Dibder's New Music Series: Entry 10


29 oct. 2009, 13h15m

I could go into a lot of blather about how much shit has gone down this month, but I think there's a certain YouTube clip that pretty much sums it all up:

And with that, here's my October journal...

Love 2 by Air
Billed as a return to the lo-fi swoonisms of their debut full-length release, 1998’s Moon Safari, Air’s sixth studio album is also the first to have been recorded and produced at their self-built recording facility; and unfortunately that would appear to be where the only vestiges of novelty lie on this release. For ambient, loungified Europop, it ticks all of the boxes, even if most of the tracks here err on the slightly more boring and pedestrian side of elegant levity (hear Be a Bee, which manages to sound like an Air track with none of the warmth or humour prevalent in their earlier work). There are times when the album passes for something more interesting, most arguably on seven-minute centrepiece Tropical Disease which features some nice arpeggios, jazzy horns and chirpy woodwinds, and you can argue that Godin and Dunckel have matured in their sound in their attempt to deliver something a little more understated. On the flip-side of the same coin though, it would appear there is a distinct lack of imagination present, and the album unfortunately does suffer from a lack of guest vocalists such as Beth Hirsch and Jarvis Cocker from previous albums. At its best, Love 2 is a lighter-than-air trifle, but too often, it fades into easygoing non-distinction.

Sing Along to Songs You Don't Know by múm
Arriving amidst the post-millennial rush of Icelandic alt-pop wonderments led by Sigur Rós, múm have held fast on to their international cult following via a charmingly left-of-centre mixture of glitch-infused post-rock that has slowly but surely moved further into the realms of folktronica. With this, their fifth studio album, it would appear they have reached this target head on, eschewing the more overt electronic elements for their most straight-sounding folk outing yet. This means that, fans of their minimal electro beats and warm bass synths are to be a little dismayed, in their place being plenty of lovely acoustic interludes and wistfully sung tunes backed with plaintively arranged string sections and sweet percussive elements, which is never less than lovely, but certainly inhabits a soundscape much more twee and less resonant than previous releases. There are moments where the eight-strong band hit something vaguely akin in quality to their past works with this more streamlined sound, such as the percussive Pong noises found The Smell of Today Is Sweet Like Breastmilk in the Wind electronically whipping the traditional instrumentation into something almost-frantically cute, but missteps such as The Last Shapes of Never and the glockenspiel-led Prophecies and Reversed Memories stray the wrong side of disarming to almost disappear completely from the memory.

Beauty Killer by Jeffree Star
Self-styled genderfuck drag artist Jeffree Star’s debut studio album has been in the offing for two years, finally seeing release after finding Internet fame via MySpace and two self-released EP’s, having started out as a makeup artist to the stars in his mid-teens. As you can imagine, with an inbuilt obsession with vanity and fashion already dominating his persona, Killer doesn’t go for anything less than acidic, trendy electroclash, Star’s voice electronically altered in almost every instance to wallow in his accusatory diatribes of sexual submission and confrontation, at times coming across as Blackout-era Britney Spears crossed with John Waters’ muse, Divine. Sometimes, as on opening one-two Get Away With Murder and Prisoner, Star strikes his target with some style, even if it is mired in noticeably less substance that what would most likely be coursing through most L.A. clubkids’ veins; but often, some fatal missteps kill the party dead in its tracks, key offender being Love Rhymes With Fuck You, which appears to confuse controversial cool with rampant obnoxiousness. However, the major grind against the album is that Star himself never appears less than rabidly sex-hungry and fame-obsessed, which means he doesn’t come across as the most appealing electro-diva to hit the airwaves; however, you can bet he doesn’t really give a fuck about issues like that.

Rokstarr by Taio Cruz
Not letting slightly-disappointing sales of his debut last year get him down, Mr Cruz has done well to make sure he gets on top this year. Constantly popping up in Internet news with regards to the likes of Tinchy Stryder (with whom he shared a Top 3 UK single earlier in the year), Sugababes (he’s on Keisha’s side, by the by!) and Cheryl Cole (who passed on the single that became his first chart topper, Break Your Heart), Cruz’s profile as the UK’s multi-hyphenate pop star of the moment is more than assured, in time to give his follow-up album a better shot at the charts. However, the fact that he re-named his sophomore effort after his own range of sunglasses probably suggests what kind of a glossy, shiny and ultimately shallow record Rokstarr is. Last time around, Cruz was accused of being a little too schmaltzy on his debut Departure (whose opener I'll Never Love Again bafflingly features here midway through the action), and possibly as a result, there’s a bit more of a shade of the lothario about him here, highlighted by Break and its follow-up Dirty Picture, the latter featuring up-and-coming Lady Gaga clone Ke$ha. However, it’s soon dispelled by efforts such as Best Girl and Falling in Love, and it isn’t helped that Cruz and co-producer Fraser T. Smith are fond of the same production gimmicks throughout. Another notch on the disposable pop belt then...

Overcome by Alexandra Burke
Though it provided an important stepping stone in launching Leona Lewis as an international pop star, success proved elusive for the rest of the winners of UK TV’s ultimate Reality show crown. True, Shayne Ward continues to sell admirably well in the UK, but Lewis’ success across the pond helped transform the show from a national talent show to an important pitching tool for the American market. However, whether last year’s worthy winner Alexandra Burke can crack America remains to be seen because, in spite of proving her mettle as quite an endearingly physical performer on the show, the material with which she has been foisted for her debut album is dispiritingly low on character and soul. They’ve done well to differentiate Burke from Lewis by giving her a more uptempo modus operandi for her wannabe divahood (working best on Broken Heels and standout track Dumb, both redOne cuts) and her voice shows a more relatable grit on the ballads than her fellow winner’s galvanising trills, but even with the amount of star-heavy assignments from the likes of Brian Kennedy, Stargate and Ne-Yo filling up the credits, Burke never rises further than as a notably capable young singer rather than a star in her own right. The second album better show some growth, girlie, I didn’t finally vote for a winner to see her become an autonomous would-be star.

Straight No Chaser by Mr Hudson
With regards to current trends in popular culture, it would appear that we really ought to be proud to be British. The latest success story to emerge from our humble isles is that of Mr Hudson and the Library, who’ve been snapped up by none other than Kanye West himself in a bid to reinvent their lead singer as a siècle nouveau pop star for the masses after picking up a copy of their humble debut a tale of two cities. Identity confusion aside (according to the albums liner notes, The Library members are still present in their playing on most tracks), what remains is a confusingly odd affair with its share of bombastic moments (second single Supernova and Everything is Broken in particular) with Hudson coming across often times as an immensely Autotune-altered Sting, which is as wary as it sounds! The production, co-administered by West and Hudson themselves, often throws up some nice touches (such as the delicate glitches found on premiere single There Will Be Tears), but its all held together by a leading man suffering from a rather acute case of a personality vacuum; between this and Malik Yusef’s lamentable double-disc behemoth released earlier this year, West’s stock on talentspotting is certainly on the wane.

Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful? by Paloma Faith
Sometime actress and full time warbler Paloma Faith is the latest in a longline to court the Winehouse Comparison, with her husky soulful voice at odds with the frankly less-than-disarming daffiness displayed in interviews. Even though she arrives at least two years late to the party (in fact just in time to get a little spotlight space ahead of Amy’s own replacement relative, who features much later in this entry), Faith’s emphasis on theatricality and histrionics is a welcome break from the overrated likes of Duffy and Adele, taking full advantage of a full orchestra to add some galvanising swoon to the proceedings (particularly on previous single New York and the Bond theme-esque drama of the title track). Often times though, it can get the better of Faith’s songs, content to sweep themselves off in whatever superficiality they create, much like Faith’s own skills as a singer. There’s no doubt that hers is a voice that can technically soar past many of her contemporaries and given the right collaborator she can indeed be very good (her track on Basement Jaxx’s recent album is one of its highlights), but here she is prone to too many moments where her performance becomes too much of an act to take her seriously. She certainly can’t be accused of being bland and using cyncial retro arrangements to grab our attention though, which means she remains someone to watch in the future.

Where the Wild Things Are Motion Picture Soundtrack: Original Songs By Karen O And The Kids by Karen O and the Kids
Anyone who knows me personally and has seen the trailer for Spike Jonze’s upcoming adaptation of Maurice Setzler’s classics children’s book Where The Wild Things Are will know how excited I’ve been since first seeing it in the summer months (if you haven’t, find it here). Opening at number one at the American box office with a decent gross for what has been billed as more of a director’s vision than a bona fide blockbuster, distributor Warner Bros. wisely advertised the film towards a more adult audience who would appreciate its earthy charms rather than to tweenyboppers weaned onto plastic paradises of the ilk of Disney and DreamWorks. This has followed through to the musical soundtrack, composed by Jonze’s then-girlfriend Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs (but you knew that!), which works more as a retracing of childhood “rumpuses” and traumas than a straight-up kiddie tie-in. At times brash, unwieldy, whimsical and more than a little noisy (and even committing a cardinal soundtrack sin of featuring dialogue from the film itself throughout), it certainly sounds like the perfect compliment to such an intimately epic visual piece. As a stand alone album, it has its moments (the best being the quieter ones such as Hideaway and the soothing howls found on Cliffs) but may need the film itself to inspire magic within the listener to fully work.

Break Up by Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson
Though the sessions predate those for her divisive, Dave Sitek-helmed debut Anywhere I Lay My Head, Johansson’s collaboration with singer-songwriter Yorn has now been released little more than three years later; whether this is due to Johansson’s hectic filming schedules or the success (re: failure?) of her debut album is unclear, but the result is rather innocuous and charming enough in its own right to see the light of day. Critics of Johansson’s Tom Waits project will be relieved to find her in a more wistful and sweeter voice here first of all, hers a perfect complement to Yorn’s guileless melodies and strumming, charting with winsome earnestness the twilight of a once loving relationship, a standout being the confused yearning of I Don't Know What to Do. However, one tidbit of trivia about the disc does reveal something about the collaboration itself in that Scarlett’s vocals were recorded in all of two afternoon sessions, which may help to explain the genuinely inconsequential nature of the music itself (and, at 29 minutes, an EP-shaped running time!). Granted, it’s textured and sweet, with Yorn and Johansson providing a likeable foil for each other throughout, but even as a gossamer-light acoustic delight, it falls just shy of being truly memorable, never mind remarkable.

Sub Focus by Sub Focus
Having enjoyed decent airplay on Radio 1 as well as remix duties for the likes of The Prodigy and Empire of the Sun previously, drum’n’bass artist Nick Douwma makes his debut as a solo artist in his own right with his self-titled LP. Now admittedly things get off to a bad start on opening track Let the Story Begin, where a formidable brass section is reduced to a single, ear-splitting screech from which it cannot recover. Thankfully, the rest of the album takes a more subtle cue with which to blast the listener with resonant bass lines and samples, particularly on the dubstep flirting found on Last Jungle and on Deep Space, a fine piece of dirty retro d’n’b which has the added bonus of being one of the better TV show themes never composed. Another encouraging feature of Douwma’s music is that he’s more than happy to switch up his genres more than once, often, as on the electro-house number Could This Be Real with its oldschool piano line; however, this doesn’t mean that Dowma evades the risk of his sounds appearing more than a little dated as opposed to paying homage whilst pressing his ear toward future dance movements, most tracks here sounding like Liam Howlett cuts before Maxim and Keith Flynt could yell any sort of chant on top of them.

100% by Beverley Knight
Keeping your head above water for over fifteen years in the world of UK soul and R&B is no small feat, but Ms Knight’s success has been hard-fought, bewitching her fans with that hella-wonderful voice of hers. The first album out of the gate of her own record label after eleven years with Parlophone (who most likely wanted to push her towards more classic R&B standards after her last cover album), 100% sees Knight take on more contemporary-flavoured jams than her last two albums and its testament to her musical smarts that, even when she falls on so rare an instance such as the ill-advised Autotune interlude on In Your Shoes, she still dusts off enough charisma and full-throated delivery to let it slide past. Enlisting old friends Guy Chambers and DJ Munro from Affirmation as well as some impressively-established outsiders (Amanda Ghost, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Chaka Khan herself), it’s as solidly entertaining as any of her previous work, if not groundbreaking enough to breakout past her loyal fanbase. Highlights here include Bee Gees cover Too Much Heaven and Gold Chain.

Wordshaker by The Saturdays
Despite having a platinum-selling debut album under their belt, it still doesn’t quite feel as though the Great British Public have taken this hardworking girl group into their hearts quite as much as they should have. Perhaps suffering from the sheer amount of female-fronted power pop that has cropped up on the radio throughout the year (made ironic by the fact that their biggest competition from last year, labelmates Girls Aloud, have been strangely absent for most of it), even the customary glut of superstar producers (The Runaways, Steve Mac, Per Magnusson and David Kreuger) haven’t allowed the girls to make the same impact that the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Jordin Sparks have had this year. Which is a shame, because they’re backed up with better tunes than most popstrels of their profile and know how to sell them better too; it’s testament to The Runaways’ production skills and the girls themselves that lead single Forever Is Over belies its credentials as a James 'Busted' Bourne composition, whilst tracks such as Ego and Open Up are unabashedly uplifting in their sassiness and sold through with enough panache as to not seem gimmicky. They deserve better from their press team, and for a fledgling girlgroup that’s no faint praise!

Origin:Orphan by The Hidden Cameras
Headed by singer/songwriter Joel Gibb, The Hidden Cameras have remained elusive with regards to being embraced by the mainstream, in spite of various alumnus finding international recognition in their own works (the most quoted being one-time member Mike Olsen’s Arcade Fire, whom undeniably draw influences from Gibb’s collective). Celebrated for his prior works’ sexual overtones and raucous playfulness dressed up in charmingly subversive folk-pop, it would appear that this fifth album foretells an upcoming period of jadedness for the Cameras, if the high-drama of the opener Ratify The New and the title track are anything to go by. Which isn’t to say that Gibb has lost his playful touch entirely; highlight Underage is as familiar a kinky, lyrical lightning rod as any other in the Cameras back catalogue, whilst Colour Of A Man and closer Silence Can Be A Deadline in particular play as sweetly and elegantly as anything on The Smell Of Our Own. Then again, following an album titled Awoo with one that suggests more than a hint of loneliness and trepidation within a new world was always going to bring its share of changes (Gibb has since moved from Canada to Berlin since the previous Cameras album, Awoo, so perhaps that was a factor?), so let’s hope Gibb rediscovers his playful mojo fully in time for the next Cameras album.

Tongue'n'Cheek by Dizzee Rascal
For all of Dylan Mills’ detractors who upon the release of his best-selling single of last year, Dance Wiv Me, began throwing accusations of the East London MC selling out, the title of his commercial breakthrough record pretty much says it all. Mr Rascal has always shown a degree of humour in his rhymes, but he lets his inner prankster loose full blast here, recounting tales of high-flyer clichés of freaky groupies, fly cars and new money wealth that would sound bizarre if they weren’t filtered through aspirational MTV programming every day (Freaky Freaky has been a lightning rod for its apparent misogyny for those who can’t see through the pastiche). Even a passing listen though reveals that Dizzee’s not lost his edge on social commentary, despite what the critics of his singles say, as found on album highlights Can't Tek Me No More and forthcoming single Dirtee Cash. However, there are wrinkles in Dizzee’s self-effacing suit; there is still a frisson running through the entire album wherein the rapper’s intentions may be misinterpreted by some as condoning all of this vacuousness rather than commenting upon it, and tapping the likes of Armand van Helden, Calvin Harris and Tiësto smacks of cynically utilising the UK dance market for some 24-karat hits. Or, you can just let the guy have a laugh at the height of his career, take your pick...

3 Words by Cheryl Cole
And The Award For The Album That I Had No Idea I Was Going To Like Quite As Much As I Ended Up Doing So Far This Year goes to... Seriously though, when I heard that Mrs Cole was going to be the first member of Girls Aloud to dip her toes into the popworld realms as a solo music artist, I was a little confused; Cole has, Aloud aside, always marketed herself as more of a media mogul and a fashion glamourpuss than someone passionate about making music, as her gig as a judge/mentor on TV’s The X Factor has established. But with this solo album, Cole has almost single-handedly raised her game as a pop star in her own right; in spite of there being recorded proof that she isn’t exactly a premier vocalist, she still has enough of an intelligent and classy edge to differentiate herself for the robodivas lying in the wake of GaGa’s all-out pop offensive. Whilst she solidly holds court here and shares a few writing credits, plaudits must also be given to her team at play behind the studio glass; contributions here from Ingrid Michaelson, Taio Cruz and in particular will.i.am, whose 3 Words is quite possibly the most surprisingly great pop moment of the year so far and on. Sure, it’s hard to imagine her crying over anyone like she does in the less-than-convincing Make Me Cry and any album featuring a Bedingfield composition has a strike against it in my book, but Cole may have done the impossible and convinced the music fans she is in fact a star.

My Way by Ian Brown
It takes an artist of either grandly justified confidence or vastly questionable ambition to compare their upcoming album to what is largely considered the greatest album ever made in recording history. Therefore, it says something about Northern monkey Ian Brown that, when he began promoting his sixth album whilst alluding to its inspiration, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, a lot of people weren’t immediately incensed to shocked aghastness. Eye-rolling bemusement, certainly, but reminding the press of mastering said album on the day the King Of Pop shifted his mortal coil didn’t do any favours, surely? Well, Thriller it certainly isn’t, but Brown survives grand pitfall of egotism with some assurance on this LP, the allusion to Jackson’s classic obviously referring to the pop-friendly sounds permeating throughout. Opener Stellify was actually written for Rihanna until Brown claimed it for himself, Vanity Kills features beats that wouldn’t go amiss on a Timbaland record and Always Remember Me is so classily cheesy that, if it weren’t for Brown’s unmistakably tuneless voice lending it something palpably moving, it wouldn’t have gone amiss a latter-day Take That album. Though in the long run the record becomes quite creaky, it’s testament to Brown and long-time collaborator Dave McCracken that they get away with something like this with some panache really.

Monsters of Folk by Monsters of Folk
Four years in the making accounting for its members’ various day jobs, this latest American supergroup consists of some of the finest folk musicians currently strumming their way through America (Yim Yames, Conor Oberst, M. Ward and producer Mike Mogis) carry with them a reputation more high-profile than most. Now, other than Ward, I’m at a disadvantage reviewing this LP with regards to how it differs from each of the components’ solo works; what I can tell though is that there are few supergroups who have gelled together quite so comfortably and enjoyably as these four troubadours, on fine evidence throughout this first (hopefully of a few more) albums. Completely bereft of ego, grandstanding and creative shoehorning, these four peers have come together to craft one of the finer folk albums of the year thus far; according to their website, it was born out of an immense interest on each of their parts to see how each of the other players worked in the studio with the intention of creating their own beast rather than solo spots with cameo appearances. And the results are often rather lovely, particularly on the harmonies of Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.) and the rock-leaning brashness of Losin’ Yo’ Head.

I Told You I Was Freaky by Flight of the Conchords
Better listened to as a commemorative soundtrack compilation to their Emmy-nominated second series for HBO, Jemaine and Bret’s sophomore studio album rather unfortunately suffers from a bit of a slump when compared to their debut last year precisely because it doesn’t hold as well without the second series of the intrepid Kiwi folk duo’s comedy show as a reference point. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a shortage of chortlesome pitch-perfect parody to be had; highlights here include We're Both in Love with A Sexy Lady, with its beats and synths playfully licked from R Kelly’s mixing desk as the guys argue over a girl who may or may not be named “Brabara”, and Sting pastiche You Don’t Have To Be a Prostitute (easy targets, but there you go!) However, the record still feels like it comes up a little short with a lack of tunes compared to those featured in the actual series, which included a paean to psycho-fan Mel’s Conchord-featured dreams and a Magnolia-style reprise of Hurt Feelings, and the visual accompaniment is obviously lost and cannot enhance the comedy (particularly on Carol Brown from the episode directed by Michel Gondry). Still, with tunes as delightfully silly as Rambling Through the Avenues of Time and Petrov, Yelyena and Me (the latter one of the duo’s first ever tunes from years before), there’s still plenty of laughter to be had.

After Robots by BLK JKS
Forming in 2003 and eventually signed on to Secretly Canadian after a successful limited independent release back in 2007 that found their recordings being sold in the trendier music markets of the world, BLK JKS (a sort-of acronym for Black Jacks) are enjoying quite the fine hum of buzz in the indie/prog rock/world music arena for their heady mix of psychedelic rock, ska punk and traditional African music, having already shared stages with the likes of Santigold and Dirty Projectors and being particularly well-received at 2008’s SXSW festival. Co-produced by Secret Machines’ Brandon Curtis in the US earlier this year, their debut long-player does well to incorporate each of those elements and not only give each of the quartet a chance to shine (be it Tshepang Ramoba’s peerless command of the drum kit or Lindani Buthelezi’s evocative vocals) but also not to overegg certain influences for the sake of sounding ‘authentically’ indigenous to their roots in Soweto, South Africa. The album does close on the rather lovely acoustic number Tselane that will play up those cards, but before that we have the explosive charms of Skeleton and Kwa Nqingetje, predominantly surging hard rock performances that present a fine meshing of Western rock and Afrobeat but ultimately transcends both genres to provide something for everyone to listen to.

East Of Eden by Taken by Trees
Taking in a band of Pakistani players for her second album under her solo moniker, Victoria Bergsman’s knowing wistfulness is on full display on this acoustic delight of an album, relocating wholesale to Pakistan to record with Sufi musicians partly in reverence of two of her favourite singers in particular Abida Parveen and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and also in an effort to avoid the clinical creative drain from the modern studio recording experience. The result is never less than lovely, not just with regards to Bergsman’s sweet vocals (particularly in fine fetter on her Animal Collective cover, My Boys) but also in her utilisation of the Sufi arrangements, famed for their trance-like qualities and put to beguiling effect here, particularly on Day By Day. In direct contrast to the ambient delights found on the disc, Bergsman admittedly suffered some setbacks on this delicate delight of an album (highlighted in this short film here); it says something though that, even at nine songs long and a running time of little over thirty-minutes, the album represents something of a triumph for Bergsman, not just as a fitting tribute to an often-overlooked genre of world music, but also to her own songwriting pluck and talent.

Declaration of Dependence by Kings of Convenience
For those who like their folk-pop light as air and sad-eyed as a defenseless puppy that’s been kicked in the gut (sorry for the offensive imagery, but I’m only describing what you’re in for if you listen to this album), the Norwegian duo strike those heartstrings again with their third studio album of wounded acousticisms. Ornate in its simplicity but direct in its emotional attack, brother troubadours Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe take no prisoners with their stripped-bare aesthetic, more often than not eschewing percussiove elements altogether and creating broken fragments of beautifully candid intimacy; this is just two men and their instruments hushedly reminding themselves they are still alive amidst the destruction done unto and by them. At times, the emotionally rich vocals and elegant melodies almost suggest a jazz like quality, further adding to the elegiac effect of the songs on offer here (standouts being Renegade and Riot on an Empty Street, the latter arriving a whole album late, it would appear). For all of the desolation permeating throughout the piece though, as evidenced by the title, these two would appear to have found each other again in time, not only to exchange tales of woe and missed chances, but to ultimately affect a change and start over together.

Kamaal The Abstract by Q-Tip
Shelved over seven years ago because of his then-label Arista’s reluctance to release such a non-commercially viable record off the back of his more mainstream-infused debut solo LP Amplified, Q-Tip’s critically lauded sophomore album finally sees the light of day, no doubt due to renewed interest kick-started by The Renaissance from last year. Following a jazz-funk groove deeper and more, for lack of a better word, abstract than most established rap acts would dare to tread, Q’s lack of artistic restraint and evident love of his jazz influences is laid bare for all to hear and still holds a significant thrall even after collecting dust over so many years. Entirely self-produced and on its nine tracks highlighting a lyrical maturity unheard from most urban musicians in their entire careers (Q’s optimism wins out on opener Feelin' and it’s nice to listen to pro-female lyrics as found on Even If It Is So for once), it represents a minor triumph for Q’s back catalogue, precisely because he doesn’t let his mouth run away from him and the laidback nature of the music proves more uplifting and cathartic than any mountain of petty, speed-of-sound cussing can try to emulate.

Embryonic by The Flaming Lips
Still flying in the face of their critics after twenty-six years together that includes eleven studio albums, eight extended plays and a film score to their very own sci-fi opus that finally saw release in the US last year after spending seven years in the making, it would appear that the Lips have confounded their listeners once again, their modus operandi on this double-disc behemoth being to cram absolutely everything that they couldn’t on their last few, more mainstram efforts. The result is a disjointed, dark journey through some impenetrably forboding psych-rock that either contains the Lips’ finest work or their most infuriatingly puzzling, depending on the mood that you find yourself in whilst listening to it, unless your mood happens to run the haphazard emotional gamut that the Lips are content to throw the listener into (for every sweetly disturbed ode such as Gemini Syringes, there is a ear-splitting rabble of The Sparrow In The Machine). However, one cannot deny the sheer gravitas of what is certainly one of the only genuine event records to see release this year; one gets the impression that, even if you cannot honestly summise the motives behind the Lips anarchic offerings here (featuring Karen O and MGMT as key special guests also), there is still something beyond the usual hard rock tropes at work here... Approach with caution.

She Wolf by Shakira
Given the emergence of electro-pop in its various guises over the last year or so, you can’t really blame Shakira for wanting to take it by the horns and try her hand at it. Now whether its down to her own mercurial likeability (and let’s face it, she’s pretty damned cute!) or her choice of collaborators on this latest effort (which include sort-of past it hitmakers The Neptunes, alongside Santigold’s co-producer John Hill and old friends Wyclef Jean and Jerry Duplessis), she’s hit paydirt with her third English language studio album. Sure, she may be taking cues from prior efforts by Britney Spears (Why Wait borderline threatens to turn into a Gimme More sequel before the maybe-genius Bollywood influence hits), but Shakira’s own influence can be felt here because she isn’t subsumed by the threat of crushing electro beats á la RedOne, rather more content to rely on some exceptional songwriting (The Bravery’s Simon Endicott contributes the two standouts, including the title track and Men in This Town) and imprinting her own sassy Latin roots on the proceedings, heard best here on possible future single Good Stuff. It’s the difference between a good pop star and a great one that can adapt to a new sound without letting it crush them into submission and still sound fresh and interesting; i.e., let’s see if Lady Gaga can pull this off later down the line!

The BQE by Sufjan Stevens
Originally written for a one-off performance run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House in November of 2007, composer Stevens has taken all of two years to put a multi-media package together for those who weren’t able to attend those three sold out nights. Straying further from his established oeuvre of classically-infused folk music, Stevens has delivered what could be described as his Rhapsody In Blue, as the spectre of George Gershwin in particular looms especially large over his almost entirely orchestral ode to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, bar the more electronically inclined Movement IV: Traffic Shock, which provides a quite-awesome break to the otherwise lovely, often beautiful passages illustrated here. Granted, it’s stunted when presented as simply a stand alone disc (the actual package contains an accompanying DVD of the motorway itself as filmed by Stevens, but not of any of the live performances, which featured a full-orchestra and a group of hula-hoop girls choreographed to the pieces), Stevens’ indulgence barrier will have been breached for a few of his less ardent listeners and members of the classical community may turn their noses up at yet another pop artist making an ill-fated stab at contemporary classical arrangements, but even all of that won’t detract from one of the more beauteous curios 2009 will have yet heard.

Introducing Dionne Bromfield by Dionne Bromfield
The phrase “hook ‘em when they’re young” feels semi-appropriate when writing about Miss Bromfield, Goddaughter to one Amy Winehouse and now a fledgling bona fide soul singer, cultivated by Ms Winehouse via her homegrown Lioness Records label. One comparison to be made other than her famous relative also is that of Joss Stone, who similarly set the recording world alight at a tender age with her The Soul Sessions album, a roster of carefully chosen covers that helped catapult her star into the stratosphere. However, whilst Stone came to prominence primarily by covering an indie anthem with a vintage Motown edge, Bromfield and her team have done well to transport her straight into the old-soul aesthetic with some carefully chosen classics, primarily because her voice, for a 13 year-old girl especially, is truly something to behold. Taking such sultry and galvanising command of standards such as Ain't No Mountain High Enough, My Boy Lollipop and Until You Come Back to Me, she strikes a prodigiously appealing chord that puts singers three times her age in her place. However, where she can go from here is an intriguing question (following her mentor’s example has its obvious pitfalls, after all), but for now, we can for once enjoy a kiddie cover album that no hip adult music listener should do without.

Album by Girls
A certainty to feature most prominently on Pitchfork’s Best Of ‘09 list, given their rapturous reception on the alt-music trendniks’ website along with many others, this indie rock group from San Francisco have ticked all of the boxes with regards to breakout success, with lead man Christopher Owens generating plenty of press via his personal history (being a former member of the Children Of God cult) and his blasé admission that the band’s debut disc was fermented via the method of copious drug-taking. Which, in of itself, doesn’t mean the listener is in for an infuriatingly bizarre audio misadventure nor the closest thing to an audio ascension to nirvana possible (the state of being, not the band!), as the quartet have gone and produced an almost-delicate alt-pop record awash in gorgeous feedback and timeless walls-of-noise. Described by the band themselves as a break-up record, it takes in serene psychedelic tropes as often as it does earthy ska punk, examples of each being gorgeous centrepiece Hellhole Ratrace (already earmarked by the ‘fork as a standout track of the last decade) and the joyous rabble of Morning Light, and as a result definitely cements its reputation as one of the more legitimately esteemed releases of 2009 thus far and, unfortunately for Pitchfork detractors, whilst it doesn’t quite scale the heights of hype prescribed, it comes very close!

Warp20 (Recreated) by Various Artists
In order to celebrate releasing some of the best avant-garde electronic/dance/pop/rock/alternative music to have been composed over the last two decades, those fellows at Warp have decided to go all out with a rather delectable deluxe box set in honest, spastic funk celebration. However, for those who can’t afford to purchase said limited edition set, two facets of Warp20 can be purchased individually. The first is a double disc extravaganza of previous releases (disc one by fans on the Warp website, disc deux by co-founding label head Steve Beckett), featuring hits from the likes of Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Battles, Plaid and Squarepusher. Up for review here is the second compilation, for those who probably have most of those tunes already in their previous incarnations, which is essentially a covers album from Warp’s current roster performing their personal favourites from the Warp back catalogue. Of the notable successes here are avant-folk outfit Born Ruffians covering Aphex Twin’s Milkman and To Cure A Weakling Child, Tim Exile’s heavily-processed take on Jamie Lidell’s A Little Bit More and Leila’s gorgeous piano work of Twin’s Vordhosbn. Well worth a look and contender for compilation of the year.

Tarot Sport by Fuck Buttons
After courting generous indie press plaudits for their debut Street Horrrsing last year (and pretty much alienating most readers who tried to listen to it in the process), Bristolian electronic drone meisters Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power have done well to reign in their inner noisenik to deliver an album that develops further from the art noise of their debut and yet retain an air of accessibility so as to endear them to a wider audience. Sure, you wouldn’t think upon listening to single Surf Solar’s frankly insane build which leads into Rough Steez’s reverb heavy power-slog that there was anything less commercial on the electro side of things, but the duo appear to have mastered the slow-build almost perfectly, because by the time The Lisbon Maru has segued into standout track Olympians with through a mix of distorted guitar and heavy beats shot through with serene synths, you’re more than likely to be sold on this seven-track gem of an LP. Please bear in mind that for those who don’t like their jams at once trance-like in their ambience and positively ear-ringing in their drones, Tarot Sport will be a little too hard to swallow... For the more adventurous listener though, it’s a sonic highlight of the year!

And that is why Tarot Sport is my Album Of The Month For October...

Am knacked after that! Didn't check for typos this time so please feel free to make fun of any and everything in this journal! I'm game... ;^)


  • brennivin85

    OMG TLDR! I think you missed out the best tracks on Dionne and Beverly's albums ("Tell Him" and "100%").

    29 oct. 2009, 15h05m
  • onitorment

    TTVT, TLDR everything, hahah ! Impressive readings nonetheless - makes me want to unwrap Declaration of Dependence. Really lookin' forward to listening to Girls' sounds though..

    30 oct. 2009, 1h55m
  • CvaldaVessalis

    All these acronyms, ARRGHH!!! Thanks for the comments though, guys!

    30 oct. 2009, 10h13m
  • Babs_05

    Great journal as ever. Thanks. :)

    3 nov. 2009, 20h02m
  • CvaldaVessalis

    Thanks for reading, Babs! And a personal thanks for the tip-off on Taken By Trees... x

    4 nov. 2009, 0h31m
  • Babs_05

    I've got a new one for you, if you haven't already heard it: Broadcast & The Focus Group - Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age. It's a collaboration between the two bands, though the sound leans more heavily towards Broadcast. The genre is hauntology, but Broadcast take it more into mainstream 60s pop. So hauntology goes pop, if you like.

    4 nov. 2009, 0h46m
  • CvaldaVessalis

    Hmmm... Sounds interesting, had a Broadcast album (the one with The Book Lovers on it) but it got wiped when my first Mac at work got ill and died. Will get on the case with this though. Thanks again!

    4 nov. 2009, 11h21m
  • Babs_05

    You're welcome. And I totally agree with you on Fuck Buttons. Thanks for bringing that to my attention! There's a sampler in YouTube for the new Broadcast & The Focus Group collaboration. It'll give you a good idea of the album - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGQCknUxn4w

    5 nov. 2009, 18h33m
  • CvaldaVessalis

    I'm sold; sounds delectable! In a complete U-turn of genre and sound, I offer the most guiltily pleasurable music moment of 2009... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfNwO9HNqh4 It'll be huge when it hits E4 next year, so be prepared!

    6 nov. 2009, 18h15m
  • Babs_05

    A seriously guilty guilty pleasure. :)

    11 nov. 2009, 20h00m
  • gillianMFC

    thank you for saying what you said about fuck buttons... so many people have been scared away by all the hype that's surrounded them since street horrsing. it's totally deserved though. they're fucking brilliant (pun semi-intended).

    8 déc. 2009, 2h13m
  • CvaldaVessalis

    You're more than welcome, gillianMFC; nice to see they're making waves in the US too! Keep listening...

    9 déc. 2009, 17h14m
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