03 July 2009

Catching up with Gossip and The Joy Formidable

I am not one of these people that believe that the measure of the worth of a band is how long they stay underground. Even though I have decided to really concentrate on bands that are not in the mainstream (that is top 20), the reality is that all musicians want their music to be heard - that is why it is recorded and performed for the public. One of the things I really enjoy the most is when a band, on their own merits and not with the help of a promotional campaign funded by major labels, break through and start to garnish attention. There are moment when this defies the very notion of what is mainstream, like the Cure in 1989, or can even help to redefine music, like Muse's political awareness in 2006. Regardless, here are two bands that deserve to be praised on their own terms - Gossip and the Joy Formindable. Both bands have started to make waves with their music, both bands have started to attract both audiences and critical respect, and both bands have done it on their terms.

Gossip: “Music for Men”

So much is being made about Beth Ditto (vocalist) of Gossip. On one hand, she is being hailed a punk icon, but the latest album, “Music for Men” (released 19 June 2009 in the Netherlands, 22 June 2009 in the UK, 23 June 2009 in the USA), is a major label release. On the other hand, she is being hailed a rising pop icon, despite that she does not fit the stereotype of the role: she is a plus sized lesbian. The reality, however, is that she should be praised, not for a an album that is making waves on album charts all over the world, or all the garrulous attention that the band is getting, but rather for her artistic integrity. From comments about not wanting to play for an audience that does not know the Ramones to taking on topics in music that would ruin other musicians, Ditto and Gossip (which also includes Brace Paine on guitar and bass and Hanna Bille on drums) are proving that musical integrity and conscientious craftsmanship is the key to strong music.

I hear the hardcore fans already… but they are on a major label now; they sold out. To this I say, “Do you expect a band with this much talent to stay underground forever?” The rise of Gossip is on their merit, and not some corporate scheme to sell out and make big bucks (though those bucks may be in store for them). Sure, the album is not as in-your-face as the previous music (I got to see them in 2007 on the True Colors Tour, and even some in that crowd were a bit put off by some of what they had to say – I loved it). But that confrontational, punk rock mentality is here, present as ever. Ditto sings in “Heavy Cross”: “We can play it safe, or play it cool, follow the leader, or make up all the rules. Whatever you want, the choice is yours, so choose…” And if you think Gossip is trying to write a lovely love song for pop credibility, then listen to “2012”: “A tragedy loves misery; misery loves company; company is misleading; I’ve made it this far without you…” Surely this is not the material for a pop ditty.

“Four Letter Word” is an ingeniously childish song: “L is for leaving, O is for on time, V is for the voices warning me I’ll lose my mind, E is for the ending, the unhappy ending of the four letter word.” (And here you thought the four-letter word was “Fuck.”) Musically the album is pretty straightforward, with a few new production gimmicks (Rick Rubin did produce this album). It may not be as edgy as the previous two albums, which is criticized by many, but I am sure if they produced the same sound again these same people would be bitching about that too. “Four Letter Word” (which borders on electropop), “Pop Goes the World” (cowbell and all), and “Vertical Rhythm” (sleek, straightforward rock) are the three most musically interesting tracks on the album; however, there is no filler here.

The most insincere thing a musician can say is that they write and perform music for themselves; if this were true, they would stay at home in their parent’s garage and play all day with their friends. Musicians want their music to be heard; perhaps they may not care whether or not their music charts, but they want the opportunity to have as many people as possible listen to what they have created. No one says, “I am going to record an album, but I only want 100,000 suburbanites to buy the album.” If the music is good, there is always the possibility of becoming big (in the sense of a following) and obtaining longevity. I hope Ditto and the rest of Gossip make no apologies for their major label debut. I hope that they continue to do things the exact way they want to, because what they have produced is a sincere album, that will get you on your feet, dancing or slamming, and enjoying their groovy sound. The rest of the humbugging is just bullshit. Get the album.

Track Listing:
1. Dimestore Diamond
2. Heavy Cross
3. 8th Wonder
4. Love Long Distance
5. Pop Goes the World
6. Vertical Rhythm
7. Men in Love
8. For Keeps
9. 2012
10. Love and Let Love
11. Four Letter Word
12. Spare Me from the Mold

Keep up with Gossip at their homepage and MySpace.

The Joy Formidable: “A Balloon Called Moaning”

“A Balloon Called Moaning” (19 January 2009) got right by me when I first started the blog. But since I discovered it, it has been on my iPod. I had the pleasure of getting the band to answer a few questions for me (link) and wanted to give you more in way of talking about the actual music. This is an amazing album, on many levels. Both musically and for what the band is trying to accomplish with how it is promoting/distributing their album. What the Joy Formidable understands, because they themselves are fans of music, is that there are many ways to invest in a band: whether selling a CD or a concert ticket or a t-shirt or spreading the word by forcibly making people listen to the album in your car as you are driving fast on the NJ Turnpike, people invest differently in a band.

I have written about the free music debate (link) and this is not meant to continue that debate, but rather to give a point of reference. In a gamble, they offered their music in two formats: a free download on their website and on CD. They found that most people who downloaded the album for free also purchased the CD. Why? Because they gave the chance to fans to listen and invest. And that is the thing about this album: you will want to invest; it is infectious as all hell.

The album opens with “The Greatest Light Is the Greatest Shade” (I do love a good oxymoron). This is one of those songs that is hard to put a finger on. With an oscillating background, a steady beat, and airy vocals, you can label this song just about anything you want – but what you will agree is that it is an incredible, epic scaled, opening for an album. The next two songs are power-packed gems. “Cradle” is a great fuck-you-it’s-over song: “I can see he says what he means; I can’t say what he means when he says that I’ll pretend a pretty pretend, when all I wanna see is the end of this.” Then “Austere,” and anyone who saw this years NME’s Shockwave Award show knows this number. The high-pitched “ah-ah-aha” is background is unforgettable and infectious. The compressed guitars are in your face. Just from the first three tracks you get the idea that the Joy Formidable is not just verse with the current fads in music, but rather have an appreciation of what has been relevant over the past few years: from post-punk to shoegaze, from dream pop to Brit pop.

Also on this album is “Whirring,” which was released in May as a single. This is the kind of song that you itch to see live, because you know that the recorded version may be great but does no justice to it. (Actually, you can say that about all of the songs on the album.) The album closes with “Ostrich,” the darkest song on the album, but it is not overwhelming in an emotional sense, where it is musically. Think whirlpool: this song will musically force you into its world, whether you are resisting it or not. But that is the beauty of this album; at the end of it all, you find yourself completely addicted to the album. So I am going to keep this simple, go to the bands MySpace and decide how you want to invest.

Track Listing:
1. The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade
2. Cradle
3. Austere
4. While the Flies
5. Whirring
6. 9669
7. The Last Drop
8. Ostrich

Keep up with the Joy Formidable at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are their videos for “Cradle” and “Austere” from TheJoyFormindable YouTube Channel.

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