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  • 12.26.2007: On the Side - Keep it Simple (Year's End)

    Dez 26 2007, 2h53

    I have to admit that I dreaded making this year-end compilation of favourite albums. I lost the spirit for listmania somewhere around October, when I realised that not only was it going to be tough, but in a lot of ways, it was going to mirror a lot of other people's lists. I am never contrary to be contrary, and I especially hate being predictable...even worse, a bore.

    That preamble out of the way, I will serve up this year's list, but since many of you will already be familiar with 95 percent of my choices, I have also included a second list of albums that I love but because they were not given the same amount of play, I could not justifiable make them part of the top ten. I will also give a shout out to my biggest disappointments--scrooge hasn't completely left the building. Let's get to it.

    Top 10 Albums of 2007

    1. Burial - Untrue
    Dubstep masterpiece of melancholy in chains and the rain.
    For a taste, spin: Archangel

    2. Tracey Thorn -Out of the Woods
    A voice that weeps even when it is happy.
    For a taste, spin: Get Around to It

    3. The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
    A beautiful album that didn't kick in till last month--10 months after I got it.
    For a taste, spin: Turn on Me

    4. Feist - The Remainder
    A lo-fi heartbreaker even when she is reciting her times tables. Brilliant.
    For a taste, spin: Limit to Your Love

    5. M.I.A. - Kala
    More of the same, but deeper, wickeder, better. Bird flu, indeed.
    For a taste, spin: Paper Planes

    6. Roisin Murphy - Overpowered
    Everyone agrees she is the smartest pop/dance singer around. Who else can make swaying to a global warming warning sexy?
    For a taste, spin: Tell Everybody

    7. Bat for Lashes - Fur and Gold
    An accessible fantasticist with the chops to make you believe.
    For a taste, spin: Trophy

    8. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
    James Murphy rocks so hard, so well, you have to be insane not to like this.
    For a taste, spin: North American Scum

    9. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
    I still remember the first time I heard this album. Dark, layered, poignant.
    For a taste, spin: My Body is a Cage

    10. Basia Bulat - Oh, My Darling
    This album booted the Innocence Mission out of the top ten. Bulat is an amazing, tuneful songwriter, who makes well-crafted music that never bores and is infinitely revealing. Gorgeous.
    For a taste, spin: Snakes and Ladders

    The "OMG, This is Really, Really Good" List
    Most of the selections below I got rather late in the year, and they recently have supplanted even many of the albums in my top ten.

    1. The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Music
    This album rocks balls...seriously. And, as a concept album, it rocks even harder. According to the band it tells "the story of a young couple who must flee a United States governed by fascist faux-Christians." Now that got my attention.
    For a taste, spin: Returning to the Fold

    2. Against Me! - New Wave
    My friend IM'ed me one day and said, "Do you know this band Against Me?" The next day I downloaded their album...and was stunned. At 36 minutes long it is perfect. Lead singer Tom Gabel wails, sings, calls, begs. He is as emotional as his punk rock.
    For a taste, spin: Thrash Unreal

    3. Club 8 - The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Dreaming
    This is just lovely, all around, lovely. Like Belle and Sebastian with a siren for
    a singer. Memorable, yearning pop.
    For a taste, spin: Whatever You Want

    4. New Buffalo - Somewhere, Anywhere
    She has written several songs for Feist. She is just as good and quirky.
    She deserves your time.
    For a taste, spin: Cheer Me Up Thank You

    5. Nicole Atkins - Neptune City
    She is from New Jersey. She sounds like Patsy Cline without the despair
    and desperation. She sings about Brooklyn. I love her. She pops.
    For a taste, spin: Brooklyn's On Fire

    6. Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog
    What I knew of this man was not that intriguing. Then I heard this great
    album, with its swelling cords, gothic imagery, and intricate story telling.
    Beautiful.
    For a taste, spin: Boy with a Coin


    The "WTF" List
    Yes, my disappointment with the following can be summed up with the question:
    What the fuck?

    1. Bjork - Volta
    What I said earlier this year:
    She looks trapped in a bloated coke bottle that has been dipped in a kid’s paint kit...there is something curiously flat about Volta…dare I say, annoying. I’ve never found her pretentious, but then I’ve always been hopelessly devoted. Age has done a number on my ears and sensibilities, and so, when my beloved purposely stammers through “Dull Flame of Desire” with the ubiquitous Antony Hegarty (Antony and the Johnsons), my eyes literally glazed over as the two of them took seven minutes and 30 seconds to completely bore the shit out of me. This happens again on “Pneumonia”, her voice unable to win me over as that bloody foghorn and splatters of rain drive me to near lazy insanity. And while “Declare Independence” livens things up with fuzzy guitars and needling static, the message is almost too overstated and so un-Bjork like, that I couldn’t help but think of Nine Inch Nails. I still love Bjork, but I don’t love Volta. I hope to eat crow on this, but I doubt it will come to all of that. Yes, still no crow pie for me.

    2. Interpol - Our Love to Admire
    I actually squeezed out a near favourable review of this album when it first appeared, but repeat listens have not been kind to me or this album. It sounds full, but like cotton candy, it is all fluff and air. They are singing and playing, but I can't seem to remember one single song...ever. I miss the old Interpol.

    3. Annie Lennox - Songs of Mass Destruction
    I loved her heartbreaking album, Bare. Hell I even still love the Eurthymics. But this album was painfully awful. Lennox reverted to overblown 80s production and sappy lyrics that involve cheesy exhortations of women's lib. I rolled my eyes so hard throughout the few listens I managed, I thought I would go blind. Stay clear.

    4. Justice - †
    I just don't get it.

    Happy New Year everybody!
  • 11.11.2007: On the Side - Wild Seeds

    Nov 12 2007, 23h18

    In her Patternists series of books, science fiction novelist Octavia Butler delivers a world ruled by shape shifters and living ghosts.



    But as with all things brilliantly Butler, it is more complicated than that--the beings (not quite human, but grounded in earthly desires) fight convention even as they seek acceptance among others of their own powerful kind, as well as from those who have no interest in understanding them (read: scared to death of the unknown). They are mad geniuses, whose own intelligence often turns their good intentions inside out, creating havoc where peace is genuinely sought.

    In the month that has stretched between OTS posts, I have encountered a high quotient of wild seeds. Artist Kara Walker has taken over New York’s Whitney Museum with her towering, startling show, My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, that harshly dissects the twin horrors of American slavery and racism via the newly revived medium, silhouettes; sexualized slave, master, and child are presented in too familiar caricatures of both blacks and whites.



    After reading several magazine profiles of Walker, I believe she is a deeply conflicted woman, whose otherworldliness lies in her willingness to openly discuss her own uncertainty with race and history, especially when it comes to her personal life: Walker is black, and is currently divorcing her white husband. Here work should be seen for the gut punch it lands to your political sensibilities.

    Saul Williams also takes on racism through the utterance of the “N word” on his new album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust, which was produced by NIN's Trent Reznor. Marrying rock and hip hop is nothing new, and Williams has been doing it for years. While I still heavily favor his last, self-titled album, NiggyTardust has moments of profound madness and eloquence.



    The title track has a running pulse that is sawed with a squiggly effect that could be an augmented fart. The chorus comes in on a tub of spaced out bass and a call and response so hilarious and heartbreaking, you will play it again to chose which emotion you want to take on. It is Prince, David Bowie, and Andre 3000 all rolled into one. Williams is too intelligent to be polarizing, and it becomes clear that the message here is not whether one should utter the word, be punished for using it, or even if its ownership is a certainty. Unfortunately, Reznor’s hand is too heavy on some of the tracks, and his signature aluminum wall of sound is fatiguing and, dare I say it, boring at times (DNA and WTF). NiggyTardust works best when Williams and the music are given room to breathe and spread out, as on the wonderful “Scared Money”, which channels Fela Kuti and Tupac with its thug poets storyline and African rumble beat. In fact, Reznor seems to take a leave of absence on the second half of the album, and that is where most of the best tracks percolate. A three-star effort from a five-star poet. Try it.

    Anyone who knows me, knows of my love for Burial, the elusive South London dubstep artist that has been blowing minds and swelling hearts since his self-titled debut two years ago. Like Banksy, he has rarely been photographed and only a handful of people know he is Burial, which in and of itself has added to the frothing allure. His second album, Untrue, solidifies the legend and legitimizes the obsession that grips his many fans. Like its predecessor, Untrue is soaked in 2 AM static, and the smudging of distant voices that drift above, below, and behind rattling keys, the insertion of gun clips, snatches of overheard tunes, and the gloomy aura of a slow drizzle.



    Many critics have noted that while the first album lingered in the dark recesses of this near fantastical late night after-party vision, Untrue is crisscrossed with shafts of light thanks to the voices littering most of the tracks. While I agree with this, the menace still lives very close to the surface. “Archangel” the most loved track on the album, starts with a gutteral bass, vinyl-popping static, and a soul singer literally wailing about a love that might or might not be around for too long. Loneliness and desperation is conveyed in Burial’s expert manipulation of that voice: he makes it tremble, crack, and beg, “tell me I belong.” On “Near Dark”, the narrator can’t take his eyes off a girl, but at the same time he envies his object of desire; the contradictory sentiments are raked through thick, entangled chains, drowned in a bottomless, excited bass, and smeared across the entire track thanks to a vocoder; it is the messiness of obsession personified. “Etched Headplate” begins with a wonderful familial speech about a possibly wayward relative, and segues into a lovely chorus of hums and unintelligible vocalizing that is both warm and catchy. It is this ability to marry emotion to a genre that is concerned more with dancing that has brought Burial so much well deserved recognition. His work might not be for everyone, but for those that get it, it is addictive, memorable, and endearing.

    The first time I really decided to pay attention to Roisin Murphy, I was living with a depressed guy and his equally depressed, but adorable dog in Brixton. I was having one of those mind-numbing afternoons where I was thinking entirely too much about the circumstances I’d found myself in: living with said flatmate, a partner who was going all wonky on me, and a job which gave the illusion of bohemian freedom without the joy of certainty. I was on a deep red couch, flipping through the channels, and suddenly there was Roisin, her ginger hair aflame, her limbs robotically wreathing, and her cooing, “if we’re in love, we should make love”. The 80s sax line, the muted Arrested Development yelps, and her sweet voice made me giggle. The next day I went to HMV and bought Ruby Blue, her debut, solo album after years of jobbing with Moloko. It seems that only me and a handful of other people bothered to take her seriously, which I find maddening because Murphy is one of the smartest pop singers putting out albums today.



    On her second offering, Overpowered, she raises the bar on lyricism by being purposely literary and literal. References to primordial soup (“Primitive”), complicatedly spelled sex hormones (“Overpowered”), global warming (“Dear Miami”), and stalking (“Checkin’ On Me”) are wrapped in fabulous disco grooves and 80s reminiscing that adds sugar to the medicine. But most intriguing is Murphy’s voice which can go from solid to soaring in a half note, as she does on the stout, “Tell Everybody”--a track that vaguely evokes Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” with its gospel marching woos--and on the title track, which sits her voice on several different aural planes throughout.

    Like my epiphany on that red couch in Brixton, Magnet’s third album, The Simple Life attacked my synapses when I was thinking about something potentially devastating. This time, I was walking along Broadway in Manhattan. It was dark and brisk, and the funk I was in was most likely written all over my face (the tourists gave me a wide berth). To avoid listening to my own heady whingeing, I popped in my earphones and blam, Magnet’s “The Gospel Song” cheerful clapped its way through my brain…for a breakup song, it was so fucking happy and in line with how I wanted to feel that I actually managed to crack a smile.



    This brightness is maintained throughout the entire album, which in true Magnet fashion is laden with strings, flutes, cellos, and majestic drums, coyly played piano, whistles, and his immaculate, woozy vocals. The reggae-fied “She’s Gone”, about being left by his girlfriend, is a musical oxymoron, as the depressing subject matter is subverted by the skanking guitars, the whimsical whistling, and the near nursery rhyme chorus, which begins, “Oh mockingbird, have you ever heard …” This is something of a forte for Magnet, nee Even Johansen of Norway, who like many of his fellow Scandinavian musicians, always seem to find the sunlight in the darkest of places. His silver linings vibrate magnificently.

    Reading Material:
    Due to the thanksgiving holiday coming up, we are holding the second book club meeting a little later than usual. I’ve got through three quarters of “The Brief Wondrous Life…”, and I highly recommend it to all of you. Juno Diaz is a fantastic storyteller who moves effortlessly between voices and time. His deceptively simple delivery belies a textured, sorrowful world. Seek this and his first novel, Drown, out.

    For the next meeting we will discuss:

    The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  • 10.11.2007: On the Side - Come Charm Me Unconscious

    Out 11 2007, 23h14




    It is already time for burnt orange leaves, scarves, denim jackets, and hot green tea lattes from…yes, damn it, Starbucks. I’m a convert. It is only one of my newest addictions, along with resting (having suffered with exhaustion this past week in a big, scary way), not talking too much, and generally reacquainting myself with myself.

    It is so easy to forget to take care -- physically, mentally, and as much as I try to disavow enigmas (solving them and being one), spiritually. As I took time out this week to just lay my head down and forgive myself for not listening to what my poor body had been screaming about for the last month, I reveled in the beauty of not doing a damn thing. My pillows felt like cozy burrows against my tired face, my bed like a vast, soft island from which I was not required to leave on the blaring of an alarm. The 8.40 a.m. bus zooming by without me on it was a particularly wonderful sound coming up from the otherwise quiet street.

    As I was running myself ragged with stress about work, about my writing, about my friends, about big and small traumas and dramas, I somehow managed to listen to music--the one narcotic that doesn’t seem to wear off the more you use it. In between the fires and flame outs, I found contentment in old favorites.

    Irish folksters The Prayer Boat, for example, was unearthed from my book of CDs one dreary Sunday a few weeks ago. An Irish pal and I conducted a kind of online breakfast/lunch meeting on the beauty and merit of this criminally underrated band, whose gorgeous songs have been egregiously ignored here on last.fm. If you aren’t seduced by “Dark Green”, you haven’t got a heart. I won’t babble on about it. Hear it for yourself here. Then buy their album, Polichinelle.

    I rocked the mess out of Kate Bush’s song, “Running Up That Hill” too. Thanks to television station, PBS’ constant play of Placebo’s heart-thumpingly as good version for Ken Burns’ documentary The War, I finally really listened to and understood what Kate was singing: If only God could swap our places, then you and I might understand what all this love business, this hurting business is all about. If only.

    In fact, listening has become a bit of a theme in my life lately; not only to music, but also to what people are saying--to me, to the world. Occasionally there are nuggets of truth buried in the verbiage. As a writer, I am charmed to near unconsciousness, as Rebecka Tornqvist said, by words that are elegantly sat next to each other. Add a nice voice and I’m sunk. Of course, this has come back to haunt me on more than one occasion, but perhaps I enjoy the seduction.

    One recent album that I am all ears and heart for is M.I.A.’s Kala. I admit though, I wasn’t immediately in love. My first experience of M.I.A. was in London a couple of years ago. The city was actually having a real summer for a change, and I couldn’t have asked for a better set of songs to accompany me on the tube and double decker bus rides after the 7/7 attacks than those on Arular. Well into the lukewarm fall, I found joy in the deep basin of beats, the quirky, obscure samples, and simple, telling lines like, “He got Colgate on his teeth, and Reeboks Classics on his feet” (“Sunshowers”).

    Kala is more of the same, but different. The beats are more belligerently poppy here--most memorably on “Paper Planes” where gun claps brazenly fill in for lyrics to powerful effect. M.I.A.’s rapping style remains stubbornly rudimentary, but is even more nuanced and at times, impossibly clever (“Birdflu”); the messages, political and personal, follow the same trajectory as on Arular--third world and immigrant woes (the jungle squall and rumble of “Hussel” and the druggy pulse of the Pixie-sampled “20 Dollar”), boys who only ignore as on the Bollywood madness that is “Jimmy”, and odes to her own talents behind the boards and mike (“Bamboo Banga” “Birdflu”). M.I.A., who in a recent Pitchforkmedia interview went off about not being taken seriously, is irresistible, even when all she is doing is taking somebody else’s track (“Mango Pickle Down River (With The Wilcannia Mob)” and adding her London-Asian accent; she makes anything in her immediate grasp her own, including her clothes. Genius this mad can’t be denied and Kala makes that perfectly clear.

    As Amy Winehouse continues to break my heart into the tiniest possible pieces, her backing band, The Dap-Kings, have come back to Brooklyn to help their sober, hugely talented mate, Sharon Jones, get on the map with a sound she has been rocking for more than 20 years. A former corrections officer, Jones has got the “tough girl, tender heart” thing down. Her voice, like any female soul slinger (but mostly Mavis Staples) to come out of Motown or Stax, can soar and go low within seconds, while sitting beautifully atop the swinging soul of saxophones, horns, and rim shots. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings’s new album 100 Days, 100 Nights is unapologetically, purposely old school. If you are over 50 and feeling nostalgic this does the trick. But because of my music-loving parents, I grew up on this stuff and I find it unfortunate that the band doesn’t try to inject something fresh into the mix. I’m not asking for a rap interlude by Lil Wayne (hell no!), but for all the lovely throwback phrasing on 100 Days, it feels like a dusty antique, and my heart just couldn’t get into it. Something is missing. That said, there are some wonderful moments on the record. The title track and album opener is an energetic skank of wooos and horns as Jones outlines the length of time to know a man’s heart, while “Let Them Knock” is truly baby making music with scatting trumpets and a slinky bass. The rest is pleasant enough.

    On a singles note, Alicia Keys just dropped the hottest prelude to an R&B album that I have heard in ten years. Sometimes it is about time and space, and I am ready to hear someone sing soulfully, dramatically, from the heart, about something other than fucking--and I do mean to convey the harshness of that word, because it seems that is all R&B is about right now. I have always liked Alicia Keys, mostly because her talent is so apparent and it is often used to its fullest. On her new single, “No One” she kills the mike, the piano, the hook. I heard this song last weekend for the first time while riding in a car with one of my good friends who was going all out to cheer me up. In true urban fashion, she had the windows rolled down to take in the balmy night and the volume was less than respectable for the lateness of the hour. When Keys’ raspy but soaring voice lambasted the underlying bass and the tickling piano line, I nearly came out of my seat belt. Jesus, it is a really gorgeous song. if you have to buy a song from iTunes, let it be this one. I don’t care if you don’t like R&B, this stomper defies genres.

    Reading Material:
    The first meeting of my little book club went very well. Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero was a treasure trove of double entendres, lives incomplete, and of course, love reshaped, escaped, and captured. A poetic, constantly revealing read. Highly recommended.

    For the next meeting we will discuss:

    The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

    In the meantime, I am also reading:

    The Archivist
  • A Thought: Love + Affection

    Set 4 2007, 20h27

    I was on yet another plane this morning, feeling a little down as it took off for the mid-west. Another conference, another week of my life to be spent chattering with folks whose bottomline is to pretend they aren’t talking about making more money; another plane ride taken after immediately losing someone I adore on the battlefield of unwieldy compromises.

    If we are all here on last.fm then we are passionate about music. But how many of us really listen to the words? Feel the words? Live the words?

    From my window seat, as I stared over the crazy quilt of farms, power stations, and miniscule cities, I thought about how fantastic it would be if I could feel, in that very moment, what Keren Ann sings about on her tune Lay Your Head Down. Or what Joan Armatrading wistfully wishes for on Love And Affection. Take all of the heady stuff away, and what you are left with is a desire to feel what the cleft of a new love’s arm feels like.

    In the run up to love, we create walls because sometimes we can’t stand the beauty of what is before us; we are afraid to touch, because sometimes, in our fingertips, in the crevices of our lips, lie more emotion, more words, than we will ever be able to actually express….and often we turn to songs to say it for us.

    Sometimes all we need is affection so that we may lay the burden down and really hear the music.
  • 08.10.2007: On the Side - Heaven is a Feeling

    Ago 11 2007, 1h54

    I like the word stunning quite a bit. It expresses profound beauty and jaw-dropping wonder.



    My eight-day holiday in Aruba a week ago was stunning…and very, very necessary. Because I didn’t stay in a hotel, but with a friend and her very generous father, I was treated to the sort of visual and emotional heart-warming experience that I would not have had, had I stayed at one of the island’s rather over-the-top beachfront hotels. Between the submarine ride, sunset sailboat ride, daily swims in crystal blue waters, and nibbles of smoked eel, plantains and tall 2 p.m. gin and tonics, I was able to relax and appreciate nature’s beauty as well as shed all that has been annoying, plaguing, bothering me back here in New York. I refused to play my own tunes on the island, opting to listen to my host’s extensive collection of salsa records on a vintage record player.

    Heaven is, without a doubt, a feeling.

    All of this relaxation, though now in the past, is still with me. And I brought that laidback, open-minded disposition to my recent listening sessions. It is entrancing to listen to music when all of your limbs feel like melted butter.

    Before hopping the plane down to paradise, I’d got my hands on quite a few wonderful recently issued albums, and refused to play them until my return. Sweet torture to say the least.

    Among these acquisitions is the “stunning” Bat for Lashes album, Fur for Gold. I had no idea until recently that this one-woman (with help) musical tour de force was nominated for a Mercury Prize…and how well deserving she would be to win, even though my hot-mess of a favorite singer, Amy Winehouse, is also in the running. Opening with the harpiscord-tickling march “Horse and I”, Natasha Khan wastes no time unleashing her inner Bjork. It took me utterly by surprise and my stomach flopped: I’d heard something new that instantly moved me. Khan had me and the proceeding 12 tracks tightened the rope. “Trophy”, a handclapping lament to return her man to her arms (and lyrical provider of this month’s OTS title), howls with longing thanks to a well-shaken tambourine and a thumping drum line. The brilliance remains consistent throughout with the 60s shimmer of “What’s a Girl to Do”, and the wicked thwack and chest punch of “Prescilla” serving as memorable highlights. A vertible masterpiece of aural genius, I insist that anyone reading this buy the album immediately.

    I love Common’s sharp cheekbones (especially when he smiles) as much as I love his albums. Here is a hip-hop artist that has always defied convention by unapologetically being himself, even when everyone else questioned his sanity and talent (see Electric Circus). His last album, Be caused a ruckus and landed him a Gap commercial, as well as made me love him all over again. Finding Forever, his latest effort, stays in the neo-soul, sometimes sentimental mood of Be, and the jury is divided on whether this continuum is a good thing. Personally, I’m glad he didn’t become an egotistical idiot. That said, the new tracks are classic Common (post Like Water for Chocolate) from the scratchy, boxer-like reminiscing of lead single “The Game” to the catchy bounce of the Lily Allen-blessed “Drivin’ Me Wild”. On the rippling soul track, “So Far to Go,” Common yet again exposes his soft side as D’Angelo (where the hell has he been?) lays down some angelic falsetto murmuring, while Nina Simone’s aching vocals are integrated into “Misunderstood” (also the title of the sampled song)--a swaggering, thoughtful rumination on a fallen girl--rendering a pretty clichéd scenario heartbreaking. Yeah, the album is brilliant. Give him a proper Grammy already.

    One of my work colleagues, JB, walked into our office some months ago and instead of saying hello she said, “Have you heard of St. Vincent?” Uhm, no. At least not at that time. JB kept me so well informed about this singer that when the album, Marry Me appeared on eMusic I am sure I was the first person to download it. Amid the humor (“Jesus Saves, I Spend” “Marry Me”) is a beauty (“We Put a Pearl in the Ground” “Landmines”) that is almost indescribable. The baroque violence of “Paris is Burning” is arresting with its army drums and puppet prance as St. Vincent’s supple, soaring vocals recount a city losing its innocence. A sparkling piano tinges the heavenly choral backing on the dramatic and pretty, “All My Stars Aligned.” And the jovial strut and clap of “Marry Me” blur the line between a joke and all out desperation with its proposal (is this a prostitute wanting to go straight or is this a girl that is truly, madly, deeply ____?). Either way, the song pulls you in and you want her to get her man. St. Vincent is a delightfully quirky, weird singer that is instantly accessible. Highly recommended.

    There has been a lot of chatter in the UK about Kate Nash, whose star has risen so fast I am almost afraid she will burn out too soon. Her debut album, Made of Bricks is frighteningly assured, fun, and a little dark. While Lily Allen--the one most of the lazy press compares her to--sold herself on self-deprecation and jokey social revenge, you worry that Nash might have genuinely had an imaginary friend that was a skeleton (“Skeleton”) or that she personally knew that little awkward, clumsy girl who glued her lips together to not stand out so much (“Mariella”), or that one of Nash's boyfriends was actually that bloody awful (“Dickhead”, “Foundations”). Nash relays all of these funny, scary stories with a sunny, transparent articulation that exposes the dizzying depths underneath. Part of this contradiction is due in part to her excellent voice, which is thick on the London accent, but equally as heavy on emotion and the subtleties that are required to tell both sides of a story. “Dickhead” is a matter of fact folksy number that startles with Nash’s use of shit and fuck as punctuation. It leads into the sweat, purposely meandering “Birds” about two lovers in the honeymoon phase of their relationship. “Foundations” is probably the most orchestrated track on the album and it best illustrates Nash’s ability to mimic two streams of thought in the same song (her dodgy boyfriend and her own exasperation with his shit). If we must compare Nash’s intelligent pop to someone else's work, let's go with Regina Spektor, who has a similar disarming sarcastic, heartfelt wit and the musical chops to make it a genuine affair.

    Quick Hits

    I know nothing about Mint Royale, but I like the band’s schizo way with music--moving from bangra, to reggae, to house, to electronica, to you name it. All of this genre hopping wreaks havoc on cohesion, so their latest album Pop Is… isn’t hitting as hard as I would like. However, the song “Sexiest Man in Jamaica” had me rolling on the floor the first time I heard it and I have become obsessed with it--making it the first song I play whenever I get on my bus to work. Taking a hilarious snippet of a DJ declaring his perpetuity and virility (“Right about now, since they say I am the sexiest man in Jamaica, and the girls love me, I shall never grow old. So I say: rough rider!”), the band lays down a body-shaking club beat to propel the DJ’s supreme confidence into a possible truth. It is completely ridiculous and I still adore it, 20 listens in.

    I am chomping at the bit for Roisin Murphy’s new album. In the meantime I have been killing the single, “Overpowered”, a pulsating disco pop song that shimmers with Murphy’s way above average lyricism. The woman murders it every time and I am proper angry that she isn’t an international star right now.

    Prince Fatty makes laidback, 70s style roots reggae. Just in time for summer (at least here in the US) the band’s sweet vibe made its way on to my ipod and I have been enjoying the single, “Milk and Honey”, which reminds me of Saturday afternoons spent on the floor listening to records with my father when I was growing up in Barbados. Good times.

    I am reading:
    I went and complicated my life by forming a book club. Yeah, nuts. For our first meeting (which will involve lots of wine and Dutch cheese), we will be discussing Michael Ondaatje’s latest novel, Divisadero.



    If you have read it, let me know, but hold the details until after September 21.

    See you next month.
  • 07.10.2007: On the Side - The Sign Said Professionals Wanted

    Jul 10 2007, 20h35

    New York is engulfed in a nasty, sticky, mucky haze--but at least it isn’t raining….yet. If I had three wishes, one would definitely be the banishment of humidity. Still, I revel in the fact that I get to wear flip flops to work and listen to music during the day--something that was advised by higher-up editors years ago to get over the noise of the open plan office. I find it incredible that in some circles I’m still considered a professional. Does that count if you get to wear your trousers rolled up to the calf?

    In any case, on with OTS!

    Now that my sugar rush is subsiding, I’m reevaluating a few albums I picked up a few weeks ago, but didn’t have the patience for at the time--among them The National’s latest, Boxer, which was so dark sounding to my ears that I had to turn it off and, thusly, avoided it as the rest of the world went ape shit for it. I am a fan of Alligator, but sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly cranky, Matt Berninger’s worn-out voice reminds me of that Canadian band that did that “Hmmm Hmmmm” song back in the 90s. Uggh. But overall The National is a great band, and it took being stuck in my flat a couple of days ago for me to get with Boxer. Look, I still don’t know what he is on about half of the time, but I finally heard the melodies on “Ada”, “Squalor Victoria”, and “Start A War”, as I was writing a bunch of overdue emails, and I kept running over to the stereo to find out what song was playing. My favourite track, though, is still opener, “Fake Empire,” which has a catchy thumping drive and an undeniable piano hook. Boxer is a grower for sure.

    Interpol is back! My love of this band is inexplicable, even to myself. All I know is, I get them and those brilliantly buried melodies that pop up after listening to any given track of theirs ten times over. Some people think they are derivative (which is true) and pretentious (which I don’t agree with). They wear ties. They are very New York. They are very professional. OK…so they are a little pretentious, but loveable at the same time. Any way, Our Love to Admire isn’t necessarily completely popping for me right now--but the jangly guitars, the Joy Division vocal earnestness, and the overt misery are still in tact. I do love “No I in Threesome”, which, aside from a brilliant title, has a sweet, crashing bridge, and a needling rain of guitars that mark Interpol at their best. The same can be said of lead single, “Henrich Maneuver,” with its barrage of punchy guitars that call to mind “Slow Hands” from Antics. All of that said, I think Pitchforkmedia’s review of the album today, which stated in part that, “With cleaner production and an arsenal of instruments at their disposal, the group indulges, and the songs often suffer. Tracks like six-minute opener "Pioneer to the Falls" and the limp lowlight "Scale" grate due to overly repetitive song structures that rely too heavily on choppy breakdowns and pointless solos. And the band's previously economical songwriting, built on quick, bursting hooks and seamless transitions, is now grand, stately, and bloated-- more like a depressing U2 than a poppy Joy Division” -- might be a bit harsh. [sigh] Love is blind, ain’t it?

    In the hip-hop world, being “hungry” some times equates with being talented but no one either hears you or gives a shit (this being the backpacker section of the diverse nation we are talking about) -- say hello to tunafish sandwiches and perpetual pissiness over growling beats. Pharoahe Monch had a massive hit some years ago with “Simon Says”, a menacing, addictive track that showcased his immense vocabulary and wit. Unfortunately, though I have this album, I can’t recall one other track on it. Why? Because, a long time ago, I outgrew rappers who always rhymed about how angry they are with people who are ignoring their considerable talents. hmmm, that is dull. On [album]Desire[/album], Pharoahe’s follow up to, uhmm that other album, things are decidedly more memorable. There are the requisite soul samples and intimations (“Push”), the nod to eighties black militancy (“Welcome to the Terrordome”) and throwbacks to the neo-soul era (“Hold On”, which features Erykah Badu). It is all very entertaining, especially for someone my age who remembers the Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, and the vibe Public Enemy brought to rap music. Monche is a fantastic lyricist. It is also helps that he isn’t T.I. (my god!). Anyway, I really like Desire, and if you like underground hip hop, you will too. For a taste, try: So Good, Desire, and the ridiculously catchy “Body Baby” which sounds like Cee-loo Green should be singing the hook.

    Speaking of old school. Tracey Thorn really did take a long time to make that sophomore album, Out of the Woods, didn’t she? I was finally able to find her first album, A Distant Shore, and on first listen, was distracted by the youthfulness of her voice and the "I just learned this" strumming of that guitar. It felt very “Behind the Music” to me. Then I got over the fact that I was seven when she issued this album, and just allowed it to play. The emergence of all we like about Thorn are on display here: her ability to sound like she is weeping (Femme Fatale, Simply Don’t Care); the sweet turn of phrase that is simple yet poignant (“and you think that she’s unkind/ to keep you from her mind / now that you’re in love / you should know what’s she thinking of …, from “Dreaming”); and the utter and complete sincerity in everything she phrases. I love the grown-up Thorn, with all of her mature wit and even stronger vocal abilities, but this brief archive of the twenty-something Thorn has some breath-taking moments, too.


    Nick Lowe is a very clever, older man. I admit freely to knowing zilch about him until a snazzy banner featuring his album popped up on eMusic. I clicked on a couple of sample tracks and was intrigued. The sucker that I am for a good, bitter joke in song, I was instantly attracted to the track, “I Trained Her to Love Me” on his new album, At My Age. I downloaded the whole thing, and am very pleased that I did. I later discovered that he produced many of Elvis Costello’s albums and the light bulb turned on bright. This makes perfect sense now: wit sees wit and acts accordingly. In any case, like Lee Hazlewood, there is a countrification (Long Limbed Girl) happening with these incredibly poppy and soulful songs, with a healthy helping of Burt Bacharach (listen to “Hope For Us All”, “People Change”). At My Age is good in that get a glass of wine, settle in on the couch with a pillow under your head, and your feet up, kind of way. It is engaging, sweet, and at times soothing. A genuinely, pleasurable listening experience.
  • 06.11.2007: On the Side - Pop Whoring

    Jun 12 2007, 0h17

    What a lovely past few weeks--minor, and in retrospect, funny dramas aside. With the coming of the sun and the pleasant warmth, my spirits have been raised and I’ve, to my total lack of shame, become the biggest, most joyful, pop whore in Brooklyn.

    This “turning out” has been in progress for some time, beginning year before last with Mariah Carey’s Mimi album, which was a brilliant soundtrack for that entertaining, and at times most stressful, of English summers. I’ve been putting up a resistance to pop’s attempts at pimpin’ me every since, occasionally letting a song get to me (my god, Amerie’s “1 Thing” was jaw dropping), but protected my self with the cerebral leanings of indie pop for the most part.

    Well no more. I still love the Decemberists, The National, Elf Power, etc., etc, but I will be damned (and a liar) if I didn’t say that for all the lovely melodies and complicated cord changes, there is something very dark and wintry about those bands right now.

    No, no. This is the summer of love, new prospects, shiny bling, and Caribbean holidays. Music, even at its most radio friendly, can be soothing to the hardiest edges inside us, and so, I have filled my iPod with the likes of Rihanna, Timbaland, Maroon 5, Amerie. There will be calls for the revocation of my indie pass, but here is a brilliant summery response to that: I don’t care.

    Amerie
    The British press, in its usual over enthusiasm, have talked up Amerie’s latest album Because I Love It like it was the second coming of Mary J. Blige--shock, horror--they haven’t overstated the point this time around. I’ve yet to fast forward over any of the songs found here, and usually repeat a couple of them before letting the rest of the album play out. In the year where Feist’s lite take on a heavy heart will probably top many best of lists, this album tackles the same themes with a naked, blatant hollerin’ that is both enthralling and affecting. This is Amerie’s make or break album and she is singing for her supper. Whereas her previous albums were plodding, struggling to fit in, Because has a looseness and a soul that speaks to Amerie’s letting go. This comes through best on the lead single, “Take Control of Me”, a song that Tina Turner might of sung had her liberation not come at the expense of her RnB identity. Of particular not, though, is “Crush,” an electronic 80s throwback that sonically resembles Tracey Thorn’s “It’s All True”. Also of note is the sing-song of “When Loving You Was Easy” and the pop-rock of “Make Me Believe” which smells like Lenny Kravitz.

    Rihanna
    Full disclosure: Rihanna and I are from the same island, which makes disliking her difficult when I am at my most patriotic. She has barely registered on my music radar over the last two years, though; that is, until I saw the video for “Umbrella” one extraordinarily lazy Saturday afternoon. What is this? I said, as I rubbed my eyes and tweaked my own ears. Gone was the much put upon patois, and in its place was this nearly sophisticated not quite RnB, not quiet sugar pop song…in fact, even with her looking like an extra for an updated version of The Avengers, Rihanna was totally convincing and charming with her new bob and in her drenched skin, her voice still brushing up against fragility, but not completely brittle. Alright, I said. I will invest in her this time around: what a lovely surprise Good Girl Gone Bad was. She is squarely going for the charts, as irrelevant as they are becoming, but she is doing it with humor and skill. “Umbrella” will wear out its welcome sooner or later, but I know the drama of “Breakin’ Dishes” will at least keep me going until September. “Sell Me Candy” has a slight, sweet reggae undertow that sprawls into full pop throttle by its tongue-rolling chorus, and is followed by Rihanna hinting at that patois in “Lemme Get That”, which is about furniture…or something. All I know is the song is hot as hell, and no surprise here, is helmed by Timbaland as is “Sell Me Candy” and the confectionary and undercooked duet with a barely there (he breathes a lot into the mic) Justin Timberlake on “Rehab”. Still, Rihanna goes for pop gold, and comes very close.

    Candie Payne
    With Amy Winehouse (and less successfully, Beverley Knight) tackling Motown, Ms Payne is going for the blue-eyed soul of Dusty Springfield. Like Amerie, there is a bombast here that initially bowls you over, but once you get use to the blaring of horns and the earnestness of Payne’s vocals, it comes together for a good while, though not for the duration. Where Dusty’s crystalline soul had the prick of experience about it, Payne travels too close to kitsch and polish (though she is doing this better, than say, Emma Bunton). The theme, that ubiquitous broken heart, gets mauled over for the entire album and by the time you reach the devastating plea of “One More Chance”, you are suffering from theme fatigue…you are hoping that she will get over this and sing about birds, the park, a new man. She doesn’t…and even as the sweet, Portishead chimes of “Seasons Change” tremble on, you can’t help thinking: this girl has got some issues. At the same time, Payne’s talent is undeniable, and if broken up over a couple of listens, the full effect of the album, I Wish I Could Have Loved You More will be heartbreaking.

    Cinematic Orchestra
    This band is not exactly pop, and Ma Fleur is not the easiest of listens…think summer thunderstorm…but its beauty is unnerving and eye watering. The melancholy is instantly noted on the operatic opener, “To Build A Home”, which features the dangerously sad falsetto of Patrick Watson. Strings and an alternating caressed and hammered piano get to the crux of the emotional matter. This moment isn’t topped in any of the ten songs that follow, but the thrilling Fontella Bass gives “Familiar Ground” a laid back, smoky, memorable hook, and Lamb’s Lou Rhodes draws down the stars with Watson on “Music Box”. You can’t pick and chose your way through Ma Fleur; you would be cheating yourself of one of the most affecting and, at times, ecstatic listening experiences in recent memory. A must.

    Dizzee Rascal
    I recently wrote fellow music fanatic Nialloleary in a series of notes, that historically, Dizzee Rascal’s voice grates my nerves. And to some extent this is still true. When I heard the first single from his first album, I felt the Brits had to be really desperate to call this boy up as their representative to the unforgiving hip hop nation. They weren’t kidding, and for a long time, I didn’t get it or him. And perhaps, this too, might still be true. His latest album, Maths + English again, has been heralded as a classic by the Brit press, though a survey of his ardent fans will serve up a different take on the matter. Funnily enough, this fan’s least favorite, is the only Rascal album I find tolerable, even engaging. Lead single, “Sirens” got me more on its video concept and theme, than on the tune itself, as Dizzee’s vocal pronouncements were half swallowed by his East End brogue. I got use to it, so much so I got the album just to test my aural limits. I was instantly taken with the vulgarity of “Pussyole” lest for its lyrics (self-explanatory) than for the old skool sample of Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock ‘s “It Takes Two” which flung me happily back into my junior high school days. In all honesty, the album is good when I am not paying close attention to it, but at the end of the day it is not really my cuppa…and as proof positive of my current pop whoring, the only track I play twice in a row, aside from “Pussyole,” is “Wanna Be” which features Lily Allen doing what she always does: lending sass to an otherwise entertaining, but for me, forgettable affair.
  • My Week in Music: The Dancing African + A Dublin Tale

    Mai 20 2007, 13h36

    New York was absolutely drenched last Wednesday, but I took me and my soggy shoes over to B. B. King's where, with my friend J., I saw Angelique Kidjo perform some old songs from years ago and newer ones from her new album Djin Djin. Ms Kidjo doesn't play around. She arrived on the stage at exactly 8 p.m. and gave the warmest hello to the crowd before launching into "Djin, Djin" a song she performs with Alicia Keys on the album.

    The thing about Kidjo is that in addition to being a singer she is an incredible dancer. If you are of a certain age you will remember she arrived on the scene in the late 80s, clad in a body suit, her arms and legs in furtive, but strikingly graceful motion. Yeah, she is still moving her body this way, including little jumps that end with her twirling her little hips.

    How she managed to sing while giving an evocative dance performance is beyond me, but her voice took me and the crowd to giddy stratospheres (to steal a phrase from the Long Blondes). Djin, Djin is an extremely polished affair with too many guests (including Peter Gabriel, Josh Groban, Joss Stone, and others), and frankly, all of these clamouring stars take away from Kidjo's own vocal talents. On Wednesday not one of this other famous people showed up and we blessedly had Ms Kidjo all to ourselves. She didn't disappoint, giving the crowd old favourites like "Tumba", show closer "Afrika" and "Batonga" while taking new songs like "Pearls" (originally performed by Sade), "Salala" and "Gimme Shelter" (yes, the Rolling Stones) to emotional heights not heard on the album. Of course, the backing band, made up of players from all over the African Disapora, was a contributing factor to this stellar evening. Everyone left the club smiling, and i suspect, changed. Ms Kidjo, aside from being an excellent singer, also has a beautiful and infectious spirit...by evening's end everyone was dancing.

    From the environs of Benin, I was swept to good ole Dublin this past Friday, when my best friend and I went to see the new film, Once, which features Glen Hansard (lead singer of The Frames and Marketa Irglova, a Czech songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. I didn't have high hopes for this film, which has been touted as a new kind of musical, so imagine my surprise when I got deep into it and realised that it was pretty terrific. Made for $150,000 and some times looking like it, Once transcends its low budget roots by being sincere, believable, and a bit bitter. Hansard, whose big eyes and tiny mouth are strangely attractive, can actually act, while Irglova does her best. The plot is simple: these two meet, their lives are complicated (he is still suffering from a breakup and she is struggling to make ends meet), but they form a flirtatous bond through music. Not terribly original, but director John Carney and the songs that tie this all together make this premise work. I don't want to give too much away here, but I encourage you all to see it. Visit, http://www.foxsearchlight.com/once/ for more deets.
  • 05.10.2007: On The Side - The Women's Hour

    Mai 11 2007, 0h24

    It has been a minute, hasn’t it?

    The last month has been absolutely bananas for me. I finished a massive writing project ahead of a looming deadline, and in the process lost tons of sleep and a little of my good health. I am now on the mend, but as you might imagine, writing has been the last thing I’ve wanted to do these last few weeks.

    That said, I’ve manage to get such great new music lately that it would be a shame for me to continue to mope around, avoiding pens, keyboards and deep analytical thought of any kind.

    As usual, my bounty has been incredibly impressive and vast. So much so, that I can’t possibly write about it all (and, frankly, I’m still a bit scribe-phobic at the moment). It should be noted, though, that women took the musical crown in April and early May and will get special focus this month.

    Bjork and Tori Amos, twin pillars of extreme individuality, issued releases a week apart, while Feist returned with album No. 3, her voice startlingly strong, stark, and mesmerizing. Similarly, The Noisettes lived up to their name, as lead singer Shingai Shoniwa created melodies out of screams and unique bass lines, while Shannon Wright, a singer I’ve not paid that much attention to, released the stunning Let in the Light.

    First, those twin pillars. When I saw the cover of Bjork’s latest album, Volta, on the internet, I instantly got worried. She looks trapped in a bloated coke bottle that has been dipped in a kid’s paint kit. For all my love of this Icelandic wonder, this is not a good look, and I grew afraid of what this new whimsy would produce. My worry wasn’t completely unfounded. I want to love Volta, but at the moment, I’m stuck on "like," leaning towards, it's okay. The good news: opener, “Earth Intruders,” sounds like classic Bjork--the wail is there, the intermittently raspy delivery, the crystalline vocal soaring, the message (world governments are fucked up war mongers, ya’ll!). She shows up again on “Innocence” killing a Timbaland produced wall of sound--infused with grunts and smacked up bass--with that voice of hers. And she positively shimmers above the vibraphones that plum up on “I See Who You Are.” Wisely, these three tracks are remixed at the album’s end, almost as if she knows those were the shiners.

    But there is something curiously flat about Volta…dare I say, annoying. I’ve never found her pretentious, but then I’ve always been hopelessly devoted. Age has done a number on my ears and sensibilities, and so, when my beloved purposely stammers through “Dull Flame of Desire” with the ubiquitous Antony Hegarty (Antony and the Johnsons), my eyes literally glazed over as the two of them took seven minutes and 30 seconds to completely bore the shit out of me. This happens again on “Pneumonia”, her voice unable to win me over as that bloody foghorn and splatters of rain drive me to near lazy insanity. And while “Declare Independence” livens things up with fuzzy guitars and needling static, the message is almost too overstated and so un-Bjork like, that I couldn’t help but think of Nine Inch Nails. I still love Bjork, but I don’t love Volta. I hope to eat crow on this, but I doubt it will come to all of that.

    Tori Amos is a gold standard songwriter, though she can be a bit awkward with the metaphors. There is a lot to like on American Doll Posse, but there is also a lot that I wished she’d thrown away; for once the critics and I are in agreement. I also immediately dismissed the whole concept album thing, mostly because it doesn’t make any sense to me--it sounds a bit mad, and to preserve my liking of this woman, I chose to ignore it. All of that said, lead single “Big Wheel” is a pretty stomper about what I can’t tell you, but I like her MILF (Mom I’ll Like To Fuck) cheerleading chant that arrives near the song’s end. That cheerfulness continues on “Bouncing Off Clouds” with its classic Amos sing-along chorus and word dissection (clo-oooud), and is later subverted on “Teenage Hustling” with its bluesy revved up guitars and knowing use of the words ‘dirty’ and ‘skanking’--brilliant, I tell you. She lets out her inner Kate Bush on “Bring Your Dog” which has a similar vocal howling to “Hounds of Love”. The album is at its best when Amos is stalking through the material as on “Body and Soul” and the aforementioned songs, but the affair loses it thrill the further we get into Posse, and that is a shame, because she had me tight at the first eight or so tunes. I wonder how much better it would have been if she’d left us craving more after song 10.

    Feist’s second album, Let it Die was a study in well-done confection. It was cute (“Mushaboom”) and occasionally brilliant (“Lonely, Lonely” and “Inside Out”), but also uneven--I remember wanting her to belt some of that angst out…and figured she didn’t have the chops to go there. I am so glad she proved me wrong on The Reminder, which will rank high in my top ten of 2007. For me the album begins on track eight, “Limit to Your Love.” It is here that I first woke up to the album’s brilliance, and it is with this song that all the other songs come into focus and make sense. It is here that Feist’s unhinged heart is caught in her throat as the 60s-ish strings swell, almost mocking her. It is here that her voice, sweet and fine, transcends cuteness into a full-blown ache. It is a stunning moment that is aurally repeated on the album’s closer, “How My Heart Behaves”.

    My fondness for songs about broken hearts aside, Feist does happy well too. “My Moon, My Man” is a clever valentine as is the more overt first single “1 2 3 4”. Her remake of Nina Simone’s “Sea Lion Woman” doesn’t quite deliver the libidinous kick of the original, but it is sunny in a French pop kind of way. And there are tons of languid beauty to be heard in “Intuition” and “Honey Honey.”
    Highly recommended.

    I was under the false impression that Shannon Wright was yet another maudlin alt-country singer. I don’t know where I got that impression from, but I impulsively downloaded her latest album, Let in the Light from eMusic and nearly lost my goddamn mind. Like Amos she can fuck a piano senseless, while building unheard of melodies around her bittersweet voice (think Cat Power and PJ Harvey). There isn’t one dud on this album. Opening salvo “Defy This Love”, almost baroque in its styling, is a wonderful opus to loving unabashedly. It is followed by “St Pete”, where the Harvey comparison is at its most genuine, guitar and voice howling together, drums driving the entire procession forward. “They'd Kill The Actor In The End” is carried on a piano dirge that underscores the acridity at the core of the lyrics. A five-star discovery.

    The Noisettes are awesome. They are loud, melodic, clever, and know how to close a song. Shingai Shoniwa, who has been touted as the next Karen O., is in fact no such thing--she is better. Her expressive voice feels more honest and is more fun to get into; she doesn’t mope, she lashes out even when she is down. This is especially true on the “The Count of Monte Cristo” an unbelievably catchy duet with one of her bandmates, the two accompanied by spindly guitars and a wickedly layered chorus that reinvigorates the honey-bee-stung metaphor. “Sister Rosetta” is a freaking rock gospel song for crying out loud, and if the choir sang this at my local house of worship I would attend Sunday service without complaint. “Mind the Gap” begins like something out of the early 70’s folk scene, then within seconds sprawls into a wondrous prog rock tune replete with, jesus, “tra-la-la-las” (and a entire section sung about suspicious packages on the underground)! Look, its good. Get it.


    Looking forward to hearing:

    The Clientele - God Save the Clientele
    The Cinematic Orchestra - Ma Fleur
    Dizzy Rascal - Maths and English
    Swizz Beats - One Man Band
    Interpol - Our Love to Admire
    MIA - Kala
  • 04.03.2007: On The Side - Thorny Themes

    Abr 4 2007, 0h20

    Spring is springing as best it can in New York as April tentatively opens up. Aside from the dreaded, looming tax deadline, this new month already has its share of thorny situations. Bush is still president. Fifteen British soldiers are still being held captive by Iran, a country lead by a group of people that seem hell bent on causing a raucous all their own (When will the playground antics stop among the East, Middle, and West? Will any of our countries graduate into a corporative adulthood?). The Solomon Islands have been ravished by a tsunami and the news media seems almost like: yawn, yeah, seen this happen before (These are the same bloody news outlets that ran the death of Anna Nicole Smith for three days!). This afternoon a man shot a woman outside of CNN’s Atlanta news offices in what is being called a domestic dispute.

    All of this news is disconcerting, and is one of the main reasons I rarely stay tuned to news channels for more than 15 minutes…stay longer and you are treated to the same news loop and kindergarten analysis that came just 15 minutes before.

    There is at least one thorn, though, that I don’t mind pricking my finger on. Tracey Thorn, one half of Everything But the Girl, has finally, blessed lord, finally released her second solo album. From what I understand, her voice is one of the national treasures of Britain. From what I have read on her web site, she is also dead funny and shamelessly honest---two things that can cause a real fire.

    Thorn’s new album, Out of the Woods, is the first album I have heard this year that I know will be in my top ten at year’s end. I have been calling it emotional disco rock, which doesn’t do it justice. Take for example, Thorn’s interpretation of Arthur Russell’s “Get Around to It”. The original was innovative with Russell’s off-kilter vocals, simple disco bass lines, and plucky cello playing, but Thorn fills the inside of the song up with wickedly sexy, fat bass bounces and her crystalline voice. It is libidinous and one of the best bits of ear candy I’ve had in ages. The typically slow keyboard build up of “Grand Canyon” is excited by the approaching thump of drums that eventually crash into the song as Thorn announces the chorus; a classic clubland track that keeps the beat steady while the singer truly provides the melody. It isn’t all about the club though, as she proves on “By Piccadilly Station I Sat Down and Wept,” “Falling Off A Log” and “A-Z” where she uses the soft edges of her voice to sing about lost love and bullying, respectively. Just get the album, I’ve gone on enough about it. It is brilliant.

    Speaking of genius. LCD Soundsystem knocked me upside the head last month. I’d heard a few strains of their first album and wasn’t that impressed (will revisit it now), but, truly, Sound of Silver is a five-star effort. Ignore the track “North American Scum” at your own peril. Its clappy rave-up beat is infectious, as are the sarcastic, funny lyrics that reference Canada and England, DJs, and a host of random touchstones. That song is followed by the swollen back and forth of “Someone Great”, which is so Talking Heads eclectic that I fully expected David Byrne to sing the chorus. The woo-hoos on “Watch the Tapes” don’t so much imitate Iggy Pop (and a hundred other rockers) in so much as they make you feel like a rocker when you sing along. In under an hour, James Murphy reconfigures your brain, leaving you just a lil’ bit high. Fantastic.

    On the calmer side, the consistently amazing Innocence Mission recently released We Walked in Song, with Karen Peris’ achingly gorgeous vocals still front and center. IM never over does it and their easy instrumentation draws you in over time. Here that effect is particularly strong on “Love that Boy”, where those words are joyously repeated over and over again as the song fades away, and on my favourite track, “Into Brooklyn, Early in the Morning” which reminds me of the many taxi rides to JFK that I have taken from my flat to make 7 A.M. flights to London, Los Angeles, wherever--sweet melancholy comes in the harmonies. Also of note is Peris’ beautiful interplay with a ukulele and acoustic guitar on the endearing love song, “Since I Still Tell You My Every Day.” A spring album for the ages.

    Perhaps this will grow on me, but am I the only one that was a little disappointed by the Modest Mouse album? Have I been listening to the Decemberists so much that I now think Modest Mouse are taking cues from them (the whole sea theme thing)? Why am I not psyched that Johnny Marr is now part of the group? I’m not one to hold previous albums up as measuring sticks for a band, but I am having a really hard time getting into “We Were Dead Before the Ship Evan Sank”-- and I have listened to it several times now. I know it is bad when I can’t tell you one song that moved me. Oh my goodness. I hope I eat crow on this one, but right now Modest Mouse is plain, boiled chicken.

    And while we are talking about much hyped albums, a word about Panda Bear’s Person Pitch. Yes I hear elements of the Beach Boys, marching bands, school choruses, and Animal Collective (he’s part of the group), yad-dah, yad-dah. It is all wondrously startling on opener “Comfy in Nautica” and second track, “Take Pills,” but by the time I got to the other side of the 12 and half minutes of “Bros”…I was done. Tired. No longer open. It was a Joanna Newsom moment. Getting me back for repeat listens will be difficult. It will have to be an accident -- like when iTunes is in party shuffle mode; at that time, I hope I say, “Wow, who is this? Why haven’t I listened to him more?” But right now, it ain’t happening.

    Other albums I have the pleasure of listening to:

    Mini Thought: I fell in love with Everything But the Girl at the time they were crossing over from lounge jazz into electronica and the like. “Missing” was unmissable back in the early 90s, as VH1, MTV and every radio station spun the f**k out of it. Nobody paid attention the other songs on Ampflied Heart because Thorn and Watt were still holding on to their 80s lo-fi sound, but tracks like “Get Me” and “I Don’t Understand Anything” were so emotionally powerful, I couldn’t understand why folks weren’t move to tears. It is one of my desert island discs.

    Mini Thought: I have referenced afro-beat so much in these journal entries that I thought it tragic that none of it genuinely shows up in my charts. I am currently making amends by happily enjoying Tony Allen’s catalogue, including Jealousy and No Accommodation for Lagos, considered two of his best albums. This afro-beat reconciliation actually started after listening to The Good, The Bad, and the Queen and straining to hear Allen among Albarn’s murmurings. I like GBQ, but honestly, it should have been a Gorillaz album. Thank god I can go back and hear Allen at his best.

    Looking forward to hearing:
    The Field - From Here We Go Sublime