06 May 2010

tracks of my ears

some more of my favorite 2010 musics, as featured in the occasional citypaper tidbit "one track mind," which is not too bad a pun. including my holy trinity -of-the-year (-so-far): j. newsom, v. weekend, h. chip, [l. system are angling for that coveted tier too, but it's not happening, not quite yet], none of which i have written about in album-review format, so i slip a bit of that in too, not all of which made the print edition. meanwhile i've softened (just a bit) on jj's new album since i reviewed it for amg, but that's probably because i haven't been listening to Nº 2 very much:

JJ, “My Life”

It’s hardly the most representative moment on JJ Nº 3 – the downshifted but still worthy sophomore outing (Nº 1 was a single, cotton on?) from these often sophomorically inscrutable Swedes – but there’s something hauntingly resonant about this cover (of a 2008 single by The Game) that makes it more than just a jokey album-opening WTF keeping us from the typically blissy electronic indie-pop that rounds out the disc. Continuing with their well-established Lil’ Wayne fascination (exhibit A: the “Lollipop”-sampling Nº 2 standout “Ecstasy”), JJ strip Weezy’s auto-tuned chorus down to nothing but sparse, brooding piano and Elin Kastlander’s laconic, heavily reverbed dream of an alto, zeroing in on the bluesy pathos at its death-obsessed core – and it’s startlingly, legitimately chilling. Of course, in the track’s final seconds, they just had to throw in a tease of ATC’s c. 2000 bubble-house hit “Around the World (La La La La La)” (which happens to have the same chord progression), and trick us into thinking it was an impishly ironic bastard-pop gag all along. Spoilsports.

Joanna Newsom, "On A Good Day"

Have One on Me, Joanna Newsom's tremendous third, is unambiguously big business: a lavish triple-set brimming with multi-minute epics; a breathtaking and idiosyncratic monument to her ever-mounting ambition. But it's also big-hearted and bountiful enough to be more than a simple extension of (its predecessor) Ys' fancifully lofty, esoteric myth-making – it glances back at least as frequently to the humbler, human scale and (relative) simplicity Newsom first wooed us with on The Milk-Eyed Mender. "On A Good Day," just shy of two minutes, is the shortest song in her catalog and easily the simplest thing here (just that inimitable voice – which has matured and mellowed marvelously in three years – and her utterly glorious harp playing) but none of that makes it any slighter a work than, say, the daunting nine-minute "Baby Birch." In four brief stanzas, sharing a single, unspeakably sweet melody, Newsom nimbly but lucidly sketches the emotional arc of her whole two-hour opus – essentially, a tender resignation to love's loss coupled with a recognition of its ultimate perseverance – complete with a characteristically striking nature metaphor and an ever-so-subtly snide sign-off line. Oh Jo, we missed you so.

Vampire Weekend, "I Think Ur A Contra"

One of the surest clues to Vampire Weekend's staying power, to my mind, is that they really know how to end an album. Much as the elegantly restrained "Kids Don't Stand a Chance" wound down their debut on its most invitingly leisurely (and arguably most tuneful) moment, Contra's semi-titular closer wafts in like the gentlest of breezes, a seductively soothing respite after nine frolicsome tracks of restlessly inventive kitchen-sink pep. For the first time in half an hour, "Contra" (which they should totally release as, like, the seventh single) feels in no hurry to get anywhere in particular, letting that initial cotton-candy shimmer linger as a wispy tropical lilt emerges gradually through the haze. Meanwhile, our boy Ezra sets his memory and his melody adrift over a bygone love affair, linking romance and revolution (with a vague Clash nod) in one of his more lucid lyrics, sung as pretty as you please.

funny story: none of the three songs above were actually performed in the concerts by the respective artists which these blurbs were ostensibly promoting. not too big a surprise in the case of jj, who were possibly even more befuddling in person than i would have predicted (though i should have thought more about what their bosses the tough alliance were like live.)

joanna only had time for a "reduced version" of her album – though the setlists of her two-day stand could definitely have included more variety – but surely she could have squeezed this one in? not that i minded hearing most of the set again the second day...would happily have continued for many days more.

as for the v-dubs, kind of amazingly, they played every single song on both albums (plus one obscurity) except for the respective last track on each album. of course, the hot chippy chippers broke the spell...damn straight they played "brothers." and with a trumpet too! other than that, total dance party!

Hot Chip, "Brothers"

Hot Chip's glorious new album is full of unassumingly simple, earnest, starry-eyed songs about the primacy and profundity of love and human connection; songs about monogamous commitment and domestic contentment and taking care of stray cats. It's a total sudser, in the best possible way. But the part that really makes me well up, every time, is when Joe Goddard sings about playing video games with his friends. Despite its thumping synth-house underpinnings, "Brothers" has the austerity and hushed intimacy of a hymn. Melody-wise (and especially harmonically), the song could hardly be more trivial, but that just makes its statement of wild, death-defying brotherly love (likely written about his bandmates – even if there are five of them, not, as he sings, four – but instantly, obviously, universal regardless) ring all the more sweetly, heartbreakingly true.

saw these guys last night, alongside true o.n.e.-track o.n.e.ders yeasayer. my concert-going buddy complained that she couldn't tell from reading this whether or not i like the song. that's a good point: that isn't really what i'm talking about here, is it.

Sleigh Bells, "A/B Machines"

Talk about boom boom pow. This week's Rolling Stone features Will.i.am blathering about the hidden avant-garde qualities of his group's world-conquering one-note-wonder: "Fool, it's the most complex s--t you could even fathom." I doubt you'd catch Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells – one former hardcore punker, one erstwhile girl-group pop tart – claiming anything of the sort about their own equally giddy, bombastic racket, which is just as pea-brained, if a good deal more black-eyed. Beyond its bruising, preposterous levels of overdrive, "A/B Machines" actually has three notes (at least some of the time), though it only has one lyric: Alexis Krauss, on that next-level digital spit, explaining the locations of her machines. Actually, it's a bit stupefying to think that there could be any more than one (barely functioning) set of machines involved here. Must be complex.

bonus One Track [exclusive!]:

La Roux, "Bulletproof"

La Roux sure do lead a thrilling, treacherous life. Well, so the titles of their singles would have you believe: the well-coiffed dance-pop duo debuted with "Quicksand" and assailed the UK charts with the ferocious "In For The Kill." Even if it's all metaphorical (yeah, they're pretty much just love songs), there's enough real menace and fierceness in their tracks for the violent conceits to hit home. Nowhere is that more true than on "Bulletproof," their finest achievement and the most urgent, insistent, and utterly invincible sliver of synth-pop from a decade of unabashed retro-wonkery. Call it an '80s-retread if you must; you can’t shoot it down. Ben Langmaid's gritty keyboards pierce like tiny neon shards, and Elly Jackson's spitfire vocal delivery (she of the Tilda Swinton-esque androgyny and opinionated, dubiously-reasoned public statements) offer nothing but glisteningly sharp edges. That is, until the song's gleaming chorus – the sort that's simply one line repeated four times, because that's all it needs to be. "This time I'll be bulletproof," Jackson wails, betraying the slightest hint of vulnerability. More likely, we're the ones who need protection.

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