July 10th, 2014 11:53am
Dan the Automator and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Got A Girl calls back to a lot of music from the mid-20th century, but specifically sounds like a record from the very late ’90s that we’re only just hearing now. To a large extent this is just the Automator being the Automator – his aesthetic is always going to be tied to his glory days, and it really does feel refreshing to hear something that’s very him since it seems like he’s been away a long time. This is the funny thing that happens with a lot of artists that work with pastiche and kitsch – at the time it’s new, you clearly hear the reference points and interpret the work that way, but years on, the aesthetic and mutations are what you hear more clearly because that gloss is now just as nostalgic as the sounds it was framing the first time around. So yes, “There’s A Revolution” calls back to French and Brazilian pop from the ’60s, maybe some more things too, but I mainly just hear a catchy tune that probably would’ve gone over great on KCRW back in the day.
July 9th, 2014 12:25pm
Dan Snaith is very good with using negative space in his music. On his last record as Caribou back in 2010, he seemed obsessed with the way bass notes reverberate in space, and every other sound in the mix existed in a direct orbital relationship to the bass groove. This time around, he’s switched that almost completely – there’s very little sense of center to “Can’t Do Without You.” It’s built on a repeated part, but it just sort of hangs in the air, and flows around through the space. At some points, the song changes shape if just to fill an implied void that’s opened up around some imaginary curve. It’s a very different sensation from what he was doing a few years ago, but there’s still this same feeling at the core of it. It’s like an echo.
July 7th, 2014 11:30am
The core of this song – the repeated guitar hook, the steady rhythm – is very calming. There are songs where endless repetition becomes numbing or anxiety-inducing, but this arrangement is so loose and airy that it encourages your body to loosen up, maybe even go slack. All the tension is placed in the vocals, which are pitched and warped in peculiar ways so Karl Hyde always sounds confused and somewhat anguished. He comes across like a man who has become very disappointed in himself, but not in a severe way. For the first few minutes it sounds like two distinct signals overlapping on the radio, but near the end, it feels more integrated, as if he’s just yielded to the mellow vibe of that endless riff.
July 2nd, 2014 1:04pm
Beck @ Central Park 7/1/2014
Devil’s Haircut / Black Tambourine / Soul of a Man / One Foot in the Grave / The New Pollution / Blue Moon / Lost Cause / Country Down / Modern Guilt / Think I’m In Love / Loser / Que Onda Guero / Paper Tiger / Heart Is A Drum / Wave / Waking Light / Soldier Jane / Girl / E-Pro // Sexx Laws / Debra / Where It’s At
This is the third summer in a row where I’ve seen a Beck show outdoors, which I suppose has become the new tradition in place of seeing Sonic Youth play an outdoor summer show every year in NYC. The interesting thing about Beck shows is that in making an effort to play selections from all over his eclectic catalog, the mood of his setlist is all over the place, and this particular show ranged from about as depressed and desolate as music gets – “Wave,” “Lost Cause” – to the ecstatic silliness of stuff like “Sexx Laws,” “Debra,” and “Where It’s At.” It’s a very well rounded experience, and he and his band really commit to every extreme. I suppose that if I could have my way, it would’ve been all in that Midnite Vultures/Odelay/Guero mode, but that does give short shrift to a man who’s capable of so many moods and tones. But yes, as a hardcore fan of Midnite Vultures and a person for whom “Sexx Laws” is a karaoke staple, watching him perform “Sexx Laws” and “Debra” back to back in the encore was an extremely happy experience. I was lucky enough to be in a pocket of the audience where there were many people very enthusiastic about those songs in particular, so it got to be as physical and participatory as I would’ve hoped. I wish I could do it again today.
July 1st, 2014 11:46am
“Suffering You, Suffering Me” initially doesn’t seem to stray too far outside of Slow Club’s established comfort zone – sure, Rebecca Taylor’s voice is a bit more overtly “soul” than usual, but it’s more or less in the same sort of slow, melancholy space as much of their first album. But once it gets going, it shifts into a full-on Motown stomper, and she really cuts loose. I’ve written about how great Taylor is as a vocalist before, but her performances on Slow Club’s new record Complete Surrender are at a whole new level of confidence, and she’s learned to write to this strength pretty effortlessly. But you know, a lot of people can do a convincing R&B voice – the thing that really puts Taylor over the top is how she sings it all with this genuine wounded vulnerability that makes it seem like she could break into tears at any moment. There’s a real sense of urgency in her voice that keeps it from being just another “northern soul” pastiche.
June 30th, 2014 11:20am
Museum of Love is a new band led by Pat Mahony, the drummer from LCD Soundsystem. Mahony is hardly a James Murphy clone, but you can definitely hear how working with Murphy has influenced the way Mahony writes his own music, or maybe it’s more that you can hear how they were very simpatico to begin with. A lot of the first Museum of Love record feels like the more low-key LCD songs, but with even more space and a more relaxed tone. Murphy couldn’t help but be bold and extroverted on even his most pensive songs, but particularly on a cut like “Monotronic,” Mahony seems gentle and a little distant. The vocals are a big part of the song, but it sounds like he’s made them seem smaller in scale to the rest of the music, which feels like this wide-open, oceanic space. He doesn’t just sound like he’s being humble – it’s almost as though he’s forcing this humility upon himself as his thoughts go kinda zen.
June 27th, 2014 12:36pm
FKA Twigs’ music very often puts a higher priority on interesting texture and ambience than melody, but “Two Weeks” shows just how incredible she can be when the melody and lyrics are as engaging as the surface of the track. The hooks in “Two Weeks” are still relatively subtle for a pop song, but the way the track unfolds is very seductive, which is ideal for a song that is in fact about seducing someone. The lyrics strike a very interesting balance between aggression and submission – she’s in complete control, but is demanding to be acted upon. Her voice is soft, but the words are hard.
June 25th, 2014 12:48pm
I’ve been listening to A Sunny Day in Glasgow for a long time, and I think they are always at their best when Ben Daniels takes a relatively conventional sort of song and then cracks it apart and rearranges the layers without totally sacrificing the form of it. The core of “Crushin’” – the vocals, the bass, a keyboard motif – is very pop, but everything that orbits the main melodies feels unstable. The song makes you feel like you’re standing in place, but the ground keeps moving beneath you. There’s always a sense of being a sensitive, passive person in ASDIG’s music, but this feels less like you’re being acted upon and more like you’re just lost in a feeling. And in this case, that feeling would be sweet, confusing love.
June 24th, 2014 12:31pm
The complaint I’ve seen around about Clipping is that the quality and character of the group’s production style is greater than the actual rapping on the record, and I think I can agree with that up to a point. I have no problem with the rapping on the album – it’s definitely not bad, and certainly a notch above competent. But yeah, there’s no question that the raps are the traditional element at the center of music that otherwise pushes in willfully strange or outright abrasive directions. I think this makes sense, though – to really make good use of unusual musical ideas, you kinda need a basic structure. Clipping aren’t really asking questions about the possibilities of rap; they’re more interested in the possibilities of how you can frame it. A song like “Work Work” isn’t even that alien or cut off from tradition, it’s just like “how about we put this otherwise very catchy and accessible rap song in a track that sounds like a busted Four Tet song?” And of course I’m going to like that.
June 23rd, 2014 12:25pm
Tune-Yards @ Webster Hall 6/22/2014
Hey Life / Gangsta / Sink-O / Real Thing / Powa / Time of Dark / Real Live Flesh / Stop That Man / Bizness / Water Fountain / Find A New Way // Fiya
This was the first Tune-Yards show I’ve seen in some time, and the first show I’ve seen Merrill play with her new expanded band lineup. There’s a lot of good things about the new band: They add a lot of layers of sound that Merrill previously would have needed to build up in loops, and cutting out a lot of that looping time frees up some time in the show. The strange, unexpected result of this is that her performances with the new players seem a lot less immediate than when she’s just playing with bassist Nate Brenner. Those songs – pretty much all the cuts from nikki back – felt a lot more restrained and over-practiced than the older numbers, which were mostly performed as they always have been. Merrill remains a fierce and charismatic vocalist, but I couldn’t help but feel that the edge of the band had been dulled down by the additional musicians. I’m not quite sure if it’s because there WERE additional musicians – probably not? – but because the particular players were good but not quite on Merrill and Nate’s level. I mean, at least in the sense that those two have such musical chemistry that they can improvise a lot in the moment, and that didn’t seem as much like a possibility when the band filled out.