Friday, July 31, 2009

Just A Quickie My Dear

Hey y'all, sorry for the lack of activity here at the rant - promise i'll be on more disciplinary form soon but for the time being here's another review of an album that will be battling for album of the year status come December.

Foreign Born - Person To Person (Secretly Canadian, 2009)

Isn’t it great when a band you’ve heard little to next to nothing of surprises you in a good way? When an album is destined to succeed off the back of its music rather than the machinations of hype and marketing? Foreign Born, and their sophomore album Person To Person, are an example of this very condition.

Forget the glut of bands, new and old, listed as influences or tools to describe them. All you need to know is that Foreign Born have already concocted their own fusion: alternative rock with sunny shades, danceable rhythms with cathartic corners and anthemic abandon.

Accompanied by a modest gallery of chamber instruments, Person To Person already finds the four-piece with a competent grasp on their group dynamic. Matt Popeiluch’s distinct vocals (reminiscent of Luke Steele when it stretches) fronting a hearty jangle, aided by multi-instrumental bandmates Lewis Pesacov, Ariel Rechtshaid and drummer Garrert Ray. Ray in particular turns in an impressive performance; one that is by turns supportive and engaging when it needs to be, and technically impressive and propulsive when it’s time to take centre-stage. A percussive, rhythmic heart that is the bedrock of the rich arrangements on offer throughout the album.

It’s a taut set too, an enjoyable forty minutes that pass like a string of career-hewn hits. From the melancholic opener Blood Oranges to the playful march of Winter Games, taking in the Afrobeat whimsy of Early Warnings and Lion’s Share. While See Us Home and Wait In This Chair sees the album out with a relaxed confidence.

Like blogosphere darlings Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors, Foreign Born have the air of indie daring so beloved of the likes of the Pitchfork-centric crowd; but importantly, also the sunny-born charm that should ensure they don’t just remain a best-kept secret.

Person To Person is a consistently enjoyable record but as concise and well-produced as it is, the real exciting thing is that Foreign Born could be capable of even better. Or it could be that it is the benchmark that undoes them in the future, expectations which this record wasn’t saddled with and what makes it such a wonderful surprise to begin with. Oh, the irony

check out the band's MySpace
and the video for Winter Games on YouTube

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chop, Chop

Time sure can get away from you if you're not paying attention. My tardiness with this post for example, it hardly feels like over two weeks since last I published something but then the clock nor calendar never lies does it?

So to celebrate here's a list of artists who are long overdue for another visit to the recording studio, maybe some of them are simply suffering from the same phenomena that i have... or maybe they're just lazy...


Years Since Last Album: two - (2007)

Kicking off the list is French DJ duo Justice, and though it's only been two years since their excellent debut - the brilliant album - it just seems that they've been coasting off of its success ever since. Sure they haven't been exactly dormant, they've still been producing remixes including most recently one for U2's Get On Your Boots. But that's bread and butter for electronic artists, that would be like applauding a singer-songwriter for playing another coffee shop gig.
To make matters worse was the A Cross The Universe concert movie come doco. Basically it was a testament to their touring lifestyle, which if you believe what's on show here is a batshit insane series of events that include misogynist pranks, burning managers and oh, yeah, maybe the occasional live set. It portrayed Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay as apathatic party boys, an image that may satisfy their party-savvy sets and techno bang tunes but not any artistic credibiilty they may have hoped for.
There's the increasing possibility that the excellence of D.A.N.C.E., Waters of Nazareth and Phantom may well have been a one-trick pony kind of deal. I'd sure like to be proven wrong but the only way we'll know is if the Gallic gusy stop partying and get down to making some new stuff.

Years since last album: 3 - 9 (2006)

It's not really a surprise that Damien Rice hasn't followed his last record with a swift follow-up. After all this was the same man who had such a love-hate relationship with the initial hype of his debut O that he threatened to quit the music industry entirely, in a way it's lucky that we got a second album at all. Adding to the ever burgeoning fact that Rice is always a knife's edge from calling it a day is the fact that his musical partner and quasi-muse Lisa Hannigan recently parted ways.
Sure, Rice has more than enough talent to make it on his own but Hannigan certainly was an important part of his creative process, it was not for nothing that she got the opening part on 9 with the semi-title track 9 Crimes.
Another important facet of Rice's creative inspiration is heartbreak, and if he's living happily and contently somewhere then there's no way we'll get a third Rice record. It's the eternal irony that most musicians suffer, sad songs are always more interesting and powerful than happy ones, but none more so than Rice. He's built a career on impossibly cathartic and emotional performances both in the flesh and on record.
Hopefully it's a matter of patience from his followers than a case of Rice chucking it in, but only time will tell.
Years since last album: 3 - Stadium Arcadium (2006)

After their last show for the Stadium Arcadium tour, the RHCP decided it was time for a 'year-long break.' Fair enough too, aside from being one of the cornerstones of contemporary rock music, they'd been working pretty much non-stop since their 1999 Californication re-invention.
Since then the band members have been doing other stuff to kill time, guitarist Frusciante has added another record to his (extensive) solo career, drummer Chad Smith joined rock supergroup Chickenfoot, while frontman Anthony Kiedis spent more time with his family.
Good news though folks, it was recently reported that the band was meeting up to start some writing, but hey no time like the present eh guys?
An extended break may mean a bit of a re-jig in the musical department too, though this being the Chili Peppers its sure still rock and fuck in equal measure.

Years since last album: 4 - Human After All (2005)

Such is the power of Daft Punk's cultural impact that it doesn't seem like four years since their last record of new material. Their 2007 world-spanning Alive tour certainly helped matters, a audio/visual orchestration of the grandest order that also spawned a live record that was a better greatest hits compilation than the Musique best-of from the previous year.
Besides, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo always take their time between releases with an average of four and a half-years between albums. By that calculation their new one shouldn't be far off - in fact there have been rumours circulating that their next release will in be the score for big budget sequel Tron 2 or (*sigh* *groan*) TR2N if you will. Seems a pretty perfect fit if it turns out to be true, but composing a score is vastly different to just releasing an album, so maybe secretly we'll be getting two new Daft Punk albums.
That's the sound of my fingers being massively crossed.


Years since last album: 4 - No Balance Palace (2005)

Firstly, if you haven't heard of Danish band Kashmir, do yourself a favour and seek out a copy of Zitilites. Done? good. Now you may graduate to the darker, more experimental No Balance Palace, a brave step for the band that managed to gel glam-rock celebrity pals (Lou Reed, David Bowie) with intriguingly curious compositions and some claustrophobic production courtesy of Tony Visconti.
The album demonstrated how the band had grown in stature, thanks to an exhaustive touring schedule, but it put obviously put them in a curious creative position and, well, a little worn-out. There's been nary but a blink of tour news on their website for years now which is never a good sign. Sure the band have been touring during summer but there was little to indicate they were headed back to the studio.
Until now.
Thankfully it's confirmed that Kashmir are back recording, but just because a band is in the process of recording instantly equate to a snappy record release. Now i don't want to rush genius but i'd really like a new Kashmir record, and i'd really like it before the end of the year.


Years since last album: 4 - The Craft (2005)

As part of the Quannum project, Blackalicious orginally swam in the same circles as DJ Shadow, Latryx, Lateef The Truth Speaker et al. Surrounded by such quality it's no surprise that the duo of Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel would really take off on its own right. Though they've never stormed the mainstream vein of American hip-hop, they've remained kings of the underground scene thanks to a handful of vibrant, innovative releases.
After The Craft however, nearly half a decade ago, all activity seemed to grind to a halt. This may have been due to the emergence of side-project The Mighty Underdogs but even with touring slowing to a trickle it seemed like Blackalicious were either taking a bit of a break or running out of steam.
It would be a real shame if The Craft turned out to be their swan song. Though it was no less colourful or charged with excellent tracks like its predeseccors, it seemed like another step in a long-winded career.
Whatever the case it's been far too long, in their wake the intelligence factor of hip-hop has dropped considerably. The likes of Lil' Wayne and T-Pain are leading the pack, while previous luminaries of the genre have faltered, with Kanye West completely losing the plot. There would be no better time for Blackalicious to return to the limelight and re-instill some much needed credibility and vitality to the hip-hop hood.

Years since last album: 4 - Life In Slow Motion (2005)

Artists often find themselves facing impossible hype and expectation concering the release of a new record due to the importance, success or sheer quality of their previous record. It's a bullet that Gray not so much dodge as grazed in following up the world-conquering White Ladder with the languid A New Day At Midnight in 2002. Something he can't pull twice in following up Life In Slow Motion.
While the aforementioned White Ladder is still his most successful album, Life In Slow Motion is perhaps his best record. Epic in scale though tightly edited and structured in scope, critically savvy without swanning above the everyman's collective head, gorgeous tunes combined with equally lush production (thanks to Marius DeVries), it was a record that was great on first listen and only got better.
Unlike every other artist on this list, Gray actually does have a new record finished and set to be released in September called Draw The Line. So why his inclusion? Well, because as the title suggests, he was indeed long overdue for a new album. Though he tempered the times with a greatest hits compilation, an online-only covers album and a live DVD, he still may have risked letting his popularity cool too much for a new album to matter. The anticipation and new audience that he built with Life In Slow Motion could certainly have shot him in the foot with a quick follow-up, but it now be a case of too little too late. Here's hoping that's not the case but September will be an important month for Mr. Gray to be sure.


Years since last album: 6 - Give Up (2003)

Let's get the cold hard truth out of the way first. There's never going to be another Postal Service record. The circumstances of the band's creation, the intention of the record as a one-off to begin with, combined with the fact that both Jimmy Tambarello and Benjamin Gibbard have stated that work on new material is going very slowly... it just looks highly unlikely that the music world will ever get another Postal Service album.
So why bother? why the penultimate placing on a wishlist such as this when all signs point to 'no'?
Cause there's demand damn it. We're talking about a sequel to an album that remains label Sub Pop's best selling album (alongside Nirvana's Bleach). 900,000 can't be completely wrong, nor can that number drop significantly should there ever be a follow-up to Give Up. There was a joke circulated by Spin magazine that it could end ub being the indie version of Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy.
Jokes aside, it might be this pressure that has stunted the release of new material. After all, lest we forget Benjamin Gibbard's daytime job as leader of Death Cab For Cutie, a band who's stature has grown a thousand time's over since 2003.
This humble writer's advice, an unannounced Radiohead-style pay what you like event surfacing over night on the internet would absoloutely slay. Then again maybe we should all just Give Up and keep spinning the original and be thankful for it's near-perfect existence.

Years since last album: 6 - Reality (2003)

To be honest even if Bowie announced tomorrow that he would never again release a record, his legend would already be more than secure. I have to admit that amongst all the Michael Jackson hubub, a grim thought crossed my mind as to what the reaction would be like if an equivalent musical icon were to (heaven forbid) pass away. Over a long enough stretch of time, even the mightiest of musical forces have their low points, and Bowie is no exception. It can't all be Ziggy Stardusts and Brian Eno/Berlin wonders, and so we have Bowie's bleak early 90's period.
Amazingly though he recooperated from his Tin Machine years in the oughties with couple of records produced by old pal Tony Visconti that contained the same individual sparkle of his best works. Both 2002's Heathen and Reality of the following year are records of excellence by any musician's standards, but particularly for an individual of such genre-hopping reputation as Bowie; and certainly when that reputation is as looming as his.
Since those career-reviving albums though, he's been content to simply flit between guest appearances with up-and-coming acts to maintain his cutting-edge demeanour. Namely contributing vocals to Kashmir's The Cynic, TV On The Radio's sophomore Return To Cookie Mountain and even Scarlett Johansson's Tom Waits covers album, Anywhere I Lay My Head.
That's all well and good, but it feels like a bit of a tease. Perhaps the senior chameleon is wary of tainting his legacy once again and his simply avoiding the issue of a new record altogether until he knows he has something killer. Maybe he's even decided that he'll call it a day. Call it greed if you will, but I for one would love to squeeze just one more record out of him.
Here's an idea, those last two records he guested on were both produced by TV On The Radio's own Dave Sitek, imagine this - if he produced his next solo album with Sitek!?
Hell, they've worked together before so they must be relatively comfortable with each other, plus who better than Sitek - whose done brilliant work with new acts like Foals and Yeah Yeah Yeahs - to introduce the 52 year old to a brand new audience of whipper-snappers?
The mind swims with elation at the idea, but even if Bowie returns to the comfort of Tony Visconti or otherwise, this writer for one must chant "Chop, Chop Mr. Bowie, time's a wastin' - time for a new record."