MUSIC REVIEWS: Handsome Furs, Extra Golden, Katt Williams, Guilt By Association Vol. 2
“Face Control” is the term given to the Russian nightclub practice of turning away even patrons with reservations at the door solely on the basis of appearance. So it is apropos that this album needs to be given a second once-over after the first listen.
Face Control is an important album. Not just because Dan Boeckner’s Wolf Parade put out one of the best albums of last year, and not just because the Handsome Furs, Boeckner’s project with his wife, writer Alexei Perry, impressed us in 2007 with Plague Park. Face Control, which the couple recorded when they returned from touring in Russia, sounds like a hipster dance party in the falling snow. It combines moody, edgy electronica with David Bowie glam (“Evangeline”) and even Bruce Springsteen echoey-wisdom (“Talking Hotel Arbat Blues” sounds like a combination of “Working On The Highway,” “I’m On Fire,” and a drunken romp through city streets at night), layering the synthetic with the raw, all topped off with Boeckner’s desperate, gruff, half-adolescent vocals which make any lyric sound like an oft-quoted classic in the annals of eternal underground rock.
Of course, the Handsome Furs can’t help pulling this off with the computerized nonchalance that only drum machines can offer (“It was nothing, it was nothing to me,” Boeckner says in opener “Legal Tender”; “Heaven was a place we built out of stone” in the New Order-reference “All We Want, Baby, Is Everything”), but when sparse textures predominate, the moments of tense passion (“Our love was lost and found” sounds like an intimate bedroom murmur in “Officer Of Hearts”) mean that much more. And although knowing what Dan can sound like when backed up by a full band casts a faint shadow at times on his dynamicity, the fact that instantly-catchy, bittersweet “Radio Kalininbrad” and retro “I’m Confused” brim with rich sounds without sounding like studio-happy layer-cake attests to a carefulness that sews the album together.
Introspective but fierce, dark but optimistic. In short, even the most predictable moments of Face Control are fascinating. Now go throw a Moscow-themed party and play this album on repeat.
Ian Eagleson, Alex Minoff and Otieno Jagwasi started Extra Golden in an apartment in Buru Buru, a neighborhood in Nairobi, Kenya. Later, they added Onyango Wuod Omari on drums. Not long after Otieno Jagwasi lost his fight with liver disease, Eagleson and Minoff brought their music to Thrill Jockey. “Thank You Very Quickly” is remarkable for its benga stylings, notably the African guitar-heavy dance music. The upbeat tempo holds through each track, at times mixing funk with pop. The jazz fusion slant of electric guitar makes leaps only a renowned guitar acrobat could land and the landing is perfect every time. The drums are super busy and wickedly rhythmic. Extra Golden sounds as rich as the country that birthed it. It is hard not to get caught up in the rhythm and the way each track ferociously moves. The guitar dances around the percussive element and creates a dance-inducing utopia. There is such a pleasurable quality in which the album was recorded allowing it to sound attractively earthy and natural. “Piny Yore Yore” aside from being so catchy, the guitar chimes up into a sweeping movement that one’s mind follows like a cat entranced by a bouncing ball and then crashes into a riff that mirrors the chant chorus of the vocals. Each track has a superb amount of musical perfection and the blending of rock and benga is breath-taking.
You can love him or hate him, but this cat or Katt is here to stay in the home of our comedic hearts. To quote his words exactly “I laughed from a good healthy place,” well so did everyone else in 2008 on that hilarious night with a cheerful Washington, DC crowd.
With punch lines ranging from Lil Wayne sounding like a seven year old who’s crying when he raps to the guy who got bit by the tiger in the San Francisco Zoo, you’ll see that there’s an intensity in what he says, filled with hot boiled truth, but the fiction is all in the seasonings. The twinkle in Katt’s eyes is that of experience, it’s something like a pimps stiffened voice asking for the money, because hey, you got to see the show right?
With a dry resonated child like voice delivering this social laxative we need and want, blow by blow this stand up funny man is a fighter who really packs a different approach with style and a comedic punch, especially on the track “Franchise Player.”
Race, sex, and politics are covered here with irony and joy, especially when speaking of Barack Obama’s recent election to The White House that I thought was really funny. To make us think while we laugh is something quite genius in my book.
You’ll see a real Entreprenegro in spirit and mind going on here. Here’s something you might not have known about Katt Williams: he won a full Science Scholarship at age 12 and now this triple threat not only acts, does stand -up, and raps, but has a clothing line, also an investment company, and a record label. Can you tell me another angle he hasn’t played out? I didn’t think so.
Compilations are the trickiest of all. To not only reconstruct other artist’s songs so people respond more to your effort has to be daunting. “Guilt by Association Vol. 2” boasts an end product that is all kinds of fun. The original version of “Tainted Love,” was not the one that broke records in 1981, the remade version was by the group, Soft Cell. On “Guilt by Association Vol. 2,” My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden adds a lot of drive and sex appeal. Worden unleashes the song like a sonic missile. Not giving any room for recovery, Laura Branigan’s “Self-Control” gets covered by the Bloodsugars. They inflate the 80s synth pop jam with a soulful ambient blues texture and a rumble of reggae-esque guitar. Songs by artists such as My Chemical Romance, Katy Perry, Phil Collins, Ace of Base, INXS, Billy Joel and Toto are all recreated by other groups on this compilation. However the icing on the cake is Robbers on High Street’s version of New Edition’s “Cool It Now.” They enthusiastically take the rhythm and blues pop gem and give it even more bounce. Ben Trokan’s deep alt-indie vocals beautify the original’s running bass line over shakers and ultra-cute backing vocals. Francis and the Lights’ remake of Kanye West’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” is a low key strut opposite West’s heavy minimalist rap self-examination stream of consciousness. Francis and the Lights take the original version and mold it into a percussive fog helped along by singer, Francis Farewell Starlite whose almost whispered vocals are meek and hesitant, and that is what makes it so endearing.