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.