October 14th, 2014 12:44pm
Prince’s music over the past 20 years doesn’t have a good reputation, and there’s good reason for that – he’s spent a LOT of that time being very indulgent and making records that satisfy his creative urges but test the patience of even his most devoted fans. You really do need some kind of sherpa to guide you through all that music. But despite this, Prince periodically shows us that he can still do exactly the kind of music he’s loved for, and that he can do it with a real spark of commitment and soul. “This Could Be Us” is one of those songs. It’s a slow jam that breaks no ground for him whatsoever, but it’s lovely and sexy and his voice is gorgeous on it. There is no shortage of other artists who have attempted to mimic Prince in this mode in the past, but when you hear him do a track like this, you get how effortless it is for him. A lot of other music he does – certainly a bunch of other tracks on the Art Official Age record – seem like he’s working, but this is just what Prince is like when he relaxes and goes to a default setting.
October 13th, 2014 12:49pm
It’s kinda amazing that it took Electric Six ten albums to make a fake Motown song, or more specifically, “white middle class bar band dudes playing soul music.” There’s about two layers of ironic distance in the music, and another added in the lyrics, in which Dick Valentine sings from the perspective of an ordinary lunk with zero sense of romance who’s just really honest about his focus on getting laid. The thing that really makes this song work is that the warm vibe of the music and the “hey, I’m just a simple dude” rhetoric in the lyrics make all of this seem friendly and cute, but the obvious irony punctures that, and makes you wonder why anyone would think this type of guy is anything less than pathetic, juvenile, and predatory.
October 8th, 2014 12:52pm
I like the way Indra Dunis seems so guileless as she sings this song. There’s a pretty high level of kitsch in the music and the lyrics, but she’s just straight faced enough to make the whole song seem ambiguous and inscrutable. It’s a very ‘80s new wave move – being silly, but at the same time giving you just enough intensity or seriousness to keep you off balance and wonder if there’s something deeper and darker going on. The deeper, darker stuff subverts the goofiness, but I think it’s more important to realize that the goofiness also subverts the dark and deep side too.
October 7th, 2014 12:18pm
“Wishes” is the sort of pop song that is so catchy and insistent that it dares to be totally annoying, but that’s sorta built into the sentiment of the lyrics. This is about feeling a very particular blend of ecstatic joy and nagging anxiety after connecting with someone amazing, and not being able to stop yourself from putting them on a pedestal and worrying that they are way, way, waaaay out of your league. Tkay Maidza sounds like she’s attempting to make sense of this in every line, and she’s mostly being positive about it. And thank god for that, because this song could so easily tip into being a more creepy or pathetic thing.
October 6th, 2014 1:37am
One of the best things about Deerhoof is that their music often conveys a joyful physicality. It just sounds like the product of great fun, and the parts click together in this seemingly spontaneous way, even if it’s not improvised at all. John Dieterich’s guitar parts always feel particularly alive, and seem to jump around the beat like a hyperactive child. “Paradise Girls” aims for a sort of pop aesthetic, but because Deerhoof can’t really sound like anyone but themselves, it ends up in a more interesting place. The beat is busy but immediately engaging, and Satomi Matsuzaki pays tribute to female musicians in a way that’s sorta vague in language but highly specific in sentiment. You can hear a smile in every note she sings.
October 2nd, 2014 2:57am
The narrative around The Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore has always been that it’s this bold departure from the band’s sound, but that’s only half true. Yes, it is an album that avoids the sort of heavy psychedelic rock that the band was best known for, but at the same time, there’s really nothing on the record that wasn’t rooted in what Billy Corgan had already done on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the Aeroplane Flies High, or the soundtrack hits “Eye” and “The End is the Beginning is the End.” In terms of aesthetics, Adore was definitely not a shock to anyone who was closely following the band in that era, and its particular palette of bleeps and washes and “beats” were very much in line with other major artists at the time – U2, R.E.M., Tori Amos, Madonna – were doing to chase a modern, millennial vibe.
Few records sound more 1998 than Adore, and I think that’s actually a good thing about it. It’s very rooted in a particular time and place, but it has a lot of moments that feel like a world unto itself. It was definitely a bold move, though, and I don’t think its relative lack of commercial success should be held against it. It’s basically the ‘90s equivalent of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk – there was really no way Corgan was ever going to top the extraordinary success and cultural impact of Mellon Collie, so if whatever came next was doomed to look like a failure, why not make it arty and personal and uncompromising? Lindsey Buckingham had the right idea.
(Thinking right now about just how much Corgan and Buckingham are alike as people and as musicians. It’s kinda amazing. I wonder if they’ve ever talked.)
“Pug” has always been my favorite of the Adore songs, though “Shame” and “To Sheila” come close. I love the way “Pug” alternates between menace and sensuality, and how lovely and feminine Corgan’s voice gets on the chorus. The lyrics are similarly moody, with him trying to make sense of a relationship that’s just as full of lust and affection as cruelty and loathing. At some points the song is outright bitter and confrontational, but it rings very true when he shifts over to forgiving and pleading on the bridge. The thing that really gets me in this is how he sings “desire me so deeply, drain and kick me hard,” maybe because the emphasis on “desire me” sounds so much like a command. It’s like he’s trying to control the other person, but mostly because he can’t comprehend them desiring him without being implored to do so.
October 1st, 2014 1:47pm
I feel bad for Tricky sometimes – so much of what he was doing two decades ago has been plundered by other artists, and writers rarely if ever give him credit for being so forward-thinking and influential. He really did himself in by becoming so prolific – that’s a surefire way to alienate casual listeners, especially when you have the bravery to fail and take a lot of weird risks. He keeps making new records, and the general response by my peers has been to do that thing where someone is knocking on your door and you stay totally silent until they give up and walk away. I have not been on board for a lot of what Tricky has done in the later stages of his career, but I do think he’s still good for a few strong songs per record. To some extent he’s spoiled his own reputation, but it’s just so aggravating that he can’t seem to get credit for the truly brilliant work he’s done in his career when an artist like FKA Twigs, who is nothing if not a flagrant Tricky tribute artist, is somehow seen as an innovator by people who don’t really know better. But this is true of Massive Attack and Aphex Twin too – so much of ‘90s electronic music has been recycled, and it’s almost always framed as FRESH and NEW by people with no frame of reference. Well, I guess now I know how all those original krautrock fans felt in the ‘90s.
September 30th, 2014 12:39pm
One thing that sets Mary Timony apart from a lot of other artists, particularly those of her generation, is that in over 20 years, she’s never once revisited the past. She’s never reunited Helium, she doesn’t play oldies in concert, she hasn’t stuck to any of her signature sounds. Every phase of her career is a particular idea with a specific set of musicians, and once it’s over, she scraps the songs and moves on. Her current band, Ex Hex, shares its name with one of her mid-00s solo albums, but that’s about as much as you’ll get from her in terms of looking backwards. The new band is a logical progression from where she was in Wild Flag – fun and energetic, with a distinct late ‘70s/early ‘80s new wave vibe. At first I thought this material was regressive, but I’ve come to feel like that’s part of the charm. Yes, she may be far away from the distinct genius of her guitar playing in Helium, but the simplicity of the arrangements in Ex Hex allow her to really focus on melody and hooks, and that pays off with a handful of some of the catchiest and most immediate songs of her career.
September 29th, 2014 12:07pm
The funny thing about Thom Yorke is that he drifted away from rock music because he felt it was banal, but culture has shifted in a way that the electronic music he makes now feels surprisingly ordinary. Yorke’s third album outside of Radiohead, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, is at times alarmingly dull. I don’t know what’s going on with Yorke himself, but the music on this record and the last Atoms for Peace album seems stagnant and complacent to me, as if he’s found this niche where he can concentrate on a cool vibe and not have to put a lot of work into songwriting. I can appreciate where he’s coming from in terms of instrumentation, and there are often cool ideas there, but his singing is on autopilot – there’s melodies, sure, but they feel very unformed and aimless. It’s often just a loose structure for him to make pretty or menacing Thom Yorke noises. “Guess Again!” deviates slightly from this. The melody isn’t quite up to the high standards of the majority of his body of work, but it is definitely there, and serves as a thread holding together elements in a track that might otherwise drift apart. I wouldn’t characterize a lot of the cuts on Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes as failures so much as experiments that don’t quite work because the songwriting isn’t there. No matter what Yorke does, he can’t stop being a guy who thrives on melody, harmony, and structure. When he tries to get too far away from those things, he only reveals his weaknesses. It’s very brave for him to constantly push himself out of his comfort zone, but it’s not always enjoyable to hear it.
September 25th, 2014 11:39am
For a long time I had assumed that the instrumental side of Stereolab’s songwriting was dominated by Tim Gane, but Laetitia Sadier’s solo records indicate that she was either a lot more hands on with that sort of thing in that band, or she internalized their rhythms and aesthetics so much that she naturally writes that way when left to her own devices. This isn’t to say that you can’t tell the difference. Sadier’s music on her own are considerably more relaxed and less busy, and escape the airless, schematic quality of Gane’s work. “Quantum Soup,” the opening track on her new album Something Shines, sounds like a far looser version of late period Stereolab – the telltale sounds are there, but it seems to float on a breeze, and the trajectory of the composition is intuitive and jazzy.