Sunday, December 28th, 2008
Sunday Cleaning - Volume 102
Portishead, The Last Shadow Puppets, Chairlift
I’m going to close out 2008’s Sunday Cleaning series with quick reviews of three albums that have already received dollops of ink pretty much everywhere else. But I feel like writing about them, just a bit.
|Portishead / Third (Island)
I believe that there is a crucial decibel level at which the first Portishead record in eleven years moves from subtle, inscrutable and sinister to all-out terrifying. For most of this year, whenever I put Third on, I apparently kept the volume knob in the former range and as such, didn’t get much out of it rather than a general sense of unease and the impression that they’d managed somehow to become even more downcast and averse to music conventions in their decade away. But after putting it on loud, as I did for the first time a couple weeks ago, “subtle” is pretty much the last word I would ever use to describe it. It’s like an aural death grip, skeletal, insistent and unrelenting, Beth Gibbons whispering seductive nightmares in your ears – terrible but still beautiful. It took me a while, but I get it now.
|The Last Shadow Puppets / The Age Of The Understatement (Domino)
Being no particular fan of the Arctic Monkeys and not knowing who The Rascals are, the default sales pitch for The Last Shadow Puppets wouldn’t have worked too well on me. But even without the backstory, the absurdly lush retrorchestral (my word!) pop they delivered would have gotten my attention. At first, I was a bit suspicious that the opulence of the dressings were meant to distract from the lightweightness of the songwriting – it sounded great but perhaps there wasn’t any substance there. But with time and repeated listens – it kept drawing me back – I found that that was either simply not the case, or I just didn’t care anymore.
Video: The Last Shadow Puppets – “The Age Of The Understatement”
|Chairlift / Does You Inspire You (Kanine)
The debut album from the latest iPod commercial lottery winner is sleek and slinky, though probably too playful and innocent to qualify as seductive. Built mainly on a blueprint of hazy, ’80s-drenched synth-pop, it occasionally forays into country or soul terrain but is kept centered by the remarkable vocals of Caroline Polachek, which are never sound out of place no matter what musical accouterments surround them. Inspire is consistently listenable throughout, but the high points – the Nano-shilling “Bruises” and the additively nonsensical “Evident Utensil” – do stand considerably above the rest.
Clash has a feature on Chairlift.