MUSIC REVIEWS: Four Tet, Flaming Lips, Alicia Keys, Hurricane Bells, Ghostporn, Cesaria Evora, Malakai
Yes, you can call Keiran Hebden aka UK-artist Four Tet just an electro DJ-producer, but you’d be missing the point of it all. Having remixed for well-known artists such as Radiohead, Madvillan and Badly Drawn Boy, Keiran also has several albums under his belt (Dialogue, 1999; Pause, 2001; Rounds, 2003; and Everything Ecstatic, 2005). Lest not forget, he’s the former front man of post-rock band, Fridge.
Sometimes falling into the inventive categories of “folktronica” or “laptronica” because of his blending of the electro sounds of downtempo, the beats and breaks of hip hop, the smoothness of jazz and the elements of folk such as harps, Four Tet creates what I like to call “intelligent instrumentals.” It ain’t about dancing, at least, not in the vertical sense, as his latest album There is Love in You epitomizes. Love in You reaches beyond the traditional aim of rocking dance floors to actually inciting the mind and simply relaxing it. It’s a highly inventive effort, definitely one to add to the collection. Noteworthy tracks: “Love Cry” “Sing,” and “This Unfolds.”
Dive in with an open mind. The Flaming Lips remake of The Dark Side of the Moon is like going for a red lollypop you think is cherry, but ends up being watermelon. Pink Floyd knew psychedelic, The Flaming Lips know it even better. In “Money” instead of getting the opening of a cash register clinging and money dropping you get a new montage of techno sounds. The basic background of the song is still there. The original Dark Side of the Moon is in there somewhere, it just has a new layer on it. When I first heard the sound effects I thought that they are what Pink Floyd would have liked to use, but didn’t have access to at the time. Stardeath & White Dwarfs, Peaches, and Henry Rollins all contribute to the album. “Time/Breathe” is done by Stardeath & White Dwarfs alone and is one of the most striking tracks on the album. Henry Rollins’ maniacal laughter and shouting dialogue have their place. If you’re a diehard Floyd fan, stick to the original. Anyone who is willing to try something new and a little less than ordinary might end up enjoying themselves. If you’re looking for the basics of fun, trippy, psychedelic and unusual there isn’t a better album to buy.
Miss Keys has several tough acts to follow and I was scared to hear this 15-track ode to freedom released in mid-December for fear that it wouldn’t compare to her four previous high-caliber albums.
I knew I would adore “Doesn’t Mean Anything” and “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart” since I heard both recently and fell in love, perhaps more with the second one. Alicia herself even described “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart” as a song she is “passionately in love with.” Both are relatable love songs: a song about nothing mattering without her loved one and a song about making it through the night alone. What’s not to, well, love?! While the other tracks took a couple plays to get accustomed to, I was left anything but disappointed.
“That’s How Strong My Love Is” elaborates on the lengths she would go through for her lover. It’s a sweet, slow song like its predecessor “Wait Til You See Me Smile.” “Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready)” is a slow R&B jam about being tired of holding back in love. In “Love Is My Disease” she croons, “I thought love would be my cure, but now it’s my disease, I try to act mature, but I’m a baby when you leave.”
“Put It In A Love Song” features Beyonce and embodies B’s signature style, with simple lyrics but a catchy beat. “This Bed” is another song about being lonely in bed, but not as good as “Try Sleeping…” Towards the end, “Distance And Time” is dedicated “to all the lovers who can’t be together.”
The last two tracks are key. “Empire State Of Mind Part II” is her own solo version of the original hit partnered with Jay-Z. It is beautiful, and almost as much is the final track, “Pray For Forgiveness,” which displays her vocals well. Keys album is far from disappointment; it is another masterpiece in her already impressive discography.
The barren lucidity of Tonight is The Ghost by Hurricane Bells is draped over urban cowboy rustic strains of guitar and howling dusty melodies. Echoes of guitar soften up moody bass lines and dramatic smashes of percussion and strings with poetic strength and dreamy constantly changing landscapes of thoughtfully sentimental lonesome songs. The melancholy, “Tonight I’m Going to Be like a Shooting Star” still endures with buoyancy. Lead singer, Steve Schiltz, has the perfect storyteller vocals and cinematic eye that never loses control or focus. The bubbly “Darkness is So Deep” is still a call to not be swept under, over a sweet up-tempo charm. Very even, very steady and quite endearing, Schiltz’s vocals are near perfect on every track within the folds of the funneling downturn of this heavily emotive alternative sound. Giving fully into charming lonesome road swag from this Brooklyn based songwriter, “Freezing Rain” moves with a swarm of dobro-jilted guitars moving and bending and winding while the pitter-patter rain mocking drums keep the tune rolling. “The Winters in New York,” is full of pompous bass and the rolling guitar solo is so vibrant it yearns to revive an era where rock music actually had style and full bodied instrumentation over crisply charged yet thoughtful lyrics. An amazing feat for Steve Schiltz, singer and guitarist of Longwave. Tonight is The Ghost was wholly written, recorded, played and mixed entirely by Schiltz, himself.
What is ghostporn? Apparently it’s a type of Japanese porn/horror in which women behave as if they’re being sexually assaulted by dark, invisible and extremely horny spirits. Let’s hope these ghosts, if they ever become visible, have their shaving together more than their adult film colleagues.
Who are ghostporn? They’re a band from the Central Coast of California formerly known as Black Shirts, who have recorded 4 songs, clocking in at just under 11 minutes of music.
Why am I writing about ghostporn? Because 3 out of these 4 songs are stellar, the other, merely very good, despite the fact that they are woefully underproduced (and not in a deliberate, lo-fi way).
Guitarist Kenny Carranza shows flashes of the late great founding Pretenders member James Honeyman-Scott with his super melodic arpeggios and riffs. Drummer Kenny Hall throws in a dash of Moe Tucker on the Velvets inspired track “Razorface”, as well as some nifty tom overdubs on “Friends”. But it’s the blank verse and effortless whine of singer Anastasia Trevino that really shines here. Traces of Chan Marshall, Nico and Karen O are incorporated without seeming overly emulative. Whether she’s inhabiting the soul of a dissatisfied spouse, “I have taken no for an answer, I hate my stupid life and when I walk home from work I’m alone…” or an obsessed lover “I’ll stay till the sky falls down, I’ll stay till you’re not around, but your hand in mine would be a dream”, she’s never less than compelling.
You can find out more info on Ghostporn at their Myspace page
Cesaria Evora’s voice is rich, deep and husky. In Nha Sentimento, listeners are treated with songs that convey moments of elation, pain, sorrow and celebration. While the lyrics are in Portuguese and the musical sound is a craft-full blend of Fado, Morna, coladera dance, and West African styles, the language and mood of the album comes across as genuinely universal. Influences include Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, and Tito Paris. Backed by a delightful horn section, island-like percussion line, and beautiful Egyptian string instrumentation, the tracks can be best described as if watching a beautiful sunset off a coastal oasis.
The album opens with some bright moving pieces. A good interchange of upbeat and rhythmic dance numbers as well as more heartfelt and emotionally stirring ballads. Cesaria and musical accompaniment move with ease and grace through every song. While the opening five or six tracks do pull you in, by the middle of the album, I started to feel as if I were transported in a deep sleep-like trance–not sure if it’s because of the hypnotic rhythm of the instruments combined with Cesaria’s warm and soothing vocals, or if the tracks do seamlessly blend into each other. However by the third end of the album, the mood picks up again and closes with some standout numbers. Every song is a great one on the album, and I can honestly say there is not one song I don’t like. Although with 14 tracks total, the album can sound pretty epic within one sitting, but then again some journeys are worth the taking such as the dream-like excursion on Nha Sentimento. Notable tracks include “Vento de Suesta,” “Ligereza, Sentimento,” “Voiva de Ceu,” and “Mam Bia E So Mi.”
Malakai could easily be described as a music critic’s worst nightmare. That is, the band, consisting of duo “Gee” and “Scott,” does not follow the standard format of creating music, which one can pinpoint as a specific genre.
Personally, I find bands that are brave enough to take such direction (or lack of) to be the most talented, and with this knowledge instilled in me ages ago, I wasn’t surprised when Ugly Side of Love refused to bring me one moment of boredom. The album opens up with “Warriors,” a brilliant song that not only samples parts from the 1979 cult film, but reflects the indefinable, auditory experience that’s to come.
“Snowflake” seems to be a song about frustration, and I guarantee you’ll want to roll your windows down and scream/sing along to this gospel-grunge-rock groove. “Blackbird” is another energetic yet schizophrenic ride through sound, which I can best describe as TV on the Radio meets the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz.
“Only for You” is a trippy, garage-rock song who’s fading lyrics and melodies seem to reflect the song’s title quite differently. Apparently Geoff Barrow (of Portishead) assisted Malakai on this track, (as well as discovering the band itself). “Lay Down Stay Down” has a 70s jazz-funk appeal, and could easily belong to that decade if only for the song’s message, while “How Long” starts off sounding like the Guess Who’s “Hand Me Down World.”
Track ten is undoubtedly my favorite. Gee’s vocals, like most of the album, resemble that of slightly warped Crosby Stills & Nash, while the song itself sounds like it’s being played on a vintage stereo, scratches and all. “Another Sun” will indeed make you feel like you’re listening to something created decades ago, and that’s more than refreshing in an age where technology is used to make a mediocre piece of music sound more advanced than it ever could be. Concluding track “Simple Song” is a riddle that probably isn’t meant to be solved, while “Fading World” is a morose journey that could easily describe America in all of its economic an ecological turmoil.
Overall, this band from Bristol, England is anything but ordinary. Their sound will have your ears guessing until you succumb to the realization that Malakai isn’t supposed to be ingested easily. Instead, I recommend listening to these guys with an open mind. In that case, you may just be blown away from hearing something (alas!) original.