Saturday, October 31, 2009
Shove It (Santigold); kicks ass and seductive as hell too. ()
Walking with Thee (Clinic): a rock quickie that never stops giving. ()
Glow (Nelly Furtado): La Bella Furtado treats the underground with her fabulousness and it works. ()
Freetime (Kenna): a less sober pop/rock aeuter than Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson and TV on the Radio but no less a threat as evidenced here. ()
Alla This (Ani DiFranco): A vicious yet sweet anti-war, anti-branding, anti-sexist track that restores the feminine mystique only DiFranco seems to hold up, years after being out in the fields. It figures such a complex artist would not be able to do a ballad decked out with only personal views on, say, such pastoral things like the changing of the season. Not Ani, not ever. Here she swipes organized religion, George W Bush and just men on a whole. Whew! ()
Dirt off Your Shoulder (Jay Z): forget 99 Problems and focus on real Jigga Swagger. ()
Hot Wuk (remix) (Mr. Vegas feat. Opal): a huge splice of Jamaican dancehall with an even huger impact on hip/hop culture. ()
For the Pier (and dead Shimmering) (Sunset Rubdown): Spenser Krug does rock drama more lavishly and better than anyone else and here is but one of the many proofs. ()
Wamp Wamp (What it Do) (Clipse): the nefarious gangster rap that cats like Nas can no longer deliver divert into the hands of Clipse and while critics have gone way too overboard to hand them props, this is very much deserved. ()
Miss Jackson (Outkast): revenge Badu ode? ()
Philly native Santi White is the residual force of this entity (John Hill runs the tweaks in the background). The album effortlessly mirrors the 80’s pop vibe she clearly fell in love with growing up, without overdoing it. Subtle tracks like Lights Out and Anne reveal a Pixies fixation that is mingled with a contemporary funk intuition. Even better, the punk-tinged You’ll Find a Way runs its heavenly chorus with remarkable skill. Not content there, she rolls out ska by numbers on Say Aha and infuses it with dub and new wave. If that hasn’t hooked you then L.E.S Artistes tags along merely for bragging rights and, as brawta, Shove It downright kicks ass. She could have comfortably fit right into ‘American M.I.A’ space critics were desperately trying to pin her down in but White’s brilliance is as stubborn as it is unique. One hell of an authoritative body of work too. ()
Dear Emily, Best Wishes, Molly (Prussia) (2008):
for the most part, punk was pretty low-laying in 2008 but no one told Prussia. These kids actually impress upon the genre their own intent: Oil wreaks itself with a type of narcissism, slick its space with lyrics that actually fits its title. Supreme Being glides over its start-stop-start terrain. There’s a wide-eyed pragmatism that Prussia blends on the album that keeps the focus steady. Even more stunning is the funkiness of their beats (Lady, Lady). It’s not all sledge here; there’s some real heart and realism in it too. Besides how does one not love a Rolling Stones-esque track like Closed Lips?
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Music Hole (Camille) (2008):
Allowed to fall through the cracks of narrowed American tastes, Camile’s outstanding sophomore will no doubt be appreciated at a later stage. For those purists who got it while hot, who can forget the rave up that was Katie’s Tea or the divine trio—Home is Where it Hurts, Kfir, Waves—where her truest indicator of growth was the stunning yet broad palette of influences explored. If those weren’t moments enough to savor, she whips out Money Note and dances and pokes fun of divas all in a smart rip. ()
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below(Outkast) (2003):
Quite possibly the last combined work of Andre 3000 and Big Boi, this double opus is split into separate sections so each genius can explore without sharing. Andre’s half, The Love Below, proves what we already know: he’s the eccentric one. Andre juxtaposes obvious influences (Prince, Marvin Gaye, Jimmy Hendrix, Sly Stone) with rather experimental production. It’s a challenge because there’s no Big Boi to balance it out but he doesn’t falter. Spread is deliciously evil, with thundering beats and a falsetto to die for. Hey Ya revels in Beatles-esque energy without sounding self-conscious. She Lives in My Lap seamlessly samples Ghetto Boyz with spoken word from Rosario Dawson. Add the creepy-sounding Dracula’s Wedding and you’re left with one hell of a musical mind-fuck. Big Boi’s half has more conventional hip/hop joints that seem schooled from the track Red Velvet from their Stankonia CD. Any of the following…The Rooster, Ghettomisick and The Way You Move prove my point.
Some Loud Thunder(Clap Your Hands Say Yeah) (2007):
in a stunning about –face, critics jumped the gun on the band as soon as the wrapper came of this sophomore effort but here now was Alec Ounsworth laden heavily with critical praise and genuine emptiness inside, spilling his guts. Credit him for maintaining his head because though the album is imperfect and downright messy, the genius is undeniable. ‘I’m at the end/ this here my rope’, he spits out on standout Mama, Won’t You Keep Them Castles in the Air & Burning? The main sentiments here are tension and pessimism. It fills out the bones of the heart-breaking Yankee Go Home and even carps out the funkiness of Satan Said Dance. Yet, for the few missteps there are moments like Underwater (You and Me) that reinforces that nothing is quite as blissful as Beatles-esque indie rock.
Fix Up, Look Sharp (Dizzie Rascal): helped usher in the new interest in garage and British hip/hop.
Highly Suspicious (My Morning Jacket): amounts to an admirable yet shameless Prince-aping.
Money Note (Camille): rotates endlessly, noisily until done just right because Camille can muster up more funk in a sentence than all the American divas this entire decade.
Buriedfed (Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson): the sound of a dejected man who has given up on life with no hope of turning back.
You Don’t Know My Name (Alicia Keys): if ever Keys’ talent was in doubt then came along this track to reinforce that despite the nameless marketing that surrounds her, she can deliver occasionally even if Kanye West had a heavy hand in this effort.
A Long Walk (Jill Scott): an earthy rambling poem that soaks with a woman’s introspection and blues.
Peacebone (Animal Collective): an impressive manifestation of the freak/folk movement they sit atop of.
Rival (Pearl Jam): a timely reminder that Vedder still has his hand on adolescent rage.
Red Blooded Woman (Kylie Minogue): of all Minogue’s tasty singles this decade, Red Blooded Woman stands out because it offers the most substance. The track is basically a discussion between the singer’s id and ego trying to negotiate her getting laid and/or falling too quickly in love. It’s a fascination that has eluded me forever: how the adult female mind works.
Where is the Line? (Bjork): Bjork, trapped somewhere between her hyperactive imagination and the Super Mario bros video game…you do the math on how else this could’ve worked out.
Take One…Take Two
For some time now there’s been an unofficial version of FrYars aka Ben Garrett’s debut proper, in fact the release date became a guessing game at one point. And, really if I wasn’t so caught up in the brilliance of this ‘raw’ version, I should have realized the obvious: changes were coming to its structure.
Changes that, quite frankly, mar the final product’s impact on me as a critic but that the average music lover will not even have noticed. For starters, the leaked version has nine tracks that do not appear on the final product, which itself brandishes four new songs. This swap is puzzling but seems a ploy to add variety to Garrett’s ingrained voice. Jarusalem is a disco-meets-bar number that snaps with a lot of surround sound but it doesn’t make Garrett a pop chameleon but, ironically, isolates him from the scene in which he should naturally connect. A Last Resort is even odder, a stab at folk-pop that doesn’t work and features cringe-worthy lines (I’m in a church/ I f-ck up my future). Morning is the type of album-ending crap that a dynamic musician like FrYars should know better to record. It’s obvious filler and he doesn’t even put much into the few lines repeated. The only one that works is Ananas Trunk Railway where his voice booms out over the music for once.
Interestingly, the tracks that didn’t make it on to the disc are the last nine songs on the leaked version. I’m not sure if there was some contractual reason but without a few of them, Dark Young Hearts only just manages to retain teeth. Gone are the melodrama of Atoms for Peace and Polystyrene which, ironically, is the musical diversity this finished product lacks. Gone is the ruthless pop brilliance of The Box, a track that obsesses wryly over death and a criminal cover-up. When Garrett tears into the final couplet it becomes the sheer bliss that Antony Hegarty hasn’t produced in years. Garrett manages to sound comfy equally in the studio as well as a pub, with his mature yet stoned vocals. The two biggest omissions though are Madeline and Horse and Man. Both tracks are among his strongest work…ever. Madeline builds upon waves of forceful pop intent and his queer voice overlap never more pronounced. Horse or Man is even more nuanced; the type of intelligent pop track that tackles you lyrically yet gets your head nodding simultaneously. Both are masterpieces and their absence weighs down on the final version of Dark Young Hearts.
What of the surviving tracks? Well, Visitors and Lakehouse aside they have all been modulated in several ways but it feels like a violent rape in several instances. Vocally, he remains intense in the brilliant perversion that is Olive Eyes yet the music is more pronounced and it leaves the track less theatrical. When one is dealing with an issue as touchy as in-family breeding (married to a man your parents raised your own brother/ you have a womb/ you shall deliver me a boy/ he’ll have my eyes/ my olive eyes) one needs to get the tone just right. And removing the clincher ender is quite pointless too, like a bad editing choice. The Ides has clearly been sung over but here Garrett sounds bored vis-à-vis the leaked version where his voice jumps delightfully all over the track.
It’s not all questionable though: Of March is filtered through an acoustic version which doesn’t lose ground to the original. It expands it in a few ways, adding a nice choral section and stretching Garrett vocally more than anything else here. The two best tracks—Benedict Arnold and Happy—are modified but the changes are barely noticed. Besides, these tracks transcend the pop genre, thus exposing the sheer genius of Garrett at work. ‘Here on your final hour/ take your shelter/ in the shower/ I’m on your side/ in this life, in this life’, rails Garrett on Benedict Arnold, in a sublime fit of crashing beats and evocative multiple vocal work. Happy is equally engrossing with its rushed urgency.
Garrett’s geeky pop sensibility has years-worth of intuition too. This is quite fresh as pop music has descended yet again into having nothing much to say (right, Pink?). Garrett brings a nerdy-level to his queer context, not the sappy sentimentality of an old queen (right, Antony Hegarty?). His outlook of music superbly blends pessimism and reality. For all the changes this is still a meticulously crafted yet subtle album that proves the process of growing up is fraught with self-loathing and questioning yourself endlessly but also that ultimate tool of triumph: reinvention.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
We're at the half-way stage...
Penitentiary Philosophy (Erykah Badu): the first track from her underrated Mama’s Gun sees Badu’s foray into the ether of funky third-party consciousness. Whereas her previous work dealt with her rebirth, the new direction sought to tackle other stuff and it all started here. ()
There, There (Radiohead): not quite about the state of the environment but more the profit from it, There, There centers on human greed and our inability to just leave things alone. When Yorke warps his lo-fi vocals around the hallowed ending chorus (‘we are accidents/ waiting to happen’) you know doomsday approaches. No wonder Yorke reportedly got teary-eyed when the completed version was played for the first time. He was simply in awe of its brilliance too. ()
Mama, Won’t You Keep Them Castles in the Air and Burning?(Clap Your Hands Say Yeah ): the detached, cold sound of a star burning up in the estimation of others and the backlash wielded as a response. ()
One Armed Scissor (At The Drive-In): not directly evolved from Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust days but the loneliness of space exploration features heavily in this punk-pop romp. There are no hallowed days here though as this is a trip to the ether gone horribly awry and sequenced as such. Utterly devastating. ()
Notorious (Turbulence): a paean to Rasta beliefs and the King Haile Selassie but Turbulence straddles the line with an almost fanatical demonstration that would turn one into a disciple as well. ()
The Way I Am (Eminem): the most biting social commentary put on record this decade, Eminem unleashes his serious side and in the process we see the depression behind the bravura. When he lets loose, ‘…the always keep asking the same fucking question.’ one can hear the jadedness chilling in his voice. ()
Work It (Missy Elliott): ‘I’m not a prostitute/ but I can give you what you wants’, raps Missy and in the process straddles the line of heterosexual male fantasy. The age-old maxim of what a man wants/needs in a woman is funnily explored with her unpretentious style. ()
Go-go Gadget Gospel(Gnarls Barkley): booty-shaking in a can. ()
Handle Me(Robyn): if Bjork ever revisited conventional pop then it’d sound like this brilliant mess. ()
Never Let Me Down(Kanye West feat. Jay Z): Jay spins this wicked retrospection on its head like no other hip/hop joint this decade. ()
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Modest Mouse – The Moon And Antartica (2000): Isaac Brock is not a man to underestimate. When the album was finished he immediately pulled it in dissatisfaction. The point is that as an artist one needs to trust one’s own intuition. The indie rock world is better for it because The Moon and Antartica is a stunning achievement. Dark centre of the Universe floats as if on air but is peppered with a blissful chorus and guitars. This is the first track of many where the band uses the genre as a tool to make a statement. Unlike Interpol well after them, Modest Mouse never allowed major label induction to allow their message to seep away. Life like Weeds creeps along with Brock’s nasal twang more pungent than ever. The Moon and Artartica allowed us to witness something very rare in rock: the sound of a band growing up. ()
Joanna Newsom – Ys (2006):
if Bjork was for you the most difficult pop entity in the 90s to appreciate then welcome to this decade’s most enchanting enigma. Newsom is more than a musician; she’s an artist and a medieval poet. Five songs clocking nearly an hour of music gives you some idea that Miss Newsom is here to unfurl some epic yarns and does she ever deliver: “Emily” is a blissful tongue-twisting tale of well, only Newsom knows (‘The meadowlark and the chim-choo-ree and the sparrow/ Set to the sky in a flying spree, for the sport over the pharaoh…’). How does one assess the value of a line like, ‘and the meteoroid is a stone/ that's devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee…’, that’s right, she said ‘thee’. To top it all off, she reels off “Cosmia” into the stuff that befits the fabled location in France that gave the album its title. ()
The Bachelor (Patrick Wolf): by even his lofty standards, The Bachelor represents a triumph of passage that not even Wolf could’ve expected given the tumult that surrounded the album of the same name. Fed-up with his own securities and an expressive sexual tone that was proving worrisome to market, Wolf unfurls a ballad, somber in its own admission of that highest ideal of heterosexual bliss: marriage. Or more precisely his exclusion from it given the global prop 8 stance that hinders gays to get hitched. This is a personal lament too however, one where the true Wolf, finally sheds his accustomed excess to strip himself bare and vulnerable. ()
A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger (Of Montreal): if this is the results from the musical therapy Kevin Barnes must go through then let’s hope he never returns to normalcy. ()
Violent Stars Happy Hunting (Janelle Monae): Cindy Mayweather on the run after committing the cardinal rule of alien life: falling in love with a human. ()
Roscoe (Midlake): old Americana blues from a band that knows how to evoke weary soul. Lead singer Tim Smith buttresses it all with a wall of ebullient sound and escapism into emotional reality. ()
We Share our Mother’s Health (The Knife): a Scandinavion swipe at Bjork…who knows the song’s real meaning but it’s clear that The Knife has unearthed new methods to present European dance music. ()
The Bleeding Heart Show (The New Pornographers): a throw-back to the heyday of indie ballads, especially Fleetwood Mac. The track swells with each member adding a significant touch. However, the song picks up steam once Neko Case and A.C Wonder trade vocal barbs towards the end (‘we have arrived/ too late to play the bleeding heart show…’). ()
Pagan Poetry (Bjork): while the fact that Bjork is Matthew Barney’s lover has somewhat stymied her creative output for the rest of us, it is apparently a rich ground for her personally and spiritually. Never mind the mind-blowing music video that accompanied it, Bjork’s most vivid imagination has always been interpretation and interpolation of her lyrics upon music. Pagan Poetry gives an intricate and detailed account of the age-old maxim of “love at first sight” (he offers a handshake/crooked/five fingers/they form a pattern yet to be matched’). If her poetry wasn’t that enchanting enough then witness the human ending, the repeated plea which she seems set to live or die by (‘I love him, I love him/ She loves him, she loves him…’). In one word: perfect. ()
Hey Ya! (Outkast): only Andre 300 could dare mimic The Beatles and get away with it quite frankly. The reasons are many but Outkast have always been best at merging the various electro-funk shifts in hip/hop and coming up with tremendous results. ()
Cosmia (Joanna Newsom): for sheer artistry, this is perhaps Newsom’s finest. The opening lines paint the cryptic incision of her observances ( ‘When you ate, I saw your eyelashes/ Saw them shake like wind on rushes/ In the corn field when she called me/ Moths surround me/ thought they'd drown me’). Cosmia is to a point obsessive over its object of affection but fussy details points to the care Newsome has taken to sculpt such a masterpiece. ()
Let My Shoes Lead Me Forward (Jenny Wilson): a smart toe-tapper. ()
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Deerhunter “Microcastle” (2007):
Bradford Cox makes repetition the most fun thing in music. You hear his mastery in “Never Stops”, a trance-like number that oozes his specific skill. Ditto “Agoraphobia”. The title track though varies its pace to the point of total fragility and tenderness before ripping it to sheds. Things sag a little bit in the middle but then comes the stomper, “Nothing ever Happened”, to rescue it. Cox has been perfecting his electro-funk approach to ambient for some time now but Microcastle is his apex. The album turns for the better (and weirder) after that. “Saved by Old Times” features an arcane vocal that warbles genially. “Neither of Us, Uncertainly” is a symphony of luscious sounds that is perhaps the strongest here but within such a medley of excellence that is always a mere excess of luxury