Sunday, August 28, 2011

Warpaint: Making Chicks Rock!!

I have been accused by The Wife of only liking music made by men. She thinks that I have some sort of pre-disposition to tuning out music made by women. I argue that the primary reason I tend to gravitate to the male-centric music is mostly because I can't sing that high in the car driving to and from work. But that doesn't mean when a good record by a female fronted band comes along I ignore it.

Such is the case with WARPAINT. This all girl collective make grandiose, somewhat maudlin art rock that would appeal to those who long for the day of SIOUXSIE AND THE BASNHEES. The debut album, "The Fool", would not be out of place if it had been released at the height of the goth movement. "Set Your Arms Down" glides along a shimmery guitar line that sounds as if it was left over from LUSH. The record explodes with the single "Warpaint", which comes off like a refugee from vintage 4AD records. "Undertow" benefits from the meshed dual female vocal approach to give the song a swimming feel to it. "Bees" takes advantage of a manufactured drum beat and a big fat bass line to offset vocalist Emily Kokal's ethereal vocals. The record slows down in the second half and adopts a more medieval chamber music sound which, in my opinion, is not as captivating as the first part. But it is still full of interesting musical ideas.

Somewhere my inner CURE fan is rejoicing that I took some time with this record. It is in no way a summer record, but something tells me come winter I will be driving down the freeway trying to mimic these vocals. It just won't sound as good as what these girls can do.

(mp3) Warpaint -- Warpaint

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Remembering Good Will Hunting

Sometimes late at night, after everyone has gone to bed, I get a chance to sit and watch TV. Usually this takes the form of a baseball or basketball game (or highlights of the night's sports action). Every once in awhile I will flip to a film I have seen a hundred times before (The "Shawshank Redemption" or "Ocean's Eleven" are popular ones on TV right now). Tonight, it was "Good Will Hunting". I hadn't seen it in it's entirety in a long time but I was captivated once more.

For those who may have forgotten, the film centers around the troubled Will Hunting, a genius struggling with various psychological issues. The central character, after getting into trouble with the law, is mandated into counseling where he meets Sean Maguire, a somewhat troubled in his own right psychology professor. Together they strive to get Will moving ahead with his life and attempt to reach his seemingly limitless potential.

Two things struck me about watching the film again. First, the acting is tremendous. It's hard to remember that when the film was made in 1997 both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were relative unknowns. A lot was made of the fact that they wrote the script (which won an Oscar), but their acting in the film was as genuine and authentic as I can recall. These were characters that they knew so well, that it stopped being acting and became living as these people. Robin Williams, who also won an Oscar as Maguire, was a revelation in subtlety as a grieving man who sees a bit of himself in Will. The relationship between the two is so rich and detailed, it was clear the actors enjoyed working together even through the darkest of dialogue patches.

The other aspect that hit me was how perfect ELLIOT SMITH's music was a running soundtrack for the film. Smith, himself a troubled young man who suffered from depression and died at age 34 of apparent suicide, uses his hushed vocals and acoustic guitar as a means of giving the film emotional depth. "Angeles" and "Between The Bars" and "Say Yes" float into the film to give us a connection to Will as he tries to relate to people in new and sometimes painful ways. By the end of the film, as Will leaves Boston to chase down the girl he has fallen for over the course of the movie, Smith delivers his tour-de-force gem "Miss Misery". In a way the song exemplifies the character and the film itself. It's a song of both hope and despair as the singer details how he's trying to just make it through the day.

It's not often that a film ages well. Actors get older and we remember them for newer roles. Damon and Affleck have both gone on to bigger fame (both in and out of acting). Williams will always be a comedian at heart. Minnie Driver, who plays Will's girlfriend, has graduated to adult roles that have robbed her of her charm. But for one night, I was re-introduced to the world of Good Will Hunting. I can't think of a better reason to stay up late.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Boy and Bear or sometimes you can tell by an album cover

There are those times when you look at an album cover or a band name and you just get a feeling. When I glanced at the debut full length by Australian band BOY AND BEAR I knew I would like it. After a morning of digesting their album I think I am in serious love with it. Sometimes you can just tell.

The record opens with the solemn "Lordy May" which marches like a funeral dirge that opens into a celebration of life. The stomping bass line of "Feeding Line" marks the real sound of the band as lead singer Dave Hosking's earthy vocals plead to become someone else. "Milk and Sticks" adds a hammond organ to the sound to great effect (and we all know I'm a sucker for a good organ). "Part Time Believer' whistles a quasi-happy tune that echoes the 70's revival that is currently afoot (i.e. FLEET FOXES, BON IVER). The album slows down with the plaintive "My Only One" before the country romp "Golden Jabilee". The closing duo of Dylan inspired tunes "Beach" and "Big Man" which has a distinct MUMFORD AND SONS tinge to it, wrap up the set in fine form.

Given the success of Mumford there is no reason to think this album shouldn't find some commercial success. Hopefully, people find it as enjoyable as I have each time I run through it's inspired collection of songs.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

John Craig & The Weekend...conceptually

Concept records are tricky business. If the story is too obtuse or hard to follow the listener won't stick around for the whole thing to unfold. If the songs lack a pop hook to them, it makes them hard to digest. However, if the story is interesting and the band uses the music to help propel the idea, then they can be quite entertaining. While not a true concept record (at least that's what I got from the record promoters liner notes), their does appear to be a song cycle embedded in the debut record by JOHN CRAIG and THE WEEKEND.

Craig has a falsetto voice that is not unlike Geddy Lee of RUSH. But musically, the band takes on a chameleon approach to each song. The opening pop salvo "Newstories" is rooted in a slight Prog rock vibe. "We Are Whatever" hangs its hat on a big fat bass line like some jazz club bar brawl. "Don't Think Make Mistakes Part One and Two" are the centerpiece of the record with part one relying a tinkling piano and Craig morphing into an 80's pop crooner. "Part Two" dips it's toes into electro-clash drumbeats to match the intensity of the darkening mood of the record. Later in the record Craig duets with Nicole Berke on the beautiful "Sink or Swim". "Numbers", the title track, has a DAVID BOWIE like spacey feel to it and closes the set with a swirl of keyboards and soulful "oohing" and "aahing".

I can't really say if there is a lyrical thread to the entire record, but the journey through various styles and song structures in conceptually very interesting. Surely a record that I will listen to further.

(mp3) John Craig and the Weekend -- Don't Think Make Mistakes Part Two