Monthly Archives: September 2013

Wish Bone

A couple of years ago, I discovered Oh Land completely by accident via an article about her frustration over being compared to Björk. That prompted me to give her a listen and when I did, I was baffled that anyone could make that comparison. Sure, they’re both Scandinavian (Danish and Icelandic, respectively) and Oh Land’s video for “Sun of a Gun” is kind of weird, but stylistically there’s just no comparison.

One of my major music pet peeves (considering I’m a Björk fan) is when people say “Oh, you should watch/hear this! It reminds me of Björk! It’s just SO WEIRD!” Please, don’t. “Weird” is an adjective, not a genre or style of music, and it does not make two artists similar at all. David Bowie was considered weird for his style and antics in the 70’s. Same could be said about Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs. Does that make them comparable artists? (Please keep in mind, I’m talking about genre, not anyone’s personal preference in music.)

Sorry for getting off track. Like I said, major pet peeve.

So getting back on track, this Music Tuesday is about Oh Land’s latest album, “Wish Bone.” I just have to show off the cover first:

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It kind of reminds me of the cover of Grace Jones’ Island Life, but only insofar as the plain wall and floor and the impossibly contorted body. (Oh Land’s pose would require some INSANE core strength.) I’m sure there’s a little tip of the hat there. Going back to what I said before though, that is as far as the comparison goes. I’m not saying they’re stylistically similar as artists at all.

Wish Bone is a nice progression from Oh Land’s previous self-titled album. It’s still predominantly pop, but it’s got a lot of R&B and hip-hop rhythms and beats mixed in too. It’s more independent and mature, with less of the whimsy of its more electronic pop-themed predecessor.

My two favorite tracks are easily “Renaissance Girls” and “My Boxer.” They’re both powerful, beat-heavy tracks with strong themes. To me, the latter sounds like it’s about Oh Land’s muse, making it a great song for anyone trying to get in touch with theirs, or find the inspiration to feed it. “Renaissance Girls” was the first single and is inspired by the struggle Oh Land observed (even firsthand herself) that modern women face to achieve all of our dreams while still keeping our lives together. Still, one of the great things about being a 21st century woman is the ability to be so many things at once without losing our true selves. “Tough like rocks and sweet like pearls” as Oh Land sings and even demonstrates with fantastic choreography in the music video:

Oh Land still manages to explore more tender subjects, like the measure of love, though it’s still from the perspective of someone who’s lived and experienced more than their younger self. “3 Chances” and “Love You Better” are great examples. The thumping beats are absent from both songs, so that Oh Land’s voice and lyrics really stand out. The first song is sweet and hopeful but sad, detailing the rise and fall and resurrection of a relationship stuck on a Möbius strip. The latter sounds like it could be about a timeless love, but something’s not quite right. Listen closely and you’ll get it for sure by the end when you hear her sing “I will love you best when I forget.” It’s not about a timeless love so much as it’s about loving who someone was when times were good.

“Wish Bone” is the type of pop album that shows that pop music can have a broader range than what you might expect. If that sounds like a challenge to you, then definitely check it out.

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Tales of Us

If there’s one word I would use to describe Goldfrapp’s latest album Tales of Us, it would be languishing — which, like the album itself, could be good or bad depending on your perspective.

Goldfrapp’s discography can generally be sorted into two genres: the glamorous, electronic albums (Black Cherry, Supernature, and Head First) and the softer, more sensual ones (Felt Mountain and Seventh Tree). Tales of Us falls into the latter category.

Looking back on all of them, I believe that this may be Goldfrapp’s best album to date. It’s just so…deliberate. Like they were waiting their entire careers to make it. It might be their magnum opus. Does that mean everyone will like it? No. If you loved Supernature but hated Seventh Tree then definitely not. But if you have an appreciation for their range, then I think you might enjoy this one too.

Tales of Us is not quite a concept album, but it does have a theme of sorts. Every song is the name of a person (except for the androgynous “Stranger”) and they each have their own story. Though each song is separate from the others, they flow from one to the next flawlessly. For me, hearing the album for the first time was like watching a movie made up of several vignettes.

The opening track, “Jo,” draws back the curtains with a flare of strings that fade into a hypnotic beat, establishing the tone of the album. The lyrics (as well as Alison’s sirenic vocals) balance perfectly with the music — neither one overpowers or upstages the other.

Next is “Annabel,” which was written about the novel of the same name and explores the same themes of gender identity. The whole album is very minimal, but I found this one to be especially so, allowing Alison’s vocals to really shine. The music video is worth watching as well:

“Drew” is a stand-out track. I think it’s the most cinematic of all of them. It starts out very quiet and builds up to this wonderful climax followed by a beautiful fade. I’m not sure who it’s about, but it definitely feels like Alison is reminiscing. The music video only seems to reinforce that:

“Ulla” has a particularly whimsical feel to it, while “Alvar” seems to tell a tragic story that happened in a faraway time and place. According to Goldfrapp, it was “inspired by a trip to Iceland and [her] obsession with water and myths and legends of Philomena Lee.”

“Thea” is the only song that departs from the overall sound of the album, being the closest you get to a dance track. It’s in a great spot: right in the middle. It’s got a very dark, pagan feel to it, and not just because of the lyrics.

“Simone” tells the story of a mother whose selfish daughter steals her lover from her. The way Alison sings it is perfect, especially the angry, tired, bitter whisper of the name at the end.

“Stranger” is one of the many Goldfrapp tracks that makes me wonder yet again why they haven’t been asked to do a song for a Bond film yet. Alison’s got such a sultry voice, and combined with the seductive lyrics and cinematic sounds, the song draws you in willingly.

Alison surprised me on the track “Laurel” – I don’t think I’ve ever heard her voice go so deep. It really fits the noir theme of the song, which was inspired by the novel “In a Lonely Place”.

The album ends with the uplifting sound of “Clay,” which ironically tells a rather tragic (and true) story. The song is inspired by two soldiers who met and fell in love during World War II. They vowed to reunite when it was over, but one of them died before he could get there. Alison actually found the story here.

Overall, I think I can say that Tales of Us is one of my favorite Goldfrapp albums. I don’t think I could readily recommend it to just anyone, not even another Goldfrapp fan, without knowing a bit more about their taste in music though. Think of this album as a quiet night in with a glass of wine by the fireplace, or the change of seasons from the golden leaves of autumn at dusk to the falling of snow at night. If that sort of imagery appeals to you, then I say go for it.

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The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Let’s start this entry with the correct pronunciation of Neko Case’s name: It’s KNEE-co. Not NECK-oh. It’s okay, I was saying it wrong for the longest time too.

So here’s something superficial about her latest album: I’m not a fan of the cover.

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What’s with that stretchy face? It’s like someone screwed up in Photoshop and was too lazy to start over. Why couldn’t we get the same cover as the vinyl edition?

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Ah, Neko. I still love you anyway.

Neko Case might have been my first true foray into the country genre, although I’m sure country music purists would say she’s alt country at best. That’s okay. The point is Neko Case is fantastic. Some of her stuff even reminds me a bit of Sheryl Crow in the 90’s.

Still, I have to say this isn’t my favorite Neko album — but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it! It just feels less country and more rock at times. I like both genres, but when it comes to Neko, I like it when she’s more country. Her voice was made for it. Also, her voice seems to have become stronger and bolder with age, so that’s a good thing.

Sound-wise, the album is pretty eclectic for Neko Case: From the wild country rock sound of “Man” to the sad yet supportive a Capella “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” The hippie folksy cover of “Madonna of the Wasps” makes me think of Neko and M. Ward (from She & Him, also the other vocalist on this song) playing guitar in a field with flowers in their hair, while “Yon Ferrets Return” conjures up images of Neko riding across the Wild West in a covered wagon with some of her closest band mates.

One of the things I really like about Neko Case is the way her lyrics make me stop and listen. Here are a few of my favorites:

Did it poison my food?/Is it ’cause I’m a girl?/If I puked up some sonnets,/Would you call me a miracle? – “Night Still Comes”

I was surprised when you called me a lady/’Cause I’m still not so sure that that’s what I want to be/’Cause I remember the 80’s/And I remember its puffy sleeves. – “I’m From Nowhere” (Also: God, if you only knew/What my candied fists could do.”)

And pretty much all of “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” but especially: Some days you’ll feel like a cartoon/And people will rush to make excuses for you.

Overall, the album sounds very autobiographical. It might be Neko’s most personal album to date, lyrically. “City Swan” and “Calling Cards” are great examples. However, I feel like this album may be more for fans than new listeners. If you’re interested in trying Neko Case and willing to taste a little country without taking a big bite (you picky eater, you) then I would recommend Blacklisted.

Anyway, I can’t give a review of the album without sharing a track! So here’s the first single: “Man.”

Listen carefully for some of my favorite lyrics: I’m not the runt of the litter/Fat-fingered bullies were no match for me. Also: And if I’m dipshit drunk on pink perfume,/Then I am the man in the fucking moon.

I always cringe at songs where women compare strength to being (like) a man. But I feel like maybe that’s not quite what this song is about. Anyway, I still like it! It’s got an attitude and it’s not afraid to show it. So, without further ado (yes, that is Neko in drag and a cigarette in that horse’s mouth):

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Come Walk With Me

M.I.A. is easily one of my top five favorite artists, so I’m pretty happy making my first post about her latest single.

I guess she teased the track back in April and I missed it up until a month ago. I loved it when I first heard it, but then she released another teaser last week and I wasn’t so sure. I mean, I liked it, but it was a lot slower. Still, she’s one of my favorites, so I did my best not to jump to conclusions. I had a feeling, based on how the clip faded out, that it was going to transform into that song I’d heard a month before.

Well, the single came out today and I was right! It’s actually pretty brilliant. It starts off with this really lazy melody — Picture yourself sipping piña coladas while lounging in a hammock strung up between two palm trees on some tropical beach you’ve seen in a stock photo. Just like that.

It’s almost as cheesy as it sounds. And then the transition socks you upside the head. From there the song just becomes this series of explosions that just doesn’t stop, like someone set off fireworks beneath that hammock you were so comfortable in until a few seconds ago. It turns into a wild beach party, and you’re in the middle of it, whether you want to be there or not.

OK, that sounds kind of cheesy too, but that’s just the crazy image I conjured up in my head. It definitely makes me want to dance like crazy. In short, yes, I am crazy for this song.

I can’t say it’s too radio-accessible (though I haven’t listened to the radio in years, and as far as I know, “Paper Planes” was her last single to get a lot of radio play). People will definitely have a lot of mixed feelings about it, including, I think, M.I.A. fans. Sound-wise, it’s not like anything she’s done before, except maybe for some elements of Vicki Leekx. And now that I think of it, the opening and overall melody reminds me a bit of “It Takes A Muscle” from Maya. But still, the song is very much its own beast.

Between “Come Walk With Me” and her previous single, “Bring the Noize,” Matangi is shaping up to be very noisy, messy, and aggressive — In other words, it’s M.I.A. being true to form. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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