The problem lies in the fact that once they perfected this technique, they continued to remake albums that insisted on pushing the melodic envelope until the songs became totally incomprehensible. 2002’s “Sound-Dust” was promising due to its return to more tuneful song forms, but then vocalist Mary Hansen died and the group found itself at a crossroads. Should they press on and innovate or stick with what works and see what happens? Listening to their new album, “Margarine Eclipse” (now there’s a title), it’s blatantly obvious that they decided to rework — yet again — the ol’ Stereolab magic, and then found it too simple to be good. So instead of natural songs we have more cryptic, abstruse and downright obnoxious sound-bytes that barely even begin to approximate actual songs.For instance, the opener, “Vonal Declosion,” sounds like, well, Stereolab. Actually, it sounds like Stereolab in the lab, lounging and smoking, most probably, trying to ignore those raw wounds in favor of lobotomized bliss. I can’t blame them, though, because they’re obviously still grieving.
Chicago’s stark country-blues ensemble Califone, on the other hand, proceeds out of the claustrophobically intimate austerity of 2003’s “Quicksand/Cradlesnakes” with extraordinary temerity, completely vanquishing the inherent fear that has always seemed to lurk beneath the surface of its music. “Heron King Blues” (another great title) is not just a turbulent album — it’s an unrestrained exorcism, from start to finish. The first song, “Wingbone,” tries to wrench the demon out of principal songwriter Tim Rutili’s stomach. It fails, and, in true blues form, Rutili pleads, “Fill my belly with your whispering.” There are only seven tracks, but each has been tossed together in the same recklessly spontaneous fashion. Shockingly, it actually works.
By eschewing the traditional songwriting methods and deciding instead to distill the pure emotion into a murky stew, Califone reaches a level of trepidation that Stereolab should have been able to convey as a unit. One of Rutili’s recurrent, terrifying nightmares instigated this album, but Stereolab had much more to work with. Nothing could be more lugubrious than the death of a crucial bandmate. Hell, if AC/DC can pull off a masterpiece after a buffoon like Bon Scott bites it in the backseat of his car, Stereolab should have been able to come up with something a little more expressive than a few scattered blips.
As if the biting cold weren’t enough to worry about, now we have seven inches of damn snow. What is New Haven’s preferred method of snow removal? SAND. Yes, that stuff at the beach. Are you kidding me? What does that do? I’ll tell you what it does — it sticks to the bottom of your shoes and congregates all over your hardwood floor. Hey, New Haven, what about SALT? It actually melts the snow rather than dying it brown and providing traction that would be totally gratuitous if you actually decided to liquefy that fluffy precipitate. Screw it, I’m staying inside again.
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”1148″ ]