Archive for October, 2006|Monthly archive page
I don’t know why, but somehow Amerie begging her man to take control of her life is more offputting than the uber-subservient “Slave 4 U.” Not the first time a vocal vixen has made such a request, but it stings for the same reasons: Amerie has always come off as a strong, independent woman — for crying out loud she would only admit one thing kept her interested in her man. On “Take Control,” the new single that debuts on her slightly secret mixtape, she does more than ask to be taken care of, she wants to give up her will to/for her lover’s sake (“I would do anything to please you,” she crows, later chanting “take control of me”). Perhaps the feminism diatribe should be saved for another time. Either way, the tune’s subject matter is hardly her most compelling or enjoyable.
Cee-Lo’s production maintains his sunshiny aesthetic and blends in that of his famously Gnarly partner, Danger Mouse. Twanging guitars riffing endlessly are marched around by a boom-clap beat and buried under an infectiously overused brass section. Cee-Lo and his band of overdubs pop in to futher stuff the chorus. Amerie sounds good doing her best “not-Beyonce, but do you think I could be?,” giving her guy the key to the handcuffs and panty drawer. But of course she does! As a single, “Take Control” takes zero chances and banks on the same formula that she and her chart-topping peers have abused: horns and big beats. It’s not at all a track I’m repulsed by, and the oversaturated track could probably do well on pop radio. I never thought I’d say it, but R&B might need to slow down on spending its horn allowance. Last I checked, horns weren’t the only vivacious instruments.
Audio: Amerie, “Take Control”
The rest of the tape is enjoyable for the most part. Who else thought the “Money Maker” beat would sound sexy if Luda wasn’t stanking it up? It’s also nice to see someone in R&B trying to increase their output instead of merely milking every last penny from their album. The Amerie mixtape, Because I Love It, is available for FREE here. (Link and picture of Amerie looking faded via The Fader.)
Stephen Brodsky is a bit more prolific than I was aware of. In addition to fronting the slightly revered Cave In (the metal albums at least), Brodsky’s had his hand in Old Man Gloom and Converge, as well as three solo albums. Stephen Brodsky’s Octave Museum is the third, due out November 7th on, where else, Hydra Head records. And like those that came before it, it can be a bit much. Shuffling between genres and sounds with every song, it’s far more ambitious than the singular sounds of his previous solo releases. Regardless of the stylistic roulette, his characteristic LOUD & LARGE turns each track into that that sub-genre as played by Stephen Brodsky. At times they sound like tunes the other Cave In members weren’t interested in, or decided didn’t have enough edge. Others I think he’s just got some pop demons he needs to exorcise and genres he want’s to exercise. Either way, some turn out far better than others.
Now you’ll have to pardon me for cherry-picking, I’ll probably grow out of it, but there are two that need particular notice. In advance, pardon the name-drop — dude likes to dabble.
The smoke-choked riffs that open the record belong to “Voice Electric,” which finds Brodsky joining two unlikely sources: Modifying the Spacemen 3 motivational tools a bit, this burly riff snorts pixiesticks instead of blow. The effect has him ditching his dramatic pop tenor and singing like Thom Yorke and Jon Thor Birgisson (of Sigur Rós) tickling each other. The muscular feel of the fuzzy lead wraps an an iron fist around the pop-metal he wrote before and blows it a kiss. You can hear the electricity in the studio crackling in and out of the speakers when a fiery set of solos cut through the drone. Easily one of Brodsky’s best songs to date.
But then he’s Of Montreal and gushing non-sequiturs and popping out psychedelica. Maybe a touch of Spoon or the Living End? When he does anchor himself securely to a sound, as he does with the swooning “Prove Myself,” it’s one ready for the airwaves. S-Brod and his crew, I should mention, of Johnny Parker Northlup (sp?) and Kevin Shirtleff, return to Beatles acoustic tunes for inspiration. Neatly wrapped in gausy song structure, the tune would sound best nestled between the best Rob Thomas song you can think of and the best Better Than Ezra song. It’s a strange nostalgic result that brings Brodsky back to the chronological birth of Cave In. Charming for it’s unabashedly adorable melody, the piece swings and sways under the subject’s gaze. It ends with the man by himself, his guitar and a room. It’s a cheap trick, but it’s evocative all the same. If only I could say that for all the other antics he pulls on this latest slab of self-indulgence.
It takes a fresh pair of eyes to imagine the world as Ontario foursome Tokyo Police Club do. Forget the perils of global warming or explosive culture clashes; the seven songs of A Lesson In Crime, the group’s debut EP, find our future in the clutches of robotic overlords. But who knew doom and gloom could be such fun? Bursting with exuberance and dripping with wit, TPC tear through poppy post-punk tunes that make the grim fate they create seem more palatable. Maybe the familiarity of their sound has something to do with that. Within the EP’s first 30 seconds the band reveals its proverbial hand: a full house of Strokes and Bloc Parties. Their guitar lines slash at near identical angles, their bass lines thump with reminiscent insistence, and I’ll be damned if singer David Monks isn’t the sober, teenaged understudy of Julian Casablancas. And if that’s what the listener wants to hear, TPC will not disappoint. “Cheer it On” is a rambunctious Strokes assault without aloof posing, Monks hollering the band’s name until it becomes a fevered catch phrase. Stop/start rhythms give listeners something to stomp along with during the insistent “Nature of the Experiment.” In spite of the apocalyptic theme, “Citizens of Tomorrow” handclaps its way into listeners hearts until they, like the song’s narrator, get blown apart with excitement. Perhaps “Be Good” best encapsulates all of TPC’s endearing traits: brimming with energy, acutely self-aware and a bit thrashy, but just when it needs to be. Though they’ve followed their predecessors’ footsteps a little too closely, A Lesson In Crime exhibits an already apt Tokyo Police Club still in its infancy. Hopefully the future they shape for themselves with time and experience is less bound to the past.
A little under a week ago I inquired about the fate of Menomena, the audio merchants behind one of 2004’s better albums (I Am the Fun Blame Monster). I’d like to think my post beamed my curiosity into Scott Stereogum‘s brain and fingers, resulting in a post about the band’s forthcoming third (!) release. Backing up the truck a bit, I guess they released the instrumental-only Under an Hour earlier this year to minimal acclaim, as well as an EP called Wet and Rusting. It serves more as a primer to their upcoming release, Friend and Foe, than an EP proper, and its contents have captured my interest.
The title track (which also appears on Friend) plunges listeners into someone’s disjointed, restless mind mulling over the details of their lovelife. Elements appear and are ripped away, knocked over and out of rhythm, surprised with new elements, and all together combined in ways that challenge traditional song structure. “I made you a present / you never expected” drummer Danny Seim utters playfully, acknowledging the slightly unstable nature of the deep synth swells coming and going, skittering sounds crawling in listeners ears; then he halts. A plaintive piano chimes in as he admits, “It’s hard to take risks / with a pessimist,” and is interrupted by a few sudden acoustic strums.
The song comes into bloom a less than a minute in, pitting those same strums against an absentminded glockenspiel and eventually introduces rushed drums — it’s calmly claustrophobic in waves. The aesthetic isn’t much different from most of I Am…, though the punchy bari sax is noticeably and thoughtfully absent. “Wet and Rusting” climaxes as a second voice finishes the excellent counter lyrics “This is the /closest I’ll come to / touching you the / way I want to” with a barrage of snare drum and excited strumming. Things have evened out now, the rhythmic elements have figured each out like thoughts well sorted and prepared. Seim sings “It’s hard to be faithful” (the other voice chimes in “with a pessimist,” and even though it’s completing “it’s hard to take risks” it sounds excellent minced together) and only a few bars later the song disappears — someone else has walked into the room and our thoughtful host is needed elsewhere.
I wish “Walking,” another track from the same EP, was worth as many words. The juxtaposition of either Justin Harris or Brent Knopf (it’s not Seim is all I know) singing along with an electric piano, both sounding like they’ve got key signature issues, is awkward and unpleasant. With lyrics of “hunting, gathering,” “that’s no way to make amends,” “struggle for position” and something about a trust fund, “Walking” might be an absurdist’s commentary on human evolution. Either way, it doesn’t make for a compelling track; and luckily for those of us anticipating Friend and Foe (due out 1/23/07 on Barsuk), it won’t be included.
Audio: Menomena, “Wet and Rusting”
For the most part I don’t much care for Guided By Voices. In the arena of disgustingly prolific songwriters, Robert Pollard lands low on my list. Since 1987 he’s been stricken by a case of aural diarrhea, releasing album after album of forgettable, snoring rock and roll tunes further lionizing the bloated and busting Beatles and Who. No, not everyone can keep creative after nearly 20 years, and not many really should. But with a career that long, there are bound to be a few gems.
Human Amusements At Hourly Rates, Bob’s personally assembled best of, does a decent job of trimming away the lo-fi gristle (even he knows he’s pooped out more than his share of turds), and is still a good 15 songs longer than my line of patience. With that in mind, I’m profoundly thankful that my two favorite GBV songs are tracks three and four. And oh how contrary, I love them so.
“Everywhere With Helicopter” from 2002’s Universal Truth and Cycles was the first GBV song I heard, downloaded nearly five years ago from the once attractive Insound mp3 vaults. The snearing menace of the opening bars catches the ear with its stylistic familiarity, but is ultimately snottier than the historical jangle inspiring it (so is Pollard’s whining announcement of the song’s title). Giving way to a flood of buzzsaw guitar licks (if you listen deeper, the two guitar lines rub against each other like frenzied siamese twins) and avid, almost extracurricular snare hits, it’s one of the better revisions of the British Invasion to sound so retroactively modern. Pollard achieves a satisfactory whine while piddling out non sequiturs, his voice more an instrument than narrator, his energy solidly behind the songwriting instead. Less of a centerpiece than an off ramp to the next verse, the chorus is just ok. I’m more interested in the ripchord lead and nashed teeth that steals dance partners sandwiched between the chorus and verse. If you’re not imagining a serious case of solo face, well, there it is. The bridge is no more than the intro, accruing melodic force enough to power through the rest of the song. And there you have it: you’ve gone everywhere in helicopter.
My feelings for “I Am a Tree” (from 1997’s Mag Earwig!) are even stronger than for “Everywhere…”, as Pollard is merely the singer. Written by guitarist Doug Gillard, the tune most resembles its subject matter: a thick and singular trunk of repetitious melody, gnarly branches of harmonic accompaniment, and an old, wise-sounding voice to give the vegetation personality. And wow, ol’ Bob really pulls through. Solemnly intoning lines like “Don’t strip off my bark — I have been stripped of it before” and “Get off my limb — for I will break before I bend,” the line between Pollard and pine is wonderfully unclear. The galloping prechorus hurls wind into the equation and hints of prog precision, still whirling as Bob yelps key lyrics over the noisy gusts: “I’m planning to see / I’m planning to feel you all over me / So climb up my trunk and build on your nest / Come and get the sap out if me.” They pull the same “intro as bridge” trick again but with a much more powerful, raging solo that slowly recedes into the still thrumming rhythm guitar line. It’s one of those exhaustive songs causing ragged breathing and maybe a few beads of sweat and burns off a slew of emotional calories for the listener’s efforts.
The two songs don’t have much in common besides my random attachment. They just stand out from Guided By Voices’ extensive and oftentimes droll catalog (and yes, I’m well aware my opin is in minority standing there) as well executed, clearly presenting Pollard’s (and Gillard’s) vision. I might be a bit hard on the group, but I will stand behind these two songs like the most selective fairweather fan you’ve ever known.