Sunday, July 9, 2017

New to Me No. 2: The Paranoid Style, Rolling Disclosure

No idea. Googled some sensible words. I just like it.
Again, to briefly introduce what I’m doing here when I use “New to Me” in the title, I’m just reviewing an album that a song or two inspired me to listen to all the way through. The artists reviewed will be new, hopefully, but I really don’t give a shit so long as it’s something I’ve never heard before.

The Paranoid Style, Rolling Disclosure

The Gateway Drug
Daniel in the Basement,” a playful, defiant ditty with the volume and tempo set to racing speeds.

The Backstory
I get a lot of my new music, most of it, really, through Spotify’s fascinatingly hit-and/or (seriously, this operates on quantum physics scales)-miss (badly) “Discover Weekly” feature. By that I mean, some weeks, the algorithm all but softly blows great songs into my ear; others, it’s like navigating your least favorite corporation’s automated phone answering service. “Daniel in the Basement,” though, had my interest from the first verse/chorus combo. The blistering musical intro didn’t hurt either.

What really sold me on the track, though, was the way it rewards further listening. Once you catch snippets of…hold on, Elizabeth Nelson’s lyrics, you’re forced to go back to figure out what’s next. “Daniel” packs in smart (and unintentionally relevant) nods to, say, Lou Reed (“lookin’ just Holly from Miami, F-L-A”), and follows it up with still smarter, real poetic couplets (“such a ghostly pallor/what a way to earn a dollar/Oh, Daniel, you’ve got so/many other debts to pay”; and it gets even better after that; damn).

The Album
Eh, I don’t hate it. I’ve picked up a couple snippets about them once having/still holding lobbyist gigs in D.C., and that only makes them cooler (oh, the other person is Tim Bracy, her boyfriend/husband/look, does it matter?) I read a couple reviews – a pretty upbeat one from Spin, and another from something called The Monitor – so I’ve got a better sense of what they’re about, and I agreed with a lot of it, but I feel like none of it changed my handle on the band.

Bottom line, Nelson is the most interesting thing about The Paranoid Style. The music is fine, but it’s also fairly standardized indie-meets-punk, with all of it played at the same, straight tempo; “Daniel in the Basement” is, by far the most dynamic (therefore, interesting) song on the album. Nelson’s lyrics, though, pick any song and you’ll hear something thoughtful enough to make you pause; whether it’s delivery (more later*, but she has incredible comic timing) or a particular passage (at random: “Don’t care if you fulfill me/I’m happy being hollow/tonight, I’m giving up early/on tomorrow”), she just has this way with words.

And, c’mon, that’s a great album cover, and this video is funny at least as heck, so long as you know the reference. It would have passed my album cover litmus test easily…what? You don’t all...never mind, too early for internal references.

I don’t want to scare anyone off Rolling Disclosure. If what they do floats your boat, you’re gonna love ‘em (probably? I mean, how well do I know you?). I like them, really, but I like a lot of other things better, and that’s why they’ll slowly fade for me. To explain…

I basically spent the first 6 songs of Rolling Disclosure waiting for a song that did something different. I waited until “Cathedral Lows” for that – and I’d give that one a listen – but too much of the rest of the album’s music, outside a couple nice flourishes (see, the bridge in “Certain Lists,” which comes outta nowhere; credit where it’s due), sounds like the same song with a different polemic(?) talking over it. (I am desperately trying to find a word for what Nelson does, because “polemics” misses pretty badly; it’s not quite storytelling, and it’s nothing like argument, never mind lecturing. She’s just, for lack of a better word, expressing. Also, whip-smart woman.)

What The Paranoid Style does works, because the parts they have fit together just so. Again, it’s a good album, even if it doesn't excite me a lot. The narrow scope of their sound deadens the good stuff they do enough that I can pass on most of it. When I say that, the thought I can’t let go of is why their music should change. If you think of them as a megaphone for Nelson’s lyrics, the whole thing works out pretty well. They’re damned coherent, basically, so why the hell should they change?

With all respect to the band, they’re an act you either like, or you don’t. And that’s fine…

…also, I have a terrible feeling that’ll be the condescending kiss-off to every album I don’t like…

…that’s worse, right?

There’s one last thing to note here, something that picks up an asterisk from up above. * At some point during “Lola on a Leash” and “The Thrill is Back!” (see above;'s secret!), I decided Nelson’s vocal delivery best matches Lou Reed’s. It’s this thing where you’re basically talking over music. At any rate, I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I just know that I liked Nelson’s delivery from the start. It just took a while to connect the dots. Assuming they exist.

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