Old School Freight Train
On sale at All That Jazz for $8.99
While the cool kids were away at last weekend's Telluride Bluegrass Festival or this weekend's RockyGrass, the rest of us could listen to the stereo.
Consider this selection from the fresh-faced boys next door: Old School Freight Train.
Their music is as simple as their album's cover art, a Japanese Sumi-e ink painting of train tracks heading into the distance. But for anything this clean and simple, a lot of care must be taken. There is nothing to hide behind, as minimalists say.
This is bluegrass played with a hint of gypsy fiddle. It is as much the campfire serenades of Appalachia as it is the campfire wailing of Old Europe. This music has traveled from mind to mind, hand to hand. In "Drama Queen," there is a hint of jazz hiding behind the upright bass.
The liner notes of "Run" come with a recommendation from bluegrass legend David Grisman, who produced the album and played mandolin on one track.
This album is put together in a way that keeps you moving from one musical idea to another like the transition from a grassy cover of Stevie Wonder's "Superstitious" to "Tango Chutney," that is some kind of Middle Eastern-grass.
Rated: Did I just say Middle Eastern-grass?
Available at All That Jazz for $15.98
Should a dissonant guitar be played over more straightforward piano chords? Should I be pulled audibly from one side of myself to another in one musical phrase? Should I think of The Beatles and Sonic Youth at the same time?
If the answer is "yes," then Spoon can continue to exist without tearing a hole in the fabric of my personal time and space.
This is art rock with clear song structure. You can dance or you can stand with your arms crossed, pondering thoughtfully near the edge of the stage.
Spoon is in the "rock" bin at All That Jazz, which just proves that rock can mean many things. This is music for strutting in the highest platform shoes down streets where everyone else is wearing sneakers. This is music that belongs everywhere and nowhere at the same time with the strangest musical ideas that weave through a very familiar and comfortable rhythm and melody background.
The enigma that makes this band a paradox is Britt "the new David Bowie" Daniel, who strums along in a simple road trip Springsteen rock 'n' roll way then just as casually rolls his eyes back in his head for some Iggy Pop guitar strangulation.
Rated: You have to know the rules in order to break them well.
The Postal Service
Available at All That Jazz for $14.98
Let's begin with the name dropping, just like they do on the packaging of this album. The Postal Service is Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie and Jimmy Tamborello from Dntel. And that kind of says it all. Postal Service has that sensitive male element of Death Cab combined with Tamborello's electronic influence.
The combination creates a sound infinitely more interesting than Death Cab, but also more annoying.
After a while, the beeping and electronic twitching gets distracting and even starts to sound contrived. And even if you never really liked Death Cab for Cutie, you find yourself longing for the clean sound of one man feeling sorry for himself and pining for love with just a guitar and drums in the background.
Maybe my ears are just too sensitive to high-pitched sounds or maybe I'm just afraid of change. Or maybe I just have an aversion to overly self-conscious production that drowns out the musicians it's supposed to be enhancing.
Rated: Is an alarm going off or is that music?
-- Autumn Phillips