May 7th, 2013 12:20pm
The soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby is overflowing with big name artists and producers, but the best track on it is something of a dark horse. “Where the Wind Blows” is written and produced by veteran R&B songwriter Andrea Martin and sung by Coco O., the vocalist from the Danish R&B group Quadron. It’s a deceptively simple song, with Coco singing a neatly linked chain of hooks built around a snippet of jazz age piano. That sample is our tether to the setting of the film, but also a tip off that our singer is yearning for a sort of glamor and excitement that mostly exists in books, movies, or the past. It sets up a romantic thought that the vocals complete, as she sings craving endless fun, and wanting to make a real connection with someone despite enjoying the freedom of “being more single than anyone.” There’s a touch of sadness to this song, at least in knowing that she’s making impossible demands, but it’s mostly joyful as she essentially pledges herself to hedonism and the pursuit of simple satisfaction.
May 3rd, 2013 12:14pm
Here’s an interesting one: A jubilant yet slightly dour, Tears for Fears-like synth pop song about reconnecting with an old friend after a terrible falling out. This is a pretty good reason to feel jubilant, sure, but I don’t feel like I’ve heard many pop songs specifically about this, and the few that come to mind have a different mood. I quite like how clear-eyed and rational this sounds too – any trace of ill will is long gone, but very much acknowledged and taken seriously. Great guitar solo too – maybe a little corny, but absolutely fitting the tone of the piece without getting all winky-winky about it.
May 2nd, 2013 12:21pm
I wish I could tell whether or not Jai Paul intends for this song to be so lo-fi, or if the tracks on his leaked album sound the way they do because they’re unmastered demos. We’ll see? I certainly hope it’s just an unfinished thing because this song has one of the most imaginative and interesting arrangements of anything I’ve heard in the past year or so, and I just don’t think a vocal take that sounds like it was recorded on a cell phone off of a speaker phone in a large conference room is the best idea. I love the way “Str8 Outta Mumbai” keeps shifting around, tossing out ideas every few bars, sometimes just stopping on a dime to get another one in there. It’s an impatient vibe, for sure, but I whole heartedly believe that this song would be seriously next level if Jai Paul has the patience to take it there.
May 1st, 2013 11:46am
Lorde is a teenager who sings about being a teenager like an adult. This isn’t just about her voice, it’s about perspective – in a song like “The Love Club,” she’s talking very specifically about the emotional politics of high school cliques, but with some nuance and distance, and perhaps the realization that while you eventually graduate school, these social dynamics are pretty hard to escape in life. Part of the perspective thing has to do with tone – the song feels light and fun, but also emotionally charged. There’s a sense of humor, for sure, but also a sense of real stakes, so the big moments hit and actually mean something rather than just coming off like over-inflated melodrama.
April 30th, 2013 12:56pm
The funny thing about K-Pop’s tendency to mash up Korean and English lyrics is that the result feels a little more strange and alien to me than if they were only singing and rapping in Korean, a language I cannot understand. The style exaggerates the hyperactive quality of G-Dragon’s music in particular, amping up the “a million things coming at you at once, can you possibly process this?” quality of his best songs. I have very little context for anything happening in this song or its astonishingly weird video, but the part of me that wants every song or piece of art to be a puzzle is hooked. Frankly, it is more fun to have no idea what’s really happening here.
April 26th, 2013 12:02pm
This is a song about someone else’s self-destructive impulses, and looking on as she gets involved with some horrible guy that everyone warns her against seeing at all. There’s no real judgment on her, which is nice. If anything, it’s a song about observing this sort of thing, and realizing that few of us ever have the self-awareness to really know when we’re throwing ourselves into some dumb situation. It’s always super obvious from a distance, though, and it’s part of how other people’s idea of us can be wildly different from our self-image, in good and bad ways. But the tone of the song isn’t so cheerful – it’s more dark, more seedy, more resigned to the bitter realities of lonely people trying to connect in some sort of way. At the end, he just lays it out: If you’re really looking for love, you gotta put up with the worst things along the way.
April 24th, 2013 12:29pm
Can, particularly the version of the band fronted by Damo Suzuki, is one of the best rock acts of all time, but their music almost completely resists being covered. Damo’s voice and cadence is too specific; any attempt to even just sing his parts straight just sounds like you’re doing an impression of him. Also, the music isn’t exactly for beginners. But I’m really impressed by Stephen Malkmus’ cover of Ege Bamyasi in its entirety – it’s extraordinarily faithful, but retains his character as a musician. I remember reading in a magazine, probably Tower’s old in-store publication Pulse, that Ege Bamyasi is one of Malkmus’ all-time favorite records, and he used to regularly fall asleep listening to the record. That kind of intense love comes through in the playing – he’s committed every note to memory, it just flows out of his memory without prompting in, well, the same way all of his albums can just flow freely out of my mind. His version of “One More Night,” arguably the best track on the record, is nearly twice as long, it stretches out on the groove a bit. I can’t blame him – it has one of the most distinctive and evocative grooves I’ve ever heard, it just feels really good to linger on it for a while.
April 23rd, 2013 1:44am
Thomas Mars once wrote very clear and obvious lyrics, but now his words are an odd, oblique code – there’s a suggestion of context, and some perspective on a conflict, the gist of an emotion. He’s basically telling the listener to give up on trying to connect with exactly what he’s thinking, and to project whatever you need on to the songs. I appreciate this, and that’s certainly what I’ve done with “S.O.S. In Bel Air.” The thing that got me right away was the repetition of “you can’t cross the line but you can’t stop trying” – at first, as an expression of Sisyphean frustration, and more recently, as a struggle with boundaries, both self-imposed, and those created by others.
I recognize and relate to the dynamics of the song too – it’s pretty tense through the bridges, and the “cross the line” bit winds up very tight, a single thought just repeating til it wears out a part of your brain. But that chorus is a relief, with the song at its most relaxed when Mars asks a simple, direct question: “Do you need another one, someone to talk to?” The answer is usually yes.
April 22nd, 2013 3:30am
Clinic @ Le Poisson Rouge 4/20/2013
Dissolution: The Dream of Bartholomew / Children of Kellogg / Miss You / Tusk / King Kong / IPC Subeditors Dictate Our Youth / Lion Tamer / Porno / Seamless Boogie Woogie, BBC2 10pm (rpt) / Orangutan / See Saw / You / The Return of Evil Bill / 2/4 // Walking With Thee / T.K. / Cement Mixer
Clinic is one of those bands who are, even by a lot of the people who like them and have stuck with them for over a decade, sorta under-appreciated. To some extent, their consistency is their curse – always good, always interesting, always more or less the same no matter what they actually change about their music. (And they do.) Clinic are an incredibly specific and uncompromising band, and their refusal to budge even a little bit or meet audiences halfway is not a matter of them having no other ideas. Seeing them play live again for the first time in many years, it was clear to me that this is music that is made because these people feel utterly compelled to do so. There’s some kind of spiritual psycho-sexual catharsis going on when they play; it often feels like observing a peculiar, inscrutable occult ceremony.
I got a lot of out of this set, actually more than I would have expected going in. I was particularly blown away by the performance of “Porno,” a song from their very first single in 1998. It’s a creepy, uncomfortable song with a sort of filthy, furtive groove. It’s the most sexual song in their catalog, but it’s not sexy – if anything, it’s the most accurate evocation of sexual frustration in any song I’ve ever heard. It’s all thwarted, unfocused lust blended with feelings of shame and guilt. It’s abstract, but totally precise. They’ve been playing this song for years now; somehow it’s only become more potent with time.
April 18th, 2013 12:10pm
Scott Miller, the singer and songwriter of Loud Family and Game Theory, as well as the author of an excellent book of music criticism called Music: What Happened?, has died. He was a huge talent, and incredibly intelligent and kind. You can get a sense of who he was and what he accomplished in this interview I conducted with him about his book back in 2011. If you’ve never heard his music, you can start with the mix above, which collects my favorite material from his body of work with The Loud Family. If you are interested in Game Theory, his influential ’80s band, that group’s entire catalog is being given away for free on Miller’s official site for the time being. He had a great gift for power pop, and an even greater talent for writing lyrics that were both cerebral and emotional. He went generally ignored or underappreciated for the majority of his career, but it’s not too late to give his work the respect and love it deserves.