Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sound ‘Round: Kitty / Kelly Clarkson

Stunted perceptions. 

Kitty – D.A.I.S.Y. Rage EP (Self-Released)

Kitty - DAISY RageI’m always apprehensive when it comes to rappers who creep out of the Tumblr hole. Their kitschy sound and hipster chic vibe often reeks of gimmickry and tastes like a flavor of the week. So what was I to think of this 19-year-old Caucasian college student from Daytona who used to work at Claire’s and refers to herself as “hip-hop Taylor Swift”? It’s still almost too hard to gauge. Musically, she’s as routine as her peers, relying on the same stockpile of hollow synths and weak-kneed beats which are too blunt to be memorable. Lyrically, she’s concerned with boys, bitches and Wi-Fi. Fair enough. But the flaw isn’t in the premise, but the execution. Her flow is unremarkable, her delivery too slippery, her rhymes lacking in bite and color. She’s a novice, which is why these seven tracks sound like blog notes rather than fully formed songs, but I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt until a follow up release. I’ll hold off on a final judgment until she chooses between twitter or brat rap. Here’s the real question, is there a right answer? GRADE: B- / N/A

Key Track: Dead Island

Kelly Clarkson – Greatest Hits – Chapter One (RCA)

kelly clarkson - greatest hits chapter oneAt seventeen tracks, this greatest hits package – like many others – is rather bloated. Does a cover of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” really deserve a roster spot? What about the four flops she had a hand in co-writing? Then there’s the hackneyed duets with Jason Aldean and Vince Gill, the overreaching “Moment Like This,” the redundant new material, and the melodramatic “me” anthems which are third rate compared to the likes of Taylor Swift (more playful), Pink (more feisty) and Adele (more palpable). She’s always been a singles artist, which is by no means a sin, but with her finest nuggets laid out in such a neat line, it doesn’t take long before the banality of her career arch becomes apparent, and how reliant she’s always been on corniness. Even her best songs come up short against other Top 40 females (who is picking “Stronger” over “Single Ladies” or “Part of Me”?). Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. GRADE:B-

Key Tracks: Stronger” / “Since U Been Gone” / “My Life Would Suck Without U

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Sound ‘Round: Searching for Sugar Man / Sound City

One for the Oscars. One for the fan boys. 

Searching For Sugar Man (Sony Pictures Classics, 2012)

sugar manThis Oscar nominated documentary poses a question – if a musician releases intensely personal music and finds no audience, is it any less palpable? Such is the quandary of Sixto Rodriguez, a Detroit folk singer who spent much of his life in obscurity, working odd jobs for low wages after giving up a fledgling music career in the mid ’70s after his songs never gained traction. A man of Mexican descent down on his luck in a country which didn’t give a shit about him, his lyrics reflect a sense of disparity, neglect, loss and injustice. Although he was invisible stateside, his music resounded with the people of South Africa, whose vocal protest against a brutal apartheid regime could cost them their freedom.  His music was dangerous, but he outsold Elvis. He wasn’t as poetic as Dylan, but his plainspoken words carried weight.  Yet, for how iconic Rodriguez became, little was known about his personal life. Rumors and speculations were rampant, and many assumed him dead via bizarre suicide; stabbing himself on stage, setting himself on fire on stage, poisoning himself on stage. It wasn’t until two decades later, when a reporter and a superfan scoured his lyrics for clues to his whereabouts and followed the money trail left by his releases, when the reclusive singer was located alive and well. When told of the miraculous hold his music has on people nearly half a world away, he seems unphased and cool. When performing to a sold out arena full of adoring fans who long thought him dead, he simply says thank you with a, “Thanks for keeping me alive.” Though the film is as direct as the man it discovers, just like his music, it resonates with larger themes and is earnestly humanistic. GRADE: A-

Sound City (Variance Films)

sound cityThe directorial debut from Dave Grohl began as a love letter to an old Neve soundboard once housed at the now-defunct studio which lends its name to this documentary. A state of the art piece of equipment in 1975 – purchased at the still-astronomical price of $75,000 – it once recorded the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Rick Springfield, Neil Young, and Nirvana. Through such machinery, Grohl channels the stories of the musicians who owe their careers to Sound City and its staff, and chronicles the music industry’s ever-increasing reliance on digital technology.  With too many rock stars pining for the glory days of reel-to-reel tape, the film leans self-righteous at times. There’s a lot of gearhead talk to be had, and non-musicians may be hard pressed to understand what “A room with good decay” means, but Grohl’s intentions are pure and his enthusiasm for the film is evident in the seamless direction. However, if you’re not a Grohl diehard, the film’s final 20 minutes, where he reverts from director to drummer, can be skipped. Recording a song with Paul McCartney sounds like fun, it’s just not fun to watch.  GRADE: B+

Sound ‘Round: Taylor Swift / My Bloody Valentine

Only 364 days until next Valentines Day. 

Taylor Swift – Red (Big Machine, 2012)

Taylor Swift -RedI’ve always been a distant admirer of Swift’s ability to perceive the the sticky façades and convoluted emotions of adolescence and couple it with a country-pop sound so polished and ready-made for stadiums it sounds like a jet engine priming for takeoff. And while she’ll no doubt assemble a hefty greatest hits package (or two, or three) when all is said in done, her current run of proper albums have been too fragmented for my liking, often getting bogged down by elongated ballads filled with overproduced melodrama. I initially found her fourth album to be in the same vein – as a five song stretch (beginning with the Snow Patrol cameo) is a desolate wasteland of corny syrup. But I failed miserably when it came to recognizing what should have been an instant attraction to the hits. Beginning with the big-footed pulse of the opening “State of Grace” and the flourishing chorus of the self-tilted track, she rides her confidence all the way through to the audacious single which makes the word “we” a liberating juggernaut. In between she hangs lose with her gal pals and flexes her love muscles on the most mature tunes she has yet to construct. This is every bit the artistic leap forward I expected, but in the opposite direction. Here I was wanting a Fleetwood Mac record. Instead she gave us Shania Twain mixed with Madonna. Brilliant. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Red” / “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” / “Treacherous

My Bloody Valentine – mbv (Self-Released)

my bloody valentine - mbvBlame it on the generational divide, but I’ve ever been able to fully grasp and appreciate Irishman Kevin Shields and his band of glum alterna-nerds. While I comprehend the intentions behind his alienating wall of feedback and buzz saw guitar tricks, their music simply doesn’t resonate on a personal level. History tells me 1991’s Loveless is a masterpiece of disassociated love, and the album’s tenacious sea of distortion is certainly on to something, but Shields pushes himself so far out of the equation with his infuriating noise, his songs become an artifact – something hung up neatly on a wall and guarded by velvet rope. Surmise it I don’t take much stock in the band’s several EPs and this comeback album – a long 22 years in the making. The blogosphere tells me the wait was worth it, I just don’t heart it. But I won’t hate on the diehards who speak Shield’s language. After two decades of waiting, they have the right to shoegaze all they want. GRADE: B-

Key Tracks: Only Tomorrow” / “If I Am

Sound ‘Round: FIDLAR / Parquet Courts

The scoundrel’s cookbook.  

FIDLAR – FIDLAR (Mom + Pop)

FIDLAR - FIDLARTheir band name being an acronym for “fuck it, dog, life’s a risk,” these sweaty California punks are easily defined by their cruddy taste in beer, weed, cocaine and pills, as well as their stunted musicality. This full-length debut is nothing more than a series of surf-rock riffs, yelping choruses and declarations of eternal boredom put on repeat. Their daily itinerary consists of the following; Wake up. Bake. Bored. Bake. Broke. Bake. Surf. Bake. Play gig. Bake. Chill. Bake. Their stupid-stoned-and-proud ways make it easy is to be cynical, but the ferocious nature of many of these songs (all but three coming in under 3:00) can be infectious, especially when they focus on melody rather than shouting in tune. But, for all the noise and noxious chemicals, the best song, “Gimme Something,” is a country-fried ditty about a burned out hitchhiker who spent his best years chasing the same illicit pleasures these curmudgeons currently relish in. They’re smarter than they pretend they aren’t. Still, don’t be surprised if they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, their current mantra is “I! DRINK! CHEAP! BEER! SO! WHAT! FUCK! YOU!” GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Gimme Something” / “White On White” / “No Waves

Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold (What’s Your Rupture?)

Parquet Courts - Light Up GoldThese three Brooklyn-based Austinites are every bit as fed up with their circumstances as FIDLAR, but are twice as deadpan and half as tuneful. Andrew Savage’s voice isn’t meant for the long haul – he can barely maintain a proper vocal range the few moments he attempts to sing – so they cling to their bag of paper thin riffs and ride drummer Max Savage’s unwavering pulse until it falls off a cliff. More apathetic than restless, and more concerned with women than weed (barely), they internalize their boredom and angst through songs that are, at times, so brief they act more like vignettes than a fully formed idea. When they dare aim for the three minute mark and beyond – about half the time – they surprise themselves by not failing. In fact, they flourish. After repeated listenings, I’m still not bored with the 5:12 “Stoned and Starving,” which sports their best hooks, and remain intrigued by the use of radio static in place of a guitar solo on “Yonder Is Closer to the Heart.” Hooks and static may seem basic and arbitrary, but it’s par for the course on this debut – small things building a small picture  GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Stoned And Starving” / “Yonder Is Closer To The Heart” / “N. Dakota

Sound ‘Round: Tegan and Sara / Solange

Sexy and they know it, mostly. 

Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob: Deluxe Edition (Warner Bros.)

Tegan and Sara - HeartthrobWhile both of the sisters Quinn are openly gay, they rarely address their sexuality in explicit terms – “Your hair cut shorter than it’d been / But still blowing in the wind,” could be about a man, woman or a dog. Writing with a vague point of view, they take a universal approach to songs about first kisses, one night stands, breakups, friend-zoning, unrequited love, and perfect matches. They also place all their chips on the table in hopes of a Top 40 crossover by remaking their brand of emo-folk into a streamlined juggernaut of synth-glam and power-pop. Doubling down, they bring in producer Greg Kurstin, whose resume includes stints with Pink, Kesha, and Kelly Clarkson, to add muscle and vigor to their new-found desire for dance anthems. While the standard edition is robust enough, I suggest an investment in the deluxe edition which adds two tracks to the finale and rounds out the running time at an even 45 minutes. “Don’t think I didn’t deserve what I got,” Tegan sings on the encore finale. If what she got was the mainstream success her and Sara were aiming for, I’d say it’s rather deserved. Well deserved, actually. GRADE: A

Key Tracks: Closer” / “Drove Me Wild” / “I Was A Fool

Solange – True (Terrible)

solange - trueHaving been dropped from Interscope in 2009 after releasing two unspectacular R&B records which generated little fanfare, Beyonce’s kid sister decided to take the indie route. While chillin out maxin’ all cool in Angeles valley, she hitched up with Terror records and producer Dev Hynes, and began to retrofit herself through the sounds of ‘80s new wave. Of these seven tracks, which serve as a primer for a full length release due later this year, I hope four of them make the cut – especially the playful bounce of “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Locked in Closets.” While the majority of this EP is split between a bubbly single ladies persona and a confident 26-year-old who’s found a man worth singing about, she stumbles at times as she does on the dull He-Done-Me-Wrong jam “Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work.” I’ll just assume she’ll leave that one off the finished product. Otherwise, her music is wholeheartedly charming and warm, and delightfully self-centered.GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Don’t Let Me Down” / “Locked In Closets” / “Losing You

Sound ‘Round: Burial / Skrillex

Dubstep in fun size.

Burial – Truant/Rough Sleeper (Hyberdub)

Burial - Truant Rough SleeperWhen it comes to almost any form, or sub-genre, of modern electronica, I often prefer the brevity of EPs over a full length release – the diminished running time makes it easier for my ears to pick up on the many twists, turns, and subtleties to be had. This two-track affair from the mysterious Brit William Bevan, clocks in at just under 25 minutes, and works as a series of suites, each with their own mood and essence. Rather than aiming for big hooks or cheap thrills, he instead builds each movement from the ground up – beginning with a nimble rhythmic pulse that’s soon enveloped by a controlled hush of noise that’s hauntingly melodic. Not everything here sticks as the songs are simply too long and prone to sagging at times, but, just before he ventures into tedious territory, he calls it quits with the fumbling sounds of a machine being unplugged. At least he knows the power of self-control. GRADE: B+

Key Track: “Rough Sleeper

Skrillex – Leaving EP (OWSLA)

Skirllex - Leaving EPThis three-track EP, given away as a fitting thank you to his diehards, is a text book study in the basics of Skrillex-brand dubstep. The customary vocal drops, robotic jams, stabbing sytnhs, and hurl-a-whirl loops found in a majority of his library are on full display here. But it all seems too familiar. While these songs are competently constructed, and feature flashes of the dub-pop hybrid he mastered on last year’s Bangarang, this mixtape is too routine and comes off as a mere genre exercise.  GRADE: B

Key Track: The Reason