There’s a lot that goes on behind making an album. Believe it or not, I’m not talking about how many kids the singer has, or relationship with the label. I’m talking about just the very minor miracle of somebody making it so many more times around the sun all the while carrying that noxious vial of sensitivity that might have once spawned a song like “Pink Bullets,” just hypothetically, if we were talking about such a thing.
And then fun is another matter. Fun can come and go. Grab it while you can, it might not come around again.
I follow Wilco on facebook. I’m glad to see they finally stopped opening every show with “Ashes of American Flags.” Now, this is one of my favorite songs by Wilco, and their unleashing of it in the first spot in their first show after Trump’s election was, at least by the standards of a lot of people, not so much a bold peal of dissidence as it was just some sign that HUMANITY might emerge from this dog and pony show we’re living in, ultimately, if for no other reason than correctly DOCUMENTING the whole da** thing. Considering “Ashes of American Flags” was in all likelihood written before the election of George W. Bush (I’m making the bold assertion that if you read my site you’re not an American neo-conservative), it’s astonishing to hear how well it plays in the commentary of the sordid American machine when it’s in the hands of expediting tyrants.
Similarly, then, we have what no one would deny is a somewhat CUSPID document of the times in Heartworms, an album that sounds way too eclectic and soundly structured to have been just “thrown together” as a reaction to Trump, the way Fugazi had volunteered an ambition to do (we all DON’T know how that turned out). I guess what we can glean from the playability of all these efforts, including The Strokes’ Is This it? which sounded just fine, poignant and all-encompassing in the wake of 9/11 is that, as scary as it may seem, some of these artists encounter levels of pain and inspiration which supersede (or underlie) the normal affective flow of our culture.
The start of Heartworms is structured in a way that’s becoming more and more conventional, but that I think has lost exactly no efficacy in light of its prevalence — the first song being sort of a light, bubble-gummy “bouncy” endeavor then feeding into a gritty, more percussive track two. The Strokes’ First Impressions of Earth and Pearl Jam’s Lightning Bolt, to name two off the top of my head, employ this exact technique.
Anyway, part of what reminded me of Wilco was the synth bath gracing the start of “Painting a Hole,” which yes nonetheless ironically embodies that firm, percussive slot two I mentioned earlier [“Spiders (Kidsmoke),” an extreme anomaly within not only the Wilco catalogue but the general spatial realm of the universe as a whole, came to mind—this is a song they seem to always play in concerts]. “Cherry Hearts” bespeaks that this is an electro-pop album as a whole, already, as a stalwart track three, suggesting that the band has been every bit as influenced by Danger Mouse as they have been by, say, the Fleet Foxes, or whatever analog “indie” entity you’d care to name. As far as melody goes The Shins have got it here by the bushels, true to form of the Squeeze fans we’ve always perhaps thought them to be in the back of our minds, and part of what makes this album successful is that the “old, lonesome feeling” has finally receded far back enough into James Mercer’s mind as to make room for some bare-faced, sheer AMASSING of fun, for fun’s sake.
Sh**, this is a great album. Whadyu wanna know? Influences. New Pornographers. Think the melodic majesty of Twin Cinema tracks in the vein of “Stacked Crooked,” and the frantic synth rudiments of Brill Bruisers tracks a la “Marching Orders.” That’s a big one. The Pornos don’t strike me as the competitive types, and let’s just say that’s a good thing.
The New Pornographers are also a key influence on this album because they to me represent the idea of a band that maximizes our very IDEA of instrumentation — of having it be both organic and orchestral at the same time. And you guessed it, there ain’t no way to do that but discipline, organization and hard work. In this way, Heartworms further potentiates the listener’s, and artists’, overall concept of what a “fourth album” can be. You better not be resting on your laurels, you better be incorporating things like gong and random, weeping organ with a personality of its own. These things will help.
Lyrically James Mercer is every bit here as good as he needs to be, bite-juicy accounts from everyday life more than breaking up the pop monotony on tracks like “Rubber Ballz.” Although, anybody with any taste should be offended by the “her a** duly noted” line here. Maybe Mercer is just testing us to see if we even listen to his entire albums, but I’m not a particular fan of that lyric. What I am a fan of is the edgy changes in phrasing that go on the post-choruses of this song, bringing again to mind, you guessed it, The New Pornographers (think the crazy, senseless bounciness of “Three or Four” off of Twin Cinema).
Another band I think of with a great knack for (not only melody but) full, orchestral instrumentation is Califone, a favorite of Isaac Brock’s just like The Shins. In light of how I felt like that later Mouse material was a little underrated by the venerable hipster camp, at least up through We Were Dead before the Ship Even Sank, Brock here I believe would like the overall percussive spunkiness — these songs never get too comfortable, the way arguably some of Port of Morrow did like “It’s Only Life.” Consider Heartworms a relieved and relieving jumping-off point from Port of Morrow where the band say, now we can really let ‘er rip, and bang out songs a little more in lockstep with the pace and swagger of unflinching life.