29 September 2011

Kasabian: "Velociraptor!"

So, you are on the verge of international success, go into the studio to record your fourth album, what do you do? Do more of the same, the expected? Take your music in a different direction? Let the hype-machine dictate what your next move should be? What I can say is that Kasabian has always impressed me, and considering that they have a heavy dose of (neo-)psychedelia (which I typically opt against), says a lot to me about the band’s ability to write alluring music. This could not be truer of their paleontological named fourth album, “Velociraptor!” (16 September 2011 in the UK, 27 September 2011 in the USA), but there is so much more at work on this album than ever before. Kasabian is one of those bands that really devotes an excruciating amount of attention to every little detail; there is not a single sound or note or word that was not belabored or carefully thought out. This is not about genre or some label; rather Kasabian is inviting you into a world of nuances that thread intriguing songs.

The lead single of the album is “Switchblade Smiles” – perhaps not the obvious single on the album, but definitely the best choice. This is the kind of song that is hard to define, but what Kasabian accomplishes with the single is set the tone for the expectations: this is not “West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum” (2009); this is something new. With that said, I do not want to imply that “Velociraptor!” is a complete departure from what they have done in the past; the best way to think about the album is that Kasabian threw all of their old tricks into a bag, used them in new combinations, and added a few new flairs for effect. From the expected indie tropes and silly background vocals, to a bit of Spanish Flameco and hip-hop, “Velociraptor!” is an ingenious album.

I am stuck on two tracks, the first of which is “Days Are Forgotten.” Tom Meighan sings, “Cos I’m taking back what’s mine, I am taking back the time. You may call it suicide, but I’m being born again… I’m waiting.” Cryptic? Yes, but there is a bit of universal truth in song when later Meighan sings, “I am not here, I’m just a silhouette you will never, ever, ever forget. Days, days are forgotten, now it’s all over. Simply forgotten how to disappear.” Suicide is not just the physical act of killing oneself, but also the act of forcing yourself to be forgotten, just as days become so, to become spiritually or socially non-existent. The song, though, has some perverse humor in it to counterbalance the headiness: “You was at home chewing on monkey brains.” (If you are thinking scrotum and testicles, you are right.) The other track I am stuck on is “Re-Wired.” This is one of these tracks that I just do not have much, if anything, to say about other than it works. It really works! This is the most infectious moment of the album, closer to new wave than any other song on the album.

The breath-taking, heartstring pulling moment of the album comes early on, in the third track, “Goodbye Kiss”: “Doomed from the start, we met with a goodbye kiss…” But it is not the lyrics that really get you; the strumming acoustic guitar, string keys, and vocal melody are as emotional as it comes. When Meighan sings, “I hope someday that we will meet again,” it is the music, not the lyrics, which you are reacting to. The most eclectic moment of the album is “Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter from the Storm).” Let all the allusions come to mind about Turkish baths…. They all conventionally co-exist in this song set to a subtle psychedelic arrangement and arabesque keys. And the album even has an unexpected, out-of-the-box anthem: “Man of Simple Pleasures”: “With dyslexic eyes I’m seeing very clearly. "By the way, I’m on my way, but all of my life, I’ve been treated like a fool. But I’m no one’s fool.”

I have done my best to curve my ire at the consistent comparisons that Kasabian gets with one nameless Manchester band. Those are lazy, hackneyed, and misleading comparisons. Like many other bands, Kasabian has been influenced by some of the UK’s most renowned acts – and lately even by some of the current indie pop trends. And this is when I have to return to the album’s title and the concept of nuances. Velociraptors were small dinosaurs (usually under seven feet), with large heads, apparently with plumage. This is a perfect metaphor for the album: human-size, heady references to the past, garnished in feather… those feathers being the nuances, the details that make this album very distinct. If Kasabian is groundbreaking, it is in their ability to continuously use (boring) overused musical references to create something new, relevant, urgent, and infectious. The devil is in the details, those nuances, and Kasabian can tempt away.

Track Listing:
1. Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To
2. Days Are Forgotten
3. Goodbye Kiss
4. La Fée Verte
5. Velociraptor!
6. Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter from the Storm)
7. I Hear Voices
8. Re-wired
9. Man of Simple Pleasures
10. Switchblade Smiles
11. Neon Noon

Keep up with Kasabian at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is Kasabian’s video for “Switchblade Smiles” from the KasabianVEVO Channel.

Read more ...

27 September 2011

Golden Gardens: "Between the Siren and the Amulet"

My many thanks to Golden Gardens for keeping SDM Blog in the loop!

Quite often, I use music as the ultimate escape from the wear and tear of everyday life. I usually opt for music that creates a netherworld of sounds, where the expected is rarely realized and beauty, in so many forms, abounds. So it is no surprise that recently, as I so often do, I turned to dream pop and shoegaze to suspend reality, but I did not immerse myself in the soundscapes of yesteryears. Rather, I finally found the time to sit down and listen to Golden Gardens’ debut album, “Between the Siren and the Amulet” (23 August 2011). Though I hate to truncate or give the illusion of hybridity, this luscious album could easily be called “dreamgaze.” From the opening track, the instrumental “Peisinoë,” the dream like trance generated by compressed guitar sounds and synthesizers lulls you away into nearly an hour of music that is unconventionally alluring and emotionally engaging.

When I first reviewed Golden Garden’s “Somnambulist” EP (link), I wrote of days when incredible EPs and mini-albums were being released; now I remember those amazing days when fledging shoegaze bands were releasing amazing debut albums. But what really makes “Between the Siren and the Amulet” distinct is how Golden Gardens weave the earthly with the ethereal, the post-punk with the dream pop, the shoegaze with electronics. Furthermore, most albums released nowadays are merely a collection of new songs, not connected sonically or thematically in any premeditated way, and simply mixed to give the verisimilitude of cohesiveness to the songs. “Between the Siren and the Amulet” is an album in the traditional sense: there is sonic cohesiveness in how the music was conceived, written, and recorded. The listener simply glides through the musical journey of soundscapes, to the credit of multi-instrumentalist Gregg Alexander Joseph Neville; each song effortlessly flows into the next, even when the tempos and textures are different. This is most obvious between the broody “Amthemusa” and the near-poppy “Ghostwood.” There is no disconnect in the experience, and the change in tempo and style is part of the cinematographic feel of the music.

Aubrey Rachel Violet Bramble’s vocals are stunning! Of course, the lazy comparison would be with Elizabeth Fraser (the amazing vocalist of Cocteau Twins), but the more apropos comparison would be with (early) Alison Shaw (of The Cranes) – but dare I say that Bramble’s are more beautiful! She uses her voice not just to create vocal melody and deliver lyrics, but also as another layer within the musical arrangements. Even when the background music is more earthy and guttural, her vocals elevate each song into ethereal euphoria. Take “Three Jewels” for example; musically one of the “earthiest” moments on the album, and though Bramble’s vocals are not as high-pitched, her vocals adds the airy / ethereal counterpart to the music. In a nutshell, the music itself is a perfect example of classic shoegaze, her vocals dream pop.

“The Empress” is one of the most mesmerizing sounds I have ever heard. The guitar-arrangements are as haunting as the vocals, the languid beat accents the anxiousness – it is the perfect example of how to generate visceral power in a song without being bombast. The other track I must mention is “Night Never Ends.” With a nice dose of post-punk “gothicness,” this is the epic track of the album – as well as my favorite track and latest obsession. Like all great epics, it never feels as long as it is actually is (nearly seven minutes). The perfect bass line, even paced beat, ambient keys, and cinematic guitar arrangements all conspire to be the perfect soundscape for the airy vocal arrangements to lull and mesmerize the listener.

Golden Gardens is the exemplar of dream pop and shoegaze in today’s music. “Between the Siren and the Amulet” is not the replication of music of yesteryears gone by, but rather a relevant collection of music that keeps the tradition of the “album” alive in this post-broadband revolutionized world, while bringing the power of two musical traditions to contemporary audiences in a new and vibrant way. Golden Gardens is one of those truly independent bands that treads where others might not, because it is obvious that they place the emphasis on the artistry of the music, like all those nascent shoegazers of two decades ago. If you are obsessed with dream pop and shoegaze as I am, this is an album you will most definitely treasure. If you have no clue what dream pop or shoegaze is, then take the plunge with this album, suspend your expectations, and lull away an hour to this visceral catharsis.

Track Listing:
1. Peisinoë
2. The Empress
3. The Golden Dawn
4. Anthemusa
5. Ghostwood
6. Little Birds
7. Shimmerine
8. Amethyst
9. Three Jewels
10. Night Never Ends
11. Cimaruta
12. The Death of Lovers

Keep up with Golden Gardens at their homepage, Facebook, and Twitter. Head over to their Bandcamp page, where you can preview and purchase “Between the Siren and the Amulet.”

Here is Golden Gardens’ video for “Ghostwood” from the gossamerruby YouTube Channel.

Read more ...

21 September 2011

Architecture in Helsinki: "Moment Bends"

“Life on the outside of a fantasy, the more I bleed, the longer we breathe; and I could have sworn my heart was broken since we’re having fun, now you’re the one, alone with me…” words that kept swimming in my head as I was sitting back at the dentist office yesterday. As the dentist drilled away, and I was more in the mood to be at home blogging, I was smitten by “Desert Island,” the lead track of Architecture in Helsinki’s latest album, “Moment Bends” (8 April 2011 in Australia; 3 May 2011 in the USA). Not my original choice to review yesterday, the song kept haunting me, then others on the album, and I was sort of mesmerized by the fact of just how memorable this album really was. Honestly, I have never been a huge fan of this Australian outfit, and the few times I listened to the album it was strictly as background noise – yet I vividly remembered the album. When I finally got home, I “threw” the album on the ole iTunes and eagerly listened to the album again. And this reminded me of something – some of the best albums out there grow on you, though initially you may have dismissed them. “Moment Bends” is one of those albums.

From their 2005 debut through their second album, the band was known for its idiosyncratic ways of arranging music, capitalizing on the fact that the members were multi-instrumentalists. The cacophony of sounds that converged to create out-of-the-box hooks and quirky rhythms became a trademark. By their third album, the band started to veer towards the direction of electropop, but I would say that it would be incorrect to label “Moment Bends” as an electropop album. Though the bands sound has become more sedate, incorporating some very sophisticated key arrangements and production, this band does not lose its idiosyncrasies and ability to compose music that is not traditionally “pop,” but has all the allure of pop. I can easily argue that AIH are more of an art rock band parading around as a pop band.

The lead in track, “Desert Island,” shares many of the underpinnings of electropop songs in the vein of Limahl’s 80s classic “The NeverEnding Story” – with some distinct differences! The slower pace and the very thin wall of sound actually add a breathtaking feel to the song. With a ska progression (if the keys were guitars), this subtle track is alluring enough to ease you right into “Escapee,” which brings up the tempo, incorporates harsher keys, and a nifty-tinny-guitar arrangement in the background. Immediately, the range in vocal styles becomes apparent from the first two tracks: from heartfelt crooning to matter-of-fact chanting, the band is as unfettered in their vocals as in their musical styles. By the third track, “Contact High,” the disco revival starts to filter in, and you are in a world of ever-shifting musical references.

My favorite track on the album is “Sleep Talkin’” – acoustic strumming usually does it for me. What I like most about the track is how the music seems to follow the vocal arrangements, as opposed to a singer singing over the music. Though the lyrics are as fractured as the most demented of post-punk songs (“When I was blue and green, and you are black and blue, we’ll add on little brown to break the silent in two…”), it adds to the dramatic crooning and the cinematic feel of the music. This is completely different from the closing track, “B4 3D,” which is the anti-climatic moment on the album, and appropriately the "flattest" song on the album. Slow paced, a stone throw away from being a droning dirge, it is saved from the doom and gloom because of the purposely-awkward percussion arrangement. AIH saves this track by denying it having a hard, steady beat – a song writing decision that proves that the band is very conscious of their craft. One other track to really pay close attention is the R&B / Italo disco influenced “Everything’s Blue.” With a funky bass line, its near neo-soul vocal arrangements, and alluring key arrangements, the song has one hook after another and a testament that some of the best pop out there is not cookie-cutter!

From my understanding, the name of the band, Architecture in Helsinki, is pretty random – gathered by cutting words from print and rearranging them. And we can say the same thing about the band’s random musical references – gathered by cutting through many different styles and genres and rearranging them together. “Moment Bends” struts a plethora of musical references – from the expected indie rock trends to a bit of R&B and just about everything in between. I can easily imagine how disarming this album is at first to anyone (including their own fans), but “Moment Bends” definitely deserves your attention … you may dismiss it at first as well, but may be surprised just how this catchy music actually will seep back into your mind when you least expect it.

Track Listing:
1. Desert Island
2. Escapee
3. Contact High
4. W.O.W.
5. Yr Go to
6. Sleep Talkin’
7. I Know Deep Down
8. That Beep
9. Denial Style
10. Everything’s Blue
11. B4 3D

Keep up with Architecture in Helsinki at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are two videos. The first, “That Beep,” from the PolyvinlRecords YouTube Channel. The second, “Contact High,” from the ArchitectureIHVEVO YouTube Channel.

Read more ...

17 September 2011

Erasure, with Frankmusik, Live

With a career spanning twenty-six years, Erasure sits comfortably as icons in the world of synthpop and new wave. From the quirky “Who Needs Love Like That?” to the socially critical “A Little Respect,” from the all out tongue-in-cheek of “Love to Hate You” to the sentimental “In My Arms,” Erasure is one of those veterans that have stood the test time in spite of being ignored by the vast majority of the mainstream media. This alone is the testament of their craftsmanship and relevance. Tuesday, 13 September 2011, Terminal 5 in New York City – Erasure brought their Tomorrow’s World Tour to The Big Apple, packing the house with one of the most diverse crowds one could ever imagine: young and old, gay and straight, men and women, black and white – a hodgepodge of people who are proud to call themselves Erasure fans.

(Vince Clarke of Erasure)

The evening started with Frankmusik; I have gotten to the point in my musical aesthetics that I may like a band / artist by hearing their music, but I no longer fall giddy-head-over-heels over any band / artist until I see them live – I have fallen. Playing music from his first album, “Complete Me” (2009), and his forthcoming album, “Do It in the AM,” as well as a few covers, Frankmusik is the kind of opening act that all artists should take on the road – though I personally can’t wait to see him perform his own show. Most of the time, opening acts are so inferior to the main act that it is either laughable or the opportunity to head to a bar – rarely do bands travel with artists that can vie to steal the limelight. Such opening acts only help to elevate the overall show, because the main act has to give that much more. And after Frankmusik, Erasure had a tough act to follow. His set included the older track “Better Off As Two” (though I personally had hoped for “Confusion Girl,” I give Frankmusik a lot of credit for including “When You’re Around” – not a track I thought he would play) and new tracks such as “No Bueno” and “Do It in the AM.” He also performed covers in snippets, such as Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire” and The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno,” and even incorporated the music to Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”


Frankmusik, at one point, joked about not needing to go the gym since he got to perform every night. The energy of his set was incredible – everyone in sight was dancing away. Delivering what essentially is standard pop music (much like Erasure, an obvious influence on his style), the high energy, catchy lyrics, intelligence, and all around good vibe is infectious with its broad appeal. With a live drummer and keyboardist / vocalist (and the unseen sequencer), this near forty minute set the stage for Erasure to come out and deliver their set of uncompromising pop music. One last thing I have to say is that Frankmusik’s voice was flawless live. As I have argued before, vocalists should not be judged on the range of their voice, but their ability to deliver their music and be emotive, as well as the distinctiveness of their style. Frankmusik definitely has the chops to be one of the best male pop vocalists out there.

(Though there is no live clip available of Frankmusik on this tour, here is the video for “No I.D.” (featuring Colette) from the FrankmusikVEVO YouTube Channel.)

Then Erasure finally graced the stage.

(Andy Bell of Erasure)

Most bands play a high-energy song from their current album to start a show, but that is not what the audience got from Erasure. In one of the most brilliant decisions by the band, the show started with “Sono Luminus” – and the diehard fans were immediately enraptured, for the casual Erasure listener / fan, the second song, “Always,” nailed the opening of the show. From the obscure to the popular, this was musically Erasure’s best opening ever: perfect! Occasionally slipping in new music into the set (only once playing two new songs in a row), this was a musical journey that covered songs from four decades (80s, 90s, 00s, and now 10s) of music. Interesting enough, Erasure’s latest album, “Tomorrow’s World,” has not been released yet. This is always a bit tricky – touring to music that the audience had not heard yet – and I questioned if Erasure would be able to pull this off.

There are not many bands that have taught me life lessons, but Erasure has. Lesson #1: there is beauty in simplicity – from the remorseful “Breathe” to the admonishment “Ship of Fools,” Vince Clarke is able to craft music that is simple and beautiful, that does not rely on frills or production gimmicks. Do not get me wrong, tracks such as “Chorus” and the new “Whole Lotta Love Run Riot” proves that Clarke can get as “electronic” as the best of them, but at the core of all of Erasure’s songs is the conscious resignation to standard pop – a lost art in today’s world. This is a musical world where musical and emotional beauty is displayed with subtlety, and the live renditions were testaments to this. Lesson #2: be yourself no matter what anyone thinks or says. Andy Bell, one of the greatest front men of all time, can go from silly tip-toeing to mellow dramatic posturing in two seconds flat. From being open-ended (such as the elegant “Blue Savannah”) to there-is-no-doubt-he-is-gay (“Love to Hate You” – “For every Casanova that appears, my sense of hesitation disappears…”), Bell, like Erasure’s music, has a feel of naturalness and lacks the restraints that so many other musicians impose on themselves both in the studio and live. Lesson #3: always stand up for yourself and your beliefs. With tracks like “Chains of Love” and “A Little Respect” (their biggest hits in the USA), Erasure is not shy from making social commentary. But even when doing so, it is never preachy or heady, but rather fun and endearing – a very hard feat to achieve!


Though the diehard fans may have been in awe with the opening, the jaw dropping moment was when Erasure played “Push Me Shove Me” in the second half of the set. Though the song appears on the British version of their debut album, “Wonderland” (1986), in the USA it is b-side to the band’s first single, “Who Needs Love Like That?” (1985). How many established bands go back to play early rarities? Not many, but Erasure did so to an amazing reception. But of course, there were many other moments for the diehards, such as the compulsory finger pointing during “Drama” and waving of paper cut out hearts during “Oh L’Amour,” And, as always, Vince Clarke stayed in the background (unless playing acoustic guitars), as Andy Bell, accompanied by two background vocalists, dominated the stage and the audience’s attention.

The show did not have elaborate costume changes. However, Bell did change his shirt midway through the set to a Michael Jackson t-shirt, paying homage to the King of Pop. The show did not have a light show that was meant to wow and dazzle you, though it was sophisticated and complemented each song along the way. The show did not have any nifty props on stage, though the light strips on the mic stands during “Chorus” was nifty and the gargoyle-motif was cute. What this hour and three quarter did have was solid music, solid performance, perfect harmonies, and a moment where everyone there forgot the rushing world outside of New York and slipped into the netherworld of Erasure. There are not many pop performers who can hold an audience’s attention just singing and moving about randomly. Bell and Clarke, however, most definitely can. As the stone faced started smiling and those with two left feet started dancing, the music kept on flowing easily – and when the new songs were played, a casual onlooker would never have known that these where new songs, never heard before. Quickly learning the choruses, the audience ate up and danced away all of the new music – building up the anticipation for the new album next month.

(Andy Bell of Erasure)

I went to a show with a high school friend that I reconnected with after many years; she was there with her daughter. As Vince Clarke kicked off the music for “Drama,” and Andy Bell started to sing, I saw mother and daughter jumping up and down, singing along to each and every word, and even the audience, which earlier was full of people pushing and shoving for a better space, had relaxed into a friendly environment of shared euphoria. And that is when I was reminded about the power of Erasure. This is not just some 80s band or some generic synth band; this is not some “gay” band or some throwaway pop act – Erasure is more like religion, and the show more like going to church, where everyone is more than happily willing to give into a communion of having a good time full of respect, love and energy. And that is the staying power of Erasure – twenty-six years of good times, smiles, and happiness, and unless you experience it yourself, it is something you may never understand … and that is why if you have the opportunity to check them out on this tour, you most definitely should!

Set List
1. Sono Luminus
2. Always
3. When I Start To (Break It All Down)
4. Blue Savannah
5. Fill Us With Fire
6. Drama
7. You’ve Got To Save Me Right Now
8. Ship of Fools
9. Chorus
10. Breathe
11. Victim of Love
12. Alien
13. Push Me Shove Me
14. Love To Hate You
15. I Lose Myself
16. A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot
17. Breath of Life
18. Chains of Love
19. Sometimes
20. A Little Respect

21. Oh :’Amour
22. Stop!

(Again, there is no live footage of this tour available, but here is montage footage put to Erasure’s song “When I Start To (Break It All Down)” from their forthcoming album, “Tomorrow’s World," from the erasureinfo YouTube Channel.)

Keep up with Erasure at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Keep up with Frankmusik at his homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
Read more ...

Videos - Round 2

So I grind my teeth at night as I sleep. Perhaps it is a nervous quirk, or perhaps it is done out of frustration that I can’t strangle a few people, but I actually cracked a tooth earlier this week with my grinding. So though it did not deter me from seeing Erasure, with Frankmusik, live (review to follow soon!), it has kept me from wanting to post – this kind of pain never feels good! Enjoy the second round of videos!

The Horrors’ “Still Life” from the XLRecordings YouTube Channel.

“Sur les routes de France” from the Douia Chemsseddoha Vimeo Channel.

Sur les routes de France from Dounia Chemsseddoha on Vimeo.

Second’s “Tu alrededor” from the secondmusic YouTube Channel.

Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” from the LandaDelRey YouTube Channel.

Cold Cave’s “Villains of the Moon” from the ColdCaveVEVO YouTube Channel.

Young Knives’ “Vision in Rags” from the YoungKnives YouTube Channel.

Art vs. Science’s “Without Thought” from the ARTVSSCIENCE YouTube Channel.

Read more ...

10 September 2011

Revival or Continuation?

History lesson!

September 1941, The United Kingdom and The Soviet Union forced the Shah of Iran, Reza Shah, to abdicate and hand his power over to his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, since it was thought that his father would ally himself with Nazi Germany. Nearly four decades later, when Mohammad Reza Palhavi, the handpicked sovereign by Western powers, was overthrown, the hostage crisis that would plague the end of the Jimmy Carter administration started. During this time in the 1970s, Saddam Hussein would rise to power in neighboring Iraq, a country that the United States had their eyes on as a strategic location in the Middle East (against the Soviet Union). At the same time, Operation Cyclone was taking place in Afghanistan; this was a decade long operation to finance and train the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet Union in their war. Of course, all the time the world economy was coming to a grinding halt, the world was becoming acquainted with the word “recession” by the mid-80s, oil dependency would become a national security issue, and a housing crisis (led by a saving and loans crisis in the mid-80s) would manifest in the USA. Gone were the liberal days of the late 1960s and 1970s, nothing was free, not even love, and in came austerity, conservatism, and the Reagan/Thatcher era.

I acknowledge fully that I have oversimplified a lot of history here, and I am not claiming to be definitive in any way, but rather ruminating and proposing a theory on why there is so much revival going on at this moment; so I ask that you kindly placate me and play along. If you were to shift the years a bit, to switch the names of the wars and the players, and consider all of the financial turmoil the world is in today, it would be easy for any of us to say that history is repeating itself … so why not music?

In the mist of the 1970s, punk rock would come into existence; in part an aesthetic movement that beckoned for simplicity in music, away from the virtuosos like Jimi Hendrix; it was also highly political. From “Anarchy in the UK” to “London Calling,” these young musicians questioned the status quo in a way that musicians had not in over a generation. Unfortunately, as punk rock became sonically repetitive after the first wave and separate “punk” scenes started to form and become established, its own politics in its different subgenres became reified, codified, and unquestioned by those who supported it. Though punk rock’s first wave lasted for a brief moment and its subsequent waves would fade in global relevance, it gave birth to the post-punk movement.

(The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK” from the SexPistolsChannel YouTube Channel.)

As the 80s rolled in, pop music became more and more mindless, as most entertainment does during hardships; most people use entertainment as a means of escape, not a method to question their circumstances – just listen to the radio or watch “reality” television and you can experience this. (Please note, by “reality” television I am referring to the entire genre of shows that are supposedly premised on real life situations without scripts.) Very few musicians would question the status quo, but in the mainstream Bruce Springsteen led the way, delivering one punch after the other against the status quo in the name of the working class. And a few pop musicians, namely Madonna, would push the envelope with suggestive imagery against the status quos of religion and sexuality. But underneath the mainstream, post-punk, which may have been somewhat resistant to take up politics directly, embraced the hardship and bleakness of its time: a feeling that the world would never be the same and that existence was full of despair. These very notions were reflected in the psychic construction of the music, as musically and lyrically these bands started to get darker and more introspective, mirroring the times. Love songs were rarely happy, and the idea that “death is everywhere” [“Fly on the Windscreen” by Depeche Mode] was becoming more and more prevalent. Just take Siouxsie and the Banshees’ first single, “Hong Kong Garden.” Not as dark as what would soon follow, the despair of the world is reflected in stream-of-consciousness: “Harmful elements in the air, symbols clashing everywhere, reaps the field of rice and reeds while the population feeds, junk floats on polluted water, an old custom to sell your daughter…” Why not a fractured stream-of-consciousness, as the very world was becoming fractured? The darkest moment in the post-punk era, demonstrating pure existentialism, would come in 1982 from The Cure, juxtaposing the value of human life with corporate imagery (limousines and skyscrapers): “It doesn’t matter if we all die, ambition in the back of a black car, in a high building there is so much to do….” (“A Hundred Years”) But others, such as Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, would be just as bombast, questioning the faith people place in a “God”: “Hey God, there’s nothing left me to hide. I lost my ignorance, security, and pride. I’m all alone in a world you must despise. Hey God, I believed your promises, your promises and lies.” (“Terrible Lies”)

From romance and love to politics and life, post-punk rockers reflected the psychic reality of the world they were forced to live in.

(Wire’s “Heartbeat” from the wirehq YouTube Channel.)

(Killing Joke’s “Eighties” from the emimusic YouTube Channel.)

But it was not only the post-punk rockers (and their gothic and industrial offspring) that reeled about the time they lived in, new wave and synthpop musicians took their subtle and less subtle stabs at the beast. Perhaps the most known would be Depeche Mode’s “People Are People,” rallying against the xenophobia and racism that the masses were capitulating to – best reflected in the anti-American / anti-Soviet feelings that led nations not to send athletes to Moscow or Los Angeles. And there was Pet Shop Boys, with their tongue-in-cheek critique of an economic world where only thievery (by the educated) can make money. And if racism, xenophobia, and class warfare were risqué topics to sing about, imagine how social conservatives felt about Bronski Beat! In an era where same-sex marriage was not even part of the debate, Bronski Beat put homophobia and violence against gay men in the forefront with their song and video for “Small Town Boy.”

(Depeche Mode’s “People Are People” from their MySpace Videos Page)

(Pet Shop Boys’ “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” from the emimusic YouTube Channel.

(Bronski Beat’s “Small Town Boy” from the JsomervilleOfficial YouTube Channel.)

Of course I would be remiss if I did not engage, arguably, the most iconic moment of the 80s. Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” was a catchy tune and video hiding a polemic. The most enigmatic song ever written: the band has never revealed what sweet dreams are make of, you are doing the using and abusing, or who is receiving the using or abusing! And in this famous and iconoclastic incarnation – red head, androgynous, dressed in a man’s suit, and a favorite Halloween costume of many of my friends – Annie Lennox proves that women do not need to sell sex(uality) in order to sell records. The most telling indictment of the time is how the video is set in a corporate office space, as she sings, “Some of them want to use you; some of them want to be used by you. Some of them want to abuse you; some of them want to be abused by you” – in essence the very core of a how a capitalist system must survive. The only escape in the video is through mediation that leads you to a fantasy world of masque wearing cello players. And this is not any ole mediation, but rather religiously inspired mediation, as denoted by the bindi and the cows, all religious images of Hinduism – an Eastern religion, the exact opposite of what was being represented by the Western world.

(Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)” from EurythmicsVEVO YouTube Channel.)

As the economic, political, and social conditions changed, so would the music. At least in the Western world, the 1990s would be a decade of relative peace, international cooperation, and economic expansion. Bill Clinton was in the White House and the formal establishment of the European Union and the creation of the Eurozone was well on its way in Western Europe. As Westerners enjoyed “golden days,” the need for a counterculture that attacked the status quo lessened. Even conservatives and liberals, who have never seen eye-to-eye but managed to work together, never expressed the vitriol we see in national politics all over the world today. Hence music changed: grunge and Britpop would see mainstream success on different sides of the pond, and R&B really became international as electronic / rave culture emerged.

Soon, however, political leaders would lead the world down the pathways of history, and once again there was Western involvement in the Middle East, to a level not seen since The Crusades (you know the religious campaign to kill every Muslim in sight, but not the Jews as “Christian” fundamentalists need them for their “end time”), including deposing one said leader of Iraq. The world financial markets would implode by 2008 and not truly recover over the next few years (did someone say downgrade?), the housing market and banking sector worldwide would come unraveled, and oil dependency has once again become a national security issue (though the USA gets most of its oil from Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela, three nations I highly doubt are plotting to mount a war to destroy the USA). I am not saying that the 1990s were completely frivolous; what I am saying is that you will be pressed to find as many “countercultural” movements that were not part of corporate, marketing scheming. The entire pre-packaged angst of the commercialized music such as grunge post-Nirvana had more to do with turning over a profit than mediating social reality. Now I am not saying that there were not moments of lashing out against the status quo, but they were isolate moments or artists. Two great examples come to mind. The ever tongue-in-cheek Pulp takes on class-consciousness in their classic “Common People,” and Blur’s “Girls and Boys” riotous take on sexual(ity) freedom, with the advice, “Always should be someone you really love.”

(Pulp’s “Common People” from the PulpVEVO YouTube Channel.)

(Blur’s “Girls and Boys” from the emimusic YouTube Channel.)

As for the world we live in now, I can only think of one quote to sum it up, and I will risk being called a communist; according to Karl Marx: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”

I am not one given to phenomenalistic thought, nor do I believe I should accept any trend as a random given – things do not just happen, there is always something motivating it: a cause and effect. I don’t think that the members of bands such as Interpol woke up one morning and said, “Screw this power-chord, grunge influenced music, let’s sound more like Joy Division and The Cure.” For that matter, I don’t think that the media that mocked The Cure for over a decade would then turn around and hail them as iconic, God-Like Genius, as NME did, for no reason at all. I don’t think that bands like La Roux decided one day to throw out all of their digital technology to sound more like and be anti-romantic like early/mid-80s Depeche Mode just for the fun of it. There is a cause and effect here; both sets of bands exist under near identical economic, political, and social conditions. Even if post-punk had never existed, musicians would have gotten darker during these days; it is the natural reaction of creative artists to their times. Sure there are many acts that have simply jumped the bandwagon, but there still remains a core of bands that are expressing themselves as did their forefathers and mothers; for them, this is not an era of revival, but rather one that continues and adds on to what came before.

A few things, though, have definitely changed; for starters, freedom of speech is not what it used to be. Not that the establishment ever took criticism or people pushing the envelope passively, but when Frankie Goes to Hollywood was inviting us to “Relax, don’t do it, when you want to cum” [“Relax”], they were criticized and even banned on the BBC, but not lionized the way people are today. If you dare go one step further and criticize the establishment, you are not patriotic and are branded an enemy of the state – remember The Dixie Chicks controversy? And when one party does not agree with the other, the disagreeing party simply puts the legitimacy of the other in question, like the birthers have done to President Barack Obama or all the mud slinging in the British press. Which is why when even Glenn Beck praised Muse’s latest album, “The Resistance” (apparently not realizing that Matthew Bellamy is a leftist!), it was a bit of shock. He later “retracted” his endorsement, not because Muse’s people e-mailed him (that is a myth started by Beck himself), but rather someone must have told him he was off the mark with his interpretation and endorsement of the album. A hundred times more bombast than anything Springsteen wrote, Muse not only believes in standing up to the establishment, but in revolution: “Interchanging mind control, come let the revolution take it’s toll; if you could flick a switch and open your third eye, you’d see that we should never be afraid to die.” (“Uprising”)

(Muse’s “Uprising” from their MySpace Video Page.)


Muse | Myspace Music Videos

And as things become more and more bleak, the entertainment market has cranked out more garbage to help us to escape and forget about these hard times. Musicians and entertainers get younger and younger – nothing says good times like the innocence of youth and “youthful” indiscretions of the 20-somethings. But the shelf life of these musicians is becoming shorter and shorter. And then there is “reality” television – nothing says reality like racing around the globe, hoping a bachelorette picks you, living on an island with strangers, etc… The most insulting “reality” based show is “Secret Boss” – a rich millionaire in disguise interacts with the “common man” and at the end of the show gives them a measly hundred thousand. First off, it is condescending. Second, s/he can afford to donate more than that. Third, s/he should not hide behind tax loopholes (or at least donate all the money they saved from them!). Fourth, the only reason “reality” television is prevalent is because networks do not have to pay writers and all the other expenses that come with the creativity from a real staff!

But under it all, there are these post-punks and new wavers who are most definitely reacting the same way that Susan Ballion, Ian Curtis, Peter Murphy, and Robert Smith did decades earlier. Take Editors, admittedly my favorite band of the past few years, the song “The Racing Rats” takes up the mantle of existentialist wonder: “If a plane were to fall from the sky, how big a hole would it make in the surface of the earth…” But there is never any mention of the people on the plane, because life is near irrelevant in a world were “you knew you were lost but carried on away” futilely – harkening back to Robert Smith’s statement: “It doesn’t matter if we all die.” But when Editors questions the very existence of God in “Papillon” (perhaps based on the memoir of the same name by Henri Charrière, a convicted felon), as vocalist Tom Smith subtly slips in, “If there really was a God, he’d have raised a hand by now” into the song, it is a chilling attack on the very foundation of much of Western Thought. Trent Reznor was speaking to “God” in “Terrible Lies,” Editors questions/dismisses his very existence!

(Editors’ “The Racing Rats” from the EditorsVEVO YouTube Channel.)

(Editors’ “Papillon” from the editorsofficial YouTube Channel.)

Even in the post-punk of White Lies, there is a bleak view of relationships and love. Though not conveyed relevantly by the video, Harry McVeigh sings, “I don’t need your tears, I don’t want your love.” And the same feeling of isolation and longing to connect with another that was prevalent in the 1980s post-punk is revisited by Yeah Yeah Yeahs in “Maps.”

(White Lies’ “Bigger Than Us” from the WhiteLiesVEVO YouTube Channel.)

(Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps” from the YeahYeahYeahsVEVO YouTube Channel.)

And just as women took the forefront during the 80s, a new generation of women has been on the rise that refuses to conform to the social roles that women are marginalized to. Moreover, as in the 80s, many of these women are making creative waves and are part of the revival movement bringing back new wave and synthpop. These are not the women of 90s pop or contemporary mainstream, humbly asking for their men to come back, heartache, or bubble-gum throwaway music with fairy tale endings. And more importantly, like Annie Lennox, these are not women selling sex to sell an album. These are engaging artists who have proven that music can be fun and contemplative at the same time. For example, Anna Matronic of Scissor Sisters and Eleanor Kate Jackson (an androgynous red head … reminds you of anyone else?) of La Roux are the free agents that are autonomously doing the dumping or refusing to show their vulnerabilities, and not the hapless victims of romance.

(Scissor Sisters’ “Kiss You Off” from the ScissorSistersVEVO YouTube Channel.)

(La Roux’s “Bulletproof” from the LaRouxVEVO YouTube Channel.)

Very similar economic, social, and political conditions between three decades ago and now, and the result most definitely seems to be the production of music that is very similar. And the most telling evidence that this is the case is how the music is being received. It is not just the musicians who are being affected by these conditions, but we, the audience, as well. If this were not the case, we would not accept Editors, La Roux, Muse, Scissor Sisters, White Lies, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and their brethren as urgently relevant. Though I wish I had the time and space to really flush this post out to be more definitive, I think I can say without reservation that what is happening is not really revival. What is happening now is a continuation of what started in late 70s / 80s. Of course we can accuse some entertainers of just jumping the bandwagon (I will always call them out for it!), but for those of us who loved that first wave of post-punk and new wave and all the other genres associated with them (from coldwave to synthpop, goth rock to electronic body music) this moment of time is offering up an entire generation of new artists that are working on and expanding those traditions, and I assure you that tomorrow icons are amongst these very artists.
Read more ...

The Android Angel Answers 5 Yet Again

Another interview I have sat on for too long – taking a very easy July and August, doing little in way of posting, the summer ended with Hurricane Irene. We, in the New York City area (and the northeast of the USA in general), are not accustomed to hurricanes; so of course there were some that thought this event was an inch away from the Armageddon. Other than causing me to have some connectivity issues, Irene had very little effect on me. But watching all the constant, minute-by-minute updates on the hurricane, made me think about New York City, and of course that led me to listen to The Android Angel’s latest album, “Marble Sun,” which I reviewed earlier this year (link). Paul Colto, the man behind the moniker, wrote this album as an ode to New York City and was more than happy (yet again) to answer some questions for me. On that note, I want to thank Paul Colto for taking the time and answering 5.

(Photograph by DeadByCinema)

1. Last summer, you spent five weeks living in the Borough of Brooklyn, New York City. As a musician, how did your stay impact you?

In New York I realised that it was time to start making the instrumentation, lyrics and rhythms in my songs more interesting - to push myself more than I'd ever done before. I walked the streets of the city for days on end thinking about how to achieve this. When I got home it unexpectedly manifested itself in my other, new project, Free Swim, which has received by far and away the most positive reviews and coverage of any project I've ever been involved in, and also been the most fun. I learnt a great deal about the dynamics of live performance from all the gigs I went to - Cut Copy, Spiritualized, Grizzly Bear, Local Natives to name a few. I also learnt to cheer the fuck up and realise that life is a truly wonderful thing full of opportunity and inspiration and all that jazz.

2. From what I understand, “Brooklyn Bridge” was written before your trip to New York City last summer. Was the intention from the start to compose a collection of songs that were inspired by New York City? How did this thematic thread develop?

I took ten songs to New York that I had planned on perfecting while I was out there. After a week or two though I began to take my guitar with me on my explorations of the city and started playing in the parks and squares I'd stumble on. It was magical. Those first two weeks in particular were a manic but glorious assault on my senses. It was all very overwhelming, not to mention a feast for my imagination, and I wrote 10 brand new songs.

On my previous record I flushed out 5 or 6 years of bitterness and sadness about things that hadn't come to pass that I'd hoped would. My time in New York made me feel positive about my life as a musician for the first time. My songwriting stopped being my therapy and became something much more beautiful. I am truly indebted to the city for that and "Marble Sun" became a love-letter of thanks.

With regards to the song "Brooklyn Bridge", yes I wrote it in the months leading up to my trip - it's the sound of the excitement. I wasn't going to include it on the album but Android Angel bass player Joe convinced me to and I am so glad he did. His encouragement and piano & string arrangements really elevated the song. I simply cannot wait to collaborate more with Joe, and Steve (drummer) and Ryan (Free Swim drummer) in the coming years.

3. Can you tell us a bit about Sex Farm Records?

It's my own DIY label on which I release all my music as Android Angel and Free Swim. It gives me complete creative control to record the music I want to make, the way I want to make it, with whom I want to make it, and how I want to release and tour it. I hope the name of the label shows that I don't always take all this quite as seriously as it might first appear...

(Photograph by DeadByCinema)

4. You describe The Android Angel as “serious” music, while Free Swim, the other moniker you produce music under, as “less serious.” How did Free Swim come about, and why use two distinct monikers?

Basically, the "Marble Sun" was taking a lot longer to finish than I'd expected because Steve, Joe and I could only meet once a week to work on it. So I started to get a little restless and decided to record a couple of stream of consciousness EPs over a couple of weeks last winter to keep me out of trouble. They became the first two Free Swim EPs. I didn't want to just write 'normal' lyrics for them so with the help of my good friend Dave Knight we devised a couple of concepts for the EPs to be about.

The two projects are very different - with Android Angel I think very carefully about the songs, working on them for a number of months before recording them. With Free Swim there is absolutely no preparation whatsoever. I literally put a week aside to make an EP and start on the first day and see what happens. They are both incredibly rewarding projects in completely different ways.

5. Out of curiosity, I know you are on your way to Romania … will you be taking the opportunity to write new music out there, or will this be a true holiday?

For the fourth Android Angel album I wanted to go somewhere completely the opposite to New York. A farm in the Romanian Mountains sounded about right. Also my dad's Romanian and it will be the first time I've ever been to the 'fatherland' so to speak and it will be nice on that level too - more personal.

I'm taking my guitar with me to work on 5 or 6 songs that I’ve been writing the last couple of months and to hopefully write a few more. Together they'll make up the fourth album. I haven't written any lyrics yet; I want to wait till I get out there for that. It's not really a "holiday" as such cause I'll be working really hard on the farm to earn my keep, and writing songs in the evenings. To be honest, my life feels like one big "holiday" - I get to visit a new country and culture one month a year with my guitar then spend the intervening 11 months recording an album about it and fooling around with other projects like Free Swim - it's more than I could ever have dreamed of really. I am a very, very lucky man and I try not to take it for granted by working as hard at my craft as possible. Next year, California!

Keep up with The Android Angel at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Also head over to The Android Angel's Bandcamp page, where you can preview and download their music.

Also, I will be dedicating time to write about Free Swim very soon. In the mean time, start exploring Free Swim at their Facebook and Twitter, and check out the Bandcamp page, where you can preview and download their music.

Here is the video for The Android Angel’s “Brooklyn Bridge” from the deadbycinemafilms YouTube Channel.

Read more ...

04 September 2011

Videos - Round 1

Here is the first of two rounds of videos that have caught my eye over the last four weeks or so … Enjoy!

Tom Vek’s “Aroused” from the TomVekVEVO YouTube Channel.

IAMX’s “Bernadette” (English version) from the iamx YouTube Channel.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s “The Body” from thepainsofbeing YouTube Channel.

The Chapman Family’s “Burn Your Town” from thechapmanfamilytv YouTube Channel.

St. Vincent’s “Cruel” from the 4ADRecords YouTube Channel.

Kasabian’s “Days Are Forgotten” from the KasabianVEVO Channel.

Charlie Simpson’s “Parachutes” from the charliesimpsonmusic YouTube Channel.

White Lies’ “The Power and The Glory” from the WhiteLiesVEVO YouTube Channel.

Read more ...

01 September 2011

Dream Affair: "Endless Days"

Continuing the advice of my friend, I really took a summer holiday from blogging – after over two years without an extended break it was very welcomed. The reality is that it is difficult to dedicate time to writing when the weather is so beautiful; conversely, during a hurricane, it is just as difficult to want to write. But one thing I am always doing is listening to (new) music.

Listening to Dream Affair’s debut album, “Endless Days” (25 May 2011), reminded me of one of the most important facts about what makes good music. A bit out of practice, I have been trying to type this up for a few hours, cursing what I thought to be writer’s block for my lack of progress. Here are some of my false starts: “Euphorically sad,” “Coldwave lives on in Brooklyn,” “Broody, dark, danceable,” “Ambience is best achieved with simplicity,” “Drum machines and guitars … one of my favorite combinations!” The problem was that I could never articulate the following line, because I was not ready to articulate the given. What makes good music is good songwriting, and “Endless Days” is the perfect example of this. You may not get the most virtuoso moments, nor will you get vocal moments that will make the hairs on the nape of your neck stand, but what you do get is a collection of songs that is spot on! Written as coldwave, the band not only understands this tradition completely, they understand their audience in 2011. True to form, infused with current indie trends, what speaks here is the actual music.

If pressed to come up with one word with how I feel as I listen to the album, it would be “Drifting” – the title of the third track on the album. From the alternating male and female vocals in the chorus to the not-so-subtle switch between the verse and chorus, you are either gently fluttering through air or crashing at ungodly speeds. Dream Affair understands that the music itself, not just the lyrics and vocal arrangements, has to be dramatic – in this sense, they are similar to Siouxsie and the Banshees, Eurythmcis, and Xymox. And though the album as a whole could be labeled as “coldwave,” the sense of drama that is pervasive through the album has Dream Affair borrowing techniques from other genres: “Apology” borrows heavily from the “goth” tradition of post-punk – think of the proto-industrial style of music.

Like many of their Brooklyn brethren, Dream Affair does not breathe New York City … or American for that matter. Easily comparable to The Exploding Boy (Sweden) or Manicure (Russia), this is essentially British post-punk with the occasional flair of continental influence. The titular track, again incorporating proto-industrial, reminds me of a lot of music coming out of France and Germany, while tracks like “Parting” remind me completely of how a young Bauhaus or The Cure would put a short ambient piece together – though this song has all the makings of an epic, perhaps live! The stand out track is “Lucid.” With its electro bass sounds, sinister ambient keys, French spoken in the background, and it’s matter of fact female vocal arrangements, it is the most sensually seductive song on the album.

My favorite track on the album is “Silent Story.” I can instantly imagine someone who is familiar with post-punk listening to this song and swearing they have heard it before. Of course, it is not the song that they have heard before, but rather that they are familiar with this post-punk archetype. A savvy pop song, laden with electro-percussion claps, bordering somewhere between rock and dance, it is the kind of song that simply has a broad appeal. And that is where we return to the beginning … it is about strong songwriting. Whether or not music is full of production gimmicks or not, virtuoso moments or not, musical or lyrical tropes or not, it comes down to the ability of the band to write a song that is captivating. Dream Affair’s “Endless Days” is nine songs that are infectious, harkening back to the dreariness of a past generation to produce music that is venomously addictive to a contemporary audience!

Track Listing:
1. Endless Days
2. Silent Story
3. Drifting
4. 405
5. Apology
6. Lucid
7. No Use Hiding
8. Until the Fall
9. Parting

Keep up with Dream Affair at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook. Feel free to head over to the Bandcamp pages for Dream Affair and Avant! Records, where you can preview and purchase their music.

Here is their video for “Endless Days” from the Justin Anderson Viemo Channel.

Dream Affair "Endless Days" from Justin Anderson on Vimeo.

Read more ...