Sunday, August 23, 2009

Singles Sometimes Is...

As much as I bang on about the cultural importance and artistic creedence of the album, I understand the potential power of the single as well. In fact it's hard not to in this, the iPod generation, when the twin forces of the internet and iTunes conspire to make sure that each week has a handful of new tunes by fresh young faces to slay the world with a three minute hit. So this post is dedicated to some of those great singles that have triumphed so far this year

Animal Collective - My Girls

Even from its first appearance way back at last year's Coachella Festival, the song formerly known as House was always going to be an anthem. It's a deliciously vibrant cross-over hit, bridging the pop gap with its cylclical lyrics and dance-floor abandon; but also satisfying stern-browed musos with its psychedelic layering and futuristic Beach Boys harmonies. It only helps that its subject matter, an endearing wish for domestic bliss, is wholly unique in singles charts filled with stuff about roaming rock star lifestyles, cheap hook-ups and fleeting rendezvous' - the very things that the song is rebutting against. Most obviously too, as the lead single from Animal Collective's sixth studio album, it is the crystallisation of Merriweather Post Pavillion - an album bound to pop up in the end of year lists for music blogs far and wide. Personally, I don't think there's anything on the album that reaches the dizzying heights of this track - from its bubbling synth build-up to its cathartic "whoooo!" before it hits the second chorus. For my money, there will be few tracks greater this year - that whe it first emits from the speakers at a club or party, so many people will rush together to sing, dance and be merry. And isn't that what it's all about?

check out
The Official Video

Dirty Projectors
- Stillness Is The Move

Another indie favourite from an album that will also be doing the rounds come end-of-year time. Much like Animal Collective too, Dirty Projectors' Bitte Orca is an experimental affair that also satisfies the base urges of energy and melody. Stillness Is The Move is an excellent microcosm of that approach, penned by the lovely Amber Coffman (isn't she great?), this mixes the band's usual jangly guittar squiggles with a funky R&B inspired backbeat to create a bouncy, groovy sing-a-long propelled by Coffman's ever rising falsetto hook. Stillness Is The Move has great pacing too, just as you think all the tricks have been used up, it introduces a bed of sweet strings that also empahsises the vocal's yearning and also sets the end off into an airy finish. If nothing else confirms its brilliance, take note of the fact that its the only song that's ever been officially released as a single for Dirty Projectors.

Check out the quirky
Official Video

The Galvatrons
- Cassandra

Though the blogosphere seemed to swoon in unison upon their first appearance, there seems to be an increasing faction of people who are now finding it cool to dislike The Galvatrons. Now i'll be happy to admit that their recently released debut, Laser Graffiti didn't quite live up to expectations, but as I said when I first ears upon them, the question of whether their 80's throwback shtick would last a whole album (and it nearly does but that's a story for another day). Still, all this gets away from the cracking pre-album single Cassandra, it manages to continue the blueprint laid out by When We Were Kids, namely: arena sized synth hook, squealing guitar, electro drums and yearning call and response chorus - circa 1987. Part of the whole appeal is that the Geelong based four piece are entirely unapologetic about their derivative sound, in fact they're a lot like metal/glam rock satirists The Darkness, you're only going to enjoy it if you're in the joke. As long as you know the punchline though, it's a joke worth telling again and again - at high volumes.

Check out
the video

Phoenix - Lisztomania

It's questionable whether the song has anything to do with the movie of the same name, or indeed Franz Liszt - but it does have to do with is happy, up-tempo, carefree, breezy indie rock. The kind of thing Phoenix have crafted so well ever since their debut. As the opening track on their excellent new album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (another classical reference, mmmm?) it sets a bubbly tone and pace that the album never seems to disappoint in upholding. The main appeal of the track aside from its great propellent guitar line and keyboard breakdowns is Thomas Mars' understated vocal delivery, Who else could turn potentially garbled lines such as "Lisztomania/Think less but see it grow/Like a riot, like a riot, oh" into a sure-fire chorus? His French-inflected instead creating an intriguing pattern of rhythms and melody that you can't help but sing-a-long to.
A big shout out to the Melbourne Comedy Law Revue gang for including a choreographed dance of majesty to the tune of the Gallic four-piece in their closing.

Check out the vid here

And now for some other great singles that are heralding some future releases:

Muse - Uprising
The opening track from the forthcoming album The Resistance (due to drop in two weeks - can you feel the thrum of excitement?). It blends political revolutionary dissidence with glam rock, and Dr. Who synth with Blondie's Call Me punctuation.

Radiohead - These Are My Twisted Words
(click link for free download)
Radiohead are nothing if not unpredictable, first there's an article from Thom Yorke saying that fans shouldn't hold their breath for a new album, then they turn around and drop not one, but two, new tracks - a dedication to war veteran Harry Patch and this, a typically airy experimental affair. The kind you'd expect from the 'head but no less welcome.
The blogosphere is abound with rumours and speculation concerning a new EP, perhaps called Wall of Ice, but for now we can revel in the fact that the band are indeed working.

weezer - (If You Are Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To
There was a time when weezer were the only band I loved, then came the hinterland years between 1996's Pinkerton and their re-invention as a slightly different form of pop-rock with 2002's self-titled green album. A series of increasingly bland albums later and I was ready to give up on my childhood heroes, then along came last year's self-titled red album, and it was actually pretty good. I'm certainly hesistant with another album being released so quickly in response, their new album Raditude (amazing!) is due before the end of the year, but if this tongue-in-cheek, peppy single is anything to go by - it's red album Pt. 2, and that's just fine with me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

There's Plenti To Discover(y)

Boy, i've been trying to break this run of just plain ol' album reviews - but it's hard when more and more great releases come out. 2009 just really has been a great year for music, and it's still hard to believe that some of the biggest releases are yet to come (Flaming Lips, Muse, Porcupine Tree), it's safe to say that the summer season of festivals is going to be amazing (the line-up for Falls already whets the appetite some). Anyway, i digress, but here's a couple more great albums to add to 2009's already stellar output. A couple of sideprojects to the great bands Vampire Weekend, Ra Ra Riot and Interpol.

Discovery – LP (XL Recordings, 2009)

Side projects have a nasty habit of being obscure, disappointing affairs – especially in recent years where the term has become synonymous with the word ‘super group.’ You don’t have to cast your mind too far back before a frown forms across your dial (Angels & Airwaves and Velvet Revolver anyone?). Luckily, here is a dalliance you’ll want to investigate.

Discovery is the recording name for the duo of Rostam Batmanglij and Wes Miles, better known as members of Vampire Weekend and Ra Ra Riot respectively. As if the glowing reputation of their respective day jobs wasn’t enough, they’ve ventured off on a colourful expedition that will surely whet the appetite for indie lovers the world over.

From the sawing synths and two step beat of Orange Shirt it’s clear that LP is an unabashed record of party tunes, summer vibes and danceable electronics. Osaka Loop Line continues the high-school crush lyricism with a wonderfully harsh electric riff that skips and jumps along with a bubbling keyboard line and even takes in a chugging tempo change. Can You Discover? continues the synth-pop with the unsurprising appearance of auto-tune. Angel Deradoorian (of Dirty Projectors fame) lends her sweet burr to the gender-bending abandon of I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend. Later, fellow Vampire Weekend singer Ezra Koenig colours Carby with an excellently treated vocal that laments walking home alone after another fruitless night at the disco against an impossibly peppy soundtrack.It perfectly summarises the album’s appeal, dance floor music as imagined by awkward college kids.

If there’s a critique to be levelled at the album, it’s that it has a plasticised, artificial sheen. Even if it is intentional, it can mean that its slick charms won’t rub with those who like their music raw and direct.

For the rest, it’s a joyful affair, if a short-lived one, at ten songs with exactly half the tracks clocking in at less than three minutes. But this means each cut wastes no time in getting to its own idiosyncratic delights; whether it’s So Insane’s disco inflected pop or Swing Tree and its sparkling keys, there’s barely even time to mention the excellently twee cover of I Want You Back - Yes, the Jackson 5 I Want You Back - that will leave you with a stupid grin on your face.

As far as side projects or super groups go, this is easily one of the most worthwhile since The Postal Service. It’s a record that’s honest about its intentions and easy to enjoy in its results. If Discovery is about having fun then LP is the greatest playground they could construct.

Stream the album at the band's website

Julian Plenti – Is… Skyscraper (Matador, 2009)

Never heard of Julian Plenti? Right you are, well have you heard of Paul Banks, aka frontman of pop-gloom merchants Interpol? Well, you will have already of joined the dots by the time you hear that distinct foghorn vocal on opener Only If You Run.

It might seem an odd choice for Banks to take a holiday from his dayjob, until you realise that Julian Plenti is actually a resurrection of Banks’ former, pre-Interpol, days as a solo artist. It’s probably in response to criticisms levelled at his band being a Joy Division-aping act, with little depth or variety. This is nonsense of course, Interpol’s third album Our Love To Admire introduced a whole palate of symphonic textures and Ennio Morricone-inspired soundtrack moods. Still, the band suffers criticisms of monotony and formula levelled against them.

The Julian Plenti alias offers Banks the chance to stick a hefty two fingers up to the doubters who write him off as a one-trick pony. Is… Skyscraper is filled with a variety of moods that will surprise the casual fan and delight the dedicated. Sure there are some Interpol offcuts in the likes of Only If You Run, Games For Days and Unwind, and Banks’ jagged lyricism and ruminations on love and lust remains; but for every familiar shape there is equally differing geometry to counterbalance it.

The title track focuses on a creeping acoustic pattern and sighing strings that build into a gothic construction not unlike its title’s namesake, albeit a looming, dilapidated version of one. Madrid Song loops a sparse piano line over the mantra of “come have at us/we are strong” with some odd vocal samples bubbling beneath. No Chance Survival is an aching beauty, its score of upright bass, xylophone plinks and Banks’ damaged lyrics makes for a rewarding listen.

The backbone of these tracks have their origins as acoustic numbers, as part of Plenti’s catalogue pre-Interpol when he was a troubadour slumming the venues of New York City. It’s a credit to his development and familiarity with the tools of the recording studio that the likes of Fun That We Have, Girl On The Sporting News and Fly As You Might have been transformed into something unrecognisable as ever being written and performed on an acoustic guitar.

Julian Plenti confirms Banks’ unique talents, a record that along with his work with Interpol should have critics shaking off the last remaining lazy and shallow musical comparisons; and instead begin to recognise his range and abilities as a master craftsman of idiosyncratic songs.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Boys will be boys (aka girls will be women)

My recent post on talented and beautiful ladies turned out to be quite prescient, 2009 is quickly becoming the year of the emergent female singer-songwriter. The Mercury Music Prize, one of the most coveted music awards in the UK, recently announced their nominations for this year. Included were the likes of Florence & The Machine, La Roux, former Damien Rice cohort Lisa Hannigan, and my beloved Bat For Lashes (who by the way has a beautiful new video for her latest single Sleep Alone).

On top of these brilliant artists, lets not forget that Australia has had a lot to offer this year too with the likes of Bertie Blackman and Sarah Blasko releasing excellent new records as well.

So keep your eyes and ears peeled, because come the end of the year there's bound to be some of these names, or more, decorating the critics' end-of-year lists - this writer included. Just to add fuel to the fire, here's a couple of reviews of some more excellent female fodder released recently:

Cortney Tidwell – Boys (City Slang, 2009)

You’ll be hard pressed to find a greater juxtaposition between two opening tracks on any album this year than those found on songstress Cortney Tidwell’s latest. No sooner has the hazy late-night paean Solid State finished drifting off, than along comes Watusii with a spate of brash electronics, throbbing bass and propulsive percussion. The aural effect is like leaving a smoky jazz bar at night, only to step out into the mardi gras happening in the street.

Throughout Boys Tidwell draws from a diverse palate of musical styles and moods, that never once seems contrived. This won’t be surprising for anyone who discovered her debut Don’t Let The Stars Keep Us Tangled Up. A record that answered the hypothetical: what if Bjork was an alt-country star, or alternatively what if Neko Case had a bash at electronics?

Boys follows a similar template of risk equals reward, a series of songs that at their heart are experiments in genre but with some delightfully entertaining results.

Oslo builds from atmospheric piano and reverberating guitar drones into a drifting stride of strings and bubbling vocals. The fabulously titled Being Crosby features Jim James (of My Morning Jacket fame) comparing his dreamy croon to Tidwell’s. Elsewhere is Son and Moon, a tune more than worthy of Bjork, and even a couple of guitar-driven rockers in the form of the upbeat So We Sing and the cacophonic 17 Horses.

While Tidwell’s versatile voice ties the affair together, partial credit must go to her husband Todd’s engineering and production work, turning what could have been a frustrating mish mash of flavours into a congenial, consistent recipe with Tidwell’s timbre as the main ingredient.

If 2009 is the year of the female singer songwriter (Bat For Lashes, La Roux, Florence & The Machine) then Tidwell should certainly find her name with the best of them.

Check it out:
her MySpace and the video for Watusii

Orisha – Falling Open (Vitamin, 2009)

Orisha, the self-described ‘electro-glitch-chanteuse act’, is the working moniker for singer/songwriter Emah Fox and programmer Shane Kavanagh. For an artist who has received ecstatic praise from the likes of Rolling Stone and Ministry Of Sound, it’s a wonder that Orisha have to rely on a government grant and not a record label to bank their debut. Don’t let the Arts Victoria leg-up put you off, here is an artist with a completely realised creative view already formed. From the mysterious crimson artwork, to the equally enigmatic music encased within, here is an artist already in command of their creative persona.

Falling Open migrates between warm electronica and dub grooves and inevitably there will be comparisons to mid-90’s era Bjork and trip hop underground kings Lamb. But Orisha isn’t derivative of these bands so much as they are cut of the same cloth.

Left Alone opens the album, content to lavish in an envelope of languid beats, while second track – the brief Smile – introduces a spare instrumental, which take up nearly half the album.

Occasionally these moments recall Brian Eno’s ambience, such as Creature which features some lovely programming and gamelan in co-existence.

Orisha has an engaging voice too however, in the form of Fox’s understated vocals, Waiting For A Change beats like rain against the glass as Fox ruminates “the air is thick with what we won’t say/everything’s confused.” Elsewhere her calming voice guides the listener through Cottonwool, which unravels solemnly over its eight minute running time without ever overstaying its welcome.

Falling Open is a record of such restrained quality and creative consistency that it won’t be surprise that, come Orisha’s next release, they’ve found themselves at home with a larger label.

Check it out:
on MySpace and on Vitamin Records' website