Thursday, January 22, 2009

the real parameters

Zu - Carboniferous (OngaKubaka) Punishing music for a punishing day of training classes. I suppose as a guy who conducts training classes and thereby submits others to my punishments, I am due, and in fact it is healthy for me to do so, but man. A reminder about my insusceptibility to training for those idle moments when I contemplate going back to school. Zu rages on pure instinct: jazz and rock and racket mixing like a conversation relayed by stray voices in the vents. Music like this, or Stinking Lizaveta or The Jesus Lizard or the thornier sides of John Zorn or countless other things, is not what I woudl call my favorite music if questioned, but I think it approaches some sort of hazy Platonic ideal I form about music when I hear something that doesn't quite live up to the potential it projects.

In those instances, I want to go to a band or an artist and say, "Why don't you just push it a little? You can set it up again if it tips over, you know. Then you will know the real parameters." It's a hazy ideal, in that I don't know that I'd want to hear Aimee Mann's jazz-punk-skronk catharsis were it offered, but then I don't really go out of my way to hear her Border's Cafe AOR epics (lala) either, well crafted as they may be.

Which is what makes the new Jason Isbell & 400 Unit album (Listen to "Cigarettes & Wine" on his MySpace page. The album comes out Feb 17) such a pleasure. It is every bit as populist grown-folks music as Mann's but I feel it is a fully-inhabited form of it. The subject of this album of mostly mid-tempo ballads is being "all tore up" and sure, that's maybe easy shoes to fill from a songwriting perspective, but he does it so well here, approaching the spell of "Goddamn Lonely Love," his magnum opus (yep, even better than "Outfit" by a thin margin) from his Drive-By Truckers days. The music on the eponymous record is controlled like a break-up - you know exactly what you did to make this happen, you knew when you were doing it, yet you let it happen anyway and somehow, the results still surprise you. It's already the Cook household's favorite record of 2009.

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