October 29th, 2013 12:19pm
“I Blame Myself” is about dealing with fame, but it’s coming at that topic from a very interesting angle: Not being all that famous, but having to reckon with having an image, career, and reputation of your own making that supersedes what may be your actual self. Ferreira’s lyrics are specific to her own life – the second verse is heavy on biographical detail – but the sentiment is resonant for anyone who has to reconcile the person people expect them to be and who they feel like they are. There’s a lot of anxiety and mixed feelings in this song. She worries about people wanting something from her that she can’t give, she tries to make you understand where she’s coming from, she understands your perspective but resents it all the same, she blames herself. She’s trying to figure out whether she has some advantage in this situation, but you can tell she feels a little powerless. That’s part of why the chorus feels so triumphant – she’s being assertive and taking something back, even if it’s not very effective or meaningful.
October 24th, 2013 12:34pm
Cristina Monet and August Darnell throw the listener headlong into a world of sparkling fabulousness within the first few seconds of “Mamma Mia,” but they quickly raise the stakes, pushing the song to delirious heights of ecstasy and glamor. Monet’s second album was mainly concerned with portraying its wealthy characters as decadent, miserable creeps, but this is not nearly as dark or cynical. It’s good-hearted fantasy of ritzy elegance, and though the song is knowingly kitschy, its enthusiasm and awe is entirely genuine. This isn’t about money, it’s about limitless pleasure.
…and this one’s about the limits we place on our pleasure. I’d say that “Breaking The Rules” makes a better case for a combination of romantic commitment and bisexual polyamory better than any song I’ve ever heard, but I can’t think of any other tunes that cover the same lyrical territory, much less anything so cheery and danceable. It’s not pushy or didactic, but rather open-minded, generous, assertive, and eager to balance its pursuit of excitement and expression with stability and a political agenda.
(Originally posted 10/12/2007)
October 23rd, 2013 12:40pm
Fiona Apple and Blake Mills @ Beacon Theater 10/22/2013
Tipple / The First Taste / Every Single Night / Unworthy (Blake song) / Anything We Want / Curable Disease (Blake song) / Regret / It’ll All Work Out (Blake song) / Not About Love (with Questlove) / Seven (Blake song) / Dull Tool / Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me (Blake song) / Left Alone / I Know / Waltz (Better Than Fine)
This was by far the most cheerful Fiona Apple performance I’ve ever seen, and that’s really saying something since she performed “I Know,” “Regret,” and “Left Alone,” three of the most agonizing songs in her catalog. Those songs had the appropriate emotional punch, but the dominant feeling through this show was very warm and positive. You could just tell how much she and Blake enjoy playing together, and their camaraderie with the rhythm section. To be honest, Blake’s songs weren’t all that memorable, but they were fine enough in the moment and didn’t distract from Fiona’s material as much as you might expect. They were like bluesy little palette cleansers after the heavy emotions of Fiona’s songs.
“Regret” was the song that really got under my skin last night. That chorus is always gutting, and maybe a bit more so when she’s belting it out in person, but I’m always a little more unnerved by the verses, in which she sings about being gradually poisoned by someone else’s depressive negativity. It’s rattling a bit because I can’t really decide which side of the song I relate to more. I hate to admit that in public, but there it is.
October 22nd, 2013 12:59pm
Okay, I’m just going to say this first and get it out of the way: Wow, this sounds a lot like PJ Harvey. I don’t say this as a slight on Anna Calvi in any way. Sounding like PJ Harvey is an amazing thing, especially when it’s like Rid of Me/To Bring You My Love-era Polly, and you’ve utterly nailed that raw nerve guitar style, and mastered that sort of nearly-unhinged sexual hysteria. This is actually a little more manic than anything I can remember Polly ever doing – Calvi’s voice has a more desperate tone, and that blunt, pounding chorus is abrupt, like slamming into a wall that drops down out of nowhere.
October 21st, 2013 12:05pm
Teen Girl Scientist Monthly is one of those rare bands that arrives fully formed with a debut album that sounds like it may as well be someone’s greatest hits record. Every song is catchy, well-constructed, and executed with a high level of confidence. If you love energetic indie rock/pop-punk/power pop, you will want to dance and sing along by the time the second chorus hits in most of their songs. “Summer Skin,” the first track and first single, is the best place to start with them. It’s this gleeful, reckless joyride of a song that just zooms at you full speed. The album overall reminds me a bit of The New Pornographers’ debut, and what it felt like to hear that band for the first time, and this song is very much the “Mass Romantic” of the record. It throws you right into the excitement, and the vocals by Morgan Lynch come close to Neko Case’s sassy, authoritative tone.
October 18th, 2013 12:38pm
This song has the most provocative opening lines of anything I’ve heard this year: “You hit the space bar enough, cocaine comes out / I really like this computer!” It’s more funny to me because I have a bit of context in my own experience, but also in that I know Travis Morrison has been working for the Huffington Post for years, and I know that the corporate culture there is pretty intense and demanding, to say the very least. The new Dismemberment Plan is pretty much a concept album about working this sort of job, and trying to hold on to some feeling of being a cool, fun person with a life, but slipping further into professionalism and a conventional adult life and being basically okay with it. This song is the best and most effective – partly on a purely melodic level, but also because I really like the way the arrangement is like a weirdly cheerful spin on “Airbag” by Radiohead. From OK Computer to Pretty Good Computer, I guess.
October 17th, 2013 12:29pm
Pusha T is great on this song, it’s probably one of the two or three best performances on his entire new album – excellent delivery, sharp wordplay. But despite that, he’s still completely upstaged by Kendrick Lamar on this track. But that’s a given these days, I guess. Kendrick is in a very exciting position lately – he’s in his prime and has achieved some mastery over his craft, but he’s still constantly pushing himself to do little formal experiments. His voice is only getting more expressive, and he’s finding new ways to make words and syllables pop. His verse here is interesting too in that he’s providing an important counterpoint to Pusha’s verse, which is his umpteenth rap about being a crack dealer. Kendrick’s verse flips the perspective drastically, speaking from the perspective of someone who grew up with parents and family members addicted to crack. Pusha’s verse is cause, Kendrick’s is the effect.
October 16th, 2013 1:17pm
Pearl Jam have been essentially the same since around 1998. That’s when their lineup solidified with Matt Cameron as their permanent drummer, and it’s when the band officially dropped out of the mainstream and firmed up their position as a cult act mainly focused on touring. They found a comfortable niche where they could thrive, and then immediately lost all creative ambition. Aside from a few token tracks here and there, they haven’t experimented at all since No Code in 1996, and each album from Yield onward is essentially the same record with different songs. This isn’t to say that the records have been bad – some have been better, some have been worse, and all of them have at least a few very good tracks – but the songwriting settled into a few basic templates and there has been no variation in aesthetic, tone, production style, or songwriting emphasis. Every album is well-rounded in the same predictable way, so you can’t even be like “oh, that’s the folky one, that’s the heavy one, that’s lo-fi one, that’s the double album.” It’s sensible, but also mystifying in that these talented guys seem so hell-bent on sticking to a formula and never stepping outside of their comfort zone.
Lightning Bolt, their new album, is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. The songs range from pretty good to perfectly fine, though I don’t particularly like the new single “Sirens,” which sounds more like a band you’d say sounds like Pearl Jam than Pearl Jam themselves. The big keeper on this one is “Infallible” – it has a nice lurching groove, a bit of color in the bass and keyboards, and a melody that flatters the rich, handsome tone of Eddie Vedder’s voice. His performance here is pretty great, I always love when he filters classic soul affects through his distinct vocal style. It’s funny, he’s actually kind of a hugely underrated rock singer now. But then again, he’s probably not doing enough to showcase his voice in terms of material. It would be more striking to people if put in a slightly different context.
October 15th, 2013 12:22pm
This song has the most aggravating fade out I’ve heard in a long time. I get it on a conceptual level: The song keeps going on and on, like the trucker narrator driving off into some infinite horizon, but damn it, I want to stay with it! The lyrics of this song are exceptional – partly because there’s some very vivid and specific images, but mostly because the rambling internal monologue takes some turns that are genuinely surprising. I particularly love when the character starts dissecting the question “what does it mean to be a man?,” and both challenges the idea, and embraces a particular idea of masculinity that gives him a sense of pride and identity.
As it turns out, I like Cults a lot more when there’s a bit more momentum to their music. “I Can Hardly Make You Mine” is basically where Motown pop, ’60s garage, and ’90s female-fronted alt-rock meet in a Venn diagram, and it’s a very appealing mixture. A lot of what makes the song work is Madeline Follin’s voice, which can be a bit thin and tinny on other songs, but has a great chirpy yet desperate tone here. Also, that brief solo has a fantastic melody that spirals nicely off the main riff.
October 14th, 2013 12:30pm
The most interesting thing about the three principle songwriters of Sonic Youth splitting off to do their own thing is hearing their personal aesthetics and skill sets in isolation, and having that inform the way I hear the music they made as a group. It’s also intriguing to hear what they do when left to their own devices at this point in their career, and how the three picked very different paths – Thurston being more or less creatively stagnant yet obviously invigorated by playing with a stripped-down punkish band, Kim going for an ultra-arty record bordering on primal scream therapy, and Lee going off to put his own spin on folk rock without a care in the world as to whether anyone thinks it’s cool. But while I think some people look at what Lee is doing as being regressive or retro, he’s actually the one of the three who is pushing what Sonic Youth was doing over the past decade or so in another direction. There isn’t much on his second album with The Dust, Last Night on Earth, that is far off from where Sonic Youth were on A Thousand Leaves or Murray Street.
I really do wish that “Key-Hole” could’ve been a Sonic Youth song. It’s actually sort of surprising that it’s not – maybe it’s the particular type of dramatic tension and release, maybe it’s because Steve Shelley is on drums, maybe it’s because the guitar interplay isn’t far off from what Thurston would’ve done around Lee’s parts. But I can also hear the things that probably wouldn’t have made it into a Sonic Youth piece – there are elements of “classic rock” that I think would’ve been roughed up a bit more to keep it from seeming too traditional. But I’m glad that it wasn’t – I like that it’s clean and groovy, I love when it slips into these gorgeous, tranquil sections. The song drifts along, then seems to get picked up on gusts and waves. The emotion of it follows suit, but the core of it is that mellow drift, and Lee singing a couplet in the middle that rings very true: “Let’s make the best of a bad situation / try to define love any way we can.”