Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Heilig-Levine LP

It's not often I can kill two birds with one stone but this is one of those times. Here is the second installment of the overlooked and unappreciated albums series and my choice for the best album of 2006. Now, I know this actually came out near the end of 2005, but like with my last list, if I didn't get to hear it until 2006, really, I count it. That's the way I do shit. Problems? Take that shit to the river and hold it underwater.

Ticonderoga- The Heilig-Levine LP

When I first heard Ticonderoga, I had no idea that amongst a few of my friends, this album would become an obsession. I also take credit for being the provocateur in a small, small way to a successful relationship for one of the band members (whom I’ve met briefly). In effect, I’ve been a “number one fan” since the beginning which is completely ridiculous. In fact, there is not one good reason I can give you as to why I picked this over Midlake or any of the other fantastic albums on this list. I just know it makes sense. It is complete, well written, experimental, full and flawless. Anyone who disagrees has a bias—that is how much I believe in this album.

The instrumentation, while large in scale never overemphasizes itself. You never hear an out of place organ or horn, never an unnecessary guitar noodling, never a part that does not fit. They incorporate unbelievable melodies with horns, violins, keys, and electronic noodling. Concordantly, the vocals are around when they should be, silent when they have to be. The lyricists/vocalists take chances with the ethereal and even silly lyrics in the middle of serious moments.

For example, in “They Can Run,” the seemingly stereotypical forlorn love song, the focus of the lyrics shifts numerous times including injured animals drawing metaphorical buggies, blood, sunburn, and tons of food. It ranges from feeling classical 1800’s storytelling (“bought a horse/ with cracked feet… so tie on/ your wagon and/ head due east”) to casual references to going out for drinks and sub sandwiches.

The rambling blues riffs in “Flippin’ Burgs” contrast heavily with the airiness of “Why Do You Suppose.” Neutral Milk Hotel-ish in nature, the latter song uses heady cleverness, yet offsets this with a solid build in instrumentation that arrives at a perfect point. Turns of phrase and excuses for abnormal behavior beget the self referential end lyric “Why do you suppose/ I just can’t leave you alone?” The serious building and enigmatic “Sparrow” is both stoic and sad with a twinge of emotional response to a very delicate storyline that explains just as much through telling lines (“Sorry, don’t be cross with me/ if bent back and broke your wing/ I’ll see all the vultures shadows on the ground/ they don’t look a thing like me) as the song does through violin breaks, cadenced drum rolls and the undeniably beautiful coda.

The seemingly excessive “Country Mouse” is, in effect, the introduction track to exactly how talented this band really is: a battle of wits with the excess determination to use every ounce of sweat an album can make without being gaudy to the listener. It seems at any time during The Heilig-Levine LP the listener would be overstimulated, but the opposite effect exists. Unlike the building triumph of an instrumental juggernaut like Godspeed, You Black Emperor! or Silver Mt. Zion (and etc.) Ticonderoga uses a sparse, three or pieces at a time to keep the affair simple. The result is spellbinding: rock songs like Poison Control and opener “Fucking Around” pay homage to the area that surrounds them (the formerly bustling with talent plains of collegiate North Carolina) with simple Superchunk-like drumming and loud guitar without any superfluous electronics or woodwinds, etc. The latter produced one of my favorite lyrics:

Your long winded clichés
Won’t make you different
They’ll just prove you desperate
And like the sunset you’ll be gone
Just fucking around.

Meanwhile, the gentler refined songs grab the listener in more subtle ways: the aforementioned “They Can Run” is a stripped down masterpiece, “Chatterton” closes the album with a mellow sulk (I’ll come over/ and use you/ don’t misunderstand me/ I’m still your bitch” creeps in after a long stringed introduction. “Snakes” uses more of a building approach with short melodic blasts of strings and a grandiose arrival to the song’s apex. The song itself is as important as its placement—proof that the subtleties matter as much as the music itself. “Centipede,” with its mid-tempo dexterity pares bares back the loudness of “Fucking round” and provides an anti-sing-along a cappella midpoint with outstanding lyrical juxtaposition to the song’s lazy format.

That’s just it: the lazy movements and captured moments of The Heilig-Levine LP is offset by the work put in. Like a beefed up Karate, everything seems especially easily but reproduction is exceptionally hard. Trust me; I’ve tried on both accounts. What makes this album unbelievable is not that it is fundamentally better than some of my favorite veterans (Built to Spill, Roots, Channels, etc.) or more ample than the newcomers (Midlake, Page France, Grizzly Bear, etc.). It’s just that, to me anyway, this album is more successful in incorporating the listener (instead of trying to exclude—more on this in a future article), involving themselves, and inventing a new, albeit subtly so, sense of sound.

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