All of your favorites, in one place.
After five years and 20-plus albums-- most released on their own Child of Microtones label-- MV & EE's 2006 move to Ecstatic Peace began on a high note. "East Mountain Joint", the opening track on Green Blues, is a hypnotic hymn to unscheduled freedom, and it's catchy without losing the duo's loose, do-what-we-feel-like vibe. In fact, it's so entrancing that it's made subsequent work by Matt Valentine, Erika Elder, and their various colleagues seem like insufficient attempts to recapture that magic. There have been beautiful close calls along the way, though, and Barn Nova might be the closest. Like Green Blues, it starts with the strongest material, the kind of songs that cohere without constricting. "Feelin' Fine" is like a skeletal version of "East Mountain Joint", with a steady shuffle that gives Valentine's ghostly moans a pulse. The swaying "Get Right Church" is even better. Here Elder's chants about journeys home and evening trains support a web of overlapping guitars, presumably belonging to Valentine and longtime producer/collaborator J Mascis. Barn Nova doesn't lack strong moments after those early gems, but it wanders too far to appeal to non-diehards. "Summer Magic" offers some nice looping guitar from Elder and Mascis, but runs out of ideas about halfway through, merely repeating them for another three minutes. MV & EE's knack for slipping into lackadaisical Neil Young mode emerges on "Wandering Nomad", a pleasant, listless amble that's more like Lazy Horse than Crazy Horse. The group floats fully out to sea on "Bedroom Eyes", which meanders for what feels like a lot longer than its 11-minute duration. I have a soft spot for this indulgent side of MV & EE-- the side that would rather keep playing, stoned by their own sounds, than stop or change direction just because someone else might get bored. Anyone with similar inclinations-- fans of the lengthy psych of Bardo Pond, the noise jams of Fushitsushsa, the yawning drones of Pelt-- will admire their refusal to sacrifice peaks in order to avoid valleys. But I also doubt that someone with less tolerance would find much exciting about "Bedroom Eyes". It would be wrong to make the same claim for the whole of Barn Nova though. It offers a decent amount of accessible folk-rock unencumbered by commercial concerns, and the idea of a perfect MV & EE album is pretty much an oxymoron anyway. Better that they continue to float freely through space, shooting at stars of every size and occasionally connecting squarely with some big ones. This time around, their batting average is good enough that when the all-killer/no-filler MV & EE box set comes along, at least a few tracks from Barn Nova will make the cut.