Thursday, February 20, 2014

None the Wiser

I’ve been in a tiny bit of a crisis mode about writing these reviews.  One of my goals to begin this year was to write about music as I encounter it throughout the year – highlighting what I personally find exciting and try to spread the word, instead of saving it all up until the year end best of list and completely melting my feeble brain with 40 plus of my favorites.  Well, I’ve been doing this, but only a month and a half in, I’ve lost focus.  Instead of being content with the joy of listening to the great music (and this year’s music has been especially great so far!) and writing about it, I’ve found myself too fixated with my limitations as a writer and too discouraged by a lack of response or much of an audience of any kind.  I’ve also questioned the point of my silly little ramblings about silly little albums.  I wish I had more valuable insight, such as the thoughtful musings and life lessons as presented by Kario via her frequent posts in The Writing Life, or tangible skills to offer like the renaissance talents on display from Lola Nova – a crafter, writer, and musician.  My excuse is that I tend to personalize these reviews quite a bit.  I do not take an academic approach and attempt to slot each release into a historical context and pontificate about how it may fit into the grander social and cultural context.  I do my damnedest to express in a feeble way how powerful this music is to me and how it impacts me.  In this world of complete and total narrowcasting, it feels like it’s too easy to shut out the recommendations of friends and those old knowledgeable, but sometimes intimidating record store guys of the old days.  I am guilty of this as well.  I couldn’t tell you who 90% of the artists that are “popular” are these days, but I can also say that I don’t have a lot of favorite artists that have been discovered via pre-programmed suggestions as presented from Spotify or Pandora or whatnot (there’s been a few interesting discoveries, I won’t lie).  Most of the thrilling finds still come from friends or trusted writers giving a song or album their solid approval and spreading the word.  So, I am still in flux and question the value of this for myself or anyone else, but I made a commitment to myself to make a concerted effort to write more, so I will continue for now.  I do encourage anyone who happens upon this to share their thoughts about the music in question or music in general.  There’s not much I enjoy more than listening to and absorbing the music I love - jabbering ceaselessly about it comes close.


The Rifles
None the Wiser
(Cooking Vinyl)

It’s fitting that I now turn my attention to the UK four-piece The Rifles.  As I was waiting for the long-awaited pre-ordered (via a Pledgemusic campaign begun in 2012) copy of their wonderful fourth album to arrive, I perused the web for a few reviews to get a line on what to expect.  What I ran into was a lot of hyperbole about how the Rifles are making ‘unhip’ music and that they were and apparently will always be middling.  I would guess that hearing such commentary certainly wouldn’t be very inspiring or encouraging – considering the fairly middling "success" of the band.  It cannot be easy to keep chugging out their brand of tasteful mod pop, however unhip, with such a limited response after ten plus years as a band.  Yet, here they are and after a one album separation (see review of the experimental and beautiful third album Freedom Run 2011 #8 pick here) the original members are all back in place and sounding as fresh and vibrant as ever. 

Right away, this album sounds like it has a lot more in common with their 2006 debut No Love Lost.  It is brimming with tight pop songs with huge memorable choruses and hummable guitar hooks.  Whether endlessly catchy music is hip or not, I could give a shit.  This music and these simple ruminations about love found and lost are so damn enjoyable.  There is a willing innocence to these tunes.  They sound like they could’ve been huge radio hits from the mid 60s, or the cool retro mod run that the Jam had in the late 70s.  One song after another, from the tight dry opening of “Minute Mile” (what a chorus!) to the two minute burst of the jaunty “Heebie Jeebies” on to the spiky “Go Lucky” (what a guitar melody!) to the jangly classic pop of “All I Need,” which I dare anyone not to bounce around with snapping fingers upon first listen, these first four songs alone make the album worth the price of admission.  Each and every one could and should be hit singles – like a hot streak in a career spanning best of.  I only stopped that list, because the sentence was getting too unruly.  The fifth song “You Win Some” follows in the finger snapping mode as they take a positive take on the churning of time, by continuing to look ahead and be ready for good times (“open up your heart and let come what ever may / and you’ll win someday”).  The unfortunately titled “Catch Her in the Rye” is another classic song brimming with life and another big sing-along chorus (which reminds me of something I cannot quite place – is it similar to the chorus of Tears For Fears’ early single “Suffer the Children” of all things?  Hmmmm….) that addresses the battle for individuality and making a mark or difference (“there’s a million things you missed at school / there’s a million and one like you / another drop in the sea and the oceans blue / cause it’s full up to the banks with fools like you”). 

The second half of the album loses a slight touch of steam for me, but still has plenty of magic moments.  The melancholic “The Hardest Place to Find Me” reflects on poor decisions from the past in the face of the passage of time.  “Shoot from the Lip” and “Eclectic Eccentric” both lumber along at times musically, but once each reaches their respective chorus they bloom with wide open glory.  The album officially closes with “Under and Over,” which will probably be a great live closer allowing the crowd to sing-along about man digging for money and for greed. 

Does this live up to their previous “middling” legacy?  I think so.  I think their devoted fans will enjoy – but I do not see why songs this addictive cannot be enjoyed by a wider audience.  I hope it will be. 

The Rifles "Minute Mile"


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