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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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Vespertine

Okay, I’m going to get to the Vespertine review in a minute here, but first, you NEED to go to YouTube and watch this RIGHT NOW. Yes, it’s a music video (for “Stonemilker”), but think of it like a music video done in Google Street View. Click and drag and watch what happens. It’s BLOWING MY MIND. I actually said “woah” out loud. Now THIS is the kind of quality music video I expect from Björk. Also worth watching are the music video for “Lionsong” and the “Family” moving album cover, both of which can be found on her official YouTube page. AND there might be a bootlegged copy of of the “Black Lake” video from the MoMA exhibit that just ended floating around somewhere. *cough*cough* (No, I mean really bootlegged, like DVD-you-bought-in-a-back-alley-with-shadowy-figures-occasionally-walking-in-front-of-the-camera bootlegged.) (UPDATE: The official “BLack Lake” video from MoMA is now up!) Anyway, it’s GREAT to see she’s made a return to form with these videos. I’m really, really glad.

NOW, let’s get into Vespertine. Funny how I’m choosing to talk about it in June seeing as how it’s a very wintery-themed album (though it was released at the end of August). It’s got light and airy sounds, making use of such instruments as a harp, celesta, various strings, and a music box made out of glass. There’s even the sound of snow crunching in one track.

Thematically, the album is all about love and sex – and more love and more sex. That’s really it! At the time, it was her most intimate album – well, it’s also ABOUT intimacy. But it was incredibly personal endeavor. We’ll get into that during this review.

I’ve mentioned multiple times that the opening track “Hidden Place” is one of my all-time favorite Björk songs. It is one of my favorite opening tracks to any album. There’s something about the way that soft repetitive electric sound at the beginning pulses and washes over you. The choir that comes in at around 32 seconds brings it to another level. And when you thought it couldn’t get any better, it takes you to an even higher euphoric state of mind at about 50 seconds in when the beats, strings, vocals, and background melody all swell up together.

Of the theme of the track, Björk said:

‘Hidden Place’ is sort of about how two people can create a paradise just by uniting. You’ve got an emotional location that’s mutual. And it’s unbreakable. And obviously it’s make-believe. So, you could argue that it doesn’t exist because it’s invisible, but of course it does.

It certainly feels like a paradise, although one of a sexual nature. It’s pure, unbridled bliss. My favorite lyrics are “I’m so close to tears/And so close to/Simply calling you up” as well as “Now I have been slightly shy/And I can smell a pinch of hope/To almost have allowed/Once fingers to stroke.” I don’t know why, but these particular lines just get to me. Normally, I would say they get me in the gut, but, er…that’s not quite where they get me.

If the first track wasn’t blunt enough for you, well here, have “Cocoon.” (And, oh yeah, the video’s totally NSFW.)

Heavy-handed on the euphemism AND the literalism, the breathy vocals in “Cocoon” make it very clear that this is a post-coital track. The little glitchy beats are wonderful and a little eerie. The minimal sound really works for this song. I don’t know if it would have succeeded if it was as overwhelming as “Hidden Place.” This track is meant to be introspective in its bliss.

I feel like “It’s Not Up To You” wasn’t necessarily supposed to be about love or sex, but it’s difficult to read it any other way, at least for me (“Just lean into the crack”? I mean, come on). To me, it’s about that unknowing that exists when you’re not sure what kind of a relationship you’re in with a person. There seems to be chemistry, but there’s also this difficult balancing act in your head: Do you pretend like it’s nothing and risk missing an opportunity, or do you take a chance and risk blowing it all? You’re stuck in this limbo of not being able to read their frustratingly ambiguous signals. (Boy, have I been there.) I feel like this song really captures that pensive burning curiosity that runs itself back and forth across your brain and makes you into a nervous wreck. “Six glasses of water/Seven phone calls.”

So that makes “Undo” a pretty good follow up! It’s very meditative and calming right from the get-go: “It’s not meant to be a strife/It’s not meant to be a struggle uphill.” You just have to let your nerves go and go with the flow. This is not so much about sex and love as the others. Although I said it’s a good follow-up to “It’s Not Up To You” it could really apply to any situation in life that you’re overthinking/stressing out over. “Undo if you’re bleeding/Undo if you’re sweating/Undo if you’re crying/Undo.”

“Pagan Poetry” is probably the biggest standout track on this album. It’s the most passionate, the most emotional, and the most theatrical. And so is the music video, which, by the way, is even more NSFW and, besides that, definitely NOT for the squeamish when it comes to needles and piercings.

So…this video was banned by MTV, and not just for Björk being topless and having strings of pearls being sewn into her body. If you’re wondering what those weird blobby, blurry images are…well, it’s highly likely you’re seeing a Björk sex tape (watch again – do the way those blobs are moving look familiar now?). It’s not just all about nudity and needles though. Setting the music video aside, this song is about making yourself vulnerable (and, in a way, that’s exactly what the music video is capturing) as you head into a new relationship, even as you’re scared to do so because of the consequences that could result (as they may have in the past). This song is swarming with desperation and anxiety. It’s so important that the music drops out when Björk chants “I love him” over and over again.

There isn’t really anything to say about “Frosti,” the glass music box interlude, except that it’s BEAUTIFUL. If it didn’t cut off (because it fades into the next track), I could listen to it over and over again.

That next track would be “Aurora,” the most wintery track on this album (so it makes sense that it’s paired with “Frosti”). Themes of nature and love kind of blur together here. “A mountain shade/Suggests your shape.” She fills her mouth with snow to remind herself of her lover. It’s the best track about intimacy without being as heavy-handed about it. There’s something transcendental about it.

“An Echo, A Stain” brings a chill down my spine every time. It’s a sinister, dark song, based on a one-act play called Crave, which I know nothing about, except for the themes that I’ve gathered from its Wikipedia entry which include “rape, incest, pedophilia, anorexia, drug addiction, mental instability, murder, and suicide.” The musical themes of the album work perfectly with this song, being creepy and quiet. It’s meant to make you feel uneasy, and in that aspect, especially knowing what it’s based off of, it works.

The next song has lyrics taken straight from the e e cummings poem “I Will Wade Out” which, for those not familiar (I mean, I wasn’t) is purely about masturbation. It’s pretty obvious from the lyrics regardless. Also, the music works great as a euphemism here. It starts out with gentle, exploratory tones before slowly building up to a crescendo and follows with a blooming release before coming back down and ending with fuzzy, fading, echoed vocals. It may seem heavy-handed (no pun intended), but it’s also pretty clever!

“Heirloom” is another song about love, but a different kind of love – a familial kind. Its pensiveness reminds me of “It’s Not Up To You.” It’s a very introspective track and the most surreal, lyrically. It feels like maybe this was the best way Björk could describe the way her family forms her foundation and holds her up. A singer’s voice is their most important asset, and when they lose it, it can be easy for them to question their worth. And so one has only to look at who supports them and know that everything is going to be okay.

The song “Harm of Will” was co-written by Harmony Korine and is supposedly about Will Oldham, though I’m going to be honest here: I have no idea what that means. I mean, okay, the name of the track is basically made up of both of their names. But beyond that, I don’t have any clue what Will Oldham has to do with anything, much less who he is (someone’s going to be mad at me for that). But completely ignoring that, it’s another dark song with a sinister ending. There are two characters in this song: a man and a woman. Björk seems to go back and forth assuming the identities of these characters. It’s hard to tell which one at times. It’s a hauntingly beautiful and sad track. And, dammit, I wish I understood what it was about.

We end with a fantastic track, the best way to end this album: with a track called “Unison.” Okay, again, this is going to sound corny (for different reasons), but I really relate to the way she describes love here. “Born stubborn, me/Will always be/Before you count one, two, three/I will have grown my own private branch/Of this tree” and “I thrive best/Hermit style/With a beard and a pipe /And a parrot on each side/But now I can’t do this without you” especially. This is another track about vulnerability, but where “Pagan Poetry” was filled with distress and fear, this track is eager, enthusiastic, and a little bit flustered. The swelling orchestra and chorus just make my heart soar. I feel so happy and hopeful when I hear it. I don’t want it to end.

I don’t think I’ve said it before, but Vespertine is my favorite Björk album, and one of my favorite albums of all time. It’s one I would have to have if I was on a desert island or on a rocket ship headed to Mars. It’s definitely one I need to get on vinyl. It has my favorite sounds and it just means so much to me. I never get tired of listening to it.

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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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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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Business Pleasure

I can’t believe I’ve never talked about Little Boots on here before! She’s easily in my top 10 favorite artists list. I’ve seen her perform twice! She’s just darling and fantastic.

Little Boots (Victoria Hesketh) is a singer-songwriter and DJ hailing from Blackpool, Lancashire, England. She gets her name from her apparently tiny feet. I’m not sure what her shoe size is, but I was front stage at one of her shows and I can verify she’s quite a petite person!

I feel Little Boots is terribly underrated as an artist. She plays the piano, keyboards, synthesizer, Tenori-on, and all these other electronic instruments I’ve never heard of, and she plays them like a master. I mean, seriously, just watch this video of her basically playing three instruments while singing and making her own harmony along with the melody at the same time.

That song is from her first studio album, Hands, by the way. But I’m going to talk about her latest EP Business Pleasure! I like to think of it as an after after hours type of record. It sounds like it would be played in the dead of night, long after the clock has rolled back over to three digits but long before the sun will rise. It’s different from her usual sound. Hands was very electropop inspired. It sounded like early evening music. Her second album, Nocturnes, had a sort of house/dance sound to it. It was very late night to me. Business Pleasure has a very low-key, cool house sound. It reminds me a lot of the single “Superstitious Heart” she released nearly two years before this EP, along with “Whatever Sets You Free.” I think these tracks were probably a warm-up for Business Pleasure!

This EP is a pretty quick listen. Its four tracks total just about a quarter of an hour. So let’s start with the opener, “Taste It!” I’ll warn you up front, the video is a little graphic. It mixes body horror and food porn into some kind of new genre. Food horror? Yeah, I’ll call it that. It’s not excessively graphic (there isn’t really much, if any, blood and guts) but it’s still a bit disturbing and not at all for the squeamish. (Watching it over again, I still squirm at parts – and I’m NOT squeamish!) And, just because, there are also drugs/allusions to drugs. This video actually got banned somewhere, though I’m not sure where. All I know is Victoria made a very disgruntled Facebook post about it with a screenshot of the ban message. (I still don’t think it’s THAT bad.)

I really, really dig the beat here. So hypnotic. She sounds like a siren drawing you to your doom, but in a club on the stage, instead of in the ocean on the rocks. Which makes the video quite fitting now that I think about it. It lures you with very pretty ladies doing very disturbing things to themselves. This is that after after hours sound I was talking about, by the way. She sounds so confident, so above everything. It’s a nice quiet ease into this EP.

“Heroine” is much more upbeat, while still being cool and hypnotic. The sound reminds me a lot of the techno/electronic music I used to listen to in high school. Very house and trance-y. It takes me back to Dirty Vegas (and their album of the name) as well as Télépopmusik and Genetic World, but mostly the former. A lot of this album has a familiar, older sound to it, while still being the fresh new music of Little Boots circa 2014.

Let’s take the next track “Business Pleasure,” for example. It’s even faster and more upbeat than “Heroine” and the sound goes back even further to the 80s. I just picture Victoria in a pantsuit with the big puffy shoulder pads. Hey, she almost went there with the album cover! It matches this song pretty well. Pinstripes suit, big fat wristwatch, and hair that looks like it’s got quite a bit of hairspray in there. Perfect blend of modern and retro.

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Last but not least, we’ve got “Pretty Tough,” almost dialing it back to the cool, smooth, mellow sound we started with. Again, she sounds bold and confident, the way she sings “If I was so innocent, would I be your prisoner?” and “You think I’m pretty, oh, well I can be pretty tough.” I’m wondering if this is about her label, Atlantic, at the time she recorded and released Hands. They were basically trying to mold her into being the next Kylie Minogue, something she was never meant to be. (She was meant to be Little Boots, of course!)

I will say, though, if you like Kylie Minogue, you will probably like Little Boots! This album is not Kylie at all, though. I think this is more the sound Victoria prefers. Yes, it’s different from her previous work, but there was a progression to get here. SO if you are a Kylie fan, start with Hands. If you like house music, then start here and work your way backwards. In any case, I think you’ll enjoy yourself!

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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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Post

Anyone who knows me well knows that Björk is one of my favorite artists. Yet if you asked me what the first Björk album I bought was, I couldn’t be 100% sure. I think it must have been Post.

Which I think is a fantastic introductory album to Björk. (I’d actually first heard various songs of hers via a mix CD from a friend.) It’s got the broadest range of sounds and relatable themes, and, while she was still messily experimenting, this was the last album that came before her really experimental stages.

Let’s start with the opener:

“Army of Me” is one of my top (definitely top 5) Björk songs. The industrial sound is so fitting, and it’s such a departure from the pagan-pixie sounds of Debut, even if she hadn’t quite left her manic pixie phase. It’s so empowering, even though lyrically it seems to put you down (“You’re alright…There’s nothing wrong.”). It’s really just telling you to get over yourself and pull yourself up by the bootstraps. The video (which I also love) is a bit of an analogy of that idea, particularly the part where she goes to the gorilla dentist. She was so focused on her own self-perceived suffering, she didn’t realize the potential inside of her until someone else tried to steal and exploit it. It’s visually fantastic, thanks in part to the direction by the incredible Michel Gondry.

The transition into “Hyper-Ballad” is flawless, which is amazing since it’s a much quieter song. It’s a heavy, somber account of someone who stays in a relationship that holds no meaning for them anymore. It’s about doing and imagining the most horrible things so you don’t have to face the reality that’s even more horrible. According to Björk:

Basically, ‘Hyper-ballad’ is about having this kind of bag going on and three years have passed and you’re not high anymore. You have to make an effort consciously and nature’s not helping you anymore. So you wake up early in the morning and you sneak outside and you do something horrible and destructive, break whatever you can find, watch a horrible film, read a bit of William Burroughs, something really gross and come home and be like, ‘Hi honey, how are you?’

It’s so tragic and heart-wrenching. And Björk sings it with just the right amount of emotion.

“The Modern Things” is a funny little song, and it feels kind of like a bit of a leftover from Debut. Actually, along with “Army of Me,” it was written before Debut. Makes sense for the former, but it’s a surprise on the latter! Anyway, I remember reading somewhere that the song was like a little joke Björk made up. This idea that cars and machines had existed long before dinosaurs and people.(It’s hilarious to me that she would think this was a very funny joke.) I think it also comes from a feeling of frustration with people who dismiss electronic music. She has this fantastic quote about it, though I’m not sure where it comes from. It still gives me chills when I hear it though, because it’s such a good point.

If you ask people to name a Björk song, odds are they’ll name “It’s Oh So Quiet.” It’s probably Björk’s most accessible song for the reason that it’s an actual recognizable genre: big band/jazz. It’s also her most unoriginal (not a bad thing in this case!) considering she didn’t write it. It’s still loads of fun and she still manages to put her own signature style into it. And it’s got another awesome music video:

It just looks like she and everyone else is genuinely having fun, and I love that!

“Enjoy” and “Army of Me” are another hard-soft pairing. The album’s very scatterbrained like that, but it works. The diverse sounds give it such a wide range of emotion. Then we have “Isobel” which is such a great ballad song. It’s got one of my favorite lyrics of all time: “In a tower of steel, nature forges a deal to raise wonder hell like me, like me.” It’s so vivid and allegorical. I’ve always found the video a bore though, which is sad, considering it’s another Michel Gondry piece.

“Possibly Maybe” is, according to Björk, is the first unhappy song she ever wrote. And it feels like it. The song and video are so dark and obsessive, which is appropriate considering it’s about someone she just can’t get over.

She goes back and forth over her emotions. “Possibly maybe…probably, love.” The best part is at the end when she sings “Since we broke up, I’m wearing lipstick again” signalling that she’s finally ready to move on to other people, but then: “I suck my tongue in remembrance of you.” The recurring phone ringing sound is just perfect. It’s making you ask “Do I pick it up and seem desperate? Or do I ignore it and miss out on a potential opportunity?” Everything about this song (and video) is so so so good. (P.S. She’s bathing in milk.)

“I Miss You” is a great track to follow that. I’ve always loved how she’s so sure about what her perfect lover will be like, even though she hasn’t met them yet. And the video was done by John Kricfalusi! Of Ren & Stimpy fame! (Björk is apparently a big fan.) It’s a delightfully bizarre combination. It’s like she gave him free range and he took it and ran with it. And it works! Anyone else probably would have asked him to do it MUCH differently. I can picture Björk saying “Man, this is messed up…I love it!”

“Cover Me” is a quiet but eerie following track. There’s a rare early version that she recorded in a bat-infested cave that I have on her Family Tree collection. Even the album version sounds like it could have been recorded in a cave. Or maybe an abandoned space station, Alien-style.

Last but not least, the album’s closing track “Headphones” is a beautiful ode to music and even sound itself. (“My headphones saved my life” is practically my motto.) And yet sound is minimal on this track. It works wonderfully. Björk uses her voice as an instrument to great effect here. And in a way, the soft yet deep beats serve almost as a precursor to the beat-heavy Homogenic. What a wonderful closer…

If you have NEVER listened to Björk in you life, well, first of all, how dare you. But more importantly, start with Post. It gives you the widest range of her vocal and thematic abilities. Then you’ll be ready to experiment with new sounds right along with her.

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