Archive | June, 2010

saint profanity

20 Jun

It’s hard to recover after the first track of the newest album by Holy Fuck. Man, these Canadians really know how to play with tension. 1MD is mystical, slow, and mysterious. Perfect for an intro to a science-fiction movie. And the intensity grows slowly. Mixed voices are added, almost as if they were part of a church mass, more and more noise comes until a heavy-electronic coda which raises goose bumps. And then… you get a disco beat and you’re feeling like you’re completely out of this world. Until the finale of the last track, that is.

I have completely no idea how is it possible. First of all, cause this album is not much different from other albums by Holy Fuck. Of course, it’s a consequent route and one could imagine something like that coming. But there is no real shift from Holy Fucks previous recordings. Secondly, cause it’s music of our times. Sure, we can say it’s a bit alternative (like we are used to call most of the music of our times that we do not know how to name the genre) but, frankly, is it so much different from all the other music in the wide borders of “electro” that is being recorded every day? Not really.

There is something, however, that makes you shiver and just devour this record. Maybe cause it’s simply honest. You can feel it. Holy Fuck creates something that is just close to their hearts, something that is true. And perhaps that’s because you’re not really cynical, when you listen to it.

Funny, but the intro to the album possessed me so much that I even, for the first time in my life, started to think what does the name of the band really mean. And somehow, although I have to admit, I never looked at it that way, I had a thought that it’s the best name this band could ever have. “Holy Fuck” – a perfect symbiosis of sacrum and profanum. And this is just what this music is. Something grand, metaphysical, dense, almost religious (or, should I rather say: spiritual?), and, at the same time, something that is strongly connected to the most profane – typical disco beats, dance music, strong rhythm, things that are primal to our nature. And… even more funny… I had a thought that Holy Fuck managed to create something that the whole 1980’s tried to create but failed.

And it’s not like I admire 1MD only (although it will remain one of my most favorite tracks of all times). The whole of Latin is great. It is very varied and still very consequent in its complexity. Strong rhythms, synthpop on one hand, on the other – mellow tunes, delicate, almost inaudible, yet present, influences of classical music; plus – yes, you may not believe it – rock (e.g. Stay Lit). I was actually surprised by how much this album… rocks! It is electronic music. It is experimental. No doubt about that. Still, out of synthesizers, a real percussion and some electro beats Holy Fuck manage to create something I would call a rock symphony. And, no, no, don’t think of “symphonic rock” as a genre because it’s totally misleading.

I am also amazed by how the musicians play with different layers of melodies. It’s a constant improvisational charade intertwined with solid foundations of the bass and drums (Silva & Grimes is a great example). Sometimes you can also feel the band has a great sense of humor. SHT MTN starts as if it was a disco hit and out of rather dull and repetitive sounds they create something that is definitely alternative rock and has little to do with discotheques and fancy clubs where you can snort cocaine and shake your butt to a DJ tune that is no different from all the other tunes you have heard in the TV or the radio.

A great record. Another electro/ambient/synthpop/experimental/whatever album of this year that completely astonished me. Hmmm… could it be that the future of the music lies in a… synthesizer? X-D Or am I just getting old and cannot get used to different rock bands than the ones that I listened to for the past 29 years? I wonder…


indie shmindie

19 Jun

Indie. Alternative. Huh? Whatcha thinkin’ about? Things that are not played by MTV. Assuming that MTV plays any music at all since nowadays it reminds me more of a TV channel that broadcasts talk shows and reality shows only. So. Assuming MTV plays any music at all – “indie” or “alternative” labels is a sticker that marks everything that goes beyond MTV. Not necessarily that it’s a good thing but basically, deep down in our guts, we feel that it should be something extraordinary that just doesn’t fit any record label. Maybe cause it’s too experimental. Or maybe just because it’s waaayy too cool for any commercial TV/radio/record label. At least this is what we’re thinking.

Tell you what. That’s bullshit. No matter how much we hate record labels and how much we get pissed off when they try to rip us off on every single record that has ever been issued, sometimes we need to frankly admit that some so-called indie bands are just… not good enough.

And I’m very sorry but this is what I feel listening to the newest album by Hold Steady. It’s not a bad band, don’t get me wrong… It’s just that the album is, when speaking of its highlights, mediocre.

The whole thing is not so bad. Sorry – wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for a very unclear direction. Basically, I just don’t know what Hold Steady is trying to be. Is it an alternative folk rock band? Or is it a soft rock band rooted in the 1980’s? Is it trying to be somewhere in between Beck and Bruce Springsteen? Is it trying to be the American version of Coldplay, assuming Coldplay would ever want a corny 1980’s guitar solo? What is it? Cause after listening to Heaven Is Whenever several times I still cannot find any answer  to this question.

There are a few songs that are absolutely sweet. Maybe not really amazing and different than anything else but just simply good. The opening folkish The Sweet Part of the City is one of them. The Smidge, which is clearly inspired by American blues and classic rock, is the other. The third one – I guess it would be Barely Breathing with a nice rock’n’roll rhythm and a brass section.

And that would basically be it! It’s not the problem that this album is bad. It’s just that… well, if you heard it on the radio, you wouldn’t even pay attention to it. Craig Finn, the vocalist, lyricist and frontman of Hold Steady, kept saying that this album is about (let’s hear it) “aging gracefully”. Well, yeah? To me it sounds less like “aging gracefully”, more like being old, tired and bored so much you’re not able to be creative anymore.

Honestly, I don’t know what’s going on. The musicians are clearly professional in what they’re doing. The vocal is a bit annoying but it has got some charm after all. The band seems to be just fine – even when playing a really boring and repetitive melody, it is kinda catchy, I have to admit that. However, all in all, it’s just something you would never ever want to spend a single penny on. What’s wrong? The only idea that comes to my mind is that the band lacks composing skills. Something went very wrong in the very beginning, when the band was on the stage of composing the songs which became part of the album. And I don’t know if it’s the problem of this particular band or just the general situation in which most of the indie bands find themselves. Bad studio engineering perhaps? Nobody around who would say: “we have to make it more commercial, so please, record a song that is different from all the other ten songs which just all sound the same?” I simply don’t know. I guess I’m just too bored of thousands of indie bands trying to prove how alternative they really are. Sorry, guys. I don’t care how it sounds but I’ll just put this CD back on the shelf and wait for July and for a completely sell out, commercial and money making album by Korn… LOL.

cosmic hypnosis

17 Jun

Really. I’m starting to think that Warp records are led by a crazy brahmin, whose goal is to make the whole population of the planet reach nirvana! Two months ago I totally fell in love with Gonjasufi. And now THIS? It’s not that I didn’t know Flying Lotus before. But I didn’t really pay attention, checked it out on youtube from time to time, didn’t really listen to the whole album from the beginning until the very end.

It’s of course very electronic. But not only. The record has the freshness and beat of the early albums of Aphex Twin – and it is also, like Aphex Twin, experimental. On the other hand it has great softness and it’s melodic, which I would compare to Amon Tobin. What is, however, most inspiring and stunning, are the influences of jazz. “Nah!”, you’ll say, “she’s just saying it cause Flying Lotus is a guy who is the nephew of the late and ever memorable John Coltrane”. So? Even if I have this thought in the back of my head, it doesn’t change the fact that Flying Lotus is something I would call jazz electro. It’s enough to look at the ways he constructs melodics, harmony and rhythm, how he puts it all together, how he forms his compositions. Whether it is the harmony of Do the Astral Plane, highly jazzy bass in Pickled!, the synthesizer in Computer Face/Pure Being, or is it German Haircut, which features Flying Lotus’ cousin, Ravi Coltrane (yes, the son of John and Alice) on saxophone, this record is very deeply rooted in jazz. Of course, the approach is different. But isn’t it what jazz is really all about? Expanding and going beyond borders?

Cosmogramma is just… cosmic. No, the title is not overestimated. It’s just out of this world. Amazingly sharp, intense, hypnotic, sexy, sometimes even spiritual. I’d even go so far to say that if hippie culture knew Flying Lotus’ music in the 1960’s, they wouldn’t have any craving for LSD anymore X-D

It is also amazingly constructed. Makes you raise your expectations, always fulfilling them or even giving more than you crave for. It’s diverse, the tension is growing continuously and even though the hunger is satisfied, there is always a little space left in you to want more. And, fuck, I don’t care if I sound poetic right now, if it’s corny teenage talk, or not, but this album is pure desire and energy. Something sensual, yet very conceptual – the best example of what you call “experimental music” and leaving one thought… that Flying Lotus is one of the most interesting, most provoking and most talented artists of our time.

poet of the ordinary

16 Jun

Ok. I won’t lie. I was warned. Damon Albarn stated clearly that it’s the most pop record he’s ever made. Yes. Different music journalists quoted that statement. Yes. Somebody called it even a soundtrack to a cartoon. Yes. Yet, I decided to check the newest album of Gorillaz on my own. Mostly because I believe Albarn is one of the most interesting musicians in Great Britain. Also, cause I don’t trust newspapers and reviews until I try something on my own. Naaah, ok, let’s be honest – simply cause I like Gorillaz. And maybe I didn’t adore their previous albums, they didn’t change my life, my world, or whatever (no grand words, hush!) but they’re simply good, fresh and created by really good musicians, who, moreover, have a great sense of humor.

And I have to say that Plastic Beach is stunning. It’s not a record that will dominate all the other latest records. It’s not an album that I would consider a milestone in music, and, broader, in whole popular culture. But it’s amazing and it… kinda changed Gorillaz. At least my feeling is that this record, even though it’s more pop, is much more serious then the previous ones.

Musically you can feel the influence of the 1980’s in, for instance, Welcome to the World of Plastic Beach – especially early electro and synthpop, New Order, maybe a bit of Bowie or even Prince? This track is, by the way, featured by Snoop Dogg and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, so this information can give you the taste of what it is like.

Albarn is also known to be influenced by ethnic music, in this particular case Arabic, which is clearly the foundation for amazingly sweet White Flag – a delicate, pure track, featuring (among others) the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music – it starts from a definitely traditional Middle Eastern intro, however, when it becomes electro/hip-hop it’s still very frugal and therefore full of air and space. It’s like wind or spider web. Very consequently built, constructed on few, simple melodic lines and, perhaps therefore, bright and deeply touching.

Rhinestone Eyes reminds of the older songs of Gorillaz. It’s a little funky and a little gloomy, with a little bored voice of 2D (Albarn) and synthesizers.

Some of the songs are definitely highlights of this album. My favorite include Some Kind of Nature (featuring Lou Reed) and Plastic Beach (feat. Mick Jones). And it’s not because it includes legends of rock music. They’re just really good, professional tracks which intelligently mix the musical character and personality of both of these musicians with the style and moods so typical of Gorillaz.

What is, however, most interesting is that Gorillaz somehow lost their comedian touch. I listened to this record a couple of times, continuously and I couldn’t stop thinking of factories, plastic, chemistry and… ecology. Yes! Somehow I had a feeling this is a voice of a modern person. Totally lost in his/her world, being aware of the fact that our natural environment is being destroyed every single day. And, no, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Greenpeace fanatic. I don’t chain myself to trees or plot against scientists who make experiments on living animals. Nor is Plastic Beach moralist. It’s not a fairy tale for grownups. It’s not a fiery speech condemning the industry that pollutes the planet. The strength of this album is that all of the lyrics are pretty clear when it comes to meaning, however, they are still highly poetic. Metaphors and imagery that is presented in these songs have little to do with pro-ecology propaganda. It’s more like a sigh of sadness of a modern human being who eats artificial food out of a can, drinking artificial coffee, driving to work in a subway compartment with its anonymity and loneliness, and then sits in an office and performs work which is completely irrelevant, abstract and mechanical. It’s like a journey of a soulless man. Albarn is absolutely brilliant with this – his lyrics are not pushy, it’s more like a collage of different emotions and everyday observations. And therefore, even though musically this record is not genius (although very good), I think it’s one of the most interesting releases of this year, or even past few years. Different bands, different lyricists explore human mind and human life, many of them focus on the anxiety and obsessions of a contemporary human being. But, Mr. Albarn, I gotta give you this – something like this, so much connected with the reality of our lives, the reality that we easily forget about (cause it’s so much easier to notice pathology, crime, child abuse etc.), this has not happened yet. And in this sense I am not afraid to use a grand word – Damon Albarn is a poet of the ordinary. Which, by itself, I believe, is a very big compliment.

orchestra, opera, modern anonymity

15 Jun

The whole idea of Late Night Tales is to get an artist/ band and to present new arrangements of songs/compositions that were crucial to one’s development. Let’s say, if I had to make an example, if Kurt Cobain had been asked to create his version of Late Night Tales, he would have picked the Beatles, Sex Pistols, the Pixies. If Trent Reznor was asked to create his, he’d pick David Bowie, Kiss, Gary Numan, Coil, perhaps Depeche Mode. And so on, and so on. Various artists have created their own version of Late Night Tales. Some of them have little in common – Jamiroquai, the Flaming Lips, Belle & Sebastian, Fatboy Slim, Air and many many more contributed to the idea. The sixteenth album of the cycle is made by the Cinematic Orchestra. This is their choice of music which influenced them so much they decided to create their own. And? Well, for sure it’s not a disappointment.

The intro (Flying Lotus) brings a mystical, Far East Asian tune – that totally takes you with it. Meditational music. And easily turns into Nick Drake’s Three Hours – a song that could be easily part of one of the albums released by Nonesuch.

And the further you go, the more surprising it gets. Eddie Gale’s song for example starts as if it was a usual jazz standard, she starts to sing – it becomes suddenly lyrical – just to burst out with a chorus of voices which clearly take inspiration from the 1960’s, Broadway musicals and even gospel. But it’s just a mystification. The story flows on and becomes Terry Callier’s You’re Goin’ Miss Your Candyman – a hypnotical tune with a vocal which is partly blues, partly a hippie-like, transe-chant of the 1960’s (back again).

I don’t want to describe this album song by song. It’s really hard to do so. An amazing piece of art it is, and you cannot really consider it an album full of different songs by various artists. It’s more like a composition that includes nineteen tracks, a symphony that is built on different voices and different instruments, a mass. When you listen to it, it’s really hard to think of it as a compilation of separate songs. It’s more like a modern opera.

I didn’t find it tiring, I didn’t find it boring. I found it absolutely amazing, full of inspirations and great consequence and consistency, although the presented artists are very varied. The only thing that diminishes my enthusiasm a little is that… there is not enough Cinematic Orchestra in it. Maybe I’m wrong but I’d expect more of nu-jazz tracks and melodies. I got an album which is a mix of different songs, rather modern, remixed, a little bit (but only a little) relying on electro and synthpop – a brilliant piece but… if it had a different name written on it, I wouldn’t have guessed it’s an album by the Cinematic Orchestra. Sadly.

I don’t want to complain. It’s a great album. It’s well structured, it’s enchanting with rhythm and melodies, it’s soft and passionate at the same time – the most ideal late night you can imagine – but something is missing. And I feel like it doesn’t have enough of the influence of the artist that is supposed to play the key role in it. Frankly, I do not agree with accusations that it’s boring and that some of the songs don’t fit the whole. I didn’t get that feeling at all. It flows smoothly, from one song to the other, it’s intense and lyrical at the same time. It’s a perfectly organized form – so well organized that you do not think of separate tracks. But what it is missing is the Cinematic Orchestra in itself. I mean… where did the guys go?

I wouldn’t say that this album is a mistake. I am absolutely under the spell of it. I just don’t know what to think when it comes to authorship. Perhaps, one could look at it this way – it’s the voice of the modern world. Cumulated into one album. And it’s truly beautiful. But it puts you in a mood in which the first thing you do after listening to it is grabbing the first CD by the Cinematic Orchestra that is near you and just… damn, hear the guys play…