But He Must Put a Number to It
505 · 14 January 06
Kate Bush: Aerial
Tori Amos: The Beekeeper
I spent ten years writing, every single week, about new music, and never once got to write about a new Kate Bush album. But Aerial thus arrives like a welcome back to an older part of me, a way of hearing less complicated by scrutiny. And part of this is me, of course, but part of it is Kate's way of disappearing behind her characters, of granting her stories their own oblique independences. This may be the year's best demonstration of effortless elegance, and of perfectly unforced craft, but it's also an implicitly defiant participant in nothing but itself, and by turns unapologetically lost and unfathomable. And it is the record I listen to, this year, and feel least like I will ever stop learning from it, and shivering as it crosses into elsewhere, and following it along elsewhere's currents.
And if I spent some of that decade insisting, in irresolvable patience, that Tori and Kate bring similar hands to fundamentally different emotions and ultimately wholly different arts, here is a more definitive juxtaposition than I could have even specified, and an inscrutable textbook's explanation of how building civilizations of oscilloscopes will never make a new audience for human songs. For all the affection of parameters, similar durations and devices and even ratios of serenity and whimsy and volume and seas, Aerial is literature and The Beekeeper is conversation. Exchange their scores, and Tori singing pi would be seduction, and Kate singing realized betrayal and usurious hearts would be Vermeer couching adultery in tableau. Kate's truths are outcomes, Tori's are motivations. Together they are a diptych encyclopedia of how we walk through the world and decide, at every step, whether we are leading it or following.
Low: The Great Destroyer
It was albums ago that I said Low represented the most astonishingly coherent stylistic evolution in my awareness, so now every time it recurses again I'm left feeling more than a little foolish that I ever thought that could be an endpoint. This is another length of the infinite journey from silence to noise, and so nothing less, if you allow, than the travelers' tale of our historiography of the extent and nature of everything. This is a rock album by caryatids, and an anatomy of how, once you relinquish the idea of dispelling loneliness by sharing it, you can start to find ways to touch it with blood, and inhabit it with grace.
Tommy heavenly6: Tommy heavenly6
One of the things I mean, when I say that making music is what humans do best, is that it is the language in which transcendence can most readily emerge of its own apparent accord from the naive or mundane. You'll find few records less cheerfully and childishly satisfied with their own surfaces than Waltham's meticulously boyish evocation of 80% Rick Springfield and 20% Night Ranger as a band so centered on the idea of being in a band to impress girls that most of their songs are about being in a band to impress girls, and brilliant green singer Kawase Tomoko's vertiginously enraptured new quintessence of the Hello-Kitty-fuzzbox school of borderlessly Japanese bubblegum girl-guitar-pop. While these two records are playing, I feel cartwheelingly certain that Zen enlightenment is a function of synchronizing your rushes of sparkledust adrenaline and glitteringly irrational love, and that nothing really lastingly great ever comes from short-sightedly outgrowing simple wonder.
Imogen Heap: Speak for Yourself
Playfulness and technique are hugely easier to perfect separately, and may not have been as confidently combined as this since "Mimi on the Beach". Imogen Heap locks herself in a room with a lot of toys and resynthesizes the readout glimmer of her Frou Frou collaboration for sunlight glinting off of ice castles, and dance-sprites taking over the machines when they think the rest of us are asleep.
The gene lines of mid-Eighties Rush and pre-crossover Queensrÿche seem to have died out or been driven underground in North America, where these days metal-influenced technical proficiency is always welded to brutish vocal struts, bent into careful genre irony, or relegated to Wakeman-noodly progressive-rock cult-irrelevance. L'Arc~en~Ciel are popular enough in Japan to make pop-magazine covers ahead of a new album, but they play with the swagger of Yes in U2's shades, or Metallica confessing to Van Halen dreams, or Bon Jovi not scared to death of their Jersey high-school classmates discovering their Queen records and Evangelion figurines.
Regina Spektor: Soviet Kitsch
There have been a lot more pianists in pop since Tori Amos and Ben Folds revalidated the instrument, and a few more dramatists since Rasputina and Marilyn Manson and Dresden Dolls, but it's one thing to convince a teenager that piano lessons are cool and dressing up isn't just social combat, and another thing to get to a child before she internalizes the borders between tools and body, so that by the time she's old enough to start recognizing herself in herself, pianos and characters are media not just for the expression of personality, but for its internal emergence.
Yokota Susumu: Symbol
What hip-hop is to a pile of James Brown LPs, Symbol is to a hard-drive full of John Cage, Meredith Monk and everything Romantic that Naxos ever burned. This is what Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet might have sounded like if he and Shakespeare had both been brave enough to let form ratify love instead of precluding it.
Zapruder Point: It's Always the Quiet Ones
The Frames: Burn the Maps
When a camera shakes, it distorts in between us and the subject; when a page fails, the story falls out the other side. But when a voice shakes, or a guitar chord disintegrates into stranded notes, I hear through the failing sounds to reaching hearts. There are paintings and films and novels of discarded detail, too, but those are usually tricks of compression, and more often triumphs of technique, rather than over it. In music it is possible, as Zapruder Point does, to realize that the sketch captures the mood better than the finished painting ever would, or as the Frames, to understand, having written all the parts of a symphony, exactly how few of them you actually have to bother to play.
Tullycraft: Disenchanted Hearts Unite
And then sometimes reduction re-coalesces into expansiveness despite itself, and crayons melt into oils. In your attempt to remember what it felt like to be new, you accidentally find out how much you've learned.
50 Foot Wave: Golden Ocean
And like everything else you manage not to forget for long enough, anger is born as energy, but grows into power.
Lucksmiths: "The Music Next Door" (from Warmer Corners)
Waltham: "Holiday" (from Awesome EP)
Savored correctly, the day you understand your mistake and the day you make it can both be perfect.
Spitz: "Misoka" (from Souvenir)
Fake?: "Belleza" (from Made With Air)
Elegies can surge or soar,
Sarah Bettens: "Scream" (from Scream)
Juliana Hatfield: "Send Money" (from Made in China)
self-awareness can be grandly rueful or mercilessly direct.
Kent: "Palace & Main" (from Du & Jag Döden)
13 & God: "Men Of Station" (from 13 & God)
So we wait, while the quietest nights tick,
Candlemass: "Black Dwarf" (from Candlemass)
Gamma Ray: "How Long" (from Majestic)
or we howl to drive the stars into retreat,
Amano Tsukiko: "Devil Flamingo" (from A MOON CHILD IN THE SKY)
Do As Infinity: "Ultimate G.V" (from Need Your Love)
or to teach them how to flare.
Cyndi Lauper: "Money Changes Everything (with Adam Lazzara)" (from The Body Acoustic)
Emm Gryner: "Nowhere" (from Songs of Love and Death)
And thus we turn our weaknesses into our anthems,
HIM: "Rip Out The Wings Of A Butterfly" (from Dark Light)
Dream Theater: "I Walk Beside You" (from Octavarium)
and intricacies into resolve.
Wedding Present: "Ringway to SEATAC" (from Take Fountain)
Idlewild: "Love Steals Us From Loneliness" (from Warnings/Promises)
We break along our faults in lines that prove where we are most durable.
Kreator: "Impossible Brutality" (from Enemy of God)
Hypocrisy: "Let The Knife Do The Talking" (from Virus)
And we rise up and push back the armies of Evil into the depths of the always-waiting sea.