August 25th, 2014 12:42pm

If There’s No Music Up In Heaven, What’s It For?

Arcade Fire @ Barclays Center 8/24/2014
Reflektor / Flashbulb Eyes / Power Out / Rebellion (Lies) / Joan of Arc / Rococo / The Suburbs / Ready to Start / Tunnels / We Exist / My Body Is A Cage / No Cars Go / Haiti / Afterlife / It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus) / Sprawl II // Dream Baby Dream (with David Byrne) / Here Comes the Night Time / Normal Person / Wake Up

Arcade Fire “Here Comes the Night Time”

I’ve seen a bunch of Arcade Fire shows going back to 2007 in venues of varying shapes and sizes – a small church, a huge field, a converted movie palace, an arena, a makeshift club – and this was, by FAR, the best show I’ve ever seen them play. The tour they’re on now is the one where they’ve fully realized all of their ideas and aesthetics, and pushed them further into this colorful carnival spirit that I think it took a while for them to fully inhabit. When I saw them last year, they were using a lot of the same costumes and the bobble head people, etc, but it just wasn’t quite there yet. It all seemed forced.

But now all the Reflektor songs are very lived-in and they fans know them well, and the band is working with a much bigger stage and higher production values. They can pull off performance art staging like dramatizing Orpheus’ quest for Eurydice during “It’s Never Over” and have it seem fun and cool rather than dorky and pretentious, and end “Wake Up” by leaving the venue on a New Orleans second line playing a jazz version of the song. They can have guys in high heels dancing to “We Exist” on a stage in the middle of the room, and get David Byrne to dress up like a dracula and sing backup on a Suicide cover. They can blast confetti and have a bunch of auxiliary percussionists and genuinely make people dance through much of the set. It just clicks. This whole carnival thing is part of them now, and it’s a good thing – a problem with the earlier incarnation of their show was that it was just a bit too dour, and all deep dark catharsis and not much pure fun. Now they are pulling off a full tonal range, and it’s a far richer experience.

Buy it from Amazon.

August 22nd, 2014 3:49am

It’s Not Enough To Watch A Movie

Girlpool “American Beauty”

These girls are putting up a bratty front in this song, and you can tell they’re pretty excited to push the envelope a bit by singing “eat me out to American Beauty. That’s fun, but what really makes this work is that they’re not too cool for their own song and are singing very genuinely about lust. There’s a tacit acknowledgment in this song of the willingness to be vulnerable in order to follow through on that, and the way you can try to keep some defenses up even after you have.

Buy it from Girlpool’s BandCamp page.

August 21st, 2014 3:18am

Boy Or Girl Or Supercomputer

Kero Kero Bonito “Sick Beat”

It’s funny to get this song in the same week that Taylor Swift dropped a single in which she describes a totally conventional pop 4/4 as a “sick beat.” This track actually does make good on the promise of a sick beat, and taps into the same manic, surrealistic pop aesthetic of this trio’s South London contemporaries – A.G. Cook, Sophie, the general PC Music crew. Whereas Cook’s tracks feel like they could veer off in another musical, tonal, or lyrical direction at any moment, “Sick Beats” is a lot more linear. This is more about energy and color, and the way the lyrics slip in and out of English, and keep flipping between inane, silly nostalgia and lines that clearly come from a mature, feminist perspective.

Buy it from iTunes.

August 19th, 2014 4:06pm

Hopeless Without Your Love

Nicholas Krgovich “The Backlot”

The first line of the chorus of this song should resonate with, well, most any human being who has moved on from a relationship: “I don’t know what came along and tricked me into believing that you were the only one for me.” There’s a lot of ways you could deliver a sentiment like that, but Nicholas Krgovich and his collaborators undersell it a bit, and make it feel like the sort of rational hindsight a few years after it all goes wrong, rather than the immediate aftermath. The entire song is lovely and calm, but the airiness of the arrangement is offset by the blunt rhythms played on the piano. That gives it some oomph and texture, but also makes the emotion of the song feel very strong and grounded.

Buy it from Tin Angel Records.

August 14th, 2014 12:24pm

Devils Don’t Lie

Kimbra “Madhouse”

Who knew that Kimbra, the girl from that “Somebody That I Used To Know” song, had it in her to make a solid art-funk album that legitimately sounds like late ’80s Prince? I like these little surprises in life. “Madhouse” is the most overtly Prince-ish track on the record, but there’s echoes of a lot of music he’s made or inspired over the years throughout the album. (I hear Erykah Badu, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Janet Jackson, of Montreal, Spektrum, Janelle Monaé in there too.) But despite belonging to this lineage of freaky funk pop, it doesn’t feel rote or devoid of imagination. The production feels very fresh and contemporary, and her persona is different. She’s not a big character like a lot of the artists I’ve mentioned, but she has a distinct tone to her voice, and a way of implying that she’s at a simmer, but about to roll over to a boil.

Buy it from Amazon.

August 13th, 2014 12:34pm

Away From The Light

Mr. Twin Sister “Blush”

Back when Mr. Twin Sister was known simply as Twin Sister, the band’s best material were the tracks where they strayed away from shoegaze-y indie stuff and embraced a very mid-90s moody sophistication. They wisely have kept moving in that direction, and “Blush,” a single from their forthcoming record, nails this aesthetic better than anything I’ve heard them or most anyone else do in recent years. “Blush” falls somewhere between early, straightforwardly soulful Erykah Badu and the rich, smoky atmosphere of trip-hop era Portishead – this is so obvious that virtually all descriptions of the song mention this, but it’s such an inspired combination that it now feels shocking that no one has done it before. I hope this isn’t a fluke for them, because it’d be fantastic to have a full album of songs in this vein.

Visit the Mr Twin Sister site.

August 12th, 2014 12:21pm

You Could Hear My Heart Yell

Cam’ron “Lala”

Cam’ron is a rapper who has aged very well on record in large part because his vocal style has never been about projecting youthful vitality or energy. He has a very NYC kind of laid-back cool, and his cadences always feel relaxed and lived-in. My favorite thing that he does with his voice, and you can hear it on this track for sure, is add a light smirk to end of his lines that sounds both defiant and affectionate. Even when Cam is angry, he never sounds like he’s mad at you, and that he’s letting you in on something.

Buy it from Amazon.

August 11th, 2014 11:44am

Til The Record Stops

Saint Pepsi “Fiona Coyne (Maxi Yo Remix)”

Look, it’s not easy to choose between this version of “Fiona Coyne” and the original mix by Saint Pepsi. They both have the optimistic vibe and perky groove, but they come at it from different angles. The remix is nearly half as long as the original, and starts off feeling a bit loose and spacey before shifting into a more assertive and direct groove accented by keyboard horn hits. Like a lot of Saint Pepsi’s music, the song really thrives on tapping into a classy-kitsch aesthetic, and approximating the sort of clean, digital interpretation of disco that was big at the beginning and end of the ’90s.

Visit the Saint Pepsi page on SoundCloud.

August 7th, 2014 11:53am

Lungs Hollowed Out

Love Inks “Shoot 100 Panes of Glass”

If someone had lied to me and told me that the forthcoming record by Love Inks was a new album by Young Marble Giants, I would have believed that without a moment of hesitation. Love Inks draw on more or less exactly the same formula – extreme minimalism built upon the implication of tension in an empty space, all sense of movement coming from simple drum machine programming, and a very particular vocal tone and cadence. Love Inks feels just a bit colder somehow – maybe it’s the difference between digital and analog, maybe it’s in the way Sherry LeBlanc sings with a more confident, measured tone than Alison Statton. But either way, they decorate the void at the center of this track very well.

Buy it from Amazon.

August 6th, 2014 12:03pm

The Strat With The Lightning Strap

Weezer “Back to the Shack”

A lot of the best recent Weezer songs – and there’s really not that many, so we’re talking about a small sample size here – are basically just Rivers Cuomo singing about his job. And that’s a strange thing for a guy whose most famous work connected with audiences because they saw themselves in his lyrics, even when he was being creepily specific. (Especially when, in the case of Pinkerton fanboys.)

“Back to the Shack,” the first single from the band’s forthcoming ninth album, is a self-consciously “back to basics” song with lyrics that sound like a musical press release announcing the band’s intention to reconnect with their lapsed fans. The entire first verse is an apology, with Rivers saying that he regrets taking his core audience for granted and making some ill-advised moves in the hope of chasing new fans. At face value, this is a terrible idea, but somehow he makes this work because he delivers these lines with his characteristic blend of earnestness and goofball wit. He’s just being himself, and unlike a good chunk of the band’s more recent catalog, it doesn’t seem like he’s dumbing himself down or acting like someone trying to emulate the feelings of a normal person. The song comes across as emotional and sincere, and maybe we can’t all relate to this directly in terms of being an aging rock star, but it’s not hard to connect if you think about it as an expression of regret about losing touch with what you see as your most authentic self.

The thing about this song is that it can easily set up a disappointment. The chorus is fantastic, but it’s also a promise that the band might not be able to keep. Will this new Weezer record fully reconnect with the spirit of their early years? Or is that just something they have to say in order to get anyone interested these days? This is a good song, but it’s really just a jingle advertising the next record, and while I don’t personally have a lot invested in this, it’d be nice if they followed through on this promise.

Buy it from Amazon.

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