Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Norah Jones - The Fall

Is Norah Jones boring? I didn't used to think so, now I'm not so sure. She recently released her fourth studio album The Fall. Whose title could be referring to the fall of man, or the autumnal season -- either way it just seems like we've heard it all before. Don't get me wrong the music isn't awful, and the quality of song-writing is still superior to most sultry bluesmen, but it just sounds too familiar. It's like eating a turkey sandwich every day for lunch; when you first have it it's awesome and then it just starts becoming habit and eventually you can predict exactly how it's going to taste no matter how you mix and match the condiments. It's still that 'ol familiar turkey sandwich. Yes, I'm saying Norah Jones is a turkey sandwich. She exploded onto the music landscape with Come Away With Me (2002) that sold millions of copies and made her a mountain of cash, and now seven years later she's still going strong. No controversy...no pop culture stories to really distract from her career...she's dabbled in acting...she's "branched out", etc.

All of this leads us back to The Fall. This is Ms. Jones mixing it up and ordering that same turkey sandwich with everything. She totally changed bands (adding an exceptional list of musicians to back her up: Jacquire King (producer for Kings of Leon, Modest Mouse, and Tom Waits) drummers Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.) and James Gadson (Bill Withers), keyboardist James Poyser (Erykah Badu, Al Green), and guitarists Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello), Smokey Hormel (Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer), Lyle Workman, (Bourgois Tagg), and Peter Aanasoff (Rickie Lee Jones, Tito and Tarantula). Ms. Jones even tried to rock the boat with the cover art, which features a portrait by photographer Autumn de Wilde. All of these changes only makes Norah Jones sound slightly revamped, not entirely new and different. Her powerfully restrained voice is still at the forefront of every song. There are a few more up-tempo songs than people are used to, which is refreshing, but only because it's not heard as often on past albums. Now, she'll most likely go on to make numerous more albums that will all be quite good, but I'd really enjoy her stepping out of her comfort zone even more to at least try and do something really daring and exciting. Even if she fell flat, and was critically panned, at least it wouldn't be boring like eating the same turkey sandwich every day.

The Swell Season - Strict Joy

After winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song (Falling Slowly), Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová practically became household names. In addition to their popularity rising exponentially, their personal romance was speculated and then confirmed as being genuine. It seemed to be a match made for a TV movie. If the songs that were written and performed in the film Once were about them falling in love and finding the spark in each other, then their newest album can only be seen as its antithesis. They are no longer an item (in the romantic sense), but remain artistic partners. I don't think there are as many sure-fire hits on their new album as there was on the Once soundtrack, but there are a few that feel like they will grow on me and age well upon repeated listens.

The thing I find most remarkable is how this album could have even been made. Two people that seemed to fall in love on screen and off someone stayed together in a professional manner to write, sing, and record songs about each other and the emotional stress that they were going through. Even the album title gives the sense of strain and feels like an oxymoron: Strict Joy. Sounds like someone is forcing the other to be happy when they just aren't. Sounds about write when you're singing break-up songs with the person you've broken up with, right? These songs are just as emotional and heartfelt as any of their previous work but also sound more polished from a production standpoint. I still need a few more spins with the entire album, but the first few times through it sounds like The Swell Season are still hitting all the expected emotional and musical chords.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

K'naan - Troubadour

K'naan was "born in Mogadishu, Somalia, just as the civil unrest that rocked the country was beginning, he spent the early years of his life trying to avoid death and listening to the hip-hop records sent to him from America by his father, who had left Somalia earlier. When K'naan was 13, he, his mother, and his two siblings were able to leave their homeland and join relatives in Harlem, where they stayed briefly before moving to Rexdale, Ontario, Canada."(AllMusic Guide). With this as background, it's been an amazing journey for K'naan to rise to prominence in the hip-hop community. Personally, I heard him first on a track off Wale's newest album Attention Deficit titled "TV in the Radio." And then found this feature on NPR with one of their "Desktop Concerts" that is pretty awesome. Pretty much all of his lyrics on his major-label debut Troubadour are influenced by his heritage, upbringing, world view, and remarkable experiences in his home country. It's an amazingly eclectic album that sports some A-list collaborations such as: Damian Marley, Adam Levine (of Maroon 5), Mos Def, Chali 2na, and Kirk Hammett (of Metallica).

The strongest and catchiest songs on the album are: "T.I.A.", "ABC", "Dreamer", "I Come Prepared", "Bang Bang", "Wavin' Flag", "America", "Fatima", and "Take A Minute". You'll noticed I just basically named half the album. This isn't an accident. It's quite a strong album from a relative newcomer. You can basically play a game of trying to hear/name the various musical influences throughout the album. Personally, I don't know a whole lot about many African music stylings or melodic predilections, I just know they are mix and match to form a harmonious and interesting mix. And if you've brushed up on your Somali you'll have a better chance of understanding a few verses on the track "America." But out of all of the songs I think the catchiest and most poignant song is "Take A Minute" with lyrics like, "Any man who knows a thing knows / He knows not a damn, damn thing at all"

Them Crooked Vultures

What happens when you form a band with three certifiable Rock Stars? The short answer is the band Them Crooked Vultures. They are comprised of foot-stomping drummer Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters and Nirvana), guitarist and vocalist Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal), and the one and only bassist John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin...yes, the Led Zeppelin). That sounds like a band whose shitty songs would make most artists' "great" songs pale in comparison, right? Right. This was a project/band that had been in the works for a number of years according to Mr. Grohl who said in a 2005 interview with Mojo magazine that, "the next project I'm trying to initiate involves me on drums, Josh Homme on guitar, and John Paul Jones playing bass. That's the next album. That wouldn't suck." Yeah, you can say that again. One of the many things I like about this album is that it's got a lot of meat on the bone, per se. It's 13 songs and 66 minutes in length. That's a solid amount of music. It also rocks from beginning to end. The songs range in duration from 3+ all the way to almost 8 minutes.

If had to say what the music sounds most like, it would probably be QOTSA just because of Homme's vocals. But what's incredible is how the album sounds like a band that has been playing together for a while. Who knows how much time these guys spent rehearsing songs before recording, but clearly they clicked when the engineer hit record. Pretty much every song has an interesting or great guitar riff, and Grohl's drums are solid and powerful throughout. The wild card is John Paul Jones, who at the age of 63 still knows how to lay down a bass line that grooves and pushes the music to a different level. Album starts off with the somewhat meandering "No One Loves You & Neither Do I" but is a statement for what you're about to experience. And it concludes with "Spinning in Daffodils" that starts off rather tranquil with a piano solo but is quickly subverted by crunching guitars and thumping drums and bass. This album/band is probably amazing to hear live and will hopefully have more US dates when they return from Europe.

John Mayer - Battle Studies

By this point in time John Mayer is most certainly ubiquitous on the pop music landscape. His rise to fame, fortune and tabloid celebrity is well-documented. Most recently, his music hasn't been the most interesting thing about him. He returned to the studio with his blues trio bandmates (Pino Palladino and Steve Jordan) to record his newest album Battle Studies, which was released on 11/17. Firstly, you'll notice the hideous cover art. I hope and pray this picture is tongue-in-cheek, because it's truly awful. The title of the album would lead you to believe this is a concept album about death, war, and bloodshed as told from the perspective of a veteran on his deathbed (wait a second, that is almost an awesome idea for an album....), but it's not.

His "battles" are in the arena of love and loss, and clearly he's been studying them like there's going to be a final exam at the end of the semester. Mr. Mayer is clearly intimately familiar with said battles, when he's not banging everything that walks past him that's a size 6 and under. By all accounts Mr. Mayer is a shrewd guy and knows the position in which his success has placed him. He also has undeniable talent when it comes to songwriting, melody, and bluesy guitar noodling. In my mind, there are three standout tracks on this pretty good album. They are: "Half of My Heart" (with Taylor Swift providing minor backing vocals), "Who Says" (the song that basically says 'fuck you' to critics and the establishment in a pretty flippant way), and "Assassin" (which has a pretty cool kalimba intro, that talks about stealing a girl's heart only to find out the girl had the same agenda). These songs are all well and good, but I'm a blues fan. The fact that Mr. Mayer has put two blues covers on his last two studio albums is interesting.

On Continuum he ripped through "Bold As Love" (made famous by Jimi Hendrix) and on Battle Studies he tries his hand at one of the most famous blues songs ever. "Cross Road Blues" was originally recorded by the great Robert Jonhson in 1937 and made famous when Cream (with Eric Clapton) recorded it as "Crossroads" in 1969. I don't know what Mr Mayer's goal is with recording these blues tunes, but I imagine he's trying to have it both ways. He's trying to maintain the aura of singer-songwriter with the ladies so that his music will still practically makes their clothes fall off, while keeping a toe in the waters of Cooldom with his limited male audience. So that not all guys will say, "my girlfriend likes him, but he's a douchebag," but instead they'll say, "my girlfriend likes him, and I only like him when he's in Blues-Rock mode." It's basically his way of keeping some of his masculinity, which is made further ironic for the fact he's a white guy from Connecticut playing a song written by an African-American from Mississippi. The hammond organ is a nice touch to update the song in a way, and I'm sure if he ever plays it live could easily go on for 10+ minutes.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Samantha Farrell - Luminous

Before the tragic and untimely passing of LeRoi Moore (Dave Matthews Band's horn master), he made a musical discovery that was clearly very special. This gem was evident in the singer's passionate voice, which is smoother than burnished marble. LeRoi saw that "it" quality in Samantha Farrell and was determined to grow and mold her talent into something exceptional. The eventual product is titled Luminous. Completed after LeRoi's death, it was the last thing LeRoi put his golden touch upon/produced, and features a couple all-star horn players (John D'earth and Bobby Read) sitting in on a few tracks. The eleven-track sophomore album by Ms. Farrell is one which after you've listened to the whole thing you're left feeling like your throat should be sore from sitting in a smokey lounge listening to the next Blue Note starlet.

Having been lucky enough to hear some of these songs in their infancy, it's almost striking to hear the finished product for the ways in which they have grown and matured into well-rounded pieces of art. Song growth goes hand-in-hand with maturity of an artist, and it's clear Ms. Farrell has come a long way since her promising debut Spiritus. Known for her exceptional vocal range – only comparable to an opera singer – Sam's vocal acrobatics are clearly more controlled on this sophomore effort thanks to LeRoi's guiding hand. It's my belief that LeRoi gave Samantha a guiding musical vision, with a fixed target, that allowed her to focus her boundless energy and passion.

Luminous demonstrates grace through gracenotes; its jazzy, blues drenched, and folk influenced tunes meld together exceptionally. I sat down with the artist herself to get inside her mind and attempt to understand where some of these exceptional songs came from and how they came to fruition. Samantha enters the small niche coffee shop with an effortless nonchalance, dressed casually but in a Bohemian-chic way. We go back a few years but haven't seen each other in a number of months and her face lights up with excitement after scanning the room and finding me.

EZ: So, thanks for taking the time to chat. I have to say, this new album took my breathe away. I had to listen to it a few times through in succession. I always knew you had this type of fire inside of you.

SF: No problem EZ! Anything for you. You've always been so so supportive and wonderful. I'm so soo glad you like the album. It feels like it took forever just to get to this point and be able to share this with the world.

EZ: I'd like to touch upon a few of my most favorite tunes, if you don't mind.

SF: Sure thing. Shoot.

EZ: The first track, "Fade Away" sets the tone for the whole album and is wonderful tune. Tell me about how it came to be.

SF: Well, I wrote this song on a stop to Virginia whilst driving cross country. I wrote it in Oklahoma of all places. This song is my favorite, and quite possibly the best song I think I've written. Roi loved it so much that he told me that he was going to ship me back to Oklahoma if that [type of song] is what happened when I was there. I'm not entirely sure he wasn't serious!

EZ: Because you loved the song it must have been easy to record.

SF: Actually, this recording I believe, is literally the first take that we ever did. Each instrument was usually tracked piece by piece, but this was a free-wheeling studio miracle that felt like we'd been playing it for 20 years.

EZ: Just hearing you describe it...I feel like I was there. Sounds like such an amazing environment, and one of those totally in-the-moment feelings. Another favorite is just the next track, "Should Have Known Better." Now, I know I've heard at least 3 versions of this song live in various coffee shops and little gigs. But, when it came on, it was like I was hearing it again for the very first time.

SF: You're absolutely right! This might be the 20th version I've done of this song. I'm constantly trying "chase down the sound" on this song. The demo I had of this was the first thing Roi heard and loved when we met.

EZ: Being a Music major in college I had to listen to a lot of Classical music and came to appreciate the cello for its range, versatility, and emotional depth. Clearly we share a passion.

SF: Oh yes. I have loved the cello forever, and I wrote this song with a cello line in mind, not knowing any cello players at the time. Then I met the insanely subtle and talented Keith Tutt. What I enjoy most is the intertwining textures. I love cello and guitar; I feel like it gives weight and soul to a lot of my music.

EZ: Now we have to talk about, what I believe to be, the stand-out track on the album "Another Second Chance." Honestly, I think I listened to this song on a loop for at least 15 minutes. It's not out of character per se, but I think it really demonstrates a leap forward musically for you.

SF: [Laughs] Oh stop it. You're too kind. This is actually a tune I almost left off the album....

EZ: ....No way! It's wonderful...

SF: ...but due to popular demand -- of which I never understood -- it made it on, and continues to be a favorite amongst most who hear it. I'm glad I was vetoed on this one! This is the one song I wrote in Roi's house on his piano; which is odd for two reasons: I was totally out of my mind exhausted from our first round of studio sessions. I woke up from basically a nap, and was still half asleep, but sat at his beautiful piano (have I mentioned I don't play piano?) and just started somehow banging out some rudimentary chords.

EZ: So, this is your sleepy stupor song?

SF: [Laughs] Only kinda. I wrote the whole song in about an hour. It really germinated from a conversation that I had had the previous day with Dr. Roland Wiggins -- music theory professor and thinker of epic proportions -- about never giving up on people, especially underprivileged children, and how it's tragic that it happens in school systems every single day. It sounded like a bit of a gospel tune at first, but I had faith that when the horns were added, it would grow a different vibe...and it did.

EZ: I really enjoy the intertwoven solos on this song.

SF: You and me both! It was amazing to hear D'earth and Read trade solos in the studio. I like that it has a bit of an off-the-cuff live feel.

EZ: Ok. Last song...I promise.

SF: Which one is your pleasure?

EZ: "See You Again" sounds incredibly personal, yet distant. Do you know what I mean? It sounds like you're talking about something specific, like you know exactly what you're after, but may not have found it for good yet.

SF: [Chuckles politely] Yeah...this song has been with me in various pieces for about two years or so. It's about longing for home, both the physical place and the comfortable idea, and about longing for my ever-distant muse. Its presence, or lack thereof, makes its way into a lot of my songs, and this one's no different.

EZ: Well, that was thoroughly enlightening. Thank you so much for sharing not only with me, but your wonderful musical gifts with everyone.

SF: My pleasure EZ!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Slightly Overwhelmed

I never actually thought I'd get to the point where bands would contact me and ask me to consider reviewing their music. Maybe I'm overly modest, but I'm still kinda amazed anyone outside my family or my Facebook "friendship" circle even knows this space exists. So, thank you musicians for trusting your work with me. I still don't think I'm the exposure you're looking for, but I'll do my best to spread the word one way or another.

In the coming days and weeks I'm going to try and give a taste of some new artists who have completed the task of sending me their tunes. While I may not know much about them (if anything) I'll be happy to give my initial impressions.

Kingsbury - Lie To Me EP

Kingsbury sounds like the band you should listen to while driving cross country at dawn right after a really hard rainfall. Ya dig? It's chill and mellow with atmospheric guitars that is akin to Explosions In The Sky without the sweeping crescendos and massive emotional highs and lows. I personally prefer the tracks with vocals over the instrumental stream of conciousness tracks, probably because it's my crazy Western Musician brain that just can't wrap my head around something that isn't in a certain song structure. I think this EP touches on a band that is still trying to hone their identity and sound. That being said, there are moments that are very enjoyable. Overall the EP is hopefully just a small slice of what's to come.

Holy War

Sean Fournier - Oh My EP

Sean was nice enough to contact me himself looking for his music to be heard. I've neglected to take the time to listen to his 6 track EP for the better part of 2 months. Sorry Sean. You deserve better. That's as close as I can do for a public apology. A talented singer-songwriting musician, Sean's music most resembles the likes of Jason Mraz and Damien Rice. It's poppy nature and light-hearted tunes will probably make you believe his tunes would fit nicely on any TV show that Alexandra Patsavas works on. You know the scenes; during the transition that always show the city landscape and sets the mood for what's about to occur. While not mining new territory of relationships, love, longing et al his phrasing and lyrics are quite engaging. His varied use of tracking, different percussion sounds and strings keeps the music interesting. His voice is equally smooth to the company mentioned above and maybe Jack Johnson thrown in -- minus the Hawaiian surfer vibe. I'm interested to see how it evolves and matures.

Put The World On Stop

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Another entry filled with newcomers or soon to be released albums.

MF DOOM - Born Like This

Maybe the most hyped "underground" rapper of the past few years finally returns to reveal something other than a disc of beats or a mixtape. Rumors of impostors aside, this album doesn't sound like it was worth the wait. Anyone hoping for something on the level of Madvillainy will have to keep hoping. There is no new ground covered, nor lines that stick with you well after your initial spins. A few nice tracks are present but otherwise we should keep holding vigil for Madvillainy 2.


The Decemberists - Hazards of Love

This newest release by loquacious Portlander Colin Meloy's band is inspired and named after an Anne Briggs EP. Meloy explained to Paste: "initially conceived as a musical... but I decided about halfway through my time in France that it wasn't going to work as a stage piece. But it would still work as a rock record, so that's where it ended up." Big guitar riffs, heavier than "usual" sound, track names for the sake of themselves, and a story so convoluted you need a map designed by Led Zeppelin to begin to explain it all. Sit back and enjoy the ride a few times because there's no way to digest all this in one sitting.

A Bower Scene

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

Karen O and the band return with their 3rd album and continues to show regression and loss of edge. I've liked YYYs from the beginning when Fever To Tell busted eardrums. Show Your Bones had some enjoyable tracks but still lacked the raw power of the debut. I can barely tell this newest effort is the same band (with minor exceptions). What's with the synth/electronic bullshit? Where are the drums that sounded like the sticks were going to snap in half? Where are the searing guitar lines? Where's Karen O's signature yell/scream-singing? Probably locked away in a sub-basement vault at Interscope.

Dull Life

Art Brut - Art Brut vs. Satan

I recommend checking this album out if you've never heard Art Brut before. It's more "produced sounding than their awesome debut Bang Bang Rock & Roll but manages to draw you in with Eddie Argos telling crazy and interesting stories. They occasionally make you smirk and always make you take notice of the lyrics. With production from Pixies frontman Frank Black the album is crisp and focused.

What A Rush

Rocco DeLuca and the Burden - Mercy

Happened to see these guys on Jay Leno and liked their sound enough to check them out. They have a cool blues-rock sound (when they rock out) and a lead singer that has a very expressive voice. It helps when you have renowned U2 produced Daniel Lanois behind the boards. The guy can probably make garbage sound like it's soaring to new heights. This is quite a good album from a guy that toiled at a residency in California for three years, and now his songs have been featured in the newest season of 24.

Any Man

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Quick Hits

Another long expanse of time has passed. One of these day's I'll be more diligent, but until then I'll keep coming back with more and more music that is currently of interest to me.

The Boy Least Likely To - The Law of the Playground
One of my favorite quirky bands from the U.K. If you missed their first album The Best Party Ever (2005) it's not to late. They return after a few delays to deliver their follow-up filled with the same childish glee, humor, and kiddie instrumentation to the delight of all. I think one of their best traits is being childish and "adult" at the same time.

When Life Gives Me Lemons I Make Lemonade

...And You'll Know Us By the Trail of Dead - The Century of Self
For anyone that knows me, you may be surprised to find out that I really, really like Trail of Dead. Don't let the name scare you away from one of the few bands to have recorded an album that has received a perfect 10/10 from Pitchfork (Source Tags & Codes) in 2002. This is their first album since ST&C to see them free of a click track (and overlord label Interscope); returning to their ambling, free-flowing epic rock roots. You can feel the freedom, even if it's missing the element of nuance. Nevertheless, it's great to be listening to a solid album from the group once again.

Halcyon Days

Mavis Staples - Live: Hope At The Hideout
Mavis Staples is admittedly "before my time" but this live album captures a timeless performer that has lost little, if anything. I'm also a big fan of R&B when it's heavy on juicy blues licks, and that is exactly what Mavis delivers here. Her powerful voice gives me chills at one point in pretty much every song. The backing band featuring guitarist Rick Holmstrom, drummer Stephen Hodges and bassist Jeff Turmes along with a trio of backing vocalists also proceed to kill it.

Will The Circle Be Unbroken

The Dodos - Visiter
Already named one of the best albums of 2008 I somehow missed the boat on this. But, I like to think it's never too late to enjoy great music. Their first official release sees The Dodos harnessing all of their eclectic influences (and there a lot on the album) into an album that is both liberated and joyful to the point you can't help but be swept off your feet.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Theresa and Neko

The creative juices haven't been on the fritz so much as the impetus to actually write. My B yo, my b. You may be curious as to what has been keeping me musically or culturally occupied. The Oscars happened and thankfully finished a shade before Midnight. My personal opinion is that if they want more ratings and want to make the show shorter they need to cut the show down to the "premium" awards; 10 awards tops. That way every award is interesting or the audience actually cares and doesn't lean over to someone and say, "what's the difference between sound mixing and sound editing?" As for music, the montage/medley of the 3 nominated songs was pretty shoddy. You can kinda see why Peter Gabriel told the producers to suck it. As for the winner (Jai Ho) it was definitely the catchiest tune of the three. In addition, if the producers/ABC were looking for ratings it sucked not to have Bruce Springsteen there with the song from The Wrestler that he won a Golden Globe for a few weeks prior. I won't get into the awards because at this point it's "old news." I will say, however, Dustin Lance Black gave the best speech of the evening after winning Best Original Screenplay.

In other news, I've been listening to Theresa Andersson's newest album Hummingbird, Go! mainly because I saw her one recent night on Conan before he started his move to L.A. She's literally a one-woman band. Performing barefoot on a carpet with loop pedals, violin, tambourine, multiple vocal tracks, guitar, keyboard, etc. It was really cool to see on TV. She has one of those voices that comes from a previous time period that makes you think the music is older or vintage but it's not. I was forced to classify her music to a person riding in my car the other day and I said, "Indie-Folk." That's about as good as I could do. On her MySpace it says Indie/Soul. So, I can also see that fitting in as well. The album as a whole is really a joy to listen to, and at 40 minutes you'll be pressing repeat before you know it. While this isn't her debut album, it certainly should bring her a bit closer to the edge of an Indie spotlight. She's been featured as the Song of the Day on NPR (high praise among the white-upper-middle class dorks such as myself), and various other noteworthy places that I won't note here. Interestingly, the album was recorded in Andersson's kitchen utilizing some familiar objects as instruments along the way. While her voice isn't powerful she fills in the gaps with great ease.

How much do I love Neko Case? Now, this is a girl with a voice that fills a room. Her upcoming album is her studio follow-up to 2006's Fox Confessor Bring the Flood and is called Middle Cyclone. The cover art is probably one of the best of the year so far, featuring Case perched on the hood of a Mercury Cougar in a short dress wielding a sword. Talk about Woman Power. The album is incredibly enjoyable especially the few tracks with a self-described "piano orchestra." This idea came about when Case bought a piece of property in Vermont with an abandoned barn, and decided the barn would be a great place to record. She and her band then set out to find as many free pianos on Craigslist as possible. They ended up with eight usable pianos. And if you know anything about pianos, they're not all the same. Depending on age, type of wood, size, etc. they have unique sounds and timbres. When you can get eight different ones in a huge room (barn) it must sound pretty awesome. Showcased on the track below. The sounds exactly as you have come to expect and adore. It has ballads mixed with mid-tempo tunes and a few that are a bit more alt-country rockin' to match the cover art.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You

I've been enamored with Lily Allen for a few years now. I've seen her live numerous times. I've seen her perform really well. I've seen her perform really really poorly. Along the way she has gained a serious following while also gaining a reputation with the paparazzi in her native UK for being a bit of a party animal. A recent feature in the NY Times attempts to put that image of her in the past. I'm even tempted to believe that she has reformed and loves a quiet evening alone in her flat. I suppose she had to prove she could live in a way worthy to her saucy, in-your-face lyrics. She is still really the only pop star that manages to put intelligent/interesting/funny spins on relationships in the female point of view. And when you get down to it her songs are ridiculously catchy and danceable. She basically became a genre onto herself. She sold 2.5 million copies of her debut Alright, Still and all of a sudden there was a deluge of female pop singers that tried to be sassy and creative in the Lily Allen mold. Essentially, Katy Perry should be giving 1/3rd of her royalties to Lily Allen.

Where her first album was heavy on the horns and driving, rocking tunes her new album shows a slightly different approach. This new tone and approach is largely attributed to producer Greg Kurstin (the Bird and the Bee). It's Not Me, It's You is listenable from front to back and quite enjoyable. Any fan of Allen's will be happy to know this album sounds fresh and not like a bunch of regurgitated songs. Kurstin has definitely opened up her ears musically. The influences on the album are quite eclectic, ranging from bubble-gum electro to Eurodisco, and, in a surprising twist, to a spaghetti-Westernized synth pop ditty called "Not Fair." It's an unexpected change from an artist that has made a living crafting a certain type of song. Yet, most songs keep their dance floor sensibility. Overall, the album doesn't have quite the bite as her debut, but that is probably because I have been numbed to the point where I expect her lyrics to be provocative about love, sex, and all the nitty details. When she sings, "Oh, I lie here in a wet patch/In the middle of the bed/I'm feeling pretty damn hard done by/I spent ages giving head" I'm not taken aback. I have a slight smirk and nod my head, because I would be disappointed if she wasn't singing lyrics like that.

Not Fair

Monday, February 09, 2009

What You've Missed

Jeeeeeeeesus it's been a while. For all those waiting anxiously to hear from me, I apologize once again. I'm going to try and stuff a lot of thoughts and music into this post so that I can feel like I've "caught up," which will hopefully keep the torches and pitchforks at bay a little bit longer.

There has been quite a bit of great music released already in the year 2009 which will probably show up on people's Best of 2009 lists. Am I jumping to conclusions? Yes. But I've done so with the help of THIS. I promise that at least 50% of the music I mention below will be praised and praised and praised again 10-11 months from now.

Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

Andrew Bird returns with his follow up to Armchair Apocrypha (2007) with another album that showcases his multi-instrumental talents as well as all the pizzicato your heart desires. It is a splendid album that I think is more dynamic than his previous effort. It also proves further that his hyper-literate nature is profitable so long as its reigned in and comes with a great melody. He is sure to only gain more and more exposure with tracks like "Oh No" and "Fitz and the Dizzyspells".


Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

I've been listening to Animal Collective since I was introduced to their albums Sung Tongs (2004) and Feels (2005) a few years ago. At the time they were way out of the scope of my normal listening rotation and never delved into their catalogue except in passing. They have a distinct sound that truly is unique. I don't throw around that term very often, but when you listen to Animal Collective you're left with no other suitable adjective to describe their sound. Because of this fact it's hard to get "into" the band if you're the least bit put off by 9+ minute songs that consist of layered vocals, synths, pulse, meeps, skeeps, and occasional creeps. On their eighth studio album they hit it out of the park. It is by far their most accessible album, and most cohesive. It is never dull and has to be listened to beginning to end in order to gain full appreciation for its mastery.

Brother Sport

Antony & The Johnsons - The Crying Light

Antony & The Johnsons came to my knowledge with their seminal album I Am a Bird Now (2005). Being a vocalist for a number of years I appreciate a great voice when I hear one. The ultimate evaluation for me is The Goosebump Test. This is exactly what it sounds like. As corny as it is a great vocalist brings goosebumps to my arms and has such a timbre and tone that is unmistakable. Antony Hegarty has one of those voices. It's like no one else but also possesses an emotional resonance that is usually only found in opera singers if they're lucky. The first single may bring tears to your eyes, and I have no doubt you will hear it in a depressing/sad movie sometime in the next 18 months.

Another World

***These Next Couple Albums Have Yet To Be Officially Released***

M. Ward - Hold Time

Fresh off his gig with Zooey Deschanel, M. Ward returns with his follow-up to Post-War (2006). This new album shows influences from his time with Deschanel which is not necessarily a bad thing. The melodies and rhythms are familiar and catchy. The songs are relatively short and compact. There is still M. Ward's great guitar work as well as pulsing pianos, multi-tracked vocals, timpani and string flourishes. If there is something different it's M. Ward's mood. There are bursts of a sunnier disposition that is in contrast to his usual melancholy loneliness. Hold Time is another step forward for an artist that is inching closer and closer to the limelight.

Never Had Nobody Like You

Beirut - March of the Zapotec / Realpeople Holland

This double EP was leaked early and was later added to iTunes for a digital release back in January, but it's physical release will come on February 17th. It's two totally disparate works that show the range of Zach Condon. He gets backing help on March of the Zapotec from The Jimenez Band, a 19-piece band. This EP is inspired by his trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. The Realpeople Holland EP is remarkably different since it's electronic and has virtually no live instrumentation. Listening to these EPs next to each other is pretty great and can really hear the talent and artistry of a musician with a lot of influences and ideas. I liken this to when Bright Eyes released I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn on the same day back in 2005. Two totally different albums that stand up nicely by themselves. Personally, I think Realpeople Holland is more interesting because it's more of a departure for Beirut as an artist and what we're used to hearing from him.

My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille