Monday, January 18, 2010

Song of the day

"Caroline", by Espers.

I felt it was my civic duty to listen to the three albums that sat somewhere near the top of most 2009 critics' polls: "Merriweather Post Pavilion", by Animal Collective; "Bitte Orca", by The Dirty Projectors; and "Veckatimest", by Grizzly Bear. Having done so, I can announce that my considered response to all three of them is a resounding "Whatevah". They all, to my ears at least, have about them an earnestness, a sense of scale, of reaching towards the status of "important", of making some kind of boad, majestic sweep, of, what, bigness?, maximalism?, that makes them easy to admire but, for me (I am clearly in a pretty small minority here), not easy to actually like. No, I have never been particularly keen on U2 or Radiohead either, other purveyors of the serious and/or grandiose, and I also failed to click with Arcade Fire. So either I am old and grumpy (yes), or I am lapsing into a kind of reverse snobbery that I thought was dormant and/or that a one-two combination of Adrienne and Darren had long ago talked me out of (viz, everybody else likes this so there must be something wrong with it), or the pop zeitgeist is somewhere that I don't particularly want to go (as happened with the rise of grunge at the end of the 1980s) and, pop music being the caravan that continually moves on, something more amenable will surely be about to appear.

Of course, I might just be lazy; all of these albums clearly require more work than I have put in. (Or is that no different from "Eat your greens, they taste like filth but they're good for you"?) Outright ejection may well turn out to have been my loss. (I also didn't warm to Fleet Foxes at first, and it in fact took the spark of Adrienne's interest in one of their songs, which was being heavily rotated on the local ABC radio, to get me to give them a second listen, whereupon in no time their album became the most played record at Stan's house ("Whose house??"), and it remains so. This just goes to show, as if any proof whatsoever were required, that I am capable of being very, very wrong.)

If you forced me to speculate, my guess would be that, of all three of these records, I would be most likely to develop warmer feelings for "Veckatimest". There is a song on it called "While You Wait For The Others" that has some nice guitar. That would be my way in, if I were looking for one.

All of which brings me to the third Espers album, "III", which appeared with no or slightly negative fanfare towards the end of last year, and which takes a very different tack from their previous album of extended arboreal psych jams in favour of an appealingly loose but concise take on English folk (there is at least one song on here that could slip unnoticed onto, say, Fairport Convention's "Unhalfbricking"). "Caroline" is lovely. It will have you checking that it isn't a reissue of something that might have originally been released on Island in 1969. It is also one of the few examples I can think of where electrified violin (if that's what it is) actually enhances a song.