Thursday, September 30, 2010
No Passengers, Please
When you look at some of the finer-tuned pop acts from the UK in the past decade, Keane make a lot of sense. With acts like U2 and Oasis paving the way for softer, polished acts like Travis and Snow Patrol to make a killing, you could see how Keane could achieve accolades like Q’s best album and track of 2008, or the Brit Awards’ Best Breakthrough Act. But with their eight-song extended player Night Train, Keane have steered the train right off the track.
A tour of their earlier singles reveal infectious and beautiful piano melodies (”Somewhere Only We Know” from Hopes and Fears) giving way to more complex and electrified work like “Is It Any Wonder?” (from Under the Iron Sea) and “Spiralling,” (from 2008’s Perfect Symmetry). Night Train finds Keane stridently embracing the electronics of some their idols—Depeche Mode, a-ha, Pet Shop Boys but in a dreadful direction. Their invitation of guests only adds to the ghastliness bringing rappers into the studio. Oh boy, is it dreadful.
After gentle opening instrumental “House Lights,” lead single “Stop For a Minute” starts with a melodic and joyous piano-driven vibe, but then features verses from Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan, whose voice is somewhere between Lil’ Jon and will.i.am fed through Autotune. “Back in Time” and “My Shadow” attempt to make things better, but the ghastly cover of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Ishin Denshin (You’ve Got To Help Yourself)” features the indecipherable and flat voice of Japanese baile-funk singer Tigarah. “Looking Back” brings K’naan back to disappoint again and samples, to cruel effect, “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky.
Night Train has nothing more appealing than anything from Keane’s past. Naysayers or newbies to the Brit superstars’ sound may now have a hard time cheering them on; fans will see Keane as clearly lost and this EP as atrocious.
In my constant reverence for the diva in all shapes and sizes, I shine the light, now, on Miss Deborah Harry. The woman is 65 years old and one of the most iconic women of punk rock of all time. Really, who rivals her? Patti Smith, sure, Chrissie Hynde, OK. But Patti and Chrissie were grungy, dirty girls in all black with busted faces. There’s no doubt that Patti’s Horses (1975) beat Debbie to the punch with the whole “girls can rock and don’t mess with us” thing. But with 1978′s Parallel Lines, Harry and Blondie hit it out of the park. And boy did they have style doing it.
Blondie’s first was their self-titled album in 1976, attempting to cash in on the synergy of art, rock, glamour and punk evidenced by the success of NYC joints like CBGB, Max’s Kansas City, and Studio 54. Harry had been in some bands before Blondie: a folk rock outfit called The Wind in the Willows in the late ’60s, then a rock band called The Stilettos, where she met her soon-to-be-boyfriend and co-band leader, Chris Stein. By then, Harry had been a waitress, a dancer, and a Playboy bunny, and it was her famous two-tone blonde mane that attracted plenty of Hey Blondie!‘s from many a drive-by truck and a-hole. Well, she certainly cashed in on that crass catcalling in the most powerful way possible: becoming a music and fashion icon.
The band’s first two efforts were more or less commercial duds. But somehow the stars aligned with Parallel Lines and four of the album’s biggest hits have sold twenty million copies since its September 1978 release: "Heart of Glass," "Sunday Girl," "One Way Or Another," and my absolute favorite, "Hanging On The Telephone." This was also an album that meshed nicely with the emergence of music video culture; "Heart of Glass" and "Hanging" are GREAT videos where Harry’s cool, casual lip-synching are overshadowed by her expressive eyes and glossy, red lips. Or, furthermore, by the uncanny control of her voice, especially with "Hanging," during which her voice often transforms into one of the sexiest growls in rock history.
The following two records did fairly well with 1980′s Autoamerican giving us "Rapture" and "The Tide Is High," but it’s "Hanging" that, to me, represents the perceived mad woman, the woman on the edge of insanity, the woman who’ll destroy your world if you let her.
She’s the woman I want to know. She’s a woman I wish my world could’ve overlapped with 32 years ago.
SO VERY GLOSSY!
Summer was kind enough to give us some of the most exciting new releases of the year: Big Boi, Robyn, Kele, Kylie, Scissor Sisters, Menomena, and Arcade Fire… to name a few. This fall, we’re hoping another batch of musical wunderkinds give us something worth salivating over. Here you have a broken-down list including some of the records that show up on the radar of greatness within the coming months. Let’s discuss highlights, shall we?
Indie boys and girls have something to shout about on the front-ended tip: Chromeo, Of Montreal, The Walkmen, Flying Lotus, Deerhunter, No Age, and UNKLE all have records out this month. Then in October, they’ll get a new Belle & Sebastian, Badly Drawn Boy, and Sufjan Stevens (though let’s hope it’s not another BQE experiment)…
Oh, their twee-loving heads will want to pop! Punk princesses will delight with a new Corin Tucker experiment that promises to blow minds; and hip hop heads have plenty to look forward to as well, especially at the end of September: Gucci Mane, Ice Cube, Jeezy, T.I., and Akon have all got discs for us…
Some older folks are trying to come back this year with LPs, some are laughable and some are genuinely intriguing (you pick): Olivia Newton-John, Robert Plant, Weezer, Paula Cole (intrigued!), Bad Religion, Gin Blossoms, Neil Young, Bryan Ferry, Elton John, and Rod Stewart… go ‘head!
Country fans have a few gems already in the newly-released Justin Townes Earle and Megafaun gems, but what we’re really curious about is Kid Rock, aren’t we? Rick Rubin‘s behind him, maybe we can be too!
Last but not least, for our gay dancefloors, we have several gifts from the gods: Shontelle, Mark Ronson, Antony and the Johnsons (remixed, of course), Kelly Rowland, and the much-anticipated Nicki Minaj solo album will keep us giddy in wait…
SEPTEMBER 14 (just released)
Brandon Flowers – Flamingo
Chromeo – Business Casual
Little Beirut – Fear of Heaven
Nellie McKay – Home Sweet Mobile Home
Of Montreal – False Priest
Superchunk – Majesty Shredding
The Walkmen – Lisbon
Bilal – Air Tight Revenge
Trey Songz – Passion, Pain and Pleasure
Olivia Newton-John – Grace and Gratitude Renewed
Robert Plant – Band Of Joy
Weezer – Hurley
Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues
Megafaun – Heretofore
Abe Vigoda – Crush
Flying Lotus – Pattern + Grid World
Margot & The Nuclear So and Sos – Buzzard
Shontelle – No Gravity
Vincent Minor – Vincent Minor
John Legend & The Roots – Wake Up!
Paula Cole – Ithaca
Maroon 5 – Hands All Over
Zac Brown Band – You Get What You Give
Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
No Age – Everything In Between
Pete Yorn – Pete Yorn
Mark Ronson and the Business International – Record Collection
Gucci Mane – The Appeal
Ice Cube – I Am The West
Jeezy – TM103
T.I. – King Uncaged
Bad Religion – The Dissent of Man
The Corin Tucker Band – 1000 Years
UNKLE – The Answer
Gin Blossoms – No Chocolate Cake
Neil Young – Le Noise
Kenny Chesney – Hemingway’s Whiskey
Apache Beat – Last Chants
Royal Baths – Litanies
Clinic – Bubblegum
David Archuleta – The Other Side Of Down
Ciara – Basic Instinct
Toby Keith – Bullets In The Gun
KT Tunstall – Tiger Suit
Meat Beat Manifesto – Answers Come In Dreams
Badly Drawn Boy – Part. 1 – Photographing Snowflakes
Belle and Sebastian – Write About Love
Sufjan Stevens – The Age Of Adz
Antony And The Johnsons – Swanlights
Simian Mobile Disco – Is Fixed
Hauschka – Foreign Landscapes
Sister Hazel – Heartland Highway
Kings of Leon – Come Around Sundown
Elton John & Leon Russel – The Union
Ne-Yo – Libra Scale
Rod Stewart – Fly Me To The Moon…
Sugarland – The Incredible Machine
Warpaint – The Fool
Kid Cudi – Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr. Rager
Good Charlotte – Cardiology
Bryan Ferry – Olympia
Taylor Swift – Speak Now
Elvis Costello – National Ransom (11/2)
Neil Diamond – Dreams (11/2)
Brian Eno – Small Craft On a Milk Sea (11/2)
Kelly Rowland – TBD (11/2)
Destroyer – The Archers On The Beach EP (11/2)
Matt and Kim – Sidewalks (11/2)
Natasha Bedingfield – Strip Me (11/9)
Stereolab – Not Music (11/16)
Rascal Flatts – Nothing Like This (11/16)
Kid Rock – Born Free (11/16)
Akon – TBD (11/23)
Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday (11/23)
Very Very Glossy.
Every once in a while you connect with a record, or with an artist in such a deep way that you can’t explain it. All you can do is listen on repeat. Or watch a music video over and over. Watching singles roll out of a record that you know from beginning to end intimately can be equally thrilling or devastating. When she’s more than just a brilliant musician but also a captivating artist and style-maker, it’s even more exciting to see what she’ll do next.
Right now it’s Janelle Monae, a 24 year-old Kansas City native who moved to New York City to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and then to Atlanta where she met hip hop’s crown prince, Big Boi. She made an appearance on the relatively dreadful Idlewild and shortly after released a debut EP in August of 2007. Then Diddy found her and signed her to Bad Boy. With her debut LP, The ArchAndroid, she’s reviving the theme record. It’s a little mystifying: she’s a robot, she’s a messiah and it’s all inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis. But that’s fine. We don’t always have to wrap our head around the most complex and inspiring art to appreciate it.
The first single was the undeniably funky “Tightrope” featuring Big Boi, but at the moment, my obsession is “Cold War.” A video accompanying “Cold War” was released in August and it is captivating. It’s very simple. It’s a tight shot of her face and shoulders as she lip-syncs (or in this case, sings passionately behind a camera) and emotes with her eyes. I’m deeply attached to the lyrics, especially the first four astounding lines: “So you think I’m alone / But bein’ alone’s the only way to be / When you step outside / You spend life fightin’ for your sanity.” Then, a little later on, “I’m tryin’ to find my peace / I was made to believe there’s somethin’ wrong with me / And it hurts my heart / Lord have mercy ain’t it plain to see? / That this is a cold war, do you know what you’re fightin’ for?” This is what sends her over the edge. She loses it, tears come and what looks like a laugh is clearly an emotionally poignant moment for her. It’s startling; a moment that most starlets would edit out. But it draws me in even deeper into the Janelle Monae kool-aid. I want to drink gallons of it.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
You Sound Very Much Alive, Sir
Dead Confederate have wedged their way into a genre that doesn’t really have many followers or compatriots. Grunge country-rock could come close; maybe heavy alt-country? All kinds of bands come to mind when shooting for comparisons. We know they loved Pink Floyd and most likely Sabbath in their youth, but growing up in Georgia results in a starting point with acoustic guitars and bearded roots rock. My Morning Jacket always comes up and so does Nirvana; lead singer and guitarist Hardy Morris does seem to echo Kurt Cobain at some heavier moments. Yet Dead Confederate seem unconcerned with fitting in and with their sophomore LP, Sugar, they position themselves as pioneers of a new sound.
Their 2008 full-length debut, Wrecking Ball, had a standout single in “The Rat,” a song where Morris begs to be shot—behind a “bang bang” refrain, no less—and subsequently buried. Its hauntingly simple video shows a boy pushing a cowboy-booted foot into a trash bag and hauling it into the woods on his Radio Flyer wagon to bury it. Interspersed with shots of the band playing in a church with sparsely populated church pews and you’ve got yourself one hell of a debut single. While part of the Athens, Georgia scene they’re certainly closer to the Deerhunter and Whigs camp than to R.E.M. or The B-52’s—these guys are a little darker than most and we’re all the better for it.
For this record they chose John Agnello to produce, a man who’s worked with The Hold Steady, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. The second track on Sugar, “Run from the Gun,” is one of the slowest and softest of the batch but finds Morris’ voice front and center. Even after lumbering kick drums, keyboards, other voices and feedback, his positioning aids in understanding the complexity of their songwriting.
Another far different keeper is the two-minute “Mob Scene,” where from the get-go you get a barrage of chaotic percussion, keys, and herky-jerky guitar; it sounds like a hectic Radiohead song mixed with Queens of the Stone Age. Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis makes an appearance on the stellar “Giving It All Away,” where the band’s energy and tone suggest Band of Horses on a bender.
There’s nothing revolutionary about what Dead Confederate do. They’re a five-piece with a simple drums/two guitars/bass/keyboard equation. And with the title track to finish you off at the end of Sugar, you realize that injecting feedback, noise and charm into stoner rock is all the genre needs to offer back to them some well-deserved Southern hospitality.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Keep on Screamin’, Lady
The Melvins are a wonder. They’ve been at if for over 20 years and with The Bride Screamed Murder, their 20th LP (or so), they’ve given us one of the best of their discography. These guys don’t usually do staid and steady; they take detours and experiment. On 2009’s Chicken Switch they recruited friends to remix their brand of sludgy, chunky metal and it was turned into nearly unlistenable noise. Here they return to form with new originals and an epic cover of The Who’s “My Generation.”
Album opener “The Water Glass,” is a bizarrely awesome thrasher that turns into a call-and-response march halfway through. It seems a suitable starting point for a band who have done whatever they wanted. They started in Washington alongside Nirvana and rode the wave to Lollapalooza, but with album titles like Prick, Stoner Witch (both ‘94) and Electroretard (’01), a record deal with Atlantic just wasn’t their destiny. With Mike Patton and Ipecac Records, however, they’ve found a new home where their creative whims aren’t questioned.
Traditionally, The Melvins have elicited comparisons to the likes of Black Flag, Black Sabbath, Dead Kennedys and The Stooges, and “Evil New War God” churns and burns like the best stoner metal around. The funny and funky presence of an off-kilter cowbell does this song good, a hint that it’s not all long hair and headbanging. They’re into moments of dark silence with dramatic builds and crashes, and with standout “I’ll Finish You Off” their haunting, pounding metallics are accented nicely by an organ that’d fit right in at the Addams Family estate.
The whopping seven-and-a-half-minute version of Pete Townshend’s anthem sounds nothing like the original. It starts out very slowly with spare drums and a low, crunchy guitar before the choral vocals of “People try to put us down” comes in. For a song that was honest-to-goodness radical and poignant for a moment in time, covering it needs to be taken seriously and the Melvins do, which is a relief. The whole album is a relief, frankly. With the state metal’s in, the old weirdos who started it all need to drop gems like this on the heads of hardcore’s youth.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
SOUNDS LIKE: Fiery VT native beefs up her band, employs a big producer, and gets some classy packaging to strive for indie rock success a la Florence & the Machine
FREE ASSOCIATION: A few feel like young Bonnie Raitt, some an old Carrie Underwood
FOR FANS OF: Lucinda Williams, Susan Tedeschi, recent Norah Jones
Black & White
SOUNDS LIKE: Arizona dudes' sophomore and major label debut is more mature than their debut, but that just means it's less emo and punk, more soft and adult
FREE ASSOCIATION: The love child of Avril Lavigne and Rob Thomas has a band!?!
FOR FANS OF: The Starting Line, Boys Like Girls, Yellowcard
(Modern Art Records)
SOUNDS LIKE: Phoenix boys moved to Brooklyn and took up with the Morning Benders' Chris Chu which gives their whimsical freak folk song that trendy edge
FREE ASSOCIATION: What often starts with acoustic guitar turns raucous and ecstatic
FOR FANS OF: Animal Collective, Arcade Fire x Grizzly Bear
The Way Out
SOUNDS LIKE: Typically weird hiccupy pastiche of samples, found sounds, electronic music and instrumentation; their brilliant fourth has a New Age/self-help theme
FREE ASSOCIATION: These brilliant weirdos make it seem like your life is just right
FOR FANS OF: Notwist x Aphex Twin, Squarepusher x Bon Iver, hypnosis
Can't Be Tamed
SOUNDS LIKE: Why does it sound like every song's been fed through a pasta machine of auto-tunage; it's like this woman is actually a robot, a Disney slut robot
FREE ASSOCIATION: She covers Poison! This is darker than the usual Ms. Montana BS
FOR FANS OF: Zac Efron, Selena Gomez, Ashley Tisdale, Hillary Duff