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Show some love for Josh Rouse

November 28th, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

There are many mysteries in the world. I will not bore you with a few witty examples of such mysteries as a set up for stating the conundrum which occupies me today: how the fuck is it that Josh Rouse remains some sort of best-kept secret?

Since his debut set in 1998, Dressed Up Like Nebraska, Rouse has released seven proper albums, plus a couple of EPs and collaborations. Two or three of these are bona fide classics, the others are “just” very good indeed. Rouse has yet to make a mediocre album. That is a pretty good strike rate.

His first couple of releases were solid albums which didn’t stray far from the singer-songwriter Americana pop recipe, with hints of indie. Some tracks take some getting into, others are easily accessible. Test drive Late Night Conversation from the debut, or Directions from his sophomore effort, Home.

2002’s Under Cold Blue Stars ushered in a trilogy of outstanding albums. Here, Rouse began playing with different genres without departing much from the sound of his previous albums, as songs like Ugly Stories (which could be a Wilco song) and Women And Men show.

The real innovative leap came a year later with 1972, a concept album of sorts titled after and inspired by the year of his birth. The idea was to recreate what Rouse thought to be the vibe of that year while still creating a contemporary sound. He succeeded admirably: the album is evocative of the 1970s without ever being retro, other than the excellent cover art. Check out James (a song about alcoholism featuring kick ass blaxploitation flute), the sexy Under Your Charms and the lilting 1972 (which certain motel chains might wish to use in an advertising campaign), as well as Love Vibration, which I posted a few weeks ago. It’s an upbeat and charming and smooth and funky album with some lyrics hinting at a darker side to Rouse. It is possibly one of the albums of the decade.

1972 gained Rouse much critical attention, and in 2005 he matched its high quality with Nashville, his farewell paean to the city that he had called home for some years. On Nashville, Rouse recalled the ’80s “” there is more of a Smiths influence than C&W “” but more than that Rouse provided a combination of attributes that should appeal to fans of those artists he is often compared to: a bit like Elliott Smith, but less morose; a bit like Jeff Tweedy, but more relaxed; a bit like Ben Kweller, but more mature and consistent; a bit like Sufjan Stevens, but not as weird; a bit like Ryan Adams, but less smug. Add to that some stunning lyrics and catchy tunes, and you have an album people will rediscover in 20 years time and hold up as an example of why the 00s were a fine decade for music. Highlights include the regretful Middle School Frown (about betraying school friends in a bid to be seen as cool), poppy openers It’s The Nighttime and Winter In The Hamptons, and especially the astonishing Sad Eyes, a song that grabs you with its quiet pleading and then slays you an emotional crescendo (if you sample only one song from this lot, make it this one).

After Nashville, Rouse moved to Spain, fell in love, put on his slippers and relaxed. The result was 2006″s more tranquil and a little underwhelming Subtitulo, at least by Rouse’s standards. It’s not a poor album by any means. Some of it is pretty good. But unlike other Rouse albums, it packs no punch. It’s dinner party background music. And yet, as I try to choose two songs, I’m torn. Try Looks Like Love (Josh is in love and unsoppily tells us about it) and the one song that matches anything from the previous albums, the decidedly non-laid back His Majesty Rides.

This year”s Country Mouse City House, has been the most difficult Rouse album to get into since the first two. Here, Rouse hops genres at an alarming rate, which can be a bit disorientating. Its lack of cohesion betrays a deficit in focus, though not in quality. Take the songs in isolation, and there is plenty of material to include on a Josh Rouse retrospective. Sweetie is as cute as the title suggests, and Hollywood Bassplayer, God Please Let Me Go Back, and Italian Dry Ice, which he sings with a disconcertingly low voice, as well as Nice To Fit In (which sounds like it belongs on Nashville) are as good as anything Rouse has produced. See my review of the album here.

Josh Rouse – 1972.mp3 (from 1972)
Josh Rouse – Directions.mp3 (from Home)
Josh Rouse – God, Please Let Me Go Back.mp3 (from County Mouse City House)
Josh Rouse – His Majesty Rides.mp3 (from Subtítulo)
Josh Rouse – Hollywood Bassplayer.mp3 (from County Mouse City House)
Josh Rouse – Italian Dry Ice.mp3 (from County Mouse City House)
Josh Rouse – James.mp3 (from 1972)
Josh Rouse – Late Night Conversations.mp3 (from Dressed Up Like Nebraska)
Josh Rouse – Looks Like Love.mp3 (from Subtítulo)
Josh Rouse – Love Vibration.mp3 (from 1972)
Josh Rouse – Middle School Frown.mp3 (from Nashville)
Josh Rouse – Sad Eyes.mp3 (from Nashville)
Josh Rouse – Ugly Stories.mp3 (from Under Cold Blue Stars)
Josh Rouse – Under Your Charms.mp3 (from 1972)
Josh Rouse – Women And Men.mp3 (from Under Cold Blue Stars)

15 tracks: your Josh Rouse Best Of comp right there. Visit Josh Rouse’s homepage for tour dates and more.

Previously, love was shown for:
Jens Lekman
Rilo Kiley
Richard Hawley

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  1. Jim
    November 28th, 2007 at 23:17 | #1

    Awesome post. Josh Rouse is the most severely underrated performer out there – but, that makes him our little secret!

  2. Beth
    November 29th, 2007 at 00:19 | #2

    I second what Jim said. I don’t know how he is so little known. His songs are so consistent and his voice is so warm(I’m not saying this to upset you or anything, but, on Friday night I am going to see Josh Rouse… who is being supported by Jens Lekman…)

  3. Any major dude with half a heart
    November 29th, 2007 at 09:13 | #3

    Beth, I totally hate you! If Rilo Kiley make a surprise guest appearance, you’ll explode! I think I’d cry at the prospect of seeing Jens and Josh on the same bill.Well, I saw Farryl Purkiss and Bob Evans on one bill this year, and that was very special. Even though nobody knows who the are.And, yeah, Jim, I think you’re right. It’s nice to have a little secret. I wrote a review in which I said: “Country Mouse, City House will not propel the Nebraska-born singer-songwriter into the mainstream. And that is a good thing, for success might motivate Rouse to compromise the nuanced artistry of his music.”

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