Make Me Believe
Doug Hoekstra is a Nashville-by-way-of-Chicago songwriter (and former leader of literate-popsters Bucket No. 6) who could be lumped into the alternative-country lump, in the same way that the latest records by Joe Henry and Wilco can be lumped. That is, Hoekstra's got all the frosting of a folkie (acoustic guitar, harmonica, a slight twang), but underneath, his musical palate is much broader, and his songs go much deeper. The first is "Sam Cooke Sang the Gospel," a dreamy church rave. From there, Hoekstra takes the listener on an adventure of floating violins and ephemeral snare drums, enigmatic arrangements, vocals that sound like they were recorded through a walkie-talkie or barely opened lips, and an ethereal female backup singer who comes and goes between the words like Hoekstra's psychic angel. As a vocalist/poet, Hoekstra whispers his way through his tales of youth, love affairs and elusive dreams like a latter-day Leonard Cohen. He comes down the same road-less-trampled as Vic Chesnutt or Sparklehorse's Mark Linkhous, but where those two often give into their hearts of darkness, Hoekstra consistently keeps things elegant, pretty, winsome. "Make Me Believe" is Hoekstra's third -- and finest -- release, and it makes me believe that there is still room for stories about people, well-crafted narratives and a kind of hush, all over the world.
Sooner or later, most every Brit-rock band goes weird/soft/belligerently artful for at least one record. It's Blur's turn now. And while "13" is not a great album, it's important for Blur in its tender and confused emotionalism. "13" is a document of the temporary dementia of heartbreak, swooping between absurd highs and lows and copping wildly various poses from moment to moment. (Do prepare for much distortion, guitar noodling, layered mumbling voices and tinkling on unidentifiable objects.) The gorgeous incantatory anthem "Tender" uses a gospel choir, and "All You Need Is Love"-style percussion to shout: "Come on/get through it/Love's the greatest thing"; it's a fleeting moment of clarity. The punk "Bugman" sports what sounds like a chain saw and hyperdistorted guitars attempting to scrape through the backside of the listener's stereo speakers. Songs go from poppy/harmonic ("Coffee and TV") to thumping and Stoogey ("Swamp Song") to "OK Computer"-spacey ("Battle"). Numerous swipes at high poetry and pathos miss the mark until the beautiful closer, "No Distance Left to Run," on which Damon Albarn croaks over a fuzzy guitar a fond farewell to his love. The lovers among us know it's a ruse. Hope springs eternal.