Archives for posts with tag: music


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.



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.


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 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.






Double awesome.


Sad and beautiful can be made new, but it’s never out of style.

Oslo, 31 August is something of modern adaptation of Louis Malle’s Le Feu Follet, with director Joachim Trier really finding the vein as he takes on the last journey of a recovering addict, Anders. Much like in Malle’s film, we find that Anders has already decided what he must do with his life, and how he must deal with his addiction. First, though, he stops to see a few old friends and visit some of the sites of his former life in Oslo. The result is bleak, but not without meaning, and we are invited to see that, despite the certain end.

Part of what makes the film great, besides the fact that the screenplay pulls absolutely no punches, is that it’s an incredible testament to the exploitation of space in cinema. Anders is frequently walking across the spaces of Oslo, entering into public areas and leaving them, traversing the barriers that are both real and imagined. Likewise there is very little use of music, and most times the music that is used is linked to the scene itself. Instead we have the ambient noise of the spaces, people’s conversations, air. All this space gives the emotions of the film room to breathe, especially in the first major segments. When the shots get tighter, filled with bodies and shadows, and music crowds the soundtrack, this is something we feel as a contrast that we’ve built to. The result is magnificent. In a quiet scene where the characters coast through the dead of night on bicycles, I was so primed for the moment that when the brief punctuation of a fire extinguisher burst into the shot (and soundtrack) I said an audible “fuck” under my breath, because it was that good.

There were some wonderful narrative tricks too, blending times, following nameless characters into their own banalities for just a few shots, things that I’m not finding the words to describe adequately at the moment. I’m still dazzled by the dust motes in an early shot where Anders is ringing the bell outside his friend Thomas’ apartment.

In sum, don’t watch this when you’re not ready for a beautiful downer. But do watch it when you are. And join me in hoping that Joachim Trier will go on to make more films as good as this one.


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!


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.


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!


I’ve learned that in the future (and in space, for that matter), it’s very much like on the Titanic: even as the ship sinks, the band never stops playing.

No really, someone please tell J.J. Abrams to let the string section take a rest once in a while, and I don’t mean just when the brass is blasting. The Star Trek universe has never been so sonorous! Okay, okay, jokes aside: the soundtrack in this film is overbearing on the same level as in Inception, and if you know me, you know that’s a pretty harsh criticism. Please, anyone, send a note to filmmakers everywhere: silence is amazing too. And where would a bit of silence be more appropriate than in a SPACE movie? Honestly, I wish Abrams and his imitators would trust the audience to have spontaneous emotional reactions on their own, rather than soundtracking us into it. Even in blockbuster scifi reboots, we are capable of a little finesse on the level of pathos. Give us some credit as an audience, J.J., please?

Aside from sound, this film is just fun. I enjoyed the writers’ moves to really give every character in a conflict a position that was at least somewhat reasonable. The acting wasn’t worth sending my mother an email over, but it was on par for big budget blockbusting. The special effects were gloriously over the top. And the story was enjoyable, with or without the nods to the Star Trek films of yore. I even laughed a little.

I admit, I had hoped that, true to its title, this film would have taken the Enterprise into darker realms, similar to when Alfonso Cuarón helped steer the Harry Potter film series into more troubling waters with The Prisoner of Azkaban. Perhaps I can still hope for this in future Star Trek instalments.

Simon Pegg: corny Scottish accent, but I loved it. You’re still on my Christmas card list.