Monthly Archives: May 2015

Blacklisted

It’s about time I finally talked about my first Neko Case album: Blacklisted! This was also Neko’s first full-length solo album. Of course, she’d been recording albums before that (with Her Boyfriends) and a was a part of a couple of other bands even before that (Cub and Maow). But Blacklisted was her first album credited just to herself.

I guess there’s a rumor that the album’s title came from the fact that she was banned for life from performing at the Grand Ole Opry after she took her shirt off on stage during a performance. It wasn’t an act of rebellion though – she was suffering from heatstroke. But what a story, huh?

Neko_Case_-_Blacklisted

Blacklisted was the album that sparked my love for Neko Case. You could even say it came from the moment I heard the opening track “Things That Scare Me.” I knew I was in for the long haul with this one. I’ve seen this album described as “country noir” and I think that aesthetic comes across most clearly on this track. I picture dusty desert ghost town, empty roads, and desperadoes. It’s easily my favorite track off this album.

I was still in love when I heard the next track “Deep Red Bells,” which was written about the Green River Murders. Neko was a teenager at the time the murders took place, and I remember reading somewhere that she used to take a knife to school to protect herself. Many of the victims were allegedly prostitutes, but that didn’t make a difference to a young Neko. It didn’t make a difference to a grown up Neko either. This song humanizes these women and wonders who they were and who they left behind.

The love doesn’t stop with “Outro With Bees.” This song is so weary and lazy and plaintive. It’s like a heartbreak on a hot summer day. My only complaint is that it’s too short! I couldn’t tell you how she could have made it longer though. Much like the relationship described in this song, it’s supposed to be fleeting.

“Lady Pilot” immediately conjures up images of Amelia Earhart for me: “We’ve got a lady pilot/She’s not afraid to die.” The imagery described in the song is great too: “Boulder City looks like coals in the fire.” It’s a fantastic ode to lady pilots everywhere. (By the way, I LOVE the guitar in this song.)

“Tightly”…oh, dear. “Tightly.” This is my least favorite song on this album – and my least favorite Neko Case song! It’s unfortunate. I just usually skip it. I don’t know, it’s just so plain-sounding and not very impressive. Who knows though? I say that now and then maybe one day I’ll have a change of heart.

“Look for Me (I’ll Be Around)” is a one of two cover songs, this one having been performed by Sarah Vaughan. It’s a haunting and alluring song – Neko sings it perfectly. The instruments in this are pretty quiet and minimal, which works great here. It sounds like it could be sung in a seedy bar at 2 in the morning.

“Stinging Velvet” is one of my other favorite tracks off this album. I really like the guitars here too! There are some fantastic lyrics in this track: “Water through my lashes/Look just like Christmas lights” and “Cold and shivering warm” are the stand outs for me.

Subject matter-wise, “Pretty Girls” is the heaviest song on this album. Simply put, it’s about girls at an abortion clinic. But like “Deep Red Bells” it’s incredibly sympathetic – so it goes without saying that it’s also pro-choice. My favorite lines, maybe because they ring so true, are “Wind your flimsy blue gowns tight around you/Around curves so comely and sinister/They blame it on you, pretty girls.”

“I Missed the Point” doesn’t impress me much. Neko’s voice sounds great at least. I much prefer the track that follows. That would be the title track “Blacklisted”! It’s some more of that country-noir. It makes me think of a ghost train in the middle of the night. Neko’s voice is so powerful here as she considers it.

And then we have “I Wish I Was the Moon.” Ohhh, my heart. I think I mentioned before that I never really cared for this song until I heard it in concert. I don’t know how or why that changed things, but now it’s one of my favorites. I love how quiet it starts and how it flares up slowly and then drops out again suddenly so that we can appreciate the last few notes of the song. It’s so emotionally heavy, I can’t help but feel my heart sink.

Next up we have another cover, “Runnin’ Out of Fools” as previously sung by Aretha Franklin, though I don’t remember hearing my parents play this one growing up. Anyway, Neko sings it great! She really knows how to belt out a note without having it overwhelm the song.

“Ghost Writing” – more country noir! You know, this one reminds me a lot of Sheryl Crow’s “The Book,” a seriously underrated song off her album of the same name. It’s not just the writing themes in the songs’ titles. They’re both very dark and spooky and bitter-sounding tracks. And just overall they sound very similar. Anyway, it’s a fantastic track and it stays with you after it ends. (Well, both of them do!)

Finally, we end with “Outro With Bees (Reprise)” which is the perfect track to come after “Ghost Writing” since it starts out with some unnerving radio static going in and out with various bits of tense dialogue and music. This goes on for almost half a minute, and then we get the reprise of that sad little song before it fades back out into white radio noise and fragments of music and commercials. Great, great, great final track.

Of her solo albums, Blacklisted is the most country of them all. If you want to cut your teeth on this genre but you’re unsure (next to rap, country tends to be the genre most people say they don’t like), then ease into it with some Neko Case and Blacklisted! It goes down easy and is a real treat for the ears. And to bring it back to Sheryl Crow, if you enjoy her early music, then I’m positive you’ll like Neko Case. So give it a go!

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Double Feature – Better in the Morning and Headphones

WELL, IT HAPPENED. Little Boots heard my plea and dropped the first single from her upcoming album Working Girl. It’s called “Better in the Morning” and here it is!

Those snippets from Instagram were indeed from her first single! And I love it just as much as I knew I would when I first heard them! This light, bouncy melody is infectious – it makes me feel over-the-moon happy. This is the song for people who need a little help getting out of bed in the morning. It certainly got me out of bed when I saw that it had dropped. As I described it elsewhere, I was so excited, I started hamboning. This is my favorite Little Boots single since “Headphones” (which I’ll get to shortly).

I’m just so excited for this album! With each album, EP, or single she releases, I love her sound more and more. This is a grand evolution of style, and I’m so happy because I think that it shows her true self (even if in all the album propaganda she plays the role of a very formal CEO character – it’s been fun though!). I’m hopeful for a fun video as well. “Taste It” was fantastic.

Now, you may have noticed the “Double Feature” up there in the title – I wanted to talk about another single that has nothing to do with this new one or the upcoming album. That would be 2012’s “Headphones.”

I thought it was appropriate to include not only because I mentioned it earlier, but also because this single gave me similar feelings of over-the-moon happiness, especially when I saw the video! It was a standalone single, so it didn’t get released with Nocturnes, even though it came out before that album but after “Shake,” which WAS included on the aforementioned album. It makes sense to me though. It doesn’t quite fit with the themes of Nocturnes.

“Headphones” is much more of a dance track than “Better in the Morning” but it’s still a bouncy and positive tune – and catchy too! Likewise, it features some…Non-lexical vocables? I looked up scatting on Wikipedia, even though that’s not what it is, but my search lead me to this. Basically, it’s when Little Boots sings “La la la la la,” while in “Better in the Morning” it’s “Do do do do do do do.” Sure, it’s a simple thing to do, but it helps carry on the mood of the song and makes it easy to sing along.

What I love about the video is how it fits in with the themes of the song – these people walk into a private booth in a shady, not sure of what they’ll see. Surprise! It’s themselves! But where the watcher is seated and dressed austerely, their counterparts are dressed in vibrant colors and outfits, dancing under flashing lights like they don’t have a care in the world. The sitter seems shocked, confused, and unsure at first, but then when they see how happy their more free-spirited selves are, they finally give in. The older woman crying just gets to me. Everything about this video makes me smile.

If you need a little cheering up, put one – or both – of these songs on and just let them do their thing! Better yet, watch the video for “Headphones” and you’ll smile for sure. Hopefully the video for “Better in the Morning” is forthcoming and just as good! I’ll do another update on the single whenever it comes!

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Hands

There have been stirrings on Little Boots’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and I’m just SO EXCITED. If you’ll notice the funny-looking phone number, that’s a toll-free UK number you can call to get a recorded message about the new album, Working Girl, which is coming out July 10. I hope these song snippets we’re getting are the first single. I just want to buy something while I wait for the new album!

Well, in the meantime, I thought I’d take a look back at one of Little Boot’s past albums, since I’ve only written about her latest EP, Business PleasureLittle Boots is one of my favorite artists, so it’s shocking that that’s all I’ve done!

Hands was Little Boots’s first album, released in 2009. I think I discovered her back when I was listening to last.fm regularly at work. Anyway, I loved her music right away! That was one album that didn’t take me long to buy. It was good fun electropop, catchy and danceable. Looking back on it now, though, there’s really only a handful of standout songs. She’s gone on to make much better music in her so far short career.

I can’t remember what my first song was…So let’s just start with the first track of the album, as usual! That would be “New in Town,” one of my favorite songs on this album (and a favorite Little Boots song in general) not just because it’s fun and catchy and danceable (as previously mentioned) but also because it’s about LA! Little Boots wrote this song as an anthem to this city, where she lived for a time when she was part of an indie band called Dead Disco. And both times that I’ve seen her play live, this one is a crowd pleaser!

I love that the music video doesn’t feature typical LA landmarks, like the Walk of Fame, the Hollywood sign, the TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s) – in fact, there’s not even a single shot of palm trees or beaches! And yet it was all filmed in LA. Fantastic!

“Earthquake” is your standard stuck-in-a-relationship-gone-sour ditty. It’s not a remarkable song for me. The video has some nice visuals.

After that we’ve got one of the great stand-outs on this album, “Stuck On Repeat,” although I MUCH prefer the version she recorded on her 2008 EP Arecibo. It’s twice as long but somehow I feel like it’s simpler and better paced. It’s so hypnotic, which is perfect for this song. That’s exactly the feeling it’s supposed to evoke. Actually, this one might have been the first Little Boots song I heard, now that I think of it. The EP version is the version I remember hearing on last.fm. Anyway, if you get this album and like this song, get the Arecibo version too!

“Click” is another relationship-gone-sour song! This album has quite a few of them, now that I think of it. Funny, since synthpop is kind of a happy-go-lucky sound. I like “Click” better than “Earthquake” though. The chorus has a good beat.

“Remedy” is by far one of Little Boots’s most popular songs. I think it’s her highest charting single. It’s a wonderful, catchy song! It’s definitely one of my favorites – and another crowd pleaser, considering it’s about dancing. The music video visuals are awesome. She had a kaleidoscope theme going on with this album, as made very clear here. It also features her weapons of choice – the keyboard and the Tenori-on, which is the square thing that looks like that Lights Out game from the 90’s. I haven’t yet got to see her use it live! The first time, it wasn’t working so she left it out of the show. The second time, the show was slightly more…acoustic? Anyway, she didn’t have it then either. One day!

“Meddle” is another stand-out, though it doesn’t get as much attention. I distinctly remember her playing this one the second time I saw her and it was AMAZING because it was a sort of rock version. She had a drummer and an electric guitarist on stage with her. It was a brilliant rendition. I need to see if I can find a rock version of it somewhere – anywhere! Anyway, the album version is just fine too! Dig that Tenori-on.

“Ghost” – another bad relationship – yadda yadda – I’m not crazy about this one either! Sorry!

“Mathematics” is kind of fun. She goes though some of PEMDAS and some other math terms. I can hear a math nerd somewhere trying to work out the song in their head like an equation and just coming up with “That’s not how math works!” Anyway, it’s catchy and easy to sing along to.

“Symmetry” is a good one too! Not the best, but good! It’s a bit of a duet with Philip Oakey of The Human League – I don’t know who that is but I have a feeling someone out there will be mad at me for it. His voice fits nice with the melody though! I can feel the early 80’s new wave traveling across the decades to meet with the late oughties synthpop.

Next up we’ve got “Tune Into My Heart.” It’s sweet and I like it, but I don’t have much to say about it! Honestly, this one felt like it could have been the ending track. But there’s a reason it wasn’t, which we’ll get to later.

I like “Hearts Collide” too! The dark, almost seductive sound is very nice. There’s something sirenic about it. It feels like she’s drawing you in. It’s a nice change, and I think maybe an indicator of some of her later sounds.

“No Brakes” is just okay. I generally fast forward through it to get to the hidden track, “Hands,” a pleasant little acoustic track. It’s just Little Boots and a piano, something I really enjoy. I have a handful of songs like that, including a cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” It’s pretty cool when you can hear how her complex electropop songs are born on a good old-fashioned piano.

There are some extra songs on various “bonus track” versions of this album (gosh, I hate it when they do that) that include “Catch 22” (a great one!), “Love Kills” (a fantastic Freddie Mercury cover), an acoustic version of “Stuck On Repeat” (beautiful), a Tenori-on Piano version of Meddle (fun!), and various remixes.

Overall, it’s difficult to rank Little Boots’s various albums, EPs, and promotional singles, but I would say that, while I still enjoy Hands from time to time, it’s my least favorite of the lot. As I go from her oldest work to her most recent work, I can her more of her unique personality shining through. She sounds more like herself as time goes on, more natural. I brought this up before, but I’m certain I read somewhere that her record label at the time, Atlantic, was trying to make her into the next Kylie Minogue, and it just didn’t work for her. She had to break out and do her own thing for awhile. That explains the four year gap between albums – Nocturnes came out in 2013. Meanwhile, the Business Pleasure EP came out about a year and a half later, while Working Girl is due out less than a year after that. That’s not even including the various EPs and promotional singles I mentioned earlier. And I haven’t even mentioned her mixtapes (have I mentioned she’s a DJ?).

I’m so glad Little Boots decided to make her own record label and do her own thing. Her work just gets better and better. I just couldn’t get enough of Business Pleasure when it came out, and I’m really looking forward to Working Girl! She’s got a great future ahead, and I can’t wait to see what’s next!

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