Monsoon Enhanced, Import
This is the second album from ex-Pavement main man Spiral Stairs. A collection of melancholy and rich California singer-songwriter pop songs. With echoes of The Go-Betweens and The Clean, 60s chanteurs Rex Homan and Chet Nichols, and modern exponents Death Cab For Cutie, The Decembrists, and Wilco, Spiral's new album is instantly appealing to a broad demographic. Features appearances by Wilco and Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus 5). Enhanced CD contains two videos.
the entire album is "decent"
But why not this? It's almost an innovative idea, because it never seems to happen, but why not pretend that Spiral Stairs and Malkmus have no connection to each other in terms of their careers? Or if they do, then it's that they were both members of the best band of the 90s........ a distinction that they can both claim in common.
That said, now let's look at the squire outside of the shadow of the knight, so to speak. The way he deserves to be seen in order to get a fair shake. This done, Preston School of Industry's Monsoon comes out as a pretty darn good album. There are no tricks or gimmicks, no smoke and mirrors. The songs are no more complicated than Pavement contributions like "Date with Ikea" or "Kennel District." But they don't have to be, because they drive. They are convincing. They are examples, in fact, of what musicians with average voices who play three or four chords in repetitive, uninteresting ways can do with a little bit of passion.
The first three songs are exemplary of the "less is more" trend of this album. Not to mention the cursed name again...... but it's really great that Spiral knows he is not Malkmus and does not try to be him, nor anywhere close. His feet planted on the ground, he starts us off with three pretty-contagious anthems. The music is big and clumsy, slightly countrified. The chord progressions are irresistible pop. The singing is half-mumbled and self-assured. And the lyrics are pleasantly potent...... starting from "I don't care where you go as time goes awry."
I feel like in some way a lot of Spiral's songs are about, or at least reflect Pavement.......and Malkmus. One definitely heard this on All That Sounds Gas...... particularly in "Whalebones" -- a direct reference to driving home the old Pavement tour bus after the final show. But while this song was a lamentation, not to mention full of venom (Malkmus got a sarcastic nod with "genius headed home again" -- well deserved for the way the breakup was handled), Monsoon features a much more positive take on the Pavement experience, which Spiral understandably can't seem to shake. "The Furnace Sun" is Spiral's version of Neil Young's masterpiece, "Thrasher" -- with its declaration of independence from bandmates who bummed out, and resolution to die in the sun rather than stop playing and creating.
"Walk of the Gurl," meanwhile, is widely interpreted as an ode to Malkmus. I thought that "Monkey Heart & the Horse's Leg" was about Malkmus too........ and if so, since that song, Spiral has come to terms. Villain or not, Malkmus -- once called the Fred Astaire of indie -- is given his due here for the "walk and the swirl." The image is quite attractive and complimentary, accompanied by seven layers of instruments piled into one perfectly constructed pop song -- to me the best song by any post-Pavement member. But even as he praises Malkmus, Spiral again declares independence. "Towers are edged to the sky, hopefully I will see them someday" Spiral says of his rival's contributions to music, one would guess, before mumbling something that sounds like "didn't know he had the rights"..... The rights to writing music. The rights to post-Pavement greatness. If I interpret at all correctly, here, Spiral says "You may be great, Steve.... But I can play too, for better or for worse." Maybe a message to the critics who panned his first album on that altar of Malkmus rather than Malkmus himself.
Not much new ground is broken past this. Most of the songs fall into the same sunny category, with few real standouts. "So Many Ways" adds a pretty piano melody and graceful sulk to the mix. "Tone It Down" is a nice understated acoustic finisher. And when all is said and done, what one has is an album that few -- even critics -- find unpleasant. A nice summer CD. Good background music to be happy to.
So, given that it holds its own, why does this album get panned as much as praised? Because of Malkmus. The fact that he exists. The critics are too busy kissing the ground he walks on to give credit to the #2.......
But to me #2 is pretty darn heroic. There is nothing wrong with being #2. All That Sounds Gas overdid it in places, but Monsoon seems like a record that Spiral was proud to make. The kind of record that he is good at making. And the kind of record that actually fills a unique place in the Pavement and post-Pavement pantheon, as a pure chill record to break up the relentless flow of ideas.... Kind of like Spiral Stairs songs did in the old days.
....... This said, here I have to bring back the Spiral-Malkmus comparison for just a minute and say that, all told....... I think Monsoon is better than Pig Lib. Who ever thought? Who would allow himself to think it?