Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bjork's Dark Fairy Tale

I'm not sure anyone could have predicted the type of career BJORK has had. From pixieish lead singer of the dance pop band THE SUGARCUBES to solo club diva to leading lady of the electronic music movement, Bjork has used her unique voice and ear for melody to make her both commercially viable and critical darling all at once. Now on her 8th solo record, "Biophilia" finds Bjork continuing to push her own personal and professional boundaries developing new instruments to get the sounds she wants.

The opening track, "Moon", is a lullaby of sorts to nature that features Bjork's voice meshing with the tinkling of a toy piano. "Thunderbolt" washes a muted beat with synths and strings in a track that recalls her classic "Hyberballad". The single "Crystaline" blows the doors off the record with it's cacophony of beats and drum n bass tempo like something from APHEX TWIN. The middle portion of the record is definitely downtempo, with "Dark Matter" serving as the musical equivalent of walking through the woods on a dark and creepy evening. "Hollow" continues that feel with ominous strings taking the listener through the night before a deep bass line grabs the song and blasts it into the future. I get the feeling that in someone else's hands "Virus" would have been a saccharine  pop song but with Bjork in charge, it's more of a baroque torch song. "Sacrifice" replicates "Crystaline's" slow build to beat heaven trick to lesser success, but I'm sure someone will remix the hell out of it. The record comes to a close with the soft acoustic picking of "Solstice", which is like waking from a very dark dream into the morning light.

Bjork has said the this record is about the combination of nature and technology and although the  record is more images than straight ahead thoughts, one can see the connection. The absence of her old pop hooks makes this a tough listen and will not really garner her any new followers. There are no club stompers here, just musings in the classical and jazz senses. I'm not sure I love this record as much as her others, but fans of hers will no doubt continue to place her on her pedestal as one of the most innovative musicians creating music today.

(mp3) Bjork -- Sacrifice

For those who miss the dancy feel of her early work check out this remix of "Virus" which updates it for the club masses.

(mp3) Bjork -- Virus (Them Jeans Remix)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

M83 get amibtious about dreams

Ambition is a tricky wicket. We want our musicians to extend themselves beyond their boundaries and explore new sounds. But we also want them to replicate the songs that made us first fall in love with them. We want new music from them on a regular basis but not at the expense of the ability to digest it and appreciate it. RYAN ADAMS and PRINCE have often been accused of musical megalomania by release a ton of stuff without any real regard to the overall quality. GUNS N' ROSES effectively ended their career by releasing a double album when one at a time would have sufficed. THE STONE ROSES couldn't seem to get their shit together to release a second record for over a decade, and when they did the wait made it a disappointment. It's a hard thing to time your ambition just right.

M83 have accomplished such a rare feat. Three years after their last record, the band (essentially one member at this point, Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez), has released a magnum opus entitled "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming". The double record contains 22 songs of sheer brilliance. Culling from the past catalogue of sounds from their early shoegazer material through their most recent forays into 80's synth pop, M83 have recreated and updated their sound at the same time.

Opening with the epic "Intro", it is clear that Gonzalez has opened up the effects panels on his guitar, which frames quest Zola Jesus' vocals nicely. From there the record soars through the anthemic "Midnight City" and "Reunion". "Wait" has a sleep acoustic feel, which is new for M83. "Claudia Lewis" has a retro HOWARD JONES feel to it (don't laugh it's really good). Their are instrumental interludes that serve as resting stops along the journey. Gonzalez has said that the bulk of the record has to do with dreams or a dreaming state. "Soon, My Friend", another acoustic number, is very much a lullaby to a child. M83 have started to fiddle with more straight ahead songs on recent records, but here the size of the record makes that harder to do. There are a lot of short bursts of musical ideas that aren't really fleshed out, and are not meant to be. It's as if you are inside someones dreams as they come and go.

"My Tears Are Becoming A Sea" opens the second disc with a crescendo of drums and strings like your soaring over mountains and out to the ocean. "New Map" roars the record back to life with the more traditional M83 sound. "OK Pal" readdresses the 80's sound of their last record, feeling like something left off a John Hughes soundtrack. "Year One, One UFO" revisits the use of pre-recorded interviews to add to the texture of the song that was so prevalent on the band's early work. By the time you reach the instrumental "Outro", you are ready to wake up, not from exhaustion but from a feeling you have seen all their is and you are ready to tell your friends.

The record could have been trimmed a bit, but I think it would have sacrificed the artist's intent to deliver on his own ambition. I can't imagine where he goes form here, but if his next journey is as good as this one, we are in for a real experience.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

PPP (Part 18)

I've been reminscing a lot about the music of my youth. Not in a melocholy, crap I'm getting old sort of way. More of a wow, that was seem really good stuff sort of way. Even though I missed the boat on the PSYCHEDELIC FURS the first time around, I still enjoy this song quite a bit;

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Wilco's "The Whole Love"

Wilco's journey to one of America's premier rock bands has been an unusual one. Rising from the ashes of the seminal alternative country band UNCLE TUPELO, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy has been on a mission to see just how odd and obscure he could make his country twang sound. The first three Wilco records play like more commercial versions of the Tupelo sound. Then came "Yankee Foxtrot Hotel". With "Hotel" Tweedy and his revolving band of musicians began melding the rock sound with spacier elements to create atmospheric epics that featured odd instrumentation and more obscure wordsmithing. This continued with "A Ghost is Born" before a slight return to earth with their last record "Sky Blue Sky."

Wilco's latest record, "The Whole Love" continues to seek a middle ground between the original work and the more grandiose dreams of the more recent output. Opening with the 7 minute clicky "Art of Almost" the listener prepares themselves for another listening foray into the unknown. But Tweedy offers us a curveball with the fuzzy bass driven "I Might" as the second song. "Might" plays off like a vintage 60's rock song. "Sunloathe" seems like something from the BEACH BOYS collection of oddities with it's piano tinkling and soft vocals. "Dawned on Me" revels in it's feedback before settling into a nice rhythm and has the sound of a radio single from the heyday of AM radio. "Black Moon" has a dark acoustic guitar line to lead us through Tweedy's song of searching for truth. "Born Alone" glides along a rat-a-tat drum beat before the guitar picks up the track for the ride. The title track, "The Whole Love", is sunny number about a man who knows he is hard to get along with. "One Sunday Morning (song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)", could easily scare a listener off at over 12 minutes but it is well worth the investment. Tweedy sounds like a little Bob Dylan ish here as the song seems to wander around a acoustic guitar until it settles in. The band forsakes any studio trickery and plays it straight. What comes is a jam feeling as if they recorded it on the porch of some old southern home in the last summer.

Wilco's latest doesn't have the ambition of "Hotel" or "Ghost" and in many ways is a nod to their past as Uncle Tupelo. Those hoping for the sonic soundscapes of those records will be a bit disappointed. But those of us who take our music with a sense of authenticity will find the record gaining in stature with every listen.