Oh, Julian Lynch, you are just a treasure. You make music that is so pleasant and nice with that lush bass and that modest everything else. You make me think of mornings, you know. Stretching out on the grass and smelling the air, the sky, the clouds, the flowers, the bugs and the ground. Is that why you called your new album Terra? It’s a pretty name. And the music on it is so very nice! I can put it on and do other things and those other things will feel better as a result! You should be proud of that. Yeah, Terra’s good stuff. You should make more of it before I start to miss you again.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
When you’ve been listening to and evaluating music nonstop for a full month -- your ears are constantly ringing, massive headaches are starting to set in and you’re seriously considering your life choices -- an album like A I A can make you want to throw your laptop out a window. It’s two. whole. discs. worth of ambient music. Throughout those two discs you will find:
1. 1. 1. Tracks that get close to and often exceed the eight minute mark
2. 2. 2. Grouper frontwoman Liz Harris strumming a guitar and singing just far enough away that her words cannot be comprehended
3. 3. 3. The standard bleep-bloop instrumentation from the ambient/drone tool kit
4. 4.4. Lots and lots of S P A C E
But damnit if it doesn’t sound beautiful most of the time. Despite A I A's length and lack of activity for long periods of time, many of its anonymous songs will strangely touch your heart. The album does this best on “Vapor Trails”, a nine-minute track that’s melancholic organ could make a Tyler Perry movie sound like an emotional masterstroke. You could make the argument that A I A is just a collection of “Vapor Trails”, but I would say that Harris does what she does so well that, in her case, I can accept a lack of deviation in favor of consistency. Luckily, she hardly disappoints.
It feels strange reviewing Ukulele Songs, because it is so clearly a one-off that its presence almost defies critical inspection. The album is full of flubs and curses and flaws and impurities that one would expect from an album that is essentially a collection of songs performed exclusively on that titular instrument. A track is spent hearing Vedder mess up a ukulele line and yelling, “fuck” in frustration. His phone goes off at the end of “Satellite” and he answers it as the recording fades out. Vedder even lights something up at the beginning of “Goodbye”, Lil Wayne style. If Ukulele Songs isn’t a compliment to Pearl Jam or Eddie Vedder as musician, it certainly is a compliment to Vedder as an engaging personality.
But this is why people love Pearl Jam. They have a rare connection with their fanbase that allows the group to release albums like Ukulele Songs that may never have seen the light of day in other hands, and these songs are all valued additions to the Vedder/PJ catalogue. Between fuck-ups and jokes, there are some brilliant products on Ukulele Songs. Vedder conveys longing brilliantly on album highlight, “Sleepless Nights” and, with Cat Power singer Chan Marshall in tow, the vocal frills of “Tonight You Belong to Me” are intimate and precious. Tracks like “You’re True” and “Can’t Keep” could be worthy additions to the tracklists of Backspacer and Vitalogy, respectively, if they were fleshed out. The album’s short and quaint, but it accomplishes all the goals it sets out for itself and often exceeds them.
So if you’re a fan of Pearl Jam and/or Eddie Vedder, Ukulele Songs is a must, because it is good enough to be comparable with Pearl Jam’s 2005 self-titled LP. And if “Just Breathe” was your favorite track off Backspacer, then you may want to listen to the album sitting down, because it is so delicate and authentic you may need to change your pants afterwards. As Ukulele Songs enters its second half, though, the songs start to sound more formulaic than Vedder’s more official work, but, as a side project of one of the greatest bands still making music today, it’s pretty hard to talk about expectations.