Monday, December 13, 2010

Pet Shop Boyz, Ke$ha, Coati Mundi are WORTH IT!!! Yowsah Yowsah Yowsah!!!

For some reason, an image search for all three of them yields this mulleted sweetheart.
These R just Xcerpts -- links provided if you wanna read the whole things.  AND YOU DO.

Ultimate Pet Shop Boys
"Now, if you shell out a not-unreasonable sum of money for the Special Edition, which includes two discs of live performances, including a complete set from Glastonbury earlier this year, you’ll get all of the above songs and plenty of others you may or may not wanna hear.  Look, there’s “Rent” on Top of the Pops!  Crazy smoke machine; it really gets you inside the febrile mind of the kept woman.  Of course, if you’re reading this review, you probably already own “Rent”, not to mention “Opportunities”.  If not, go buy Pop Art.  (The first Pet Shop Boys compilation, Discography, shouldn’t be considered in light of its rash decision to exclude “Go West”, the Boys’ most heartrending four minutes of bliss—said bliss, after all, is perpetually in the future, somewhere else—ostensibly because it “hadn’t been recorded yet” or something.)  As a single disc compilation, Ultimate lives up to that audacious adjective worse than any album in recorded history, with the possible exception of Radio Disney Ultimate Jams, which rashly excluded the A*Teens’ “Halfway Around the World”.  Se a vida é." (7/10)

 Ke$ha -- Cannibal
"“Cannibal” opens the EP with a blank-eyed rap, delivered almost in monotone, and then explodes into a chorus of at least three different Auto-Tuned voice effects. During the second verse Ke$ha breaks out her party-girl voice. Now, this voice is plainly an act. When K speaks in an interview, she sounds like a normal Midwesterner—some lazy Valley vowels aside, she could be a nightly news anchor. In song, she lays down a calculated mix of diphthongs, growly Midwestern “errrrr”s, and even some southern tics; so the phrase “stir my tea” comes out “sterr mah teeeeeeah”. If there’s a guiding principle to her cobbled “accent”, it seems to be “sound as improper as possible”. This back-and-forth, between unrefined Eliza Doolittle impropriety and blatant computer manipulation, would justify a couple online theses.  Above all, it’s Ke$ha’s way of selling her transgressive pop-music niche." (7/10)

Coati Mundi -- Dancing for the Cabana Code in the Land of Boo-Hoo
"Mundi and his collaborator E-Love have composed straight up disco beats, grounded on solid four-by-four thumps and layered with polyrhythms. Not for nothing is one song called “Dancing Disco 101”. The beats are dense, too—they really fill up the aural space. At first, the effect is monolithic, but once you get accustomed to the sound and let your ears wander into the rhythmic thicket, previously unheard elements—synth squeals, cheering crowds, congas, Mundi’s vibes and scatting—reveal themselves like exquisite rare flowers. Although apparently simple, these rhythms are impossible to fully grasp on first listen." (8/10)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

New Christmas/Holiday/Solstice albums that may or may not be WORTH IT...

I know it SEEMS like a weird title for a Christmas song, but they pull it off.

Le Bien...
Indigo Girls
Holly Happy Days

The Indigo Girls aren’t the only lesbians in The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music; but while we await a reissue of The Children of the Day Christmas Album, Holly Happy Days will happily suffice.  Hot on the heels of last year’s overlooked Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, the Girls’ first holiday album is heavy on the hoedowns, with an all-star bluegrass band racing through the Isaacs’ “I Feel the Christmas Spirit” and the Indigo original “The Wonder Song”.  Despite a couple snoozers, Amy and Emily rescue the ponderous “O Holy Night” with their matter-of-fact arrangement.  The real story on this album is the sense of community throughout.  GLAAD Award nominee Brandi Carlile contributes backing vocals; the recently-out Chely Wright contributes the swingin’ tune “It Really Is a Wonderful Life”.  The highlight is Woody Guthrie’s “Happy Joyous Hanukah”, resurrected several years ago by the Klezmatics.  With vocal help from Janis Ian—one of two gay people to pen a #1 Christian radio hit—and GLAMA winner Mary Gauthier, it’ll make you spin around the living room like some giddy dreidel.  This song simply cannot be recorded enough.  Holly Happy Days is exactly as skillful, thoughtful, and fun as you’d expect.  Your move, Jennifer Knapp! 

...le Meh:
December Songs

My word, but these kids can sing!  Sonos represent the innovative edge of nü-acapella, which means members blend the smooth pop-jazz harmonies of Bobby McFerrin with effects pedals, beatboxing that sounds like wan electro-pop, and NPR-friendly new songs, including the group’s own compositions!  Four of these December Songs are originals; I don’t expect they’ll storm the X-mas repertoire like John Lennon’s “War is Over”, but they’re not unpleasant if overheard while trimming your tree.  Really, though, you could do better.  The sextet’s “O Holy Night” is a static arrangement that offers nothing new. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is an inspired choice, but the polite counterpoint adds little to the hymnal.  Sonos scatter some bright ideas here and there, but hasn’t surmounted acapella’s greatest obstacle: how to make the music sound necessary as music, rather than simply as a vehicle for the group’s obvious talents. l'Ug.
The Superions
Destination... Christmas!

My reluctance to enjoy Destination… Christmas! may be evidence that I lack a sense of humor.  If so, Fred Schneider’s Christmas music killed it.  The B-52s vet offers 11 bitchy, kitschy Christmas rants over the listless electronica of his Snuggie-garbed pals, Noah Brodie and Dan Marshall.  The songs tend to be one-joke takes on holiday ephemera—chalet vacations, hating Christmas, seasonal sex, hungry yeti, fruitcake—stretched out way past their sell-by dates.  At least Schneider seems to be having fun, but his B-52s-era exuberance is gone.  The one laugh comes at the beginning of the Serge Gainsbourg parody “Santa Je T’aime”, but once that laugh disappears, you’re left with an exhausting fake smile plastered on your face.  True, my preschooler now walks around the house singing “Santa’s Disco”, but he also says of “Fruitcake”, “This is a LONG song.”  It lasts three and a half minutes. 

[These all ran at, bless 'em.]

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Last Week In Jukeboxing

Well, MY jukebox hero, at any rate.

Two songs about people in bars who WANT to go crazy.  Whether they succeed is another matter...

Le bien:
Tim McGraw – Felt Good on My Lips
Just for aggravating the cranks at the 9513, this song is worth at least a 6. But on top of that we’ve got the skinny tie beat, the riff that sounds like either Sonic Youth or “Since U Been Gone”, the humongous Phil Vassar-ish “WHOA-OH-OH-OH-OH-OH”s, and the driving drum and bass fill on the last chorus. The title is destined to inspire dirty jokes among Tim’s audience, and that was probably the intent. All in all it’s about as country as I am, but if that makes it bad, “Hey Ya!” needed more rapping. This thing is a big dumb monster that’s learning to manipulate tools and will kill us all.
[10] le so-so:
Pink – Raise Your Glass
Sure it’s LOUD, because all Adult Contemporary these days is LOUD, but I’m not sure what makes this “nitty gritty”. She seems to think talking like a rapper or the Joker makes her transgressive, when really it just makes her an overbearing fun-killer — like, wayyyy more overbearing than Ke$ha. But man oh man, that’s a chorus.
(Actually, Jer Fairall's blurb articulates what I was thinking much better than I did: "It would be a lot easier to buy her allegiance to all the 'underdogs' and 'dirty little freaks' were she ever to present her arguments in music that didn’t just happen to fall in line with whatever popular trends ruled the charts at the time.")

Friday, November 12, 2010

This new Louis Armstrong comp is TOTALLY WORTH IT!!!

"You want me to do 'Blueberry Hill' AGAIN??"

...which is not really all that surprising, I guess -- but you can read more at PopMatters, wherein I use too many numbers and a cringeworthy final sentence.  Other than that, a pretty good review overall, if I do say so myself.  Listening to this music is a very enriching experience.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

This unfortunate Bruce Haack compilation is NOT WORTH IT.

Yeah, pretty much.

At least, according to me at PopMatters, where I fully expect some of the electro contingent to give me a stern talking-to in the comments.  On the other hand, who knows if they'll even read it?

Monday, November 08, 2010

This 20 -year old DC Talk album is WORTH IT!

 Perhaps you've longed for a really long review of DC Talk's second album, a review that also makes fun of their subsequent albums.  Nobody else is providing this service, my friend.

A taste of the delights therein:

TobyMac is back on the wack rap attack, bangin’ out ya ‘Lac like… 2pac?  Hahaha NO.  Not even like Fannypack, despite the fact that he’s wearing a fannypack on the album cover.  Toby’s snarl actually sounds a bit like Zack de la Rocha’s, only with a healthier love of syncopation and an unhealthy proclivity for saying things like “Chocolate citaaaay,” apropos of absolutely nothing.  Tait and K-Max are mostly relegated to hook-singing duty, not the most fulfilling job.  In a CCM interview at the time, Toby gushed, “Kevin and Mike have learned a lot about how to weave their singing in and out of the raps,” which at least gave them something else to do.  Subsequent albums saw them singing more and more, on actual verses and stuff, until the mainstream press seemed unaware DCT had once been a rap group.  This makes sense:  if your group consists of three lead vocalists, you’d better let ‘em all vocalize or you risk breaking up the group.  (As it turns out, even that strategy couldn’t work forever.)

And also:

We can therefore assume that Dr. James Dobson fully supports the tenets of Black Liberation Theology.

How are these ideas linked?  Visit the Burnside Writers Collective and find out!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Last Week In Jukeboxing

This did not end well.

Le bien:
Taylor Swift – Back to December
This melody is such an exemplary piece of text painting, you almost don’t need the text. She hovers around a very narrow range here — the first half of Verse 1 and most of the chorus span just four notes (C# to F#). She’s constraining her usual ebullience to convince whatshisname (I envision Taylor Lautner, fwiw) that she means business, that she really wants to make things right. The insistent chorus rhythm is her determined form of penance. But at key places she breaks out: her voice glowers low on “burned in the back of your mind”; she reaches wistfully for “thaaat night”, wishing she’d behaved differently, put the roses in water or something. Second verse she’s got her foot in the door, so she widens the tune’s range coquettishly, trying to remind whatshisname how great she can be — only to snap back shut for the chorus. To get him back she’ll forswear freedom, so much that she even assumes a chain on his door, subconsciously associating it with her voluntary imprisonment. Bonus: she and Nathan Chapman forswear power chords, leaving space around her voice. OK, maybe she’s as brilliant as you all say. Docked a point because the bridge doesn’t do anything for me.

...le mal:
Margaret Durante – Mississippi’s Crying
If a state can cry, goes the argument, it has jurisdiction over rain and sky, formerly the domain of the federal government. National airspace becomes state airspace, militias start firing on Air Force One, and pretty soon we’ve got a Civil War 2 to rival Sudan’s, ostensibly over water rights. Great. As it happens, Mississippi’s governor is currently challenging the constitutionality of “Obamacare’s” individual mandate — which leads to my probably untenable hypothesis that, if a state song personifies its subject or depicts the state as a metaphysical sympathizer, rather than simply as a nice place to live, it’s about a Red State (with a few exceptions for California, which incidentally has its own water issues, but the Red States are much more common). Examples: “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Tennessee”, and “Rainy Night in Georgia” brashly extends its reach “all over the world”. Anyway, Durante’s from Maryland, not that it matters.
[5] l'Underwood:
Carrie Underwood – Mama’s Song
Music for use! If people start playing this for Mother/Daughter dances at wedding receptions, because Dad’s not in the picture or whatever, I’m totally on board. I also like how Mama “gives away” the daughter, reclaiming the barbaric women-as-property tradition. Lovely and open-hearted, with a supportive crowd of background singers.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

This 8-month-old Diana Reyes album is TOTALLY WORTH IT!!!

 Lately she has taken up painting...

[Everybody should hear this album because it's really really good, much better than my slightly dry and pedantic review of it.  Top 5 of the year, easy.  This was my audition piece for PopMatters, but at this point it's really far after the fact and I doubt they'll wanna run it.]

Diana Reyes
Amame, Besame
(EMI Latin)

Diana Reyes has been making good albums for years, but Ámame, Bésame (“Love Me, Kiss Me”) is an explosion of color and energy like nothing else in her catalogue.  It’s also a breakthrough for duranguense, the Chicago-based techno-polka style that five years ago threatened to take over regional Mexican radio.  Back then, Reyes pulled one of the most effective genre switcheroos in Latin pop history, when she left her native norteño music for duranguense.  Reyes was so confident about this career move, she titled her first album in the new genre La Reina del Pasito Duranguense (“The Queen of the Duranguense Dance Step”).  Just to make certain nobody argued, she sang the hell out of her songs and grew her fingernails to a frightening length.

Duranguense’s impact has since cooled, thanks to scene infighting and the fickle winds of public taste.  Maybe that’s why Ámame, Bésame alternates its polkas with more pop-wise techno cumbias, in the tradition of A.B. Quintanilla’s Kumbia All-Starz.  Reyes even covers a couple songs by Quintanilla’s late sister, Selena, and works with his production associate, Luigi Giraldo.  Giraldo has assembled a crack band for his songs, and his arrangements really sparkle.  When you hear how the accordion switches from outlining the melody to playing riffs, or how  the strategically placed laser FX chirp away in the background, you can tell how much care he’s lavished on this music.

Of course, such sonic tchotchkes are par for the course with most pop music.  Reyes’s stunning achievement is that she now gets that same bold, detailed sound with her duranguense producers.  If Reyes’s previous four duranguense albums were good, they also sounded a little thinner, as though they were made on a much lower budget.  Indeed, that’s been the case with lots of duranguense music.  For this album Reyes’s Chicago producers, the Orwellian-sounding “The Team, Inc.”, have really amped up the energy.  The polkas are faster and louder.  Where Reyes’s backing band once sounded anonymous, they now clatter away on tambora and provide wild electronic tuba fills.  With their madcap woodwind lines and beat changes, these polkas resemble Carl Stalling’s orchestra performing Europop songs during Oktoberfest.  Which isn’t to say it’s ALL louder--the background keyboards that once popped garishly out of the mix have been replaced by softer, subtler synths.  What it all adds up to is increased professionalism and, I assume, a higher recording budget courtesy EMI, Reyes’s new label.

Here’s what hasn’t changed:  Reyes still sings the hell out of her songs.  Whether she’s singing songs written specifically for her, or covering Selena or Lupita d’Alessio (a balladeer and telenovela actress), Reyes delivers each tune with enough full-throated conviction to completely command her arrangements.  Her clear tone and phrasing keep her free from syrupy melodrama, but her voice is laced with a magical huskiness that hints at some hidden pain or experience.  You sense she knows more than she’s willing to reveal in the song.  In the sinister “Ten Mucho Cuidado” (“Be Very Careful”), which sounds like sped-up Ace of Base + accordion, Reyes switches from quick, matter-of-fact tongue twisting to a soaring world weariness.  Her song-picking ability is uncannily good, but this woman would sound great even if someone made her sing an album of Ariel Pink covers.

Thankfully it hasn’t come to that.  This is the best-sounding duranguense--or, I guess, semi-duranguense--album I’ve heard.  It’s bursting with catchy pop songs and full arrangements that allow them to flourish.  Ámame, Bésame ends with a polka version of the title track, replete with a whistle doubling the melody, haphazard organ fills, electronic squelches, and what sounds like EVERY OTHER MUSICAL INSTRUMENT that The Team, Inc. could dig out of their Memory Hole.  It’s as though they realized that, after revolutionizing the sound of the duranguense genre, they should send us out with as big a bang as possible.  Explosion accomplished.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The latest Ghostland Observatory album is NOT WORTH IT, I don't think.

Nine-year-old Pippi is unconventional, assertive, and has superhuman strength, being able to lift her horse one-handed without difficulty. She frequently mocks and dupes adults she encounters, an attitude likely to appeal to young readers; however, Pippi usually reserves her worst behavior for the most pompous and condescending of adults. She turns white around the nose whenever she gets angry, which in view of her superhuman strength thankfully happens very rarely. Pippi's anger is reserved for the most extreme cases, such as when a man ill-treats his horse. And like Peter Pan, Pippi does not want to grow up.

 Here's the skinny at PopMatters.  Codename: Rondo is decent, but is mere decency enough in this age of 14,000 albums a year?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Last Week In Jukeboxing

They only drink to hide the pain.
Le bien:
Eric Church – Smoke a Little Smoke
I imagine Eric’s one of those annoying people (like me) who blathers on and on about how his altered state of mind brings him closer to God and reveals deep universal truths and profundities, about how Jesus’s first miracle was making wine at a party, about how the Tao is in the piss and shit and anyway the Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao (land sakes, I’m doing it now), when really he’s just drunk (and high? Online lyrics say “Dig down deep / Find my stash,” whereas in this version he finds his glass and strikes his match. Another reason to vote yes on Prop.19!) . The floppy opening riff, dramatic shifts in instrumentation, coda, and abrupt final chord all create the impression that he’s making up the song as he goes along. Not until the third verse do we discover that some absent “her” is behind all this Hakuna Matata philosophizing.

...le mal:
Akon – Angel
Forgive me, Akon. At first I didn’t believe you, but that was before I learned she has wings and a halo.
[1] le mot juste:
Lauryn Hill – Repercussions
I welcome her voice back into my life like a warm hug; but while we embrace, she just keeps blabbering about karma, and I can’t tell whether this is supposed to be an apology or what, and THEN Beaker from the Muppets comes in and starts serenading us, and this is just the most awkward welcome back hug ever.

Alexis Jordan – Happiness [6]
Magnetic Man ft. Katy B – Perfect Stranger [3]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The latest Electric Six album is WORTH IT!

Good lines NOT mentioned in this PopMatters review of Zodiac:

"That's how organs shut down and gray seals die!!!"

"They sell this music at K-Mart!!!"

"94 seconds 'til the countdown starts!!!"

"You were hemmin' and hawin' about the apocalypse / While we were stuck in an elevator!!!"

"Why are all the white people filled with hate???!!!" [They're timely!]

"We can talk turkey 'til the turkey stops talking to me!!!"

(Some of these may be misremembered.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Last Week In Jukeboxing

Ain't thinkin' 'bout "U"...

Le bien, le mal, et le gamelan:

Chrisette Michele – I’m a Star
Sounds better every time I listen, because “I’m up in the sky tonight” keeps sounding sadder, lonelier. Chrisette reveals how emotional desperation can drive self-empowerment as subtly as did “Irreplaceable”, as abruptly as “What’s cooler than being cool? ICE COLD!” Of course if you tell someone “I’m not thinkin’ ‘bout you”, YOU’RE THINKING ABOUT THEM, pink elephants and whatnot; but I’m even more impressed that she’s ostensibly putting her chorus into some sad sister’s mouth (“Tell ‘em…”) — she’s afraid we’ll figure her out, so she builds barrier after barrier between us and the catharsis she can’t allow. Her voice puts it over with a lovely arsenal of cracks and hiccups; despite the best efforts of the bridge to smooth everything over, the whole effect remains as delicate as Chuck Harmony’s gamelan production.

That's all I put up (slow week), but there's a good discussion unfolding over the merits of the extraordinarily fun rapper Nicki Minaj, springing from her performance on Kanye's latest.

Best Thing I Heard Today: Roland Kirk doing "From Bechet, Byas, and Fats"

A Zen monk's take on modal bop. Even though it's most memorable as a hard-charging tenor blowout, "From Bechet, Byas, and Fats" has a quirky stillness about it, in the heads that open and close the song, and especially in the wind chimes:

Roland Kirk has a reputation for being avant-jazz (I first picked him up on the recommendation of a Sonic Youth album cover), and while some of his recordings might bear that out, here he stands squarely in the tradition with a song dedicated to sax players Sidney Bechet and Don Byas and pianist Fats Waller. In Kirk's most iconic image, he's playing tenor sax, manzello (a sort of soprano sax with a mellophone bell grafted on), and stritch (a straight alto) simultaneously. My favorite record store, Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis, apparently digs Kirk:

No horns were played simultaneously in the making of "From Bechet", but we do get to hear the manzello for the head, and then we're off! Kirk tears through a wild tenor solo (that's the "Byas" part) over a two-chord vamp, featuring long stretches of note flurries supported by circular breathing. After that, Jaki Byard plays what amounts to an abstract Fats Waller tribute, featuring spunky Walleresque figures and, shortly after the four-minute mark, a speedy take on Fats's "Jitterbug Waltz":

During Byard's solo, Kirk helps out by clacking some castanets at esoteric intervals; I'm sure he understood why. Richard Davis gets a brief bass feature, and then we're back to the head, which refuses to end the song boisterously. In fact, the ending of this song is notably less rambunctious than the stuff that's come before, and the band finally nods off to some wind chimes and long notes. Spellbinding throughout.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Last Week in Jukeboxing

"Hey... tú... estás conmigo..."

They're letting me write blurbs over at the Singles Jukebox now, a site you may have noticed in my blogroll. It's well worth checking out; the site features several writers I admire (some of whose blogs are also over there to the left), and while everyone at the Jukebox takes pop singles more seriously than most rational people, they're not afraid to horse around. Writing this stuff is pretty addictive.

Le bien:
Javiera Mena – Hasta La Verdad
Striking in its deliberateness, the song builds meticulously to its final string extravaganza (sounds like the James Gang, of all people) while refusing to get excited, and Javiera refuses to emote or provide vibrato or alter her long notes in the slightest. She contemplates each sound as she makes it, examining her vowels in the shimmering light of the synths. Her approach suits the lyric, which I THINK is about appreciating the truth that’s right in front of you. Revelatory spoken interlude — “Hey… you… you are with me… Hasta la verdad” — leads into a (synth?) French horn solo which announces the dawn of some greater Verdad. Strauss on a mountaintop or some shit.

...le mal:
Zola Jesus – Sea Talk
The voice and the beat have the misfortune to remind me of “Be My Baby”, which only highlights the song’s inferiority to “Be My Baby”. We need tympani rolls leading into the choruses, folks! Momentum, power, more than two chords, recognizable emotion! The song tries reaching out for connection; Ms. Jesus admits she can’t be everything we want and asks a bunch of questions, but you get the sense she’ll go her own way regardless of the answers. Which is fine. I’ll just be over here listening to “Be My Baby” or reading Zola, I’ve been meaning to get to him.
[2] le mot juste:
Pissed Jeans – False Jesii pt. 2

NOno! NO! NO!NO! nononoNO! NO! NO!NO! noNO! NO!noNO! NOno!NO!NO! NOno!NO!NO! noNO! NO! noNO!NO! nobody can do… NIHILISM THAT’S KIND OF DRAGGY BUT MAYBE THAT’S THE IDEA!!!… like I do… except Mudhoney…

Black Milk ft. Royce Da 5′9 and Elzhi – Deadly Medley [7]
Tinie Tempah ft. Eric Turner – Written in the Stars [6]
KT Tunstall – (Still a) Weirdo [2]
Brad Paisley – Anything Like Me [3]
Sleigh Bells – Infinity Guitars [8]
Kylie Minogue – Get Outta My Way [8]

Thursday, October 14, 2010

This new album by ¡Mayday! is NOT worth it.

"Don't even TRY coming back to the Cauley Square Tea Room!"

At PopMatters; I tried SO HARD to like this thing, you've no idea. Well, maybe not that hard. But I did try.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Best Thing I Heard Today: Jamey Johnson doing "My Way To You"

Watch out, Lee Ann, he's right behind you!!!

Jamey Johnson's new album is great; forget what I said about it here.  I was foolish then.  It's two discs of great songs, mostly originals, that are mostly straight-up honkytonk stuff, but that also touch on rock, soul, folk, scary threats toward rich people, and this atypically massive power ballad:

...which was apparently released as a single last year, though I sure never heard it on the radio.  (Never heard "High Cost of Living" either, an even better single from his last album.)  The recording is great -- every instrument is clear and occupies its own space, which is good since they take some pretty fine solos.  "My Way To You" is atypical precisely because most of the other songs are so loose-limbed and spacious, they rarely coalesce into the magisterial radio power you get here.  It's a great capper to a LONG (25 song) album.  Don't try to take it in all at once -- unless, you know, that's the sort of thing you like to do.

Here's a good ilx thread that I haven't formed cogent thoughts for.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

This new Birthday Massacre CD is NOT worth it!

Chin up, Chibi!

Anyhow, please enjoy this cheerfully negative review over at PopMatters.  And here's the cheerfully positive review I gave their first album back in '05.  At this rate, in 2015 they'll release a Christian CD of tempoless alt-country dirges and oud solos.  (Or something equally unappealing.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Surfing With Bot'Ox

"Babylon By Car" is a mysteriously titled 2007 single by the French electroduo Bot'Ox. It's not entirely apparent what this instrumental blend of nu-disco and Krautrock has to do with Babylon, aside from an "Arabic"-sounding flat second in one of the riffs. As Congorock taught us, all you need is some music that sounds vaguely exotic to Western ears and you, too, can claim the mantle of Babylon! No complaints here; Congorock's "Babylon" is one of the best singles of the year, and this one sounds pretty good.

It's possible that "Babylon By Car" is also supposed to conjure memories of the Normal's (and Grace Jones's) "Warm Leatherette", a car song that celebrates kinky thrills while being impaled on your emergency brake. That'd speak to our conception of decadent Babylon, for sure. More interesting is the way the song equates Babylon with driving. As I've argued elsewhere, Babylon songs mention driving almost as often as they mention sex, drugs, and phallic towers. Cars can represent freedom; when the Dolls celebrate Babylon's freedom from societal convention, they drive really fast to get there. Cars can also symbolize status and ennui; when Faster Pussycat have nothing better to do in Babylon, they sit in traffic on the L.A. freeway and hurl insults at other drivers, while they make out and do drugs. When Steely Dan wanna have a threesome, they lure the girls into their car and go for a drive. (Maybe Becker and Purdie hang out in the trunk while Fagen sings and steers.)

Americans love cars, but this symbolic meaning of "Car" is more a Western thing than an American thing; after all, Bot'Ox are French, and their music is indebted to Kraftwerk's autobahn. (Although Kraftwerk may, in turn, be indebted to the symbol of the Car in earlier American rock; further research.) In pop music we love our cars, and they symbolize freedom and status. But when we equate them with Babylon, we acknowledge that maybe something's wrong with that freedom and status. At the very least, it's unnatural. But what's natural? And why do we privilege the natural? This is one of rock 'n' roll's deepest tensions -- its pleasures are undeniable and unbeatable, but they might carry you over the edge. When singers use Babylon to celebrate their decadence, they pay lip service to that edge. Sometimes, like Steely Dan, they stare right into the void. And just as Babylon lays bare the void that lurks within Sex and Drugs, when it sucks the Car into its decadent milieu, it reveals that the Car contains a void too. Tack it up, tack it up, buddy, now I shut you down.

Monday, September 27, 2010

This Camu Tao album is NOT really Worth It, though we may wish otherwise.

Or so sez me at PopMatters, whereupon I now inflict my splenetic rage.  It's called King of Hearts, and if you work in the field of underground electro-rap, the album may in fact be Worth It.  For inspiration.  Anyway, RIP Camu Tao.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Albums That Are Totally Worth It: The Q3 Report

Groove Armada are on a boat.

End-of-year lists keep creeping earlier and earlier, and I'm as offended as the next guy. But once list-making season arrives, I'll probably be tied up with a Christmas program of some sort. So, before the deluge, I will put my ducks in a row.

CAVEAT: I can't claim to be definitive. That said, you might find stuff on here worth checking out. So far this year I've consciously processed 164 albums, including reissues and late '09s I missed, which is way more than any sane person needs to hear. However, this barely touches what most of my more esteemed colleagues have heard, and it's roughly ONE TENTH OF ONE PERCENT OF THE ALBUMS THAT'LL BE RELEASED THIS YEAR. Do you believe that? According to the esteemed Mr. Kot, 2008 saw the release of 115,000 albums, only 6k of which sold over a thousand copies.

I have not been picky! My main method of hearing new CDs is the library system, which lets me reserve up to 25 albums at a time for inter-library loan. I regularly go through the list of what's available and reserve what sounds interesting, what other people are repping, or what genres I need to brush up on. Occasionally I just reserve stuff willy nilly, which is how I heard a Christian bachata CD. (Ug.) Some worthwhile jazz and metal I've bought from eMusic on the recommendations of Phil Freeman. I've also received a trickle of promos and listened to MSN Music's Listening Booth.

Of those 164 albums, 69 or so are Worth It. What's that mean? You know it when you hear it, but mostly an album is Worth It if it doesn't feel like a chore to sit through again. Usually "being surprising" and "exceeding genre expectations" play a part. Doubtless my taste will change, and some of my Worth Its and Not Worth Its are pretty borderline. For example, the new Erykah Badu didn't do much for me, but I wouldn't hate you for liking it. Ariel Pink is a different story.

Of those 69, 12 are Totally Worth It. That is, I'd be disappointed if I didn't get to vote for them on a year-end Top 10 list. Thus do I guarantee myself disappointment. Here they are:

You're probably wondering whether you should trust me. (Or maybe my Ke$ha love gave you your answer.) To examine where my subjective interests lie, I've applied some specious statistical analysis to my Worth Its. If we assign each Worth It a point, and each Totally Worth It two points, and divide by 164 total albums, we get a batting average of .494 (synchronistically, also the number of my address). This means that fewer than half of the CDs I listen to are things I'd wanna hear on a regular basis. Given the array of genres in question, I'm sort of surprised it's that high. From there, I've broken my lists down by genre and figured up the batting average of each genre, along with their deviation plus or minus .494. Rap won.

Top 6 Rap (17 albums, .706 avg. +.212):
Sho Baraka--Lions & Liars (Reach)
The Roots--How I Got Over (Def Jam)
Rick Ro$$--Teflon Don (Def Jam)
Meth, Rae, & Ghost--Wu-Massacre (Def Jam)
Big Boi--Sir Lucious Left Foot... The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam)
Daddy Yankee--Mundial

I still need to hear Curren$y. Please comment and let me know about other things I need to hear, too. Yes, that is a lot of Def Jam albums. And yes, a Christian rapper made a better album than any of 'em.

Next up is the awkwardly named genre of Melodic Electronic Dance Pop That's Not Rap (MED Pop?), which I assumed would win, before I started factoring in stuff that's like Four Tet but not as compelling.

Top 6 MED Pop (Non-Rap) (20 albums, .700 avg., +.206):
Ke$ha--Animal (RCA)
Diana Reyes--Amame, Besame (EMI Latin)
Sleigh Bells--Treats (Mom + Pop)
Groove Armada--Black Light (Cooking Vinyl)
LCD Soundsystem--This is Happening (DFA/Virgin/EMI)
Kylie Minogue--Aphrodite (Astralwerks/EMI)

That list should probably include salsa albums too, but I don't think they occupy the same space in my listening psyche. Next up, country:

Top 6 Country (21 albums, .619 avg., +.125):
Drive-By Truckers--The Big To-Do (New West) (They object to being called country, so we'll include them in the indie rock list too.)
Jerrod Niemann--Judge Jerrod & the Hung Jury (Sea Gayle/Arista)
Trace Adkins--Cowboy's Back In Town (Show Dog/Universal)
Gary Allan--Get Off On the Pain
Chely Wright--Lifted Off the Ground (Painted Red/Vanguard)
Intocable--Classic ('09)

CAVEAT: I'm still working on Jamey Johnson's The Guitar Song. Right now he occupies the same mental space as Midlake's The Courage of Others: sounds cool when it's on, especially on overcast days; expertly recorded; sort of sounds like the interstitial sections of an art-metal CD; and I don't particularly wanna hear it. This doesn't bode well for his inclusion on my list, but I doubt he cares. Wouldn't be surprised if he walks off with a Grammy for Album of the Year, actually.

Speaking of metal, I haven't yet heard enough to make it a statistically significant genre, so I'm throwing it in with indie rock. (If Phil Freeman actually read this, I'm sure he'd be thrilled.) Yes folks, that's WASP with the second best indie rock album of the year.

Top 12 Indie Rock (Including Metal) (44 albums, .523 avg., +.029):
Cathedral--The Guessing Game (Nuclear Blast)
WASP--Babylon (Demolition ‘09)
Sleigh Bells--Treats (Mom + Pop)
Frightened Rabbit--The Winter of Mixed Drinks (Fatcat)
Drive-By Truckers--The Big To-Do (New West)
Vampire Weekend--Contra (XL)
LCD Soundsystem--This is Happening (DFA/Virgin/EMI)
The Like--Release Me (Downtown)
New Pornographers--Together
Art Museums--Rough Frame
Ludicra--The Tenant
Grong Grong--To Hell 'n' Back (Memorandum '09 REISSUE)

Do LCD Soundsystem count? Even though they have major label distribution? I don't understand how these things work.

Our final marginally positive genre is Latin! This includes regional Mexican subgenres like norteno and duranguense, along with Caribbean dance genres like reggaeton and salsa. It'd also include straight-up Latin pop/rock if I'd heard anything good. Diana Reyes and Luis Enrique probably come the closest, and Tito "El Bambino" has some good songs.

Top 8 Latin (18 albums, .500 avg., +.006):
Diana Reyes--Amame, Besame (EMI Latin)
Daddy Yankee--Mundial (Latin)
Los Cuates de Sinaloa--Puro Cartel (Sony Latin)
Adolescent's Orquestra--Sellos de Mi ADN (Venevision/Universal)
Los Titanes de Durango--Los Locos del Corrido
Intocable--Classic ('09)
Luis Enrique--Ciclos (Top Stop Music/Sony)
Los Tucanes de Tijuana--Retro-Corridos

With a few exceptions, the Christian music marketed as such has sucked. Good stuff still exists, though. Yes folks, that's WASP with the best Christian album of the year.

Top 6 Christian (17 albums, .471 avg., -.023):
WASP--Babylon (Demolition '09)
Sho Baraka--Lions & Liars (Reach)
Marvin Sapp--Here I Am
Various Artists--Fire In My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel (1944-2007) ('09 REISSUE)
Nneka--Concrete Jungle (Christian)
Gary Lucas and Dean Bowman--Chase the Devil

And then there's jazz. You really shouldn't seek my advice for jazz, except when I tell you that library jazz is a dire scene. These are likable, though.

Top 6 Jazz (18 albums, .389 avg., -.105):
Henry Threadgill Zooid--This Brings Us To, Vol. 1 (Pi ‘09)
Mikrokolektyw--Revisit (Delmark)
Sun Ra--College Concert Vol. 1: The Complete Nothing Is... (ESP REISSUE)
Terje Rypdal--Crime Scene (ECM)
Carlos Barretto--Labirintos
Matthew Shipp--4D

What’s This? A Good Major Label Rock Album?
David Bowie--A Reality Tour

And finally, because it includes the long-awaited-on-CD Bert & Ernie Singalong, one of the most delightful albums ever recorded, here's the list of top reissues.

Top 10 Reissues (Music Made Before ‘09):
Various Artists--Next Stop Soweto: Township Sounds from the Golden Age of Mbaqanga (Strut)
David Bowie--A Reality Tour
Original Cast--Sesame Street Old School Vol. 1 [including Bert & Ernie Singalong]
Various Artists--Fire In My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel (1944-2007) ('09)
Sun Ra--College Concert Vol. 1: The Complete Nothing Is... (ESP)
Youssou N'Dour--Music from the Motion Picture I Bring What I Love
Grong Grong--To Hell 'n' Back (Memorandum '09)
Nneka--Concrete Jungle
Was (Not Was)--Pick of the Litter (1980-2010)
Various Artists--Minimal Wave Tapes

Oh yeah singles, about which I'm hardly authoritative, except to say that these are all really good; and also most of them are actual singles! I checked. (Can you spot the one that's not?)

Top 10 Singles:
"Vida en la Noche"--Daddy Yankee
"All the Lovers"--Kylie Minogue
"Your Love Is My Drug"--Ke$ha
"Paper Romance"--Groove Armada
"Baby"--Justin Bieber feat. Ludacris
"Get Off On the Pain"--Gary Allan
"Praise You Forever"--Marvin Sapp
"Soldier of Love"--Sade
“Alles Neu”--Peter Fox

That's it for today! More will follow at the appropriate time, but I wanted to get that out of my system. Will rap maintain its lead? Will a major label release a decent rock CD recorded in the past year? Will chillwave and crabcore please go away? Stay tuned...