Archive | May, 2010

“you wanted a hit…”

31 May

How does it sound?

“gay stuff. disco. bored people. a poorly executed fist-fight. sandwiches without too much meat and stuff on them. records that you used to hate but are kind of cool now that you heard them again years later at your friend’s house. hipster nonsense. midrange, and not so much bass-and-treble. an engine that needs the timing looked at and is running at capacity. a band.” – LOL! This is what the band claims to be on their official myspace profile. What’s the name of the band? LCD Soundsystem.

I’ll be honest. I knew nothing about the band except the fact that their single (Drunk Girls) is broadcasted 10.000 times a day in the radio and I already hate it. What else did I know? Basically nothing – I never got curious, sounded very British to me (not that a “British sound” is such a disadvantage but, ya know, I’m raised on American music ;-)), sounded actually pretty boring and too much pop. But – I judged on listening to one song only and, of course, that’s never a good idea. So I decided to give it a shot and listen to the whole album which was released in Europe more or less two weeks ago. The title of the album? This Is Happening.

And hell it is happening! It’s a pretty experimental, very melodic, very rhythmical piece. I was very surprised and it actually is one of the most positive surprises of the last month. I don’t know how should I call it, what should I compare it to. It definitely is electronic. Sometimes it’s naïve – a bit college-like (All I Want). Sometimes it’s noisy. Sometimes it’s very much influenced by most important artists of the electronic music, e.g. the legendary New Order (Can Change). Sometimes it’s kinda… “frugal” when it comes to sounds but still gives you a trance-like experience, which reminds me of early Aphex Twin (You Wanted a Hit). And rock influences? Well, to me it sounds as if Modest Mouse turned out to be more electro than rock. All in all – a great album, fresh music, lots of “air” in between few melodic lines, not too many sounds – this album is actually breathing! (If I can say something so new age as this, lol). This is happening is something I will definitely listen to for a long time in the future.

Just as an example – the first track of the album – and, please, please, please, don’t listen to Drunk Girls 😉

P.S. James Murphy is actually a great vocalist. Not knowing anything about LCD Soundsystem, I used to listen to one of the songs in which he sings – and, damn, I was listening to it several times a day! Huh! Wanna give it a shot?

And just to finish this post, I’ll quote Murphy himself, from the newest album of LCD Soundsystem…
“You wanted a hit
But maybe we don’t do hits
I try and try
It ends up feeling kind of wrong”

1980s, the Philippines and too many divas

29 May

Phew! I had a hard time listening to the concept album issued this year by David Byrne, the legend of the Talking Heads, and Fatboy Slim, the UK dancefloor king. This is a concept album which tells the story of the former First Lady of the Philippines compiled in 22 songs sung by various, mainly female, artists. And until now I don’t know if it’s too exotic to me or just a failure.

Some of the pieces are great. I was very surprised with the comeback of Cyndi Lauper whom, basically, I never appreciated (she annoyed me as hell, like most of the divas of the 1980s), but – I gotta admit – she is absolutely great here. She performs two songs on the album, one of which is a duet with Tori Amos (Why Don’t You Love Me?). Lauper fits the mood and the character of the album perfectly. Her slightly flat voice, even though thoroughly “Western”, reminds me of pop songs of the Far East. The music also tries to evoke the sounds of the Philippines – and here’s a major question: does it? Cause I had a constant feeling that this is how Eastern Asian music sounds when a white ear listens to it. This is not really an insight into a different culture, it is how we – the white people – IMAGINE different cultures. I’m not expecting something extremely oriental and I’m not a professional in the genre of Asian music but I guess taking any kind of a compilation issued either by National Geographic or the Rough Guides would make me much more satisfied than the album of David Byrne/Fatboy Slim. And, even if you find my statement funny or utterly proud, note that such anthologies often include some examples of the local pop/rock scene, so it doesn’t mean that it’s folk and ethno only. Sadly, I have heard much better and much more interesting, breathtaking things thanks to the Rough Guides’ anthologies than I heard on Here Lies Love.

I would be totally cruel and unjust, if I didn’t mention the fact that most of the songs are absolutely lovely – totally sweet, delicate melodies, most of them sung by great voices. It’s a CD that is easy to like. Relaxing, warm music. There is some taste of the 1980s in it but it’s elegant and tasteful. The first disappointment, however, goes with the fact that it’s… well… too elegant and too tasteful. You can’t feel any of the passion that you know from other records of David Byrne. And Fatboy Slim’s input seems highly diminished, as if the guy would be just terrified of working with Byrne, who, after all, is a legendary artist. I don’t know what happened to both of them but the electro-side of the album is very weak, perhaps intentionally naïve and plain, however, even though in the beginning it can make you curious, after 22 songs you just feel completely bored and exhausted.

The voices are a different story. Some of them are fantastic but just do not fit the whole – I was pretty disappointed with Tori Amos’ performance, she is, after all, one of the artists which I value really high. Here she just doesn’t fit the music, her voice is too hysterical, too trembling, she is not able to deal with the character of the music and the music itself does nothing to support her. Most of the vocalists sing in a different manner and the overall feeling is that the story of one woman gets lost somewhere on the way. So many different vocalists – it’s ambitious but inconsequent and you get the impression that it’s a compilation of various songs by various artists, not a concept album. It’s messy and distracting.

I don’t know. Perhaps I need time to get used to this album, to listen to it over and over again. There are some highlights of course – a great performance by Róisín Murphy (Don’t You Agree?), Nicole Atkins (Solano Avenue) or Florence Welch more known as Florence and the Machine (Here Lies Love). Here I would also add Eleven Days performed by Cyndi Lauper – one of the best songs of the album. Still, listening to the songs one by one makes this album much more appealing than listening to the whole of it. Unfortunately, the whole concept is lost somewhere. We were supposed to get a story of one woman’s life and love sang by various vocalists in order to create a complex portrait of the character, we get a scattered, inconsequent image which could very well be just a various artists’ compilation of synthpop songs – and, it’s sad to say, these are very mediocre songs.

bring on boredom! (B.o.B)

28 May

Ok. Let’s say it clearly, I’m not a huge rap fan. I don’t know much about hip-hop. But I’ve always admired good music with a strong beat, something that puts a spell on the listener. And I really believe, maybe being naïve, that even if a song belongs to the genre that you do not really listen to, you can appreciate it, if it’s simply good. Personally, I don’t listen to pop or hip-hop but every now and then I get totally fascinated by the works of Madonna, Christina Aguillera, Missy Elliot etc. If the music is good and if, by any chance, the lyrics are intelligent, full of wit and maybe a bit of sarcasm – it’s really hard for me not to appreciate it.

So I borrowed the debut album of B.o.B who is also known as Bobby Ray. The reviews were mostly good and very favorable, there’s nothing like a good beat and nice rapping sometimes, so I was very eager to listen to the whole of it. And I did. Even twice! Just to check if I’m really that spoiled and maybe I’m just too nerdy to admire the hidden genius of Bobby Ray. Well … no, perhaps I am too nerdy but the hidden genius of Bobby Ray has not revealed itself to me yet.

Ok. Let’s get to the point. Talking about B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray. I mean… quoting Beavis and Butt-head: “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS CRAP?????” Ok, the rapping is pretty ok. He can rap really fast, with a great sense of rhythm and you can tell B.o.B feels the melody of the words he pronounces. True. Apart of that the album has nothing, literally NOTHING that would make it a pleasant experience for the listener. It’s repetitive, it’s horribly boring, it’s unimaginative. Much has been written about a brave mix of genres that characterizes B.o.B’s music. True, you can feel that it’s somewhere in the middle between hip-hop, rap, pop and rock. But let’s not exaggerate. There is no idea, no real concept behind it. I felt like it’s more a mess of genres than a mix of genres. Musically (except for the amazing and totally pioneer mix of genres :-P) there’s nothing fresh in it. Melodies are rather flat, monotonous and after listening to the whole album (TWICE!) you cannot really distinguish one song from the other. And that keeps me thinking – is it the problem of Bobby Ray or maybe he just had bad luck with really poor sound engineering? What was the cause for this ultimate disaster? Why a guy who is pretty talented when it comes to rapping (perhaps also when it comes to freestyle) is stuck with primitive melodies, the lack of intense rhythm and amazingly-absurd-hilariously-overwhelmingly-surrealistically STUPID LYRICS?

Want a sample? Here you go.

“And I’m terrified, like I’ve seen a UFO.
Cause everything ain’t what I used to know.
And I try to hide, but I just can’t hide no more.
There’s nothing worse than feeling like a ghost.
(I go)
(A UFO)
(And I’m so tired of hiding, I’ve been running, I’ve been trying, to get away, to get away)”

WTF??????????????
WTF??????????????
WTF??????????????

“I’m terrified, like I’ve seen a UFO”??????? WTF?
What happened to NAS? To Jay-Z’s The Black Album? Where are all the greatest rap & hip-hop stars which had intelligent, amazingly witty, sharp and insightful lyrics? I’m not even mentioning such experimental things as Saul Williams’ The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Turdust! Jeeez, where is Eminem,  his sense of humor and his word play? Where is the great art of the intelligent use of words that you can hear in the works of Missy Elliot, Busta Rhymes or the early records of Black Eyed Peas? Are there really no role models, no classics that can influence Bobby Ray? Speaking of classics – where is Arrested Development, Public Enemy or De La Soul?

“beautiful girls all over the world
i could be chasing but my time would be wasted
they got nothin’ on you baby
nothin’ on you baby
they might say hi and i might say hey
but you shouldn’t worry about what they say
cause they got nothin’ on you baby
nothin’ on you baby”

OMG! This is worse than “Vanilla Ice Ice Baby”! X-D

The last thing I want to mention is that Bobby Ray… lisps. Ok, you can say that I’m just picky and I’m looking for every single thing just to prove that The Adventures of Bobby Ray is crap. But, man, did we really get so politically correct that we can accept a handless surgeon and a lisping rapper? I know I’m being harsh and ruthless right now but just… think about it. And it’s not that I accept it when it comes to the pronunciation of the legends of rock. Obviously, I am more into rock than rap/hip-hop but, damn, when I realized Rob Zombie lisps, I couldn’t listen to his music in a way I had done it earlier. Lisping made me angry and I couldn’t focus on the music as much as I had focused prior to my discovery. On the other hand, even if I still valued Rob Zombie, even though he would be lisping, rock is something different and it still allows me to appreciate Rob Zombie for other things. Rap is difficult because the art of word and the pronunciation is the core of it. I accept political correctness when it comes to some obvious things. If it’s against racism or sexism, fine – we can be politically correct. But, for Heaven’s sake, there are limits! Lisping and becoming a rapper is a really stupid choice and I would suggest Bobby Ray to become… I don’t know, an acknowledged hair stylist or a journalist but not somebody whose job is to speak!

Ok. Let’s end it here with the festival of cynicism. Basically the album is a huge disappointment. In terms of the genres – it’s a mess. In terms of music and melody – it’s boring, repetitive and shows total lack of musical imagination. In terms of the art of rap – it’s pretty good if somebody could “cut out” the lisping. In terms of the whole idea in general – it’s a disaster. And I really have no clue why so many journalists have rated this record so high.

Elle or Ella

27 May

OMG, I AM getting old. Sure, that little Jewish girl from Canada which happens to have a very Polish-sounding family name has got a great voice. Sure, I am totally stunned by her vocal abilities and I think she is really good especially when it comes to smooth jazz. But… I’m scared to death by the possibility of the fact that a 16-year-old with a gorgeous voice means money and show business and when I’m thinking of Nikki Yanofsky being another plastic doll for the huge record companies and all the corporations profiting from her talent, I’m simply shitting my pants.

In the very beginning when I was listening to her newest album which is simply called Nikki, I thought that this is yet another revelation in the music biz. The girl’s got talent, an amazing voice, she deals easily with most sophisticated melodies and – this is gonna be big, guys! – she is literally BORN FOR SCAT! Not many artists own such a natural ability of scatting, many most famous jazz singers avoided scatting throughout their whole career. It’s a difficult art and it’s very, very risky. Yanofsky does it with such ease that you get goose-bumps, listening for instance to You’ll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini), which is definitely one of the best songs of the album not only in terms of music itself but also simply because it shows the abilities of the singer – and it’s not a coincidence, it’s the same song that was once sung by glorious Ella. And, man… Yanofsky is though! She can scat, she can sing a song stylized for a French chanson (Bienvenue dans ma vie), she can be lyrical turning even a little bit soul, she can even sing in a way that raises thoughts on the influence of country music and/or Norah Jones, and she can also sing pretty rough with a very strong, mature voice. Outstanding!

The problem is that listening to the album I had a feeling that Yanofsky doesn’t know what kind of music she really wants to play. Of course most of these songs are basically ready-made hits. Kind of that you hear in the radio every damn morning until you start to hate the song and the vocalist as well. And, maybe I’m too much obsessed about her age but I had a feeling that someone extremely stupid, someone who sits on the top of this whole food chain called the music biz, told her: “Nikki, we pick this, and this, and that, cause No. 1 will be admired by the critics, No. 2 will be admired by the public, No. 3 will be played in the radio and No. 4 will sell and earn us money”. Ok, that’s obviously going pretty far with my imagination. The point is that the album is not consequent. I spent a lovely evening listening to Nikki and the record is totally sweet, amusing, the music is perfectly performed. Still – I’m missing something. A concept maybe? I feel like it’s some kind of an album you could title The Best of Jazz Radio – the only difference is that you’ve got one, single vocalist here. And this is not an advantage of Nikki.

The changes in styles and mood are also not experimental. It’s not performed in a way to keep the listener avid to get some more. It’s not supposed to surprise you or keep the tension. It’s just falling apart. I felt a bit cheated and a bit disappointed – here I have a great album by a very promising, young artist with amazing vocal abilities and I admit each of the songs is great (except I Believe which was used during the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver – corny, dull, unimaginative, tasteless pop that reminds me of Celine Dion and Celine Dion only). And then – I just don’t know what to say after listening to the whole of it cause fourteen (sorry, thirteen) great songs don’t make my day. They just don’t. Period. Maybe I’m spoiled, maybe I’m a nerd, whatever, say what you want, but this album does not win my heart just because it includes talent and well-written songs. Where’s the concept? Where’s consequence? Where is the art? Yes, you’re right, I said it – where’s art? Creating an album does not imply you just need to record thirteen damn hits, does it? Why we don’t call Summer Hits Vol. 90210 real albums? Cause they’re not albums, for Christ’s sake!

What I think, all in all. This girl has got a bright future in front of her. But it’s very easy to spoil it right now. If she slips once, she will end up as a pop star, Ms. Miley Cyrus No. 2. And this would do huge damage to her talent and her abilities. All we can do is wait and hope that she is determined enough, mature enough and though enough to resist the temptation of becoming a pop star. If she does, then… well, guys, we might have the new Ella Fitzgerald here…

shame on me

26 May

Yes, exactly, shame on me for not listening to the latest Alice in Chains album earlier! I don’t know how but I simply overslept some of the cool albums of the last year. Maybe it was because I was on the road pretty often and when I wasn’t travelling, I was completely loaded with work. Ok, no excuses from now on (“Find me sittin’ by myself | No excuses that I know” X-D).

What am I supposed to say? The album is stunning! I am not a hard-core Alice in Chains fan but I have always appreciated them a lot and I followed their career from Dirt and up (possibly because in my part of the world nobody had ever heard of Alice in Chains prior to Dirt). And, somehow, since the death of Layne Staley, Alice in Chains somehow… slipped my mind. Of course, I was watching Jerry Cantrell closely and checked what was he doing but new plans, getting William DuVall as the new vocalist – I had no clue about it all.

And? Frankly? It’s amazing. I am not expecting DuVall to become the new Layne Staley, I am not even expecting him to sound similar. But he DOES sound similar. His voice is definitely different than Staley’s, I would probably put it somewhere mid-way between Staley and Chris Cornell. But parts which are sang together with Cantrell remind you of the old Alice in Chains so much that, somehow, I did not feel disappointed, uncomfortable or uneasy by the sole fact that it’s somebody different than Staley. DuVall’s voice is softer and higher than Staley’s but still – he’s doing a great job. It’s very emotional, with the amazing vibrato and a fantastic expression – even in the more calm songs (for example, Your Decision). The other musicians are as brilliant as ever and they’re in their top form (amazing guitar-solo in Last of My Kind, which is one of my favorite songs of the album – totally stunning!)

I am looking forward to the future of Alice in Chains with lots of expectations. Last month Jerry Cantrell stated that he did not see any reason for which recording a new album in the nearest future would not happen. Let’s hope so!

The album itself is sort of a coming back to the roots of Alice in Chains. The atmosphere, doubled vocals, rhythm, guitar riffs – it’s all a sort of a tribute to the earlier works of the band. However, it doesn’t mean that the band is stuck with imitating what they had created prior to Black Gives Way to Blue. It’s clear that the album was recorded by very creative and mature musicians. Listening to it I had a feeling that it somehow should be an example of how a path of a musician should look like – constantly developing and consequent. Of course, there are bands which changed their style and experimented with different things and I’m not saying it’s wrong. Absolutely not. But in this case I am absolutely thrilled by how Alice in Chains forged their new album out of what they had been doing earlier. This is slow, consequent advancement that I value so much, that – I think – is not valued enough in this world, and, finally, that I would probably compare to the difference between Tool’s Ænima and 10.000 Days – showing that you’re truly devoted to something, true to what you’re doing and, still, being able to progress, develop, change. Therefore, I am absolutely taken by this record – and very surprised (in a positive meaning of this word) cause it’s a huge relief to listen to something like that knowing that so many bands gave up, totally abandoned their former achievements or got stuck in the same point not knowing how to get out of the cage that they themselves had created.

P.S. Don’t you find it odd that both Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley died circa April 5th? Ugh… Creepy!