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andee's world: The Soundtrack of My Late Summer

andee's world

Hello and welcome to my blog. This space will be devoted to opinions, observations, lists, articles and whatever else I feel like posting. Subjects will include music, human nature, politics, life in NYC, etc. If I paste someone else's writing up here, it is because the author said something way better than I ever could. By the way, I don't claim to be a particularly smart guy; I'm just a musician with some opinions. If you disagree with me, that's cool -- but then, you're probably wrong.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Soundtrack of My Late Summer

As summer winds down, I sit back in my smoking jacket, scotch-and-soda in hand, and fondly recall the music that has indelibly marked these last several months...

MUSE; Black Holes and Revelations (2006)

My first take on Muse was, "well, they sure can play, but the music is a tad derivative." The lead singer, admittedly, has taken a cue or two from Thom Yorke. But, looking closer, I've decided that Muse's Wagnerian fusion of Depeche Mode and Queen is really quite unlike anything else I've heard. Epic, multi-textured and extremely well-played. I am a fan.


TV on the Radio; Return to Cookie Mountain (2006)

TVotR are a very hip band at the moment and, like I do with many buzz bands, I ignored them for a good while. But gradually they began insinuating themselves into my consciousness through a string of increasingly fascinating singles ("A Method," "Wolf Like Me") that have been spun into rotation on my favorite satellite radio station.

My curiosity piqued, I finally broke down and had a copy of their most recent platter, Return to Cookie Mountain, shipped directly to my penthouse apartment. Lord help me but I think this may be my new favorite band.

The opening cut, "I Was a Lover," starts the affair with a haunting, ethereal, troubling smear of postpunk, psychedelia, trip hop, gospel...but really, fuck all that. It doesn't sound like a genre, it sounds like something that doesn't have a name yet. TVotR mix the cut-and-paste approach of hip hop with apocalyptic sonics and, occasionally, a My Bloody Valentine-like wall of sheer black guitar noise. Some of the vocal incantations are like old Negro spirituals, but lyrics like "beneath the cigarettes and sugar shit of alcohol breath / I can taste the ocean on your tongue" don't exactly bring church services to mind.

This is terribly exciting music. I can't wait to catch this band live and jump into their earlier albums.

Amy Winehouse; Back to Black (2006)

I hate to use a cliche, but Amy's truly the real deal -- generously gifted, effortlessly soulful, a born performer and plain old damaged goods, which is what makes her tales of hard living and dysfunctional love so painfully believable.

You all know "Rehab," but this whole album is worth investigating, especially the Ashford and Simpson co-written gem "Tears Dry on Their Own," which is pure magic. She uses the 60s girl group sound as her muse but she transcends the genre by expressing herself in a way that's far more raw, real and fucked up than anything that particular genre had ever seen. Check out the lyrics -- this girl is hurtin.' It's too bad she's become tabloid fodder. Hopefully she'll pull it together and have a long career.


The Shins; Wincing the Night Away (2007)

Oh, oh, aching beauty! Absolutely virtuosic indie-pop songwriting, and an impeccibly recorded album, to boot. "Sleeping Lessons," "Phantom Limb" and "Sea Legs" are my favorites but the entire LP is stunning.

Nellie McKay; Pretty Little Head (2005)

This album, recorded way back in 2005, was held up for so long by Nellie's ex-label (Sony), that I started to think it would never see the light of proverbial day. Since there isn't much press on this precocious genius, I never heard that the record had been picked up by an indie (Hungy Mouse) and put out quietly this year. Not until I decided to look for the album on Amazon one day last July and -- there it was! Oh, happy day!

If you've read my other blatherings, you know how much I loved Nellie's tour-de-force debut album, Get Away from Me. Expectations for her sophomore effort were a little high for me, I must admit.

And I have to say that, while Pretty Little Head is just as impressive as the first album, and every bit as ambitious (it's another 2-disc set)...it's just not as appealing, somehow. I'm just not having as much fun with it. Perhaps it's the absence of world class producer Geoff Emerick, who oversaw the recording of Get Away from Me (Nellie produced this one herself). I don't know. It just feels like something is missing and I can't quite put a finger on it.


Nellie's songs are catchy-yet-sophisticated as usual ("Cupcake," "The Down Low"), her wit is deadly sharp ("The Big One," "Columbia Is Bleeding") and she even has some cool guest stars (Cyndi Lauper, k.d. lang). But it's just not quite as thrilling as that first record. It probably wasn't nearly as fun to make, what with Sony fighting her all the way...

But I will keep listening and listening. Because Nellie's awesome.



Chemical Brothers; We Are the Night (2007)

The Chembros may be the most consistent and reliable group to come out of the short-lived "big beat" boom of the late 90s. Their latest record is sharp, fresh and inspired, and sounds like the boys had a great time making it. "Do It Again" is loads of irrestibly silly fun, "The Salmon Dance" is hilarious (thanks to a cameo from Fatlip) and "Das Spiegel," achieves what the Chemicals' best singles always have: a strange and transcendent mix of dancefloor energy, quirky, Kraftwerk-ian robotics and celestial beauty. Looking forward to seeing them live again at the end of this month.

St. Vincent; Marry Me (2007)

Beautifully orchestrated folk pop from a gal (actually called Annie Clark) who may be familiar to fans of Sufjan Stevens and the Polyphonic Spree (she's either toured or collaborated with both). Album opener "Now Now" epitomizes Clark's inventiveness -- it's one of the best tracks I've heard all year -- and the rest of the album allows her ambition to wander off in many different directions. She's a great guitarist, too.


Adam Franklin; Bolts of Melody (2007)

Thanks to the miracle of myspace, I've connected with the former Swervedriver mastermind Adam Franklin, and have had a chance to hear what he's up to musically, these days. I caught his June set at Mercury Lounge and was happy to find out that his latest material still conveys the guitar magic and laconic vocalisms that imbued Swervedriver's records.

Franklin's mesmerizing live, coaxing Hendrix-like controlled feedback tones out of his Fender Mustang (or Jaguar...I can't remember) with liberal amounts of pedal-stomping and whammy bar tugging. It's nothing less than sonic heaven.

The 13 tracks on his new solo album Bolts of Melody aren't too far afield from latter-day Swervedriver. Missing are the tequila-charged barn-burners that made Mezcal Head such a bruising record; but lazy, psychedelic pop tunes like "Morning Rain" and "Theme from LSD" are the perfect extention of where Franklin and his band left off with the sublime 99th Dream.


Primal Scream; Vanishing Point (1997)

Ah, the fascinating saga of Primal Scream.

Vanishing Point serves as a kind of connector, joining together the rootsy rock n' roll raunch of Give Out but Don't Give In with the all-out black techno fury of XTRMNTR. The Scream try a number of genres out for size on this one, but as always they make the music conform to their own unmistakeable identity. There's even a (totally unrecognizeable) cover of Motorhead's flagship single, "Motorhead" (not my favorite but interesting). What a restlessly interesting band this is.



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Ok, I hate to bitch and be negative, but I do get angry when crappy, boring, derivative bands get all the attention and so many great ones are ignored. Hence,

MY LEAST FAVORITE BANDS OF THE MOMENT:

The Pippettes


I'm From Barcelona

A little bit of cutesiness goes a very long way. I'm From Barcelona, the latest in a new movement of bands with stupid names that claim a false place of origin (these goofballs are from Scandanavia, while Of Montreal are from North Carolina...or South Carolina...who cares).

Hey, douchebag! I don't give a rat's ass about your damn collection of stamps. Is this what people see fit to write songs about nowadays?!? La la la, aren't we so cute?? And what kind of dweebs are "rocking out" to this limp drivel? These guys desperately need to have some testicles installed.

Meanwhile, the Pippettes are pure cutesy retro kitsch whose entire bag of tricks is stolen from early 60s girl groups. As mentioned before, Amy Winehouse takes inspiration from the same musical gene pool, but she brings an edge and rawness to the genre that would have been inconceivable in the era of the Shangri-Las. The Pippettes' act is just a gimmick. It all sounds very hollow to these ears.

Interpol

Music for people who can't deal with the real thing, which is Joy Division. This is a cleaner, safer, glossier rehash of music that was truly bleak, brutal, compelling and original. Sand all the edges off, make the performances more "professional," and you've got Interpol. Zzzzzzzz.

The Editors

For people who can't get enough of Interpol. A rip-off of a rip off. Highly recommended for insomniacs. God, this is BORING music.


The Shout Out Louds

Speaking of rip-offs. These guys owe the Cure whatever revenues are generated by this transparent piece of musical robbery. I am also tired of band names like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and, now, The Shout Out Louds.

There's nothing to shout about, kids. Go find a copy of The Head on the Door and get religion from the source.

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