Archive for February, 2010

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The Knife in collaboration with Mt. Sims & Planningtorock – Tomorrow, In a Year

February 28, 2010

The Knife in collaboration with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock - Tomorrow, In a Year

The Swedish electronic band The Knife have stayed busy since their last album, the widely praised Silent Shout, in their own ways. Karin Dreijer, as Fever Ray, released her self-titled debut last year to quiet but unanimous praise, Olof has worked under the name DJ Coolof and the siblings have managed their record label, Rabid Records. As a band that takes few cues from others and follow even fewer conventions, it’s no surprise that The Knife decided to release their latest album in the form of a collaborative work with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock as an opera written for the Danish performance group, Hotel Pro Forma. Tomorrow, In a Year is based on the life and work of evolution theorist Charles Darwin. It should be noted before I dive into talking about this album that not only do I have no prior experience with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock, but their influence here is apparent. These songs are clearly influenced by these outside forces, though The Knife have a hand in writing each and every song.

First, I ask those involved with the overwhelming backlash towards this album, what were you expecting? The answer is probably more material like the leadoff single, “The Colouring of Pigeons,” which The Knife released a couple months back. With that said, it’s a bit of a cruel, leading trick that the Dreijer’s decided to release “Pigeons” before all else. A slow paced, developing operatic piece, one of the few things that the song has in common with prior Knife material are Karin Dreijer’s wispy, haunting vocals that don’t even come in until the piece is three minutes deep. In contrast, the piece has a goldmine worth of new concepts to introduce: a stacatto string section, echoing gongs, and breathtaking guest vocals. These elements build slowly to incredible heights, and ultimately the song might be The Knife’s finest achievement yet.

The Colouring of Pigeons

Barely anything else on the album is even remotely like “The Colouring of Pigeons.” In fact, it takes until the second disk for even any remotely traditional sounding song structures, and a vast majority of the album consists of glitch and noise music. This will be The Knife’s most divisive album; some people will dig what the Dreijers do here, and some people just won’t. Yes, of course a modern opera by The Knife was going to strange, abrasive and abstract. But it stands that they know how to construct such an album very intelligently, slowly developing washes of noise, 8-bit bleeps, subtle atmospherics and operatic vocals with care, the end result an album that keeps listeners either on the edge of their seats or walking out of the theater.

The best of these more difficult, progressive pieces are likewise quite subjectively excellent. “Minerals” and “Variation of Birds” sputter and whir over innovative and gripping vocal parts, but they share space comfortably with the likes of “Ebb Tide Explorer” and “Schoal Swarm Orchestra,” which explore more subtle ambient textures. Many of these contemporary, often times atonal classical pieces seek out their goals more through process and theory than listenability. The Knife travelled to areas of the world such as the Amazon and Iceland for inspiration on their work here, and some pieces match their environments closely (The liquidic synths on “Geology” are meant to emulate flowing lava), and others still represent the concepts involved with the works of Darwin, not stated as evolution but instead as his coined term “descent with modification.” The creative methods in which these tracks were both written and recorded goes on: Drums were recorded while moving underwater and in open, resonating spaces, and electronics are used to create animal sounds in random patterns. The lyrics in this album are often written in relation to Darwin’s documents or essays about his life. Music and lyrics are written about the earth, its creatures and its lifespan. This is by far The Knife’s most diverse set of ideas yet.

The Knife

Which leads us to the fact that not all of these ideas are fully theirs. Remember, The Knife were commissioned to write the music for this opera. They were given a set of concepts, ideas and presumably a stage script, and had to go from there when it came to writing and recording. It’s a wonderful surprise then to know that The Knife have made the project very much their own, crafting a set of ideas that have progressed far past their previous interests. No where on Tomorrow, In a Day will you find the previously explored themes of capitalism, gender studies, politics or fractured love. This album, even within its instrumental passages, explores themes of the Earth and its inhabitants, evolution, death, and the fantastic, turbulent life of a brilliant man. It is difficult to even think about asking for more.

The second disk of the soundtrack brings the progression of both the album and The Knife’s career into perspective, delivering more traditional song structures and focusing particularly on three pieces of about ten minutes each: the aforementioned “The Colouring of Pigeons,” the electro-gothic “Seeds” and the clattering, percussive “Tomorrow, In a Year.” All three pieces slowly shift their weights throughout their massive spans, uniquely and yet somewhat similarly fleshing out sonic narratives. On either side of the stretch of electronic epics are two more quaint pieces, the earlier “Tumult” a continuation of the first disk’s noise experiments and the latter “The Height of Summer” building a tribal groove.

Tomorrow, In a Year

The disk is bookended by two takes of “Annie’s Box,” a piece about the death of Darwin’s daughter Annie, which are melodically the same but fundamentally different due to their vocals. And vocals serve as one of the album’s key elements, among others as percussion and repetition. Voices haunt these tracks like phantoms both alive and dead, and the vocal parts were written for delivery by three performers, one an opera singer, another a pop singer and a third an actress. Seeing how vocals were treated on albums like Deep Cuts and Silent Shout, it is sensible that the vocals here are just as innovative. It is quite clear that the Dreijers have developed their music in leaps and bounds throughout their now long-spanning career.

It’s hard to say whether Tomorrow, In a Year will be a game-changer. For the new decade, it almost certainly won’t- It’s form of release is decidedly exclusive, and most people who do get their hands on it probably won’t even get past the first three songs. These facts are partially due to The Knife being and always having been elegant in their delivery and embracing of high art, even when they dealt with low art concepts on Deep Cuts. But for The Knife and company, as well as everyone who gives this music the time it deserves, Tomorrow, In a Year feels like giant leap forward, both stylistically and structurally. However, the fact remains that unless an accompanying DVD is released or Hotel Pro Forma tours extensively, the masses will mostly be left without the project’s visual component, which we can safely assume is as just as important as the aural. But for the majority of us who will never experience Tomorrow, In a Year in its fullest form, it’s jaw-dropping to think that the soundtrack communicates so much on its own.

You can listen to tomorrow in a year in its entirety at http://rabidrecords.com/tomorrowinayear/.

Tomorrow, In a Year

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Lil' Jarvis

February 27, 2010

I guess I feel a little apprehensive about spreading pictures of artist’s children, but it seems like this was in public, and who wouldn’t want to show off a lil’ Jarvis?

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Stationary/Moving Pictures

February 24, 2010

It is early in the evening and I am reading John Dos Passos. And I am listening to Stars of the Lid, because Stars of the Lid make the only music that I can listen to while studying. Their drones and long-held notes frame my existence for short periods of time before they shift into another form.

I have been extremely tired lately. Tired, apathetic, lethargic. But not depressed or anxious, which is a big change. But my limbs are very heavy, I don’t have much motivation to do much, and I can’t seem to get excited about anything. This is not to say that I feel that things bore me or that I feel as if I’m above being excited by anything in my life right now. I realize that this is a personal problem and I would like to rectify it, but I’m not sure what I can do. Exercise is a possibility, but the thought of going to the gym makes me tired and uncomfortable, but it would still most likely be a good idea. In any case, I just find myself wanting to retreat to bed almost all the time, and when I have time planned to do something like study, read or write, I’m often just stricken with a really overwhelming sleepiness. If I then do go lay down on the couch or my bed, I can’t close my eyes and go to sleep, and so I get bored, get out of bed, go somewhere, and the cycle begins anew. Writing and music are still things I spend time on, but mostly because I’m bored, and they don’t really excite me like they used to. Maybe someone would just call all of this laziness, and it very well might be, but that I haven’t really pinned it as this makes me think there is more to it than that. My psychiatrist didn’t seem to take much notice of it when I told him about it, but my counselor did. I’ll ask my psychiatrist about it again when I next see him, and I’ll continue to explore the issue weekly with my counselor.

I feel like I need to remove myself from this time and place. I can’t do either but I can at least pretend, and maybe that would make me feel somewhat better. I’m going to take a cheese grater to my jeans tonight. I’ve been showering every other day, and I don’t find myself to be smelly. I’ve been listening to Love Battery and Hole, and Nirvana are beginning to excite me again. I’m going to buy converse sneakers, next time I need a new pair of shoes. I’ll probably buy a pack of Turkish Golds and get rid of the pack very, very slowly. I’m wondering why it is exactly that I want to do all this. I’m thinking there may be a deep seeded reason, some kind of desire for a certain culture that I never got to experience. A lot of people may call it pretending to be something I’m not. I don’t think that. I think it’s finally becoming someone I want to be. My biggest hate is people pretending to be someone else. “Myself” is someone I know deeply and closely, and it’s about time I let him out as much as humanly possible.

This week I’ve been reading Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” for my class on American Literature from 1865 to the present day, and I’ve been enjoying the hell out of it. Granted, the thing is exhausting. I can typically only stand to sit and go through about five to ten pages at a time, because the way it is written is exhausting and hard to follow. But it seems pretty self-evidently brilliant. Faulkner’s characters are just incredibly human, despite the fact that their actions and the way they are written is quite surreal. The story seems to be viewed through a blurred looking glass, the immediate, stream-of-consciousness perspectives of individual characters. It is a willfully difficult story and Faulkner clearly knew this, but still there are many rewards to be found here, though I’ve yet to isolate more than a few of them, and there are no doubt more. I need to teach a class session on this book, and I’m looking forward to that. I think it will be refreshing and informative to have a conversation with my class about this book.

I am looking for things to take pictures of. I want to get through this last roll so I can develop what I have and get back the pictures of the snow filled Washington DC. It is supposed to snow again tonight, a lot. I’ve heard upwards of a foot. Maybe more pictures? Hopefully my aunt will send me the old camera soon, the antique. I would love to take pictures with it. I want to pursue photography now that I have a camera, even though I’m not in a photography class anymore. If you would let me take pictures of you, please let me know.

For now, more Stars.

Best

ATB

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NEW DEVO: "Fresh"

February 23, 2010

Devo

The brilliant new wave art-rockers Devo released a new song on their website, clubdevo.com. Honestly, do I even have to say anymore? It’s freaking Devo. Just go get it and celebrate the fact that it is actually pretty damn good. It’s closer in form to their material circa Freedom of Choice than, say, the fractured post punk of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, so it’s a catchy, whimsical electro-pop tune. Clean production, but we can’t blame them on that; fame actually suits Devo very well, which is why we get excited when they do stuff like, I don’t know, play the Winter Olympics. The new Devo album is due soon, so look out for that. In the meantime, relish in the utter delight that is Devo.

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Dizzee Rascal – Boy in da Corner

February 23, 2010

Dizzee Rascal - Boy in da Corner

I haven’t heard an album that describes the rugged, lower class youth culture of the 2000s better than Dizzee Rascal’s Grime masterpiece Boy in da Corner. It’s definitely music from a specific time and place, but it is still highly applicable today. It sounded refined but also ahead of its time in 2003, and it hardly reserves itself to Great Britain, and very well comes close to describing an entire world culture.

Dizzee is an electrifying personality on Boy in Da Corner, an eighteen year old Londoner who got kicked out of four secondary schools in as many years, stole cars, and we can reasonably assume saw and participated in the culture he represents on this album. Interesting, then, that he practically begs the listeners, we can assume his peers, to “get what you can at school.” It sounds like it’s coming from a grizzled, world weary traveler, but in actuality Dylan Kwabena Mills was, really, a kid when he wrote the majority of this album (sixteen for “I Luv U”).

What’s really amazing is that he, as a teenager, paints a focused, unique and stylized portrait of what he sees and hears. The stories Dizzee spins are brutally violent and emotionally schizophrenic, and the sounds he produces are spastic, electronic and postmodern. And like many brilliant musicians before him, he doesn’t compromise his vitriolic commentary when cranking out catchy, unique pop music of his generation’s scene. In that sense, it makes sense that Boy in da Corner is both an underground cult hit as well as a Mercury Prize winning sensation.

The number of highlights here is staggering, but not all of them are immediate. The singles got the attention they deserved: “I Luv U” deals with possibly the hugest taboo for youth, love, over a warzone of a sonic landscape, “Fix up Look Sharp” is a minimalist piece that threatens to unite rock and rap in ways that Rage Against the Machine never could, and “Jus a Rascal” is a vocally acrobatic pseudo-hype track. Some less obvious highlights are no less impressive: “Hold Ya Mouf” is as violent as it is addictive, “Brand New Day” is a woozy psychotic break and the ending “Do It!” is the height of grime’s achievements, a brutally honest street manifesto. When Dizzee says “I swear to you, you can do anything,” it’s hard not to believe him.

What really shines through here is how literate and smart Dizzee is. Youth are a vitally important part of any culture, and it’s a rare treasure when a youth can step up to the plate and really describe what’s going on. The image on the album cover is ominous, mysterious and yet somehow obviously appropriate. Dizzee expresses the corner’s ambiguity himself on the album’s first track. He’s listening, watching and thinking, and his fingers may be loser Ls or antennae as easily as devil horns. We’re lucky that we have him as a figure in hip hop, and it’s no surprise that Boy in da Corner skyrocketed him to fame; no one had more to say in 2003.

Dizzee Rascal

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Nasir the Drummer

February 22, 2010

Behind a shining kit,

he lets his hands fly free.

Ah! What a peaceful sound.

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Best Coast

February 21, 2010

Best Coast

If you listened to Radio Cure last night, you caught me and Joey gushing over a new band on our now somewhat regular segment of “Beach Pop” as we call it, the new scene of music on the indie horizon which features sunny, ocean-bound pop music. We’ve seen a lot of it within the past year or two making a splash in independent music from the likes of Beach House, Real Estate, jj and more, including now this lovely artist Bethany Cosentino, known widely as Best Coast.

When Joey first played Best Coast to me, I immediately thought of the syrupy fuzz of the Vivian Girls, and it was exciting to find out that the two bands are currently touring the West Coast together. But the Vivians use similar means to reach a quite different ends, having championed a unique style of garage punk that has been more divisive than nearly any other band in recent history. Best Coast seems a little harder to dislike than the edgy Vivians, mostly because the innocence and lack of pretense in her music is even more apparent. She crafts lovely lo-fi West Coast pop music in the vein of The Ronettes that wouldn’t sound out of place on the American Graffiti soundtrack.

Best coast have only released a few singles and EPs so far, but their output is already home to a small treasure trove of pop classics. They’re the kind of tunes that you hold onto and don’t want to let go of, the songs that you put on repeat because you hate the thought of them ending even though you know that they need to, songs with melodies that sound like splashes of bright paint and clear ocean water. Take “Something in the Way,” an irresistible bittersweet heartbreaker, or the astute “This is Real,” love songs with tearjerking hitches. Does it get better?

Their material is sparse, so seeking them out is completely easy and enjoyable. If you like what you hear, do a little more searching on Hype Machine.

Something in the Way

Art Fag 7"

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Luvstep

February 20, 2010

Luvstep

This is about what the name suggests, a DJ set of songs infused with dubstep elements as well as love songs, mostly in pop music but also other genres such as soul, jazz, dance and more. As it turns out, the hypnotic sputtering of dubstep beats really work well with the sample material here, and the result is a swooning headrush of a set.

As far as I’m concerned, this is actually one of the better releases of this year so far. It’s poppy, fun, edgy, sexier than all hell and further proves through leaps and bounds that dubstep is capable of new and creative things. Don’t pass this one up; it rules hard.

You can and should download the whole thing for free here, through iTunes.

Enjoy!

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Massive Attack – Heligoland

February 19, 2010

Massive Attack - Heligoland

When it comes to Massive Attack, my general policy is to go with my gut. I say this while understanding that their two indisputable masterworks, Blue Lines and Mezzanine, were hardly easy albums and Protection and 100th Window were sleeper successes that took years of close listening to come to grips with. All of these albums, despite their ever-shifting reputation, were albums that I decided I really liked after casting away everything I knew about Massive Attack: where they were from, what they were intending, what anyone else thought of them and how said albums compared to one another. The result of this isolated thinking are four albums that are connected by subtle elements but are otherwise quite individual.

Heligoland, Massive Attack’s sixth album and first since 2004’s soundtrack to the film Danny the Dog, has almost nothing riding on the question of its success. Massive Attack, whatever form the name may represent (in this case, the permanent 3D Del Naja and the newly rejoined Daddy G), have proved over and over again that they have nothing to prove. You don’t have to do more than just say “Blue Lines” and “Mezzanine” in any argument about who has been the most influential trip-hop artist of all time, and their catalogue carries a wealth of hidden treasures that act as a backbone to the best run of singles in recent memory, as documented on the 2006 retrospective Collected. This lack of precedence informed Danny the Dog‘s span of styles ranging from ambient interludes to shotgun hardcore techno. More than anything, Danny the Dog sounded like Massive Attack crystallized in its purest form, say what you will about its lack of clear highlights. Just about the only thing we can gain from Heligoland, besides another great album, is being able to rest easy knowing these guys are still making music.

But when listening to this album, it’s really difficult to forget the other albums which it suggests fragments of, and even harder to forget the six year gestation period. The fact is, several years of hard work should have yielded a much more focused album than this. Judging by production and album art, it seems as if 3D Del Naja got a knock on his door and found that the deadline crept up on him. Even if these songs are written well, they should definitely sound better, and most of the production work on Heligoland doesn’t hold up to the amount of talent poured into them.

There is, in fact, an almost ridiculous amount of starpower Heligoland. One of Massive Attack’s perennial draws has been their fantastic organization and execution with guest vocalists, and Heligoland rings in the likes of longtime collaborator Horace Andy, TV on the Radio Vocalist Tunde Adebimpe, Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, Martina Topley Bird (most well known for her work with Tricky), Guy Garvey of Elbow and Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz. Other personnel includes Adrian Utley of Portishead, David Sitek of TV on the Radio and Tim Goldsworthy of UNKLE.

Even if this album didn’t have so much support, that fact would be overshadowed by the fact that 3D and Daddy G are cool dudes and it’s good to hear them making music again. This fact is most apparent on the ending “Atlas Air,” which is succinctly a Massive Attack work, with its melodically jumpy synths and building production. It definitely sounds like Massive Attack, but that’s part of the problem. It doesn’t have the element of surprise in its composition or production work, nor does anything else on this album, and that kind of unpredictability is what makes their prior releases so thrilling. The fact of the matter is, nothing on this album is really “bad,” per se. It’s not the kind of album that you skip any tracks on, but simultaneously not an album that really gets you to sit up and take notice, even at its best moments.

The opening “Pray for Rain” is a perfect example of this sonic indifference. The dark piano melody and rolling drum hits are mysterious and unfortunately totally predictable. So is the build in the song, which would have worked well if Tunde Adebimpe’s vocals weren’t given possibly the pansiest vocal treatment yet in Massive’s canon. The same can be said of a lot of the other vocal spots on the album, which would have worked much better if given more volume or reverb. Often times, vocalists like Adebimpe and Damon Albarn sound like they are wailing in the shower instead of into an abyss like Horace Andy and Liz Fraser did on Mezzanine. The type of treatment these pieces are given makes for a result where there really are no highlights. It’s a smooth listen, and that’s just the problem.

Each song has its cool moments that are unfortunately hindered by flat production. Most of the songs, in fact, are actually written pretty well. “Girl I Love You” and “Splitting the Atom” are hypnotically heavy arrangements that could have had similar gravity to tracks on Mezzanine if they were produced right, but they fall far short of that brilliance. Tunde Adebimpe and Martina Topley Bird give good enough vocal parts on their songs, but their vocals are mostly far too bare, and when they aren’t they are cheaply doubled. A few highlights shine through the clouds, particularly Hope Sandoval’s performance on “Paradise Circus,” though the song still lacks the typical Massive sense of danger. “Girl I Love You” is another track with Horace Andy on vocals, and though it nearly rips off Radiohead with its atonal horn section near the end, it is still a gripping listen. These songs are unfortunately pretty lonely.

The deluxe issue of this album only further accentuates its problems, mostly because the remixes are quite good and show how the album tracks might have sounded with more energy and urgency. Once again, it’s not that the album tracks are bad really; we simply know that Massive Attack can write, sing, sound better. We’ve seen them do that enough times now to expect that from them, and thus Heligoland feels like an underwhelming compromise. It is completely feasible that Heligoland can draw in new fans for Massive Attack, but for their longtime listeners, it is sure to disappoint despite providing a few highlights, and it is Massive Attack’s worst album by a large margin.

Massive Attack

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This is Just to Say…

February 16, 2010

“This is Just to Say”
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I read this poem and it really threw me for a loop. I know I’ve read it before in some English class somewhere, but I don’t remember any discussion about it. I’ve done a little research and a lot of people seem to view it as having some metaphorical meanings. About the relationship between the author of the note (most seem to think that the poem is written in the form of a note) and who it is supposed to be to, latent sexuality, selfishness, etc.

Maybe my personal interpretation stems from me really liking happy endings and optimistic interpretations of things. I think it’s beautiful and simple. I think it’s even a little romantic. The author knows the other person was probably saving the plums for breakfast, but they eat them anyway. I felt like it was sort of about the give and take of love, because the author feels comfortable enough taking the plums and knows that they will be forgiven, and means to show how much the plums really gave him pleasure.

…But that isn’t completely certain. They sort of issue a command, “Forgive me” as opposed to “I’m sorry.” And once again, the author knew that the other person was probably saving them for breakfast. A friend of mine thinks that the author is even rubbing in the selfish act at the end. “So sweet,” “so cold.” It’s a completely reasonable interpretation. It’s a selfish act. I guess you can look at that selfish act in many different ways.

And I think that is sort of what makes it such a neat little poem; it is ambiguous and can be interpreted in a lot of ways, despite the fact that it is so sparse and bare bones.

My aunt is taking a poetry writing class at Kansas University, and the class used this poem for an exercise. The students were asked to replace words in this poem with other words and to watch the meaning of the poem change. I think part of the reason for the exercise was to show how much every word in a poem counts.

I have taken
the records
that were on
the bookshelf

and which
you probably
wanted
yourself

Forgive me
they were important
so quiet
and so warm


Does anyone else want to try? Thoughts on “This is Just to Say”?

This post will be cross-posted on my American Literature class’s blog, You Made Me Theorize.

-ATB