Archive | December, 2010

fluid

30 Dec

Oh, yesss, I may surprise you today. After all, I firmly believe that rock is very important also due to its roots. And you can’t get rock if you can’t get folk. And you don’t get folk music, if you can’t get a ritual. But let me stop here with my shallow anthropological thoughts cause the album, that I am thinking of right now, should be praised.

Basia Bulat is a Canadian musician of Polish origin. And yes, I won’t lie, I got interested in her mostly cause of her heritage. And fell in love with her completely. An amazing, powerful voice; emotional and strong lyrics; touching, but not corny melodies; all of this available on her album Heart of My Own. It’s Bulat’s fourth studio album and – frankly – I do not know the other three but the last one makes me really wonder, if I shouldn’t get them asap (and, most probably, I will).

What is absolutely enchanting is that not only Bulat remains a true folk musician, very deeply rooted in traditional American music, with a powerful voice and great melodic lines (she also plays different instruments, mostly autoharp). The most amazing thing is that she shifts from one mood to another, melody after melody with such easiness that in fact it reminds me of the old recordings from the 1960s, when great musicians just met for a day and recorded a whole album during one session. It’s just… fluid. I don’t know how to call it differently. It just flows like water. And you easily surrender to it and just flow with it.

The extreme intensity of this album is based on the fact that everything is so simple. The melodies, the rhythm, Bulat’s way of playing the autoharp, sometimes even her voice, even though it’s a strong instrument in itself. Still, she avoids cheap emotions and exaggerated flares. And this is how she gets to the core of folk music – to its simplicity and rawness. To its amazing power.

For me it’s probably the best album in the folk/country genre of this year. But, hell, I should just shut up and include a link to one of her songs. Basia Bulat, you are truly amazing…

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you don’t get to create a genius soundtrack without making a few mistakes

29 Dec

It’s been a while now since I watched The Social Network and listened to the official soundtrack of the movie. Still, have in mind that I’m an old Nine Inch Nails fan, so, naturally, if there is anything going on in the broad field of Reznor Studies, be sure I’ll write something about it.

Of course, I am trying to be objective. It’s not so easy if you speak about your favorite artist. Yet, I believe I am capable of pointing out disadvantages of this project. However, I won’t lie, I consider the work done by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, a great thing. Actually, I had this idea in my mind for a long while already. Sometime around 1999, right after The Fragile which remains one of the most important albums in the career of Nine Inch Nails and in the history of rock music in general, I thought that an obvious route for Reznor should be movie scores. It did not happen then, of course, although Reznor already had a pretty interesting experience with the movie biz, producing soundtracks to David Lynch’s Lost Highway and Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. I do not need to mention that both of these soundtracks are epic.

11 years after The Fragile Reznor, together with Atticus Ross, wrote a score to David Fincher’s The Social Network. A brilliant score, I have to say, very much in the style of Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts – a record for which I have strong emotions, even though some of my friends consider this album a mistake. The soundtrack is following the path of Ghosts consequently and the Reznor-Ross duo remain in the genre of widely understood electro. It’s ambient sometimes, sometimes it inclines pretty much towards industrial. And, yes, it has very strong features of other compositions by Reznor. Strong beats, rock guitar riffs (even though here they are mostly moody and in the background) and the haunting piano – one of the most important Reznoresque patterns. The soundtrack is written carefully in a way. While watching the movie it becomes poignant at times, but is never tiring. As if Reznor had planned to write it carefully, not to make any mistakes in his first original movie score. It’s a good feature. The music goes well with the movie and doesn’t switch the attention of the audience towards tracks rather than the scenes filmed by Fincher. It is also perfectly cooperating with the brilliant dialogues written by Aaron Sorkin, one of the most interesting screenwriters of our time.

Still, although I very much admire Reznor’s work and even though I consider this record a great piece of composing, there are flaws. Most of all I was a little disappointed to hear two tracks which are originally performed on the Ghosts album. Sure, they are remixed a bit and adjusted to the score but it made me disappointed in a sense I had a huge hunger for more and more of Reznor’s new compositions. The other mistake is the electro version of Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King (from his Peer Gynt suite). Somewhere in the internet (can’t remember where) I read an interview with Fincher and Reznor. Somewhere in between the lines Reznor said that Fincher had insisted on adjusting this piece for his movie. Reznor, initially, refused (not to mention the fact that he also refused to write the score and changed his mind later). It was sad for me to read this interview. As a person who is musically educated, Reznor, probably, had more intuition in the case of this piece, than Fincher did. Remixing and adjusting classical pieces is an extremely difficult thing. Many artists perished on this trail. Bones scattered everywhere. Taking a classical piece and recording it again with a new, contemporary ensemble, especially if we’re talking about electro here, is a musical suicide. Reznor sensed it well. And, by agreeing to Fincher’s idea, he made a huge mistake. In the Hall of the Mountain King is just cheezy and very, very naïve. It is much better than most of the contemporarily “adjusted” classical pieces, this I have to admit. Reznor did his best not to destroy the classical piece and you can tell this work had been done in the most meticulous way possible. Still, it’s a big mistake. And I am afraid that Reznor will regret it pretty soon, if he doesn’t regret it already.

Of course, one can say I’m picky and a pain in the ass if these two, in fact minor facts can destroy the joy of listening to a very good soundtrack. But it’s also a very difficult situation, if you’re dealing with an artist, whose standards are so high, you cannot expect anything but brilliance. Reznor got me used (if not addicted) to his perfectionism. Hence, every small mistake is very painful, when it comes to his music.

All in all I actually do hope that Reznor and Ross win an Oscar, or, at least, a Golden Globe, in 2011. In my opinion, even though it’s not flawless, it’s the best soundtrack of the last year. Very powerful, very emotional, even though frugal in sound. Clean, structuralized compositions, which strike the listener with their mood no matter, if it’s a hypnotic disco tune, or a gloomy piano melody. Also, a thing I consider very important, I think this soundtrack should get an Oscar for the sole fact that it would probably be the first award of such importance, given to artists which created the whole score in a pretty unorthodox way. Sure, minimalists tried it already, most importantly Philip Glass for Koyaanisqatsi. Still, the majority of Hollywood composers choose the grand orchestral way of creating musical scores. In the world of symphonies full of pathos, in the world of John Williams, Alan Silvestri and Hans Zimmer (not that I do not value those composers at all), it is important to promote other ways of creating soundtracks. A small shift began already in the 1980s with such brilliant examples as a strongly electronic score by Ennio Morricone written for John Carpenter’s The Thing (one of my favorite movies ever). Also, even when it comes to traditional instrumental pieces, the audience’s taste changed a bit and nowadays among the most highly valued composers we’ve got Danny Elfman and Thomas Newman, to name the best of them. I suppose we should take the next step and appreciate those who choose a completely different composing strategy than the majority of those who create soundtracks.

P.S. Below there are my favorite tracks. They can actually give you a good taste of what the whole is like.

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homework

28 Dec

By pure accident I was watching the British channel Mtv Rocks a couple of weeks ago. Personally I hate the UK Top 10 rock songs chart cause for months now it’s ending with either Coldplay or Florence and the Machine, which I don’t find very interesting – and I should probably state in the very beginning that most of today’s music I don’t find interesting at all. But… the chart included a great surprise. Among a few moronic comments made by the host of the program, who considers himself to be funny, the guy stated that the video they would play presented a band that was considered “hope” of modern British rock. I thought that the comment was funny itself since it stated clearly that the top 10 UK rock songs chart wasn’t really a rock chart – something I firmly believe since all this contemporary whining, whether it is American or British, is difficult to define as rock. And then they played… Pulled Apart By Horses. I found their self titled album immediately and can’t stop listening to it for over two weeks now.

Hope for contemporary rock? Sure it is. These guys sure know how to rock and I am completely amazed that someone could record a debut album which could be so mature, innovative and professional. I am not a huge fan of hysterical screaming as a vocal technique. But, on the other hand, I guess this is something you should just get used to. I remember talking with a friend in the mid-1990s about Jon Davis and Korn. We had the exact feeling about Davis’ vocal abilities. And? Well… there’s no need to explain that it’s impossible to imagine contemporary vocal techniques without Jon Davis. Anyway, at some point I got used to Tom Hudson’s vocals and when it stopped irritating me, I realized his screaming is actually pretty good – very much tuned with the music, only seeming to be out of tune and random.

The band itself does an amazing job. And I realized at some point someone here has done their homework real well, not only being deeply rooted in punk or even grunge but also, surpsingly for myself, Rage Against the Machine (LOL). Pulled Apart By Horses is based on strong, very catchy, melodic riffs, very rhythmical drum section and… screaming. Sounds familiar? Ain’t that a recipe for rock?

All in all – I suppose it’s hard and completely unfair to judge now. But I think that Pulled Apart By Horses already managed to bring something fresh and innovative to the contemporary rock scene which, unfortunately, remains pretty steady for at least a decade, allowing only few artists to become great stars. Needless to say, some of them don’t really deserve it, imho. But… not to whine myself, hey, let’s just cross fingers for Pulled Apart By Horses. I am really hoping that they can continue their great, fresh and truly energetic work and, perhaps, one day they can become a rock phenomenon comparable to the Jesus and Mary Chain (if we’re talking about British rock and alternative rock bands) maybe? But that will happen only if they don’t get spoiled. Homework’s done. Now it’s time for some real hard work. I cross my fingers for you, guys.

P.S. As far as I know, this is the third official video of PABH. Kudos! To the band, to the director, to the people responsible for photography and editing. One of the most disturbing videos I’ve seen this year and a set of brilliant, pretty random scenes which embody all that rock really is and should be – angst, anger, riot. Jeeez, I wish these guys can continue their work. Well, for sure I will be the one who will take a closer look at what they’ll be up to now :-]

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Captain Beefheart (1941-2010)

28 Dec

After years of suffering from multiple sclerosis Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, passed away on December 17th 2010 at the age of 69.

I suppose, or I rather do hope, it is completely unnecessary to explain his enormous influence on modern music. Beefheart was one of the most innovative and most creative artists of our times. Being brought up in America of the 1950s Beefheart was not only familiar with blues, blues rock and rock and roll, but also – in the 1960s – was strongly influenced by what was going on in music at the time. The mixture resulted in an amazing complexity of genres and, today, even though Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band are considered one of the pioneers of psychedelic rock, it is obvious and undeniable that their music was as much progressive as it was traditional. It influenced and still influences generations of rock musicians of various kinds, from blues rock to protopunk, from experimental rock to punk and alternative rock. It is not a coincidence Beefheart became known to larger audiences due to his strong artistic relationship with Frank Zappa.

And even though I hate grand and sentimental statements, yes, I have to admit – the world will be much more sad without him. Rest in peace, dear Captain. And, yep, thank you for all these amazing hours of listening to your great recordings, of which the ones from the late 1960s are my favorite.

For more information on Beefheart, click here – quite a nice blog, obviously by a fervent Beefheart fan :-]
Unusually for me, I am including three (sic!) youtube videos below – some of my favorite Beefheart tracks that I was actually raised on. Of course, it is not my intention to summarize so many years of his amazing work in three videos only. But they may give a hint on what his music was like to those of you, who never had any experience with it whatsoever.

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good news/bad news

5 Dec

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of what PJ Harvey has been doing together with John Parish. Not that it’s bad but since White Chalk I don’t really get along well with her records. I have a feeling that, although professional and perfect as ever, she somehow lost her initial power and rawness. And, still, it is very wrong of me to say “initial” cause PJ Harvey kept rocking, being raw, pure, emotional, dark, intense and continuously fascinating, for at least 12 years – since the release of her debut album Dry until Uh Huh Her at least.

Still, I have to admit that this is my personal view and many people actually consider White Chalk and A Woman a Man Walked By (with John Parish) one of the best of PJ Harvey’s albums.

The first song off Let England Shake has just been released (or, maybe, it leaked?). The album itself will be released on February 14th 2011 in the UK and February 15th 2010 in the US. Of course, I am waiting for it with all my lack of patience and with all the possible eagerness ever, since PJ is one of my absolutely favorite artists. But… yep, there are strings attached. The song Written on the Forehead reminds me more of PJ’s work with John Parish. Of  White Chalk. Of her latest route she had decided to take in music. And I have a few doubts when it comes to the release of this album. I don’t want to whine like most of the fans who cannot understand that a musician, as any other normal human being, progresses in his/her life and changes ideas, musical style, the way of work. After all – music is not only art, it’s also craft. I actually do appreciate people who are not afraid to progress and change. Who are bold enough to take a step and do something that they have never done before. This is also why Radiohead is one of my top bands ever. Still… I’m just not sure if I like the way PJ Harvey chose. I absolutely love most of her recordings but this trend ends for me in 2004. And I am waiting and hoping that she will release an album which would be as intense as Dry, To Bring You My Love, Is This Desire?, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea or Uh Huh Her. No, wait. I didn’t mention Rid of Me. Yes – that means I actually named every single LP she has ever recorded in the period from 1992 until 2004. What’s left? White Chalk and John Parish. And it’s not necessarily the fact that I have some kind of a problem with the poor guy. It’s just that… I agree to almost anything and I am fairly understanding when it comes to changing musical styles, ideas, songwriting, even themes that are important for one particular artist. The thing I hate though, is that even if we do switch to a somewhat musically “lighter” material, I still expect it to be as intense as it used to be. And, sorry, I just don’t find it in PJ anymore. It is as if since 2007 something burnt out. Not musically – she’s still professional and amazingly talented. But in terms of the… I don’t know… emotion? Rawness? Importance? Preciousness? Something that in the 1970’s you’d probably call the “vibe”? Hell. I don’t know. I just know I don’t like it anymore.

I am very happy to get a brand new PJ Harvey album in March. I am extremely impatient. But I’m also extremely afraid of a disappointment. And the song that leaked doesn’t make me feel better and doesn’t strengthen my hopes. Am I whining? Fuck yeah. Is it for a reason? Well. Judge on your own.

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