Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Bambi Lee Savage is someone who has quite literally been flying under the radar for the best part of three decades. This wandering singer songwriter has amassed quite a resume working with folks like Daniel Lanois, Einsturzende Neubauten, and the Bad Seeds while perfecting her own craft. Amazingly, Bambi has yet to let her secrets be revealed and she remains a very well kept secret. Her latest album, Darkness Overshadowed, is a haunting and chilling record that's yet another impressive record on her ever growing CV.
Intense, intimate, and atmospheric Darkness Overshadowed is a fascinating record that lives up to it's title. This is a brooding, emotionally charged, and gut wrenching listen with what sounds like lyrics sung between gritted teeth. It's atmospherics come from Mick Harvey who not only produced the record but also provided much of the backing instrumentation. It's a team up that makes Darkness Overshadowed a creepy slightly disturbing record that comes off at times sounding like a sedated nightmare. Bambi's voice is awesome and the subtle grittiness that she uses throughout the songs here really contribute to the intensity of the album. Heck, she even sings in German at one point. Darkness Overshadowed sounds as if Bambi and Mick made this record in a dark Victorian home without the aid of electricity or anything remotely modern. She's created a record of eerie songs that feel like ghost stories set to music.
Darkness Overshadowed is a fantastic record. The combination of Mick Harvey's sparse arrangements and Bambi's cold and detached voice create a folk album for goth kids. This is a dark and delicious record that occasionally raises it's voice but spends most of it's time lost in thought thinking of very bad things. After listening to Darkness Overshadowed perhaps it's best that Bambi Less Savage continues to fly under the radar...she might be a bit more than most people could handle. But, their loss is our gain and Darkness Overshadowed is a diamond in the rough.
It's always interesting to hear how reggae and dub have come to influence pop music. It's fascinating how a sound that originated in the Caribbean has propagated itself far and wide and wound up in all kinds of music. Two groups that prove this point are Super Hi-fi and D. Gookin. These two groups/artists are as seemingly unlikely to be influenced by reggae and dub as one can be but yet here they are will the Irie in full force.
Super Hi-Fi are a bunch of Brooklynites that dress in three piece suits live in a major metropolitan area and still manage to create some of the coolest dubbed out tunes I've ever heard. To say the soul of Lee 'Scratch' Perry possesses these guys would be an understatement as this stuff sounds so authentic it's hard to believe they're not stranded on an island somewhere. With enough analog sounds, horns, deep basslines and chilled out vibes their album Dub To The Bone is a trip back to when all this sounded new. Some of the songs go deep and get lost in a symphonic instrumental exploration of the art form. It's awesome stuff that illustrates that the genre is alive and well in unlikely locations.
On the other end of the spectrum is D. Gookin creates more electronic based reggae and dubbed out digitalism. His EP Prey On The Prize contains huge pop hooks and doesn't go easy on the electronics and the whole thing sounds like a rush of pure sugar cane. Melodies soar, grooves skip along and the whole thing sounds like the one love idea bathed in sunshine. It's a fun, lighthearted record that at times is rough and ready but always melodic. Prey On The Prize is a great record of modern reggae that's glossy, glitzy, and very well produced.
Two ends of the spectrum one mutual love. Both Super Hi-Fi and D. Gookin have the reggae/dub vibes coursing through them and both records are brilliant listens in their own right. Whether it's electronic and modern or analog and traditional both Prey On The Prize and Dub To The Bone have you covered. These are the perfect records for the dead of winter as they're like rays of sunshine that reminds us Spring and Summer are just around the corner.
Parisian synth artist Debruit does things with synths that aren't probably allowed by law. Using electronics and influences from as far away as West Africa, Debruit creates modern, glitchtastic, tunes that are a fascinating mix of the old and new world colliding at light speed. His album From The Horizon is a minimalistic and jumpy record that can barely hold still. It's good stuff that's as experimental as it is accessible and as passionate as it adventurous.
Finding samples from old African VHS tapes, field recordings, and other 20th century sources Debruit seemingly has an endless palette in which to create his robotic funk with. Melding all those sounds with his jerky, jumpy, rhythms and beats gives From The Horizon this worldly feeling that dance music is universal and that you can't stop a good groove no matter where you are. From The Horizon is energetic and inventive and there are so many original ideas bopping around this record it's almost hard to keep track of. It's the sort of record that will leave you scratching your head in a bemused and fascinated way; and that's a good thing.
Debruit has essentially created electronic music to safari to. With global influences taking center stage along with crisp beats From The Horizon is far from cliche and anything but boring. In fact, it's downright intriguing. I thoroughly enjoyed Debruit's constant experimentation, strange arrangements, and skewed pop sensibility. From The Horizon goes beyond the horizon and attempts to push things forward while still being brilliant and, really, what more can you ask for from a record? Not much I think.
What more can really be said about Massive Attack's Blue Lines? Let's see launched a genre, highly influential, a downtempo masterwork, ahead of the curve, all that and more has been said about this brilliant record. It's recently been reissued and having not listened to it in ages this remastered edition served to constantly remind me of it's brilliance.
This is just an amazing record from start to finish and when you think when it was made and you think that there was nothing like this around it's impact hits you. At a time when dance music was blazing a speedy trail across Britain Massive Attack went the other direction and slowed it all down. They took break beats, samples and seemed to just pitch everything to slow. It really probably shouldn't have worked at the time, but it was such a curve ball that how could it not? Now two decades later the album is seen as monumental, important, and still ridiculously good. There's simply nothing duff about Blue Lines everything about it is just fantastic...The opening tune alone "Safe From Harm," is worth a hundred plays on repeat and the classic "Unfinished Sympathy," is as brilliant as ever. This is the record that laid the foundation for Portishead and the other gazillion groups that emerged from the gorgeous city that is Bristol.
The reissue package captures all of the former glory of the record and elevates it even further with a screen printed cover (like the original) and a five card mailer that contains the album and a DVD version of the record that sounds amazing. This is pretty much a reissue deserving of itself. It's done the original proud and if you consider yourself a fan this is pretty much an essential release. You can't get much better than this and the Blue Lines reissue proves it.
The ongoing saga that is the brilliant Le Pop series continues with the addition of the seventh volume in the series. As always, Le Pop features the latest and greatest in chanson, french pop and in it's constant effort to branch out now even features songs that are straight from the disco. These non-traditional variations might be a bit of a shock to the system but in typical Le Pop fashion there's not a duff track in the bunch. Having listened to this series from the start I believe I know the reason why this series has been as successful as it has and that’s because the material featured in each and every volume is always top notch stuff.
From up-tempo, nearly twee tunes to angular pop, Le Pop is all over the map and illustrates the depth and breadth of chanson music now days. This isn't your grandmother's French pop anymore; it's more like shabby chic pop music that's in love with the sixties as much as it is the noughties. It's far more than just Serge covers...way more. With loads of new artists making an appearance on these compilations, the content is always fresh and crisp and on the cutting edge of the French pop scene.
Simply put, no matter the volume Le Pop never disappoints. From the nearly traditional sound of Brigitte's, “Bailez Vous,” to Lescop's extremely danceable, “La Foret,” this record, like its cousins proves itself to be essential. The entire Le Pop series is amazing as a whole and I always look forward to each release, not only because I'm totally in love w/the girl on the covers but because every song is masterful, seductive, and pop perfection. This is the sort of record and series that would even make someone like John McCain scream, "Vive Le France!"
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Kamau Baaqi better known as Darling Farah is a Detroit born music producer who now lives in the vast desert country of UAE. He's just barely 20 and is quietly making a name for himself in the underground despite being isolated by geography and a corner of the world where techno is shunned. Let's face it when one things of electronic music hot beds the United Arab Emirates is not at the top of the list. But after listening to Darling Farah's album Body maybe it should be.
Obviously inspired by his birthplace and complete geographic isolation Darling Farah embraces minimalism and the stark reality surrounding him with joy. The result is an album that's spartan, barren, and as vast as the desert that engulfs the Middle East. It's an expansive record that throbs and pulses like a robotic heartbeat combing the dunes for sustenance. Body is an epic work that sprawls out across sine and cosine waves into infinity riding the crests of sparse beats and basslines that bore into your skull.
This ambient and subdued record takes techno opens it wide open, envelopes you, and then slows your heart rate down to next to nothing. Body washes over you and transports you to a future disco where time, space, geography, and reality collide in a dour mix of the end and the beginning. Darling Farah is an imaginative producer and his futuristic landscapes are something to behold. He might live in the Middle East but his mind is clearly lost in space. Body is an epic delight that simply needs to be heard to be believed.
Imagine, if you will, a world in which the Melvins only played records on broken record players. It's a world where time, space, and sound are warped, turned around in on itself. It's world that's dark, dreary, doomy and noisy but frighteningly cool. If you can get your head around all of that then you have an idea where the perfectly named Grave Babies come from.
The Babies album Crusher is just that...a brutal crushing roller of an album that squishes your hopes, dreams, and joy. It's a dark chaotic broken record created by a band that may or may not be undead; if Goths can die this may be what they sound like in the afterlife. Let's put it this way, Crusher is the sort of record the Jesus and Mary Chain would make if they were zombies. It's all bizarre guitar sounds, twisted vocals, warped riffs and things that shouldn't be. It's a bizarre record that just so weird that it's mind numbingly good. Guitars are wrangled, drum machines are beaten to near death and the vocals sound as if they were sedated; Crusher should not work in any way shape or form but it does. It's strangely catchy at times and scary at others. It's the sort of record that will haunt your dreams and ears for decades to come and that's probably why I like it.
Grave Babies don't look like they're in touch with their inner goth but after one listen to Crusher I think you'll agree these hipsters much rather smoke clove cigarettes and wear trench-coats than be vegetarian and ride fixed gear bicycles. Crusher is a spirit destroying trip through the soundtrack of depression. This is what happens when the Zoloft doesn't work and bands are allowed to form and quite honestly I'm ok with that. If gothdom could ever be cool The Grave Babies are bound and determined to make it happen and do so with a song in there blackened and depressed heart.
Christian McNeill is a self described "career songwriter," from Ireland but after hopping across the pond, now residies in Boston. Originally in Irish punk band Schtum McNeill's tastes and chops have changed over time as he migrated from another band Hybrasil to his latest incarnation with the Sea Monsters. With his new band and overwhelming presence McNeill tackles good old fashioned blues inflected rock that sounds like it's coming straight from the Bayou rather than Beantown. His bands album, Everything's Up For Grabs is a bombastic groove laden gem of a record that's a treat to listen to.
In listening to Everything's Up For Grabs it's hard to ever picture McNeill as a member of a punk band. In fact, so much of this record is laden with horns, background singers, McNeill's brilliant voice and catchy guitar work that Everything's Up For Grabs is about as unpunk as unpunk can be. That's awesome though because this record is so much fun it seemingly has no time for angst. It's packed with so much energy and spunk that it's infectious. When those horns come in on just about every song it's a goose bump moment; so, so good. From the groovy and soulful, "Don't Make Me Wait," to the brilliant bombast of opener, "Zero," Everything's Up For Grabs sees McNeill maturing into one heck of an artist.
Christian McNeill and Sea Monsters have come up with a gem of a record here. Everything's Up For Grabs is the best non-tradtional blues rock record I've heard in a very, very long time. Packed with soul, gusto, and enough brass to fund your retirement there's very little about this record that isn't great. As a result, it's easy to say that this record is highly recommended.
Way over on the western coast of Australia lies Perth. Not nearly as well known or as popular as say Sydney, Perth is still the largest city on the west coast of the continent and is quite the thriving metropolis in its own right. Within that metropolis is a thriving and healthy music scene in which TV Snow resides. This sunny power pop band are obviously influenced by their coastal Australian geography as well as bands seemingly a world away in the UK. Their album Red is a brilliant mix of Ozzy pop and British bands like Doves or even old Snow Patrol.
Packed with effervescence and energy Red is a hyper and kinetic record that jumps around recklessly while rebounding infectious melodies off of each other. It's exceptionally good stuff and TV Snow are very good at what they do. They channel all that spastic, hyper energy into their songs which makes them power pop purveyors of the highest order. Red is total pogo perfection and it's melodicism is second to none. "Death and Blues," for example manages to speed it's way through all four minutes of itself layering melodies on top of melodies, utilizing falsetto, sugary sweet choruses and enough power chords to fuel Perth for a month. It's a perfect example of why TV Snow's debut is so good.
They might be from the land down under but after listening to Red I'm quite convinced that TV Snow are ready to take on the world. An exceptionally strong debut, Red sounds like a band that has quietly honed it's skills for years just waiting for it's chance. This is it and these guys are ready to go. If you like power pop, 90's alternative or West Coast pop you'll absolutely want to tune in TV Snow.
The joys of technology today include the fact that you don't need a big huge studio or recording budget to be a rock and roll star. There's so much lo-fi stuff on the market that's good and so many dance records being made in bedrooms around the globe that the idea of a big production studio almost seems archaic. As if to prove that point the debut album of Colleen Green Sock It To Me is a jangly jaunt through the lo-fi world on the backs of Veruca Salt, Little Red Car Wreck and a whole host of bedsit indie pop bands that only ever recorded a 7".
Sock It To Me is a lackluster but ridiculously charming record that's firmly in touch with it's inner punk as much as it's inner goth and sees no problem mixing all that angst together. Colleen Green as a result sighs, jangles, gets dark and inadvertently creates an indie pop classic. The whole thing sounds like it was done in her bathroom on a broken PC and I think that it's honesty and it's shambolic nature make it what it is; pretty amazing. Colleen stitches songs together with a charm and temperament that's just too cool for school. With vocals that would make Nina Gordon blush, chunky bass lines, drum machines with test patterns, and synths that wash over you Sock It To Me is a no-frills journey into indie pop heaven. It's shyness and recklessness is just brilliant and you kind of want to hug Colleen Green when the whole thing wraps up.
It may not be glamorous or big budget but Sock It To Me doesn't need to be to be awesome. Colleen Green has great songs and that easily overcomes all the hurdles of the record's lo-fi-ness. She seductively broods across most of this record and manages to pull your heartstrings while she does this. It's masterful in it's manipulation and sugary sweet in it's delivery and when you least expect it socks it to you right between the ears.
Saturday, February 2, 2013
I have no idea where Panjanatan is and my guess is that artist Mark Adams doesn't either and yet somewhere deep in the recesses of his imagination I suppose that's where his latest record was recorded. Adams is a cool songwriter who may only be one guy but he crafts songs that are far deeper and richer than one guy and a guitar. With a massive pop sensibility at his disposal and an obvious adventuresome imagination he puts together quirky songs that come off sounding something like Cake in a tussle with Dylan.
Panjanatan is a fun record because it's got so many dimensions to it; from hooks to humor it all finds a nifty little niche in which to make itself home in. The songs are quirky and catchy and feature all kinds of intriguing arrangements and instrumentation that keeps your ears perked up. As if to prove that point there are electronics, acoustic guitars, horns, string samples, and lots more all over the place and as a result Adams sounds like he's got a thirty piece band backing him up throughout Panjanatan. There's so much depth and texture to each of the songs on Panjanatan that the record sounds well honed and perfectly produced and much larger than it actually is. Panjanatan is the sort of thing that proves that you can be a singer songwriter and still bring a thousand elements and ideas to the table.
I thoroughly enjoyed Panjanatan; it's an imaginative, quirky, and easily remembered record. The songs are fascinating, at times funny and have subtle and slightly weird pop hooks to them. I think it's just my sort of record. I'm not sure who Mark Adams is, what he looks like or where he comes from (bios are great things)...but he definitely put the mythical Panjanatan on the map as far as I'm concerned and it's a place I'll want to revisit again and again.
Los Angeles via Omaha group Big Harp do not in fact have or play a big harp on their latest album Chain Letters. Rather, what Big Harp do on their commutes between cities is create some sort of pastoral romp through a near Magnetic Fields like toy box. The resulting record is a well traveled, slightly humorous, shambolic, eclectic, and noisy but intimate event. Whether or not this is supposed to be a folk record is up for debate, but it's not your usual folk record because it has too much countrified rock coursing through its veins and if you throw in Chris Senseney's deep voice it's an altogether different experience.
Consisting of Chris and his wife Stefanie Big Harp is almost like The Other Two, Two. They totally love dusty and dear music and create this lovelorn, wry, and clever countrified pop music that sounds like it's drank too much whiskey and smoked to many Camels. It's rough but the songs are sweeping and rustic and almost seem like they'd be perfect for some sort of call and response event. Chain Letters is intriguing stuff that's not necessarily catchy and/or memorable in a pop sense but manages to hold your attention with just how eclectic and obtuse it is. I really like Chris' voice for some strange reason...it's just pitched down so much and totally fits the noisy countrified riffing behind him that it works. It makes the entire record sound brokenhearted, downtrodden, and depressed and I think that's Chain Letters charm.
Chain Letters is the sound of the Midwest if Los Angeles were it's capital. It's a little bit country and a little bit city but it's a whole lot of good. In touch with more tradition that it realizes this is folk music that's almost a joy to listen to. They may not have a Big Harp but they don't need one...they've got big songs instead.
Razor and Tie are rapidly becoming one of the biggest and arguably best metal labels in the world. They've got their bases covered with bands that play screamo, emo, death metal, death core, power metal, stoner metal...heck a little bit of everything. As if to prove that point Sword and All That Remains stumbled across my desk and the dynamic between the two bands couldn't be any greater. Sword is total stoner metal straight from the 70's and All That Remain are the aural equivalent of a steamroller.
Sword's latest album Apocryphon is the greatest record that Black Sabbath never recorded. This is a slow churning doomy record with chords that could annihilate small towns. It's all power and and massive hooks and it's the sort of record that just kind of rolls over you with it's sheer force of will. It's just amazing of how similar this band is to old Sabbath. This stuff is so authentic sounding that if a young Ozzy Osbourne isn't their vocalist I'd be amazed. Comparisons asided Apocryphon is an awesome record of brutal doomtastic metal on it's own right that doesn't beat around the bush and just levels you straightaway. You've got to love that...all killer and no filler this is an essential slab of doom.
If Sword is the classic end of things than All That Remains is the modern end. This somewhat legendary group successfully meld emo, screamo, death metal, and enough guitar histrionics to set the world on fire. These guys are good and their latest album A War You Cannot Win proves this point over and over again. This is a band that's beyond technically proficient and so easily mixes guitar and vocal styles together that it almost sounds like a DJ did it. While I will always appreciate the full on death metal growl more than the wimpy emo bits, these guys seem to find a happy balance that keeps everyone happy. A War You Cannot Win is heavy, make no mistake, but there's enough melody here to make the record accessible for people who don't like to grind it out. With riffs sounding like cruise missile attacks and the vocal assault booming out of the resulting mushroom clouds, All That Remains leave a swath of metallic destruction that's simply epic. With Slayer like guitar solos, vocal wipeouts and screams of agony this is one band that truly does it all and does it well. A War You Cannot Win is an accessible record that's excessively heavy but surprisingly melodic and in the end it's that combination that makes this record work.
Whether it's the classic sound of Sabbath or the modern sound of the apocalypse both Sword and All The Remains have you covered and you're not going to find two better records than A War You Cannot Win and Apocryphon. While they differ in approach and sound both bands have metal coursing through their veins and that's what truly matters.
There's being lost in the past and then there's being lost in the past and that's where Black Marble fit in. These guys are so absorbed and obsessed with early synthpop that you would swear on your mother's life that their album A Different Arrangement was recorded in 1982 when the idea of a sequencer was the most windswept and exotic idea in recorded music history. As on might expect as a result, Black Marble are a raw, minimal, cold, and harsh synthpop group who make early recordings by OMD sound like 128 track digital recordings. They're depressingly impressive and the songs, while sounding firmly in touch with their inner Teutonic keyboard terrors, are surprisingly catchy.
Black Marble are so detached and so rooted in analog sounds that I'm very hesitant in believing that A Different Arrangement was recorded last year. It's too raw, to unpolished, at times almost more Joy Division than Joy Division and more synthetic than the Human League could ever hope to be. It's simply awesome stuff that's a throwback to when sounds like this were new and unexplored and much of A Different Arrangement feels and sounds like Black Marble are learning how all this electronic stuff works. In truth it's probably two dudes on Mac's and Ipad's recording while watching Big Bang Theory and eating pizza but it certainly feels old. It's funny and impressive how technology progresses and how someone today can intentionally sound as bad groups did in 1980. All that being said, and logic aside, I really, really like A Different Arrangement . It's brokenhearted detachment, it's sterile, cold, and minimalistic production just doesn't care what it sounds or feels like and that purity and honesty make A Different Arrangement awesome.
Synthpop has come a long, long way since the heady days of 1980. Yet, it's nice to know that despite the progress made technologically that the songs, albums, and bands from those early days are still held in such high regard. Black Marble are a living tribute to those times and A Different Arrangement is truly different today because it's a tarnished look back and not something sparkly and optimistic. This is a grim and gray record no matter how hard it tries to be happy and that makes me smile.
UrbanWorld Records returns with another installment of their rather brilliant series Global Bass. Volume 3 is really no different than the first two in the sense that the label has scoured the planet for funky bass ridden dubbed out tunes that are guaranteed to make you move. Finding them in just about every corner of the globe Global Bass Volume 3 is a trans world feast of beats, synths, and global grooves that moves to it's own rhythm.
With influences coming from Colombian pico, Frafa, and grimy urban warehouses this compilation literally has left no stone or country unturned in its search for ways to make people shake something. This is the sort of record that's for people who hate dance music because it's so ridiculously diverse but so simple in its groovy message that it's just about impossible to resist it's charms. I simply love the fact that spaced out synths find a home next to accordions and deep echoing beats and that they all mesh together into this international rave of booming proportions.
There's very little to dislike here. Global Bass Volume 3 is a fantastic introduction, not only, to world music and those afraid to try it, but to the brilliance of UrbanWorld Records as well. This is a fantastic exploration of sound that's diverse, different and danceable. It's so good that you'll be left waiting to see what UrbanWorld has up its sleeves for Volume 4.