Sunday, July 02, 2006

Revisiting old favorites

I've mentioned that I'm a list nerd, and have been cataloguing all the songs I own (it's a lifetime task). This has led me to listen again to several albums that I haven't played in quite a while --- in some cases, years. This is the story of just four of those lucky albums.

* Basehead - Not In Kansas Anymore
I enjoyed immensely Michael Ivey's one-man slacker dreamtime hip-hop brainchild when he released his debut album, Play With Toys. This follow-up was a big let-down when I first heard it. It's certainly still in the spirit of the masterful debut (unlike the schlocky Christian albums Basehead would release later), but to me there's something missing on this album. Perhaps it lacks that freshness of novelty, or the artistic hunger of a young man recording beer-drenched message music in his bedroom, as Play With Toys was. Whatever magic it is, Not In Kansas doesn't have it. I listened to it a few times over the past few days, but my reaction is still the same as my initial one: disappointingly boring.

* Liz Phair - Whitechocolatespaceegg
Again, I was a huge fan of Phair's debut, Exile In Guyville. This album I was rather ambivalent about when I first heard it. There were several excellent tracks, but about half of it didn't move me. And there I let it lay; I'm sure that after perhaps two or three initial listens, I didn't put this album on again for literally five years. Giving it another chance recently, I was amazed. It's a masterful, although experimental, album. Many of the songs deal with divorce and childbirth. I'm thinking now that I simply wasn't mature enough to appreciate the songs I didn't like. What turned off many other people about Whitechoc --- this is her least-selling album, I think --- is the array of different musical styles, as if that's a negative thing, translating to being unfocused and uncertain in message. Which it can, of course, but not necessarily, and not in this case. I rather think that here Phair is dabbling in a broader musical palette while honing her already keen observations on sex, gender roles, and now parenthood. My revised opinion: a brilliant album delivered to the right fan base at the wrong time.

* Edie Brickell and New Bohemians - Shooting Rubberbands At the Stars
* Poi Dog Pondering - Wishing Like a Mountain And Thinking Like the Sea
Two Texas bands, two albums released in 1989. I bought these on CD many years after loving the cassettes my senior year of high school. These are definitely nostalgia albums for me, bringing back memories of a time I enjoyed very much. Dallas native Edie Brickell's wistful folk-rock is, to me, the more lightweight of this pair. Surprisingly, there's not all that much to scoff at in this 23-year-old woman's debut (although the lyrics to "What I Am" are the kind of simple pseudo-Zen that is so often laughed at by both the more fully educated and the less educated than the writer). On the other hand, there's not much that stands out from the instrospective folk crowd, either.
Although Poi Dog is possibly the lesser known and more reviled of the two, I enjoy Wishing a whole lot more than Brickell's debut. I'm a sucker for the "get out there and live to the fullest and embrace your mistakes and death and love and everything" philosophy that the record exhorts, even if I'm not much a practitioner of it myself. So today, in my mid-thirties, I have to say that Edie Brickell's album, while a fond memory, is not my cup of tea at all (and I think 18-year-old Chance would have agreed, even then), but Poi Dog had some decent folk chops (which 18-year-old Chance didn't fully appreciate back then).

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