Archive for the ‘alternative’ tag
I’ve been listening to the new self-titled record from New York’s Caveman for about half an hour and am, against all expectations, enjoying it quite a lot.
Caveman looks and sounds like a lot of hip bands right now: pictures of them joking around in the studio, one guy in a denim jacket and one guy in a vest and ascot, playing P-basses and hand percussion and generally doing all sorts of normal stuff that young hip guys in bands do in pictures. Leaning out of busses and stuff. “Oh great,” I thought, “another Magnetic-Fields-meets-the-Replacements-meets-Pop-Art knockoff boy band. They even played at Urban Outfitters. I feel sleepy already.”
But lo: I, a jaded and cynical Millennial with the attention span of one of Hannah Horvath’s non-Adam boyfriends, found myself intrigued by Caveman. The record opens quietly, with a sort of austere, folksy chorale sung almost entirely in Bon Iver falsetto. This is “Strange to Suffer,” and it is perhaps the best (and certainly the shortest) song on the record. The tone is set. Then drums and synthesizers enter on the second track, a sort of stock-footage midtempo bluesy number called “In the City” that is very much the response to “Strange.” By song number three, “Shut You Down,” Caveman has found its pace: personable, somewhat reserved, and melancholy. Kind of like my friend Andy after a couple of cocktails. The band’s sonic palette remains fairly static: atmospheric, full of vibrato-heavy string synths and slowly strummed guitars. Album standout “Over My Head” stands out when it slows the band down to molasses-speed, which lets the album’s actual sound (eerie, angelic, ambient) shine through.
Of course the central conflict of the record is its relationship to cliche, and to what has been done. There is a lot of creativity on Caveman, though there is little new: little threads of the Police, the Cure, and of course the Beatles shine through the fabric of Caveman. It’s not an exciting record, but it is pleasant and soothing and sincere and well-made and original. Give it a spin and relax.
4 / 5 bars
Before I bought M B V this morning I re-listened to Loveless, the classic album My Bloody Valentine released two decades ago. It’s an odyssey of sound, a truly titanic record that is as deep as it is wide (and loud). It was – is – a visionary record, made by musicians steeped thickly in their own juices. Loveless surprises and soothes and frightens all at once; two decades after its release, it still sounds fresh, alive, somehow both urgent and distant. It is a record for dreaming and listening. Its place in the history of pop is not incidental.
M B V, the band’s first record since Loveless, does not disappoint. Guitar master and general apathetic-layabout-in-chief Kevin Shields remains the band’s auteur, wailing and screeching and droning and flanging his way across every minute of the record. Shields’ much-imitated guitar tone makes a triumphant comeback as well, and as with Loveless, it’s the guitar that does the majority of the musical work: drum and bass loops beats are the skeleton, Shields’ parts the muscle. To that end, M B V boasts a more pronounced harmonic pallet than on their prior releases.
(Let me back up a minute to do what is rarely done for rock bands, which is to – as James Brown would say – give the drummer some. There can be no doubt that Shields is at the band’s helm, but titanous skim-beater Colm O’Ciosoig is the entire galley-full of slaves breaking their backs on the oars. O’Ciosoig is John Bonham without the ego. “who sees you”, “if i am”, “in another way” – all are predicated entirely on his pounding. Hats off, Colm.)
There is something for everyone on M B V. There’s the charcoal delicacy of opener “she found now”, the throwback rock of “new you”, the full-throttle “nothing is.” And there are lighter moments, like the keening feeling of open sky on “wonder 2″ or the contemplative psychedelia organ music on “is this and yes”. M B V is an trip through recent history: it is no exaggeration to say that all rock-informed music made since Loveless has drawn in one way or another from the record. My Bloody Valentine invented shoe gaze, fused noise and pop, made doom metal beautiful, summitted and (maybe) redefined grunge. All of the things that grew from Loveless can be heard now, here, today, in the focused-unfocused wail of M B V.
4.5 / 5 bars
My Bloody Valentine – if i am
My Bloody Valentine – nothing is
Steven A. Clark is another name involved in today’s r&b fusion. The North Carolina Singer/Songwriter/Producer normally creates all of his music as a solo act, but for his latest project, Clark gets a little help from some friends. He recorded is new single “Bounty” with members of The War on Drugs, Man Man, and Ava Luna for part of the Shaking Through documentary series. The documentary features the making of Bounty from beginning to end. The unique track has an indie, alternative rock, blues, and r&b sound. With a little promo boost and the right team, I think this song would have the potential to be huge. Take a look at the making of Bounty and listen below.
My alma mater, the University of Chicago, loves this phrase: the life of the mind. We love questions, in theory, and ambiguous problems, mainly because they lead to more questions-all of which in turn, enriches the life of the mind. So to hear the band that helped me through my formative years and had almost forgotten about, put a distinct sound to that enigmatic life is too poetic. It’s been over 10 years since the last Ben Folds Five album but the musicianship hasn’t faded and their music is as relevant and witty as ever.
The characteristic Ben Folds Five sound and the lyrics haven’t strayed. If anything, the sound has developed into a grander feel similar to the score of a Broadway play. The composition of “Thank You for Breaking My Heart” makes me picture Ben Folds walking down a gloomy street after a bad break up. Specifically, it’s the breaks in the melody and supporting vocals that set the action in my mind to happen all on stage. At times, the band has a heavier feel with more electric bass than their previous albums that reminds me of the Black Keys but the riffs are distinctly Ben Folds Five. The band takes the right amount of liberty throughout the album to jam and trade solos so as not to dilute the lyrics and melodies. And as usual, the Ben Folds meshes the piano with whatever Blues/Jazz/Rock/Country/Pop feel the rest of the instruments are producing.
Ben lets a lot off his chest on The Sound of the Life of the Mind. Fans have come to learn a little about his love life and its woes, and we get more details filled in with relationships that didn’t work. They’re not major plot points but they are the most poignant memories he holds of them, which is better in a way. He also opens up about the realization of the effects of holding onto an image of his father, frozen in time, who died when he was young on “Away When You Were Here.”
Yoni Wolf’s WHY? is the sort of band that inspires fanatic devotion from some and disgust from others. At the very least, WHY? is a completely original act, and although the band draws on dozens of musical tropes (from Bob Dylan to MC Shan to the Strokes to the Wu-Tang Clan to Radiohead) to make their statement, they never sound really like anyone except themselves. Yoni’s voice is perhaps the most distinctive feature of the band in more than one sense; he’s the auteur, the nasal-voiced Stanley Kubrick of folk-hop.
It’s not as cloying as it sounds. The earlier WHY? albums stared glumly down the barrel of a gun whose bullets Wolf seems mostly to have dodged, although the melancholy in which Elephant Eyelash and Alopecia (and, to a lesser extent, Eskimo Snow) were steeped seems to be pretty much hard-wired into the band’s sonic identity at this point.
On Mumps, Etc. though that melancholy is more a vague sense of dissatisfaction and distance than the depression that so totally undergirded even the brightest songs of Eskimo Snow. When Wolf namedrops the Whole Foods bulletin board, “the town of Un-Heaven, or “vague, indifferent after-life scenarios,” his delivery always suggests a knowledge of normal – or happy, or content, or etc. – but an inability to reconcile with or believe in that knowledge. Where previous WHY? albums measured the distance between Yoni and the normal, happy world, Mumps is Wolf’s coming-to-terms with his inadequacies. Of course, WHY?’s music has always been laden with tongue-in-cheekiness, so perhaps this frankness is just a new iteration of an old symptom – disaffection turned happy apathy.
Dinosaur Jr is the sort of band that pretty much always sounds good. Playing together since 1984, at this point theres nothing surprising about their sound – crunchy guitar chords, rock’n'roll melodies, confident backbeats. But where their 80s and 90s counterparts went big (hair metal and grunge have all waxed and waned since DJ first plugged in, not to mention the advent of art- and indie-rock), J Mascis and co. have stayed remarkably humble. Partially it’s the melancholy that practically oozes out of their music; after all, who could be highfalutin when you’re so down? But mostly, as their new record I Bet On Sky evidences, it really just is humility.
As usual, Mascis is responsible for most of the writing, though bass player Lou Barlow contributed the alt-country “Rode” and a Fugazi-meets-Bad-Religion romp called “Recognition,” on both of which he sings. The rest of the record is Mascis through and through: long, nearly formless jams with guitar solos that would be indulgent if they weren’t sculpted out of raw electricity. Something about these songs always seems fresh and sincere no matter how many of them Mascis writes. There’s a commitment to each and every song.
If you haven’t been living in a bunker for the past month or two, you’ve inevitably heard of that song by that weird guy who paints himself into walls that everybody loves, “Somebody That I Used to Know.” You probably know that his name is Gotye, because he got super famous in a hot second and has already done big things like play “Saturday Night Live.” But, when it comes to the success of that song, it took two to tango; so who is that other singer on the track, that smooth female voice that is being left out of the limelight?
Well, don’t cry too much for her, because it won’t take long for her debut album, Vows, to spread like wildfire. She is Kimbra Johnson, a 22-year-old singer/songwriter from New Zealand, and her first debut LP is surprisingly good for someone so young; Vows is an album filled with fresh musicality, stellar production, and sophisticated songwriting. It’s good, quality pop music, something that is (unfortunately) not always abundant in this world.
There are so many things that Kimbra does well on Vows, but the first element of her music that will strike out at you is her voice. It’s quirky, jazzy, and soulful, with a little retro twist, although her youth definitely shines through. It’s original for sure, but there also shades of Lykke Li, Florence Welch, and even Robyn. Kimbra writes music that beautifully complements her singing, riding the highs and lows of her velvety smooth crooning and her exuberant wails. On opening track “Settle Down” she sings:
I wanna raise a child
I wanna raise a child
Won’t you raise a child with me?
Raise a child
We’ll call her Nebraska
She’ll have your nose
Just so you know
It’s always a little bit heartbreaking when artists who are beloved for a specific sound or style start to diverge wildly from that path. It very rarely works, and more often than not, produces disastrous results. Remember when Liz Phair was a 90s alt-rock goddess but decided to morph into a sugary-sweet pop singer at the turn of the millennium, shattering the hopes and dreams of the women who had once worshipped her? Jewel pulled the same move, too. There’s a word for it, and we all know what it is, even if it sort of makes us cringe: it’s called becoming a “sell-out.” But what’s the opposite of selling out? Because on her new album, Little Broken Hearts, Norah Jones has gone from mainstream piano princess to sultry songstress of cool. The more atmospheric, far chillier LP is definitely an upgrade. Let’s call it “selling up.”
A lot of people act like retro crooner Adele is the second-coming, but they’re probably forgetting that Norah Jones did all of the same things, and she was first. When she burst onto the pop music scene in 2002 with her debut, Come Away With Me, Norah won a shit-load of Grammys and became an instant mainstream smash. And even if easy-listening, bluesy piano james weren’t quite your thing, it was hard to deny the raw appeal of Norah’s smooth, lush voice, her fresh, natural looks, and her clear talent. On the cover of Little Broken Hearts, however, that girl is nowhere to be found. In her place is a choppy-haired vixen with a piercing gaze whose bold, red lips are practically screaming out at us that she’s a whole new woman. And she is. On the album, on which she wisely enlisted the help of Danger Mouse, guitars are favored over the piano, Jones’s signature instrument. It’s different, but even though she’s wielding a brand new bag of tricks, she hasn’t lost what made her so good in the first place.