Friday, February 24, 2012

Yppah delivers the goods

Pandora Radio is a truly remarkable thing. A customizable radio station where you simply plug in a genre or artist and you get a selection of material tailored to your likes at that moment. This approach has led me to find several cool sounds I wouldn't have normally discovered. Such is the case with YPPAH. Falling into the electronic genre doesn't quite do this artist justice but if one must classify it, then electronic it is.

Now comes Yppah's latest record, "81". The overall sound is part MOBY at his height, part early m83, and part shoegazer all wrapped up into one. The opening track, "Blue Schwinn", glides along a drum beat with angelic female vocals recalling THE COCTEAU TWINS. From there singer Antonia Belle lends her voice to the pop techno of "D. Song", which finally morphs into a club banger. The middle section of the record recalls DJ SHADOW'S masterpiece "Endtroducing..." with it's combination of hip hop beats and synthesizer washes. "Never Mess With Sunday" is the standout track on the record, with a plucky acoustic guitar leading into a drum beat frenzy. The groove on this song alone will stick with you for weeks. "Happy To See You" echoes vintage SLOWDIVE in it's ethereal bliss. "Three Portraits" is what I imagine CHAPTERHOUSE would sound like if updated for the 21st century.

This is the hidden beauty of the album. It moves in so many directions. What could have easily been another one note, electronic repetition for over an hour discovers new and fascinating ways to explore sonic landscapes. Each time I listen I find a new sound or combination of instruments that shake me in new ways. This will easily be one of my albums of the year.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Gorgeous Cover of a Springsteen Song

Kind of a follow up on the my review of the new BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, here is a live performance by Scott Huthcinson of FRIGHTENED RABBIT and Neil Pennycook of MERSAULT covering "I'm Goin' Down" in breathtaking fashion.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Track by Track: Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball"

Bruce Springsteen is back with a new record made significant since it is the first since the death of long time Sax man Clarence Clemmons. It is said this is one of the most overtly political records Springsteen has made in a while. Having said that, here are my thoughts, track by track.

1. We Take Care Of Our Own:  A good start to the record with a traditional Springsteen rocker. All the elements are here; big guitars, piano flourishes, and Bruce at his most earnest. Vocally, there is a definite sense of restraint; a younger Bruce would have screamed the chorus instead here he merely sings it. It could be construed as a bit jingoistic lyrically, but it sets the tone.

2. Easy Money: A country/blues shuffle with a gospel choir paints the picture of what I think is a couple out to commit a crime. Whether it is out of need or the thrill is unclear, the song itself is meant to be an uplifting revival stomper.

3. Shackled and Drawn: Continuing the gospel flavor of the record, this mid tempo track features Bruce in his evangelical preacher guise. It appears the big theme of the record so far is being oppressed and beat down. It's a weird juxtaposition to have such spiritual sounding music with such dark lyrics.

4. Jack Of All Trades: An aching ballad drives the tempo of the record even further. This is the story of a man willing to do anything to get a job and pay the bills (clean storm drains, mow the lawn.) The man if confident his work ethic will see him through, but the coming storm indicates that might not be the case. It marks the first song that would have been a showcase for Clemons, with the traditional sax solo replaced another player.

5. Death To My Hometown: An Irish jig masquerading as a rock song in the vein of THE POGUES, this song is the angry Springsteen in his full force. A song that live will be powerful in it's stripped down basics.

6. This Depression: A plaintive drum beat drives this song as we start to move out of the anger of economic loss and turn to those we love for support. Bruce argues here that the only way we can get through this is with the love and care of others. By the time the guitar solo kicks in, you almost believe him.

7. Wrecking Ball: Springsteen has often cited WOODY GUTHRIE as an influence and here it shows. A folk number that if enhanced with a horns that serves as the core of the record. The protagonist is daring the powers that be to take him down knowing he has the strength to overcome anything. The second half of the song is a triumph of sound.

8. You've Got It: A simple acoustic song (rumor was this record was originally just going to be Springsteen himself playing the songs), explodes into a full bore rock song by the end. One imagines Little Stevie going nuts on this one on stage.

9. Rocky Ground: The inevitable duet with Patti Scialfa shows up at this point. I have never been a fan of her work with the band, but clearly when you are The Boss's wife you get some perks.

10. Land Of Hope And Dreams: This song has been played live for a long time (making it's debut in 1999), but it finally makes it way to recorded form. This has been one of my favorite songs for awhile so I was excited to see it get a proper recording. It doesn't have to thrust the live version does, but it makes for a great juxtaposition to the rest of the darker material on the record. This and the lead track are the clear standouts.

11. We Are Alive: I almost thought it was a U2 song until Springsteen comes in. Another southern gospel track accompanied by a banjo brings the set to a close with references to Martin Luther King's death and other social catastrophes. The sentiment is a nice one of surviving the storms of economic uncertainty and coming out the other side better people.

The final verdict is that it might not be a classic Bruce Springsteen record, and that's okay. Springsteen can experiment with his sound at this stage in his career and we will accept it. Rather than rehash the same sounds he isn't afraid to tinker with gospel, country and other folk sounds. Most of this will never find it's way into the live cannon, but as a work on it's own, it is a quality record worthy of The Boss.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Cranberries return to form

There are some sounds that immediately recall another time in one's life. I was at the height of my College Radio DJ career when THE CRANBERRIES hit the big time. "Dreams" and "Linger" came along right during the grunge heatwave and provided a respite for those of us who, although adorned in flannel, occasionally preferred less shouting from our music. The combination of Dolores O'Riordan was the spitting image of an Irish pixie with enough vocal chops take on Sinead O'Conner without all the melodrama. The Cranberries exploded with their first record and the subesequent follow up. Then they were gone. It's not that they stopped making records, it just that the public got tired and moved on. Such is the fickle world of pop music. But their sound has always had a warm place in my heart. If THE SUNDAYS took THE SMITHS sound and feminized it, then the Cranberries gave it an Irish brogue and mixed in a heathly dose of U2.

Now O'Riodan and her troop have released a new record entitled "Roses" and damn it all if it isn't really good. They have in no way reinvented their sound, in fact it could almost pass for a rehashing of their first record. Gone is the hard rock attempts like "Zombie" or "Hollywood" settling for mid level pop songs. "Tomorrow" opens with a Bono esque hoot before finding a jangly guitar line and riding it to pop bliss. "Fire and Soul" finds O'Riordan whispering her lyrics to her love as she then soars into the chorus of "I'll wait for you forever, I'll take you to my grave". "Losing My Mind" floats on a singular horn before exploding into a anthemic take on overcoming mental fragility. This is a set of songs about triumph over obstacles. It seems O'Riordan still has some fight left in that voice after all. The band has oftened dabbled in darker tones later in their albums and such is the case with the driving "Show Me The Way", which is the closest thing on this album to a harder edged song. The acoustic "Roses" closes the set with a quiet eulogy rather than a triumphant statement.

I really hope this record is taken seriously and gets some play on its merits. It's a really good album from a collection of musicians who know what they are doing. Take my recommendation and step into that time machine for a return from an accomplished band.

(mp3) The Cranberries -- Show Me The Way

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Perfect Pop Song (Part 20)

SCHOOL OF FISH made two really good records. Then they broke up and lead singer JOSH CLAYTON-FELT made a solo record before he passed away. I will always have a fond place in my heart for these guys. Here is their first single and their biggest hit, "Three Strange Days".


Monday, February 13, 2012

The Twilight Sad = If The Cure Were Scottish

Bands have to show their influences. This can be done in a subtle way (a guitar line here, a vocal phrasing there) or more overtly (See Interpol and The Editors aping of JOY DIVISION for their entire careers). THE TWILIGHT SAD straddle the middle of their influence showcasing of THE CURE. I'm sure these lads from Scotland didn't set out to ape the kings of doom and gloom as much as they did when they began recording their third album, "No One Can Ever Know", I imagine they were just looking for new ways to express their sound without rehashing their first two records. I'm also not saying its a bad thing that they did. What results is part mimicry, part homage and part ownership of new sound of their own.

The opening "Alphabet" kicks in with an eerie synth line as lead singer James Graham bleeds with a lost love who may or may not be dead. This is followed by "Dead City" which sounds like an outtake from "Wish" right down to the heaving bassline and clanky percussion. "Sick", the current single, exchanges out real drums for a skippy electronic beat and a staccato guitar line. Graham uses his accent to great effect rolling his "r"s with gusto to add to the off putting sound. The song builds to a nice crescendo adding synthesizers washes at the end. "Don't Move" is the closest thing of the record to an out and out CURE rip off, sounding almost beat for beat like "Fascination Street" without Robert Smith's yelping to give it the urgency it needs. "Another Bed" breaks up the pattern with a dance rhythm than when remixed will be an Edinburgh club banger for the rest of the year. At first it is seems out of place but after repeated listens it make sense to lighten the mood a little bit. The ending drone of "Kill It In The Morning" has a KILLING JOKE feel to it but ends with an uplifting chorus that is anthemic in the context of the whole record.

I admit I missed the boat a bit on these guys, I saw them a couple of years ago when they played the US with FRIGHTENED RABBIT and WE WERE PROMISED JETPACKS. If the Rabbits are easily the most commercial of the Scottish acts right now and WWPJ have a punk ethos that drives them, THE TWILIGHT SAD are trying to strike a chord with the more misanthropic youth of the world. This record may just allow them the room to make that happen.