Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Four Tet: There Is Love in You (2010)


(Domino)

RECOMMENDED

After a short-lived obsession with electronica as a teen -- before I found I had more to relate to in disco and synthpop -- I lost any awareness of the genre, so Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) is a somewhat new name for me. One thing that has happened since I was laying about with Exit Planet Dust on repeat is that I discovered Brian Eno and became enamored of the idea of ambient music that is a pleasure not just to hear but to actively listen to. Curiously for the sterile settings it evokes, Eno's Music for Airports has a comfortable, warm aura to me. I get the same feeling -- the collision of rollicking binaries and genuine soul -- from Four Tet.

This is also, of all things, dance music, but it's dance music that goes down sweetly. My girlfriend Amber says that "Sing" -- the second single -- sounds like "computers in the Arctic." But conversely, "Circles" (which I've included below) is robot romance; Hebden's beats, vibes, and strokes are welcoming and human, a pillow of subtle techno frenzy. There's as much going on in these songs -- even the allegedly repetitive selections like the first track, "Angel Echoes," which lends the disc its title -- as in any souped-up club hit, but the songs (and songs they are, distinctly) are intricate, layering and hiding their many details.

I can attest that you can move and shake and hop around to There Is Love in You, because we did earlier, but the first time I put it on I just sat and felt immersed. I don't have the world's best attention span, but Four Tet keeps me involved even when he leaps headfast into a shimmering seven-minute groove. He's accessible because he works hard to make this shit delicious on every level. The last track brings it together; "She Just Likes to Fight" is a waveringly pretty love song without words, evocative and bound to seduce. You don't have to love ambient music to find this album a fragile and absorbing delight.

(I have another Four Tet album, the renowned Rounds, but I have yet to listen to it; stay tuned!)

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Circling

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Björk: Selmasongs (2000)


(Elektra)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

It's already been ten years since Lars Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark was released. It is, of course, the famously heartbreaking musical about a blind woman attempting to save her son from losing his sight. Björk's performance in the film is a powerhouse, though she swore off acting after its arduous shoot was completed. I saw it again tonight for the first time in several years and was again left speechless by it. It deserves to be far more constantly mentioned and celebrated, but it's so devastating that I can understand why few people seem willing to revisit it. But few movies carry its emotional punch, and if you haven't seen it, you should immediately. Just be prepared for an upsetting night in. And maybe don't watch it alone, if possible.

Happily, the songs from the movie's beautiful dance sequences are easier to revisit often. They are collected on what is frequently labeled her fourth album, Selmasongs -- named for Björk's character in the film -- but is really more like an EP, just containing slightly more than a half-hour of music. It opens with the hauntingly and appropriately sad overture from the film, and then off we go to the rhythmic imagination of "Cvalda," on which you even get to hear the great Catherine Deneuve belt out some lines. Robbed of death-row despair, "107 Steps" becomes a delicate, keenly offbeat dance song. The five other vocal cuts are less minimalistic. Only "Scatterheart," the song just after a gruesome murder in the film, suffers out of context, despite many alterations to the lyrics (which I didn't even remember or notice until seeing the film again tonight). Björk didn't write the lyrics this time around, but many of them -- "All walls are great if the roof doesn't fall" -- are witty enough to be worthy of her.

Though it holds up well beside Björk's other work, this disc has a lushness that she'd likely avoid if not for the context, but it's perfect for something like "In the Musicals," a song that builds and rewards, emotionally and spectacularly, on its drama and flamboyance. It's easy to find yourself falling into a daydream to this music, just as Björk's Selma does in the film.

My only complaint about this record, which stands with Post and the shimmering Medulla as my favorite Björk, is what it omits. Björk's two most powerful performances from the movie, her cellblock rendition of "My Favorite Things" and her last vocal before the credits, might be less pleasant to hear when one's not prepared to visit the haunting and sad world of the film, but it would be nice to have them included all the same. The latter in particular is a beautiful a cappella song that deserves a life outside Dancer.

Here is my favorite scene in the movie and my favorite song from the album, on which Peter Stormare's voice is dubbed by none other than Mr. Thom Yorke. I've included the MP3 of that version below.



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I've Seen It All [w/ Thom Yorke]

n.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Essex Green: Cannibal Sea (2006)


(Merge Records)

We inaugurate this blog with a band I didn't even know existed 24 hours ago. Stranger yet, the Essex Green is (or was; they haven't made much noise lately) part of the Elephant 6 collective. I assume everyone here reading this knows that E6 was the beginning of much of the most interesting pop music of the last fifteen years, from the sunny darkness of the Apples in Stereo to the dark sunniness of Neutral Milk Hotel to the what the fuck ever of Olivia Tremor Control to my beloved Beulah to the confounding Secret Square to the still-snowballing Of Montreal, etc. It turns out, glancing at the Wikipedia box covering the Collective, that there are more bands in the E6 Recording Co. than I ever realized, including something called Pipes You See, Pipes You Don't. If they are in fact an institution and my unawareness of Pipes You See, Pipes You Don't renders my short-lived attempt at music blogging moot and worthless, I submit apologies.

This particular band was brought to my attention by last.fm, which -- ta-da -- I am on and use regularly. I combed through about five pages of recommendations out of curiosity last night and, after a few dozen inane robotic insights like "If You Like The Beatles, You May Also Enjoy George Harrison," this was the second band I saw that I either don't already listen to or wouldn't prefer never to hear again. Seeing that they are an Elephant 6 band that later signed to Merge, one of the best record labels in the galaxy, I couldn't imagine it would be a loser.

It really isn't, either, but it's also less distinctive than I let myself expect. The album runs about forty minutes and covers a good number of stylistic exercises in that period, enough to prove that the band is/was very eclectic. If Antietam was the South's Yo La Tengo, I guess the Essex Green might make a claim as Brooklyn's, if Brooklyn isn't close enough to Hoboken for it not to matter. The bulk of the songs have something of a humdrum folk-rock sound, vocals passed between the obligatory twangy girl (Sasha Bell) and wheezy boy (Christopher Ziter), both reasonably able. The album opener "This Isn't Farmlife" may pass too far over the folk/country-rock line, and a few others fall in line, as though they are song factory recordings handed down over generations to an indie rock act. "Sin City" and closing "Slop Song" are the best of the folk material, the former suggesting Phil Spector in charge of a country session, the latter just hitting a perfect note of ethereal beauty.

But on the four most experimental cuts on the album, the Essex Green prove they have great potential. I've attached MP3s of two of these; listen to the astonishing wall of vocals on "Cardinal Points" -- calling to mind the Free Design as much as the Beach Boys, with a smattering of the Rivieras somewhere in the background -- and that tremendous reverb sound on "Snakes in the Grass," an intoxicating hybrid of old and new that ought to make She & Him and Camera Obscura jealous if they ever hear it. These songs plus the obvious single (even if it wasn't the single, and for all I know it wasn't) "Don't Know Why (You Stay)," perfect pop, and "Rue de Lis," a delightful Fairport Convention-ish dash through Eurofolk, make this album worth hearing and the Essex Green a noteworthy act.

They don't sustain that invention or energy for all of this record, but I've already listened to those four songs twice and they've pretty well captured my heart. Maybe when this band comes back, and I hope they do, they can move in the direction of either the wildly divergent "Cardinal Points" or the appealing integration of weirdness and folk in the other three standout cuts here, in which case they'd be really intriguing and a definite band to watch. Alas, the band began working in 1997, lending equal credence to the notion that this actually marked a retreat away from experimentation. I'm not sure whether I'm curious enough yet to delve into their past. If you're familiar with their older recordings, feel free to comment. If you're like me and this is all news to you, check out these two MP3s. And if you dig them, buy the others from Merge, because they're a seriously awesome label and they deserve your cash.

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Snakes in the Grass
Cardinal Points

:) Nathan

Welcome to Dustybooks' new musical digs

Hi and welcome to the new Dusty Books & Pictures music blog. I'm Nathan, a library assistant and occasional DJ in Wilmington, NC, and I actually have an existing blog, and an existing place to talk about music, but both have existed in their present form for the better part of a decade and it seemed like time for a change, especially since I want to talk about songs and albums and rock & roll and I'm not satisfied with any of the formats or outlets I currently have. So here I am on Blogspot, where some of the best discussion and sharing of music happens on the Internet. I wouldn't claim that I can serve any great purpose but I love adding my bit to the great mass conversation we're all always having.

The purpose here will generally be reviews of albums and singles that I have listened to lately, not necessarily for the first time. In most cases I won't have written about them before, because at my old site I never really got past putting up full reviews of my four favorite bands, which is kind of embarrassing. In some cases I will be revising those old reviews. I hope to post one album review a day, in an order dictated by nothing beyond whimsy, and I'll talk about singles and post little news items whenever.

This isn't going to be canonical in any way, and I'm not going to make any claims about any authoritative element of what I'm posting. Because I like a lot of stuff, which we'll talk about here, and I don't care about a lot of stuff, which we won't. I have a blind spot toward most classic rock, all metal, and nearly all modern country. Other than that, I think I'm pretty eclectic. But this blog will be a totally selfish collection of news and reviews about stuff I'm excited about. It's other people's perogatives to stake claims over what's culturally important or significant or whatever.

To give some idea of my taste before we start this fun romp, here are my top ten (actually eleven) artists of all time:
1. The Beach Boys
1. The Beatles
2. The Velvet Underground
3. Talking Heads
4. Chuck Berry
5. Stevie Wonder
6. Buddy Holly
7. Prince
8. The Everly Brothers
9. The Kinks
10. Big Star

But my two favorite currently-existent acts that are still doing relevant work are Leonard Cohen and Yo La Tengo.

My top ten albums (keeping in mind that I'm not a big "album" guy, but we'll talk about that later!):
1. Beach Boys- Pet Sounds
2. Television- Marquee Moon
3. Beatles- s/t (white album)
4. Miles Davis- Kind of Blue
5. Big Star- Sister Lovers
6. John Coltrane- Giant Steps
7. My Bloody Valentine- Loveless
8. Wire- Pink Flag
9. Velvet Underground - s/t (gray album)
10. Beatles- Rubber Soul

And the greatest songs in rock & roll IMO (and oh yes, I am aware that I rank a Beatles ripoff above any Beatles song):
1. ? & the Mysterians "96 Tears"
2. Archie Bell & the Drells "Tighten Up"
3. The Knickerbockers "Lies"
4. Chuck Berry "Sweet Little Sixteen"
5. Prince "When You Were Mine"
6. Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"
7. The Beatles "Don't Let Me Down" and/or "She Loves You" and/or "Help!"
8. The Chiffons "One Fine Day"
9. The Beach Boys "Let Him Run Wild" and/or "I Get Around"
10. Talking Heads "The Big Country"

Hope to see you all soonish! On the moon! In the Future!