MUSIC REVIEWS: Takka Takka, Monkey, Gossip Girl Soundtrack, Stars Like Fleas
If music soothes the savage beast, then let the savagery cease with Takka Takka’s most recent LP Migration. From the belly of King’s County, this five-piece band delivers 12 tracks of polyphonic floss to mingle with the sweet airy quality of Gabe Levine’s vocals. The smooth guitar work belies the presence of the three guitarists (Levine, Planchon, and Thurlow), whose sound sits softly against the vibrant (and often) African-inspired beats that sprout from an undulating combination of drums, a synth, and other percussive goodies. The resultant mélange is a peek into the meditative nature of rock–as though we listeners are eavesdropping on a cathartic jam session.
Damon Albarn’s latest collaborative effort with artist Jamie Hewlett, the soundtrack to their theatrical adaption of 16th century Chinese classic Journey to the West, shows the “on-hiatus” Blur frontman continuing to expand his own musical boundaries while managing to remain compelling and, most importantly, listenable.
Combining Albarn’s production touch with the musicianship of the UK Chinese Ensemble, the album features traditional Mandarin lyrics set to European and Chinese instrumentation. Tracks weave into each other like a videogame rock opera set during the Tang Dynasty. The happy, loopily dancing melody of “I Love Buddha,” accented by handclaps and electronic beats, is like an Eastern-mystic equivalent to the celebratory music following your victory over an RPG’s final boss.
Although not a straightforward recording of the live show, the album demonstrates an effective grasp of narrative tension; the pretty, tender harmonies of “The Living Sea” segue into the stomping, evil march of “The Dragon King,” and “Heavenly Peach Banquet,” which sounds like tea-time in the Mushroom Kingdom, is followed immediately by the chaotic “Battle in Heaven.” By the time you make your way through the closing duo of “Monkey Bee” and “Disappearing Volcano,” you’ll feel like you’ve completed an epic journey of your own.
I’m not going to pretend to know anything about the show Gossip Girl, other than they have a sweet soundtrack. The compilation contains a hip assortment of tracks from up and coming pop artists that range from dance to rock. Pop music often carries a stigma but good songs are good songs and this album has a number of them from artists such as Albert Hammond Jr, Phantom Planet, Nadia Oh, and the Crystal Castles. Some of the highlights include the first cut by the Kills, “Sour Cherry,” a track that appeals to a wide audience with its pop/rock blend of tight guitar, bright percussion, and sexy and suggestive vocals. The Virgins “One Week of Danger” has a great rock feel reminiscent of the Stones and “Do the Panic” is another winner from a group that made it big thanks to television, Phantom Planet. The album has a couple of interesting dance tunes as well including “Got Your Number” by Nadia Oh, which mixes an 80’s freestyle feel with a modern beat and “Crimewave” from Crystal Castles, which could’ve been a big hit on the roller-skating rink. Albert Hammond Jr (of Strokes fame) has a great solo track, “Hard to Live in the City,” which closes out the album on an upbeat, slightly nostalgic note. The variation of mood and tempo makes the album perfect for driving or parties and it’s the kind of thing you can pick up and listen to for a while.
Stars Like Fleas are nothing if not ambitious. The liner notes for their latest album, The Ken Burns Effect, reveal that the personnel list includes over ten players, hailing from a variety of other prestigious projects including Beirut, Fiery Furnaces, and TV on the Radio.
This album of high concept experimental jazz and electronic music reminded me of nothing, so much as a Dave Matthews record let loose in the production suites of yes, such indie rock bands with experimental bents as those listed above. The effect is a pleasant one, if not particularly stunning. Stars Like Fleas ultimately comes across as hipster elevator music, the inoffensive background noise for people who find the music of Animal Collective and Liars engaging and inventive.