Archive for March, 2008

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Out with the old, in with the new

March 31, 2008
M83

It’s been three years since a newly solo Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez released the M83 album Before the Dawn Heals Us. If you missed it, it was a brilliant but pretty ridiculous album – a turbocharged Vangelis being fed through a pretentious-motion machine. So many synthesizers, so much excess. It pretty much invented a new sub-genre of progressive shoegazer synth rock. No one else joined for fear of being laughed at, so Gonzalez was left as founding president and honorary treasurer.

Now, after a stop-gap album of chilled-out ambient, M83 have toned down a lot of the excess of Dawn and released the pretty subdued Saturdays = Youth. It’s still ambitious and over-wrought in places, but it’s a much more of a conventional album. Most of the tracks would be perfect fits on an Orchestral Maneovres in the Dark album – and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s actually kind of pop.

Gonzalez can’t resist his absurdly cheesy spoken word samples, though. The superbly catchy “Graveyard Girl” includes a woman intoning “I’m 15 years old and I feel it’s already too late to love. Don’t you?” Emo kids would balk at this, surely.

But if you turn off that part of your brain that winces at cheesiness, you’ll find a lot to love in Saturdays = Youth.

M83 – “Graveyard Girl”

M83 – “Kim & Jessie”

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Disco Hour

March 29, 2008

RoisinI wasn’t a huge fan of Moloko, although I’ve got to admit to having danced to some of their singles. I guess I found them a little bit “strange” at the time.

Now that frontwoman Roisin (Ro-sheen) Murphy is all solo and stuff, I’m quite interested, even if she’s a lot more pop and a lot less strange than what I normally listen to. Contradiction? Maybe.

After her last Matthew Herbert-produced record earnt some attention (and some Gray’s Anatomy plays), Murphy seems to have upped the disco.  And taken on some interesting headwear.

Overpowered came out just at the end of last year and it’s a bit of an oddball assortment of different pop styles.  There’s no real coherence or flow, but most of the tracks are pretty unforgettable.   A few favourites of mine are the friends-becoming-lovers track “You Know Me Better” and the Kylie-esque “Let Me Know”.

You may like them too.

Roisin Murphy – “You Know Me Better”

Roisin Murphy – “Let Me Know” 

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Marxist funky hip-hop hour

March 27, 2008

They got some big ups from the critical fraternity in 2006 for Pick a Bigger Weapon and dudes in the know have been into them for years, but my love of The Coup has developed slowly over the last year. Maybe it’s the kinda extreme politics (shoplifting sticking it to the man, conspiracy theories about Bush and Hussein being in league). Yeah, that could be it.

The reason they’re worth your while, even if you’re not dedicating your life to bringing down the Fascist State of AmeriKKKa, is that they bring the funk in ways that almost no one has done since Bootsy Collins and George Clinton made an unholy pact with the forces of groove. DJ Pam seems to have a preternatural ability to take the best of classic P-funk, G-funk and disco and meld it into slick-but-not-saccharine hip-hop goodness. And Boots and his lyrics? Well, they’re at least entertaining.

I present the perfect baby-making song of all time (literally) and an inspiring track about…well, something. Ass, probably.

The Coup – “BabyLet’sMakeABabyBeforeBushDoSomethingCrazy”

The Coup – “Shoyoass”

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In the gutter, staring at the stars

March 25, 2008

If you’ve spent any time in my company, you’ve probably had me force a Twilight Singers album or song on you with the creepy intensity of a pusher using his own product. They’re an uneven band, but the concept – Afghan Whigs anthemic grunge mixed with trip-hop and electronic flourishes – what a concept! Some of the tracks on Blackberry Belle stand as my all-time favourites and I’m pretty much always in the mood for them.

They’re dark too, and never more dark than when they let a truly moody bastard like the Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan provide guest vocals, as he did on 2003’s “Number Nine”. The combination of two early 90s stalwarts singing about women and despair was luckily not a one-off, because the Singers’ Greg Dulli and Lanegan are back in ’08 as The Gutter Twins.

No big surprises with the sound. It sounds a lot like “Number Nine” stretched out over a number of tracks. Not a bad thing by any means.

The Twilight Singers – “Number Nine”

The Gutter Twins – “The Stations”

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Them

March 16, 2008
Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward

I’m not quite sure in what movie I first came across Zooey Deschanel, but it was crush at first sight, I’m certain.  Of course, the first thing to kill a celebrity crush tends to be some kind of ill-advised vanity project.  Luckily, Zooey’s recent attempt at a musical career turns out to be pretty well-advised.

First up, she’s collaborated with M. Ward.  Always a good idea.  Secondly, she’s written her own material – the surest sign that she’s serious about music (c.f. ScarJo’s Tom Waits covers album).  Thirdly, Zooey has some talent for this singer-songwriter thing.  Not an amazing voice, but one that’s idiosyncratic and interesting.  And the “vanity project” tag doesn’t seem fair when she’s releasing her work under a strange band-name.

Fan boys everwhere are wetting themselves.

She and Him – “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”

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Best band in a supporting role

March 13, 2008

Support acts are a great way to discover new music. They are also occasionally a one-way ticket to the land of Suck. Saturday night at Jens Lekman, it was definitely the former.

Second-up for the night was Gary Olson, a name that meant nothing to me. It turns out he’s the lead singer of The Ladybug Transistor – Elephant 6ers from way back. Not a band I’d ever paid much attention to, but Gary’s rendition of their songs with an motley crew of musicians from other bands was stellar. Olson is a laid-back indie everyman, but his rich baritone makes me think of crooners from the olden days and his trumpeting is excellent.

I picked up the Transistor’s 2007 album and it’s a goodie. Especially the stand-out (for me) from his set the other night, “I’m Not Mad Enough”. Yet another example of why I show up to gigs before 9 pm.

The Ladybug Transistor – “I’m Not Mad Enough”

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Horns of victory

March 10, 2008
Reel Big Fish

Back when I was in high school, I played trumpet. You may not know this about me.

Now the trumpet is a brilliant instrument. It’s been a driving force through centuries of music, from baroque through to jazz. But it’s not a very rock ‘n’ roll instrument. When my school friends were working out the licks to Metallica and AC/DC, I was learning how to play Duke Ellington. Could I show off these skills at parties? No, sir.

My love of brass instruments led me into some ill-advised choices of rock music, simply because the band included a horn section. Exhibit A is Reel Big Fish (above).

Luckily there are some good rock songs that feature horn sections. In particular is the pummelling noisy artcore of Parts & Labor’s song “Fractured Skies” from last year. It’s one of those tracks that starts off kind of ugly before erupting into something triumphant and beautiful.

And it’s the horns that do it. Listen.

Parts & Labor – “Fractured Skies”