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Leaving the City

It looks like I may be right about Joanna Newsom’s forthcoming album Divers being a more experimental work, because this second single (“Leaving the City”) is truly unlike anything else she’s ever done before. That’s not hyperbole. I honestly can’t compare this to any other song or even just general thematic sound from any album she’s done before. This is a flirtation with rock – a surprise coming from Newsom, but a very pleasant one!

Her weapon of choice – the Celtic harp – still has a strong presence throughout the track, but now we also get some kind of synthy sound (a Mellotron maybe? I’ll be honest, that’s based on quick research with little details. I have no idea what that instrument is), a bit of piano, some heavy drums, and something called a Marxophone. It makes for a very dark and sinister song. I was listening some thunder and wind noises from one of my favorite sites and all combined it gave me chills.

Now I’m pretty sure Newsom did move fully from New York City to LA (she bought a house out here a year or so ago with husband Andy Samberg), so maybe that’s what this song is about? It seems likely. “I believe in you./Do you believe in me?/What do you want to do?/Are we leaving the city?” It makes for an interesting contrast to the lilting playfulness of “Sapokanikan” which was definitely about NYC. I don’t think this song is about LA so much as it is about the move though. I am excited to see if she does have a song about LA though! I mean, she’s from California, but Northern California specifically – a teeny tiny little place called Nevada City. So who knows? I’m just excited in general to see what comes next.

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LP1

I think I first heard about FKA twigs about a year ago. There was a review of her first full-length album, simply titled LP1, in Bitch magazine. It seemed like a pretty good review, but then so do a lot of the music reviews in Bitch.  I didn’t really think much of it, until I started seeing pictures of her on Tumblr recently. She had this striking look about her, and this certain aesthetic that made me wonder how it reflected in her music. And so I decided to give her a chance and downloaded her album before I drove up to Big Bear Lake for my birthday last week.

I listened to it three times and then some all the way to the top of the mountain. Wow! This isn’t really like anything I’ve heard before. It’s a witchy fusion of chillout, R&B, and trip hop. It’s at some times eerie and other times seductive. It’s a slow burn but it’s hardly boring. It’s very experimental but seems confident it knows what it’s doing. I think it’s probably a really good sex album.

The album opens with a track just called “Preface” (a lot of the songs on here have rather succinct titles) which sounds like something that would be sung by a coven of witches in the woods at night. The lyrics are just this: “I love another and thus I hate myself.” Very short, but repeated like a chant, with ghostly electronic noises that creep into the tiniest crevices of your brain.

Then it goes into a track that placed itself in my favorites pretty much immediately: “Lights On.” The song starts in kind of an unsettling way with more electronic weirdness and sub-bass pulsing and you’re not sure where it’s going until we get FKA twigs’s hypnotic, deliberate vocals. But it’s the chorus that really seals it: “When I trust you we can do it with the lights on.” Both thematically and sonically (it’s those quiet, spooky electronic noises), it reminds me of “Hidden Place” by Björk, another one of my all-time favorite songs, in that it’s about sharing your vulnerability with someone. Well, and your body too, let’s not mince words here. Also, that car alarm at the end should seem jarring and misplaced…but it works.

“Two Weeks” is another seductive track, and it definitely goes all in. It’s got a lot of gusto for a song that sounds so smooth. You just feel it with your whole body. In the video, twigs portrays herself as a goddess in a temple, though that’s not apparent until we’re almost fully zoomed out. It’s the image you want to project when you’re trying to get someone to forget about their ex and realize how good they have it with you.

“Hours” is another stand out track for me on this album. “I could kiss you for hours/And not miss a thing.” Yes, that’s a thing you want to feel! A very good thing! This song has a fuzzy euphoric glow to it that matches those words. It’s pretty straightforward. But I mean it also sounds like it feels like to be in that state. I mean, it just goes to show you how much this album is, if not a sex album, a makeout album at the very least. Seriously, I feel like if you have someone over and things are going well and you put on this album they will start to go VERY well.

Okay, well, maybe some tracks are not so sexy lyrically (but who is listening to the words during makeouts?). Like “Pendulum” for instance, which is about feeling insufficient in your relationship because your partner has basically told you so. The video is gorgeous to watch at least and features some amazing (hair) shibari and suspension. It reminds me a bit of the video for “Pagan Poetry” by Björk but without the nudity and…extreme…body piercing. A different kind of kink then.

“Video Girl” is the creepiest song after the intro track, I’d say. This sounds like a song about a cheating partner (Is she the girl that’s from the video?/Stop, stop lying to me), but it’s really about twigs herself! She started her career as a successful backup dancer in music videos for several big artists (Kylie Minogue, Ed Sheeran, and Jessie J to name a few) and was kind of stuck in this role when she was trying to break off and make a name for herself as an artist (yay! She succeeded!). The video is even more unnerving, and features her watching and dancing on top of a man being put to death by lethal injection, like she’s some hallucination or succubus. There is some more creepy though not quite graphic imagery, like the stuff you see at the edges of your mind when you remember a nightmare you had, so just a heads up about that. (Oh, also also it starts with “Prelude”!)

I really like the track “Numbers” a lot, even though, again, it’s not thematically very sexy. “Was I just a number to you?” I mean, that says it all. But it’s so trip-hoppy and hypnotic, it just pulls you right in. It’s bitter and pining and devastated and seething with barely contained anger. There are also a lot of little creepy noises and whispers. It sounds like there’s a poltergeist in this song at times.

“Closer” makes for a pleasant follow-up track. It’s got this sort of church choir sound to it. Like a hymn or something. It’s definitely full of joy and praise, run through twigs’s trippy chillout stylings. It’s not my favorite track, but it’s a very nice one!

The next track, “Get Up,” is nice too, but it’s sad. You know, with a lot of these songs, I can imagine a unique dance assigned to them. I mean, twigs was a backup dancer after all, and a very good one at that. This one is graceful like a ballet and tragic too. I’m no choreographer, but I can feel my body moving to this one in a very particular way.

“Kicks” is the final track and it seems to answer the thesis set by the intro. Where twigs started hating herself, she now practices self-love. Literally. It seems like she’s hesitant to do so at first, but eventually she justifies it to herself. Because she deserves it, dammit! “When I’m alone/I don’t need you/I love my touch/Know just what to do.”

I’ve been thinking about what kind of person I would recommend this album too. I think if you like Björk, especially Vespertine, you would like this album. If you like iamamiwhoami (haha, how many people would that be again?), especially bounty, then you would probably like this album. I think you have to have a little patience to like LP1 because it’s not an album you jam to. It’s a good background album. It’s a good headphones album too. There are lots of interesting noises going on here, as I’ve mentioned multiple times. Sorry, I just really like music with subtle, interesting noises! It’s one of the reasons Vespertine is one of my favorites, and it’s why I draw so many comparisons between that one and this one. While I don’t think LP1 has quite as much lasting power as Vespertine, I think it’s still worth the listen and I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the comparisons.

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BoJack Horseman

Another week skipped. Oh well, here I am again, with a quick post! And it’s about…TV? Well, sort of. It’s about the music featured on a TV show, or at least a particular song. (Oh, I’ve done this a few times before!)

I started watching BoJack Horseman on Sunday and I haven’t been able to get the opening theme song out of my head. It doesn’t really have a name. It’s just called “BoJack Horseman Theme.” It’s performed by Patrick Carney and features Ralph Carney on the sax. That’s about all the hard facts I have on the song.

Wow oh wow does that opening punch me in the gut. The visuals are pretty straightforward. It’s just the title character staring ahead with a look that hardly changes while we watch his background change constantly over the course of an entire day. It’s monotony clashing with dynamism, and that’s great. I mean, I’m only halfway through the first season so far, but it makes perfect sense for the show.

I couldn’t get enough so I found a longer version. The full version even!

There’s just something so hypnotic about it. I love that weird, twangy sound and the reverb on that guitar. The drums make it feel like a meditation, and then that sax comes in and just blows my mind. It’s just so good. It’s painful and plaintive and a little soul-crushing, but in such a good way. Maybe that’s just me over-interpreting it. Or maybe, if reviews I’ve heard of the show in its entirety are true, I’m spot-on. We’ll just have to see.

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Sapokanikan

Stop the presses! Joanna Newsom has started making noise again! Gosh, how did I almost miss this one? Well, when an artist goes five years between albums (and doesn’t have any social media accounts or even their own website – just a page on their record label’s site), I guess it takes some time before the news reaches a fan. All I knew over those past five years was that she got married to Andy Samberg and bought a house in LA that Charlie Chaplin used to live in.

And so we have “Sapokanikan,” the first single from her upcoming album Divers!

It reminds me a lot of her very early work, at least vocally. There’s a lot of acrobatics and lilting and wild abandon going on here. Yet lyrically it makes me think of Ys. Though this track isn’t nearly as long as the shortest one on that album, it still has that epic poetic lyrical structure – there’s hardly a pause between verses. It’s really hard to pin down this one. It sounds like this album is going to be more experimental.

It’s hard for me to say what any Joanna Newsom song is about. This is usually because of that epic lyrical structure I mentioned earlier. It usually takes a lot of listens before I get a feel for it. And even then, a Joanna Newsom song requires more research, as she makes a lot of references to history, literature, and myths. Yeah, it’s a little hipstery, but if you can get over it, it makes for great music that transcends the casualness of most rock and pop. I’m sorry, that sounded pretty hipstery too. I can say that Sapokanikan refers to the Native American name given to the land that eventually became Greenwich Village in NYC. So it seems that this song is a musing on the history of the area. If you want a good breakdown, I’d head over to Genius. They’re usually pretty good about this kind of stuff.

As for the video itself, it makes me think of Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” but in NYC, of course. It’s somehow fitting for Joanna Newsom to be prancing and skipping through the big city as she sings. The song certainly doesn’t make me think of NYC, but that just makes it all the more interesting. She should seem out of place and overwhelmed (coming from the little bitty town of Nevada City, California) but she’s not phased at all and seems comfortable as she winds her way through shops and parks. I like it.

This is probably not a good starter Joanna Newsom song for a newcomer – but if you’re a fan and you, like me, have somehow missed out on it, get to listening! And prepare yourself for something very new and different. I’m excited to see what October 23rd brings.

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Girl Gang

Everyone has that one song (or more) they love and sing along to every time – only to finally look up the lyrics and realize they’re completely different. Not many people then go and make that song with their misheard lyrics as a cover. But that’s what Kate Nash did when she heard the song “Cocaine” by FIDLAR and turned it into “Girl Gang”!

Not much changes other than the name (and every instance of it in the song). It’s a straight up cover, and a great one at that. Definitely makes me want to don my old patch covered jacket, find some brass knuckles, and dare someone to mess with me.

I saw Kate Nash a couple of years ago at the Troubadour here in LA and she actually played this song. She even explained that the song did indeed result from misheard lyrics as I mentioned at the top of this post. She’s a big fan of FIDLAR, an LA based punk band, so much so that her bass actually has their inscription. Or did they give her their bass? I can’t remember exactly. But they’re well-acquainted with each other and she’s even performed on one of their songs.

Anyway, I love what she’s done with the song. It definitely fits in with her current riot grrl style/aesthetic/image. She even turns it into a sort of feminist track. I wish this one had made it onto a single as a B-side.

So it’s common knowledge these days that you should never look at the comments, and yet against my better judgement, I’ve done it anyway! They mainly consist of a three types of people:

  1. People who hate punk
  2. People who hate women
  3. People who miss “the old Kate Nash”

I’m really not sure who to roll my eyes hardest at here. Here is an example of type 1:

“She is trying really hard to sound ‘punk’ which kind of goes against the punk aesthetic, she has a genuinely nice voice and is just pushing really hard to ‘grunge it up'”

Also various disagreeable comments on how she “ruined” the original. Never mind the fact that this is a straight up cover and I’ve heard the original and they’re doing the exact same shouty/screamy thing so I guess you just hate punk – I don’t know what to tell you, Mansplainer McGee. (Yes, we’ve got some bonus mansplaining going on here!) This is just totally ignoring that the voice is an instrument, so she can (and SHOULD) test her range and push her limits and do whatever the fuck she wants which, last I checked, is pretty goddamn punk.

Then we have an example of type 2:

“No soy machista… pero esta canción en mi opinión no queda oara nada bien cantafa con la voz más fina de una mujer. Simplemente no me gusta”

Which basically translates to:

“I’m not sexist … vut in my opinion this song is not at all well sunf with the beautiful voice of a woman. I just do not like it”

I included the typos so you can get the full experience of Manly McWomen-Hater here. Do I need to say anything else? I really could have stopped at “I’m not sexist … vut”. There’s no need to go further.

And finally there’s type 3:

“As of late she’s gotten a little anti-man or something but her previous work is good, she’s awesome not this song. :p”

Here we have a superb example of “I Don’t Understand the Meaning of Feminism”, which is really a bonus to type 3. Yup, Kate Nash hates that fictional male character in her music video for no gosh darn reason! I mean, he looks like such a nice guy! Did anyone who listened to My Best Friend Is You really not see Girl Talk coming? Scratch that, reverse it: Did anyone who listened to Girl Talk not look back at My Best Friend Is You and say to themselves “Huh, guess I should have seen THAT coming”? Go back and listen again and if you don’t like it, you’re more than welcome to listen to Made of Bricks on repeat; your ignorant ass is forbidden from listening to My Best Friend Is You ever again.

Gosh, these are just a few precious gems. What’s that saying again – that every comment on an article about feminism only justifies the need for feminism? We’ve got poetry in motion right here, folks.

Anyway, enjoy the song and just imagine the duder in the video is one of these commenters. Check out the original FIDLAR track and video while you’re at, just for comparison! It’s silly (and NSFW) and it’s got Nick Offerman in it, which works perfectly. I’m off to rally up the girl gang.

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Swords

((Sorry for my two week absence! I had a really bad pain in my neck (literally) and then I came down with an awful cold. I’m taking it easy for now, so this will be a quick post.))

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Well, it looks like M.I.A. is back in the swing of things! I’ve been seeing these random teaser videos on her Facebook page, and a few weeks ago an actual song finally dropped. It looks like audio visual albums are the big thing now, as that’s what this next project, Matahdatah, is shaping up to be.

Right now, it looks like you can only watch the video on Apple Connect, but you don’t necessarily have to sign up. You can also just buy the thing on iTunes if you want. I just bought the single but the video is very cool and you should definitely go watch it. It also features a video she recorded for her song “Warriors” from her previous album Matangi.

The video for “Swords” is amazing. Not quite as jaw-dropping as “Bad Girls” but I’m still pretty flabbergasted at how deftly these young Indian girls handle swords (and staffs) that are nearly as big as they are – like they’re simply a third limb. Where did Maya find these girls???

There’s not a lot of information out there (the album only has an unlinked mention on the discography section of M.I.A.’s Wikipedia page – not even on the discography section itself), but this Stereogum article gives us enough for now. I’ve been through this audiovisual concept album thing before with other artists (iamamiwhoami in particular) so I’m looking forward to see what she does with it. Maya’s always enjoyed turning her camera on other people from around the world, specifically people we don’t see a lot in the mainstream (i.e. “world’s sexiest” A-list celebrities from developed Western countries). I’m pretty excited to see what other countries and people will feature in these future “scrolls,” as I’m guessing they will be called.

The song itself is pretty great too. I like that she recorded the sword strikes to use as a beat. If this is an indicator of the theme, then this album may turn out to be pretty upbeat, which is the mood she wanted Matangi but her record label didn’t like that. I’d like to hear an upbeat, empowering album from M.I.A. For now, we just have to wait and see what comes next!

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Working Girl

I’ve been seeing a few random articles about Millennials and the work-life balance posted on my Facebook news feed by friends. Usually they’re scoffing at whatever the articles are about, so I imagine it’s the baby boomer generation (or possibly Generation X) shitting on my generation. I haven’t actually clicked any of the articles to find out because the term “Millennials” kind of makes me grimace – same goes for the term “90’s Kid” (even if I’ll occasionally reminisce about the things I enjoyed in my childhood – like I maybe have before). Anyway, I don’t think I need to read the articles to figure out what they’re about and what tired old lines they’ll be using. I don’t need an older generation to tell me what’s wrong with mine. I’ve got a David Bowie song for them (it’s “Changes”) and I can tell them where to put it (in their ears – where else?).

Anyway, enough of my inane rambling. The whole reason I brought up the work-life balance and Millennials is because it seems to fit with the themes of this week’s post, which will be about Little Boots’s hot-off-the-fax-machine release Working Girl! It just came out on Friday and, while I’ve been away at San Diego Comic-Con (I just got back Sunday evening), I was able to download my pre-order over my phone and have been playing it pretty much nonstop! I’ve been saying that Little Boots has just gotten better and better with each album, EP, and single she’s released, and Working Girl just proves it. This is a FANTASTIC album! My favorite so far!

Another thing I’ve been saying is that with each progressive album, EP, and single, Little Boots (aka Victoria Hekseth) has been sounding more and more like herself. The music feels true to her. Not that I know her personally, but Working Girl as a whole sounds more natural and familiar than every previous release. I thought I had read somewhere that her previous label, Atlantic, had still had a hand in the pot with her previous album Nocturnes, but I can’t remember where I read it, so take that with a grain of salt. If this is truly her first fully independent record with her own label On Repeat, then it really shows. Working Girl is full of personality and roars with an identity all its own.

The album introduces itself with a phone call and a monotone recorded message by Hesketh, which ends by challenging the listener to “make something happen.” We then dive into the title track “Working Girl,” a very modern and introspective track, but also danceable. When she strikes up the mantra “It’s so hard, it’s so hard for a working girl” I’m reminded of the Above and Beyond remix of Madonna’s “What It Feels Like For A Girl.” The whole track bears echoes of a resemblance to the Queen of Pop’s single – thought it’s clearly its own entity – down to the feminist undertones. It’s a great, great track to start on.

We follow up with “No Pressure,” another introspective track, though a sadder one too. There’s a frustration and cynicism that’s heavy in lyrics like “You make it sound so easy when you say/No pressure…Anything is possible/You just need a miracle!” Though the album has themes of corporate culture (which Hekseth has maintained across social media – and it’s been great), there’s a criticism of it as well that’s pervasive throughout the track. There’s a freedom to admitting it all though – and this track is very freeing.

If you’re feeling a little down after the first two tracks, then “Get Things Done” is there to energize you. This track makes me want to put on a pantsuit and do some aerobics. Okay, maybe not so much, but it does get me pumped. It’s so confident. It’s that Victoria in the intro telling you in a commanding yet encouraging voice to “make something happen.” It makes you want to get up. Sonically, it’s got some disco influences that are smooth and subtle, making this one easy to dance to with a familiar sound.

I’ve talked briefly about the following track before – “Taste It” – though it was mostly about the video. It’s so good though, I can’t help but associate it the sinister and uber-creepy vibe of the video. It actually manages to fit in with the theme of the album: work. I guess I just think “So close I can” before the words “taste it.” In that way, the song is kind of taunting. “Think you cannot be broken/You’re a drop in the ocean.” “Did you think that you were innocent/When you’re really not that different?”

Next up we have one of my favorite tracks on this album, “Real Girl.” I pretty much loved its synthy beats right away the first time I heard it. I read somewhere that the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” has gone out of style, but I’m going to use it here anyway and I think you’ll forgive me when you see the context. Because this song is about the rejection of being seen as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Hekseth sings about being tired of being treated as an untouchable goddess. “Were you hoping I’d be flawless?/Were you wishing on a movie star?” (Googling the lyrics tell me it’s “wishing I’m a movie star” but the I wrote it is the way I hear it, and I like the play on words much better.) It’s a punchy and confident track, a lot like “Get Things Done” but lighter and more fun.

Another track from her EP Business Pleasure comes next – “Heroine” – which I also talked about in that post I linked two paragraphs ago. There’s a deep house sound to this track. Much of this album falls into the house genre, but it’s most obvious here, I think. It’s a dreamy, late night track that sounds like it was made while driving fast down a dark, empty city street. It’s a good final track before the mid-album “Interlude” telling us that we are number 2,048 in the hold queue.

And then we dive into “The Game” another confidence-boosting track. One thing I noticed on this album is that it’s lacking in heartbreak and love songs – quite the contrast to her debut album Hands and even Nocturnes. (I like that a lot!) Instead, this album has a lot of themes about taking charge of your life, taking the initiative yourself, and not waiting for serendipity to stumble across your path. It’s all about counting on yourself (and putting yourself) first. Sonically, the house influences are strong here too. This one straddles the line between house and pop actually, and it works really well!

Actually “Help Too” may be the only song that dabbles in themes of love – but it’s not looking through rose-colored glasses. This is a troubled relationship that’s all take and no give…which may make it seem like a song that could have been on Hands. And that is true, but it fits just fine on Working Girl, especially in sound. It’s got a dreamy almost underwater tone to it. Appropriate for when she sings “I’m calling out your name, but my lungs are full of the ocean.” Her voice is high and clear on this track – it’s just beautiful.

We get one last track from the Business Pleasure EP – and that is “Business Pleasure.” Refer again to that earlier link where I talk about the entire EP, including this song. It’s one of my favorites. It makes me want to dance – or do aerobics again. It’s full of energy and confidence. I really like the lines “I’m not your girl in the machine” and “Lost in the city with no power, hour after hour.” Whenever I hear this song, I just want to charge through whatever I’m doing and get it done!

The penultimate track is “Paradise,” a sad and wistful track about finding the perfect place to escape and be free, while knowing you can’t stay forever. Boy, did I feel like that on the drive home from Comic-Con! “I found a place that is holy/Somewhere to feel like a child…Back to the real world/All the color’s fading.” Yeah, sounds about right. Though it’s a sad track, it’s still a good dance track. Just about every song on this album is. Just because it’s sad and a little weepy doesn’t mean this one can’t be danced to.

Finally, we end with “Better In The Morning,” which I talked about before, and as I mentioned then is still now one of my favorites! It’s a great track to end on. So upbeat and perky, especially with that keyboard-synth noise that sounds like a bird chirping. It just puts a skip in your step. I see that I was hopeful for an awesome video, and Little Boots did not disappoint! I am loving this ready-for-gifs video! Simple, bright, and colorful! It’s reminiscent of the video for “Taste It” but I’d say this one is more mischievous and playful than sinister and disturbing.

Well, those were the last tracks…unless you got the bonus tracks! The first one is “Desire.” It’s a cool little epilogue, dreamy and soaring. Even considering that, it’s still got a powerful beat and it’s still commands attention. Hekseth’s voice is great here. I feel you can really tell how wonderfully it gets along with synths. “Desire” may be just a bonus track, but it’s hardly forgettable.

The other bonus track is an acoustic version of “Working Girl.” I’m so glad she put this one on here! I always love hearing the acoustic versions of her songs because you can really hear how structured they are. The acoustic translates perfectly to the electronic and vice versa, and they both sound amazing. Electronic music really isn’t that much of a stretch away from acoustic when you get down to the bare bones.

Get this album! Little Boots just keeps getting better and better. I get so excited every time I hear she’s working on something new because I know it’s going to show off her growth and evolution as an artist and I can’t wait to hear how. Also, I’m going to see her live at the Echo here in LA tomorrow, so I’m eager to see how these songs translate to the stage. I would highly encourage you to see Little Boots live if you get a chance. She’s a master performer on stage. She always amazes me with something new. I’ll report back next week!

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