Monthly Archives: August 2014

Witching Hour

This last week, I decided I needed to get some new music, so I bought some Tom Waits (Nighthawks at the Diner) and Ladytron (Gravity the Seducer – finally!). But I’m not going to review either of those albums. Ha ha!

Well, I am going to review Ladytron. Specifically Witching Hour, which might have been their most critically acclaimed album, and I just don’t understand why. It’s my least favorite Ladytron album, and it pains me to say that because I really love the rest of their work.

Ladytron was trying something new on this album – which is great! All artists should be constantly trying new things. They should never get comfortable with one sound. In this case, it seems to be the use of electric guitars. And again, it’s great that they wanted to try that! But honestly, for me, it doesn’t work. It makes their songs dead, aloof, and passionless, and normally Ladytron songs are possessed, seductive, and too-cool-for-school. This album, dare I say it, is just boring. Ladytron is not boring! I don’t know what happened.

For the most part, the songs on this album all sound the same to me. And I hate it when people say that about music, because to me that’s just them saying that they’re not listening hard enough. That’s what a lazy listener says. And yet I’ve listened to this album numerous times and thought one song was another then looked and saw I was wrong. I know my music pretty well, but when it comes to Witching Hour I’m left scratching my head. It becomes background noise to me.

There are a few standout songs on this album though. I like “Sugar.” It utilizes the theme of the album but manages to keep it fresh. It’s also the second-shortest track, after the instrumental “CMYK.” That might be why it works so well. Helen Marnie’s voice actually has some decent range, compared to the rest of the album.

I also really like the sinister-sounding “Soft Power.” I feel again that Marnie shows more range – and a hell of a lot more emotion – in this track than in most of the rest of the album. The bass and electric guitar do a wonderful job of accompanying her voice rather than competing with it, as they tend to do elsewhere. When you have vocals in electronic music, it’s a delicate balancing act to make sure one never overpowers the other, and I think it works well in “Soft Power.” In contrast to “Sugar,” this is the longest song on the album. And yet it works!

“Whitelightgenerator” is pretty good. I like that it takes the sound of the album to a higher level. Literally, the pitch is higher in both the vocals and the instruments. Hearing it feels like ascending to heaven. Or maybe the high of a drug. Again, the vocals and instruments work very well together here.

“All the Way…” is easily my favorite track off this album, as well as one of my all-time favorite Ladytron songs. Maybe because it contains the least amount of electric guitar! It has an ethereal and kind of sad sound, tinged with a hint of nostalgia. I swoon when I hear the opening lyric “They heard the sound of the snow falling.” It’s simple yet poetic. The track manages to sound like a snowy winter – something I haven’t experienced in a long time. I feel at peace when I hear it. It’s a fantastic closer.

When it comes to Witching Hour, I personally would not recommend it, at least not for a first-time Ladytron listener. It’s got some interesting sounds, but they are few and far between. It’s a lackluster warm-up to the far superior Velocifero which I’d easily recommend. That is where Ladytron mastered their sound. But that is a review for another day!

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Ys

Ys_cover

This was a tough one to create a genre tag for. Joanna Newsom is not for the pop music junkie but rather for the indie music connoisseur. If that sounds snobby and hipsterish…well, it kind of is. But at least there are no pretenses about what to expect. Newsom’s weapon of choice is the Celtic harp. Also, Pitchfork adores her. That will tell you whether you want to give her work a go or not.

So let’s say you’re sort of into indie. The reason I make the distinction of connoisseur is because Joanna Newsom is very much an acquired taste. I think would be easier for a new listener to get into her more recent work. But the further back you go, especially to her early early work, the more difficult the task becomes. Joanna Newsom’s voice (pre-vocal cord nodule-removal) is very harsh and untamed. Personally, I still enjoy it because it has a lot of raw emotion in it. I like that it’s unbridled. Though that may be why she got vocal cord nodules in the first place…

Okay, so now let’s say you’ve accepted that and are ready to get into Ys (pronounced like the -eece in Greece). This is not an album you just throw on and listen to. It’s something you have to set aside time for. With just five tracks totaling about 56 minutes, this is no easy listening. Every song is like an epic poem. The shortest track is 7 minutes and 17 seconds. The longest, just 6 seconds shy of 17 minutes. Listening to Ys is like settling down to read an entire novel start to finish, or watching all 3 Lord of the Rings films back-to-back without pausing. Okay, it’s not THAT long, but you get the idea.

I’m not making this album sound very appealing, am I? But it’s really good! It’s was highly acclaimed when it was released in 2006. It’s like a musical work of art. Joanna’s vocals, while still a little wild at times, improved from her earlier work (The Milk-Eyed Mender was just 2 years prior). She moves gracefully from feral yelping at times to angelic warbling. And the orchestration is just perfect. It does a great job of providing the background scenery while Joanna and her harp take center stage. It’s not distracting at all. Everything blends together wonderfully.

The first track “Emily” was the first Joanna Newsom song I ever heard. It swept me up, emotionally. Not just with the melodies but with the lyrics too. I’ll never forget the first time I heard “And everything with wings is restless, aimless, drunk and dour/The butterflies and birds collide at hot, ungodly hours” or how it made me feel. The whole song is about her sister Emily and her relationship with her. As Emily is an astrophysicist, themes of astronomy come up consistently throughout the song, something I really enjoy, even if she does mix up meteorites and meteoroids.

“Monkey and Bear” is another great epic. Right away, it sounds like a children’s story. The playful flute and backing orchestra seem to support this. This is one worth really listening to for the progression of the story because it becomes a dark cautionary tale by the end. It’s like a classic Grimm’s fairy tale, not the Disney version. The structure of the melodies perfectly match the lyrics. It really is built like a story.

“Sawdust & Diamonds” is beautiful, but I am always at a loss when I try to think about what it’s about. I tend to just stop and listen. It might be because it’s so minimal compared to the rest of the album. It’s just Joanna and her harp. I do have to say, though, that my favorite lyric is “I wasn’t born of a whistle or milked from a thistle at twilight./No, I was all horns and thorns, sprung out fully formed, knock-kneed and upright.” It’s just so vivid. I picture Joanna as some kind of faun stumbling into existence. It’s very fantastical.

“Only Skin” is the longest song and the one that requires the most dedication. It feels like a series of stories – That is to say, there is a LOT going on here. I really don’t know how to sum this one up. But these are some of my favorite lyrics:

“The sky was a bread roll, soaking in a milk-bowl.”

“Scrape your knee; it is only skin/Makes the sound of violins.”

“I have washed a thousand spiders down the drain/spiders ghosts hang soaked and danglin’/silently from all the blooming cherry trees.”

It’s easy to get lost in this one. The music shifts just as much as the lyrics. It can’t be said that it’s lacking in depth. You kind of just have to let this song take you by the hand, and you must go willingly.

We close with “Cosmia,” a really dark and bitter-sounding song. It’s sad and angry at the same time. It’s paranoid and deranged. There’s a lot of emotion going on here, and it’s all very pushy and pleading. She sings “Can you hear me? Will you listen?/Don’t come near me, don’t go missing” with just the right amount of indecisive psychosis. Supposedly it was about the loss of a good friend of hers, and the mental toll it had on her. I’d say she did a pretty good job of conveying that.

To summarize what I’ve said since the start, Ys is not an album to be taken lightly. It is a masterpiece, but I wouldn’t recommend it to beginners. Instead, I’d say start with Have One on Me and work your way backwards. I think you’ll appreciate Ys a lot more.

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Friend Like Me

Robin Williams passed away, and while this is a blog about music, not movies, I felt like I needed to commemorate him on here in my own way, somehow. As a Millennial, he was a big part of my childhood. Mrs. DoubtfireFernGully: The Last RainforestJumanji, and, one of my favorites, Aladdin.

Aladdin is my absolute favorite Disney movie. I loved the animated TV series too (even if Williams wasn’t in it due to an ugly dispute with Disney). I like to see the Aladdin show at Disney California Adventure whenever I get the chance (something I highly recommend for anyone who’s never seen it). I’m still eagerly awaiting for the big time Aladdin musical (currently on Broadway) to go on tour and make its way here to LA. I had the movie on VHS, of course. I’m pretty sure I even had a flip-book that was the “Friend Like Me” sequence where Genie is dancing with his own pair of hands. Oh, and I most definitely had the soundtrack. The CD case is sadly broken into two pieces, but I still have it! Completely uncensored, I might add.

I realize now that even when it was just his voice, Robin Williams had a way of making you smile. “Friend Like Me” is one of the funnest Disney songs ever. It’s nearly impossible for me to hear this song and not sing along. Of course, part of that credit goes to the late and great Howard Ashman. But I can’t imagine anyone besides Williams bringing his words to life. There’s such a warmth to his voice, like a funny uncle who knows just how to make you feel loved and special. I think he was every Millennial’s favorite funny uncle-by-proxy. He was a professional clown, without the make-up and red rubber nose. A real-life cartoon character.

I wish I could think of more to say. The sudden announcement of Robin Williams’s passing just kind of took the wind out of my sails. I feel like I’ve said all I can say for now, though I’m sure I’ll be able to think of more later. Great man, great actor, great voice, great song. He will be missed.

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tap your glass

Since I last posted about iamamiwhoami, quite a lot has happened! Well, a lot for iamamiwhoami. They finally, officially announced the name and date of their new audiovisual album with this enticing trailer:

It will be call BLUE and I simply cannot CONTAIN my excitement until November 10! (Also, I was right to not bet on it being called GENERATE.) If it wasn’t clear before, there is a very oceanic theme going on here. So the title fits. “Follow the stream until you find me,” Jonna says at one point in the video. I feel like there is something about Scadinavians and the ocean. (I’m thinking of Björk as well.) Must be a Viking thing. Anyway, there’s a lot of new sounds and images to look forward to, it seems!

But let’s move on to “tap your glass”! It’s the next single/video in the BLUE project. It seems that we’ve moved from a polar setting to a more tropical one, if the white sands, fish, and kelp are any indication. Someone on tumblr (about the only place you can find people talking about iamamiwhoami) pointed out that her outfit appears to be melting as well.

The song starts with this almost darkwave/club sound. But it very quickly lifts up from the darkness and becomes this sort of sparkling, playful thing. I like that there’s this sound effect throughout that actually sounds like tapping on a glass. It’s really simple, but I appreciate it. It gives the song some character. The whole thing sounds very glass-like. It makes me think of a computer made of glass, which doesn’t sound too practical, but it’s the only way I can think to describe the combination of heavy electronic noises with lighter, ethereal vocals and sound effects.

So what about the message in the bottle? You can just make out the text “it’s how it goes” at one point, which further tumblr research has told me is from “shadowshow”, a song they performed in concert once. Anyway, you can’t buy it anywhere, as far as I know. But I guess this is her sending us the song. I haven’t heard it (though it looks like there are some shaky cell phone YouTube recordings of it) and I don’t want to until the album comes out. Unless they continue to release each song and video periodically up until the album does come out. Which I’m totally fine with.

I’ve already pre-ordered the album, of course. Something that’s bugging me though is that the physical CD release isn’t coming with a DVD. That may be due to lack of funds – which is why more people MUST know about them and support them! I’m not some damn hipster who wants to keep this all to myself. Get out there and support and listen to and buy their stuff, dammit!

Ahem. So, I’ve ordered the digital album, which will get me access to something called “[their] island” where I can download and stream their album, including the audio and the films, as well as pictures, GIFs, and lyrics. Maybe some other nifty things too – We shall see! I may still order a physical copy later just to have it. I ONLY do that with my absolute favorite artists.

With the highly accessible sound of this album so far, I’m really, really hoping this means they’ll be able to tour some major U.S. cities including the hometown of yours truly. But to do that, they’re gonna need people to BUY the thing. Like I said. So do iiiiiiit…

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