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Felt Mountain

This past Saturday was Record Store Day! Did you get anything? I did!

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The Neko Case LP is limited edition red vinyl and it’s the first time it’s been released on vinyl in over 5 years! Meanwhile, the Goldfrapp LP I got was so exclusive, it’s the first time it’s EVER been released on vinyl in the US and I got one of 4,000 pressings! I was extremely happy to get both of these.

I’ve already talked about Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, so today I’m going to talk about Felt Mountain! This is Goldfrapp’s first album – and it was my first Goldfrapp album. I mentioned before how I was introduced to it via a college roommate. I was hooked the moment I heard the haunting whistle that introduces “Lovely Head.” It still gives me the chills when I hear it. It’s got a very classic Hollywood noir sound to it, a theme which pretty much describes the entire album, but it’s touched with more modern, alien electronic flavors too. This song remains one of my favorites for its haunting beauty. Allison is channeling Marlene Dietrich for sure, but she becomes distinctly Goldfrapp when she sings through a vocal processor at about 1:15. There’s that alienness I mentioned before.

A lot of the lonely, haunted sounds on this album come from the fact that Goldfrapp recorded and produced this album in a bungalow in the English countryside. Allison spent a lot of time alone there, surrounded by mice and spiders. The experience really got under her skin and into her brain, and that’s something that comes through in a way that does the same for you. It’s beautiful but eerie and uneasy too. There’s a touch of danger at times – shadowy figures seen at the edge of your vision, a strange noise in the dark, a light brush against your skin when there’s no one there, a chill running down your spine for no discernible reason.

Being their first album, Felt Mountain isn’t perfect. The next track “Paper Bag,” while nice, is kind of a let down after the amazing track that precedes it. There are some interesting sounds going on, and Allison’s voice is seductive and soothing, but it’s not a stand out track.

“Human” makes up for it. The production on this track is just GREAT. It’s a perfect fusion of classic orchestral sounds and electronic noise. It’s absolutely seductive, even though the lyrics are submissive. It’s begging and full of desire. It’s one of Goldfrapp’s best. I can practically hear it in a Bond film. I’m actually surprised it didn’t make it on their greatest hits album, The Singles, even if they would go on to make better songs.

“Pilots” I think is one of the best of the “quiet” tracks on this album. It’s a very classy and jazzy tune and I like the way that works here. It almost reminds me of a Sinatra song, though I can’t think of which one. There’s another round of singing through the vocal processor that let’s you know it’s definitely Golfrapp. The whole track feels like floating on a cloud – appropriate considering the lyrics and title!

“Deer Stop” is the other great “quiet” track. I can hardly understand the lyrics, but somehow that doesn’t matter here. It’s all about the sound of it. And it sounds like it was recorded in the dark, maybe with a dying flashlight in hand. Maybe you thought you saw the light reflected in pairs of eyes peering out from between the trees, but then they’re gone when you turn back to look for them.

The following two songs are the title track “Felt Mountain” and “Oompa Radar,” both instrumentals with Allison lightly singing nothing over strange noises. The first track is more playful and whimsical. The second is sinister and carnivalesque. Both seem like they could fit into the soundtracks of two very different movies – and yet they fit together on this album wonderfully. The singing is kept to a minimum, which allows you to take them in as aural landscapes. They are cinematic in a way that much of the rest of Felt Mountain is.

Next we come to “Utopia” which is really the one that became the hit off this album. I’ve heard it used in commercials for at least two TV shows in the last several years, so it can be said that it has staying power for sure. It’s the most dramatic track off this album, both in lyrics and in sound. It almost doesn’t belong though. Where the rest of the album has an older, classical sound, “Utopia” seems like it was beamed down by aliens or sent back in time by a future civilization. It’s beautiful, overwhelmingly so, and I think I can see why it’s the one that’s lived the longest. It’s probably the best predictor of the direction Goldfrapp’s sound would head in future endeavors.

The album fades out with “Horse Tears,” which for me is another track that is kind of a let down, seeing as how it follows a much better one. Honestly, “Utopia” could have been the closer, but I guess I can see why they chose this one. It brings the album back full circle to its original lonely, noir themes. Even though it uses a bit of that vocal processor, it just doesn’t do much to save the song. The violin is nice – it punctuates the sadness of this song – but mixed in with everything else going on, it’s all a bit overdone.

Though Felt Mountain has a special place in my heart, it is not a good beginner’s Goldfrapp album! I would not recommend this to a first-time listener! This is one for the more advanced Goldfrapp listener. It’s really great at showing how far they’ve come and seeing what still influences them. Felt Mountain is good, and it even has some SPECTACULAR tracks, but they got so much better. For me, I’m still excited to have this one on vinyl! It’s going to sound great.

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Debut

I recently bought Björk: Archives, which is billed as a “mid-career retrospective.” I didn’t think much of it, until the specificity of the “mid-career retrospective” was pointed out to me. Björk is nearly fifty years old and has been making music since she was a child. She studied classical piano and flute when she was six years old and recorded her first album when she was eleven. That means she’s been making music for about forty years, give or take. Does this mean she’s planning on making music when she’s pushing ninety? I’m sure she is! At least, I hope so!

So today, I’m going back to the start: I’m going to talk about her first solo album (not the one she made when she was 11) Debut. While this album is significant in its own right, it’s probably my least favorite album of hers, next to Biophilia. Björk herself has even said it’s not her best. She’s produced far better albums, which isn’t to say that Debut is a bad album, but it is very dated. You can tell by the sound that it’s an album of the 90’s. It also doesn’t really have a cohesive or unified theme, except that there are a lot of love songs. It’s an album that’s the result of someone taking their first steps into a solo career. Björk had a very quixotic, child-like pixie persona and image at the time, another thing that’s apparent in this album. There’s a lot of playful innocence in the lyrics. Some of the songs had been written years before she recorded it. “Human Behaviour” was written when she was a teenager.

And hey! There’s our first track! I’ve talked briefly about “Human Behaviour” before (here and here). Though Debut is not her best, this song definitely is. Not only is it one of the best, it was the best song to pick as the leading single and first track of this album. It bursts into your ears and rattles around in your brain. It’s weird and uncanny and primal and unrestrained. And it’s unmistakably Björk.

I never really cared much for the next track “Crying.” In fact, I usually skip it. It’s just not very interesting. It’s kind of corny and it’s probably the most dated song on this dated album. Eh, I just don’t really have much to say about it! Let’s move on.

“Venus As A Boy” is a classic. It’s a Bollywood-influenced track that makes a lasting impression with lyrics like “His wicked sense of humour/Suggests exciting sex.” There’s more to the music video than Björk fondling and frying an egg – the imagery was inspired by her favorite book at the time, Story of the Eye. However, the egg was actually supposed to be boiled, not fried. (Read the NSFW Wikipedia plot summary of the book and you’ll see why.) Björk is an absolute angel in “Venus As A Boy,” both vocally and visually, even if she’s a bit of a mischievous one. It works so well.

“There’s More To Life Than This” is still a dated track, but it’s kind of fun! The credits for this song say it was recorded in the bathroom of the Milk Bar, a club in London, where Björk was living at the time. That would explain the sound of stall doors slamming about halfway through the song. I like the idea of sneaking out of a party to go have some real fun. It’s also pretty danceable. It is a dance track, after all!

“Like Someone In Love” is actually a cover of an older song from 1944. The minimalistic sound is nice – and appropriate – here. It’s just Björk and a harp, with incidental background noises and some very light and faint strings toward the end. It makes it sound like she’s walking down the street late at night, pondering and singing about love. It’s one of the best love songs on this album.

I really like “Big Time Sensuality” – the Fluke Minimix version, that is. The one on Debut is okay, but I heard the other one first and got really attached to its big, overwhelming sound. This is just one of those songs where the sound matches the lyrics extraordinarily well. It’s got this feeling of nervous excitement, like the moment right before you plunge down the top of a roller coaster, or the feeling immediately after a first date that’s gone really well. Fun fact: Did you know that this song is about friendship and enjoying life and not sex?

I’m fairly certain that “One Day” is about her son, Sindri. It seems pretty obvious, even if the baby sounds at the beginning don’t quite make sense – Sindri was about 7 when this album was released. Still, it’s a sweet song from a mother to a child. It’s kind of inspiring and motivational. I have a random version of this song called “One Day (Endorphin Mix 52.5 Bpm)” that’s slowed down and actually pretty nice. It makes the song sound a lot more introspective and thoughtful. I think I even like it better.

“Aeroplane” is another song I don’t care too much for. It’s got a weird, quirky sound, but it’s no “Human Behaviour.” It’s a little boring, actually. I like the jungle sounds at the beginning and end, and even the melancholic xylophone at the end, but that’s really about it.

“Come To Me” is hypnotic and seductive. I like this one, but it’s got that dated sound that keeps it from becoming a classic. It wouldn’t make my favorites list, but it’s not one I’d skip right away if it came on and I was in the mood for it. It’s a slow burn of a song that’s satisfying. Again, not her best, but not her worst either, when you consider it in the frame of her earliest work.

“Violently Happy” is one of the other great love songs on this album. Where “Like Someone In Love” was quiet and contemplative, this track is intense and unrestrained. “Violently happy/’Cause I love you” is a pretty accurate way of describing the euphoric feelings of a new relationship. It even gets to a point where it’s dangerous at times – “I’m driving my car/Too fast/With ecstatic music on…” “I’m daring people/To jump off roofs with me.” The beats go well with the lyrics. Even if, again, the sound itself is dated, it’s another great dance track.

The album closes with “The Anchor Song,” which is one of my favorites. The minimal sound fits it so well. Just Björk and a couple of saxophones. It’s got a sort of homesick sound to it – or rather the sound of someone whose homesickness has been relieved by their return to that home. It’s quietly content, like snuggling into your own bed after a long and exhausting trip abroad. I like this one a lot. It’s a good feeling to be reminded of home, wherever you make it.

Debut is not even close to the first album I’d recommend. In fact, it’s probably one of the last I’d recommend. But for a Björk enthusiast, it’s essential listening. It’s fascinating to hear where she started and how far she’s come. It seems like her voice hasn’t really changed that much since this album was released 22 years ago. If anything, it’s gotten richer and she’s gained more control over it. Listening to Debut is like peeking into a time capsule. It’s astounding to hear how much she’s evolved.

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Velocifero

I want to talk about Ladytron today! Last time I talked about them, I talked about my least favorite album of theirs. Well, this time I’d like to talk about my favorite album of theirs! And that would be 2008’s Velocifero!

This was my second Ladytron album, after Light & Magic, which I also love. But Velocifero easily overtakes it as the best album for me. It’s just got a bigger, more well-rounded sound, and the production is fantastic. Also, it’s got my favorite Ladytron album cover:

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That may have been the reason I picked it, actually. I didn’t know where to go after Light & Magic so I went with the one with the prettiest cover, which sounds kind of shallow, but for me it was a good choice!

“Black Cat,” the opener, is just great. I love it when Mira Aroyo sings in Bulgarian. Her voice is so seductive and commanding. Her songs tend to be among my favorites in general. No idea what she’s saying, but I don’t mind. (Here are the lyrics in both Bulgarian and English, in case you were wondering.)

“Ghosts” is another great track and I’m almost a little conflicted here, because they are BOTH great openers. You could have switched the two and it would have been just as amazing. But I’m kind of glad they went with the Mira track first. Anyway, I really like how unapologetic and confident this song is. I don’t care much for the video though. There might be some Watership Down references here?

Then there’s yet another track I love: “I’m Not Scared.” There’s this car metaphor they’re playing with that draws me in every time. I guess I just like that it meshes well with the mechanical/robotic implications of their name. I think you can really hear how flawless the production is here. It’s such a well-rounded song.

I don’t have a lot to say about “Runaway” – it’s a pretty straightforward track – but I do like the video for it better than the one for “Ghosts.” It’s a lot more in line with the aesthetic of the album. And the effects are super simple but pretty cool!

Mira sings again on “Season of Illusions” – this time in English! This is one of the rare Mira songs that doesn’t do much for me. But I love something about the lyrics “Obliterate the Sunday you’ve been cherishing all week.” It’s got a very carpe diem feel to it, but it’s sung in such a cool, detached way.

I feel like there’s a lot of aggressive confidence in this album, but it’s given off in such a calm and collected way. “Burning Up” is another one of those tracks, and yet it’s teetering on giving in to the emotion simmering just beneath the surface. “I wrote a protest song about you” just really hits hard.

Another Mira song comes next: “Kletva,” which is actually a cover of a Bulgarian rock song from the late 80’s. It’s a pretty straightforward cover translated into Ladytron’s style. Again, here’s the translation…and here’s the original – it’s a nice song! And it’s weird hearing it in comparison with Ladytron’s version.

I really like “They Gave You a Heart, They Gave You a Name” a lot too. My brain tends to default to some of their songs being about robots, which is the case here, but I’m sure I’m absolutely wrong.

And OH MY GOSH, I love “Predict the Day” so much. Definitely another favorite. The haunting whistle just gets me every time, and the little exhale too. It’s so dark and, again, unapologetic. This song is flawless. It’s like the perfect villain theme song.

How many times have I mentioned that I love a song off this album so far? Like almost every one so far? Because it doesn’t stop with “The Lovers.” It sounds so sinister. There’s this marching drum beat that just goes so well with the synth, and with Helen Marnie’s almost-taunting yet lullaby-like vocals on top, it’s positively hypnotizing.

What the heck it “Deep Blue” about??? Again, my brain defaults to technology, specifically the chess-playing computer Deep Blue. Mira’s voice is so smoky and soft here. It’s a change from her normal tone. It’s really nice and it works so great with the song. I’m glad she did this one, because it wound up fitting her so well.

I don’t have a lot to say about “Tomorrow,” surprisingly. It’s a dreamy song. Somehow the style is distinct from the rest of the album (to my ears anyway) and yet it fits in just right. The video is the best of the 3 they did for this album. It reminds me of some kind of obscure experimental 70’s fantasy film. It’s beautiful to take in.

The final track is “Versus” and I think this is the first time one of the guys – Daniel Hunt – has sung on a track? I think his voice works well here! Both in sound and in theme – it’s his voice against Helen’s, but they go together nicely.

Overall, I think this is a great starter Ladytron album, but I could be saying that because I think just about every song on it is the best. I played a few tracks for a friend once, and he had never heard of Ladytron before, but he loved them instantly. So I’m going to go ahead and say that if you’ve never heard of Ladytron before either, you should definitely start here!

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

You’d think being a music blog, I’d make this post about the Grammys, but I didn’t watch the Grammys and I don’t listen to a lot of music that gets nominated for Grammys, so here we are! (Just in case anyone thought I was trying to be professional or that I knew what I was talking about.)

Instead, I’d like to revisit an album I reviewed way back when I started this blog (I’ll probably make “Revisited” a recurring feature, like Music Tidbits or Music That Made Me). Actually, this goes back to my very second post on this blog! This week, I’d like to revisit Neko Case’s “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You”!

I feel like when I wrote that post, I wasn’t yet fully invested in the album. I read it again and I realize I really breezed over it. I’m terrible when it comes to giving my opinion about a thing immediately after watching/listening to/consuming it. I’m the worst person you could invite to a focus group. I need time to digest things, to really mull them over and think about what I did or didn’t like, and why. This is especially the case with music. I really, REALLY need the time to listen to the album as a whole – repeatedly – and then dissect it track by track. I need to get tired of it, put it away, then come back to it.

So now that it’s been well over a year since this album was released and I got my grubby little paws on it, I’ve DEFINITELY formed a better opinion about it! Well, it’s still not my favorite Neko Case album, BUT I do enjoy it a lot more than I initially did.

So let’s start at the beginning. (Where else?) “Wild Creatures” is a little underwhelming as an intro track. It didn’t have the same oomph for me that the opening tracks from her previous three studio albums did. I DO like these lyrics though:

“Hey, little girl, would you like to be
The king’s pet or the king?”
“I’d choose odorless and invisible,
But otherwise I would choose the king.”

There’s something about choosing to be “odorless and invisible” that I can relate to in my worst moments.

“Night Still Comes” is one of my favorites from this album. No clue what it’s about, but it kind of speaks to me as being about being fiercely independent and misunderstood for it, but then deciding you know what? I don’t need anyone to understand me. Umm, but really I have no idea. I still really like the line “But I’ve revenged myself all over myself/There’s nothing you can do to me.”

“Man” is still also my favorite! Oh my gosh, I LOVE this song. Neko is obviously playing around with gender roles and expectations here. It took me awhile to understand that. Like, it seems there’s this common theme that girls are either taught to be proper and ladylike (read: submissive, passive, seen but not heard, etc) OR they’re taught that to be feminine is to be weak, pathetic, and stupid. Neko (in this song) is playing with that latter theme here. She’s been raised to be a “man” – tough, bold, brave, strong – BUT she refuses to see women as the opposite. I mean, just take the line “A woman’s heart is the watermark/By which I measure everything” – and she really draws out that “everything” when she sings it. And then, of course, she sings at the end “‘Cause you didn’t know what a man was/Until I showed you.” It’s just fantastic.

I barely mentioned “I’m From Nowhere” last time, except for a few lyrics. I mean, what? This song is GREAT. It’s quiet – Just Neko and a guitar. It’s all about identity being tied to where you’re from. Neko’s father was a Vietnam War vet, and her parents divorced when she was young, so she moved around a lot growing up. I did too (but not NEARLY across as many states) so I can relate a little bit. So, she’s from “Nowhere” and that suits her just fine.

And how in the world could I skip “Bracing For Sunday”?? “I’m a Friday night girl/Bracing for Sunday to come.” These are just…FANTASTIC lyrics. Friday, the day everyone goes out and gets wild, and Sunday, the day everyone atones for it. I just really like the way she sings it, like she’s not afraid of it. She’s ready for it. This song is so charged and restless.

“Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” is still a wonderful, beautifully sad track. And I still really want to know where this one came from – but I also feel like it’s none of my business because it might be personal. Which makes it all the more fascinating and touching.

“Calling Cards” might be the only straightforward love song on here. Which makes it kind of an interesting track considering the rest of the album is so introspective, even when it seems to involve other people. I mean, this is pretty much the theme song to a long distance relationship. It’s sweet.

“City Swan” – another one that hardly got a mention! But it’s so good! It goes back to the theme of wanderlust that “I’m From Nowhere” flirts with. Sure, there are places that could be called hometowns. But when you’ve spent so much time away from them, going back to them makes you feel like an alien – completely out of your element. To be a city swan is to be someone who was transformed from a small town duckling. You’re unable to reconnect. And this part in particular just really hits me: “And it breaks my heart just like the day/That I looked down and I realized/I’d been sailing so long I’d become the shore.” Wow.

“Afraid” … Um. I don’t care for this one too much? Neko didn’t write it (but Nico did!), so I dunno. I do like the line “You are beautiful and you are alone” though.

“Local Girl” – This one is pretty nice, but for the longest time I thought she was singing “All of you lie about Sunday/You’re on a first name basis” – which made sense to me – but it’s actually “All of you lie about someday.” Which doesn’t make as much sense to me? I was listening to some old episodes of some podcasts I don’t normally listen to because they had interviews with Neko Case back from September 2013, when she released this album. Anyway, she was saying that this song is about how people talk about love all the time when they don’t know anything about it. It still doesn’t make much sense to me. But I still like it!

“Where Did I Leave That Fire?” is a really eerie one. Not just because of the dark, haunting, submarine sounds, but because it’s kind of got a little bit existential horror going on, at least for an artist. If you listen to it from the perspective of an artist, you’ll get what the “fire” is. And something about the way she sings “I wanted so badly not to be me” hits heavy.

“Ragtime” is another favorite of mine! This one really, really gets to me too. I talked about this one before (#5 on my list!). It’s very much like a phoenix rising from the flames. Just listen to the lyrics: “I’ll reveal myself when I’m ready,/I’ll reveal myself invincible soon.” I also just really like the lines “I am one and the same/I am useful and strange.” It’s so soothing, for how cacophonous it is at the end. It’s just feels like letting go.

“Madonna of the Wasps” – Another song not written by Neko! (It was written by Robyn Hitchcock. Just because I wrote that sentence, doesn’t mean I know who that is.) It’s so hippie-dippie. I kind of like it, but I also have to be in the mood for it, because it’s kind of uncharacteristic for Neko. It’s not really her style!

And OH MY GOSH, how did I NOT mention the version of “Magpie to the Morning” on this album, because it is one of my FAVORITE songs and I LOVE this version of it. See how disappointed I am in you, me from over a year ago? Well, I guess there were some things in my life that happened that changed that since then. This song just means to much to me, and I am so in love with the way it’s performed here. I could go on forever about it.

“Yon Ferrets Return” – Haha, I still like this one a lot! It’s just so much fun! There’s that wanderlust theme again. It just sweeps you right up! I want to jump on that covered wagon it makes me picture and ride off into the sunset. I know, I’m weird.

So that’s about it! What a much better review for an album that’s much better than I treated it over a year ago. Forgive me, Neko! And forgive me, readers. You both deserved better, so I hope I gave it this time!

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Vulnicura

A new Björk album dropped very suddenly, and along with it, so did everything I was doing. Because when Björk releases any new music, anywhere, that’s kind of the appropriate reaction.

Announced 2 weeks ago, Vulnicura was due in March, but was unfortunately leaked just about the day after said announcement. One week later, Björk officially released the album. I bought it right away, of course.

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Holy smokes, where do I start? This is unlike anything she has done before. I mean, that’s true with any album, especially since Björk likes to experiment with new sounds and styles with each album. But I mean, this is really, really unlike anything she’s done before. The beats are reminiscent of Homogenic, but the strings make me think of Vespertine, while the vocals and mixing remind me a bit of Volta. But it’s still purely in a class of its own.

This is also the most personal album Björk has ever written. Literally. As in, it’s a document of her breakup with her long time partner Matthew Barney. It is like reading a diary. It’s voyeuristic, heartbreaking, and, at times, uncomfortable. She definitely made this album for herself first – to get all the emotion and pain out, for self-healing. Vulnicura means “wound cure” in Latin (basically – Björk has fudged with words to make them into album titles before).

This album is so heavy. As I was listening to it, I could feel my heart sinking. You can just hear the sadness and pain in her voice. I found myself asking “Man, is she gonna be alright?” It’s just that real and honest. I don’t know what it’s like to be a mother or to go through a divorce, but I can’t help but wonder if this is what it feels like for a woman who is a mother to go through a divorce. As I said, this album is pretty much an emotional documentation of her breakup with Matthew Barney. Every time she sings about “you” or “he” she’s referring to him. In the album booklet, she even documents when each song takes place. The first three songs are the months before the breakup. The next three are the months after. The final three seem to follow the moment when she finally lifts herself up and begins to heal and look back on it all.

While all of this baring herself to her listeners seems very spontaneous, every bit of this album is incredibly deliberate. I like the writing here a lot better than on Biophilia. The sound is also a lot more consistent. The tracks are pretty long, so this album is not a quick listen. You don’t just play random tracks. It’s meant to be heard as a whole, like a meal served all at once, not in courses. Still, my favorite tracks by far are “Lionsong,” “History of Touches,” and “Atom Dance.”

“Black Lake” is beautiful and tragic. This is where I felt my heart sinking the most. This is where it felt the heaviest. And then you get to “Family” and it just hits you. This is so, so, so personal. She is singing about Matthew and their daughter – it’s literally her family. It builds up to such a frantic desperation and then it just…lets go. Another thing I really enjoy in the album is the pacing. Like I said, it’s just so deliberate and well-orchestrated. And again, just to go back to the writing, some of my favorite lyrics include:

Moments of clarity are so rare/I better document this – “Stonemilker”

How will I sing us/Out of this sorrow – “Family”

We are each others’ hemispheres – “Atom Dance”

When I’m broken I am whole – “Quicksand”

It’s really hard to say much more about this album. It’s just pure emotion and raw honesty, and it’s hard to just…talk about that. What I can do is recommend these articles. The first is an interview from Pitchfork that gets into the making of and inspiration behind the album, as well as her continued frustrations with how the music journalism industry treats her as a female artist. It gets wonderfully feminist at the end. There’s also this New York Time article which covers her history and journey up until this point, including a little more insight into the making of the album. Finally, this NPR article really gets into the nitty gritty critical analysis of this album. Read it if you feel like you didn’t get enough from my amateurish attempt at reviewing it! This was definitely a tough one. It’s a must-have for any Björk fan, naturally, or even for someone going through or fresh out of a breakup. It’s incredibly sad but also therapeutic, from start to finish. Hence, “wound cure.”

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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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