Friday, September 07, 2007

Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam

Animal Collective isn't a prototypical "band" by any stretch of the imagination. Based in NYC with members from Baltimore, MD their lineup changes depending on who's making the music. They don't have one type of sound, they don't always work together, and they don't go by they're real names (Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin, and Geologist). Mostly, they are classified as psych-folk or noise rock but have been known to dabble and experiment with many other styles. They are nothing if not prolific in their music making. Their latest effort Strawberry Jam is their 8th record since their formation in 2000. They were put on my musical map with 2004 release Sung Tongs and again in 2005 with Feels. The newest record (again, coming out on Sept. 11) consists of songs that were played extensively during their 2005-2006 touring schedule. That practice and familiarity is clearly reflected in both the confidence in which they're played and their lengths (only 2 of 9 tracks under 4.5 minutes). While these longer songs may hint at a lack of focus, this doesn't seem to be the case on Strawberry Jam. Their style takes some getting used to, and has to be appreciated for what it is. This is not the stuff of Top 40 radio. This stuff is: College Radio being broadcast from the basement of the student union listened to by 200 people if you're lucky. The two tracks below are a bit on the longer side, but both are well worth a listen. "Fireworks" will be the second single released on November 5, and "Safer" is a track that was played a lot live and recorded in the studio, but didn't make the final cut on the album due to its length, thus released as a B-side to the lead single "Peacebone."

The Go! Team - Proof of Youth

What's not to love about The Go! Team? I first learned of them while studying in Ireland in 2005 shortly after their debut album came out. Two friends and I chipped in to purchase the cd because it was €25. Originally conceived by Brighton, England based Ian Parton in his parents' kitchen, he eventually needed a band that could duplicate much of the sampled mash that made Thunder, Lighting, Strike so successful. In doing so, the vision was transformed and live performances sounded much different than their "studio" counterparts. The biggest addition being the Ninja's freestyled raps instead of the sampled chants on the album. The Go! Team's sound is a unique mix of guitar riffs, a horn section, hip-hop, and funk. What is so infectious about their sound is how exuberant and light-hearted it is. Their sophomore effort Proof of Youth follows closely on the coattails of their debut. It sounds like there are less samples and therefore more room for Ninja to work her magic. Proof of Youth continues their stunning blend of influences and genres that make them truly unique. While the album remains true to form, there is a part of me that wishes they challenged their own artistic boundaries more than they did. They clearly have the talent and creativity to take it to the next level. Maybe that will come with more touring and experience. With that said, this is one of many highly anticipated releases coming out on Sept. 11 and shows no signs of a sophomore slump.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

KT Tunstall - Drastic Fantastic

KT Tunstall is an artist that I kind of wish never hit the mainstream because I wanted to keep her for myself and potentially use a song in a movie that would have people asking, "Who's singing this song? It's perfect". Well, I found her debut album Eye to the Telescope before it was released stateside, and could immediately tell she was going to be successful. At her core she is a singer-songwriter with pop aspirations. Her mellow acoustic songs allow her to delve deeper into thought provoking songwriting, while her up-tempo pop-rock is catchy and sells records. Little did I think she would reach quite the fame she has until I saw the opening sequence of The Devil Wears Prada (who needs to take acting classes more than Adrian Grenier?) which further catapulted her into the limelight after an 'American Idol' nod by Katherine McPhee (and stole my idea for movie music in the process). Now, the 32-year old Scotswoman is back with her sophomore effort Drastic Fantastic, drawing inspiration from two new "very sexy" guitars cranked to 11. The first half of the album is definitely a pop-rock showcase for these new axes, while the second half is mellow and contemplative in the quintessential singer-songwriter vein. Drastic Fantastic demonstrates what made me like Ms. Tunstall in the first place; she has a wonderful voice capable of many timbres and emotions, as well as catchy melodies that make you want to sing right along with her. It's infectious to hear a musician able to sound both bluesy and exuberant, sometimes in the same song. The first single "Hold On" should be familiar territory for any fan of her single "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" because it is almost the same song. They sound quite similar with the stop-time, shuffle clap rhythm and sassy vocal styling. The other two tracks progressively give a glimpse into the singer-songwriter side of Ms. Tunstall. All in all, the album is enjoyable and will most likely be accepted as a suitable follow-up for an artist that has found a her niche.

R.I.P. Luciano Pavarotti

The classical music world has lost one of its most beloved figures. Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti has died at the age of 71 from pancreatic cancer at his home in Modena, Italy. With a voice like no other, his sincerity, urgency, and transcendent beauty is truly a great loss. Please enjoy 3.5 minutes of goosebumps while watching a performance of "Nessun Dorma"

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Devendra Banhart

Devendra Banhart has been on the outskirts of my musical radar for a few years now, but he had not come to the forefront until I recently listened to his highly anticipated new album Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon due out on Sept. 25 on XL Recordings. He always seemed more on the fringes of indie-folk than another one of my favorites Iron & Wine (probably because of this track #11). Mr. Banhart keeps a firm grasp on that fringe with this new album. I don't mean Devendra isn't accessible, just that he's not as accessible as an Iron & Wine record (The Shepherd's Dog comes out the same day...coincidence?). Mr. Banhart's recordings rarely sound studio polished, his stream-of-consciousness stories can be strange, and his arrangements usually sparse. His songs come in different forms, and he really doesn't cater to label demands. This freedom of expression comes through vividly on the new album as it did on his first XL Recordings release Cripple Crow. Where Cripple Crow marked a departure from his comfort zone, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon seems like a return to form, with a musical vision reborn and manifested in refreshing ways. Smokey sees Devendra ranging from intimate folk tunes to epic electric rock. There is so much raw energy projected through this album that it's worth revisiting Mr. Banhart's back catalog to hear his progression as an artist. For now, enjoy one of the new (maybe more obscure) tracks from Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Rick "Music Guru" Rubin

I happened across the New York Times Magazine this past holiday weekend and had to read the featured article on Rick Rubin and the evolving landscape of the music industry. The article by Lynn Hirschberg glosses over the state of the music industry (complete disarray), and chooses to wrestle with more compelling issues of how Mr. Rubin has been hired to change the landscape as co-head of Columbia Records.

No one can dispute Rick Rubin for being a visionary. Starting Def Jam Records in his N.Y.U. dorm room and teaming up with Russell Simmons before he was old enough to buy beer. Establishing the careers of The Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and revamping the ones of Aerosmith, and Johnny Cash. What becomes increasingly clear through the exposé is that Rubin's most sought after talent isn't his physical production (as he says "I do not know how to work a board. I don't turn knobs. I have no technical ability whatsoever") but rather his seasoned ears and common sense. To put it simply, he is a master Taste Maker. He knows what's good or bad, and can put his finger directly on it without being bashful. In addition, he knows how to turn songs that are alright into ones that are timeless. While my immediate reaction is to say 'anyone could do that' it's not true. Not anyone can do that.

Some people have great taste in music but couldn't see the forest in the trees or vice versa. Some people would bend for the sake of making the artists happy. Musicians, for the most part, need to be challenged to find greatness. The same can be said for Mr. Rubin. At each stage of his career he has had an internal drive to be challenged more and more. Do I think he can save the music industry from itself? Not singlehandedly. Do I think he's the type of mind that can help? Absolutely. He's shrewd, and one of the things I like most is his idea of creating albums not singles.

The main component to his solution is making music a subscription service with a monthly cost, and the customer gets whatever they want that month. But my musical mind asks what the incentive is to shell out the cash for that if the music is still the same only digital. Mr. Rubin wants to create a reason for people to buy records again and explore other avenues besides the iTunes store. Few artists have been in this mode because it's not the way money has been made. In turn, the artists that produce well-rounded albums tend to stand out from the crowd and have longevity. Again as Mr. Rubin states, "you [have to] remember that too many people make and love music for it to ever die. It will never be over. The music will outlast us all."