Music to Your Ears: Pink, St. Vincent, Robert Plant, and Stars

It’s been a strange week as it’s cooled down – baseball is winding down, hockey is warming up. I didn’t really feel like writing anything about basketball because, frankly, I’m no expert in the sport. I can’t definitively discuss what it takes to make it in the NBA. It also doesn’t really interest me, especially when you have super-teams forming left and right, forcing parity out of the window. What I do love to discuss is music, so I’m sticking to that:

St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION

Annie Clark has slowly metamorphized into one of the most artistically dynamic artists in pop music working today. Similarly to her contemporary – the enigmatic Sia Furler – the sound of St. Vincent has evolved from bare-bones romanticism to full-fledged grandiose. Discordant trumpets and embellished synths are her instrumental calling card, and in her previous two albums, 2011’s Strange Mercy and 2014’s self-titled effort, she used them to great success. Here she expands on that cacophony of sound, a synthetic symphony that doesn’t let up until the last drop beat. The most interesting thing here is how diabolically sinister the whole album feels. I talked a few weeks ago about The Mynabirds album Be Here Now, and how singer Laura Burhenn wrote it with the fresh American election hanging heavily on her mind. It’s certain St. Vincent has followed suit in that regard, among other intensely personal experiences that have influenced the stories within Masseduction. She’s turned out what could potentially be her greatest album, but I may need a few more listens before I decide – yet that’s obviously worth it.

Key Tracks: Young Lover / Happy Birthday, Johnny / Los Ageless

Robert Plant – Carry Fire

Hoping that the frontman of one of the greatest bands ever to grace the stage is still relevant today? Sure, he is, but it’s sort of in the way most elder statesmen are – on the fringes of popular music. While Shania Twain recently returned after a nearly fifteen-year hiatus to great accord, Robert Plant has been churning out music since his group split in 1980. Maybe a better comparison would be Paul McCartney, although that could be an outlier too, given the Beatles level in pop heirarchy. Ah, here we go – Brian Wilson, the founder of the Beach Boys. It’s tough to be consistently amazing for so long. Wilson’s most recent, No Pier Pressure was lambasted for having little imagination. While his genius may be subdued, it’s clear that Wilson’s no slouch, even if his best days are behind him. As for Plant, I think my preferred version has been the collaborations with Alison Krauss, 2007’s Raising Sand. Seeing as that’s not really a solo effort, I guess it’s again a poor reference. Anyway, I don’t quite think Plant is tired, but the tracks here are a bit lifeless. It starts off amiably enough, and Plant’s vocalizations have not gotten any worse than his heyday. A highlight, of course, is a duet with Chrissie Hynde late in the album, “Bluebirds over the Mountain”. Since he’s always working with someone else, maybe that’s just what he needs. Carrying the fire alone may just not work.

Key Tracks: Season’s Song / Bluebirds Over the Mountain

Pink – Beautiful Trauma

I’m not sure what I expected, but after a run from 2006-2013 where she outgrew her pop-punk origins, Pink had developed into one of the most genuinely operatic pop artists out there. Pink was always the steadfast constant, the artist we always knew we could come back to when feeling down, sure she could cheer us up or clue us in on what we were feeling. Adele may be too dour, Katy Perry too perky, Taylor Swift too manufactured, but Pink was there with her magnificent theatrics, pulling out a Cirque du Soliel tour that began with the best performance I’ve seen at the Grammys. So I guess I expected this to be her most mature record, the one that would be the culmination of everything that had come before. What we get is….something dull, something Coldplay might have spit out on a weekend with the Chainsmokers. Has Alecia Moore become too commercial? There are some sweeping ballads, including first single “What About Us” and the adjacent “But We Lost It” where Pink croons about moving on over quite a melodic piano tune. You want the whole time for her to break out with something truly poignant, but even when ‘toned down’ the entire album feels processed. It’s a shame that after five years, this is all we get.

Key Tracks: But We Lost It / Secrets / What About Us

Stars – There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light

With today’s news of The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie passing, it’s ever more important to appreciate good Canadian music. Stars has long been one of the bands I heard about on the peripheral of more popular groups like Broken Social Scene or Arcade Fire. With such a similar sound, it’s a surprise I haven’t had them on repeat more often. Heck, sometime vocalist Amy Millan sounds like a dead ringer of Metric singer Emily Haines. When she enters the scene, the music sparkles – Evan Cranley’s guitar bursts behind her with a flourish of fury, rendering “The Gift of Love” one of the most heart-pounding pieces herein. This is definitely an commendable addition to the ‘Canadian indie band’ genre, and if you’re already a Stars fan? You knew this was gonna rock.

Key Tracks: Fluorescent Light / Alone / Real Thing

Beck – Colors

There are a lot of really good songs in here. Beck has always been a bit odd, a Ben Folds style pianist with a Thom Yorke trill. He doesn’t fit any conventional category, seeming to lean on the perimeter around pop. He’s been lauded by contemporaries as one of the sharpest writers out there, and it’s true – lyrics like ‘Wanna move into a fool’s gold room / With my pools full of animals jewels’ that start out the off-kilter banger ‘Wow’ are certainly a bitter pill to swallow for fans of sensical lyricism. That’s the fun of Beck though, as some of his biggest hits – “Where It’s At”, “Devil’s Haircut” or “Loser” – are famously undecipherable. It’s his charm, and Beck has dialed up the intensity here, with some of the slickest sounding music I’ve heard all year. If Morning Phase was Beck’s The Departed then Colors is his The Wolf of Wall Street, a ridiculously fun galavant through the various streams of his many melodies.

Key Tracks: No Distraction / Seventh Heaven / Dear Life


There you have it, the newest for October. Weirdly enough, there’s a dearth of good music on the horizon, so don’t be surprised if there’s a bit of a hiatus. May be fine for me to take some time to do some real writing, rather than just some opinionated reviews. We’ll see. Hope you enjoyed these, though!

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