Saturday, August 29, 2009

Are you having a laugh? Is he having a laugh?

The title refers to the choice catchphrase of the show-within-the-show on Ricky Gervais' HBO sitcom Extras, with which I am completely obsessed. Its closing credits song (covered by Chris Martin in one of the most brilliant television cameos of all time) is the title track to this Cat Stevens record. I've always been a big fan of the album. Harold and Maude, which you might recognize as the movie that both Mary and Ted agree is the "greatest love story of our time," used several tracks from Tea for the Tillerman in its score.

For the most part, the album stands by itself. Each song flows into the next one. Although it's a fairly prototypical pop/folk record, not quite what I'd call "unique" in any sense, its wisdom lies in its simplicity. It's the album that made Cat Stevens, aka Yusuf Islam (See "A is for Allah" if you're unsure of the quickest way to ruin your career) a household name in America, mostly on the strength of the single "Wild World." Released in November of 1970, the album was ranked #206 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. "Father and Son" is truly a touching tune.

What Stevens lacks in wit is more than made up for with hauntingly pristine vocal melodies, carefully orchestrated guitar layering and the kind of delicate vocal sap unseen absent Paul McCartney. Enjoy. And go watch Extras.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

YACHT - See Mystery Lights

YACHT - Psychic City (Voodoo City) from Jona Bechtolt on Vimeo.

After learning that the main creative talent of YACHT is a founding member of the Blow, well you know I had to check this shit out. It sort of starts out where the Blow left off - half spoken-word, half Moldy Peaches and nursery rhymes - but somehow extremely charming and catchy. I just love how simple these songs sound, but once you really pay attention, you realize how layered and intricate they are - the initial appeal is the simplicity and then they sort of draw you in slowly on each song to something far more complex. It moves quickly into something more ambitious, adding some fucking sweet loops to poppy, catchy tracks and throwing all kinds of synth and abstraction over some very maudlin singing. Knowing where Bechtolt began makes some of these dancy, discoed out, edgy electronic songs extremely surprising, and perhaps even more awesome. Because people who brood like to dance too apparently.

Quick post-script - saw them in Chicago a couple nights ago. Killer live show. Again, like the Blow, verging on performance art with audience banter, a very personalized power-point presentation/interactive video. But for a small gig, very high energy and extremely fun. Highly recommended.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chum Onah - A Michael Jackson Tribute

It's been a surprising display of collective good taste that the amount of post-mortem MJ covers has been kept to a minimum. What him and Quincy put together is just unfuckable-with to a degree not even the Beatles attained. As long as there is still a habitable earth 100 years from now, "Billie Jean" will still be getting played somewhere every Friday and Saturday night and people will still freak when it comes on. I don't even need to convince you of this fact, it's something we all know together. That's what MJ means.

But let's put that aside for a second and engage in a quick thought experiment: what if you had to put together an MJ tribute album? What would it sound like? Well, for one thing, there's no beating Quincy at his own game, so you'd have to forget about topping his glossy production. You'd also want to engage artists from a whole bunch of different genres, to underscore his impact on nearly every type of popular music. A lo-fi mishmash, ideally - capturing the blissful essence of MJ's songs, but in a way that brings their monumental status down to size.

So good news: the bloggers over at BUTTERxFACE have done exactly that, assembling 12 lo-fi luminaries to deconstruct some of the world's best known compositions. The crystal clarity of the originals is swapped for smooth patina, the loss of precision resulting in an underlying warmth. When the songs works best, as on Toro y Moi's "Human Nature" and Family Portrait's "Will You Be There", they seem less like Important Pop Music Covers and much more like a version of a seemingly eternal song, like an "Amazing Grace", one that's sung around campfires by memory and has no discernable birth or death or beginning or end. As they should be.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Oldie But a Goodie

Say what you want about Uncle Jesse. He handled himself well when the Japanese teleprompter ran out, he made an Extreme-ly cheesy music video, he exploited his children to further his career, etc... The fact remains, the man had good taste in music and hence, of course, his love for the Beach Boys.

It's no secret that Pet Sounds is/was cited by Paul McCartney as the Beatles' inspiration for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I will say no more about it except to say that if you don't own this album and you consider yourself a music fan, most critics (Lester Bangs included,) would be shocked and appalled.

Congrats to the Bangers. Hopefully the new site traffic isn't too pissed off by this obvious of a classic album choice...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Black Math Horseman - "Wyllt"

With their first album “Wyllt”, slow-burners Black Math Horseman provide a brooding and cathartic addition to the doom metal/post-metal landscape. A big part of stoner rock and doom metal’s appeal is, of course, the almighty monolithic riff. BMH don’t ride out monstrously fuzzy riffs like Kyuss or Melvins, but the album boasts its fair share of nasty, wall-shaking, low-register guitar work (see “Deerslayer and “Origin of Savagery”). While it would be easy for these powerful musicians to riff first and ask questions later, BMH set themselves apart with really deliberate songwriting and production. “Wyllt” is meticulously constructed in terms of song structure, dynamic shifts, and orchestration. Restrained and razor-sharp guitars peel off doubled guitar-bass lines and float above singer Sera Timms' entranced vocals; drum fills are well-placed and never feel extraneous. These layered atmospherics (which recall Mouth of the Architect) are complemented by a tight and unyielding rhythm section (the first lines of “Tyrant” follow a drum-and-bass mind-meld that immediately evokes Al Cisneros and Chris Haikus from meditative doom grandmasters Om) that shifts from background groove to primary pummel to great effect in the songs’ rumbling crescendos. The vocals are generally ambient and monotone, but pair well with the lead guitar’s lilting eighth-note agitations. (To be completely honest, I can’t understand many of the lyrics, but they sure sound creepy).

All of these components come together to make some darkly satisfying rock music, but some of the tracks would benefit from a little less control and a little more raucous abandon. When Timms finally looses her throaty wail on the final track “Bird of All Faiths and None/Bell from Madrone”, it sounds singularly gnarly, operating as an explosive conclusion to the preceding tracks’ dark, controlled build-ups. Despite any slight shortcomings, this is consistently compelling heavy music – by turns, mysteriously slinky and impressively forceful. (If you don’t listen to the album in its entirety, try “Deerslayer” and the portentous “Torment of the Metals” which sounds like the musical equivalent of saying, “Enemies whom I am pursuing slowly but surely, pee thy pants in fear of my calculated rage during the next seven minutes and four seconds.”)


Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Temper Trap - Conditions

The latest from Australia is a band called Temper Trap. I found them because their song Sweet Disposition was in the movie (500) Days of Summer that I finally caught yesterday ( I recommend the movie -- not incredible, but an interesting angle that a lot of people might benefit from seeing. Also, screw Zooey Deschanel and her doe-eyed, pale-skinned, 1960s-haired self. She's dumb. And annoying. That is all).

Anyway, I could tell you a bit about their collabo with Jim Abbiss (of Arctic Monkeys & Sneaker Pimps fame), or I could tell you how different tracks remind me of Bloc Party, MGMT, Passion Pit, and (dare I say) Coldplay... OR you could just check it out for yourselves HERE

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Delorean & Mount Kimbie: the new poptronica

The last decade has been one wild ride for techno. Remember trance? Remember Sasha & Digweed, Paul Oakenfold, or DJ Tiesto? Doesn't it seem like those guys should be dead by now? Seriously, thinking about the progression that took us from Fatboy Slim to Daft Punk to Girl Talk, it seems less like an evolution of a genre and more like electronica swallowing all of popular music whole. Bands like MGMT and Passion Pit only reinforce the point - synthesizers are taking over the world.

Delorean and Mount Kimbie's EPs are two of the more interesting explorations of these still-wild poptronica frontiers. A 4-piece out of Barcelona, Delorean combines the beat atmospherics of Cut Copy with the piano stabs and power chords of U2. I'm not quite as entranced by their Ayrton Senna EP as Pitchfork is, but at the same time there's no denying that "Seasun" is on some sweet "Chemical Brothers mate with Animal Collective" tip. This album is meant to be played at 80 mph with the sun out, and I'm really jealous of those of you who have the ability to do that.


Mount Kimbie resides on the total opposite end of the musical spectrum, drawing much more from the genres of dubstep and postrock than anything overtly pop. A London-based duo, their single "Maybes" from the same-titled EP has been blowing up on the blogosphere for a few months now. Sparse and gritty yet retaining a gleaming, boisterous melody, it's an incredible balancing act that's one of the few really essential songs of the year. The rest of the album might be a little atmospheric/out there to merit repeat spins, but these guys will never fail to hold your attention.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Tron Legacy


Those were the words that immediately went through my head when I learned that not only are they making a sequel to one of my favorite childhood movies, Tron, but that Daft Punk will score the entire film. After listening to this little snippit, I suggest everyone go and check out the actual movie trailer for an awesome sneak peak.

Side note- Jeff Bridges is returning to play his old role, and looks as badass as ever.