Themeless, Shapeless….

I’m feeling rather magnanamous today, so I thought I’d spare everyone the arduous task of reading this. Just listen. These are songs that have found their way into my head recently, and if you’re not careful they’ll find a way into your consciousness as well.

The Arcade Fire: We Used to Wait

From the new album ‘The Suburbs’. Highly recommended. Head and shoulders above their previous stuff IMO.

Modest Mouse: Bury me With It

The Gaslamp Killer: Sitar Ride (recommended by Shikha, acclaimed music aficionado)

Kanye West, Bon Iver, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Jay-Z: Monster

Kanye West is an annoying megalomaniac, but it’s hard to deny that he knows how to put a song or two together. Nicki Minaj’s performance, however, is by far the most impressive.

Horse Feathers: In Our Blood


Sipping Black Milk and eating Camembert

There is nothing like a good live performance. I personally prefer the intimacy of a small venue to the raw energy of a packed arena or stadium (although I did thoroughly enjoy Metallica at the ACER Arena this weekend) because I love being able to actually hear the music and see the people performing it on something other than a big TV screen while craning my neck to avoid Shaq and his 7ft NBA buddies who just happen to be standing in front of me. I don’t think that there’s a live venue in Sydney that matches the uniquely welcoming yet bizzarely unearthly environment that is the original Qirkz in Marrickville. Of course, the powers that be had to spoil our fun and close the place down, but the owners occasionally have a private party and invite some of us back. I recently attended one of these parties and had the immense pleasure and honour of seeing the venue’s owner perform with his own ARIA winning band, Monsieur Camembert. Their music is an eclectic riot of Jazz, Gypsy, Eastern European Folk, and a raft of other influences and genres all rolled in to one. I’m not sure I’d dig this sitting at home with the headphones on, but they epitomize why we bother shelling dosh out for live performances. Sadly, there isn’t a great video of them at Qirkz, so I have included a clip of another live performance of MC.

I’m sure the folks at Qirkz would appreciate the combination of imaginative, boundry spanning production and spitfire lyrical style of Detroit based producer/MC Black Milk. BM has released his follow up to 2008’s superb Tronic with the pugnaciously named Album of The Year. Such a title almost begs the critics to sharpen their knives. Thankfully, even though the album may not fully live up to its name, its pretty damn nice. Black Milk’s soul and boom bap inspired production (reminiscent of other midwest production heavyweights including J Dilla and the highly annoying yet undeniably talented Kanye) is back, but this time it includes more complex influences (string and horn samples and guitar loops are far more prominent this time) that make this record satisfyingly challenging. I’ve heard it in its entirety three times, and I like it more after each successive listen…always a good sign. Black Milk’s flow is good…characterized by a rapid delivery that works well with the production, but cameos from the likes of Royce Da 5-9 and Elzhi clearly surpass Black Milk’s ability, elucidating that he’s still a producer on  a mic rather than the other way around.

More soon…

Remixing with Mercury

In these days of technological democratization, it is easier than ever for people to create music. Dubstep genius Burial proved this by creating one of the noughties most innovative albums in his bedroom (yes literally in his bedroom) by splicing, dicing, and contorting samples and sounds (he makes a beat using a zippo lighter…now that is awesome!) using fairly inexpensive software. Of course, for every Burial there are a zillion talentless 14 year olds who are capable of creating and distributing their dross via the interwebs. Fortunately in true democratic fashion we are spared the injustice of listening to most of this stuff because if it sucks, it won’t spread.

Given this landscape, it is no surprise that remixes, mashups, and mixtapes have created a new and exciting subgenre. Again, it is up to the collective ‘we’ to determine the gems from the purely derivative and uninspired. When done properly, a remix or mashup can create something entirely fresh and unique, and sometimes even surpass the original (yes yes I know it is all subjective…relax!). This post will highlight a few such remixes, allowing you to compare and contrast them with the original tracks.

I have already lauded the work of Wait What, a young NY based DJ in a previous post. His Notorious XX album that mashed up recent (utterly deserving) Mercury Prize winners the XX with the late Notorious B.I.G is without question one of my favorite albums in the last few years. Wait What is back with some new mashups…lets see what he’s been up to.

1) Originals: Falling Slowly (The Frames), Fallin’ (Jay-Z) (Click links to view)

1) Remix: Fallin’ Slowly (Wait What) (click and go to track 21 in “This is Real Life”

2) Originals: Run this Town (Jay-z & Rihanna), I Heart NY (Samuel)

2) Remix: I Heart Running This Town (Wait What) (Click and go to track 6 in “This is Real Life)

Another not so recent example of awesome remix work was The Bug’s dubstep remix of Thom Yorke’s Harrowdown Hill track from his The Eraser solo album.

Original

Remix

Finally, check out the difference in mood and tone between new new glam-pop band Free Energy’s ‘Bang Pop’ track and the far more mellow Fool’s Gold remix of the same track…

Original

Remix


Genre me this.

When it comes to engagement in music (consumption, not creation!), I’d say that my engagement is moderately high. I’m always reading reviews, checking out new music, posting music blogs, attending gigs (when I can afford them) etc. I’m not an obsessed teen and my interests do vary, but when I consider my extended group of friends, I’m pretty sure I’m more into this music thing than 90% of them. Despite all this, I am continually perplexed at the proliferation of genre’s, subgenre’s, and subsubsubsub genre’s that are out there. Who comes up with names like ‘Dreamcore’ and ‘Chillwave’? What the hell is that supposed to tell me?! I must be getting old…..

Anyway, Beach House is apparently a central part of this dreamchillcorewave movement, and if they are anything to go by, I’m in. I heard about this group through the Guardian Music Weekly podcast a few months ago, but only gave them a chance recently after stumbling onto a fantastic music blog called letmelikeit. I suppose I can understand the ‘chill’ aspect, as Beach House‘s music certainly evokes the languid, laid back feeling you may have while chilling at…well…a beach house. Yet the truly arresting aspect of Beach House’s music is the fact that the detached ‘chillness’ is really just subtle camouflage for the melancholy and nostalgia that filters through the melody and lyrics of their songs. Gwaan, listen to it!

Genres are by definition an attempt to draw a clean little box around something that is by its nature often very difficult to categorize. I suppose conventional wisdom would put Badmarsh & Shri in the catchall ‘World Music’ or ‘Asian Electronic’ genres. I don’t doubt that genre labelling is a necessary evil, but I can’t help but feel that sometimes we should just relinquish this obsession with categorization and just appreciate the creativity. These two songs are from Badmarsh & Shri’s Dancing Drums LP (2001). Just love it!

Listen (1)

Listen (2)

Finally, lets take a trip back to some good old post/punk alternative (no genre bending there!). The Hold Steady seem to be intent on bucking the recent trend toward more instrumentation and the infusion of electronic sounds into what was traditionally hallowed ground for the guitar, drums, bass, and maybe a piano key here and there. There is something strangely alluring about their under produced meat and potatoes sound. Surprisingly, they still manage to sound pretty contemporary, perhaps because their lyrics reflect the ironic, sarcasm tinged humour that the kids these days love. These two tracks are from the Stay Positive (2009) and Boys and Girls in America (2006) LP’s respectively.

Dinner time…

Winter Coats & Easter Eggs

Have you ever experienced the joy of wearing your long stowed away winter coat for the first time that season and unexpectedly finding something truly valuable in one of its pockets? Perhaps its that fifty bucks that you swore that you had in your wallet, or perhaps its something more personal and lasting. Either way, that feeling of unexpected rediscovery and reunion is difficult to replicate on purpose.

This week’s post is about discovering, or rediscovering that proverbial fifty bucks from a musical perspective. I was recently backing up my hard drive, and in the process I discovered a lot of music that was accumulating digital dust. Needless to say, it feels good to give these a good shake and present them to you today.

Artist: Acoustic Ladyland Album: Living with a Tiger

The band’s name clearly pays homage to Jimi Hendrix and his seminal Electric Ladyland album. Acoustic Ladyland’s style of music is in itself reflective of Hendrix’s desire and ability meld a multitude of musical genres into something new and exciting. Acoustic Ladyland mix the often disparate yet undeniably related genres of Jazz and Rock into an energetic, punk infused sound that is both immensely fun yet clearly technical and challenging (for the artist as well as the listener) at the same time. They aren’t the first band to bring jazz instruments and experimentalism into rock music, but they’re one of the first bands to catch my ear. It’s great to hear the sax has the headline instrument rather than the trusty electric guitar. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good guitar riff as much as the next guy, but it is nice when band’s throw some of the unwritten rules of rock out the window, and the interplay between the guitar and sax is what really defines this album.

Listen HERE

Artist: Club 8 Track: Dancing with the Mentally Ill

The influence of Scandinavian pop is quite often overlooked. I know that we’ve all danced to an ABBA song at a family reunion party at some point, but contemporary Swedish indie-pop and electroclash is actually on the cutting edge of production that eventually finds its way to the broader mainstream market. Just check out music by Teddybears STHLM, Lykki Li, and Peter Bjorn & John and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Club 8 are another of the multitude of Scandi indie pop groups that are making some noise. I wasn’t hugely impressed with the album, but I loved this track.

Listen HERE

Speaking of Scandinavian artists that are making waves, I think I’ve already mentioned jj on this blog before. jj produce what can I can best describe as neo-stoner pop. Their sound is characterized by an ethereal and almost detached sound that makes me feel as if I’m listening to the music in another room through a steel pipe. They create this sound through an interesting (although not particularly novel) use of echo effects. The end result is an incredibly rich and layered sound that nonetheless retains its traditional pop accessibility. This featured track was recently released for free. Do you recognize the voice sample at the beginning? oh, and they throw in a lil’ wayne verse for fun.

Last but not least in this (somewhat lengthy) post are two songs that don’t really fit into my theme of forgotten gems, because I never forgot about them. I suppose however, that I could argue that this guy seems to have been generally overlooked outside of the insular dubstep world. ‘Brighter Day’ and ‘Get Up’ are from a dubstep producer named Pinch, and were a part of his Underwater Dancehall (2007) album. The name of the album perfectly personifies the feeling of the album. This is true night music. Dark, beat driven, and culturally diffuse.

(PS- if your internet speed allows, please try to listen to ‘Get Up’ on the HD setting (look at the bar underneath the video, and set the level to either 720p or 1080p)….and if you have headphones….use them!. It really makes a difference n the sound quality.)

Bye!

Music. New. Old.

It never ceases to amaze me how pop culture trends evolve in a circular fashion. I suppose it has something to do with the need to rebel against the status quo by alluding to an era that itself was jettisoned for the same reason. In any case, there is no doubt that 80’s synth pop is back, albeit in a less earnest and more ironic avatar. I’m surprised to find myself really enjoying this genre, because this is exactly the kind of stuff I would have baulked at in my teens. Se la vie. Electropop groups like the Junior Boys, Hot Chip, MGMT and Cut Copy have influenced mainstream pop, and some of these artists have found mainstream success in their own right.

Of course, the first album I’m submitting to you has absolutely nothing to do with the aforementioned trend, other than the fact that this artist also has a keen sense of history, which is evident in all three of her albums. The artist in question is M.I.A, the UK’s underground hip hop and indie pop darling who shot to mainstream superstardom following Slumdog Millionaire’s prominent usage of her Paper Planes (which itself liberally borrows a key part of its melody from The Clash’s Straight to Hell) song. Her new album, MAYA, has received mixed reviews from the music press, but I disagree. I think that the self important ilk that constitutes indie reviews (Pitchfork for example) devise their own expectations about who and what should be, and then are dissapointed when she doesn’t conform to that expectation (ironic because that lack of cookie cutter conformity is what they liked about her in the first place).

MAYA is adventurous, fresh, and intelligent. Of course it didn’t help that she decided to release perhaps the least accessible (and in my opinion perhaps the worst song on the album) as her first single. Nevertheless, MAYA succeeds in blending a wide range of musical influences ranging from straight pop to reggae to dubstep and electroclash into raucous yet compelling and surprisingly cohesive album. There are fewer overt references to South Asian music here, but its influence can still be heard. Oh, and she’s hot!

Top Songs: It Takes a Muscle, XXXO, Story to Be Told

Second on the list is Big Boi‘s superb debut solo album Sir Luscious Left Foot…The Son of Chico Dusty (if you don’t count the Speakerboxx part of Outkast’s The Speakerboxx/Love Below album). In an era when mainstream hip hop sounds more and more formulaic and driven by market research reports than creativity, Big Boi’s genre spanning and veritable party of an album is both refreshing and reassuring. The guy clearly hasn’t lost his passion for music, rapping, or storytelling, a feat that is all the more surprising since he’s been on the scene for the better part of two decades. Sir Luscious Left Foot is what great pop music should aspire to be: Fun, immediately appealing yet capable of longevity, daring, and a little challenging. Big Boi also has enough lyrical dexterity to satiate the more traditional hip hop heads. Bottom line: One of the best Hip Hop albums to be released in the last half decade.

Top Songs: They are all great but if I have to choose….Shutterbug, Hustle Blood

and a few other tracks/albims and artists that are worth a listen…

Artist: The Cave Singers Album: Welcome Joy

I love this album. Chilled out, melodic Northwestern folk rock sounds…nice.

and one from the old school!



lists and more lists

I highly recommend Lastfm.com to anyone who is interested in

1) Tracking their musical evolution over time

2) Looking to explore new music with the power of social media.

It’s worth checking out, even if it’s just for a bit of fun. Like services like Pandora and itunes Genius, lastfm makes recommendations based on your listening history. What is really cool about it, however,  is that it calculates your taste compatibility with other users, thus allowing you to browse through other peoples’ music to find new and exciting stuff to listen to. You can check out my proflie here

Here are some stats from my listening history

Total Tracks ‘scrobbled’ (recorded) since joining in Sep 2007: 19,903

Top 12 Artists scrobbled

1) Sigur Ros

2) Pearl Jam

3) Radiohead

4) Kings of Leon

5) Lil’ Wayne

6) Nine Inch Nails

7) Jay-z

8) Thievery Corporation

9) Nas

10) Bon Iver

11) The Smashing Pumpkins

12) The Black Keys

Top 10 Songs scrobbled

1) re:Stacks (Bon Iver)

2) Paper Planes (M.I.A)

3) Manhattan (Kings of Leon)

4) Love Like a Sunset (Phoenix)

5) Fix You (Coldplay)

6) Oh My God, Whatever, etc (Ryan Adams)

7) All I Need (Radiohead)

8) Blindsided (Bon Iver)

9) I Feel Like Dying (Lil’ Wayne)

10) Welcome to Jamrock (Damian Marley)

Top 10 Artists scrobbled in the Last 3 Months

1) Wait What

2) The XX

3) Radiohead

4) Boards of Canada

5) Nas

6) The White Stripes

7) Dire Straits

8) The National

9) Gorillaz

10) Vampire Weekend

Arne’t lists fun?