31 January, 2008

New Soul - Yael Naim

Everyone Knows Everyone - The Helio Sequence

"There's no escaping,
there's nothing to escape..."


V'la l'Bon Vent

There's sometimes an enchanting quality to music from abroad. The lyrics don't have to be de-Anglicized, the sound can even be similar to that found in a Seattle coffee shop, but that hint of an accent or that small scent of a wind from another country can be just the stimulation the musical community needs. Appropriate then that the new Mac Air is being sold to the sound of one Yael Naim who can combine the sounds of France, Israel, and that aforementioned coffee shop into her single "New Soul".

On her self-titled album, Yael Naim manages to cross borders with every song. She begins with "Paris", a soft lullaby to the city of love. It sounds like the kind of song that would put anyone in a good mood, but would be especially potent on a sunny, spring morning by the river Seine. "Too Long" is a sadder song, one tinged with bitter-sweetness. It's followed by the stunning "New Soul", that is almost carnivalesque in its spirit. We find here the lilting horns and the flying chorus of "la la la la la la". Lyrically, this song just soars. Even when Yael's English fails to translate perfectly, the sentiment is so strongly applied to the entire essence of the song, that you can't help but feel like a little weight has been lifted from your shoulders when you listen.

After the gorgeous arrival of "New Soul", I was a bit worried for the rest of the album. It was inevitable that Yael Naim incorporate Hebrew into her songs, but could her voice - so pleasantly light and airy - withstand the guttural deluge of syllables that forms this language? On "Levater", Yael answers with a resounding yes. Yael demonstrates that she can both withstand the guttural intonations that could collapse even the most perfect diction, and raise the language to a different height of beauty. I've listened to a lot of music sung in Yiddish and Hebrew, quite a lot of it is good and some of it fails to be anything but distracting. Naim strikes a balance between raising the sound of the language to a praiseworthy level, and not losing herself, her spirit and voice, in the bargain. It's a tightrope walk that ends most pleasantly, with the walker intact and the audience in awe.

The album in full reminds me most of a strong but fleeting wind. The aroma is undeniable and the spirit catchy and appealing. Yael Naim makes you want to travel and explore the world that you glimpse in snatches through her songs; but for now you can just relax with your headphones and watch this good wind go.

29 January, 2008

A Groovy Buzz

Monday morning, at about 4:00 a.m., I heard this noise coming from my radio that I could not ignore. The song was "Got To Let Go" by The Bees (known as Band of Bees in the US for unspecified legal reasons). This song is groovy and borderline psychedelic. With tired ears, I thought I was hearing a Rolling Stones rarity, but then my helpful radio DJ cleared up my confusion. The Bees' music buzzes with barely repressed sexual tension, and grooves along like soul and Motown classics. "Got to Let Go" is funky and chill, with smooth horns and English harmonies. "Left Foot Stepdown" pulls in a little influential Latin rhythm, while "Who Cares What the Question Is?" rambles and slides like the best Southern blues. My personal favorite song on The Bees' latest release - Octopus - is the sweet and simple "Listening Man". The lyrics are exceptionally honest and beautiful, and the sound fresh but comfortable. Below I've posted the video, which I think is amazing!

25 January, 2008

Pumpkin Soup - Kate Nash

I think this video is hilarious and bizarre. Awesome!

The Tourist - Radiohead

"Hey man slow down,
slow down..."

24 January, 2008

The Magic of Chocolate

It's early to be doing a Valentine's Day post, I know. I'm also not a particular fan of the holiday, so I don't spend an inordinate amount of my time thinking about St. Valentine and all his little Cupids. This year though, it seems like the universe is conspiring against me, as a certain charming little book was placed in my hands just when I was becoming a sucker for hopeless romanticism. The book is Chocolat by Joanne Harris, and it's really a fantastic story. The thought of it warms my heart on cold winter days, kind of like the delicious title character. Oh chocolate! J.K. Rowling had it right when she made you the perfect bandage for all mental and physical woes. It's not that you fix everything, it's just that you make life a little sweeter, a little warmer, and a little softer around the edges. *Sigh* I'm feeling like celebrating this feeling, so in honor not of Valentine's Day but of true magic, romance, and chocolate, I bring you a little playlist.

"Hell No" by Sondre Lerche & Regina Spektor. It's a soft song with simple lyrics. It's a duet that rolls along gently, reminding the listener that people make mistakes, but love is still pretty powerful. On a more musical note, Spektor and Lerche are a perfect match vocally. Both singers have uniquely charming voices that lend some credence to the comfortable delivery. These crooners sound close, not tightly wound, just snuggly.

"A Kiss To Build A Dream On" by Louis Armstrong. What's more sweetly romantic than this song? To the tune of "La Vie En Rose", Louis hoarsely requests a kiss to build a dream on and then backs his request with powerful horns.

"The Story In Your Eyes" by the Moody Blues. This is very retro, but the lyrics are excellent. The backing "orchestra" as it were, is also pretty phenomenal. I especially like this section:

"...And the sound we make together
Is the music to the story in your eyes
It's been shining down upon me now
I realize...

"You Are The Sunshine of My Life" by Stevie Wonder. I can't listen to this song and frown. Musically it is undeniable, with a groovy bass-line, Latin percussion, and swinging horns. Stevie's voice is so soulful, so full-bodied, you can't help but feel the lyrics when he delivers them.

"Tell Mama" by Etta James. If these aren't Muscle Shoals musicians backing the unforgettable Etta, then they're just as talented. James herself is soul royalty, and this song always makes me want to wail along. The song can be summed up in one lyric: "I just want to take care of you". Sing it girl. I hope he hears.

"Dreams" by The Cranberries. There is something ethereal about Dolores O'Riordan's voice. Combine that spooky effect with soaring guitars and the completely honest lyrics and you get a perfect song.

These Words (LIVE) - Natasha Bedingfield

22 January, 2008

Pocketful of Something...

Natasha Bedingfield seems to be one of the more talented pop divas around. On both "Unwritten" and "These Words (I Love You, I Love You)" she stretches her vocals and her hooks to create songs that are ridiculously catchy and really quite pretty. Both those songs are from her 2005 debut album, Unwritten which spans and steals from genres like gospel, hip-hop and electronica. "I Bruise Easily" falls into the cooing don't-hurt-me ballad category, while "Size Matters" is an attempt at humor that falls slightly short (badump-bump!). Overall, Unwritten was not a bad album, it was also not a sad album, which makes this year's Pocketful of Sunshine seem rather redundant.

Pocketful of Sunshine starts off well enough with the bouncy, summery "Put Your Arms Around Me". "That original feeling never went away" is what Bedingfield claims in the lyrics, and it sure seems that way as this song takes you back to the sandy beaches and blasting radios of summer '05. It's on the second song, the title song, that Natasha stumbles a bit. Bedingfield's gifted with a voice that can really make a pop song soar. That's to say, she's far from Aretha, but she's also many steps up from Rihanna. On "Pocketful of Sunshine", Bedingfield settles into a basic R&B pattern that makes her voice sound boring, even with the generously scattered "ohs" that supposedly add flavor and sex-appeal to an otherwise unnecessary song. "Happy" is a huge step in the right direction musically, with an undeniable bass line and Bedingfield happily stretching her vocals. Despite the name, lyrically this song does not seem like one written by a very happy person. It's a laundry-list really, of all the reasons you should be happy, but aren't. The next song - "Love Like This" - is the first single, and it's a nice song. I actually like the song quite a bit, but there's nothing original about the sound or delivery. A little piano here, a few beats there, and everything is groovy. The rest of the songs on the album bounce around a bit. There are uneven patches, like the Fergalicious "Angel" where Natasha stoops to spelling out her title because she has nothing else to say, but overall the album's quite appealing summertime bubblegum music. This brings me to my real question: why wasn't this album released in the summer? I suppose I'll never have an answer, I'll just have to enjoy the sounds I get with snow on the ground.

20 January, 2008

19 January, 2008

Another List

I know there have been too many "Things to do before I die" lists in the news lately. I'm sick of them, and I'm sure you lovely readers are, but I'm still going to post my own list below. I wrote this about three years ago and just came across it the other day. Most of these things are still important to me, although living in NY and LA, and visiting Gilman Street are now secondary to living in a city that's working towards sustainability and visiting local music venues that are proponents of great local music. Things change, but my basic principles have stayed the same, which is somewhat comforting. If you want to experience another "list", read on. You can also just go and create your own...

Start a band

Live in NYC

Live in LA

Live in the Mountains

Go to Gilman St.

Write well

Work at a record label

Work at a radio station

Learn how to grow things

Work until my hands bleed

Travel with a passport

Do something worthwhile, something that changes the world

Mosh / Slamdance with complete strangers

Try to believe

Die my hair green

Get a meaningful tattoo...not an oops-i-did-it-while-i-was-wasted-always-regret-it tattoo

Learn how to take photos...well

Tell someone I love them...without expectations, or ideas of reciprocation

Take advanced math classes

Speak another language, fairly fluently

Leave notes in the margins

Listen to Led Zeppelin while driving fast in the middle of the night

Thank my parents

Make him the perfect mixtape

Learn to play drums

Take a chance

Make mistakes

Work for a cause

Get arrested for something I care about

Live with friends

Live with people I can’t stand

Live poor


18 January, 2008

Magnetic Attraction

A couple of posts ago I wrote about the new Magnetic Fields album and Stephin Merritt, the mind behind much of that album. Here, in the Village Voice, is an amusing interview with Merritt. And by amusing, I mean depressing? You'll see:

Misanthropic Fields Forever

Peace out.

The Sounds of Revolution

"Viva La Revolucion!" is the manifesto you'll see on many post-'90s ironic t-shirts, and on the back is usually a portrait of Che Guevara whose eyes are pinpoints of laser-focus, and whose revolutionary figure is backing capitalism, one department store statement at a time. It's kind of depressing really, that this figure has been relegated to discount bins at the local "punk" store. It doesn't make me sad because I'm a particular proponent of his politics, it just makes me sad because it shows a lack of critical thought. As if an entire life's ideals could be summed up in three words and a moody snapshot. These simplifications are created to enslave the proletariat, not to emancipate us.

That's why I was so pleased to find a great album of South American music dedicated to Che Guevara. It's not the music of a bunch of twenty-something nihilists who don't know that Che was born in Argentina to affluent parents only to die at the hands of the CIA in Bolivia. This album - Che Guevara - A Soundtrack to Life - is a proposed journey with Guevara from his roots in Argentina to his work in Cuba.

The first song "Iiueve En Buenos Aires" by Aftertango, is a breezy tango with whispered "vocals" dancing along with the accordion. It's somewhat of an introduction to the album. "El Cafetal/Sarandonga" by Laito Jr. is a celebration song with the sound of excited children cheering in the background. "Echale Semilla" by Axel Krygier is a more wild sounding song with heavy Latin rhythms and a combination of horns and flute that make for a folk-music feeling. Skip ahead a track to "Amalia Batista" by Los Naranjos. This song begins with a speech by - I would assume - Che Guevara himself against the former military leader of Cuba, Fulgencio Batista. Behind this speech is a sad trumpet that gives way to a groovy, bouncing rhythm and original vocals. The two following songs, "Ocaso Otano" and "Bolerito" are filled with similar pieces of speeches. These vocal asides add personality and depth to the songs, but it would be nice if the three were spread over the album a little more, instead of being clumped together. "Mi Isla" by Arte Mixto sounds to me like South American gospel music. There's a soaring string section that makes the rest of the tune float, and the vocals are absolutely sublime.

The following song, "No Mi Provoques" by Arcana is very different texturally. It's a smooth song, almost sensual, with lyrical flow that rivals that of the best rappers from the United States. "No Mi Provoques" also transitions nicely into "Refugio" by Lucio Mantel. It's the slowest song on the album, a real lullaby. The final song, "The Children of the Revolution" by El Medico, Kuva Man to Man & Los Compadres uses the basic rhythm and melody of the T. Rex song, but throws in yells and explosions for revolutionary appeal. The repeated "Viva Cuba Libre!" doesn't get tiring, but the electronic sounding guitar riffs do.

For anyone who has had enough of The Motorcycle Diaries soundtrack, Che Guevara - A Soundtrack to Life is a welcome musical escape, with all the strength of the revolutionary behind these intensely exciting tunes. Throw out the t-shirt, plug in your headphones, and get lost in the sounds of revolution.

16 January, 2008

When Things Get Messy

The Magnetic Fields is the main outlet of musical genius Stephin Merritt (Gothic Archies, the 6ths, and the bizarre and beautiful Orphan Of Zhao soundtrack). If you've listened to any of Merritt's music, then you know that it's completely unclassifiable and amazing. 69 Love Songs is an album that's exactly what it claims and so much more. The song "All My Little Words" has to be one of my all-time favorite love songs, and since love songs make up a huge percentage of the musical catalog, I would say that's saying something. Even though I'm not reviewing 69 Love Songs in this post, I'm going to share the full lyrics of "All My Little Words", just because they make the world a little more beautiful.

You are a splendid butterfly
It is your wings that make you beautiful
and I could make you fly away
but I could never make you stay
You said you were in love with me
Both of us know that that's impossible
and I could make you rue the day
but I could never make you stay
Not for all the tea in China
not if I could sing like a bird
not for all North Carolina
not for all my little words
not if I could write for you the sweetest song you ever heard
It doesn't matter what I do
not for all my little words
Now that you've made me want to die
you tell me that you're unboyfriendable
and I could make you pay and pay
but I could never make you stay...

Isn't that fantastic?

Well, now that I have your attention lovely blog readers, I want to talk about the latest Magnetic Fields album: Distortion. It sounds like something that would come out of a Seattle grunge band's repertoire, and this album is incredibly heavy, fuzzy, and altogether distorted, but it isn't grungey at all.

"Three Way" starts the album off with a Beach Boys underwater feel. It's kinda groggy, but still upbeat. It's the second track - "California Girls" - that's the first song to really make me smile. It's far from another musical celebration of well-endowed blondes who spend their free-time tanning, in fact it's a declaration of pure hatred for girls who buy into the body-image hype and dumb themselves down for their California boys. Refreshingly bitter, and the fact that it's delivered like an unholy mix of Cheap Trick and Supertramp just makes me smile even wider. "Old Fools" is the first song to truly sound like the Magnetic Fields, and maybe this is because Stephin Merritt's undeniably lachrymose voice is all over this track. The song is also down-tempo, slow and steady with chiming background bells and ghostly apparitions of carnival piano. The next song that really strikes a chord with me (badump bump, ahahahah) is "Please Stop Dancing", which could very easily have been a 1980s club hit if it hadn't been made in the 2000s. "Drive On, Driver" follows with cooing lyrics and the melody of a haphazard lullaby. It's quite charming in an extremely messy way, and that's really how I would describe this whole album: a charming mess.

Given the revealing nature of the title, I will assume that Distortion was an extremely premeditated mess, and one that will not be cleaned up anytime soon. I don't mind this mess at all, because I've found, after many years of careful listening, that Stephin Merritt's music is always great. The disorderly piles of sound that emerge from his work with the Magnetic Fields are just more places where Merritt's profound sound can be experienced, and they are all the more interesting for their cluttered exteriors.

Who plays rock 'n' roll anymore?

Marah does, and their latest album Angels of Destruction can't really be designated as any other kind of music. Yes, there's a definite Clapton influence, some Kinks for good measure, and the occasional tune that conjures Mr. Springsteen from New Jersey and worships him in a dusty dive-bar somewhere near a desert. Compellingly, Angels of Destruction is rock 'n' roll without complications. Marah hasn't set the bar unreachably high, so the music is comfortable and usually well-performed.

"Coughing Up Blood" starts the album off with steady guitar strumming and an incredibly catchy bass vocal chorus of "bah bom bah bah bom bom". The title itself would've won points from me, even if the music was pure garbage. Luckily, the music is far from garbage. "Old Time Tickin' Away" is the upbeat single that jams along with jumpy guitar riffs and vocal delivery that combines the Velvet Underground's suavity with the Kinks' bar-rock drawl. "Angels on A Passing Train" pulls out the rock 'n' roll piano for the first ballad. There was something eerily familiar about the piano melody, and I realized that it instantly reminded me of the interlude in "Layla". After a close listen, the two piano melodies are not as similar as I originally imagined, but there's still something there - maybe simmering longing - that instantly groups these tracks together in my mind. The lyrical delivery on this song, instead of being restless, sounds completely weary, almost like the singer is gingerly nursing a hangover while crooning into the microphone. "Wild West Love Song" calls in the remains of a boogie-woogie piano line. Another repeatedly wailing guitar sits just above the lead singer's scattered vocals. For all of the sound layered in this song, "Wild West Love Song" is absolutely a skeleton in the desert. The place where this song echoes is so unimaginably huge that you can just catch the sound as it diffuses through space; it's really an awesome effect. "Blue But Cool" is where I hear undistilled Springsteen, and where I also feel the most affection for Marah. This song is truly gorgeous, probably my favorite tune on the whole album. It plays to a desert as lonely and expansive as that in "Wild West Love Song", but this is a desert at night, so it's also cold and blue when you move away from the campfire. The guitar waltzes along, almost constellating. It truly does remind me of constellations and shooting stars, the otherworldly things that we can almost take home with us if we just reach far enough.

There's only one song on the whole album that I feel should have been tossed to the side before the record was finished. "Santos De Madera" is a bizarre and jolting tune. It keeps company with such graceful songs, it's a bit of a shame it wasn't saved for another album. The tune starts out well enough, although the melody sounds more like Celtic folk than Americana. As the vocals begin, this song takes a sharp turn downhill, with a goofy fading effect more appropriate for progressive rock tunes and a child-sized piano line. This isn't a sound you're likely to hear in an old, dusty bar, or giant desert, or even in Central and South America, places Marah seems to be trying to visit. "Santos De Madera" wouldn't sound particularly out of place on an Animal Collective album, but stay clear of it if you're looking for anything close to good ol' rock 'n' roll.

Overall, Angels of Destruction is an incredibly steady album, and one that will have any fan of rock 'n' roll nodding their head in no time. Marah's been around for quite a few years, but I whole-heartedly hope that they have a few more albums like this up their sleeves.

15 January, 2008

History Repeating

I was swept off my feet by the depth and beauty of the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack composed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet. By "swept off my feet", I mean that I was completely rapt with attention, pulled into the story, connected to the characters, and immersed in the emotion of the film. For those who don't know, Pride and Prejudice is a love-story based on the classic novel by Jane Austen. It starred Keira Knightley, and was directed by Joe Wright.

Atonement, on the other hand, is a love-story based on the critically-acclaimed novel by Ian Mcewan. It stars Keira Knightley, and was directed by Joe Wright. Hmm, sounds familiar. Well, I've yet again been completely swept off my feet by the gorgeous soundtrack.

Dario Marianelli, who also created the soundtrack for I Capture the Castle (an equally multifaceted, lush, and heartbreaking movie, I must add), has composed a score that's fragile and powerful, just like Atonement. This story is about stories, and the power they have to make and break lives. It's especially fitting that the first song, "Briony", pulses with the expectant tapping of a typewriter. "Robbie's Note" simmers and wanders unsteadily, quite intoxicated with the idea of love and lust. "Two Figures By A Fountain" flits about with the tension and drama that's so imperative to that scene in the book. The rest of the songs on the album find a place between the intensely restless, climactic mood that underscores Briony's guilt and excitement, and a more somber, pained, and thoughtful quality that best expresses the passion between Robby and Cecilia.

Did I forget to mention that Jean-Yves Thibaudet makes a cameo appearance on this album? "Suite Bergamasque - 3. Clair de Lune" is another piano song, that takes the spot of the story's epilogue. Where the penultimate song "Atonement" is weighed down with what could have been, the Thibaudet track is a quiet celebration of what was.

I've yet to see Atonement, but if it's anything like Pride and Prejudice (and I've already proven that it is), then everyone should watch this movie to fully enjoy the depth of the soundtrack. Watch, and be swept away.


I find something incredibly annoying about music created for art's sake. I think it's pompous and boring for a band to squeeze obtuse sounds out of arcane instruments, while floating obscure literary references in a sea of words handpicked from multitudinous thesauri (yes, I pluralized it.) What can I say? It's a pet peeve. As with my chosen reading material, I require a certain discernible point. This doesn't have to be a concrete allegory, it could very well be another question, but there has to be something that you can take away with you in the end.

This little pet peeve has often led me away from music by the Fiery Furnaces. Yes, there's something intriguing about a sibling band that writes a whole album dedicated to their deceased grandmother, but I can't often stomach the seemingly purposeful inaccessibility of their music. I mostly ignored Rehearsing My Choir (the aforementioned grandmother album), Blueberry Boat, and Bitter Tea. "Benton Harbor Blues" was the one song from these three albums that I found at all interesting, but at over seven minutes even this song was a little too intensely cheery for my ears to handle.

Widow City was released last fall, and its eighteen tracks are only slightly more accessible than those found on the other albums. Still, I find this album immensely enjoyable in small doses. If you made me listen to all eighteen songs in a row, I think I might never listen to the Fiery Furnaces again, but "The Philadelphia Grand Jury" and "Automatic Husband" are actually incredibly enjoyable rock/pop tunes. There's a definite continuity to this album that cannot be found on the other Fiery Furnaces' releases. The instrumental flourishes are similar from song to song, and the vocals are steadier and more self-assured. Unfortunately, the lyrics still lean more towards Dadaism than Impressionism or even Surrealism. In order to analyze the lines and stanzas, you practically need to be in the writer's head, and I have a sneaking suspicion that any underlying meaning you eventually uncovered would still be annoyingly personal. In the end though, I'm unable to completely write off the Fiery Furnaces. Let's hope this is a band that becomes more accessible with age.

Sardonic Sweetness

I'm not someone to shy away from sarcasm. In fact, I find it decidedly refreshing and often exhilarating when I hear it in music that has long gone stale with its own self-importance. When coupled with a voice or tune that would otherwise be sickeningly sweet, sarcasm can give a song dimensions.

Think of Liz Phair. Many music fans know her as a woman who released a fairly mainstream album back in 2003. She received quite a lot of airtime with "Why Can't I", a song that I think is just too wrapped up in itself to be taken seriously. Travel back with me to the early '90s when Ms. Phair was first recording. She released a soon to be cult album entitled Exile In Guyville. Based on the sounds of her more recent album, you might expect Exile in Guyville to be female singer-songwriter fluff without a bite, but the music on this album is vicious and acerbic, witty and sardonic. "Fuck and Run" and "Flower" are both crude, warped, and emotionally raw. The latter is an obscenity-filled ode to a boy, that's basically crooned over some soft folk. "Fuck and Run" on the other hand questions the very idea of a boyfriend, almost eulogizing those imperfect expectations that come packaged alongside girls' dreams of being princesses. Phair wonders:

"Whatever happened to a boyfriend, the kinda guy who tries to win you over? And whatever happened to a boyfriend, the kinda guy who makes love 'cause he's in it?

And I want a boyfriend
I want a boyfriend
I want all that stupid old shit like letters and sodas...

It's simply raw and real, no fluff. Most importantly there are no lyrical cliches that help to build that assumption that relationships are like fairy-tales. Phair was tearing down those assumptions and replacing them with something closer to reality, but somewhere along the way she must have decided that reality doesn't sell on the radio.

Phair laments the loss of "real" boyfriends, but every line in the song describes her relationship with a boy who doesn't even care. Phair is just hurting herself now, and she realizes this and questions her own decisions. This is a good step forward, but there's never any real catharsis on Exile in Guyville.

At this point we can travel back to 2007-2008, a time filled with female singer-songwriters both sweet and sardonic. This is the time when the best-selling movie fairy-tale, Enchanted, is full of sarcasm and self-referential humor. I'm all for this push towards reality. Expectations have been awfully high for a long time. I mean how many guys own a castle? What I think is important though is that girls realize they can still be in a good relationship. Here comes Jenny Owen Youngs with Batten the Hatches. She flirts with disaster and the pain of a bad relationship on "Fuck Was I", and with crooning vocals delivers her own thoughtlessness to any girls willing to listen. The point? Sometimes you fall and it takes a hell of a lot of strength to get back up. "P.S." is a declaration of personal independence from the negativity that surrounds a failing relationship. These songs are raw.

I love fairy-tales and "happily ever afters" as much as anyone, but I also see that sometimes these stories can skew reality. When you need an injection of raw emotion, listen to old Liz Phair and Jenny Owen Youngs. Personally, I'm going to continue to dream of "happily ever afters", while remembering that nothing is perfect.

14 January, 2008

Have You Gone Completely Daft?

Let's hope so.

I'm crazy for Daft Punk's Alive 2007, an album of their live galvanic music. This is the kind of album that makes me think of Frankenstein's monster and Kanye West in the same moment. Granted, there are more similarities between Frankenstein's monster and Mr. West than you would first assume, but it's still pretty cool that pitchfork riots and Star Trek beats can come together on a live album.

When I listen, I think of Blue Man Group. This isn't because Daft Punk makes music that's particularly similar to that of the little blue men, but more because these two groups have pushed the concert concept further into the future than almost any other band I've heard. In a way, these groups pulse towards the primal. The beats are all-important; the rhythm, lighting, and mood are everything. The technical prowess of the musicians is less important than the crowd's overwhelming need to dance. It's computerized catharsis, and it's wild.

"Television Rules the Nation/Crescendolls", "Around the World/Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger", "Touch It/Technologic", and all of the other amalgamated songs on this album are really one giant song. It's a looping, bouncing, mashing mess of energy and electricity. Listen with care, but let yourself go.

Fall Is Just Something Grown Ups Invented - The Hives

11 January, 2008

Just Because You're Paranoid...

...don't mean they're not after you :)

Repress U

A three-page Nation article on how our college campuses are becoming centers for the Big Brotherization of the United States. Quite interesting and terrifying.

Baba O' Riley - The Who

"I don't need to fight to prove I'm right. I don't need to be forgiven."

08 January, 2008

Stuck Between Stations - The Hold Steady

there are nights when i think that sal paradise was right.
boys and girls in america have such a sad time together.
sucking off each other at the demonstrations.
making sure their makeup's straight.
crushing one another with colossal expectations.
dependent, undisciplined, sleeping late.

she was a really cool kisser and she wasn't all that strict of a christian.
she was a damn good dancer but she wasn't all that great of a girlfriend.
he likes the warm feeling but he's tired of all the dehydration.
most nights were crystal clear but tonight its like it's stuck between stations
on the radio.

the devil and john berryman took a walk together
they ended up on washington talking to the river
he said "I surrounded myself with doctors and deep thinkers
but big heads with soft bodies make for lousy lovers".
there was that night that we thought that john berryman could fly.
but he didn't so he died.
she said "you're pretty good with words but words won't save your life"
and they didn't so he died.

he was drunk and exhausted but he was critically acclaimed and respected.
he loved the golden gophers but he hated all the drawn out winters.
he likes the warm feeling but he's tired of all the dehydration.
most nights were kind of fuzzy but that last night he had total retention.

these twin city kisses.
sound like clicks and hisses.
and we all come down and drown in the mississippi river.

well we drink and we dry up
and now we crumble into dust.

we get wet and we corrode
and now we get covered in rust.


I was trying to think of a word that evokes deep darkness, and Mephistopheles popped into my head. Devil of the Faust legend, Mephistopheles is cast in shadow, fire, and brimstone. Pretty creepy dude. Miss Ludella Black isn't quite his counterpart on land (and in female form), but her music makes Amy Winehouse's Back To Black seem positively perky.

Miss Ludella Black is Joan Jett meets Grace Slick with a little Robert Plant thrown in for gender-ambiguous rock 'n' roll measure. Her music isn't new by any standards. The music on She's Out There sounds like it was recorded and gestated in the 1960s, but the album was only made back in 2000 (oh, so long ago).

Fourteen songs with shuddery, wailing vocals and crashing, almost anti-melodic guitar-playing. MLB starts with "He's Out There", a heartbroken rocker. The lyrics are almost in complete opposition to the delivery and instrumentation. Miss Black is expressing her emotional depression at the loss of a boy, but the guitars clang and smash around in the background, and Ludella's own voice is full of power, not torn by powerlessness. "This Room" and "Love Pours Out Of My Heart" grab onto different 1960s themes. "This Room" is similar to the Specials' "Ghost Town", full to bursting with spaghetti-western creepiness, and almost unctuous and overly dramatic in delivery. "Love Pours Out Of My Heart" hits a Beach Boys stride, but it's more Pet Sounds than "Good Vibrations". "Why?" sounds eerily similar to "White Rabbit". Heavy and dramatic delivery, and climaxing guitar and drum play in the background.

The rest of the album is composed of fairly similar tracks. Like I said, there isn't much that's truly new on She's Out There; yet, I find this sound intoxicating. It's powerful music coming from an undeniably female voice, and it truly rocks. I wouldn't listen to Miss Ludella Back on dark and rainy days, but when I'm feeling particularly kick-ass, I could definitely throw her album in my stereo. This is pure fire and brimstone, with lots of shadows thrown into the mix, and I can imagine listening to this album after a session of Led Zeppelin on a midnight drive. Let's just hope Miss Ludella Black isn't down for the count, and that Mephistopheles isn't taking over any time soon.

05 January, 2008

Cold is Just the Absence of Heat

That's what I keep telling myself as I pile on the sweaters and layer my socks, as I gulp down bowls of chili and turn my car heater on full-blast. I was lucky to discover that there's no absence of heat in the songs of Etana, a female reggae artist whose songs appear on volumes 36 and 38 of the Strictly the Best reggae compilation albums.

Hailing from Jamaica, with only a handful of songs to her name, Etana strikes soulful chords and hits creative highs that few full-fledged reggae artists even touch upon in their lengthy careers. "Roots" is a song that combines African rhythms with roots reggae lyrics and jammin' guitar. This song is smooth, and Etana's voice is soulful, full-bodied, and intensely accented by her Jamaican home. Her first single, "Wrong Address", is a story of struggle, a more fitting anthem for the reality of Jamaica than the watered down Marley used to advertise the tourist spots. "Warrior Love" is more straightforward: a love-song in the vein of Rihanna. Still, lyrically this song is more multifaceted than most of the music on Good Girl Gone Bad, and Etana's voice is heavier and more interesting than Rihanna's croaky whine (although, I can't say that I'm not a fan of "Umbrella").

Overall, Etana is a promising new talent on the reggae scene. Her music immediately struck a chord with me, finding that sweet spot where the sound is pleasing but also slightly challenging. Far from mundane and homogeneous, Etana's music is warm and her lyrics thoughtful. Reggae music needs a new injection of life, and this talented songstress may be up to the challenge.

04 January, 2008

The Many Faces of R. Zimmerman

Where do Karen O, Eddie Vedder, The Hold Steady, and Jack Johnson come together? In a soundtrack tribute to arguably the greatest singer-songwriter in history: Bob Dylan. I haven't seen I'm Not There, because I'm of the belief that Cate Blanchett is androgynous enough as a woman, and also because I've recently been spending all of my extra money on music and not on other activities. A hermit's life is fine, as long as I have a new album or two for my little playlist parties.

In all honesty (my sarcasm has beem placed on a back-burner), I wasn't too interested in watching another movie about Bob Dylan after wasting a couple hours of my life on No Direction Home. This 2005 Scorsese documentary held a lot of potential, but it ended with disastrous anticlimax and left me feeling little affection for the man behind the music. I wasn't even paying attention to all the I'm Not There hype recently, until I heard the song "As I Went Out One Morning" performed by Mira Billotte. This song's pretty damn sexy, with overwhelming 1970's bass pumping up the melodic - almost European - folk guitar. Billotte herself owns a voice which has depth and echo. Where Dylan has an unholy wail, Billotte has an entrancing almost fantastic vocal quality. Drama is the key (can anyone say Joan Baez?).

I was pretty thrown by this song, and I decided that I needed to pay attention to the rest of the album, which - it turns out - is good. It's a bit of an inconsistent collection, which leads me to wonder if the film is also disorienting and jumbled. Still, I don't mind being a little disoriented when there are so many finely crafted songs being expressed in new ways by so many talented artists. With thirty-seven songs (including bonus tracks), this album is stuffed with sounds both popular and more arcane. For a hardcore Dylan fan, this may be a bit frustrating, as there does not seem to be a solid time-line or plan for the song arrangement. I don't really care. I am neither a hardcore Dylan fan, nor an obsessed soundtrack enthusiast who requires that her tracks be played in the order they appear in the film.

I'm very happy to hear songs as inspired as the "All Along The Watchtower" cover by Eddie Vedder and the Million Dollar Bashers, and the title song by Sonic Youth. These two songs are only the beginning, and they are followed by many more explorations in rock-star homage. "Ring Them Bells" by Sufjan Stevens combines the notable whisperings of one fifty-state folk-singer with guitars reminiscent of the Grateful Dead (regular Dylan collaborators). "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" by the Hold Steady is a solid chunk of American rock 'n roll, deserving of a dusty juke-box on the road of any Kerouac-inspired cross-country trip. Then there's "Maggie's Farm" by Stephen Malkmus and those Million Dollar Bashers. Where Dylan's original shuffles along a dusty road with lyrical highs and lows, the Malkmus cover is more spirited and powerfully rebellious. The cover is obviously the product of a generation whose rock 'n' roll is more ironic than life-changing, and I like this fact.

Throughout the album, various artists capture the ideas and beauty of Dylan songs, but do not relinquish their personal artistic spirit in the process. It's refreshing to hear Antony & The Johnsons inspired by Bob Dylan and not Antony & the Johnsons pretending to be Bob Dylan. Too often, tribute albums rehash music that has already been played so well and with such inherent meaning that the covers are superfluous. On the I'm Not There soundtrack, the artists maintain their greatness and originality - which was affected by Dylan's music in the first place - and celebrate the sound with soul and ingenuity.

03 January, 2008

02 January, 2008

Riding the Subway

In my opinion, there aren't many bands who sound better live than they do recorded. In this category, I can now place the Subways, a punky Brit-teen group that had a hit with the rollicking "Rock & Roll Queen" a couple years back. 2006's Young for Eternity was popular with OC fans and ironic hipsters, but after the maddeningly incessant airplay accorded to "Rock & Roll Queen" the Subways were left to wander their underground tunnels, teenage angst and beat-up guitars in hand.

Well, maybe their fall wasn't that bad. The band is currently recording their sophomore album. I'm just beginning to feel some affection for Young for Eternity, now that my ears have stopped ringing every time I hear the opening guitar noise of "Rock & Roll Queen". That song will be forever linked to the OC in my dark and messy mind, and whether some other young person can extricate the catchy melody from the disgusting drama and awful acting of one horrible television hit is really a question for another time. For now, I'm enjoying The Subways Live and Acoustic in Magdeburg. Recorded in a German city and released in November, this collection of seven songs is truly sublime. The Subways' punk jangle and ragged vocals were meant for live/acoustic intimacy, a far cry from the stadium rock spotlight they found themselves basking under a few years back. The songs are generally short and sweet, and sound more multifaceted with the lack of production effects weighing down their inherent simplicity.

The opening "Oh Yeah" rumbles and jingles with dive-bar grime instead of studio shine. You can hear the titular "oh yeah"s as they bounce around the room. "Mary" is a wailing ode to the girl of every wandering boy's dreams. Mary's the kind of girl who'll let you hang around even when you're lazy and lacking in motivation, and she'll also keep you full of tea and smiles according to the lyrics of this song. Short, sweet, and to the point. In this case, the sound of Billy Lunn's oscillating voice could sate the romantic appetite of any girl who's heard enough "Hey There Delilah" from her boy's MP3 player. "No Goodbyes" reminds me of acoustic Nirvana. The sound isn't as husky or deep, but Lunn brings his voice awfully close to Cobain's weary apathetic whisper-wail. My favorite song on this album is the buzzing "With You", that is repetitively good-natured and sweet. Sample lyric: "When I'm with you it seems so easy...". Maybe it's not the beginning of a Shakespeare sonnet, but the Subways have a way of writing lines that capture an entire emotion with incredible simplicity. The next two songs are the two which have given The Subways the most air-time: "I Want To Hear What You've Got To Say" and (of course) "Rock & Roll Queen". Although I've heard these songs countless times before, I found their acoustic versions particularly refreshing and engaging. Even "Rock & Roll Queen" takes on a new meaning when the underlying lust of the song is loosed upon the listener. The final song is a clapping, raucous, crowd celebration, more of a gift to the big fans than a gem for the casual listener. Still, this song isn't too shabby and would probably be fun background music for a late-night drive or an early-morning party.

Overall, The Subways Live and Acoustic in Magdeburg shows a young band at their best: far from the grasping hands of greedy record company executives and soul-stealing recording equipment.

01 January, 2008

Orgone Accumulator

For those of you who thought neo-soul was big in the '90s with Me'Shell Ndegeocello and India Arie, let me pass on this information: you ain't seen nothing yet! Granted, Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones are making music that's a far cry from Erykah Badu, but you can still hear Aretha and Etta in the belting and Muscle Shoals tightness in the instrumentation. This is music rooted in funk, soul, Motown, and R&B, and it's the kind of music that's likely to send chills down your spine and "make you wanna shout" (a little bit softer now?).

With all of these soul classics spinning on contemporary artist's MP3 players, I wasn't really surprised to discover the Orgone band. I was a little surprised to find that this band has been recording music for seven years now. I had never heard their funky tunes until I stumbled upon their name on a KEXP playlist (thank my music-loving friends who pass along excellent resources). Now I'm jamming with their latest album adventure, The Killion Floor. It's got your Meters-inspired funk, your soulful/gospel jams, some Afrobeat-ish explorations, and a couple of almost-Disco boogie songs that are saved by their close relation to Jamiroquai (you can't say bad things about Jam).

The sound on this album is galvanic, infectious even, appropriate given the fact that the band's name is a reference to Orgone energy, a kind of life-force apparently "discovered" by the scientist Wilhelm Reich in the 1930s. I've read about Reich before, and I think he was just building upon an idea that's been thrown around in the Eastern part of the world for centuries (can anyone say chi?). He did, however, have some other interesting scientific theories, including the Orgone accumulator which is an energy-focusing box (fans of Kerouac will remember this from On The Road), and a "cloudbuster" or weather-controlling machine. You can read about Wilhelm Reich online, but I do digress, and really what I want to tell you about is music.

The Killion Floor starts with a steady groove and some funky organ on "Easin (Introlude)", and continues with the fantastically Aretha-esque "Who Knows Who?". I can't tell you if the title of this song is purposely suggestive of "Who's Zoomin Who?", but I do know that the music is closer to Aretha's roots than to her more contemporary songs. It's the song of a powerful woman who has been treated with less respect than she's due. Imagine "Think" or "Chain Of Fools" with cleaner production values and a huskier-voiced songstress. This songstress, by the way, is Fanny Franklin who serendipitously shares her surname with the Queen of Soul. "Sophisticated Honky" is a jam bursting with guitar riffage that would make the great Blues geniuses smile. It also owns a jazzy horn section that's tight, smooth, and funky fresh.

This music is is delicious, and the album is jam-packed with sound. Not only do the majority of the songs clock in at over four minutes, but there are also a whopping eighteen tracks stuffed onto The Killion Floor. For those music lovers who go for quality over quantity, you'll find plenty to rave about on this album. "Dialed Up" channels Jamiroquai, and is one of those tracks that even people who listened to "their music" in a closet when disco was popular could find entertaining. My favorite songs on the album stay away from the disco stuff, but are also inherently entertaining. The trio of "Justice League", "Funky Nassau", and "Lone Ranger" are meant for greatness in some spaghetti western martial arts comedy. "Justice League" combines the Meters' climbing funk with the beating rhythm of Afrobeat. "Funky Nassau" pulls in a tight vocal and a little wah-wah action to make you shake your hips. "Lone Ranger" takes the cake with an almost Reggae smoothness and a semi-sinister undertone. You can just imagine the possibilities of these three songs as soundtrack music.

The Killion Floor is a force of nature as far as musical experiences go. This is the kind of album that anyone could lose themselves in; but, it is a special rabbit-hole for the musical Alice's who haven't had enough soul Wonderland. My advice to you lovely readers is to set aside an afternoon and chill, because great funk and soul cannot be rushed. It's an experience that should savored.