Grace Notes is a weekly exploration by Jason Morehead of signs of common grace in the music world. We hope to alert you to wonderful music, some of which will be spiritual in nature but all of which will be unique and worthy of your attention. Each week we will share brief reviews of albums worthy of your attention and maybe a video or two.
Another month, another collection of cheap, yet excellent music from Amazon. This time around, we’ll be looking at alterna-pop legends, the greatest post-punk band of all time, and the return of post-rock’s mightiest. (All of these albums were on sale as of the week of November 18, 2012.)
The Smiths – The Sound Of The Smiths (Buy Now)
If you’re still in high school, then stay far, far, far away from this album. The music of The Smiths is not for those going through the angst and upheaval of the pre-college years. Actually, on second thought, if you’re in high school, then you need to buy this album. Nobody in the history of pop music has communicated emotional awkwardness, alienation, and lost love with as much charm or wit as Morrissey. The wonderful paradox of The Smiths’ music is that his paeans to melancholia and loneliness are accompanied by some of the catchiest, jangliest pop ever, due in large part to Johnny Marr’s sterling guitar-playing.
Even if you’re not prone to high school-esque angst, there’s bound to be something in these 23 songs that will make you want to get your mope on — in the best possible way, of course — be it the sunny misanthropy of “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, the shimmering gloom of “How Soon Is Now?”, or that epic ode to unrequited love, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”, which finds Morrissey crooning, “And if a double-decker bus/Crashes into us/To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die”.
Joy Division – The Best Of… (Buy Now)
If The Smiths are too sunny for you, then there’s always Joy Division. The band, which broke up shortly after lead singer Ian Curtis tragically took his own life in 1980, is the band most identified with the “post-punk” genre; their bleak yet haunting music would go on to influence numerous artists, including U2, Interpol, Silversun Pickups, The National, and Nine Inch Nails, and establish a strong cultural legacy. Their music, which combined angular guitars, sparse rhythms, chilly synthesizers and electronics, and Curtis’ haunted voice and lyrics, made alienation and despair sound, well, majestic — as if the only way to deal with such things was to face them straight on, diving headfirst into the storm.
The Best Of… provides a fairly nice overview of their too-small discography, and includes their most well-known song, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, which (according to many) was inspired by Curtis’ deteriorating marriage, and was released a month before his death.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (Buy Now)
When I found out that Godspeed You! Black Emperor was releasing a new album after a decade-long hiatus, there was a part of me that was worried. Would their anarchist, anti-corporate, post-apocalyptic sturm und drang still be relevant in the Obama era? And then I listened to the album, and I realized that the band has lost none of its power and effect. However, they’ve taken a different approach on Allelujah!, breaking their sound into its discrete parts, each of which gets explored in the album’s four tracks.
Album opener “Mladic” is a twenty-minute display of the band at their rawest and angriest, a distillation of their awesome wall of sound-generating powers, which still reign supreme over every other post-rock band out there. “We Drift Like Worried Fire” is “Mladic”‘s flipside — still intense, but more hopeful than angry. Finally, “Their Helicopters Sing” and “Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable” are odd, droning pieces that capture the band’s experimental side. It can be a bit fragmented at times, and you might wish for the individual tracks to bleed into each other a bit more, but even so, it’s good to have Godspeed back, and leading the charge.