MR|Review – Miguel, “Art Dealer Chic” EPs, Paul Krugman, “End This Depression Now!” Pallbearer, “Sorrow and Extinction,” and Bloody Knives, “Disappear””

Pallbearer’s Sorrow and Extinction is the best thing I’ve heard so far this year.  Yes, it’s pure doom metal; who knew I’d been missing doom all my life?

Doom is a metal sub-genre characterized by extremely slow tempos, down-tuned guitars, and clean vocals (no cookie monsters here); for that reason I hope that more mainstream listeners will take a risk on Pallbearer and find it more approachable than the equally good metal albums two out of three of my friends have found to be just too much.  If you can detach and let the blissfully overdriven tones do their work, you can get into this.

I streamed Sorrow and Extinction based on reading a review, and it spoke to me at a level below words from the first full band entry in the 12-minute opener “Foreigner.”  The band’s glacial tempos turn my mind to questions of time, suggesting both eternity through the monolithic amp tone and riffs, and transience via the linear arrangements.  I feel small, yet affirmed.

It’s the wide range of emotion Pallbearer reaches through their mostly traditional doom sound that makes this album something I’ll be listening to for a long time.

Mars Lights played with Austin’s Bloody Knives the other weekend, and they tore up Czar Bar pretty seriously. The trio plays a fractured sort of punk/electronic hybrid with fast, kraut-y drums, bass and vocals reminiscent of the Cure, and a burly guy who triggers samples and dances.  You can grab Dissappear from their bandcamp page for free, and if what I’ve said so far sounds at all good to you, I think it will make your regular rotation.

Bloody Knives has one speed; hurtling toward the edge of a cliff with no brakes.  Shards of hooks cut through the haze occasionally, but the main sense of Disappear is reckless forward motion.  If anything, the live versions of these songs were even more interesting, in that the samples weren’t necessarily synchronized to the drums, which accentuated their brokenness.  It’s their own thing, they own it, and I look forward to their next visit to KC.

I’m a giant Krugman fanboy, and there’s no sense in hiding it.  The fact is, I’ve come through this depression in better financial shape reading Krugman than I would have following the Wall Street Journal editorial page’s advice.  This makes the political right’s attempts to discredit him as a socialist, Keynesian (as if that’s a dirty word!), budget-busting liberal all the sillier; they could make more money if his recommendations were heeded*, and history demonstrates it over and over.

End This Depression Now! is a compilation of Krugman’s best thinking on our macroeconomic trouble, including both diagnosis and prescription.  For readers familiar with his New York Times column and blog, it’s familiar territory, though there are new bits.  For readers who aren’t, if you’re going to read one book about our economy from 2008 to the present, this should be it.

So why only three stars?  The book isn’t quite the forward-looking plan to end the depression that Krugman claims it is, repeatedly, in the first eleven of thirteen chapters.  Its stated purpose, in the introduction, is to answer the question “What do we do now?” but clear policy recommendations don’t come until chapter twelve.  The background information is vital, but I wonder if it will bog casual readers down.  Perhaps another type of organization – for example, one chapter per recommendation, with the relevant context to support it and explanation of what’s gone wrong right there – would have worked.

As it stands, End This Depression Now! is a useful text, but, fairly or not, we hold Krugman to a higher standard as progressives’ policy MVP.  He’s been better, and in this election season, we need him working at his peak more than ever.

* Mostly that the WSJ repeatedly predicted immanent runaway inflation and a Greek-style rise in US borrowing costs, neither of which has happened; if you moved your money around based on one or both of these assumptions, you’ve lost.

After seeing a couple glowing, high-profile reviews of Miguel’s Art Dealer Chic series of EPs, I tracked them down to see what the noise was about.  “Adorn” started things off well with a nice blend of modern and (dare I say it?) new jack sounds, skillfully deployed; a touch of class, a touch of the club, and a runtime that leaves me wanting a little more made for a jam I’ll be happy to hear on shuffle all summer.

Unfortunately, “Adorn” is the best thing here.  The rest of the set is mostly standard 2012-edition electro-R&B with a couple arty touches, reaching its nadir with “Broads,” which is a waste of a halfway decent beat and anyone who hears it’s four minutes.

If you’re into this, pull the highlights (“Gravity,” “Arch n Point”) for summer mixtape fodder and go back and listen to Kenna’s superior Make Sure They See My Face.  If not, skip it, unless you can explain to me what the fuss is about.

MR|Review directs readers’ limited attention among works via ratings, and within works via prose, focusing on works where our opinion diverges from critical or popular consensus, or we have significant insight that compliments or challenges readers’ aesthetic experience. MR|Review totals to date:
Must-hear! 2
Recommended 8
Good 7
Fans only 6
Skip this 1
Owww! My ears! 0

MR|Review meta – I hope you like the minor re-design of the stars and ratings.  It’s a little cleaner to look at, and I’ve added the “totals to date” column (below) to track the distribution of rankings.  I’ll have to look for one- or no-star albums to talk about, just for reference.  The idea is sort of to organize music that’s released into a normal distribution for critical purposes, but that doesn’t mean that the number of reviews at each level will correspond exactly to that.