20 April 2008

colors and colours and cullers . . .

dan 'flava' flavin, marfa-style: hot like neon fucking neon. photo credits: c. hoffman, g. bear, d. byrne.

sigh - another post of 'prefatory remarks' that ended up getting unintentionally entangled and, er, long. well, the point of bringing all that up was mostly just to say:

1.) i saw hot chip last week. it was pretty great. the best part was the crowd, who were way into it, dancing more enthusiastically from the get-go than any audience i've seen in a while. it was a concert, but it felt as much like a party. (my friends and i were up front for the first third or so, then split to the back where there was more room to move.)

i was especially amused by joe goddard, the keyboards/electronics guy off to the side. he looked just slightly out of place - a bit portly, and dressed in a goofy colorful t-shirt unlike his bandmates more 'tasteful' attire (though two of them eventually took their shirts off, in frontman alexis taylor's case to reveal a wendy's wifebeater) - a jovial average joe in a band of twerpy hipster nerds - although he's actually one of the two main songwriters. he does the spoken-ish bits of the vocals ("i'm in no fit state..."; "bendable, poseable..."; the list of moves in "wrestlers") and he delivered them so gleefully and emphatically, and deliberately off-rhythm, that i had to laugh. ("bend away...bend a-fucking-way.")

they did the bulk of the new album (11/13, omitting a couple of ballads), one oldie ("crap kraft dinner" - pretty nice), and only three from the warning, which was a little disappointing, since i've only grown to adore that album in the last year or so. serves me right, though, maybe, for dismissing them when i first saw them (fall '05, opening for four tet.) i remember they played "colours" and i'm like "what is this dopey crap? colors and colors and colors and colors? right..." then it took me a year or something to get around to their album, which i now feel that stylus was apt in ranking as #2 of the year, and this time i was disappointed that they didn't play "colours." but it's okay. (at least they did "no fit state," the album's semi-secret best song.)

my initial response to made in the dark was that it's essentially a very similar album to its predecessor, right down to the curiously jerky opener and rather blah ballad closer, (with plenty of better stuff in between), but that it pales substantially in comparison. having taken more time to process and reflect, i recognize that the last album did have a couple of somewhat lesser songs (well, at least two: "arrest yourself" and "won't wash"), while the new one has has plenty of highlights, if nothing to compete with the run of obvious singles that is tracks 2-5 on the warning ("ready for the floor" is the only no-brainer, with its two neighboring tracks probably the closest behind.)

most of the other dance tracks don't really do it for me (yet?) - not quite sure why; "touch too much" for instance seems like it should be great, but the melody and phrasing kind of annoy me. "one pure thought" is the big exception, the closest this album comes to a "no fit state" and maybe the best song on here. "wrestlers," which is reminiscent of "the warning" both lyrically and musically, is a great, quirky, catchy album track. then there are the ballads, none of which i've found as affecting as the gorgeous "look after me" and "so glad to see you," though the title track is certainly pretty.

hot chip's best songs tend not to feature just a single arresting hook or an extended melody line, but rather several fairly simple and repetitive melodic motifs, alternating and interspersed throughout, modularly, over shifting sections of the groove, and sometimes eventually layered together, in an expansion beyond straight verse/chorus structure. ("colors" is maybe the clearest example.) my sense is that a lot of new album's songs are more straightforward in their construction, and hence not as colorful and satisfying. i'll keep listening though.

2.) i been listening to neon neon. specifically their debut album stainless style.

it's a collaboration between gruff rhys of super furry animals - once one of my favorite bands, in whom i have lost a substantial amount of interest (though i'm curious to hear their latest, eventually...the last two albums were pleasant enough but ultimately pretty watered-down, save the transcendent "slow life") - and quasi-hip-hop (right?) producer boom bip, whom i've liked scattered tracks by, but never really delved into. it's something of a surprise, and total treat.

a surprise because i wouldn't have expected a full-length collaboration from these two, i wouldn't have expected it to sound like this (gleaming neo-80s electronic disco-pop, with occasional sleaze-rap interjections), and i wouldn't have expected to be this into it. on the other hand, it's not so surprising that it's pretty great. the leftfield nature of the duo had me fearing a strained, pointedly eclectic mish-mash of a collabo record by a self-consciously oddball pairing, plus novelty rap guests (like gorillaz but with a less-infallible britpop-ringleader, or - worse - the rudderless gnarls barkley), but this is pretty straight up: a synth-pop record made by a dependably tuneful '60s-loving indie pop songwriter and an accomplished, musically savvy electronic producer, which sounds more like the postal service (a good thing.) (although stainless style doesn't, really - it's much richer-sounding, dancier, sillier and more poignant at the same time. if anything, a lot of it recalls some of the more inventive tracks from the great rings around the world, a path not taken by SFA in 2000s.)

the album's wikipedia article explains a lot: it's an intentional break from the artists' previous work, and its channeling of the 1980s on multiple levels, which is much deeper and more integral to the proceedings than your average '00s '80s throwback, is very deliberate and was carefully developed from a production standpoint and otherwise. it's also a concept album, about "playboy engineer" and '80s archetype john delorean, though that's loose enough notto get in the way of the songs. but it's also just a really fun, upbeat, and paradoxically modern-sounding (see!) pop record.

the biggest standouts (for me, so far) are "raquel" (a funky, melodic ode to ms. welch, whom i'll always associate with the rather perverted, sex-obsessed forrest gump - the book, not the movie - whose melodic hook bears some similarity to lennon's "oh yoko"), the slightly dark, twitchy italo-style duet "i lust u," and "belfast," an epic-sounding new wave disco jam (which, in keeping with the album concept, is probably not really an ode to the city per se, though it is addressed to it - i was trying to make a list: mirah's "jerusalem," lcd's "new york i love you," the pogues' "london you're a lady." of montreal's "little rock.") but it's really pretty consistent in quality, with a handful of other songs that could work equally well as singles. even the three or four rap tracks, featuring the jokey likes of spank rock, yo majesty, har mar superstar, and fatlip, aren't as obnoxious as they seem like they should be. superficial on the surface but deeper underneath, this could easily make my top ten for the year.

3.) i got the new cut copy record, on semi-impulse.

my first listen was through headphones, walking to the subway for a gig, as the sun was setting on one of the first gloriously summery april days, and not surprisingly i was mesmerized and swooning. "instant album of the year (?) (!)" i thought, as the caribou-style psychedelic swirls of "feel the love" gave way to crystal-clear indie-pop acoustic strums, bouncing italo synths, an immediately hummable melody, vocoded background vocals, and a laid-back but distinctly dancy electro-organic groove, all in the same song... i also thought, how the hell does he have all of this stuff going on without this sounding like a total mess? and: can the rest of the album possibly keep delivering the goods at this level?

yes, as it turns out, the whole album is pretty damn seamless, and indeed remarkably consistent in both quality and quality, er i mean in terms of both sonics and goodness. and it remains a befuddling mystery of alchemy. it's hazy but it's bright. it's languid, but it's propulsive. it's indie pop/rock, but it's electronic/dance. it's unabashedly derivative, but it's uncannily fresh. it sounds like the '60s and the '80s, and, okay, it really sounds like the '00s. it sounds like new order, but i like it.

a lot. or maybe i just like it pretty well. i'm still having a hard time figuring that part out, because i could see myself going either way - continuing to listen and finding more to enjoy and bring me back, or setting it aside as a pleasurable trifle with diminishing returns. in some ways it is a very surfacey record; sounding great, nay awesome, and with some solid hooks to be sure ("far away," and the singles "lights and music" and "hearts on fire" - that's as far as i've got), but possibly somewhat lacking in truly durable songwriting, and also somewhat formulaic. of course, a good formula is worth milking, and i've definitely got nothing against surface pleasures. so we shall see.

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