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.