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ISSUE
  Thursday
169
  March 25
2004
c o n t e n t s
 
 

Even Better than ‘The Real Thing’

Lab to be In the Company of Neil LaBute (With free punch and cookies!)
 

The Canadian Invasions
Quebecois Director Denys Arcand Discusses His New Film and Its Oscar Win, the Canadian Health-Care System and Jesus

Elaborate Filmmaking of the Thoughtful Kind
 
 
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 theBeat
 
RED Reviews
 
by Brent Sallay

Misery is a Butterfly
Blonde Redhead
4AD
(out of 5)

Finally now, two albums away from the angular Sonic Youth leanings that Blonde Redhead first made its name on, the band should be able to make it through an entire review without the words “sonic” or “youth” even so much as being mentioned. Well, OK, maybe just once or twice. Sonic Youth.

Hopefully people will now start comparing this New York (by way of Italy and Japan) trio to things like caramel-praline ice cream, Tootsie Roll Pops and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or TV shows like “Home Movies,” “NewsRadio” and “Arrested Development”—i.e., some of my favorite things.

Fans of 2000’s Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons ought to know what I’m talking about. While the early Sonic Youth comparisons were justified, Blonde Redhead was always much more melodic. So when you strip the noise away, not unlike the hard candy shell of a grape-flavored Tootsie Roll Pop, you are left with a sumptuous chocolate center, as opposed to, say, Kim Gordon’s eerily masculine gnarl.

But Misery is a Butterfly was four years in the waiting. And it was clearly four years well-spent. In that time, the chocolate center was allowed to grow and perhaps set up some sort of a nougat colony within the shell of the Tootsie Pop. I can't explain it scientifically. I'm only a music critic. I just knows what I sees.

Translation: Every song on this album is a keeper. The male and female vocalists switch off songs, detailing a relationship that was never meant to be, where the two lovers enter one’s room to marvel at how the butterfly spreads its wings and flutters about, sad and frail but beautiful, where companionship only makes them both feel more lonely. It does so with a lyrical simplicity that questions the inferiority of English as a Second Language.

There's nothing I hate more than when music critics call something “the best of the year so far,” (i.e., Entertainment Weekly’s gushing last year over OutKast), but, ah, I've never really been too much of a man of principle. Best album of the year so far? You betcha.—BS


Seven Swans
Sufjan Stevens
Sounds Familyre
(out of 5)

Sufjan Stevens is probably the laziest guy in the music scene since Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth promised to follow 1998’s A Thousand Leaves with 999 like-themed “leaf” albums. Sufjan Stevens dropped his critically acclaimed Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State (who fans of me will remember as the 27th best album of last year) with a similar promise—an album for every state, a chicken in every pot, a guitar in every hand and everyone holding hands, um, with their feet, because their hands are full, um, with pots and guitars.

And now, here we are, already more than eight months later, and how many more states have their own albums? Zero. Does Stevens even bother to allude to one on his new album, Seven Swans (besides, perhaps, a state of grace)? Not on your life. Instead, we get this alleged B-sides album that’s all about God and Flannery O’Connor and oh, just happens to be better than most everything else that’s been put out since his last one. Wait a sec—what am I complaining about exactly?

With this release, Sufjan Stevens should finally be able to shake off all those pesky Sonic Youth comparisons. And like Greetings from Michigan, it should appeal to fans of intelligent, world-weary songwriting with very pretty acoustic accompaniments, as well as the occasional Stereolab time signature and Neil Young riff.

In fact, if anything, Sufjan Stevens is just giving himself more room to breathe. I'll admit, 50 Michigans might have been a bit much. But seven of these Swans would sound just fine by me.—BS

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