Sunday, January 18, 2009

Listening Session: Ryan Adams and Destroyer

Ryan Adams, Cardinology (Lost Highway Records)
The fun of this limited edition LP is in the packaging: cool red vinyl, a bonus 7-inch single and lyrics in the form of a comic book by the same artist who designed the primitive gothic cover. The first side of the album is pretty fun too, with Adams in terrific voice and The Cardinals providing great support. But the album flags considerably on the second side. It gets pretty glum. As talented as Adams is, the thing that keeps me from completely embracing him is his self-absorbed melancholy. I'm sure he doesn't give a shit what I or anyone else thinks; he'll keep doing what he wants to do. And that's what keeps me interested. He's going full speed with no brakes, barely any steering, and lots of passion (or could it just be the amphetamines?) In Adams' world there seems to be no difference between good songs and bad songs. He chews through it all as if his life depended on it. (Editor's note: I'm not sure how true that last sentence is since he announced his retirement recently.)

Destroyer, Your Blues (Scratch Records) 
Another songwriter who's pursuing his own thing is Dan Bejar of Destroyer and sometimes of the New Pornographers. Whereas Ryan Adams clearly works in the country-rock genre ("alt" is a key on the keyboard and a meaningless prefix to describe a musical genre), it's not clear what genre Dan Bejar works in. But there's no mistaking a Destroyer album for any other. He's strongly influenced by Hunky Dory-era Bowie, but doesn't share Bowie's adherence to basic rock and blues song structure. I guess "chamber pop" comes closest to describing the music on Your Blues. And what to make of the lyrics? They're surreal, but on the edge of being meaningful and even profound. Your Blues is one of the few recent pop albums I've listened to that's free of cliche, musically and lyrically. It's also one of the prettiest pop albums I've heard in a long time (in a minor key kind of way).

The sound quality of both albums is way above normal for modern pop-rock recordings.

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