Monday, May 21, 2012

This PO PO Album is Totally Worth It!

Dope Boy Magick
(Mad Decent)

Zeb Malik makes ramshackle little indie rock tunes, snatches of riff presided over by a wafting tenor that suggests Marshall Crenshaw chanting a liturgy of slack. Lucky for Malik his instrumental timbres are catchier than most people’s tunes -- cf. “Let’s Get Away”, a suicide drink of Van Halen’s synths, Sonic Youth’s white noise, Kate Bush’s Fairlight flute, and Phil Collins’s drums. (Did you know “Phil Collins” is the technical term for a familiar drum rudiment?) The ‘80s will ALWAYS be back. “Losn My Mind” features a sound I desperately wish was an electrified oboe but probably isn’t. Malik also includes several ingratiating “mood” pieces; their mood is the totally relatable “I feel like messing around with this button on the keyboard.” Pick hit is “Bummer Summer”, an evocation of summers past that gets by on its guitar treatment. Though actually, the tune’s not bad either.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

This Batida Album is Totally Worth It!

Designer Lewis Heriz deserves credit for creating my new wallpaper.

From my review at the PopMatters, some sentences about an album that's in the same ballpark as Buraka Som Sistema, only lusher. (Real grass as opposed to artificial turf?) (No; more like a beautifully landscaped terrace in the midst of all that concrete and steel.)

Near the end of Batida’s vaguely sinister song “Ka Hueh”, some guy helpfully sneers the word “Freestyle!” Frankly, it’s hard to tell what he means by that.

Batida mastermind DJ Mpula tricks out the beat with a kaleidoscope of echo and FX, including what sounds like a bunch of oversized resonant fork tines jangling together in space.

Like Baltimore house and Brazilian baile funk, kuduro music can intimidate and punish, but it can also tantalize you with touches of beauty that gain power from their harsh surroundings. You appreciate when kuduro at least tries to make you happy.

The Angolan MCs, on the other hand, are tense and tight, their chewy voices taunting the beats and competing for attention with the DJ’s laser sounds. Dama Ivone, Ikonoklasta, and Sacerdote—a woman and two men, it’s worth noting—tear up their tracks and deserve to be heard far and wide. And hey, even The Economist just ran an article on Angolan rap, so you know it’s hot.

More often, Mpula fundamentally transforms his source material—as in “Allegria”, when sample dissolves into sample, choirs appear out of nowhere, and the textures shift like a dream. It’s an uneasy early-morning dream full of noise and relentless beats and freestyle, whatever that means. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

This Counting Crows Covers Album is Worth It!

The story continues...

The Counting Crows aren't the only band to veer from very very good songs ("Hangin' Around", "Mr. Jones") to embarrassingly unlistenable cringe machines (anything they did for a soundtrack?), but I fear they're underrated because the dreck isn't a huge sonic departure from the good stuff. They always sound like themselves, as evidenced by this fine covers album, reviewed at PopMatters, excerpted herewith:

Genghis Khan's brother Don is sadly absent.

You gotta hear this new Counting Crows album, they sound like a BAND!

They’ve recorded 15 covers with as fine a sense of group interplay as you’ll find outside the jazz world.

“Covers?” I hear you say with some alarm. “Isn’t this the band who blighted the Two Weeks Notice soundtrack with a terrible version of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, itself a pretty bad song?” Yes, over the course of their respectable 20 year career, the Crows have left behind them a smattering of cloying idiocy for which they’ll one day have to answer. Not here, though.

For example, lead single “Untitled (Love Song)”, a floppy Romany Rye song that could’ve easily been titled “Throw Your Arms Around My Neck” (or maybe just “Neck” if they were Brad Paisley), starts with a plain old electric guitar riff over which Duritz starts singing, then another electric saunters in, along with the drums and piano, until finally the whole band is lurching around with their three chords. This additive maneuver is one thing you can do with a band, particularly a band containing three guitarists; in musical parlance it’s known as the “Hotel California”. (Enjoy the colitas!)

And sometimes the strategy is simply to smoke the pants (and metaphors) right off the song, as in their blistering rendition of Dylan’s Big Pink staple “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, during which Duritz collapses into fits.

He's a very good singer, you know? Reminds me of his contemporary Garth Brooks; there’s always the danger they’ll rely too much on their trademark vocal tics, in Duritz’s case oddly-shaped warbles and wordless scatting nonsense. Throughout this album, though, Duritz delivers the songs with unmannered ease, saving his Duritz stuff for key moments like the meltdown section of the Dylan song.

If you want rock ‘n’ roll to be galvanizing rebellion or something, Underwater Sunshine isn’t the place for you. But if you want your rock ‘n’ rollers to offer a feasible career option that sounds great, the Counting Crows do. Is it still rock ‘n’ roll? What else you gonna call it?

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Recent Jukeboxing

Now that Easter's over and book proposal's turned in, I've had a little bit more time to write for The Singles Jukebox, the extraordinary site that discovered both Gotye and Carly Rae Jepsen before you (or I) did.

Le bien:

fun. - "Some Nights":
About two thirds of the way through, right after Nate Ruess gets sucked into his nephew’s eyes and flips into his little Autotune cadenza, I realize I have no idea what or who this piece of music stands for. It builds a stadium singalong out of insular incoherence, like the verses of Queen’s “We Are the Champions” only even more embarrassing. Who wants to sing along to a 7th grade notebook line like “What do I stand for?” Especially around other people? All this business about martyrs in beds and lips building castles is icky icky icky, “jack my style” is Train-unforgiveable, and this guy can’t expect us to care about his sister if we only just met her. But, yes, this is a singalong, if only because I’m sure I’ll be singing along to it the rest of the year. If anything, the glorious drums and guitar ostinato and Ladysmith Black fun.bazo voices make me wanna get to the bottom of Nate’s narcissism, surely an impossible task, but more exciting for that.

Eric Church - "Springsteen":
“Every time I think of you, I always catch my breath” … that’d make a lot more sense, but this song isn’t about that song. “That song” — the one that means freedom, lust, masculinity, tattoos, a Jeep, amateur astronomy, and a girl not wanting Eric to go — seems to be “Born In the USA,” which isn’t necessarily weirder than “Jack and Diane” for Kenny Chesney or “Sweet Home Alabama” for Kid Rock. Guitar sounds and unnamed drummers evoke what they will and who can understand the connections? Eric doesn’t try, just as he avoids forcing his specific reverie onto his listeners, sneaking the name of the song into the second verse. As an audio madeleine, “Born In the USA” would seem incongruous to most people, but “Springsteen” the song doesn’t even have to be about Springsteen, really, or sound like him — he’s just big and mythical enough to fade into the scenery of a song whose real subject is a night when every listener was seventeen.

Santigold - "Big Mouth":
Why are you so petrified of silence, Big Mouth? Here, can you handle this? (Cue wordless vocal fx building to EXCRUCIATING LOUDNESS YAWP!) Tick tock tock that shit nonstop — you’re such a shit talker, RUN! yaMOUTH! MORE! THANANYONEI’VEEVERKNOWN! You’re everywhere I go, thinkin’ that you know, O Big Mouth, Big Mouth, mymymy you’ve said enough. You talk too much; you even worry my pet! (Cue wordless chirps and shrieks.) GaGaGa all slighty off; not me, I’ll take the loss, I’ll never talk again, you’ve left me speechless, so speechle-ye-ye-yes. (Boobooboo, boobooboo, boobooboo, boobooboo…) Hey, um, Big Mouth… why you so speechless? 

Le mal:

Kanye ft. Khaled - "Theraflu":
DJ Pharris! Hometown! Power 92 is way better than WGCI! That said, best case this is Kanye feathering his nest, worst case it’s Kanye as immaculately self-absorbed cat obsessing over the minutiae of his own asshole(ry). I will not give a definitive answer because that’d require listening to it again.

et le mot juste:

Teedra Moses ft. Wale - "Another LuvR":
Nexuses of meaning are embedded in Mickey Bass’s 1973 bassline and its use in hip-hop, and someone should explore them thoroughly. They could examine whether A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘91 “Excursions” now signifies the same elder statesman classiness as Art Blakey’s “A Chant for Bu”, if indeed that’s what Blakey signified for Tribe. (Yes — but that’s not all he signified.) Or how by looping just the first two chords, which happen to have the same relationship as Miles Davis’s “So What” chords, Tribe showed how modal jazz anticipated such loops back in ‘59. Or how the mystical connotations of the “Chant” rub shoulders with the practical, both in Blakey’s famous work ethic and in Q-Tip’s punchline, “If you got the money, Quest is for the bookin’.” This song won’t be a very big part of the story. Moses hands us all these possibilities on a platter and then floats off to worry about something else.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

This Gene Watson Hits Album is sort of Worth It

From my PopMatters review, whose every paragraph begins with the suck-'em-in gambit "If you're," some thoughts:

If you’re a fan of country hitmaker Gene Watson and you’re considering buying his new collection Best of the Best: 25 Greatest Hits, you should know all 25 “hits” are re-recordings. They’re faithful re-recordings, slavish to the original arrangements and even keys, so it probably won’t make a huge difference to you. All the same, the gentleman Watson might have warned consumers somewhere on the album’s packaging.

And if you listen to Best of the Best in a certain way, Watson and Johnson’s meticulous re-creations become impressive pop-art endeavors, like Gus Van Sant’s nearly-shot-by-shot remake of Psycho or Damien Hirst’s extensive series of spot paintings. What constitutes an “original” work of art? When is a greatest hit not a greatest hit? When we plunk down money to relive a song, do slight differences reinvigorate that song or suck the air from our memories? Since Watson remade these songs for blatant financial reasons, does that somehow invalidate the songs as art?

If you’re skeptical, if slick turn-of-the-’80s Nashville doesn’t do it for you, you should still check out this album’s sequencing. Seriously, if the Grammys had an award for Best Album Sequencing, Best of the Best would be the one to beat. Watson and Johnson have grouped the songs into little thematic units, so that Gene Watson songs from different years converse and comment on one another. Watson made this album with money on his mind, but he opens it with a suite of songs discussing the evils of money and the virtues of poverty. “Fourteen Carat Mind” goes into the gentle “Paper Rosie”, where Watson idealizes a little old lady who sells paper roses and touches lives. (He also enjoys wine in both songs.) From there we move to the racy “Nothing Sure Looked Good On You”, Watson’s lament that his current gold digger isn’t satisfied with life like Paper Rosie. Offended, she engages in wanton behavior, so he sings “You’re Out Doing”, and… you get the picture. We hear diptychs on big themes: Loneliness (“Got No Reason Now For Going Home” and “One Sided Conversation”); New Orleans (“Love In the Hot Afternoon” and “The Old Man and His Horn”); Cheating and Insanity (“Should I Come Home (Or Should I Go Crazy)” into “What She Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Her”); and Hot Sex, or its absence (the aforementioned “Cowboys” slides wickedly into “This Dream’s On Me”). Watson closes the album with songs of memory, infidelity, and home, until he cheerfully falls off the wagon in “Drinkin’ My Way Back Home” and neatly loops back to the album opener “Fourteen Carat”. It’s like The Dark Tower with more honky-tonks.

If you’re up to it, though, you could explain to me the appeal of the brutal waltz “Where Love Begins”, in which the gentleman Watson pressures a virgin to give it up. “What’s that? What’s the matter? What’s making you cry? / You say it’s the first time for you? / LEEEAVE if you’d rather not lose what you came for! / Walk out the same door that I let you in!” Number five in ‘75, a precursor to Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night”; what a cad.