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Something old, something new
Something punk, something blues, in this duo of albums
What could possibly be more sublime than reviewing two albums released five months apart, from almost completely separate universes for the type and style of music?
The two records are Antony and the Johnsons’ Swanlights and Ariel Aparicio’s Aerials, so no matter what your personal musical tastes, you will probably despise, loathe or detest at least one of them.
Antony Hegarty’s latest offering came out last October. For those not familiar with the gay British lad whose music is respected by Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright and Boy George, among many others, perhaps a brief description is in order.
Imagine Nina Simone and Billie Holliday had a child, a little boy, and they sent him to art school for a very, very long time. What would emerge, likely after not having seen direct sunlight for a number of years, would be Antony Hegarty.
There is artistry there, but there is also a great deal of pretension and incomprehensibility. For instance, in the song “Salt Silver Oxygen,” what does the line “Elect the salt mother for she’s a selective Christ” mean, exactly? It’s almost easier to understand “Flétta,” his duet with Björk, which is sung entirely in her native Icelandic.
Similar to Sonic Youth, another band with roots in art schools, there is an adaptation of the “wall of sound” philosophy, which one supposes is really just another form of the free-form found in jazz. Various instruments seem to be doing their own thing, not necessarily working on the same song, but the whole manages to come together coherently.
In the end, Antony and the Johnsons is a matter of taste. You either like them or you don’t, and Swanlights is no different.
To find Ariel Aparicio’s influences for his upcoming album Aerials, however, one need not go back as far as Billie Holliday. Perhaps just to David Bowie’s heyday, or perhaps even to the New Wave of the 1980s. The Cuban-American singer might be punk at heart, but his new album strikes chords more reminiscent of the Smithereens or the Psychedelic Furs.
Unlike last year’s EP The Bedroom Tapes (available from his website as a free download), Aparicio on this album eschews the techno wizardry that could be found, and the covers.
There is, instead, a sort of paean called “Caroline.” Given that he covered “People Who Died” on The Bedroom Tapes and “Pretty in Pink” as a benefit for breast cancer, one might expect this to be a cover of the Concrete Blonde song; instead, it seems to be a follow-up to “Pretty in Pink,” whose subject was a young woman. The Psychedelic Furs song says, “Caroline talks to you softly sometimes, she says I love you and too much.” Aparicio’s “Caroline,” however, has already been hurt by the boys in the earlier song who “laugh to remember her name.” It’s moody and touching.
The entire album, in fact, is a far moodier outing than his last. There is a sense of emotion behind the music that was lacking from at least three of the four songs in last year’s release, and there is a more straightforward rock ethic in Aerials.
Again, it’s a matter of taste. If you like guitar and attitude and a single song per album in Spanish, Ariel is the guy for you. He’s more accessible than Antony, certainly, and perhaps because of that it is easier to enjoy his music.
However, did he do a duet with Björk? I think not. Although he should. And he could make her sing in Spanish.
Or, he could bring her in to do vocals on “Flowers,” not only the moodiest song on the album, but perhaps the moodiest song in the history of shoegazer music. It’s beautiful.
Aerials is out on March 8.
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