Lead by Tracyanne Campbell, it’s been five years since the last release from Glasgow’s much-loved Camera Obscura. Sadly, two years after recording their last album, Desire Lines, keyboardist Carey Lander past away. After being away for so long, it is an absolute treat that this album came out earlier in 2018 on Merge records. Teaming up with Crybaby’s Danny Coughlan, the duo strikes up what is probably the best band you’d ever hear if you stumbled across them in a random pub on a cold winter’s night.
With an autumnal warmth, the album mentions the US several times, especially in the infectious single “Alabama”. A joyous, upbeat track, Campbell sings of “when I’m an old lady, I still miss you like crazy”. The duo trade verses on “Deep In The Night” before a soft Campbell vocal appears at the tail end. Subtle horns give a bit of swing to “Home & Dry” before the charming country of “It Can’t Be Love Unless It Hurts”.
The album is let down slightly in the middle where “Jacqueline” brings the mood down before a couple of forgettable tracks get trotted out. Things rebound towards the end with the Belle and Sebastian 90s indie rock of Danny’s “Cellophane Girl” complete with handclaps and closes with a Georgia O’Keefe tribute in “O’Keeffe”. The album really shines with the first four tracks which are some of the classiest indie rock moments of 2018. A winning duo that would be a joy to hear more from in the future.
“Me and my husband/we are doing better/it’s always been just him and me together”. Mitski’s fifth album, Be the Cowboy, is the Japanese/American’s second for Dead Oceans is a dynamic effort. The lyric comes from “Me and My Husband” which like many tracks presents a mature take on love and approaches the topic from one of many different angles. 14 songs appear over 33 concise minutes with songs working like quick snapshots into a particular emotion.
Starting with just an electronic guitar, “A Pearl” ends up euphoric when the horns swell a third of the way through. Mitski’s vocals are a treat on the swooning country track “Lonesome Love” before the guitar crunch of “Remember My Name” appears. Second single “Nobody” has a 70s disco feel while singing of the loneliness that envelopes a person when on the road whereas “Pink In The Night” is all atmosphere about the confusion of being in love or at least infatuated with someone. Like others we’ve listened to this year, Mitski varies the music style throughout but the short bursts of songs never outstay their welcome.
Steven Hyden is the music critic at Uproxx and has appeared on such websites as Pitchfork, A.V. Club, Grantland (RIP), etc. He is also the host of the excellent podcast Celebration Rock. Twilight of the Gods is his second book following 2016’s Your Favorite Band is Killing Me. In this latest book, Hyden focuses on the classic rock he collected as a teenager growing up in Wisconsin. Rock music fans in the 40ish age range, especially those from the Canadian prairies and American Midwest, will find much to love and identify with here as Hyden is often very funny, a bit nerdy yet offers interesting perspectives on a wide range of music including several pages on his love of Phish.
With a civic election currently happening in my hometown of Winnipeg, Hyden’s look back at Chicago’s Disco Demolition night from 1979 proves particularly insightful with one of my favourite quotes of the year:
I live by one rule: When documentaries are made in forty years about the present day, you don’t ever want to be on side of those pushing against history. Rather, you want to be aligned with those who are trying to move the world forward a couple of inches.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein caught fire with dog lovers around the world upon release in 2008, spending 156 weeks on the New York Times best seller list. The novel tells of a father torn apart from his family through the eyes of his dog, Enzo. Enzo’s narration can veer from being stiff in places to extremely insightful in others. One memorable passage appears towards the end when Enzo points out that, “We all play by the same rules; it’s just that some people spend more time reading those rules and figuring out how to make them work in their behalf”. While the ending is predictable, the darker turns in the middle of the novel are not as expected. And while you know the plot moments are coming, Stein does a good job at tugging at the heartstrings when you hit them.
It was fitting that the first book I’ve taken out from the Winnipeg Library in about 20 years was Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader which tells the story of Queen Elizabeth discovering books at a late age. The 2007 novella by the English playwright is a quick read at just over 100 pages and acts as a love letter to the written word. The Queen experiences that feeling that many of us do of so many books/albums and so little time. How do you cover all the important ground? You can’t really but just be happy with your sliver in the world. Towards the end, the Queen finds her voice by looking beyond just reading and starts writing. As she states towards the end, “You don’t put your life into your books. You find it there”