Daily Archive for January 1st, 2012

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2011 – #4. The Kills – Blood Pressures

Blood Pressures

fate with a single blow has custard pied me now

A couple of albums ago, I mentioned how there were few albums I listened to more than The War On Drugs’ Slave Ambient this year. The Kills’ Blood Pressures probably got my most plays. There was a 2-3 month period earlier this year where I was working 14-15 hour days, 7 days a week. I took to playing Blood Pressures on my headphones every evening at full blast for a nightly jolt of rock energy, to get me through the last few sleepy hours of work.

So I have probably ranked it higher than it should, but I cannot deny–when I look back at the music of 2011, this was one of the defining albums for me. The album was perfect for that energy jolt. Even now, when I’m in that mood, I can play it in the car, and the windows start rattling and it’s AWESOME. Their loud choppy guitar riffs are infectious, the window-rattling lower end and relentless drums are exciting, and Alison Mosshart does the highwire seductive roar better than anybody around.

The songs are usually built around meaningless phrases: “the heart is a beating drum,” “loneliness never truly leaves me alone,” “it’s not the door you’re using, but the way you’re walking through it.” They really do not mean much, but they sound good, loud. They’re simple and effective and with just the right touch of power. “I can’t find enough pots and pans / let alone knives in my kitchen / To keep you cooking” — I mean, only the rockingest rock stars could get away with rocking lines like that, right? “Could be a nail in my coffin / and Lord knows I ain’t ready yet!” Alison Mosshart sings on “Nail In My Coffin.” It pretty much sums up most of the songs–a mix of frustration and temptation and whatever else raises your blood pressure.

The songs aren’t all relentless. Songs like “Satellite” show off their ability to weave some uplifting gospel choruses into their rock and roll. Usually these moments are wordless, and short, but they’re there, providing nice breaks from all the intensity. Similarly, “The Last Goodbye” is a end-of-the-night closing-time piano torch song–I’m surprised it’s not the final track on the album. But since it is not, it also acts as a break between the roar of the other songs.

After The Dead Weather had my fifth favorite album of 2010, I definitely count myself as one of Mosshart’s biggest fans now. Her partnership with Hince has turned The Kills into a great band, and their electrifying Blood Pressures was one of the highlights of 2011.

The Kills “Pots And Pans”

The Kills “Satellite”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2011 – #5. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow

50 Words For Snow

shimmerglisten

Kate Bush! After a six-year absence, she put out two albums in 2011. While the first, Director’s Cut, was a relatively useless re-imagining of songs from two of her older albums, 50 Words For Snow included all new material.

One difficulty here is that if I were to explain these songs as ideas, they almost all would sound gimmicky. A song about a snowflake falling? A passionate night with a snowman? A song with 50 words for snow in it? Yetis? These sound kind of silly. Kate Bush, however, is a scientist. These are actually songs about snow. Snow is not just in the background or an atmospheric detail. By using snow so intimately in the songs, looking at it so closely, Kate Bush ends up discovering ideas and metaphors within.

“Snowflake” starts the album, and its repetitive piano mimics a snowfall, slowly pulsing and staying in the same place the whole song. The song is the story of a snowflake “born in a cloud” and falling down to the world. To make this story of growing up even more apparent, Kate Bush’s teenage son sings the whole song in a fairly gorgeous youthful falsetto. (It runs in the family.) Kate sings one line, repeated: “the world is so loud / keep falling / I’ll find you.”

The heavy “Lake Tahoe” uses a similar arrangement, Kate again at her piano with gentle drums. Instead of snow lightly falling, it feels darker and stronger and colder. A male opera singer harmonizes with her a bit, but she sings most of this ghost story, about a woman who drowned and froze in Lake Tahoe, leaving her dog behind. Later on “Snowed In At Wheeler Street,” Bush duets with Elton John. A lot of artists might write tragic romance songs, but only Bush would take “Wheeler Street” into such fantastic fantasy. Instead of being cliched, “love lasts forever,” she writes of lovers finding and losing each other throughout time (from ancient Rome to World War II to 9/11 in New York).

“Misty” begins with her building a snowman, who then follows her into her room. He lies down next to her, “his snowy arms surround me / so cold next to me / I can feel him melting in my hand.” Only Kate Bush could get away with this, and like on “Wheeler Street,” she takes the story all the way. “The sheets are soaking and on my pillow / dead leaves and bits of twisted branches.” Her lover melts away, leaving her hopeless.

“Wild Man” and “50 Words For Snow” show Kate Bush’s linguistic skills. “Wild Man” looks at the myth of the abominable snowman, and how it shows up all around the Himalayas. “From the sherpas of Annapurna / to the rinpoche of Qinghai / Shepherds from Mt. Kailish to Himachel / found footprints in the snow,” she informs, clearly enjoys weaving the names of mountains and Tibetan words into her song. “50 Words For Snow” is just that, a song with exactly 50 words for snow, few of which you’ve ever heard before (“faloop’njoompoola,” “spangladasha,” “anklebreaker,” “vanilla swarm,” “icyskidski,” “sorbet deluge,” “boomerangablanca,” “bad for trains,” to name a few).

Bush’s last album, Aerial, was a 2-disc set. The first disc was more typical verse-chorus songwriter songs, while the second was a thematic operatic piece of music, lacking in choruses, and all the songs flowed together. It is one of my favorite pieces of music ever. That one used the sea as a theme, and was lively and intense. In contrast, 50 Words For Snow is more of a shapeless snowdrift than a sea of waves. The songs may be just as intense, but in a much softer way. The end result is very similar: yet another gorgeous, glorious album.

(Also since all the songs are so long, none of them are under the file size limit the blog will allow me to share. So here’s a fan-made YouTube video for the killer Elton John duet.)

- almostaghost

Life In Mixtape Form #34

Last 8 days, in mixtape form.

I fell behind on my reviews and won’t be quite done for the new year. I hate to linger on too long after January 1st, so I’ll get the last five albums up and done (and a nice long mix) in the next couple days. Have a good New Year’s! Thanks for reading, on behalf of everyone at this blog.

- almostaghost