Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Songs #498 & 499 - It's TWOsday!

Song #498 of 9999                                   Song #499 of 9999

Title: Song & Dance                                  Title: The Words That Maketh Murder
Artist: Peggy Sue                                      Artist: PJ Harvey
Year: 2011                                                 Year: 2011
Album: Acrobats                                       Album: 
Let England Shake


Sometime around 2011 (or maybe 2010), I returned to vinyl. I felt disengaged from the music I was listening to and hoped a return to records would restore my focus by demanding a dedicated listening experience. I wanted to go back to the days of looking at album art, occasionally following along with lyrics, and being absorbed by a single artist's work for an hour or more. I wanted to have to get up and flip the record over; or perhaps, abandon it in favor of another. I was hoping a greater investment of my attention would yield the reward I used to get from listening to music.

So I started buying records like I did when I was kid: if I heard a song I liked, I just bought the album hoping for the best. And, for the most part, this worked out okay. Of course, there were occasional flops (I even sent Feist's Metals back to Amazon at great loss to get it out of my house—deplorable record) and some wonderful surprises (bought Vampire Weekend's Contra on a whim and couldn't stop listening to it). But one of the things I also discovered is the focus of tonight's post. Which is to say that some artists work better in small doses.

I first heard Brighton-based Peggy Sue on NPR's All Things Considered. It was an interview segment with snippets of songs played in between questions and I found the record quite intriguing. When I put it on my turntable, I was greeted (not the right word really) by something menacing and dark and commanding. By the second track, "Song and Dance," I was sold on the band's creative guitar work, playful tempo changes and "in the ballpark" vocal harmony. It was a very charismatic sound and, by the middle of the second side, I wanted to pull my ears off. I had had enough.

I don't know if Peggy Sue has been directly influenced by PJ Harvey but they certainly have some things in common, including an occasional harshness (at least in 2011) that will wear you out. Let England Shake is a disheveled collection of discordant songs sewn together into some sort of flag or protest, I suppose. It's hard to tell—maybe it's an English thing. Anyway, if you were to ask me if I like the record, I would enthusiastically say yes! But I can really only listen to about a third of it before I'm ready for a break. Harvey's quivery helium-boosted voice is a good delivery system for her thought-provoking lyrics but it takes on a fingernails-on-slate quality after twenty minutes or so. I think the overly enthusiastic percussion on the record must share the guilt as well.

Everything in moderation, as the saying goes. See you tomorrow.

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