sound patrol 9-23-04
No beating around the Bush here
Future Soundtrack for America
Pity the young Republican who aspires to hipness. The nation might be evenly polarized, but the rock community, particularly the indie faction, is pretty much unanimously disgusted with W. The Bush twins claim to love Modest Mouse, the Strokes, and the Postal Service, but the likelihood that any of those guys will return the favor and vote for GWB in November, much less campaign for him now, is slim indeed. Better dust off your Brooks & Dunn CDs, girls, because that traitor Ben Gibbard (half of the Postal Service) also fronts Death Cab for Cutie, one of 19 acts that appears on the new collection Future Soundtrack for America, a benefit CD in support of Bush-bashing groups such as MoveOn.org and the League of Pissed Off Voters.
Chances are, however, that if Barbara and Jenna could overlook one minor detail -- the fact that 100 percent of the proceeds go to godless, tree-hugging, wealth-redistributing deviants -- they might actually like this CD. Aside from Ben Kweller's self-explanatory "Jerry Falwell Destroyed Earth," the tone is anything but strident. Most of the songs aren't overtly political, and the ones that are don't get too nasty or pointed about it. Mike Doughty (formerly of Soul Coughing) comes off like a cynical Cat Stevens on his lazy folk jam "Move On," singing, "I love my country so much, man/Like an exasperating friend" and "Yeah, I believe the war is wrong," along with other lines that you'll never hear Toby Keith utter. As a call to arms, however, it's not exactly galvanizing. R.E.M. calls for less hatred and more forgiveness, but it's not as if anyone on the right would take issue with these platitudes (they call themselves compassionate conservatives, remember?). Will.I.Am. of the Black Eyed Peas submits that "money is behind global domination," but he stops short at naming any names (surely something rhymes with "Halliburton"!).
Sleater-Kinney, the Long Winters, Clem Snide, and the late Elliott Smith all contribute great tracks, but they're too cryptic, too self-critical, too thoughtful to incite a revolution or even serve as effective propaganda. As John Kerry can attest, start making fine distinctions and nuanced arguments, and before you know it, you're a namby-pamby, flip-flopping Frenchman. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the best track on the CD is also the most explicit. Narrated by a homesick soldier, Tom Waits' "Day after Tomorrow" is a heartbreaking dissection of the futility of war in the guise of a letter to home: "I'm not fighting for justice/I'm not fighting for freedom/I am fighting for my life and another day in the world here."
Not Going Anywhere
Like a dew-beaded spiderweb glittering at dawn, Keren Ann's voice is fragile and intricate, gossamer-light but surprisingly strong. The 30-year-old Israel-born Parisienne (her full name is Keren Ann Zeidel) has just released her English-language debut, Not Going Anywhere, and it's a quiet triumph, a gentle amalgam of '60s pop (think FranÃ§oise Hardy, Astrud Gilberto, and the Beatles) and chamber folk (you're going to think Suzanne Vega, but trust me, it's Leonard Cohen all the way). Zeidel's clear, intimate warble has a charming aloofness to it, a kind of melancholy tendresse that's very European and very sexy and about as far from Shania as is humanly possible. It's the perfect vehicle for her strange and beautiful compositions, wherein bright swells of strings, trumpet voluntaries, and a children's choir embellish simple, almost childlike melodies without overwhelming their austere loveliness. All 11 tracks are solid and very, very pretty, but "By the Cathedral" and "End of May" are standouts, as sweetly harrowing as anything in the Cohen songbook.