Wednesday, May 27, 2009

El Michels Affair - Enter the 37th Chamber

Alright, enough of the electrohippy nonsense, lets get back to hiphop. I've posted about El Michels Affair before here - they are an instrumental funk band from Brooklyn with a very laidback, Sean Connery-era Bond film kind of vibe. So, given that, an album of Wu Tang covers is a bit of a weird choice. If you are, like me, a Wu Tang enthusiast, I should tell you up front that the weirdness doesn't really go away...I wouldn't take one of these covers over the RZA originals they mean to imitate. That being said, the direction that the band takes the songs in approaches a similar level of badassitude.

Even though they are almost note-for-note copies of the original beats, the atmosphere is distinctly the band's own, turning the thump of "C.R.E.A.M." into a bluesy strut, or "Can It All Be So Simple" into a breezy jam that wouldn't be out of place in a Caribbean tourism video from the 60s. Ironically, this adaptation might actually make this collection better for people who've never heard the Wu before, and can just appreciate this as dope music. Whatever, I'm just waiting for some DJ to drop the acapellas over these so they'll feel whole again - get on it internet.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

It's nice to hear a band that isn't really trying to sound like something, which is what I get the sense of when I listen to this album. There are a ton of MGMT/Hot Chip wannabes running around and a thousand more Brooklyn indie bands doing their best Vampire Weekend with fast-paced guitar riffs and stripped down production. It's also extremely nice to hear a lead singer with an actual voice, though to be fair all the members of Grizzly Bear contribute to the excellent vocals on this album.

The singing gives a hint of the Smiths (lead singer is a pretty good ringer), the ethereal sounds and experimental instrumentation give you some Interpol mixed with some of the soul and dissonance of the Cure (at least in a few songs). Another nice surprise on this is the songs frequently don't end up where they began, and you often find yourself craning your neck at the end of a tune because it's gone somewhere you didn't expect at all. The album makes an interesting progression and by the end it's practically fully choral, nearly entirely stripped of instrumentation and you just about feel like you're in a church, finishing services.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Empire Of The Sun

It seems like MGMT is going to be one of those bands, like Nirvana in 1991 or Air in 1998, that every other remotely similar band is going to be compared to. Kind of inevitable really, and it makes sense - the easiest way to describe just about every album this year is to use the formula MGMT + _____. Merriweather Post Pavilion? MGMT + sheets of acid and some African tribal recordings. Veckatimest? MGMT + Fleet Foxes and merry-go-round music. Give me long enough and I could probably connect the dots between MGMT and Rick Ross. It's fucking cake, really.

But that's exactly the problem, because we've now reached the point where MGMT take up way more space than they actually deserve to. Case in point: Empire of the Sun, who are a really good electropop duo from Australia. They happen to have a few songs that sound similar to something I could see MGMT doing. The rough equation would be something like MGMT + "Discovery"-era Daft Punk and The Cure at half-speed - in other words, a musical combination at least as interesting as MGMT themselves. Yes, they're clearly digging in the same 80s backyard, and yes, you could throw "We Are The People" on Oracular Spectacular and I probably wouldn't even notice. I'm alright with not all music being subjectively "new" - it just has to work. And though this rant has said nothing about the actual music they make, I think you'll agree that the Mediterrean-yacht cool that Empire of the Sun adds to the equation happens to work pretty well.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The New Girl

Dancing Japanese-style:

Pharrell plus Lupe plus JUT-esque beats, all wrapped up in one East-African-born Virginian:

Radio radio radio: (strictly long-lost 90s tunes, Costa Rica-style)

My idea of what loungey would be if loungey were better than it is:

Really good dance mix from my DJ friend:

What guys who wear skinny jeans, flannels, and keds dance to:

Some of my favorite early 90s jams: (not only is this one a total jam, but the video brings back the pop-up video)

"All I need is one mic."

Since I'm posting this, you gotta know this will have nothing to do with Nas. Rather, I'm referring to legendary songbird Paul Simon's debut LP The Paul Simon Songbook. The Songbook was recorded using only one mic. These are what most musicians today would call mere demo-tracks, released as a full length LP with the single "I am a Rock."

After "The Sounds of Silence" and subsequently The Graduate blew up, most of these songs were eventually re-recorded by Simon with that fuckface Art Garfunkel. (Note: that was a joke. I actually like Art and am fond of his work as an actor for Mike Nichols in both Catch 22 and Carnal Knowledge with a sexy Murphy Brown and creepy Jack Nicholson.)

This album is cool for its simplicity. Just a man and his guitar. On a few of the tunes, you could hear Paul Simon (who prior to this was going by the pseudonym Paul Kane <--can't imagine why that didn't catch on) tapping his foot in time to the tune.

A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission) is one of my favorite songs ever. The song is Simon's tribute to/critique/satire of Bob "The Bard" Dylan. It's also, er...kind of a rap song, which brings us full circle to Mr. Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones himself.

Go forth and download.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Passion Pit

I won't try to play it cool - Passion Pit are a band from Boston that sound like the Frankenstein of most of my favorite bands stitched together. They've got the shouty/synthy edge of MGMT, the perfect choruses of Phoenix, and seriously bombastic production dreamed up by Hot Chip, Chromeo, and Ratatat after days of pounding Beverly Hills Cop. Then, because apparently that's not ambitious enough, they brought in a Staten Island Children's Choir to add backup vocals. The culmulative effect of all this cutting and pasting is impossible describe, except to say that I've never heard a band that can both glitter and stomp at the same time like they can.

Clearly Passion Pit aim to overwhelm, and "Manners" is an album custom-built for that purpose. Like the first time you heard Justice or Animal Collective, there's so many new ideas going on here that it drowns your brain. And while the first spin through the CD brought me to a level of musical intoxication I haven't experienced in awhile, you can only be overwhelmed so many times before it becomes grating. Will it reach that point? Unfortunately that's probably the fate of music this accessible and this well-constructed - it's just too needy. For now, though, "Manners" is the summer album to beat (and "Little Secrets" is THE JAM).


Friday, May 8, 2009

M. Ward and Camera Obscura

First up Camera Obscura's latest - My Maudlin Career. To me they sound exactly like Belle and Sebastian crossed with the Beach Boys. Strings, lush harmonies, wa-wa guitar, and lovely vocals. Great summer tunes from this Scottish band - they've been around for a while, but this is my first taste.

My Maudlin Career

This is M. Ward - Matt Ward - a singer-songwriter from Portland. He has a really nice blend of sounds going on in his utterly simple, harmonic and melodic music. He oscillates between country, blues, folk, a hint of reggae, with some rock thrown in for good measure. Mostly though he puts together some excellent harmonies and his haunting vocals are pretty compelling. I keep trying to peg what who he reminds me of, but he's sort of a shape shifter, so it's no one sound - Joe Henry is as close as I can get. Regardless, it's nice listening.

Hold Time