Catharsis

Music has always been a conduit for catharsis. For the artist, the process is in itself a form of natural release for the pressure cooker of ideas, inspiration, and a compulsion to create. For listeners, music can often act as an emotional trigger, or as a companion to what we are already going through. Of course, music also acts as an elixir that can ease physical, emotional, and psychological pain. I still remember that Michael Jackson’s Dangerous almost singlehandedly helped me forget about the pain of a broken wrist and chipped kneecap at age 11.

As a heartbroken and hormonal teen, The Smashing Pumpkins’ Melloncollie and the Infinite Sadness was my companion as I wallowed in self pity and licked my wounds (although Siamese Dream is by far their best album!)

Though I (and I imagine most people my age) are less melodramatic these days, there is no doubt that a good tune can still be highly therapeutic. So with this thought in mind, here are a few relatively new tracks that I find cathartic for different reasons.

1) Artist: Chikita Violenta Track: Roni

These guys are a bunch of crazy Mexicans, but they sound like they just emerged from a Seattle dive bar. I love the 90’s shoegazing inspiration that underpins their sound. The fuzzy distortion of the guitars, the aloof and almost echoey production around the vocals, and perhaps just as importantly, the commitment to form and tune despite everything else. This song evokes that warm glow of nostalgia in which we all like to bask from time to time.

Artist: Fleet Foxes Track: Helplessness Blues

Sometimes you just want to escape from the confines of your concrete jungle and the scores of humanity that cohabitate it and explore the great outdoors. That is the emotion and aesthetic that Fleet Foxes capture beautifully. If Chikita Violenta have a gritty, Seattleish sound, Fleet Foxes are the guys singing around a campfire in the wooded hills a few hundred miles away. This song from their upcoming album is just fantastic…

And finally….sometimes you just need to space out and weave in and out of consciousness. Lemonade by The Braids (BTW i’ve heard 4 songs from this album and they are all brilliant) is just the kind of song for this kind of mood :)

goood night :)

a few good songs

So, what is new in music? Quite a lot, but there is a distinctive waft of familiarity both in terms of the music and the discussion surrounding it. Most notably, Radiohead released their latest album, The King of Limbs, and the predictable cacophony of critical praise vs. fan criticism ensued. As usual, critics almost unanimously lavished a generous smattering of superlatives, while many older fans predictably bemoaned the fact that the album didn’t sound like The Bends or OK Computer. For what is is worth I personally think the album is great. It’s more reminsicent of Radiohead’s electronic and soundscape driven work like Kid A and Thom Yorke’s solo album, The Eraser. Ultimately, whether or not you like King of Limbs rests on whether or not you are able accept that the band has moved away from their 90’s guitar driven alternative sound. It’s ok if you aren’t, but what is with the indignance? Lets face it, you probally didn’t buy the album anyway!

Moving to less heady territory where whimsy is a little more acceptable, Cut Copy has recently released its latest album, Zonocope. The album isn’t a huge departure from their earlier work. This is still bonafide electropop that is heavily influenced by the 80’s synth laden New Wave movement. Zonoscope does have more of a psychedelic, MGMTish sound, however, and the guitars have been largely sacrificed for a more purely electronically driven sound. The album delivers the goods, but don’t expect anything earthshatteringly innovative here.

whatelsewhatelse? I’ve been fairly disillusioned with mainstream Hip Hop in general (although that megalomaniac Kanye West did come out with a fantastic new album), but there are a few odd releases just under the radar that are worth checking out..like the following tracks from Clipse member Pusha T, and upcoming Bay Area rapper DaVinci.

Last but not least, check out Swedish indie pop starlet Lykki Li’s sophomore album, Wounded Rhymes. It’s less whimsical and edgy than her debut but in many ways it is more schizophrenic (moving from a deep shoegazing, drum laden, psycadelic sound to ABBAesque from one song to another). Somehow, it all works quite well! Nuff said.

Later.

PS: post written quickly. forgive seplllingsans mistakesewws.

Random niceties

So today, less talky, more music. aiight??

So the new Cut Copy album is out, and this is fantastic for those who like electropop hipster music. Like me! I haven’t spent a lot of time with this record yet, but it sounds like a solid release…more electro and less rock than their earlier stuff, and definitely still very much noveau 80’s new wave. I do, however, detect a little more of the contemporary (yet very retro) chillwave/psychedelic sound (ala Beach House & Best Coast) in some songs, which helps to mix up the mood and tempo a little  There isn’t a whole lot that is conceptually challenging or innovative, but thats ok as long as it sounds nice.

Another group that takes this blend of electropop and chillwave even further is the Spanish outfit Delorean. Their new(ish) release, Subiza, creates a psychedelic, ephemeral mood that surrounds the core synth pop sound through the use of echo and other slightly disorienting effects. The result is interesting in that it is difficult to tell whether the group designed these songs to be for the headphones or for the dancefloor. I can definitely see DJ’s mixing these sounds into a climactic portion of their set, but the subtlety of much of their sound can only really be heard properly in a less cacophonous environment. My only gripe with Subiza is that after a while, the songs tend to sound a little too similar.

Check out this awesome remix of Lykki Li’s ‘I Follow Rivers’ by Dave Sitek of TV On The Radio and Maximum Balloon. niice.

and finally, in tribute to the Good Vibrations Festival that I am attending today, here is some Fat Freddy’s Drop straight from NZ!…enjoy!

seeya

Best 15 Albums of 2010

It has been quite a hiatus. I can’t be certain, but I smell a celestial rat. The unlikely confluence of gainful employment, continuing optical issues, and internet connectivity issues have rendered this blog dormant for quite some time. Needless to say, it is nice to be listening to and writing about music again, although I suspect that the format and length of my posts will need to change to accommodate a life that has been robbed of blissful idleness and free time. As I’ve said before, lists are fuuun! And end of year favorite lists are particularly fun! So here goes…My Top 15 Albums of 2010. Apologies for the video links that force you to go off site….not my fault!

1) Artist: Wait What  Album:The Notorious XX

Wait What’s amazing mashup album is still on heavy rotation on my ipod…and its been almost a year. Can’t argue with that.

2) Artist: The Arcade Fire Album: The Suburbs

Engaging, challenging, ambitious, emotive, nostalgic, and oh so catchy. I was never a big fan of The Arcade Fire. I am now. I feel like such an indie whore…this is in everyone’s top 10.

3) Artist: The National Album: High Violet

Nobody does sorrowful rock like The National. That deep baritone, that combination of musical restraint and pent up energy is….cathartic.

4) Artist: Hot Chip Album: One Life Stand

Just one of the most fun, grooving, dancefloor ready albums I’ve heard in a while. Makes you want to get a fixie bike and dress like an 80’s douchebag….nice.

5) Artist: Big Boi Album: Sir Luscious Left Foot….

As I said before…it is incredible that someone can be at the top of their game for almost two decades. Younger MC’s should be ashamed that the best and most innovative hip hop album comes from such a seasoned veteran.

6) Artist: Vampire Weekend Album: Contra

A fantastic sophomore effort, showcasing the band’s unique sound while also expanding their boundaries and taking some chances.

7) Artist: These New Puritans Album: Hidden

Perhaps the least widely accessible album on this list, These New Puritans are definitely an acquired taste. But patience pays off. Dark, innovative, and beautifully textured, Hidden is worth the effort.

8) Artist: The Roots Album: How I Got Over

What can I say? The Roots to Rule

9) Artist: LCD Soundsystem Album: This is Happening

LCD Soundystem’s final album is a sprawling sonic journey. Flush with the characteristic humor, varied musical influences, and countless twists and turns (sometimes in the same song), This is Happening is an unpolished gem, but a gem nonetheless.

10) Artist: Jonsi Album: Go

Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi’s debut album is more accessible and optimistic than the work he has done with his group. While it might be a little less ambitious and more conventional, it remains a beautiful and rewarding body of work in its own right.

11) Artist: MIA Album: MAYA

MIA’s third solo album was highly anticipated but its reception was lukewarm from critics. As I’ve written before, I attribute this more to the fact that MIA wont play nice and fit into the predefined genre boxes (c’mon MAYA, be ethnic and funky!) that critics love. She also finally became a superstar, and was thus no longer the exotic underground darling of the indie world.  The album is pretty damn good though. Trust.

12) Artist: Foals Album: Total Life Forever

Another album eschewed by indie critics, perhaps because Foals’ angular dance rock style was the big thing a couple of years ago…so obviously it isn’t worthy of a mention now. But seriously,Total Life Forever is both more accessible and more enjoyable than Antidotes. They’ve added desperately needed emotion, melody, and balance to their original sound, which all too often sounded mechanical and aloof.

13) Artist: The Black Keys Album: Brothers

The Blues rock duo continue to evolve their sound. As with their previous album Attack & Release, Brothers reflects a desire to infuse greater depth as well as a wider set of influences into their work, and clearly the production sounds like it is a considerably more complicated process than the intentionally raw, sparse and largely orthodox rhythmic blues sound of their earlier work. The guys have managed to capture a wider audience (nobody would have picked these guys to get a grammy nomination a few years ago) while still holding the respect and interest of their core fans. I’m a bit pissed at them for cancelling their aussie tour though!

14) Artist: Maximum Balloon Album: Maximum Balloon

Maximum Balloon is basically a solo side project by TV on The Radio guitarist Dave Sitek. The album is a complete genre jumble, featuring a diverse guest appearance list that makes it difficult to get a sense of continuity or flow to the album, but at an individual level almost every song is interesting, and above all, fun. Maximum Balloon is at its core a dance friendly electropop album, but one with an indie aesthetic with divergent influences and a bit of total weirdness to make things interesting.

15) Artist: Broken Bells Album: Broken Bells

Broken Bells is a collaboration between Brian Burton aka Danger Mouse and James Mercer (from The Shins).  As you may expect from the nature of the collaboration, Broken Bells splits the difference between indie rock and indie pop. Melody is a clear winner in this rather radio friendly release, and songs like The High Road and The Ghost inside will linger in your consciousness with their  surprisingly simple yet infectious character. All in all,  Broken Bells is more about great execution than significant innovation, an that’s ok.

Honorable Mentions: Teen Dream by Beach House, My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West, Album of the Year by Black Milk, Plastic Beach by Gorillaz

My electronic evolution..and some actual music

My opinion about electronic music prior to my 20’s was one of distinct derision. The line of logic that I (and plenty of other people into alternative music) followed was that electronic music did not warrant attention because the ‘artist’ didn’t need to master or even learn how to play an instrument in order to create the music. Additionally, my exposure to electronic music was limited at that time to the painfully chipper and cliched Eurotrash that would occasionally spew out of nightclub (like that fucking ‘blue’ song!) stereo systems in Delhi nightclubs, severely testing my patience and always forcing me to question why the hell I spent half my week’s pocket money on the entry fee when I could be listening to The Wall…spliff in hand.
Thankfully, experience and exposure forced me to reconsider the logic behind this prejudice. First and foremost, I came to realize that most modern artists are respected for their ability to compose music rather than their ability to physically play the songs. That’s why we all enjoy watching a good cover band but we never remember who they are, for they are merely a conduit to enjoy someone else’s music. It’s also why John Lennon will always be considered to be a better artist than (death metal guitar player name), because although the latter is probably more technically proficient, his music just isn’t timeless.
Secondly, I was surprised to find out that a lot of electronic artists ARE actually classically trained, and they gravitated towards electronic music because it offered them a limitless canvas on which to express their vision and creativity. Fundamentally, I came to accept that although it probably is easier to create music with machines, it isn’t the difficulty factor that drives enjoyment or satisfaction (at least for me).
Now that I’ve bored you with all that, check out some really interesting new (and not so new) electronic music. This collection is much more the introverted headphone-late night chillout-wow that just sounds really cool! kind of electronic music rather than the hands in the air-go mental kind. Pure coincidence I suppose…
Artist: Seefeel
Track: Faults
Album: Faults
Artist: Health
Track: USA BOYS
Album: ::DISCO2
Artist: Mount Kimbie
Track: Carbonated
Album: Crooks & Lovers
Artist: Shpongle
Track: Invisible Man in a Fluorescent Suit
Album: Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongleland

Q: Who are These New Puritans?

A: A decidedly strange indie outfit out of the UK. It is difficult to classify a particular genre for their music, as it incorporates and amalgamates so many diverse and discordant influences. Post Rock, Industrial, Minimal Electro, Shoegaze, Post Punk and Brian Eno/Thom Yorke-esque avant-gardism are just a few influences that come to mind. If nothing else, These New Puritans are an ambitious lot. The recently released Hidden LP involves the band moving far beyond the 3-4 piece standard instruments that characterise traditional rock. Perhaps the most prominent examples of this are the thunderous Japanese Taiko drums and the long forgotten Bassoon (yeah, they actually play a bassoon!). The result is a really interesting and surprisingly addictive album. Be prepared to spend a little time with this one…it isn’t designed or instant gratification, and you won’t hear any of their songs in a car commercial.

Not that there is anything wrong with bands who have songs that appear in car commercials. Phoenix’s massively successful Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix LP included a number of tracks that became ubiquitous in large part due to their use in ads. It can be somewhat annoying, but who can blame them in an era when nobody actually purchases music? Anyhow, I always felt that Love Like a Sunset was a song that had massive potential, but ended prematurely and was thus somewhat unsatisfying. In a blatant attempt to appease me, Phoenix have gone ahead and released Love Like A Sunset (Part III), which is essentially an electro remix of the song. It sounds pretty cool, but once again I feel like they could have used the song’s climax so much more creatively and effectively than they did…sigh. Fun track though!

Of course, all good music doesn’t need to be ground breaking and innovative (and in fact a lot of ‘innovative’ music is just pretentious garbage). I (and I would imagine many other people) sometimes crave the comforting simplicity of a well crafted rock song that evokes emotion and just makes me want to sing along. This is the kind of music you will get from the Scottish indie rock band Frightened Rabbit. 2008’s A Midnight Organ Fight was a fantastically earnest and melancholy album that incorporated elements of Scottish & Irish folk music. Their most recent release, The Winter of Mixed Drinks (March 2010), is a decidedly more upbeat and ambitious record, incorporating a wider use of instruments and texture. I’m impressed with their ability to progress as a band, and this is a good album, but somehow it lacks that emotional punch that made A Midnight Organ Fight such a great album.

Finally, a parting gift of pure electropop sweetness from that loveable sheep shaggin land of New Zealand (thanks SP) by The Naked And Famous. Very Passion Pit/MGMT…and that’s a good thing.

Maximum Balloon is a cool name

It is, isn’t it? Maximum Balloon is the solo project of TV on the Radio’s David Sitek, He really seems to be enjoying the freedom to produce music while collaborating with an impressive and eclectic range of singers and musicians, including the likes of former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and upcoming vocalist Holly Miranda. At it’s core, Maximum Balloon is a very solid New Wave inspired Electropop record with a few twists here and there. Although it has billed as a dance record because of the ample funky bass guitar and synthy hi hats, I see the record as more of a groovy head nodder because it all seems a little too esoteric and indie to really make people get out of their seats (unless you really are an 80’s new waver at heart!). That said, I would certainly dance to Communion. All in all, this is a very listenable record from start to finish (except when he gets a little too Prince on us on Shakedown) without being particularly innovative or ground breaking.

Maximum Balloon: Communion (Listen Here)

While Electropop is clearly reaching mainstream popularity, Minimal Electronic/Techno still remains a firmly niche and underground phenomenon (unless you live in Berlin or something…). This isn’t particularly difficult to fathom, as the genre is introverted by nature and thus overshadowed by it’s electronic siblings that are more conducive to radio airplay and club rotations. Nevertheless, Minimal has a lot to offer music lovers. The inherent sparsity of the music allows for greater complexity and experimentation, and the results are often beautifully rich and rewarding. The following two songs are examples of the diversity that exists within this genre (although this genre really isn’t conducive to single track sampling).

Dominik Eulberg: Polar Shift (Listen Here)

Matias Aguayo: Radio Taxi (Listen Here)

Finally, to end this post on a beautifully dramatic post rock note, check out the epic “They Move on Tracks of Never-ending Light” by Texas based This Will Destroy You.

now check out how the Not For Profit group Charity:Water used this track to produce one of the most powerful and creatively effective video messages I have seen….

Bye!

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