Monthly Archives: June 2013

Sound ‘Round: Pussy Riot

For the communist-killing, sexist-fighting, freedom-loving feminist in us all.

Pussy Riot – Kill the Sexist (free download, 2012)

pussy riot - kill the sexistHaving exposed Putin, revolted the Orthodoxy, puzzled a populace, and captivated the disenfranchised, I suspect the three women of Pussy Riot, who were arrested for the ludicrous charge of “hooliganism”, were simply doing as their lawyers instructed when they said they meant “no offense” for their protest atop the alter of Russia’s national cathedral. As if. Declaring the uneasy relationship between a deceitful president and his patriarchal dogma as “God Shit” certainly isn’t art for art’s sake. Expounding their disdain for big bother, delusional worshipers and sexist scumbags in concise anarchistic blasts of brutally primitive riot girrl noise, this secretive bunch of outlaw art-punks means no good towards the oppressors. Calling for greater freedoms of speech, an end to Kremlin cronyism, and better opportunities for a stagnant generation languishing in the throes of oligarchy, they’ve already accomplished more in 45 seconds than Rage Against the Machine did in 10 years. GRADE: A

Key Tracks: Mother of God, Drive Putin Away” / “Kill the Sexist” / “Deliver Pavement

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Sound ‘Round: Disclosure / Salva

Euro-step-house-club music.  

Disclosure – Settle (PMR)

disclosure - settleBrothers Guy and Howard Lawrence enjoy pissing on David Guetta, Avicii and the like – saying they prefer to make “electronic music with class.” If class equates to cranking out routine four-on-the-floor pacemakers many of their snooty Euro-house brethren are smitten with, they’re shoo-ins to make the dean’s list. Though both are relative youngsters – 21 and 18 respectively – they’ve spent five years slogging through the underground and the blogosphere building their brand and irking detractors who claim the siblings aren’t progressive enough. I care not for what comprises prog-house, and loathe ever encountering it, but I do care for hooks – which are found in spurts. While they’re busy being bogged by syncopation and sparse sonics, the guests bring melody and atmosphere. Occasionally the whole recipe coalesces rather nicely; dig the finale featuring London Grammar GRADE: B+

Key Tracks: Help Me Lose My Mind (feat. London Grammar)” / “When A Fire Starts to Burn” / “Defeated No More

Salva – Odd Furniture EP (Family and Friends)

Salva - odd furniture epSomething I’ve often said but is worth repeating; I will always prefer sample heavy EDM/dubstep/house/club music in fun sized packages. Not only is it easier to suss out the various layers and dimensions within a given song, but it’s less strenuous for my ears to lock in, focus and concentrate. Sure concentration gets in the way of dancing, but the top-tier acts of this genre are so meticulous in their craft their music demands a greater attention to detail. This five-song entry is brief, but bolstered by an onslaught of beats, grooves, clicks, beeps, sirens, drops, funk and more. My favorite element, however, is the subtle humor employed throughout the 20-minute run time. Few emcees are brave enough to begin a dance record with the reoccurring loop, “You at the club/every weekend/bitch/get a life.” GRADE: A-

Key Track: Get A Life” / “BBQ” / “Drop That B

Sound ‘Round: Kanye West / J. Cole

There’s leaders, and there’s followers. 

Kanye West – Yeezus (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)

kanye west - yeezusMr. West is still enchanted with the gaudy and the bombastic, and he’s still combatting his contradictions. His sixth album, however, finds him at his most belligerent and primal. Forsaking the lush R&B and slick soul samples of his superior works for the cold, biting grip of buzzsaw synths a la Trent Reznor, he broods, yelps, howls and smashes your Corolla through a record I’m privy to categorize as a transitional phase. Many of the themes are familiar; neo black power sentiments, ambivalence with celebrity, rightful boasting and despondent love songs. But the almost-constant hum of the minimally brash production threads it all into a single unit. Off-putting for certain stretches and slightly monochrome, the trick is to bore through the fuzz to the heart of the beats, each propulsive, hammering and, just like the auteur, loaded with conviction.  GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: New Slaves” / “Blood on the Leaves” / “Black Skinhead

J. Cole – Born Sinner (Roc Nation/Columbia)

UnknownJay-Z’s protégé of choice got by on bright-eyed idealism and a genuine appreciation for his circumstances on his 2011 debut because he was charming and good-natured enough to make up for the bland rhymes and muddled execution. And while he’s intelligent enough to construct a thought-provoking verse, or throw in an occasional joke, or even make a keen reference, his delivery is often stiff, his tone too one dimensional, and his personality lacking in charisma. It doesn’t help that he self-produces, or co-produces, each of these 16 tracks into a colorless haze of limp-dick gospel samples that would indeed “Let Nas Down.” Having played it too close to the chest, and baring much of the burden on his lonesome, the music reflects too many of his faults – the biggest one being that he’s just not very interesting. GRADE: B-

Key Tracks: Power Trip (feat. Miguel)

Sound ‘Round: The Uncluded / They Might Be Giants

Kiddie songs. 

The Uncluded – Hokey Fright (Rhymesayers)

The Uncluded - Hokey FrightThis debut from the oddly paired Kimya Dawson (whimsical and frizzy-haired) and Aesop Rock (verbose and lumbering) is cartoonish, daffy and, at times, too cute for its own good – see the disposable bit about sandwiches. Composing non sequiturs on the benefits of organ donation, the fear of flight, and the sudden loss of loved ones, they also share empathy with tanked lobsters, and find solace in their childhood innocence to get them through the anxiousness of adulthood. Borderline macabre, deadpan and always literal, his beats boost her spirits and bolster her unassuming voice while she lightens his boorishness and polishes his off-kilter rhymes. A duet album that’s mutually beneficial, it’s also effective group therapy. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Delicate Cycle” / “Organs” / “Teleprompters

They Might Be Giants – Nanobots (Idlewild/Megaforce)

they might be giants - nanobotsHaving long since settled into their ways and resigned themselves to putting hooks first and foremost – even as their songwriting slightly lost its edge – this one is weird even for their standards. Stuffing 25 songs – ranging in size from tiny, to minuscule  to virtually nonexistent – into a compact 45 minutes, what begins as a stirring, if stunted, return to form is relegated to a series of tricks and gimmicks which appease their boredom. All of the fluff (all 20 minutes of it) is placed in the rear, which means don’t venture past track 10. The best songs may sound like mere jingles, but below the cheery exterior lies paranoia, especially for the growing security state. Which makes me wonder, is the Tesla tribute sincere or sarcasm? GRADE: B+

Key Tracks: Tesla” / “Nanobots” / “Black Ops

Sound ‘Round: Rilo Kiley / Everclear

They’re real straight shooters. 

Rilo Kiley – RKives (Little Record Company)

Rilo Kiley - RKivesHaving arrived to the Rilo Kiley party after they’d already called it a career, I care not for the particulars many diehards and completists concern themselves with – Which album was this-or-that b-side intended for? Why is this-or-that b-side featured on this-or-that EP nowhere to be found here? I do find it interesting, however, that this outtakes collection has garnered such glowing reviews despite half its track list coming from sessions for Under the Blacklight – an expansive, underrated grab for Top 40 which left some critics cold. That material not good enough to make the cut on the first go ‘round is suddenly lauded six years after the fact proves too many fickle individuals are caught up with the phony notion of integrity. If Jenny Lewis doesn’t feel vindicated, she should. So sturdy is her songwriting, so commanding are her melodies, so direct is her language, even her leftovers work as the main course. Whether romanticizing her adopted California home, tackling her midlife crises head-on, or dancing the robocop poorly, this is a refreshing example as to what too many of their indie peers lack in; humor, directness, efficiency. GRADE: A

Key Tracks: All the Drugs” / “Let Me Back In” / “Emotional

Everclear – Ten Years Gone: The Best of Everclear 1994-2004 (Capitol)

Everclear - Ten Years GoneIt’s a shame Art Alexakis was bunched in with all those “post-grunge” whinos in the years shortly after Cobain put a shotgun in his mouth. Where Scott Weiland and Billy Corgan turned their howling white boy angst inward, Alexakis’ true life tales of absent dads, drug addiction and welfare Christmases are laced with empathy, warmth and reverence for those who grew up poor and damaged just as he did. A true extrovert, and a disciple of Petty and Springsteen, he takes the bite out of his dark subject matter by layering on the pop-rock glam; hooky choruses, chunky riffs, deft keys and the occasional horn section. Constantly on the brink of a nervous breakdown, and medicated just enough to function, he almost always manages to do it with a smile on his face, especially on the brief ditty about his daughter singing in the summertime.  GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: I Will Buy You A New Life” / “Santa Monica” / “Wonderful

Sound ‘Round: Queens of the Stone Age / Rainbow Arabia

Altering the recipe just enough. 

Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork (Matador)

queens of the stone age- like clockworkLosing his edge, lowering his guard, and learning to grow comfortable with aging, Josh Homme tackles his midlife crisis (and another exiting member – drummer Joey Castillo) by letting the desert rock formalities slide; meaning fewer earth-stomping riffs, less jam, minimal theatrics, more business casual. Slightly sharpening what were once perpetually vague lyrics, and shoring up the arrangements into a taut 45 minutes, this is a transition record made more durable thanks to its direct, no-frills, nature. Though still prone to bouts of sloppy showboating (the prog-lite “Fairweather Friends”, and flaccid strut of “Smooth Sailing”), it’s a small joy to hear them filter the bizarre away from their ethereal moments, and their dead-on rawk bits turning less cartoonish and bombastic is progress too. I suspect he’ll lose a chunk of his core audience comprised of those who can’t handle reality, but Homme has turned from robotic and stoned, to human and lively. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “I Sat by the Ocean” / “My God is the Sun” / “I Appear Missing”

Rainbow Arabia – F.M. Sushi (Kompact)

rainbow arabia - fm sushiThis second effort from Danny and Tiffany Preston, a husband-wife duo from L.A., migrates northward from the Afropop flavor of their 2011 debut into the schmaltzy synth-cheese of ‘80s Europop. New surroundings, same goal – superficial indie raves. That Mrs. Preston’s cute mezzo-soprano is obscured and buried by hubby’s electro noodlings is an unfortunate setback of their subgenre as a whole. But while the lyrics border on indecipherable, the melodies, and the way they bounce off or interact with the various rhythmic flourishes, are durable enough and mildly rich. Employing the right amount of grooves to keep the tunes buoyant and the dance floor occupied, it feels like it’s getting somewhere even if that somewhere is a circle. GRADE: A-

Key Track: “He Is Sorcerer” / “Math Quiz” / “Lacking Risk”