Misery is a Butterfly
(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
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
(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