Friday, May 28, 2010

The Music of May

Taking a break from renovation and housework for a new addition to my ongoing series on music. I needn't go into too much detail how this time's collection only further proves my original thesis that we live in a glorious post-musical age (though I'll drop some hints). I'll mostly just survey what I've added to my catalog since last I wrote about it. To catch up (if you're new to all this), here's a linklist, in chronological order, of all my posts on my music collection: [1] [2] [3] [4]. The first of those covers the philosophy behind all the rest.

There have been some fantastic new albums by artists I've already praised in earlier posts, good enough that I've added to my collection almost every track, including Bitter:Sweet (Drama), The Bravery (Stir the Blood), Blake Lewis (Heartbreak on Vinyl), Depeche Mode (Sounds of the Universe), Nouvelle Vague (3), Moby (Wait for Me), The Crystal Method (Divided by Night), Solar Fields (Movements), etc. Don't miss any of that great stuff.

Goldfrapp tries her hand this time at a retro-glitter sound from the late-70s/early-80s (Head First), making a delightful frankenstein of ELO and Olivia Newton-John, proving Goldfrapp's whole career is postmusical. Just before that she did pre-disco early 70s retro (Seventh Tree). Yet in true postmusical form, her stuff is better than anything done then. Is New Wave next? Gorillaz rises to postmusical brilliance in some of their new album (Plastic Beach). Even though I didn't like the rest nearly as much, "Plastic Beach" and "On Melancholy Hill" are among the best tracks I've heard from any artist in years (though I should add to that list a single track by Smog: "Bathysphere"). The Petshop Boys also have a few new tracks I like (on Yes).

And one better. I praised Gnarls Barkley a few posts back, and well, Danger Mouse has done it again, in fact far outdone it, forming a new pair, this time with James Mercer, as The Broken Bells. Their self-titled album is a bona fide masterpiece. This is what The Beatles would sound like if they were still making albums: unparalleled by any of their peers, yet thoroughly modernized with a current sound (just as The Beatles once moved with the times yet stayed ahead of them), and still immersed in their signature genius and feel (the most evocative of this comparison is "Sailing to Nowhere," "Citizen," and "Your Head Is on Fire"). You'll hear an echo of Gnarls (e.g. "The Ghost Inside," "Vaporize"), but better still ("The Mall and Misery," "The High Road," "October," "Trap Doors"), a more 80s retro inversion, changed up into postmusical brilliance. Every track is genius. Take a listen.

And just as postmusical as doing that is still to be making amidst all these retro and unique sounds something that's fairly standard rock and roll but still good. And well in that camp is Allison Iraheta, an American Idol loser who, like most Americal Idol losers, is making better albums than the winners. The lyrics are, like, ohmygod, totally high school. But many of the tunes rock. Try "Holiday," "Don't Waste the Pretty," "Robot Love," "Friday I'll Be Over You," and "Trouble Is." This is a teenaged girl doing good grunge-80s hair band music in the 21st century. Joan Jett would have made this album if she wasn't too busy sucking in the 80s.

Another wonderful American Idol creation is Adam Lambert (another loser who out-talents the winner). His album For Your Entertainment is excellent wink-rock pop (yes, ohmygod, he's like totally gay, and his lyrics are all the more amusing for it). It isn't New Wave, but would've fit right in in the 80s, something like Van Halen and Def Leppard meets Michael Jackson and the 21st century. Seriously. Try "Sure Fire Winners," "Fever," and "For Your Entertainment" (also on my faves are "Down the Rabbit Hole," "Master Plan," "Sleepwalker," "A Loaded Smile," and "Strut" ... in other words, nearly the entire album rocks). This is great stuff. He also did several superb covers during the show ("Mad World," "Ring of Fire," "Feeling Good," "Born to Be Wild," "Whole Lotta Love"), which are, IMO, must-haves, and that's rare for American Idol studio covers. Best Am Idol season ever.

And of course, everyone loves Lady GaGa, and with good reason. "Love Game" and "Poker Face" are well-deserved hits, with "Bad Romance" pulling a close third. But she's a mega star. More postmusical is how so many lesser knowns are creating fantastic music. Ben's Brother is a talented unknown from England, whose lead singer-songwriter is essentially the new Rod Stewart ("Find Me an Angel") with twice the talent, admirably emulating the new Bon Jovi ("Time") and Coldplay ("What if I"), and one-upping the Stereophonics ("Stuttering"). Totally postmusical. Caught him on the Graham Norton show, where I've found a lot of cool artists (e.g. Katie Melua, who has a remarkable new album out in England, hasn't gotten here yet, but her preview on GNS was tantalizing, keep your eye out for that, much more rock-pop than her last few).

Another lesser-known postmusical group is Naam. And ideally postmusical because they are nothing even remotely like Ben's Brother. Or indeed anyone else, ever. This is really out there. It's hard to believe there can be such a thing as a brilliant fantasy metal band. But alas, this is it. You have to listen to each track all the way through to catch and appreciate the complexity and genius behind their compositions. It's a cross between jazz odyssey heavy metal and the film score to an imaginary Dino De Laurentiis Flash-like production of a Lord of the Rings style reinvention of the story of Jesus. You may think that's a joke. Until you hear their signature album. The entire thing is a must-hear (and you can't tell just from the iTunes sample tracks, because the full tracks are crazy long, yet masterful all through). Imagine Tangerine Dream meets the Black Angels and finds Christ in a kilo of pot. Christian music that's actually creative and...good? Yup. Or at least I suppose. Their lyrics are sometimes hard to follow.

While we're on the subject of fantasy rock, you might try Harry and the Potters, the most popular of many fan groups that write rock tunes about the novels. They're at their creative best in "The Blood of a Prince" and "Don't Believe It." But punk fun can be had in "Horcruxes," and the spirit of the Beatles is resurrected in "The Firebolt" and "Gryffindor Rocks," and whatnot. All their stuff is lyrically silly (fans will chuckle, outsiders will be perplexed), but for a literal garage band, a lot of their stuff is surprisingly good, and genre diverse, from retro-60s to punk to postmodern (thus inherently postmusical). Other fan groups generally suck. Although I confess to liking "Illegal Love Potion" by the Parselmouths.

There is also great music in the land between megastars and unknowns. I've recently discovered a few superb tracks by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs ("Runaway" is a masterpiece of musical genius, while "Soft Shock," "Zero," and "Heads Will Roll" are more standard hard-edged pop rock, but still quite good, and postmusical enough to have fit into any decade after the 70s) and Mazzy Star ("Into Dust" and "Fade Into You" are far superior to the rest of their catalog, and, taken in the context of the 21st century, perfect examples of postmusical composition).

But rounding out that category are two new groups I like even more. The first of these is She Wants Revenge. You may know some of their stuff already, it's getting popular (I discovered them as a backround track in an episode of Fringe). This is what Iggy Pop should have sounded like. Or what Sisters of Mercy could have sounded like, if they were thrice as good as they were. Try "Written in Blood," "True Romance," "Red Flags," and "Tear You Apart." It fits right into the 80s without being retro.

The second is Ladytron. Like a lookalike actor you might jokingly call Notben Afleck or Notangelina Jolie, Ladytron's music is nottechno notdance nottrance, but unlike the lookalike actor, their music is actually better than what it almost-isn't-like. Best examples are "Deep Blue," "Ghosts," "Sugar," "Weekend," and "He Took Her to a Movie." This is electro rock, infused with mere hints of techno-dance-trance in a way that can't really be described. It manages to sound familiar without being like anything you've ever actually heard. That's postmusical.

Retro sounds, of course, are also postmusical. And the greatest 60's motown retro of late is coming from Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings. The best include "100 Days, 100 Nights" "She Ain't a Child No More," "If You Call," and "Money." Indeed, you would hardly know these tracks were recorded in this century. This is flawless retro. Brilliant. Yet it's just as postmusical to take that old sound and modernize it. And right in that zone is The Heavy. From the neo-speakeasy sound of "Sixteen" to the Jimmy Hendrix sound of "In the Morning," then the combination of both in "How You Like Me Now." Corporations grabbed this one early so it's getting peddled in car company commercials, but don't let that distract you from the fact that there is impressive musical artistry here.

And the ultimate in postmusical, the actual 60's phenom Dame Shirley Bassey, the incredible singer you may know as the Bond theme diva ("Goldfinger" and "Moonraker"), still looks and sounds fantastic, has a grand wit and an incredible sense of humor, and I must confess, could seduce me without much trouble, she's still making albums, recently doing covers of pop songs like "Get the Party Started" that are even better than the originals, backed by a Bond-esque orchestration and her incredible vocals (this is a must-hear), then rocking up old musical standards (her new "Hey Big Spender" is simply awesome), and punk-beating clever new hits (the Propellerheads version of "History Repeating" is a must-have). Get an old school diva combining four decades of musical styles in each and every track, and presto, postmusical sound for the 21st century.



Stephanie S. said...

Good post, but in my opinion the kick-ass Lady Gaga track is I Like It Rough. Can't get enough of that one.

The Nerd said...

I admit, I'm suspicious of anyone who says "we live in a post-____ society".

But I am totally Lady Gaga's future wife. She just doesn't know it yet.

solon said...

What's this list called, "Sucking in the 80s"? You forgot Madonna.

And like god, Bela Lugosi is actually dead. You're allowed to play a snippet of music like that once every 2 years and say you remember it. Move on.

Girasaurus said...

Along the same lines, I suppose, of She Wants Revenge (who I actually loathe because they seem like an unfunny parody of these next two bands I'll mention) - you may want to check out Interpol (Turn On The Bright Lights is fantastic, but their other two - Antics and Our Love To Admire - are also worth a listen.)
And I'm only familiar with Editors through my Interpol Pandora station, but have liked everything I've heard from them so far.
All three are similar vocals-wise. I love almost everything Interpol has done, and I can't really say that about most bands today.
Check 'em out!

freethoughtguy said...

Katie Melua's new album available right now, right here.


Pikemann Urge said...

Ah, Ladytron. Beautiful stuff. I've heard a couple of tracks from 'Velocifero' (one being 'Ghosts', the other 'Runaway') and they're just great. If I can find it I'm buying one of my close friends that album on vinyl.

Why do I not hear this on the radio? Oh yes, I forgot, radio isn't allowed to play too much good music. Why not? One of those mysteries.

Richard Carrier said...

Stylo said... What's this list called, "Sucking in the 80s"? You forgot Madonna. And like god, Bela Lugosi is actually dead. You're allowed to play a snippet of music like that once every 2 years and say you remember it. Move on.

What are you talking about? Nouvelle Vague?

Madonna sucks now. As an artist she was already a has been when I was guarding estuaries stateside with a billy club and a whistle in the Gulf War. The FIRST Gulf War. Do the math on that.

Girasaurus: Yeah, I plugged Revenge in an earlier music post. I like some Interpol, but not enough to give them a mention--they fall just short of perfection too many times (I can mentally improve most of their music in my head, so I'm constantly distracted by thinking how much better they could be, which kills any enjoyment). And the Editors could be Interpol, they sound so alike.

Freethoughtguy: Re: Melua, I'm not going to steal her album. She deserves the couple of bucks it'll cost me to get the tracks I want once her album goes stateside. I'll wait. But thanks.