After a week of intensive sifting through “old” tracks for the recent podcast, it’s time for some shiny new trinkets. I mean what were we thinking? Nobody listens to months old records anymore, anyway. It’s all about the here and now. Thanks to the “found my Christmas presents weeks ago” mentality of the in the know set, the here and now to several months from now might be more accurate.
Some songs to dissect…
the Long Blondes – “A Knife for the Girls”
We were waiting so long for concrete news on the debut from our UK crush, that when the November 7th date dropped from the sky it seemed unreal. I had made peace with the assumption that the surfacing demos would have to tide us over until at least early ’07. The slow drip of fully produced tracks began in earnest about a week and a half ago, and has intensified significantly this week, which also saw a hype stoking Pitchfork track review. I stewed in my jealous juices briefly, but now Someone to Drive You Home has found its way to me and all is right in the world.
The first thing you notice about the album is the big production, done by ex-Pulp bassist Steve Mackey. Every song on the record, including the previously released singles, have been rerecorded, money-ed up, and crammed full of atmosphere. Even “Weekend Without Makeup”, only months old, is altered with impressive results. I predict a Wolf Parade-esque bitch session from long time fans claiming that those early tracks have lost some charm in buffing their rough edges, but I don’t think anyone can argue that the fully realized versions of the aforementioned leaked demos aren’t a step up. The best of that batch, “A Knife for the Girls” is perhaps the most dramatically improved. A slow motion reading of the first verse allows Kate Jackson to sing beautifully without her standard ironic sneer, and when the killer snaking guitar line finally comes in, she cradles it with a drawn out “Ooooooh” (insulation from the galloping drumbeat). Her performance is more nuanced than it’s ever been in this gorgeous album closer, switching from airy ghost coos to multi tracked (Siouxsie & the) Banshee wails. The more sharply defined guitar spikes are a worthy complement, ever shifting for maximum slow burn mystery. A thrilling song, from a not at all disappointing album, that you will be hearing a ton about in the days to come. Get REALLY excited. I mean it.
Voxtrot – “Trouble”
I think this is where Voxtrot and I part ways. Their songwriting sophistication is admittedly growing more confident as the releases roll out, but the lyrical content is striking me as increasingly empty. Here, over warm piano keys that progress from their early period Belle and Sebastian aping by moving on to steal from the Life Pursuit (growth!), the tiny Austin boys deal with the story of a “junkie” musician who’s throwing it all away. It’s far too genteel in its pop delivery to convince the listener that it has any personal knowledge of self destruction and instead comes across like an out of touch after school special. Copious strings and mini-tempo shifts are engaing enough to ingnore the words for a while, but they’re full of platitudes that don’t really make sense when examined. Example: “It’s the fruit of life but you throw it away like candy” That’s a little hackneyed to begin with, but who throws away candy?
Of Montreal – “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse”
Now here’s how you write a drug song. One of the many standout tracks on the already acclaimed, but several months off, Hissing Fauna, are You the Destroyer? album, “Heimdalsgate…” sounds appropriately twitchy and conflicted about it’s subject matter. With an A.D.D. back and forth backdrop mood swinging from piano rolls to Sonic the Hedgehog video game synth-scapes, Kevin Barnes eloquently despairs about drug effects. “Chemicals don’t strangle my pen/ Chemicals don’t make me sick again/ I’m always so dubious of your intent/ Like I can’t afford to replace what you’ve spent”, he pleads. But like any good narc-head he sounds ready to rationalize another go round, exuburantly yelling “Come on chemicals!” in the chorus. It’s a more engaging portrayal that doesn’t stoop to preaching, and makes you want to shake some ass if you’re buzzed or not. Would probably be high in the year end lists if it were actually set for release this year. Hopefully, a full year from now it won’t have been forgotten. Seems doubtful based on the high quality, but things are crazy these days.
Also, when did Of Montreal start being this good? Can somebody give me a timeline? I remember listening to his lo fi 4 track recordings at the turn of the century, but then jumping into his studio material and being horrified by the cutesy high concept Hell I found. All the bird calls and slide whistles and sickly sweet musical theater touches on the Gay Parade scarred me so badly that I’ve basically refused to give Kevin another chance up to this point. He got awesome, apparently, so when should I have tuned back in?
Fujiya & Miyagi – “Ankle Injuries”
The profoundly not Asian Fujiya & Miyagi are almost too eclectic for me on their Transparent Things LP, released stateside in January. I like it when they tackle genres I have an affinity for and tune out when our interests diverge. This krautrock workout is cleanly in the pleasure zone. Over a Neu! groove, the boys whisper light word soup, strangely going on about “Pixelated scraps of jazz max in your head….lights”. The words may be confusing, but unease is soothed with a counterpoint of feather light Moon Safari synths. So relaxed that even the repeated “Fujiya…Miyagi” that pops up occasionally sounds more like a patient introduction for a hard of hearing Gran than boastful self cheerleading. The end result is like drifting off sweetly in the back seat, watching the highway lines blur.
Subtle – “the Mercury Craze”
Been a while since I’ve been so intrigued by a hip-hop single, but I guess I haven’t been looking very hard. My ignorance of the current scene leads me to make the most obvious comparison to Gnarls Barkley, although this is alot weirder and less overtly soulful. The rock-rap hybrid feels fully organic, with the sing song rhymes jog along with the pace of the rhythm and background vocals long enough to allow for some nice harmony. Bursts of hyper kinetic word spitting prove that they could leave everyone in the dust if they so desired. Restraint keeps them from making it strictly a skills workout, and little touches and diversions are everywhere. The momentarily chanted “B-L-Oh-Oh-D” is my favorite among them. Is this kind of keep you guessing song structure and varied instrumentation standard in underground hip-hop these days? Again, I’m ignorant and looking for guidance.
Jarvis Cocker – “Black Magic”
We’ve come full circle from the neo-Pulp leanings of the Long Blondes to the paleo Pulp-ness of main man Jarvis Cocker’s forthcoming album. Here in a brass balls display, our pal Cocker lifts the “Crimson and Clover” backing track for his own end, and not in a vague way like YYY’s “Our Time” did. It’s exactly recreated down to the echoed “Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-uh” backing vocal sighs. Jarvis doesn’t take it as easy as the hippies on the classic, urgently singing his case and bending the familiar elements to his will. The man has such a well established persona at this point that even an appropriation this blatant can’t help but sound like his own work. I blinked on the pastoral Pulp swan song We Love Life, but am getting surprisingly amped up for Jarvis. Nice to have the old crank back.
Alright, enough for now. Happy?