Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kanye West and his Magical Autotune

Say what you will about KANYE WEST. Is he an arrogant blowhard? Yes. Is he an insecure narcissist who needs attention constantly to feel appreciated? Yes. Is he a creative force that changed the course of hip-hop like few others? Hell, yes he did. Kanye could have gone the path of so many of his colleagues and churned out club banging hits about sleeping with strange women and taking stranger drugs (or vice versa). Instead, he chose to explore his musical boundaries and has slowly taken his music away from rote hip-hop to something altogether different.

Two songs from his newest album, 'My Dark Twisted Fantasy", highlight just how much his music has changed. Starting with the previous album, "808's and Heartbreaks", Kanye has added vocoders and autotunes to his vocals and distorted the beats and synth lines warping them into almost unrecognizable sonic tapestries. Now he extends that to "Runaway" to include strings and other instrumentation to create an orchestral song of defiance for his critics. "Runaway" is cinematic in scope and sound and from his live performances of the song, almost cathartic in nature.

Then there is "Lost in The World" where our mercurial one teams with another tortured soul, folk troubadour BON IVER. Now rap crossovers are not new, but even this paring seemed odd at first. But you can see why they work so well together. Both write songs about despair and loneliness and both favor their material with a bit of macabre sense of humor. Here the song comes off as part appeal for understanding and part cry for salvation. I think I have played it four times writing this and still find new things about it that I enjoy.

So yes, West is all the things described above but what he is not is another boring MC.

(mp3) Kanye West -- Runaway (courtesy of TSURURADIO)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Introducing...Trophy Wife

TROPHY WIFE are a band out of Oxford, England who recently unveiled their debut 7' single (which by the way is still a great invention in my mind). The two songs on highlight the best of what the band is about. The A Side, "Microlite" is a summery piece of pop pie with a nice acoustic strum to it. If you hunt a bit there is even a pretty in it's own right acoustic version floating around.

But it's the B-side that really grabbed me. "Take This Night" has a rubbery bass line that screams dance and a drum shuffle that is just soft enough to be a later in the evening come down off the dance floor type of song. This seems to be a direction other UK bands have taken (like THE STONE ROSES without the drugs and the attitude). The song just kind of rolls along until you don't realize it but it has infected your brain and your humming along. If they find a way to consistently split the difference between these two sounds then I have high hopes for their full length record.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Abe Vigoda (the band not Fish from Barney Miller)

It takes some guts to name your band after a TV actor and do it with no sense of irony or any real reason why. On top of that, if Abe Vigoda was attached to some form of music I can assure you it would not sound like this.

ABE VIGODA is a LA based band that specializes in slightly over the top rock that takes a heavy dose of stadium guitars and meshes it with 80's keyboard sounds and falsetto vocals to create a quite striking blend of rock music. Their latest record, "Crush", has elements of songs that could have been lifted from a John Hughes movie (the opener "Sequins" and the lead single "Throwing Shade to name a few). In many ways they remind me of THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS who specialized in this sort of melodrama.

When they take a more straight forward rock approach the results are just as appealing. The title track will play very well in amphitheatres as a sing along for all the boys and girls to pogo to. "Repeating Angel" is a Bowie knock off (which is a bit of a misstep in my opinion but at least they are true to their muses). But that is the only real odd song in the collection. Now, I don't think it's a record for everyone. The lead singer's vocals can slip from time to time. But if you are in the mood for some nostalgia then this might just do the trick.

Friday, November 19, 2010

No Age keep the Indie Spirit Alive

I recently started listening to NO AGE when I saw that they opened for PAVEMENT and SONIC YOUTH. Now when two heavyweights in the indie/alternative world put a band on their bill, it makes me take notice. Their latest record, "Everything In Between" is so chocked full of goodness that it almost made me skip a beat when I listened to it for the first time.

For a mere two piece outfit to create such varied and creative music is a testament to their talent. It is no wonder that Dean and Randy met at famed LA Record Store Aron's since their records are rife with their influences. From the Jesus and Mary Chain drone of "Life Prowler" the the Peter Hook style bass of "Glitter" to the punk fuzz of "Fever Dreaming" it's like listening to a record collection on crack.

No Age have the unique ability to morph their sound without compromising the basic ideal of the music. It's as if their songs are celebration of the underground and the notion that if you have passion it doesn't matter what you sound like. Their is so much power in the drums, notably on the slightly poppy "Valley Hump Crash" and the balls out rock of "Shred and Transcend" that the whole thing threatens to come apart.

The more I listen to the record the more I find the nuances and the textures. With each listen I realize this is a band the be reckoned with; if that's even what they want.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Down the Rabbit Hole with Mobius Band

It all started out so innocently. I was looking for something new to listen to and stumbled across a mention of MOBIUS BAND from Brooklyn and thought I would investigate. This has happened to me before. I start out listening to something and start researching the band's background and happenings. Occasionally I will find a band that is no longer around and has splintered off into various solo and new band projects. So I start looking into those records. Before I know it I have a whole new collection on my hands. Here is the tale of my trip through the labyrinth of MOBIUS BAND.

The original group was a three man collective who made one record and a ton of ep's that are all very, very good. Their first three ep's (entitled 1, 2 and 3) are mostly instrumental but when the vocals are added they are very reminiscent of THE DOVES. The songs have a grandeur that would have played very well live. They also put together a collection of cover songs that can be downloaded for free on their website.

But that is only part of the story. Once the band broke up the various members went off and did their own thing. Which changes the whole tone of the original work. When bands break up you can almost see the divisions in sound take form when the artists start to record separately.

As LOLFM, former drummer Noam Schatz takes the more ambient electronic approach to his music which manifested itself in Mobius Band's early instrumental work. Clearly influenced by KRAFTWERK and LUKE VIBERT, his album is available for free here.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN is the new incarnation of Peter Sax is probably the most straight forward pop of the three groups. Mixing his vocals with lush female counterparts and keyboards, the sound is similar to THE POSTAL SERVICE. His songs can be found here.

Finally, COOKIES is the pen name of Ben Sterling. The debut single introduces the band as a sing along male/female combo using dance beats and a staccato style keyboard line to push the song along. You get the sense that over time their sound will probably be the most dance hall ready of them all. They can be found here.

So for one night of goofing around I got four bands worth of good material. Not bad for a band very few ever heard of in the first place.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

It's Peter Buck's World...The Decemberists Just Live In It

So earlier this year Mr. Buck lent his talents to TIRED PONY and we are getting word out of the REM camp that their new record is rapidly approaching us in mid 2011. But if that wasn't enough ole' Pete hired out his six string twang to the new single from THE DECEMBERISTS, called "Down By The Water".

Here's what funny. When I first listened to the song while working on something else I thought, "man, this sounds a lot like REM" and apparently for good reason. The song would be pretty non descript except for the recognizable plucking (along with some nice background vocals by Gillian Welch). What does this tell us about the new record from Colin Meloy and company? Probably very little, other then they are trying to apologize to their fans for the god awful last album. So sit back, relax and enjoy the guitar work of an old friend.