Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

How the Other Half Lives, Pt. 6

Making fun of trendoids again. Yeah, they’re easy targets, but have you ever wondered what all those bands that get reviewed at pitchfork actually sound like? Not that you’re missing anything: we took pitchfork’s top 50 albums of 2008 list and discovered that there were actually a handful of good bands on it (token major-label hiphop acts included). Otherwise, we stick a fork in what the trendoids there would be terrified to discover isn’t actually all that popular:

 

1 Fleet Foxes – Sun Giant EP/Fleet Foxes

Interesting vocal arrangements fail to energize tuneless wannabe anthemic rock with painfully constipated vocals

2 Portishead – Third

Their frontman disowned their one good album, the Live at Roseland cd; this is a return to soporific early 90s synth/drum machine form

3 No Age – Nouns

Guitar/drums duo from LA. Lo-fi like a middle school band: they can barely play their instruments. Strident, declamatory vocals; nonsequiturs for lyrics. In other words, no different from any other trendoid band out there.

4 Cut Copy – In Ghost Colours

80s style synth disco, if you liked the Pet Shop Boys 20 years ago you’ll probably love this garbage

5 Deerhunter – Microcastle / Weird Era Cont.

Good band. Weird, disjointed, noisy and often menacing with the guitars, like early Wire. Just when you’re wondering if any kind of tune is ever going to kick in, there it is.

6 TV On The Radio – Dear Science

Little would you know how good a guitarist their drummer is. Arch, affected, tuneless, tenth-rate Radiohead, more minimalist, with more of a stoner feel.

7 Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

What was it that the NY Times reviewer said about them? “The comfortable stench of inherited wealth was everywhere?” Well said. Third-rate white Afrobeat with constipated vocals and stupid lyrics. Somewhere King Sunny Ade is scowling.

 8 M83 – Saturdays=Youth

Awful retro 80s computerwimp pop, sometimes venturing into New Order wannabe territory. By comparison to most of this, Kajagoogoo were ballsy.

9 Hercules and Love Affair – Hercules and Love Affair

Back in the 80s some of us used to call this Rainbow Shops music, after the downscale, youth-oriented discount NYC womenswear chain where they would always blast Kiss FM over the PA. If you’ve never discovered the joys and pleasures of Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam (not), you’d actually prefer them to this cold, contrived commercial crap.

10 DJ/rupture – Uproot

DJ Rupture (let’s 86 the effete forward slash and lowercase, shall we?)  isn’t a musician. This is apparently a mix of loops and computerized percussion.

11 Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III

Time for a token black. Looks like the head trendoids sent the intern down to the mall to see which hip-hop is popular these days. The guy’s got some talent, but wasn’t this the most downloaded cd of the year or something? They couldn’t spend a few minutes to find something a little less formulaic?

12 Lindstrom – Where You Go I Go Too

This is just a remix of synth loops over a drum machine. Drugs – not the kind you should ever think of doing –  may have something to do with this.

13 Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)

Another token black: real daring, guys! Despite the title and the packaging, there’s nothing remotely political, intelligent or interesting about this generically poppy “R&B” garbage.

14 Air France – No Way Down

“Love. Burger. At your dreams.” That’s the lyrics to one of these Swedish computerwimps’ tuneless songs, repeating over and over and over. Sissy music.

15 Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles

Arch, affected, effete vocals over computerized disco percussion and lots of posing.

16 Vivian Girls – Vivian Girls

Good, imaginative, fun stuff: a little 60s garage, a little dreampop, a bit of surf and some real sweet harmonies over a skittish beat.

17 Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Common Life

“Experimental hardcore,” i.e. Good Charlotte for trendoids

18 The Mae Shi – HLLLYH

Any band who rip off Baba O’Reilly and then add a drum machine over it, like these El Lay disco sissies, should be castrated. Woops, looks like somebody’s already done that.

19 The Walkmen – You & Me

Not very exciting but not painful either, until the vocals kick in: the yuppie puppy who fronts what’s left of the Walkmen is one of the most annoying performers you could ever see

20 Fuck Buttons – Street Horrrsing

Not music. It’s a computer. This is your brain on…what? Too much oxycontin? Ecstasy? Prozac?

 21 Kanye West – 808s and Heartbreak

My, funny how much indie pop and disco there is on the pitchfork list, but not a single indie hip-hop artist? Maybe because pitchfork doesn’t know such a thing exists?

22 Santogold – Santogold

Corporate “R&B” posing as dancehall reggae, ranging from forgettable to downright awful

23 Hot Chip – Made in the Dark

More Rainbow Shops music: tedious, soporific computerized, 80s style corporate disco

24 Gang Gang Dance – Saint Dymphna

Even more Rainbow Shops music.

25 Titus Andronicus – The Airing of Grievances

Strokes wannabes: make-believe anger channeled over poppy, cloying guitar melodies, this time with a little dreampop feel.

26 Atlas Sound – Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel

Wherein Bradford Cox of Deerhunter does a lame Eels imitation. A waste – these outtakes have none of the offhand menace of his regular band.

27 Max Tundra – Parallax Error Beheads You

Absolutely hilarious: tedious, soporific computerized, 80s style corporate disco as played in odd time signatures by Yes.

28 Flying Lotus – Los Angeles

This isn’t music: it’s a computer. Strictly for people who get so stoned that they can’t remember whether the stereo is on or not

29 The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

Good rhythm section: the drummer has a serious Keith Moon thing going on. Kinda pathetic that the fat old bald guy who talks over the band – he doesn’t sing, maybe a wise choice – writes like he’s 13, girl-crazy but scared to death of anything in a skirt.

30 Los Campesinos! – Hold on Now, Youngster…

G-rated, smiley-faced, extremely grating UK band in love with all things American and stupid: trendoid rock, twee and Disney pop.

31 Fennesz – Black Sea

A “laptop conceptualist.” Good grief. As boring and self-indulgent as you would imagine.  How much you wanna bet the pitchfork boys googled “laptop conceptualist” and picked this since it was the first thing that came up?

32 Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

Here’s the token old guy. Good album, in fact in many ways a great album – we only left it off the Lucid Culture top 50 cds list so we could make room for someone equally deserving and more obscure

33 Frightened Rabbit – Midnight Organ Fight

Melodramatic Scottish band: echoes of U2, the Frames. All this fuss over nothing at all.

34 Arthur Russell – Love Is Overtaking Me

Dead gay guy who played the cello and made unpopular disco albums, recently resurrected via indie biopic. That’s all you really need to know.

35 Girl Talk – Feed the Animals

This is a guy, not a band, and he’s not a musician. He makes mashup cds on his computer, just like you and me. Nothing wrong with that. But does it make us anything special? Apparently so. Memo to self: burn cd, mail to pitchfork, pseudonymously.

36 Wale – The Mixtape About Nothing

Hip-hop concept album about Sienfeld. No joke. Supposedly it samples Michael Richards’ notorious racist tirade from a few years ago (none of us are fans, some being a little young for Seinfeld). Not to rain on this guy’s parade, but the real diehard Seinfeld fans are your parents’ age, right? Isn’t hip-hop kind of after their time?

37 Grouper – Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill

Lazy inept guitar noodling. Ostensibly this is Art.

38 The Bug – London Zoo

Dub with a predictable zeros techie feel. It’s not bad if you’re new to this but there’s more imaginative stuff out there. For those who think King Tubby is too intense.

39 Times New Viking – Rip It Off

More token oldsters. This band includes the guy from the Clean plus that woman from the Fall. Noisy dreampop. Not awful.

40 The Very Best – Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit are the Very Best

Supposedly this is “jungle.” Computer blips and bleeps.

41 David Byrne and Brian Eno – Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

More token old people. The guy from the Talking Heads and the guy who was once in Roxy Music, then produced a bunch of people and made a bunch of snoozy ambient albums. This just sounds like bad Talking Heads pop, cloying and annoying.

42 Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Lie Down in the Light

One of the original trendoids, a trust fund kid pretending to be a hick from the sticks.

43 Shearwater – Rook

Pleasantly pretty, glimmering Radiohead outtakes released under another bandname. Oh, this is originals?  Well, hardly original, right down to the faux Thom Yorke vocals, but if you’re going to rip somebody off you could do a whole lot worse than Radiohead.

44 Marnie Stern – This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That

A female guitar wanker! Wretched excess reaches a new level. Grotesquely self-indulgent, million-notes-a-minute, Steve Vai style shredding.

45 Lykke Li – Youth Novels

“For you I keep my legs apart,” she coos, this Swedish disco singer who likens herself to “Jane Birkin with no top on.” Somewhere Serge Gainsbourg is grimacing.

46 Beach House – Devotion

The American Stereolab.  Not bad, if it’s pretty sleepy.

47 The Tallest Man on Earth – Shallow Grave

Swedish fingerstyle acoustic guitarist. He’d make a great lead player in somebody else’s oldtimey band. But keep him away from the mic unless he’s singing in his native tongue. 

48 High Places – High Places

Sounds like they REALLY want to be the Cocteau Twins, minus the talent and the vocals

49 Crystal Stilts – Alight Of Night

Interpol wannabes, a year or three late and a dollar short.

50 Ponytail – Ice Cream Spiritual

Loud, chaotic Sonic Youth wannabe rock with gleeful whoops and hollers in Japanese and a drummer who can’t keep time

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December 28, 2008 Posted by | Music, Rant | Leave a comment

CD Review: Dub Colossus in a Town Called Addis

Alternately playful and rousing, spacey and hypnotic, Dub Colossus’ debut cd isn’t just a remix. The brainchild of Transglobal Underground founder Nick Page, it’s a collaboration with an A-list of Ethiopian musicians, some of whom had never left the country prior to recording this. Some of this has the woozy, mesmerizing, rustic feel of a vintage Lee “Scratch” Perry dub reggae production from the mid-70s; elsewhere, it has a more high-tech, Finley Quaye style downtempo lounge feel with washes of electronic keyboards swirling behind the horns, keys or guitar. Page – who plays bass and guitar here – brought together chanteuse Sintayehu “Mimi” Zenebe (billed as the “Edith Piaf of Ethiopia”) along with saxist/composer Feleke Hailu (who’s also the host of the Ethopian version of American Idol), young piano star Samuel Yirga and one-string fiddle virtuoso Teremage Woretaw, among others.

 

The cd is a mix of instrumentals and vocal numbers. Some of the songs are pretty much straight-up roots reggae with vocals in Amharic, frequently featuring some really pretty, vivid horn work. Others vamp on a single chord, instruments creeping into and then out of the mix as it slinks along. In general, Page keeps a light hand on the space echo and reverb, making the dub sections all the more evocative. With spooky organ and sparse guitar, the long, haunting, Arab-inflected instrumental Yeba Sub City Rock evokes the many remixes of the Specials’  Ghost Town that abounded throughout the late 70s. Shem City Steppers maintains the ominous feel, picking up the pace over a bouncy Bob Marleyesque beat. It gets even eerier on the completely noir Ophir Dub, which wouldn’t be out of place in a David Lynch film. Black Rose layers vocals over a reggae riddim and an arrangement that blends Isaac Hayes style soul with 90s electro-lounge; Neh Yelginete (My First Love) is nothing short of beautiful, floating along on Hailu’s summery, Sonny Rollins-inflected sax fills. The other tracks feature such seemingly unlikely accents as a classical piano intro, a long fiddle jam and a slowly accelerating duel between horn section and electric piano. That it all works as seamlessly as it does testifies to the chemistry between the musicians.

 

Zenebe’s vocals have a compellingly bright, soulful feel and the rest of the singers follow suit. There’s a warmth and a spontaneity here so frequently missing from Western-conceived collaborations with African musicians, and happily none of the exploitative feel of something like Paul Simon’s Graceland. This ought to resonate equally with reggae fans as well as moviegoers who fell in love with the great Ethopian jazz composer Mulatu Astatke’s work on the Broken Flowers soundtrack. 

December 28, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | Leave a comment