Archives for category: Music

London-Grammar-If-You-Wait

This album is an excellent example of why you never need to listen to Lana Del Rey.

Three young folks, playing lush music, evoking mood mood mood. Hannah Reid’s voice is gorgeous, and her timing superb. The rest of the music is all about the atmosphere in which you most want to encounter such a voice. And it works. This is cool. Not to be confused with fake, manufactured cool. If You Wait actually has heart.

Recommended. (To think, this started not in London, but in Stab City! Hats off to you, Notts!)

Now I’m going to go back to listening to “Strong.” Excuse me.

UPDATE: In addition to “Strong,” “Wasting My Young Years,” and “Sights” are beautiful. Sweet in the middle.

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THE-SHINS-PORT-OF-MORROW

In listening to the fourth record from The Shins, I didn’t expect a great change from their previous, Wincing the Night Away, and that expectation was fair. Port of Morrow carries on in the comfort zone that James Mercer has established for himself as an artist. The songs are melodic, fully orchestrated, and everything carries enough sheen to feel like the work of polish was given its due. And yet throughout most of the record, Mercer’s voice sits close in the mix, so we can feel like he is singing to us from a singer-songwritery stool a few feet away. In general the sounds chosen to accompany him are a mix of classic (think electric guitars with plate reverb) and modern (synths and careful drum-tracking), as we’ve come to expect from The Shins. Port of Morrow doesn’t feature any of the unquestionably retro tendencies of Chutes Too Narrow, and few of the folksy tendencies of Oh, Inverted World. No, this is, like the record before it, an amalgam of those aspects with a studio rock sensibility. And, shit, the songs are just great. Try not to sing along with the chorus of “For a Fool” for example…a difficult proposal after the refrain has come around just once. Besides the general strength of melody and the character of Mercer’s vocals, the lyrics are also as intelligent as we’d expect. They aren’t great poetry, but they sound like Keats next to the kind of lyrics that we find in most popular music today.

Overall it’s a great record, and one I recommend highly, especially if you’ve enjoyed the more recent work Mercer has put out. It even has a song that I don’t particularly like, the final and title track. Which, in my mind, is the sign of many great records: it serves as an anchor against the highs you feel throughout the rest of the record, making them richer.

James Mercer is a gift, and even if his music evolves slowly, it would be a pleasure to listen to him sing the same note over and over.

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HAIM sounds like Sheryl Crowe listening to Richard Marx listening to the Bangles listening to Vampire Weekend listening to Tinariwen.

Three sisters from Los Angeles make a catchy rock album and everyone has an opinion. Frankly, I think most of what we can say about it is that it’s catchy. After that, it gets a bit wooly and grey in terms of critical discussion.

For example: plenty of critics think I should be hearing reminiscences of Fleetwood Mac. I don’t hear it. There’s a likeness in the timbre of the voices of Danielle Haim and Christine McVie, but that’s about as far as it goes. Production-wise, the album is layered with more of the 80s retrograde that we’ve been going through for the last several years. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s also not Fleetwood Mac.

It’s a nice record. Polarizing, though? We are rather boring as a society if this is the grit in our teeth.

Jungle-The-Heat-EP

Jungle makes it so damn smooth you can spread this on a piece of bread and love it.

Funk? Soul? R&b? I am not good enough at genre’ing to say what this is, but I’m not sure many people could do better. This four song EP is definitely funky, but in a way that is hard to pin down. What matters more is that it’s totally immersive. I heard “Platoon” and was instantly plunged deep into their world.

This is the best aspect of the long tail of retro: sometimes it goes well beyond the sounds it emulates to become something unique in itself. Does this call back to classic dub, soul, and r&b? Absolutely, but in a way that sounds (to me at least) totally new.

Highly recommended.

They also make some of the best videos ever.

 

 

Awesome.

 

 

Double awesome.

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I was really floored the first time I heard “Ache” from the first EP released by FKA Twigs. It was, in a word, hot. But a word never suffices, and so I had to play the song again and again. It was so breathy and penetrating, I was hooked and I had to buy the ep.

So needless to say I was excited to learn that she (?) had released EP2 this September. Like with her first release, EP2 is in many ways reminiscent of the glory days of trip hop, and especially the best work from Tricky. Her listing vocals exist in a terrain filled with choppy beats, ambient drones, metallic sounds, and caverns of reverberation; an industrial-inflected Sade.

But it’s not only 90s references that make sense. There are also some comparisons to be made with recent R&B, like The Weeknd, with the mix of unusual timbres and textures underpinning a general, pervasive darkness. This is not music to be played at a party until late, when people are riding out whatever trip they’re on.

I like it. I’m going to keep an eyes on this one.

Życie jest muzyką

An aging German bass player smokes a bunch while appreciating the music(s) of Istanbul!

The background is that Alexander Hacke apparently discovered Istanbul and Turkish music when working on the soundtrack for Fatih Akın’s Head-On, and so he comes back to capture some of the sounds that had been intriguing him since that time. What we get to see is a documentary of that trip made by Akın.

Istanbul is an amazing city, and this film does a half-decent job presenting just how brimming with life it is. Various musicians in multiple genres are given brief spotlights in the film, making it something along the style of Buena Vista Social Club, though it lacks the individual stories that makes that film so good. The music is fairly wonderful, though, and it’s an interesting looking into a history of modern music that many of us don’t get to hear. The gypsy-inflected songs performed by Selim Sesler were particularly good, for example, and I also enjoyed the contributions by a group of idealistic young street musicians (pictured above).

Overall, not the most amazing film ever made, but solid. And since I am in love with Istanbul, I can’t help but like it. I just could have done with less of the German guy being awkward and then smoking. Less German, more Sazi!

fabrizio_de_andrè_-_non_al_denaro_non_all'amore_nè_al_cielo_-_front

I have no idea what Fabrizio De Andre is singing about, but what a voice!!!

Ever since my friend Emma first introduced me to Fabrizio, I’ve been slowly making my way through his discography. It’s safe to say that I’ve truly enjoyed every album thus far, even if nothing was quite as striking as that first listen to Vol. 1. This record, like the rest, still makes me happy, though. While listening to Fabrizio sing, I have a hard time imagining a more beautiful voice, even if one exists.

And his aesthetic suits me;  in general I’ve been more interested lately in the folk revival throughout Europe in the 60s and 70s. Without any disrespect to American folk heroes (in the past few years I’ve been acquainting myself more, and happily, with early Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell, for example), I’ve really been enjoying the European folk revivalists. It started with my discovery of Scottish singer, Ewan MacColl, whose (weirdly inauthentic) album Scottish Ballads with Peggy Seeger is amazing. I’ve also, suitably, come to love George Brassens since moving to France, and so the jump to Fabrizio was almost a simple matter of time.

One thing that stands out, though, is there’s more production, orchestration, and color to the compositions than we normally get from folk artists of the time. I want to guess that some of what we here is a direct influence of Serge Gainsbourg, for example. Either way, I think Fabrizio De Andre’s records through the late 60s and early 70s are gorgeous. Even the momentary moment of camp is pretty palatable. And one more time, THAT VOICE! Thank you, Italy.

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El-P and Killer Mike team up to run the jewels and get me excited about hip-hop again!

I’ve been listening to El-P for around a decade, and while I’ve always had respect for him, I’ve almost always preferred his work when he hasn’t been the main act. His production for Cannibal Ox and his guest verse on Dj Vadim’s track, “Viagra,” were huge for my appreciation of hip-hop and still kill me. On the other hand, I’ve been mostly disappointed by his solo work. But now that I think of it, after hearing his appearance on the remix of A-Trak’s “Piss Test,” I should have been ready for him to get me again. His delivery on this record is direct, confident, and drips with the surety of a real veteran. Did you notice how fond he is of ending his lines with trochees?

Killer Mike I know less well, but his verses on this record make me want to go back and get to know his whole catalogue. It’ll be done. He’s got something classic about his style that I really like…he reminds me of a more lucid Del the Funky Homosapien, or a more aggressive Count Bass-D. Either way, great stuff.

The production on this record does a good job of mixing what’s modern with classic sounds. We’ve still got that 808 groove going on, but it’s accompanied by the dirt and grime of today. Even so, it doesn’t fall prey to fad. There’s no dubstep bass or Dutch house synths here. This is dirty groove, hi-hats that consistently swing, and flow.

I’ll let someone else parse the lyrics, but how about those two Mike Tyson lines!

alunageorge-body-music

I was slain on the spot when I first heard “You Know You Like It” last year. The beat was just the right touch of funky, the vocals were slinky sex, and it was unquestionably pop, while still having the production we’d expect from something a little serious. Happily, the other singles that followed were of a kind.

The first full length continues on those early victories, even if they are never quite repeated. The singles remain hot, and the filler tracks are very listenable, but there aren’t any surprises hiding among the deep cuts. Well, I suppose the cover of “This Is How We Do It” is somewhat surprising, but I think it’s mostly a miscue on their part: feels stiff.

That said, Body Music is a good pop record. I’ll ruminate most on “Attracting Flies,” “Just a Touch,” and “You Know You Like It,” but there’ll still be times when I give it the straight run-thru.

O it’s nice to be an adult and no longer too cool for pop music.

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This album is terrifying.

How so? Not like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, but rather it is terrifying like the bleakness of the cosmos in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Yet it is beautiful. In that, it is certainly outer space music. It is otherworldly. There is space between sounds, long reverberations, digital bits and the noise of inscrutable radio waves. There are also bright flashes of warmth and dark pulses. The clicks and the drones. Robotic speech. Airy synthetic organs. Static. Everything opens up like some kind of nebulae. It feels like the cosmos, it does.

It has a cohesion like I’ve never heard in an album before, at least not in any good album, and particularly within electronic music. It repeats without being repetitive: in a sense it is a long variation on a theme. Melodies and rhythms and timbres of sounds come back and redevelop themselves, so that every new song still sounds, somehow, familiar, while reinventing the material. We are orbiting an alien moon.

This is album is terrifying, but I can’t stop playing it.
This album is terrifying because I can’t stop playing it.