Thursday, October 13, 2011

Black Soul and I Wayne

I reviewed Madlib's Medicine Show #10: Black Soul this week at RapReviews. An 80 minute disco mix. Good stuff.

I also reviewed I Wayne's new album Life Teachings, a solid reggae album.

Yesterday I went to the opening of Richard Serra's drawing retrospective at the SF Moma. I had seen the same show at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (my sister in law curated the show), but it is even better at the Moma. The pieces are better placed, there is more light, and they've included some of his sculptures. It is very sparse, minimal stuff, but interesting. I particularly like the piece below. Sort of punk rock.


Tenement, Napalm Dreams

Appleton, Wisconsin band Tenement are unapologetically anachronistic. In interviews, singer/guitarist Amos Pitsch admits that he doesn’t have Internet access, and is more likely to listen to music on cassette than MP3. The cover art of their album recalls the collages that Winston Smith used to make for the Dead Kennedys, right down to the ironic use of images of happy 1950s families. The music is vintage 1991: chunky guitars, punk distortion hiding 70s-influenced pop, and ironic, sarcastic lyrics.
The album opens with a squeal of feedback before the sloppy, distorted chords of “Stupid Werld” begin. The drummer pounds his set like Dave Grohl, the bass emits a sinister rumble, and Pitsch's strained vocals are somewhere between singing and yelling. Beneath all of the noise lie strong hooks and strong songwriting. Like Superchunk, Tenement write pop songs disguised as punk songs.

The drunken swagger of the vocals disguise an unexpected sensitivity in the lyrics. A lot of the songs deal with love in an oblique way. On “Dreaming Out Loud,” Pitsch sings “I’m retracing all my steps/ Falling in love again/ Break my knuckles open/Glue them back in place.” There are also several references to broken homes, like “Father pissing on the Christmas tree,” in “Spitting in the Wind.” There’s a more damning line in “Earwig,” where Pitsch sings “Two parents who didn’t care/ And a life they could never live/ Even if they would have dared/ ’Cause nothing ever works out.”

Listening to this album gave me the same feeling I got watching Superchunk play last year: rather than dated, the songs seemed timeless, and proved that the decades-old formula still had value and relevance. Alt-rock’s good name was besmirched by the legions of half-assed copycat bands that followed in Nirvana’s wake. Bad rock with distorted guitars is still bad rock, and there were hundreds of forgettable albums released by labels hoping to cash in on the success of Nevermind. Napalm Dream points to an alternate universe, where bands keep true to sound and ethos of bands like Husker Dü and the Replacements, rather than going the way of Nickelback. It doesn’t break any new ground, but it does prove that punk pop has legs.

Article first published as Album Review: Tenement - Napalm Dream on Blogcritics.

Veronica Falls

Veronica Falls:

I’m a cynical person by nature, so most happy music makes me skeptical. How can you possibly sing about everything being all sunshine and rainbows when there is so much trouble and strife in the world? By the same token, the older I get, the less interested I am in listening to music that simply wallows in misery. It seems like a waste to spend so much time on feeling bad. Veronica Falls ride the line between optimism and pessimism, making happy music with heavy hearts.

Veronica Falls are a co-ed foursome from Glasgow via London. The band consists of singers/guitarists Roxanne Clifford and James Hoare, bassist Marion Herbain, and drummer Patrick Doyle. Their self-titled debut collects several of the well-received singles they’ve released since forming in 2009, as well as new material.

The band mixes punk chords, sixties pop, and dark lyrics into a concoction that is gloomy and peppy at the same time. Album opener “Found Love In A Graveyard” is a nice summary of their sound. Elements of surf rock, garage rock, and Elizabethan folk songs combine into a melancholy jangle, the morbid lyrics contrasting with the gorgeous male and female vocals. “I’m broken-hearted/ Dearly departed,” they sing, mourning a lost love.

On songs like “Right Side of the Brain,” they recall Tiger Trap’s masterful take on feminine pop punk, but there is little twee about Veronica Falls. The competing male/female vocals are reminiscent of the Mamas and the Papas, although Roxanne Clifford sounds more like Lush’s Miki Berenyi than Michelle Phillips.

Despite the depressing nature of most of their lyrics, there is more joy than ennui in Veronica Falls' music. They capture the delicious pain of young love. On the upbeat “Misery,” they sing “misery’s got a hold on me,” as if it were the best thing in the world. These juxtapositions between optimism and sadness, between punk and pop, and between male and female vocals are what make Veronica Falls such a strong act. From the surf punk of “Beach Head” to the pop shimmer of “The Box,” Veronica Falls is a wonderful bummer, guaranteed to make your worst moments bearable.

Article first published as Music Review: Veronica Falls - Veronica Falls on Blogcritics.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Cymarshall Law and Ragga Reviews

I reviewed Cymarshall Law's Hip Hop In the Soul II last week for Rapreviews

And the Biggest Ragga Dancehall comp.

But mostly what I've been listening to is mellow ambient and classical music. Part of being stressed out. Maybe the change of seasons. Including Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, which has some very mellow moments balanced with some really disturbing ones.


This all got started because I am working on a review for Scott Solter's One River, an ambient album from a few years ago that is getting a rerelease. It came at a time when I was super stressed out with work and school, and it was the perfect music to get my mellow on.

Which led me to Hauschka, a German composer who makes interesting stuff. I downloaded two albums by him, one called Snowflakes and Carwrecks that is mostly piano, and one called Foreign Landscapes that incorporates some cello.

Another similar artist I stumbled upon is Max Richter, who makes similar music. He has several interesting albums that I want to check out.

I don't know if I'm at the point in my life where all I want to listen to is avant-garde classical and ambient music, but it is nice to explore music that I am relatively unfamiliar with, and that is totally different to the stuff I normally listen to. Plus, it fits with the colder, darker days.

Finally, a ridiculous videos for one of my favorite songs ever, if only for the line "You're wack, you're twisted, your girl's a ho, tha kid ain't yours an' errybody know!"

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