On previous recordings, singer/songwriter Ben Kweller’s exhibited a penchant for American folk/roots music; but these elements appeared around the edges of prevailingly pop material. Kweller’s latest release, Changing Horses, presents the singer-songwriter in a more ‘countrified’ vein. Evoking the roots music he listened to as a youngster, Kweller’s material has taken on more than the surface artifacts of the genre. While one can name a host of influences abundantly present, ranging from the Band and Dylan to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the Jayhawks, this stylistic exploration has revealed new depths in his songwriting.
Notably, Kweller reveals an ear for the musical subtleties of his source material. With surfaces that consist of loping grooves and ‘oom-pah’ basslines, “Sawdust Man” and “Desert Rose” is filled with myriad rhythmic twists – including shifts from simple to compound meters – and unexpected turnarounds. Correspondingly, despite a straightforward design, “Ballad of Wendy Baker” revels in embellishing the vocal melody with sinuous chromaticism; his singing is also at its supplest here. But Kweller’s also willing to inhabit the earnestly straightforward; “Fight” is an uplifting hootenanny, with a sing along chorus and copious lap-steel embellishments.
Let’s hope Kweller continues to ride this horse a while longer.
Released as two digital EPs, Honeysuckle Remixes are deft reworkings of material from Honeysuckle Weeks, the Submarines last LP. Remixers include other indie sensations, such as Ra Ra Riot and Alaska in Winter, as well as producer/mixologist Amplive. The latter provides a big-beats, downtempo version of “1940,” countered by a chamber electronica, string-laden remix of the same track with the Section Quartet on EP 2. This type of double coverage continues for much of the EP, and creates some additional interesting juxtapositions.
Ra Ra Riot’s version of “Submarine Symphonika” features undulating polyrhythms and suave pizzicato accompaniments; the corresponding remix by “Wallpaper” makes the song ripe for the dancehall, with synth slides and a suavely peppy beat structure. “You, Me, & the Bourgeoisie” is given a Euro-funky rendition, a lá Hooverphonic and replete with vocal echos, by Tonetiger; Alaska in Winter here prefer IDM clubbing; undergirding the song with an ostinato subwoofer bass thud. The only remix to not have a complement is Styrofoam’s “Xavia;” it’s easy to see why, as this is given a full-on, everything and the kitchen sink arrangement; busy, thickly scored, yet instantly catchy!
Pitchfork is a long-running website and important part of the internet’s coverage of pop music – especially that of the indie persuasion. While its output has included plenty of off-the-wall writing experiments and a fair amount of glib sniping, record store owners (those that remain) and music fans alike take Pitchfork’s cast of tastemakers very seriously. Indeed, for a certain segment of the industry, a high rating on the website’s 1-10 scale (anything above an 8 is doled out abstemiously) is cause for rejoicing. In particular, several artists of an adventurous bent – Deerhunter, Animal Collective, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Wilco among them – have benefited from the Pitchfork’s attention.
Plagenhoef, Schreiber, and a host of contributors (most regulars for the website) share their enthusiasms with wit and frequent musical insights. The collection helps to put a number of pop styles, cultural movements, and signature artists into historical perspective while never getting weighted down in “us vs. them” hipster bluster. Indeed, the tone often hews closely to the breezy, smart, and funny prose of the website’s best reviews.
Despite ostensibly being a “best of” collection, The Pitchfork 500 features both sides of Pitchfork’s personality. Although the focus is on the songs one should seek out, there’s also a bit of trashing here and there; pp. 155′s list of career-killing songs being a signature example. Slaughtered sacred cows include latter day Liz Phair, the Beastie Boys, and Billy Corgan.
As Nick Hornby astutely pointed out in High Fidelity, one record fan’s “top 5″ list will inevitably be quickly countered by another’s rebuttal of said list. However, the chief virtue of Pitchfork 500 is not that it will settle any arguments about which songs deserve special merit – it will likely cause more disagreements than it quells – but that it is one of the best conversation starters for music geeks since Hornby’s novel. Along the way, it’s likely to give many music lovers ideas as to how they might best fill their music collection to the brim; in my estimation, a cause for celebration.
The old adage “you can’t judge a book by its cover” applies equally to album cover art. If one were to rate Surfing solely on its visual components, its marks would be middling at best. It consists of Zappa-esque potty humor and naked hirsute band members cavorting with sharp implements. The music itself however, is far more promising, some provocative song titles notwithstanding.
Devendra Banhart has made a name for himself as a solo artist, but his collaborations here with drummer Gregory Rogove and members of the Strokes revel in alt-folk spontaneity and psych rock jamming. The title tune, “To the Love Within,” and the sparsely adorned but oh-so-lovely “Another Mother” are particularly engaging.
There’s a freshness and vitality to the music-making here, suggesting that Banhart thrives in this more relaxed atmosphere and did well to take a break from the whirlwind ride of industry hype. So, if it takes a bit of visual silliness to bring the band into this creative space, I for one am willing to indulge them – to a degree. But next time, Devendra, keep your clothes ON!
Loney Dear’s second LP serves as a reminder that, despite myriad ups and downs, synth pop remains a vital genre. Dear John combines crisp, effervescent arrangements with lyrical hooks. The synthesized oscillations and punchy bass lines of “Airport Surroundings” and “Violent” are both well-crafted and headily visceral. The high level of clarity and production values belies the notion that home-recording necessitates a ‘lo-fi’ aesthetic.
While Loney Dear (Emil Svanängen) capably evokes melancholy inflections – as on the affecting “Harsh Words” – this is hardly downtempo IDM. Instead, he has created an all too rare synergy between sophisticated electronica and the concision and appealing sweep of good pop singles. Even songs such as the title track and “Harm,” where the atmosphere is more spacious and the textures more varied, still keep the continuity of the vocal lines, and their achingly delicate traversal of poignantly spun elegies, as the foremost concern.
It’s hard to believe that this is the twentieth installment in Red Hot’s benefit compilation series to raise funds for and awareness of people with HIV/AIDS; how time flies and, regrettably, illnesses stubbornly persist. While the Red Hot series has often mustered star-power, it has never been this consistent in its musical inspiration. This is certainly in part due to excellent curating by the National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner. Dark was the Night features two discs of recordings by indie’s finest, including imaginative covers and special collaborations.
David Byrne and the Dirty Projectors, are lovably quirky and rhythmically buoyant on “Knotty Pine.” Kronos Quartet provides an instrumental rendering of the Blind Willie Johnson song that is the collection’s namesake; the unusual juxtaposition of blues and string quartet indicative of the imaginative pairings found throughout. Books and José Gonzalez deliver a multilayered rendition of Nick Drake’s “The Cello Song.” Antony Hegarty and Bryce Dessner supply a touching, homespun version of Bob Dylan’s “I was Young When I left Home.”
There are very few people I’d prefer to hear singing Vashti Bunyan than Vashti herself, but Feist and Ben Gibbard create a cozily atmospheric version of “Train Song.” Beirut continues its lustrously sung love-letter to France with “Mimizan.” Stuart Murdoch sans Belle and Sebastian is still endearing – lopsided, lyrical, and sweet-voiced – on “Another Saturday.
And this is hardly the half of it. Dark was the Night is mandatory listening – how often do you hear that about a benefit CD?
Avant jazz (free jazz/out jazz/ecstatic jazz – pick your flavor) often thrives in lithe groupings; but bassist William Parker has long been known for leading large ensembles in adventurous music-making; noteworthy among them: Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. While not dubbed an orchestra, sixteen musicians premiered Parker’s long form composition Double Sunrise over Neptune at the Vision XII festival, held at the Orensatz Center in New York City in 2007. Portions of this were sonically compromised; the musicians reconvened the next day and rerecorded the work. AUM’s CD compiles the latter performance and the better half of the premiere into a full length album.
Given Parker’s dual gifts – as a rhythm section player and leader – it’s not surprising that the proceedings are groove-centered. Undulating bass-lines and a plethora of percussion instruments lay down a solid foundation, over which a number of NY’s most creative jazzers unleash effusive solos. While there are a number of fine contributions, guitarist Joe Morris and saxophonists Sabir Mateen and Rob Brown are especially thrilling.
Some of the instrumentalist use ethnic instruments such as oud and doson’ngoni, giving the music a globalized flavor. The star of the show is vocalist Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, whose melismatic runs rival the fastest utterances of colleagues’ strings or winds. What’s more, Parker’s compositional organization and direction assure that the piece flows with direction and clarity. Apparently, as long as you have players like these, avant jazz works well writ large!
MYSPACE MUSIC EXCLUSIVELY PREMIERES U2′S NEW ALBUM NO LINE ON THE HORIZON
Entire Album Available for Free Streaming on February 20, Over a Week Before Hitting Stores
MySpace Music (http://www.myspace.com/music), the world’s premier online music portal, announces the exclusive world premiere of No Line On The Horizon, the new studio album from U2. Beginning on February Feb. 20, MySpace U.S. users will be able to stream the album in its entirety from U2′s official MySpace Music profile at www.myspace.com/u2, giving fans a chance to preview it before the U.S. release on March 3. No Line On The Horizon will be available for purchase on MySpace Music starting on March 3.
U2 recently premiered their latest video for the hit single Get On Your Boots on MySpace Music to fans around the world. No Line On The Horizon is the group’s highly anticipated 12th studio album and their first release since How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb came out in late 2004. Recording sessions for No Line On The Horizon were held in various locations around the world, including Fez, Morocco, the band’s own studio in Dublin, New York’s Platinum Sound Recording Studios, and Olympic Studios in London. Long-time U2 collaborators Brian Eno and Danny Lanois produced the album, with additional production by Steve Lillywhite.
For more information about U2 and to stream No Line On The Horizon, visit their MySpace Music official profile at: http://www.myspace.com/u2.
Grooving atop jubilant African polyrhythms and rumbling bass lines, Extra Golden revels in sparkling vocals and solos that are one part prog and another folk-melody. While numerous World Beat offerings have somewhat acclimated Western ears to the band’s sound world, there’s no dilution here. At its best, Extra Golden is reminiscent of David Sancious and Ladysmith simultaneously. The rhythm section will slay you every time they take up another intricate pattern; its music dares you not to move. Thank You Very Quickly is an all expenses paid express flight to exotic, ecstatic musical environs!
To celebrate Valentines Day last year, Mobius Band (Peter Sax, Noam Schatz, and Ben Sterling) released an EP of covers entitled Love Will Reign Supreme. This year, they’ve repeated the gesture with a new EP, Empire of Love, featuring covers of songs by TV on the Radio, Kanye West, the Everly Brothers, the Dixie Chicks, and more. The songs are available from the band’s website (linked above). My personal favorite is their noisily burred, affectionately alt-rock version of “Love Hurts.”
Nothing banishes greeting card holidays like Indie rock!