Other Music is our friend. They unveiled an inaugural collection of vinyl and CDs at Ace Hotel NYC in February. Now they’ve sent forth another to make our lives even better. Here’s what they have to say about their latest collection:
The Drums have been tearing the blogs up since mid-2009, and have quickly become New York’s most buzzed about indie-pop band, garnering fans worldwide with their songs and converting the masses with their stellar live shows. Their faces (and phenomenal ’80s hair) have been on the cover of the NME, and they have been touted as 2010’s best new band, resulting in a furious worldwide tour and an A&R bidding frenzy. Well, what does the album sound like? Summertime is a gloriously joyous romp through C86 pop and the early Factory and Postcard Records sounds. Think the Wake, the Smiths, Orange Juice and contemporaries like Tough Alliance, Legends, and pretty much any band on Slumberland. “Don’t Be a Jerk, Jonny” is probably the most twee track that I’ve heard in a long time; with its Casio drum beat, boy/girl vocal, and ultra-catchy chorus, it brings a smile to my face every time it comes on the iPod. “Let’s Go Surfing” is a sunny California jam that evokes the Wake at their best — it’s a great tune, and the obvious single that has had the masses drooling since it was released. Summertime is filled with seven great songs that will have you longing for fun times, ocean waves, and summer sun.
It’s not like MGMT have made an entirely radical shift for their sophomore album, but they are no doubt approaching their arty pop from a pretty different angle, and likely will gain quite a few new fans — and perhaps lose many more — from the change-up. This Brooklyn duo made good on their major-label deal with a couple of glammy electro-pop singles that carried the Dave Fridmann-produced debut Oracular Spectacular far up the charts, selling millions and making this odd art-school band mainstream stars. Rather than sticking to their base and producing a couple more alterna-radio-friendly singles that would secure the band’s stadium status, MGMT have delivered a single-free psychedelic pop album that is so enjoyable, it’s hard to put any motives on its creation beyond simple inspiration. Produced by Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom, with tribute songs to both the Television Personalities (“Song for Dan Treacy”) and Brian Eno (“Brian Eno”), a guest vocal shot from Royal Trux’s Jennifer Herrema — there is no doubt that this is fan rock, and these fans wear their influences on their sleeves. More than anything, MGMT are drawing on a love for fragile ’60s and ’70s U.K. art rock, from Barrett-era Pink Floyd to Bowie to the TVPs, and they have crafted a charmingly homespun album that is a great addition to the canon. Sonic Boom’s production is front and center here, and the album has a rich and hazy sound, obsessively orchestrated with bubbling synths, spindly acoustic guitar, trembling strings, trilling flutes, dense vocal choruses, loads of reverb, and a wonderfully thin drum and bass sound. And the songs? Well indeed there may be no pop “hits” here, but there are plenty of hooks; these tunes are packed with twists and turns and overflowing with ideas. Limited edition LP version is also packaged with a “scratch-off” cover and include a special MGMT coin to do the scratching.
“When the café doors exploded / I reacted to, reacted to you,” Ted Leo cries on “The Mighty Sparrow” to kick start a heady fusion of politics and amour, its provenance seemingly derived from the Clash school of sonic polemics. If that one hits you from jump like a Molotov cocktail, the restless, on-verge-of-anarchic energy never relents straight through “Ativan Eyes” — points for its optimistic declaration that the “means of production are now in the hands of the workers” (yes, but…). Yet just as much will be made of the disc title’s reference to postwar architectural movement Brutalism, the fourth cut first signals sharper scrutiny, when the mood shifts behind the uproar on “Even Heroes Have to Die.” This is the rare song about aging with grace rather than denial and horror amidst indie’s nonstop Adventureland, deftly deploying Brutalism’s revelation of interior structure and function via raw exteriors. Far too many of Leo’s peers ought to be made to heed his lyric, “Even heroes have to die / No one lives forever / No one’s wise to try,” and adopt it as personal mantra.
After barreling out of the gate with a couple of highly coveted singles, Dee Dee Dum Dum and her Dum Dum Girls makes a power move with this debut full-length for Sub Pop. While the buzzing immediacy and candy-coated appeal of the early singles was unmistakable, one had to wonder if the foundation would hold under the scrutiny of the album format. Like the first singles, I Will Be was recorded mostly solo by Dee Dee and then sent off to producer Richard Gottehrer (Blondie/Go-Go’s, etc.) for a coat of polish. What comes out is a surprisingly mid-fi mix of noisier JAMC janglepop burners and slow-simmering odes to the Spector-era of girl groups. Beyond the spiritual debt to the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las, there’s an ethereal, shimmering vibe in the production of some of these tracks that conjures a post-4AD/Cherry Red state-of-mind that I love to be in. But for all the nods to classic pop, there’s a sparing touch here that makes it more than just another Raveonettes-style exercise in fastidious reconstruction. Look, I know there are a lot of manufacturers flooding the market with similar models at the moment, but don’t be fooled by cheap imposter four-trackers — this is real deal songwriting packed with actual, discernible hooks, feelings, and a voice that can really sing.
The West Coast has always had a vibrant R&B and soul scene, dating back to the massive black and Latino migration of the post-war late ’40s, and considering that there wasn’t a shortage of entrepreneurs, recording studios or clubs to play around in Los Angeles, you’d think that that was where most of the music would come from. But funk was mainly a Northern Cali thing and most of the songs on here tell the tale of the vibrant scene emanating out of Oakland and San Francisco, circa ‘66-‘76. Artists like Tower of Power, Charles Wright, Sly & the Family Stone and War gained the notoriety and fame, but this collection holds the rest of the story. Highlights include: “Get It Right,” a reverbed, furious, funky ode to pimpin’ by Rhon Silva a/k/a Fillmore Slim (one of the most notorious pimps of the ’70s), as well as LA Bare Faxx’s “Super Cool Brother,” “What Goes Around Comes Around” from Arthur Monday, and Apple & the Three Oranges’ “Curse Upon the World” — these three songs being streetwise, cautionary tales fueled by a rising black consciousness and simmering anger reflecting the atmosphere that gave birth to the Black Panther movement in Oakland. If you like your funk rugged-n-raw, here it is on California Funk and it’s cheaper than the thousands of dollars you’d have to drop for one OG 45 collected here.
Volume Two picks up pretty much where Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s first album left off, in the gentle throes of early-‘60’s country-pop purism, crafting effortlessly retro nuggets of joyful abandon for those of you with the self-possession to admit that the indie-film starlet actually writes and sings better than most of the “musicians” you love to crow about. Front to back, this may not be quite as strong an album as the debut was (no big surprise, as Deschanel had years to write the songs that made it onto Volume One), and the new one might be a bit “cuter” than the first. But the highlights shine even brighter, like the debut single “In the Sun,” set opener “Thieves,” and a pitch-perfect take on Skeeter Davis’ “Gonna Get Along without You Now.” And Ward has really stepped up to the plate, with warm and wonderful orchestration and more than a few heart-tugging star turns on the guitar. The power of this duo comes from the juxtaposition of the relentlessly perky blue-eyed starlet and the dark and gruff axe-slinger, the hopeful love-struck tone of many lyrics with the minor-key melancholy of the music, or with a simple flip the soaring joy of the music against the loneliness of the lyrics. Remarkably, for a duo who each have so much going for themselves, and seemingly so little in common, She & Him have found a sweet harmony together that is more than the sum of its parts.
Almost to a fault, Freelance Whales have ingested the past five or 10 years of indie rock, taking cues from Sufjan Stevens’ rustic but intricate arrangements and Arcade Fire’s flair for the dramatic, not to mention the ebullient full-band harmonies that both of these artists (and every other band these days it seems) employ. Add to this some gurgling electronics and a witty lead singer who possesses the voice of Ben Gibbard, and you get more than a few moments where you can almost imagine the Postal Service setting up shop in a barn. But it’s the songs themselves that make you forget what you already know, from the gorgeous heartbreak-melancholy of “Location” to the irresistible quirky pop charms of “Kilojoules,” complete with handclaps and shimmering glockenspiels. While this is not a record for jaded, heard-it-all-before listeners, indie pop lovers and open-minded fans of the aforementioned have just discovered their soundtrack to usher in the summer.
There’s been a good deal of buzz surrounding Ernest Green’s Washed Out project, and deservedly so. In the humble opinion of this listener, Green is responsible for what is one of the most effortlessly refreshing, infectious records of the year. Much has been made of Green’s music; Pitchfork described it as “bedroom synthpop that sounds blurred and woozily evocative, like someone smeared Vaseline all over an early OMD demo tape,” and that’s not far off. Another way to sum up tracks like “New Theory” and “Hold Out” might be to say this is what Cut Copy might sound like if they intended to soundtrack 5AM instead of 1AM. Some tracks wallow in a sweet teen nostalgia, a John Hughes movie feeling that you’ll always be safe, protected in a cocoon of hazy, high daydreams and good friends, while the world outside your window is for nothing if not benign mischief, all night adventures and romantic discovery. Ultimately, it all inevitably leads to watching the sun come up over a bright and smoggy LA morning. Yes, Washed Out is evocative of such a world.
The folks at Now Again Records have done a great service not only to those with the hunger, but also for those who have worshipped at Fela’s altar for some time now; with Black Man’s Cry, we get a beautiful package of music both inspiring and inspired by Fela, including many unlikely covers of Fela’s music from around the world, including Nigeria, Ghana, Colombia, Trinidad, and Munich. This set is overflowing with rock-solid grooves that dabble in cumbia, highlife, steelpan calypso, and even a bit of contemporary funk. What’s most refreshing about this collection is that in hearing some of Fela’s most popular tunes completely rearranged into newcontexts, one gets strong ideas not only of the power of his message, but also of the power of his musicianship and songwriting talents. Whether played on a saxophone, a steel drum, or simply with the human voice, his melodies ring through loud and clear, and these tunes can be recognized from miles away regardless of the cultural dress in which they dance. There isn’t a duff track in the set; this record is the definition of “all killer, no filler”, and the packaging is lovely, with detailed liner notes by producer and compiler Egon, plenty of great photos of both Fela and his wives, and the many records and bands featured inside. Best of all, the whole thing has been given the blessing of Fela’s estate. All you need to know is that if you like funky African music, you should probably buy this. We all need a little inspiration in our lives.
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