What To Hear Now: This Month In Rock Records

Sep 11, 2012
Originally published on September 11, 2012 9:57 pm

September is often a heady time in the music world; buzzed-about albums by major artists seem to come out of the woodwork. Today, rock critic Tom Moon chats with NPR's Melissa Block about some new records he's particularly excited about — including long-awaited new material from Grizzly Bear, the latest from a still-kicking Bob Dylan and more.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.



It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block.


BLOCK: A jaunty start to the new album from Bob Dylan out today, and, wow, it's his 35th studio album, 50 years after his debut.


BOB DYLAN: (Singing) Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing, blowing like it's going to sweep my world away. I want to stop in Carbondale and keep on going. That Duquesne train going to ride me night and day.

BLOCK: The album is called "Tempest," and rock critic Tom Moon joins me to talk about it and to spin through some other new releases. Tom, welcome back.

TOM MOON: Great to be with you.

BLOCK: I'm going to read you some of the ways that critics have described Dylan's voice on this album. Here's one: A wheezy rasp that proudly scrapes up against its own flaws. And here's another: Like he's been eating nuts and bolts for the past half century. Tom, what's your metaphor? Pick one.

MOON: Well, I also read today tubercular...


MOON: ...as an adjective to describe his voice. I thought that was pretty great. Yeah. He's almost got no tone left, and yet, there's something about the rasp. There's something about the quality and the way it's captured that it almost doesn't matter. Still, he's phrasing. He's slogging through. And he's really singing - actually singing beautifully, I think.


DYLAN: (Singing) You smiling through the fence at me, just like you've always smiled before. Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing, blowing like she ain't going to blow no more.

BLOCK: You know, let's talk about the length of some of these songs. There are a few that clock in at over seven minutes. There's a nine-minute song, and then the title tune about the sinking of the Titanic, almost 14 minutes long. He's taking a real gamble on people's attention spans here.

MOON: I - oh, I'm one of those people who think that 46 verses on the sinking of the Titanic might be a tad too much.

BLOCK: A little excessive, you think?

MOON: Well, who's going to be Bob Dylan's editor?


DYLAN: (Singing) The pale moon rose in its glory out on the Western town. She told a sad, sad story of the great ship that went down.

BLOCK: What do you think Dylan fans who, you know, followed him for many, many years, will think of this new (unintelligible)?

MOON: It's as intense as any of the late records, the records he's done since 2000. It is more uneven. And maybe that's kind of cool because, you know, he's talking a lot about flaws and meditating on life and the end of life. I think that people will hear the beginning of this record, the first four or five songs and feel the energy of it and be, as I was, in awe of him. I mean, the fact that he's still doing this and communicating so specifically and swinging. The band sounds great. They're having fun.

BLOCK: OK. So from Bob Dylan's "Tempest" to another album that's out today. It's called "Love This Giant."


DAVID BYRNE AND ST. VINCENT: (Singing) Who'll be my valentine? Who'll lift this heavy load?

BLOCK: Tom, this is a collaboration between St. Vincent, who's real name is Annie Clark, and David Byrne of Talking Heads.

MOON: Yeah. High hipster quotient here. But it's something far different from what fans of either would expect. When you think of St. Vincent, you think of very moody atmospheric records. And, of course, David Byrne's done with the Talking Heads crazy, great funk records and world music-infused records since then as a solo artist. And this is just a big rollicking brass band-fueled party record.


MOON: The feeling is very much trying to break out of the standard kind of rock (unintelligible). In this collaboration, they found kind of a sound of their own.


BLOCK: We're moving on, Tom, now to the Brooklyn indie band Grizzly Bear. They've taken a few years off. And their new album comes out next week. It's called "Shields." You say it's worth the wait.


MOON: It's thick and dense and engrossing, and it's very different. You know, there's like this sort of Brooklyn hipster rock thing that's kind of taken over right now. And this record feels a lot more earnest than a lot of that music. And listen to this vocal. It's loose, but there's a lot of heart. There's meat behind it. He's saying something, you know? And that sense comes through a lot on this record.


BLOCK: So that's Grizzly Bear. And, Tom, the last group we're going to talk about is The Avett Brothers from North Carolina and their new album, "The Carpenter."


BLOCK: And can I just say they got me with the banjo right there.

MOON: Yeah.


THE AVETT BROTHERS: (Singing) All it will take is just one moment and you can say goodbye to how we had it planned. Fear like a habit run like a rabbit...

BLOCK: And, Tom, The Avett Brothers got really popular a few years back, right?

MOON: Yeah. They've been doing this for a long time. This is album number seven. This is a very much more of a sharpened lyrical focus. There's a lot of songs about death and mortality on this record, but they're not downers. They're sort of this seizing-the-day-with-whatever-you-have-left attitude. And it took them a while to get that sort of focus, but, man, almost every song really has a zing to it here.


BROTHERS: (Singing) You and I, we're the same. Live and die, we're the same. Hear my voice, know my name, you and I, we're the same. Live like a pharaoh, sing like a sparrow anyway...

BLOCK: Tom, it's great to talk to you. Thank you.

MOON: It's great to be with you. Thanks.


BROTHERS: (Singing) ...even if there is no land or love in sight...

BLOCK: Music critic Tom Moon. You can listen to many of these songs and more new releases at nprmusic.org.


BROTHERS: (Singing) ...out and away through the bitter crowd to the daylight. And I want to love you and more. I want to find you and more. Can you tell that I am alive? Let me prove it to you.

CORNISH: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.