Other Music curates selections of vinyl and CDs for Ace Hotel New York, and this is their latest collection for us. You can come check it out for yourself — everything’s for sale on the wall, just to the right of the taxidermy birds. If you want something good to play in your room and take home with you, just call the front desk and they’ll send some things up.
ARCADE FIRE — THE SUBURBS
The Suburbs is Arcade Fire ‘s third full-length for Merge Records, and it is their best work yet. The songs muse on modern life seen through the prism of youth, and then adulthood, spent in sprawling faceless suburbs, as most lives seem to be spent these days. Win Butler manages to approach the subject with a thoughtfulness that asks more questions than it tries to answer — he wants to see the soul-numbing sprawl shaken to its foundation, but he also wants children and family and a steady job and a safe place to lay his head, and despite his high moral standards, he knows that real life is often built on sacrifice.
The themes, while heady and ambitious, are not nearly as bombastic as those on the group’s 2007 colossus Neon Bible, and the music also reflects this more measured approach. Arcade Fire will always be a sweeping, epic band, and the sound here is closer to stadium standards from Bruce Springsteen and U2 than any modest indie trifle. But The Suburbs has stepped back from the dense orchestration of that last record, in favor of the raw beauty of a great band hitting a great groove, with piano chords, strummed guitars, and lock-step drums holding most of this thing together; understated keyboard and guitar flourishes set the mood and create depth and texture while Butler and Chassagne’s subtle, infectious melodies guide the group well beyond the dull workaday life, up up and away into the stars.
NITE JEWEL — AM I REAL?
Ramona Gonzalez aka Nite Jewel returns with an excellent six-track EP that successfully expands upon the neon funk haze of her Good Evening album, and also happens to include some of her best songs yet. Am I Real? finds Gonzalez stepping forward with a clearer, more assured version of her blurred, cosmic funk, eschewing much of the tape hiss for a more muscular yet still delicate sound. She still retains some of the AM radio wizardry practiced by peers Ariel Pink and Pearl Harbor, but she’s on another wavelength here; she taps into the work of Anna Domino, Linda Perhacs, Cluster, and new-school funkateers like Dam-Funk (with whom she has been collaborating for a forthcoming release) for inspiration while never sounding explicitly like any of them. While a few of the tracks (“Another Horizon” and “Falling Far”) are transitional pieces from the Good Evening era, the strongest songs here, like “We Want Our Things” and “White Lies,” feature more complex structures and stronger vocal cadences that display Ramona’s confidence and talent for combining funk, Krautrock, and new age (yes, you read that right) music into something personal and more unique than the eight dozen chillwave Slurpees you’ve been sucking on all summer. Record closer “Am I Real?” is what really brings the goods, though; the title cut features gorgeous multi-tracked vocal harmonies, a muscular, popping bass-led groove, and even a guitar solo (!) that adds up to be the greatest Nite Jewel song yet released.
!!! — STRANGE WEATHER, ISN’T IT?
After a period of relative quiet from this NYC punk-funk institution, which found the band going through a series of potentially crippling lineup changes and assorted strife, !!! are back, and they continue to grow and transcend expectations. Myth Takes from 2007 brought both a heavier sound and a more refined vocal aesthetic to the group’s productions, and Strange Weather, Isn’t It? loses some of the former, adds a bit of the latter, and is an even stronger record still. Everything that worked in past !!! releases remains intact. The soulful, catchy vocals by Nic Offer (often pushing his lower register here) and Shannon Funchess drive home choruses with unforgiving persistence. The rhythm section still maintains a bass to the face attitude with their singular percussive swagger. The band calls this album their Berlin record (some of it was in fact recorded in the infamous German music hotbed), so expect some darker shadows lurking in the production. Behind the scenes strings, spacey dub production, and truckloads of disco-funk synthesizers make this the most club-friendly !!! record to date, yet despite losing some of the last record’s rock edge, the musical references extend well beyond traditional dance club sounds. At times, like in “Jamie, My Intentions are Bass,” the record begs comparisons to the Stone Roses or the Happy Mondays, at times these could be outtakes from the Rolling Stones disco era, yet still other songs like “Even Judas Gave Jesus a Kiss” and “The Most Certain Sure” would be right at home on contemporary DFA 12”s. There is a lot going on here, and I can guarantee that we will be hearing this record for the rest of this year, and in my opinion, that’s a good thing.
JENNY AND JOHNNY — I’M HAVING FUN NOW
Jenny Lewis and boyfriend Jonathan Rice have already worked together in many capacities, co-writing many songs that have appeared on both Lewis’ and Rice’s previous solo efforts, touring, recording and collaborating in many different groups and configurations. But this is their first co-headlining gig, and the couple celebrate with a dose of lovelorn bubblegum on I’m Having Fun Now, an AM radio-inspired pop album that indeed sounds like a fun change of pace, and finds Lewis hanging up her Acid Tongue, at least for the moment. While her alt-country, non-Rilo Kiley output had many great moments, I secretly wished that she would backtrack to the days when RK still played songs like “The Frug.” Though still plenty stomping, I’m Having Fun Now leans toward that kind of levity, celebrating the joys of being poor and being in love with sharp Tom Petty guitar riffs and a cruising down the highway attitude. “Straight Edge of the Blade” throws both Rice and Lewis’ voices together into one big howl over a surfy lick, while the exceptional “Slavedriver” sounds like something Beck tossed out of his car window in 1998. Jenny & Johnny are having fun, I’m having a ton of fun right now listening to this record, and you should, too.
SERGE GAINSBOURG & JANE BIRKIN — JE T’AIME, MOI NON PLUS
Chances are, even if you’re not familiar with Serge Gainsbourg, you’ve probably heard “Je T’aime, Moi Non Plus,” his controversial 1969 duet with lover Jane Birkin. The song was his first international hit, courting controversy due to Birkin’s simulated orgasm in the song’s coda and its subsequent banning by the BBC, topping charts in France, Japan, and the UK, and even gaining underground cult status in the USA, where it appropriately peaked at, of course, #69. It was the soundtrack to countless baby-making sessions across the globe, and has been covered by countless musicians, featured in numerous films, and has become Gainsbourg’s signature tune to many. Light in the Attic offers up this first American reissue of the album which quickly followed in the single’s wake, a compilation of new tunes sung by both Birkin and Gainsbourg, a few Serge-sung versions of ye-ye pop songs originally written for France Gall, Francoise Hardy, and Anna Karina, and one hell of a stoned church-funk jam based upon a Chopin prelude (that’d be the epic “Jane B”). We also get new liners and a bonus track, the couple’s first recorded duet (the sultry, classic “Chanson De Slogan,” which was the theme tune to the film on which the couple first met and fell in love). This is the sound of Gainsbourg’s love for Birkin being immortalized on wax for all to hear; their creative partnership would go on to last long after their romantic relationship had fallen apart in the late 1970s, and the songs recorded here would plant the seeds that would be creatively sewed on Gainsbourg’s historic L’Histoire De Melody Nelson album a few years later in 1971. It’s an essential chapter in not only Gainsbourg’s discography, but in the story of French pop.
VARIOUS ARTISTS — AFRO-BEAT AIRWAYS
The always-solid Analog Africa label have outdone themselves with this one -– Afro-Beat Airways was borne out of an extended layover that Analog Africa curator Samy Redjeb took in Accra, Ghana. While there he met up with legendary Afrobeat producer Dick Essilfie-Bonzie who had just digitized his production output from the ’70s in an effort to produce compilations of his music, and he allowed Redjeb to take his box of recordings and sift through them, copying what he wanted! A year later Essilfie-Bonzie decided to give up his store and studio, and he gave Redjeb access to the master tapes. Lucky for us, Redjeb seized the opportunity to put together this collection, which features his favorite songs from that initial listening session. There are nothing but highlights here, but if hard-pressed to name a few I think that one should probably start with the frenetic psychedelic Moog-stomper “More” by Rob & Mag-2, who consisted of an eccentric, enigmatic frontman backed by a state-funded military band. You’ll also want to check out the raw garage sound of the Togo-based band Cos-ber-Zam’s lone hit “Ne Noya,” which boasts one of the best (slightly outta tune) Vox organ solos probably ever recorded. “Ngyegye No So,” by African Brothers, is another track not to be missed, featuring a rugged, classic-sounding Afrobeat groove with infectious call-and-response vocals and a relentless rhythm section that feels just about perfect right now.
Props also go out to Redjeb for going the extra distance by finding the original artists and interviewing them so that they can tell their own stories about the music in the extensive liner notes. Through them, you hear of a vibrant and musically rich music scene that was a lot more sophisticated and influential than many people think. Like Fela, many of these musicians were classically trained guys who studied abroad and brought those influences back to Africa, and were fully aware of how groundbreaking the music they created was.
Other Music are our friends. They curate selections of vinyl and CDs for the front desk marketplace at Ace New York, and this is their latest collection. You can come check it out for yourself — everything’s up on the wall by the taxidermy. If you come stay and want something good to play in your room, just call the front desk and they’ll send some things up. Here’s what OM have to say about their new favorites:
DANGER MOUSE/SPARKLEHORSE - DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
This official release comes a year later than anybody intended, with much water under the bridge, yet it allows us a fresh perspective on what brought Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse together in the first place: blasted pop songs, featuring a corral bursting with some of this generation’s great vocalists. With a guest list that includes Wayne Coyne, Julian Casablancas, the late Chesnutt, Suzanne Vega, Iggy Pop, Jason Lytle, James Mercer, David Lynch, Gruff Rhys, Nina Persson, and Black Francis, it’s tough to go wrong. Each song takes on the additional burden of seeming “of a piece” with the whole concept of the album, while being composed of singers who are, to say the least, individualistic and stylistically at odds. Linkous’ glitch-pocked alt-country turns out to be the perfect kind of loose thread that wraps everything together. Combining shimmering, tremolo-heavy electric guitars and otherworldly analog static with digital hiss, Linkous and Danger Mouse create a rough-hewn texture that molds itself comfortably around crooners like Coyne, throat scratchers like Casablancas, and angels like Vega. The lush string arrangement serves as a mirror to Coyne’s voice on opener “Revenge,” while a loping loner’s shuffle accompanies Super Furry Animals’ frontman Rhys fittingly down the road of “Just War.” In my mind, the nicest surprises come from the women of the record, with Vega and Perrson (of the Cardigans) both delivering performances that are genuine and warm-spirited.
WOLF PARADE - EXPO 86
Sometimes it can be hard to define the things that make a band. At this point, trying to quantify the past and present projects with Wolf Parade ties can be a strain on the brain. Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner, the two main songwriting forces behind the Parade, have been just as prolific with their other projects as they have their better-known band. In light of increased exposure to these disparate groups, Wolf Parade starts to emerge as a precarious balancing act — one that stands and falls by how well these opposing forces can work together to spark a greater whole. Fortunately, the group sounds more like a band than they ever have here. From the start, the band have always pulled as much from art-rock and prog-rock (Bowie/Eno/Roxy) as heartland classic rock (Springsteen/Petty), creating eccentric anthems for a future breed. They keep the pillars firmly in place here, but the album benefits from better sequencing and a more seamless integration of Krug and Boeckner’s voices than we’ve previously heard. Most importantly, the band sounds absolutely on fire, coming closer than they’ve ever managed to approximating the feverish intensity of their live show thanks to drummer Arlen Thompson’s bombastic production (and tub-thumping!). For my money this band has always done the art-damaged modern anthem better than both the Arcade Fire-spawned theater troupes or the neo-Springsteen devil-in-blue-jeans contenders. Look no further than “What Did My Lover Say (It Always Had to Go This Way)” for proof of all this band’s legion rock and roll powers at work simultaneously. When was the last time an indie record sounded good cranked?
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.
Ryan Huber of Context invited Cultural Engineer and Curator for Ace Hotel New York, Jou-Yie Chou, Andrea Westerlind of the Swedish Outdoor brand Fjällräven, Annemarie Ahearn of Salt Water Farm and his friend and Wisconsin native, Colin K. Hughes of The Institute of Transportation & Development Policy out to Madison this February to get a taste of winters in the Midwest and the local sensibilities and delicacies involving good local beer, local cheese, new friends, old friends, cheese curds, whiskey and the promise of some fishing on frozen lakes in the great outdoors. What ensued in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the Porcupine Mountains (The Porkies) was much of that and a little more; minus the fish. Here are some pictures. Read the full story on Context’s Eye to Eye.
We also have a special backpack exclusive with Fjällräven — the Mudd colored Kanken pack. It might be better suited to city, or even light country, rambling. But it certainly makes itself useful.