Monday, February 28, 2011

Last Week in Jukeboxing

Purchased pre-downturn, these were a surprisingly wise investment.

Le bien:
R. Kelly: "Love Letter" [9]
This is Kelly in his sunniest mode, stepping through not-exactly-bygone R&B while canned drums burble gently in the background. The lyric is pretty brilliant, too. It’s a deceptively artless stream of consciousness on people’s motives for writing love letters, incorporated into his own act of writing, so that, without a shred of detail about Kelly’s surroundings, I can envision him sitting at his dining room table writing his letter, pausing every once in a while to ruminate on the nature of letter writing itself. And in my imagination, his dining room table is my dining room table, which in turn makes me think I should catch up on my correspondence. I mean, wow — talk about collapsing distinctions between life and art, between artist and audience.

...le mal:
Nelly ft. Kelly Rowland: "Gone" [3]
Less a sequel than a re-imagining: what if “Dilemma” didn’t have a hook? le mot juste:
Thompson Square: "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not" [6]
Devoid of narrative tension in the same way as Rodney Atkins’s terrible “Farmer’s Daughter” — they get together, fall in love, get married, everybody’s happy all the time, and I grow wistful for a closing-verse death scene where someone recontextualizes the title by singing it to Jesus. But at least they’re better singers than Atkins, and the melody’s got some tug to it.

Toro y Moi: "Still Sound" [7]
The Decemberists: "Down By the Water" [7]

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sheep/Goats 2/11: Albums that are WORTH IT!!! (and some otherwise)

REALLY hard to tell what's going on in this picture, but I believe that's a Symbolic Sheep.

Read more about it at Burnside Writers' Collective.  I'll include the Overcome review here, since it's maybe the most likely to garner random commentary, something that is always welcome...

Sheep: Charlotte Martin!  R. Kelly!  Iron/Wine!  Overcome!  Fran Healy!  Heavy Winged!

Singles: The Ark! Mary Mary!

Goats: Red!  Josh Wilson!  Brandon Heath!  Luminate!

The Great Campaign of Sabotage

Sometimes, when the blacktop turns white and everything’s been killed by road salt, you just need a good ol’ death metal CD to cheer you up.  At least I do.  And if the unintelligible lyrics are certified to NOT send you to hell, so much the better.  This is the third incarnation of guitarist Jason Stinson’s band, and they sound amazingly tight for having been together only a year or so.  Overcome have enough rhythmic savvy that they’ll make you lurch around a lot, even while they’re shifting tempos as much as Zappa or somebody — they always land on a monster groove.  They’re also not afraid to get (relatively) delicate so you can rest your ears, opening up space for the rippling drummer and giving the guitars a nice little melodic jam on “Clemency”, before it’s back to shredding their strings and vocal cords.  But hey, even if you can’t pick out the words, this stuff’s way better for the soul than (say) the new Luminate CD, dismissed below.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sun City Girls are WORTH IT!!! Not so Telekinesis.

Gift or curse?

Read more about 'em at PopMatters!

Sun City Girls
Funeral Mariachi
By at least one metric, the Sun City Girls’ final release was the best-loved cult album of 2010. Though it placed an impressive number 70 out of 1,839 on the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop critics’ poll, its supporters voted for few of the poll’s actual winners, situating the Girls far from the mainstream of critical opinion. Funeral Mariachi also appeared in PopMatters’ own Slipped Discs feature, and it’s easy to like, even if it contains nary a trace of mariachi music—the title tune’s trumpet sounds more like Jon Hassell’s ambient work. Instead, the Girls envelop listeners in a logy haze halfway between Ennio Morricone’s western soundtracks and the Beatles’ “Sun King”. The opener, “Ben’s Radio”, butts an invented language collage against a deep, rolling-on-the-plains groove, complete with scorching guitar solo. “The Imam” is a sprightly Middle Eastern ode to cinnamon, complete with duck call. After that, things slow down. Several songs feature the woozy moans of avant-soprano Jessika Kenney, and the lead instrument throughout seems to be the basses. Beautifully recorded so that every instrument signifies, with piano and Mellotron popping out of the mix, Funeral Mariachi swaddles you in epic grooves and melodies.

12 Desperate Straight Lines
Despite Michael Benjamin Lerner’s penchant for peppy tunes and “BUP-baada-BUP” vocals, the Telekinesis mastermind seems like a worrywart on 12 Desperate Straight Lines, his group’s latest effort. On “Gotta Get It Right Now”, he and whoever is singing backup nag themselves with the title over and over, kinda like those poor sleep-deprived kids who compete in the National Spelling Bee. “Get It Right” is the closing song on a breakup album, the culmination of 12 Desperate Straight Lines, when Lerner should be having an epiphany or meeting someone new, or whatever happens when you culminate. The song swings happily enough—“BUP BUP BUP BUP baada BAHHHH!”—but Lerner keeps fretting. “All my friends are so locked down/I’m 23, I should be screwin’ around/And I gotta get it right now”. This is a man who has trouble culminating.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Last Week in Jukeboxing

Le bien:
The Ark: "Breaking Up With God"
My old youth group friend, with whom I’d lost touch for a while, said recently that one of the most freeing moments of her life came when she realized she’d always been an atheist. Even though “Breaking Up With God” depicts a slightly different situation — Ola Salo hears the call, he just opts not to follow — I can still imagine the song playing over that scene in the movie of her life, preferably a scene of quiet joy in a restaurant rather than a montage of her twirling and splashing in a big stone fountain or something. It does SOUND like a fountain montage song, with its New Romantic riff and wonderful vocal harmonies. Salo sings with giddy relief, like he just realized he was parched and surrounded by water all at once. And this is why I find the song tremendously moving. As with most great God celebration songs, this one burrows down into the singer’s core and comes up with remnants of inexpressible things. “Reach my heaven alive” — whatever that turns out to be, it’s a necessary goal.

...le mal:
Keyshia Cole ft. Nicki Minaj: "I Ain't Thru" 
I didn’t think Keyshia WAS thru until she started insisting otherwise; but then, I haven’t been paying attention, so I don’t know who all these “hatin’ ass broads” are that she’s battling. If she really wants to impress them, she shouldn’t neglect her more interesting upper range, with its strained and girlish desperation, almost totally absent here.
[2] le mot juste:
Brad Paisley: "This is Country Music" 
OK, YES, it’s utter horseshit, at best an empty writing exercise, at worst a self-correcting sop to anti-government types who roll around on Medicare scooters and clamor for Obama’s birth certificate. The idiotic first line could keep us busy all day. The invaluable Leo’s Lyrics yields 1,019 songs that mention cancer, only two of which appear to be by country artists — David Allen Coe’s “Heaven Only Knows” and Travis Tritt’s “Bible Belt”, if you’re curious. Rap and metal artists get to say the word “cancer” in songs all the time; Neurosis, Carcass, and the Subhumans seem to have weird but unsurprising fetishes for the subject. He might as well say you’re not supposed to say the word “cancer” in a COUNTRY song, and there’s a good reason for that: aesthetically it’s a bad word for the genre, violating the usual subtlety and craft that go into country lyrics. If Tim McGraw had just plopped a “cancer” into the beginning of “Live Like You Were Dying”, it would have violated our subconscious expectations of country songwriting and broken the song’s spell. So Paisley’s a liar and a thief, but here’s the thing — he and Chris DuBois are good enough songwriters that THEY FIGURED OUT HOW TO DO IT. It’s not breaking-the-fourth-wall momentous, but this “cancer” is a sign of Paisley tossing off undeniable skill, the same skill he uses to divide country subject matter into three neat verses, to stick all his rhymes like a gymnast, and to play a guitar that sounds more conscious than most singers on the radio.

Ke$ha: "Blow" [5]
PJ Harvey: "The Words That Maketh Murder" [8]

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

This new Charlotte Martin album is WORTH IT!!

Y Kant Tori Promote Wind Energy?

I'm sure she gets sick of people saying "Tori Amos" around her, but on the other hand, in one interview I read she was naming her favorite musicians and she said "Tori Amos, obviously."  So maybe not TOO sick.  Anyhow, good CD/download/whatever.  IT'S PRETTY.

Read more at PopMatters [8/10].
Throughout Dancing on Needles, her seventh full-length album, Martin seems to be chasing a sense of mystery, trying to evoke some ancient meaning that can’t be contained by everyday pop music. To her credit, though, she never sacrifices musical clarity and propulsion for mere atmosphere. Her husband, producer Ken Andrews (Pete Yorn, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), is responsible for most of the music that decorates Martin’s voice and piano. The songs are full of sound effects, like twinkling chimes and ominous background white noise, that give the songs personality without cluttering them up. The title song is a wonderful 4x4 stomper that sounds like it’s taking place in the same moors occupied by Loreena McKennitt. There are horn stabs on the offbeats and howling gales in the distance, but Martin’s arresting “woo-hoo-ooo”s remain the focus, and they plow into your brain.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

David Banner's latest is WORTH IT!! Not so Decemberists, Third Day, Underoath, and maybe Taylor Swift I'm not sure.

"I go baaaaack to December all the time..."

Or so sez Sheep & Goats at the Burnside Writers' Collective.  Here's the Banner review, but you'll have to go there for the Goats (Decemberists, Third Day, Underoath), the Soul Searching (Taylor Swift), and the featured single, Brooke Fraser's "Something In the Water".

David Banner & 9th Wonder
Death of a Pop Star
I’ve been wondering if David Banner could become the snarling face of popular Christian rap, so this collaboration with producer 9th Wonder is one answer:  probably not, but holy cow, it works for me.  Normally Banner comes off like a smarter, southerner DMX, kicking against the extremes of offensiveness and godliness, barking out sex and b-words and n-words and hating himself on Sunday mornings.  So if he’s toned it down for this album whose first credit is “Spiritual Producer: God”, you still probably don’t wanna play it in church.  It closes with a titty joke, for instance.
In the best song, Banner prays that he might lead his people to “The Light” over a slinky funk bounce built of barks and grunts.  He starts the soulful “Slow Down” talking smack to a stripper, and ends up humanizing her — not in any real deep way, but we learn she’s a single mom working two jobs, which is more than you’d get from the Ying Yang Twins.  Banner can also sound idiotic — he equates rappers trying to sing with “preachers touchin’ the kids”, and attributes homosexuality to rape-by-stepfather.  But that hardly makes him the first Christian blowhard, and anyway, he can rap rings around most such yaks, burrowing deep into 9th Wonder’s inspired grooves.  It’s a confounding possibility for what Christian rap can be:  dope, spiritually naked, socially perceptive, occasionally stupid and offensive.  And hey — if Ludacris wants to offer a hilarious sex rap instead of a testimony, at least Banner got him in the door.