mentioned already. Though I'm not convinced anything Black Sheep Boy is better than Down the River of Golden Dreams. And we'll have to see about the new one.

Springsteen managed it through four albums (and The River, Nebraska, and Born in the USA weren't really a decline so much as a plateau). Same thing with Tom Petty, arguably.

And I don't know if there's quite a linear progression, but The Mendoza Line started good and got steadily better.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Neil said...

I'm not familiar enough with her first couple of albums, but Neko Case might be someone who keeps getting better and better. (Of course, she's not a band, and so may not count.)

How about Sigur Rós, then? I could imagine Ágætis Byrjun, () and Takk… being ranked in any order, so the progression may not be certain, but I think they get better as they go.

9:18 AM  
Blogger jon manyjars said...

Glad to see someone agrees with my quietly held conviction that AM is Wilco's best album.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Evin said...

The Shins.

11:26 AM  

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