The Pulse: October 2019

A completely new monthly feature here on BPM Pod, where I review some of the latest releases from the previous month. Welcome to the BPM Pod: The Pulse.

But what is it all about? How does it work? And when can you expect the newest blog posts? Read on for more, including the first edition of The Pulse.

What is ‘The Pulse’ about?

Simple. I listen to a bunch of new music, lots of which I mention in the podcast episodes themselves, but often within tight time constraints.

To tackle this, I will be putting out a monthly retrospective of some of the best music I have heard that month. Around 80% of the music listed will be new music, but expect some retrospectives (applicable to the month) and some other random finds in the list too.

How do the reviews work?

The text-only reviews will be short, sharp, and designed to give an overview of what to expect, as well as my top-of-mind thoughts. There will not be in-depth thousand word pieces (except for a Tom Petty or Springsteen album) in an effort to keep thing concise, colourful and coherent.

Is there a rating system?

I toyed with this idea, but no, there is not. This is because so many people misconstrue rating systems, and somehow think giving something five-stars means it is perfect and the best thing ever. This might not be the case, but might be the best in that genre itself, for now. Also, ratings change with mood, so this system seems a little outdated.

And remember: this is just my opinion. You have yours, and that is cool. Avoiding a rating system takes out the ‘well I think this is crap, and so should you’ attitude. But, where criticism is due, don’t expect me to hold back.

So let’s get cracking

Here are the first batch on The Pulse. Enjoy.

White Reaper – You Deserve Love

If Thin Lizzy still around in their proper outfit, they’d be killing it. No ifs, no buts, they just would. But in the meantime, we’ve got White Reaper who channel the Thin Lizzy spirit through filters of Green Day, Blink 182 and The Ramones.

Think I am exaggerating? Give the tracks Headwind or Raw a listen and then come back to me. A short album, but no less punchy for it, You Deserve Love is a worthy follow up to the superb The World’s Best American Band. Worth a listen, or ten.

Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow

Alright, this came out in January 2019. I know. I am late sometimes (ask my wife). But good lord, this album could have been re-released every single month of 2019, and it would still sound fresh. Probably the best album of 2019 so, if you’re late to the party, establish your place as the Comeback Kid and seek this album. It seems a shame to drag Ryan Adams into a review like this (prick), but the alt-country-rock vibe Sharon exudes is more than the now-rightfully-disgraced Ryan Adams wished he could be. Superb.

Wilco – Ode to Joy

I had the pleasure of seeing Wilco live in Berlin – and I say ‘pleasure’ with the utmost sincerity. I understand the feedback of Wilco being dreary and samey, despite the random stabs of distortion and such. Tweedy’s voice isn’t exactly unique, and the music certainly treads the well-worn middle of the road. Yet even for Wilco sceptics, give Ode to Joy a go. It’s probably taken eleven albums to sway your opinion, but Ode to Joy might be the one to give you a new perspective, with its vast, sprawling, sparse rock jams.

DIIV – Deceiver

Dreary? Probably. Wandering, without cause? Yup. But dull? Not at all.

A rather harrowing album of addiction and recovery, oft-forgotten shoegaze champs DIIV return with this release which wouldn’t sound out of place somewhere between Sonic Youth and Crazy Horse. It is brooding, mysterious, chilling at times, and not a particularly jolly affair. But in terms of production, and the feeling of getting lost in the music, there is not another release this month that compares. One for the shadows.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

I will preface this with a statement: I have never been a Nick Cave fan. Unsure why, but I tend to find the music overly long, melodramatic, and somewhat forgettable. Pretentious, too. (Yes, I am ready for the comments.)

But Ghosteen is wonderful. I am unsure why – perhaps the theme of grief and remorse got me on this occasion, this being Cave’s first release since his son, Arthur, died in 2015. There’s something addictive about this album; each song a story that somehow has more levels to reveal with each listen. Waiting For You and Fireflies nearly brought me to tears (the latter of which would not sound too far away from a Rust Cohle monologue in True Detective).

Beautifully orchestrated, and mixed superbly on a super-wide stereo mix (at least it seems that way) the pieces here represent soundscapes more than typical songs, and that’s not a criticism. Instead, put it on, and properly listen – in silence, take it all in, and let it wash over you. It washed over me, and perhaps I am only now beginning to see the light.

Jim James, Teddy Abrams, and the Louisville Orchestra – The Order of Nature

Last one for now, and we end on a mixed note. I freaking love Jim James and his band My Morning Jacket. In fact, I would put him/them among my top 10 artists of all time, with James somewhat of a modern Bob Dylan in my eyes. A pure songwriting force. (A nicer person that Dylan, too.)

Admiration aside, this album misses the mark somehow. While orchestral arrangements of Here In Spirit – and covers such as Who am I? or Human Touch – sound different, I’m not compelled to revisit these versions more than the originals.

Take Here In Spirit, for example: it is one of the best songs of the 2010s, a modern protest-song classic, and a worthy callback to songs reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. But here on The Order of Nature, it sounds Disney-fied, too sugary and sweet. Some of the songs here don’t land at all, with Over and Over being a notable example.

I admire the risk taken to produce an orchestral-rock album in 2019, and James deserves praise for taking that risk with his local Louisville orchestra and putting the spotlight on them. But a success, as an album? Not for me. As B-sides to the as-yet forthcoming My Morning Jacket release? That might have worked.