It’s New to Elliot: week of 3/20/16

This edition of It’s New to Elliot is being curated by my good friend, Patrick Tape Fleming. Patrick is the mastermind behind Gloom Balloon and has spent half his life in The Poison Control Center. He loves music beyond comprehension, so I trusted that he would provide me with some valuable suggestions. Here are the five records that Patrick hopes I will like:

Neutral Milk Hotel — In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

All I really knew about this record came from hearing about frontman Jeff Mangum’s solo show at the Maximum Ames Festival in 2012, where a packed house of adoring fans sat on the floor in rapt attention as he sang. I assumed this album was a completely acoustic, depressing experience, like an Elliott Smith type of thing, but that’s not right. Mangum was able to captivate an entire room because these songs contain emotional complexity, joy and pain, presented with a wide-eyed willingness to confront scary things. For Mangum, one of those scary things is overcoming his unconventional singing voice and just going for it with all he has. His singing actually reminds me of my own: not very talented, but if you shout confidently enough with a hint of melody, you’ll get by. Mangum does this much better than me, though, and he does it with some really pretty songs that rightfully have resonated with people for many years. I liked this, and I’ll return to it someday.

My Opinion: 7/10

Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention — We’re Only In It For the Money

Here’s a guy who can count legions of rabid devotees who’ve dug into all 900 or whatever of his albums. They swear by his genius. But I’ve never heard a full Zappa record, so I’m glad Patrick threw this one out there. What I generally suspected about Frank Zappa turned out to be true: he’s a wizard of a musician with a wicked sense of humor, and that humor sometimes bleeds too much into the music. Zappa and The Mothers of Invention were bent on going against every rule that a band was supposed to follow in 1968. They didn’t try to have hit songs, and they didn’t identify with the hippie movement. In fact, amid one of the record’s many chaotic sound collages that interrupt the songs, a voice quickly says, “Flower Power sucks.” They also destroy hippies in “Flower Punk,” a takeoff on Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” that really made me laugh. I like Zappa’s humor and silliness best when it has a target. When it feels like random goofiness for the sake of being goofy, it’s a bit too cute. Though this record leans more on the goofy side, it’s undoubtedly a very entertaining listen, and some of the playing is superb. I should ask my brother about other Zappa albums to dig into, as he was a huge fan as a teenager, which makes sense because he was very weird.

My Opinion: 6/10

The Kinks — The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society

My first thought when listening to my first Kinks record was the incredible stylistic shift they made from where they started. We often think about how much The Beatles changed in a short amount of time, but when you think about what The Kinks were doing in 1965 (“You Really Got Me,” “All Day and All of the Night”), it makes the highly sophisticated sound of Village Green even more impressive. This is an album loosely themed around the passing of older English traditions, so Ray Davies sings in the persona of people from years gone by. His voice is nimble and versatile, and that versatility is matched by the song construction. Some songs are poppy, some are more rocking with thick guitar, but all of them have a few layers going on all at once that provide a lot for the listener to dig in to. It’s also very easy to listen to, as only one song tops three minutes and the whole thing flows nicely. It didn’t move me hard, but maybe other Kinks records will.

My Opinion: 6/10

Dusty Springfield — Dusty in Memphis

You know how “Son of a Preacher Man,” despite how many million times you’ve heard it, is an irresistible slice of heaven? Now imagine an entire album of that. Sound good? Yeah, it is. The experience of hearing this record will make you feel amazing. It will make your day better for having bathed in its flawless production, its huge horns, its passionate backing vocals, and most of all, the pristine pipes of Ms. Springfield. She can communicate emotion through forceful moments of power, or crooning moments of restraint, like on standout track “The Windmills of Your Mind.” It’s all just very cool. I’m not sure what else I can say about it, but you will thank me after jamming this one.

My Opinion: 8/10

Jimi Hendrix — Electric Ladyland

It took some time for me to put aside Hendrix’s obnoxious fanbase and just appreciate him for who he was: an unfairly good guitarist with one of the most searing guitar tones ever recorded. These songs could be total crap, and I would at least give it a 4 because of that blistering guitar. As it is, I find this album to be the least interesting of Hendrix’s stuff that I’ve heard. It’s over 70 minutes, which is always going to be a red flag for me. The main reason it’s so long is because of two songs that top the 13-minute mark, and neither of them really should, even if “Voodoo Chile” gets really smoking in a few spots. I like Hendrix best when the songs are short and he’s getting straight to the point, which is “I’m totally awesome and you gotta deal with this right now.” When there’s too much directionless jamming, that point gets a little lost for me. But there’s still a lot of excellent stuff on here. We just need to agree that no matter how many douchey fratguys put a Hendrix poster on their wall, he’ll still be cool for eternity.

My Opinion: 6/10