Thursday, September 8, 2011

Unknown Mortal Orchestra should be known

One of my favorite pop songs to come out this summer is by a vintage lofi psych-rock trio from Portland. The song is called Ffunny Ffriends and the band is Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

While their recent debut album is generously peppered with catchy psychedelic hooks that harken back to the 60s, the melodies in Ffunny Ffriends are the grand daddys of them all.  Add this to a nodding hip hop beat and a fat round bass line and you have an infectious earworm that grabs a hold and stays with you as you go on about your day.  And not in an annoying way.  More in a way that will most definitely draw you back for more.

I recently picked up tickets to go see these guys perform with Toro Y Moi in Toronto in a couple weeks. I can't say I'm not looking forward to it.

Definitely check out the whole album when you get a chance.  In the mean time, here's Ffunny Ffriends.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

James Blake performs at Mercury Awards show

While I'm more of a fan of James Blake's earlier work (CMYK,  I Only Know (What I know), Klavierwerke), I actually didn't mind his recent critically acclaimed vocal-centric self-titled LP.   Fans who are familiar with his older stuff know that Blake made a stylistic shift with this album, reaching out to new audiences and in some cases alienating old ones.

One of my favorite tracks off self-titled is the sparse and soulful The Wilhelm Scream. While the song may be one of Blake's more accessible tracks, it still hangs a bit out in left field with its repetitive pensive lyrics and noisy claustrophobic build up.  Unsuprisingly, Blake chose this one to perform at the Mercury Awards show last night and at first take I wasn't too thrilled by the performance.   But upon watching it again, I realized that it is more a case of bad mixing.  The arpeggiated guitar is way too much out in front and the keys/synths are too soft.   Some of the effects triggered by the drummer seem to overwhelm the song at parts.

Check it out for yourself below:

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dell blatantly rips off Broken Bells

A friend of mine recently asked for my advice on a laptop he is considering buying.  It's the new super-sleek and ultra-modern Dell XPS 15z laptop that apparently has "less mass and more appeal".  So I went to the Dell website and looked at the specs.   I checked out some pictures and then decided to watch one of the promo videos.  As I watched, I realized that the song in the video was strikingly similar to something I've heard before.  I couldn't quite put my indie finger on it at first and I had to rewatch and stomach the video a couple times. But it finally came to me. It was the The Ghost Inside by Broken Bells.

Check out the video below and listen carefully:

For those not familiar with the original or need a refresher, listen to the The Ghost Inside by Broken Bells.

Yes, it's a blatant and cheapened rip off!  Sure they use a different tempo and key. But everything else is carbon copy - the 1/8 note keys, the bass line, the synth lead, the double claps, back-up harmony vocals and even falsetto voice at the end.

Now I've seen this done before. Not too long ago, Microsoft launched an advertisement with a song that sounded a lot like Arcade Fire's Wake Up but was different enough to not be deemed copyright infringement.  Don't these big high-tech multi-million dollar companies have the coin to license the real thing? Or perhaps they know people like me will write a blog post about it, giving their product free (yet limited in my case) publicity?

While I'm not going to lose sleep over this, I just think credit should be given where credit is due and artists should be fairly compensated for use of their intellectual property.   But the more I think about it, if anyone should be upset it should really be Damon Albarn of Gorillaz :) .  Or maybe he should be simply flattered.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Is the sax making a come back?

Is it just me or is the smooth, sexy and sassy sax making a comeback in popular indie music?   One thing I've recently observed is that a handful of indie bands/artists are now employing one of my least favorite reed instruments.

It's not that I hate the saxophone.  I think it has a well deserved place in music, e.g.,jazz and big band music.  But when bred with other styles of music - especially rock - it has a tendency to, well.... cheese things up.  And I'm not talking about the cheese you snack on with crackers.  I'm talking about the kind you glaringly wince at in disgust.  I think we have the soft porn industry, the 80s and possibly Kenny G to blame for that.  

The fact that these artists appear to be striving for this corny aesthetic is interesting.  Are they trying to rebrand the sax and make it hip again?  Or perhaps it is simply an honest and genuine celebratory nod to 80s nostalgia.  I will admit that while I found the sax usage to be off-putting at first, it does seem to work in some instances. Others not so much.

Here are a few songs from 2011 buzz bands that are incorporating the almighty sax into their music.  Check them out, and let me know what you think.

If I missed any artists, please let me know in the comments section.

Destroyer - Kaputt
The sax lead in Destroyer's Kaputt is reverb processed and panning. It is soft and delicate, asserting an airy chilled-out atmosphere.  This soft-rock 80s throw back has actually grown on me since the album was released.

Bibio - Feminine Eye
Bibio deploys the sax at the end of this track, mirroring the main vocal melody.   Smooth and understated, nonchalant and out-of-nowhere,  the sax here takes the song right into grocery store soundtrack territory.

Bon Iver - Beth/Rest
Anyone who has spent time with Bon Iver's latest album Bon Iver, Bon Iver, should be able to hear the distinct FM radio and 80s soft rock qualities that differentiates the album from it's folky predecessor.  No track is more showing of these traits than album closer and standout track Beth/Rest.  I say standout, but I don't necessarily mean that in a good way.  Justin Vernon unabashedly pays tribute to the 80s by pairing cheesy guitar leads with equally cheesy sax leads.   Growing up in the 80s, this song certainly conjures feelings of nostalgia and makes me long for the time when things were simple and care-free.  But nostalgia aside, I am wincing hard.

M83 - Midnight City
France's M83 specializes in blissed-out, shoe-gazey dream pop electronica (how is that for adjective stuffing?). Their latest single Midnight City is yet another nod to the 80s and like Bon Iver's Beth/Rest it leans heavily on warm feelings of nostalgia.  It's hard to not like this song.  The synths are dense, heavy and right in your face. The production is top notch.  It's simply uplifting and empowering.  Oh yeah and the song closes with a rockin' sax solo.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Radiohead fans love Radiohead

Today I had some time to waste and decided to watch some songs from Radiohead's recent In The Basement sessions, which features songs from their latest LP and personal non-favorite King of Limbs.   I hadn't listened to KOL in maybe a couple of months.  And it was really only a handful of times.  Nothing on it really grabbed me like past albums have.  Honestly, I feel it is a mediocre Radiohead album -  below Hail to the Thief and above Pablo Honey, in my ranked order of Radiohead albums (every Radiohead fan has one).

I didn't watch the videos in chronological order.  I picked randomly.  But by the time I got to the 7th song, I realized that a) although I am not a huge fan of KOL, I had watched most of the videos from the session and b) most of the videos from the session had roughly the same number of views.  There wasn't a big disparity at all between video views.  To me this represents the dedication and loyalty of radiohead fans and is a true testament to just how good this band is - or was, depending on what side you're on.

It was interesting to see and hear Radiohead play these songs live as a band.  The studio versions sound  so "produced" to me as if they were written and recorded in the studio, track by track.  It sounds more like an electronica album than say a "band" album - and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

By the end of it, I walked away with a slightly different perspective on the KOL material.  I actually think some of these tunes are better in this live format (Bloom, Magpie and even Feral) than on the record. Some of Thom's melodies are still borderline grating, though.  And for the most part, I feel like a lot of it has been done before, so I wouldn't say that this is a step ahead for Radiohead.  But despite all of this, I watched every video, and it looks like other Radiohead fans did as well and I think this says a lot.

Ranked Order of Radiohead Albums (Best to Worst)

OK Computer
Kid A
In Rainbows
The Bends
Hail to the Thief
King of Limbs
Pablo Honey

Das Racist Announce New 'Relax' LP

Das Racist is one of my favorite rap groups to come out in the past couple years. Although I must say, it took awhile before I jumped on the band wagon.  On the surface, Das Racist seemed as though they shouldn't be taken seriously, mainly due to their goofy lyrical content and half-baked music videos.  However, once you delve into their first two mix tapes (Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man), you realize that these guys are truly skilled rappers with solid flow, clever rhythms and infectious beats.  So yeah, they should be taken seriously.

I'm really looking forward to their forthcoming LP, Relax, set to be released on September 13th. It features production from Diplo, El-P, Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij and Yeasayer's Anand Wilder and includes guest verses from El-P, Despot and Danny Brown.

Here is Rainbow in the Dark, from Shut Up, Dude:

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The new Death Cab For Cutie is actually pretty alright

When I was younger and stupid I often referred to Death Cab For Cutie's music as music for fat girls.  I know this bad, and I apologize if you're offended.   But I was never really a big fan (not pun intended).  I am older and wiser now.  I did come to appreciate Ben Gibbard as a voclalist on Give Up, the first and last album under his side project The Postal Service.  This one turned out to be a bit of a the guilty pleasure for me, and brought me closer to being a DCFC fan.  While I haven't yet fully listened to their latest album Codes and Keys, I am enjoying the first single (and video).  I think it might have to do with the infectious guitar lead....

Check it out below:

DJ Shadow continues to disappoint

For me, DJ Shadow's Endtroducing is a landmark album.  Released in 1996, it is truly an album that was ahead of it's time, and one that spawned many copycats (I'm looking at you RJD2 and Moby). Since then,  he has released a couple albums here and there, experimenting with new genres (hyphy, funk and soul), essentially moving away from the sound he pioneered.  Really none of this has lived up to Endtroducing. I feel the same way about his new panned-out single called "I gotta Rokk".  It's ok.   But it's probably something that will get lost in my vast musical collection and rarely ever see the light of day again.

I gotta rokk, I gotta rokk (2011)

Midnight in a Perfect Work, Endtroducing (1996)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bon Iver | Calgary

Today we got the first taste of Bon Iver's long-awaited follow up to 2007's For Emma, For Ever Ago.   The album is set to be released on June 21st.   The song is called Calgary and can be streamed below.

Canadian rapper kills a Canadian classic

A friend of mine brought this to my attention today.  Knowing that I am a long time Neil Young fan, she warned me and told me to "YouTube it if I wanted to be disgusted".  Most people that know me, know that sometimes I have a sick perversion for bad music.  It's like driving by a car accident on the highway; it's hard to resist a quick glance at the wreckage.  So I couldn't help myself.

This was my first (and probably last) exposure to Redlight King, a white rapper from Hamilton, ON.  In his song  "Old Man"  he lazily samples the 1972 Harvest classic with the same name.  Bastardization issues aside, the beat is terribly stock and generic, and the rapping is painfully pedestrian.  Granted, it will likely give Neil some exposure to the younger crowd.  But I don't think it will end up on the playlist of any loyal Neil fan (or hip hop/rap fan, for that matter).

Here, decide for yourself. But consider yourself warned. :)

Old Man Redux:

Old Man Original:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Timber Timbre | Black Water

Last summer, I caught the tail end of Timber Timbre's set at the Olympic Island Festival in Toronto  (there to see Broken Social Scene and Pavement). This was my first exposure to this Canadian three-piece, and I ended up walking away feeling rather indifferent.  For me, the slow paced spooky crooning of lead singer Mika Posen didn't really fit the hot summery day.

Today, I finally gave Timber Timbre's recent album Creep On Creppin On a complete spin during a long drive in the rain.  This time around their brand of eerie blues made much more sense to me.  Maybe it had to do with the overcast skies and heavy downpour. In the stand-out track Black Water, Posen sings "All I need is some sunshine". Check it out below:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bibio | Mind Bokeh

Let me start off by saying that Bibio's Ambivalence Avenue is by far one of my favorite albums to come out in 2009.  It is one that that will never get old in that I'll always come back to it.  And while I usually tend to gravitate more towards concise and cohesive albums, what I like about Ambivalence Avenue is its diversity.   Each track is different from the next drawing on different styles ranging from UK folk to off-kilter electronica a la Flying Lotus to smooth Dilla-esque hip hop to African infused 60s psychedelic.  And the tracks are consistently good. So needless to say,  I was very much anticipating Mind Bokeh with exceedingly high and probably unfair expectations.

Mind Bokeh follows the same sonic trajectory as its predecessor, moving away from the folky warbly tape sound that defines his ealier albums and even more into the realm of electronica.  Again, it's more of a mixtape or collection of songs, than say an "album" with an overarching theme that ties  tracks together.  However, unfortunately, I feel this time around Bibio misses more than he hits.

The misses includes songs like Take Off Your Shirt and Light Sleep, the former being an out-of-place staked-guitar rocker that resemebles something by Phoenix, and the latter being a blatant regurgitation of Jealous of Roses (from Ambilanence Avenue).  The track More Excuses falls short with it's unattractive repetitive vocal melody and striking similarity to All the Flowers (again from Ambivalence Avenue).  In Radiohead terms, it like what Amnesiac's Morning Bell is to Kid A's Morning Bell.

However Bibio makes up for these shortcomings with some quality tracks.  The instant mood-changer Anything New features a sliced up sample over top arpeggiated keys and an infectious beat.   Bibio proves that he is a well versed multi-instrumentalist on the bouncy and summery K is for Kelson. Finally, on Pretentious, Bibio daringly infuses a microtonal ostinato with 70s funk which makes for a peculair yet interesting mix that works out in the end.

Overall, Bibio is still a solid producer.  He excels at crafting unique soundscapes and textures, while taking retro sounds that conjure nostalgia and mixing them with modern electronica, giving old sounds new life.  Mind Bokeh is not a bad album, by any means.  While it doesn't quite live up to its predecessor, you would be doing yourself a considerable disservice by passing on it.

Check out my current favorite below:

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Gang Gang Dance | Eye Contact

Gang Gang Dance is an experimental electronic band from Manhattan, NY. They have released several albums over the past decade, displaying an obvious stylistic progression towards accessibility while maintaining their signature eclectic sound. This progression continues with their latest album Eye Contact released via 4AD.

While Eye Contact may be even closer to the center than the group has ever been before, this isn't something you would show to mom or dad. This is still a weird album. However, a big part of the weirdness is due to singer Lizzi's exotic wail that sounds like an Eastern-tinged concoction of Bjork, Kate Bush and that chick from Pony Tail. To the unseasoned listener, this can be a bit off-putting at first. But beyond the vocals are tight and intricate electronic compositions that draw on many genres including club, dance hall, uk underground, R&B and psychedelia.

Eye Contact awakens with the 11-minute opus and first single Glass Jar, which eases in with shimmering whooshy synths, ride cymbal patterns and intermittent spoken word in the background. The song builds and meanders until the 6 minute mark where it then bursts into a modern day electronic jam. Definitely not a track for one with ADD tendencies. But upon subsequent listens nuances of the finely crafted build-up and all-out synth jam are revealed making the track a definite highlight. A risky move, but one that ultimately pays off.

From then on, the album flows nicely from track to track. There is a worldly sound to the music with an emphasis on Eastern melodies and African rhythms. Stand-out track Mindkilla is a club banger with a soca beat that flirts with dance hall and techno - by far my current favorite. Romance Layers featuring Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip brings the intensity down a bit with a chillin R&B beat and soulful vocals. The energy reemerges though, with the penultimate and Bollywood flavored track Sacer and the cap track Thru and Through which features an eerie call to mosque motif at the end of the song.

Overall, Eye Contact is an album that can be listened to front to back without skipping a track. It's more cohesive, concise and focused than it's predecessor Saint Dymphna (2008), with less filler and top-notch production qualities. And clocking in at almost 40 minutes, its welcome doesn't seem overstayed. For me, Gang Gang Dance just gets better with each release. If you like experimental electronic music, give these guys a chance.

Check out Mindkilla below:

Tyler, The Creator | Goblin

Ok it hasn't been officially released yet, but the album is out there if you want it. And why wouldn't you? This is one of the most hyped albums to come out so far in 2011.

The Yonkers video caught my attention when it hit YouTube. I'll admit that. Up until then I hadn't heard of OFWGKTA. As I watched the views skyrocket over just a couple weeks (views are at about 7 million right now) I thought this guy might actually have something. However, upon hearing the rest of the songs on Goblin, I've come to realize that Tyler, The Creator doesn't really have anything at all.

The album is littered with bad fruity-loop 101 beats, grating synths, lackluster rhymes, flowless rap and terrible punchlines. And these are just fundamentals. On top of that you have lyrical content awash in eye-rolling misogyny, homophobia, violence, excessive references to masturbation, cock sucking, rape oh and violence. Oh he's so shocking. On top of that, he complains about his recent bout of fame as if it's a curse. C'mon. I'm not buying it.

But no, he's not serious. And as evidenced in his lyrics, interviews and live performances, it is clear that he just "doesn't give a fuck". This attitude married with rap can actually work and it reminds me of another group that blew up on the blogosphere not too long ago: Das Racist. But Das Racist's brand of hipster-hop at least has good beats. They have stellar flow, clever rhymes and punchlines. They can pull it off - consistently, too. But for me, Goblin is just the opposite. It boils down to gimmicky rap that will eventually (hopefully) fizzle out once the hype dies down.

Tyler, I'll give ya Yonkers and the video. But the rest is terribly forgettable.

Listen to the track below to hear what "the best thing to happen to rap in a long time" sounds like: