Monday, November 10, 2014

Eagerly-Awaited Albums

Do good things come to those who wait? Or does anticipation just lead to disappointment?

Last week, I treated myself to a handful of new albums from Spillers, as I often do when payday rolls around. Here's what I bought:

  • My Favourite Faded Fantasy by Damien Rice
  • At Best Cuckold by Avi Buffalo
  • Crush Songs by Karen O
  • Furious Finite by Little Arrow
  • We Come from the Same Place by Allo Darlin'
Now, as much as I like the Little Arrow and Allo Darlin' records, I'm mainly going to focus on those first three for the purposes of today's blog. The thing that all three of those have in common is that they've all been a very long time coming: It's been four years since the first Avi Buffalo album, and the gap between 9 and My Favourite Faded Fantasy was a whopping EIGHT years (to the day, in fact - both were released on the 3rd of November).

Karen O's gapping chops are less impressive - after all, the last Yeah Yeah Yeahs album only came out a year ago - but Crush Songs is her first solo album, and this certainly feels long overdue (for reference, a rough KO solo album was leaked all the way back in December 2006, shortly after Damien Rice had released 9). If I ever had cause to write a blog about anticipation and how it can skew one's opinion of an album, this is clearly it, given that I've just picked up three discs with a collective waiting time of two decades between them.

So, how do these three records measure up to the weight of expectation? I'll tackle them one by one...

My Favourite Faded Fantasy by Damien Rice
The aforementioned eight-year hiatus ensured that there was enough pressure on this album anyway, but consider also that 9, its predecessor, is among my Top 10 Albums of All Time, and My Favourite Faded Fantasy begins to look a complete no-hoper.

Which makes the fact that IT'S AMAZING all the more, uh, amazing. Damien Rice - now forty years old - has lost none of his raw, emotive awesomeness, and my assorted concerns for this album (that it would be too MOR, that it wouldn't be as sonically rich as its forbears, etc.) were washed away completely in just one listen. If anything, I enjoyed it more for having previously assumed that I'd never see another Damien Rice record, and that I'd have to make do with O and 9 for the rest of my days.

At Best Cuckold by Avi Buffalo
My enthusiasm for this one is more reined-in. Yeah, it's a solid listen, but where are the instant indie-pop classics like What's In It For and Where's Your Dirty Mind and Summer Cum?

This is a great example of how expectations can ruin - or at the very least dampen - an album. To be honest, I'm pretty sure that At Best Cuckold will grow on me in time, and there are some parts that are very ear-catching from the very beginning (Oxygen Tank is my favourite right now). But while the lyrics are just as weird as they were in 2010, the tunes are a litte bit of a let down. For now

Crush Songs by Karen O
Crush Songs is a weird one, because it's simultaneously bolstered and screwed by my expectations of it. On the one hand, it's a disappointment; these solo bedroom recordings are tamer and, yes, lamer than anything the YYYs ever put out (notable exception: that one song where she just screams).

But there's another side to that coin. The Avi Buffalo album would have impressed me more if I'd never heard of Avi Buffalo before (i.e. if I didn't have the first album to unfavourably compare it with). Here, the opposite is true; because it's Karen O and not just some unknown, the songs hold a lot more weight. I wouldn't care to hear the intimate lo-fi output of some unfamiliar randomer, but Karen O's intimate lo-fi songs are actually kind of revealing; Crush Songs may not be as much fun as Mosquito or Fever to Tell, but it adds some depth to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs story, shows us a different side of the wild Ms O.

I'm not really sure what my point is here. High expectations can certainly make a decent album seem disappointing (At Best Cuckold), but when the high expectations are actually met, you feel all the better for ir (My Favourite Faded Fantasy). And hey, even if the album falls short of your expectations, those expectations might at least give the album a bit more depth.

Basically, I'm just really, really pleased that Damien Rice did another stunning album. But that statement wouldn't have been much of a blog post on its own.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a big fan of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but haven't got round to Karen O's solo effort yet. I've got a bit of LP backlogue at the mo, but I'm gonna invest in it as soon as I get a chance. I love her ability to make songs like Maps tender as hell, or tracks like Zero to sound quite caustic. Good to hear it's not too bad!