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]