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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

St. Elsewhere

Gnarls Barkley’s album St. Elsewhere is one of the only albums I can remember hearing and absolutely loving right from the beginning. Theirs is a brilliant, almost undefinable sound—heavily and perfectly produced beats by Danger Mouse, running under the staggering wail and low rumble of Cee-Lo’s vocals. It’s music you can’t help but move your body to.

The album begins with the sound of a projector being put on, which adds an element of fantasy to the entire listening experience. We’re immediately suspending disbelief that these are songs that we need to take too seriously. This element of whimsy (with a touch of impending doom) may be the album’s theme, at least instrumentally. The first track, “Go-Go Gadget Gospel” features frenzied horns and incredible key changes. It’s a joyful, manic song, a perfect first taste of this unique sound. It’s the song that grabbed me instantly.

The ubiquitous single, “Crazy,” has running under it a sample from an Italian Spaghetti Western. It’s a biting satire about mental health (“Ha Ha Ha bless your soul, you really think you’re in control”) with a seriously infectious beat. No wonder it was all over the place last summer.

The breadth of the album ranges from the strangely apocalyptic “St. Elsewhere” (“Anywhere you sit you can see the sun/Unfortunately on this island I’m the only one”) to video-game-inspired cover of the Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone” to the explosive “Smiley Faces.”

There’s a hint of the macabre on a couple interesting songs: “The Boogie Monster” and “Necromancer.” In “Boogie Monster,” Cee-Lo rumbles like a boogie man and the beat creeps along, sounding like a funkier cousin of “The Monster Mash.” Still, you can’t help but dance to it. “Necromancer” is probably my favorite song, if only because of these lyrics: “She was cool when I met her, but I think I like her better dead.” And yes, I think the song is, in fact, about what it sounds like it’s about.

They throw back to an early 90s R&B sound on “Who Cares?” and “Online.” “Who Cares?” features what sounds like a jazz flute, and “Online” has the girl-group background vocals. And the apocalypse theme comes back with a vengeance on “Storm Coming,” which also strikes me as the most epically musical-theater track. The album ends with the sound of the projection ending, and the fantasy is over.

These songs are short and sweet, perfectly produced, strikingly sung and completely satisfying. I hope the huge popularity of “Crazy” does not curse Gnarls Barkley to one-hit-wonderdom. These guys are way too talented for that.

(Sorry, kids. I’m taking the next two weeks off from the column. Mama needs a vacation.)

Monday, July 30, 2007

a couple teasers for your Monday

Who else can't wait for this and this to come out?

Friday, July 27, 2007

so bogus

As I was walking home this afternoon, I was nearly cut off by a little boy on a battery-operated truck. He seemed to be having a wonderful time. His sister followed him closely behind, little also and pouting.

Then, I heard a call. "NINOOOOO!" The mother of the two kids had obviously lost control of them. I passed the psychic who sits outside a restaurant on 7th Avenue and hocks people for $2 to let her read their fortunes. She called again, "NINOOOOOOO!" Then, she called to me, "How would you like to get read today?"

"Lady," I thought to myself while ignoring her, "if you're not psychic enough to anticipate your children hightailing it away from you on battery-operated vehicles, no way am I going to let you tell me about my future for $2."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

like a fat kid without cake

Last night, I settled down to watch So You Think You Can Dance for the first time in 3 weeks. I've been busy the past few Wednesdays and I was SO EXCITED I'd get to see the entire show.

But at 6 PM, my cable went out. Completely. Internet and tv. Kaput. Nada. No picture or sound. No connection. And Time Warner said they wouldn't be able to fix it until TUESDAY, of all horrors.

It came back in relatively normal form from 7:00-8:00 and then got all scrambly just in time for SYTYCD.

I was determined to watch it through the scramble. It tempted me like crack to a recovering addict for about 7 minutes, then died again. Now, I might not even have a connection to YouTube later, so I can watch the clips online.

Stupid technology. (But the Time Warner people rescheduled for tomorrow afternoon. And, if everyone claps their hands because they believe in fairies, maybe I'll have at least network tv so I can watch the results show tonight.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

It Won't Be Soon Before Long

Maroon 5 have a gimmick. It’s a gimmick that works but a gimmick, nonetheless. Adam Levine sings suggestive lyrics over throbbing bass and drums and we all swoon. On their previous album, Songs About Jane, this formula seemed new and fresh. On It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, their latest release, the point is made. We get it, boys. You write sexy, infectious funky music. Can we move on now? I haven’t decided if I really want to, myself.

Levine’s high tenor sings of randomly hooking up. A lot. In “If I Never See Your Face Again,” he’s surprised about getting further than he expected to that night with some chick. However, on “Makes Me Wonder,” their first single, he’s already giving her the brush-off. He’s wondering if he should cry and “if I ever gave a fuck about you.” That was fast.

The beginning of “Little of Your Time” is probably my favorite opener to any of the tracks. I want someone on “So You Think You Can Dance” to choreograph a dance to it. It aches to be danced to, with its staccato guitar at the verses easing into a smoother and disco-y-er chorus. Levine is an adept singer, with an interestingly…soulful voice for a skinny Jewish kid. (In fact, when I first heard Songs About Jane, I was sure he was black.)

“Wake Up Call” is their most recent single. It’s a song of betrayal and doubt, “Don’t you care about me anymore?” It sounds like a fantasy of revenge, with a chorus that invites screaming along to. I can’t tell if this song is taking itself too seriously, or if it’s actually written to just be a dance jam.

“Won’t Go Home Without You,” the first song on the album that doesn’t pulse with an intense bass-drums combo, sounds a little bit like “Every Breath You Take” by The Police running under “The Way” by Fastball. It’s just nothing new. Neither is “Nothing Lasts Forever.” Both are safe, tepid ballads about relationship regrets. They’re easy on the ears but just not that interesting.

“Can’t Stop” is one of the catchier songs on an album full of them. It’s about the inevitable obsession phase, when you’re not quite getting the attention from someone that you’re craving: “I touch myself like it’s somebody else/thoughts of you are tattooed on my mind.” The refrain “I can’t stop thinking about you” is repeated until the very end of the song.

The opening guitar riff of “Goodnight Goodnight” is pretty much exactly that which opens “Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down; it’s distracting. He’s sending her off in this song, hopeful that things will work out. Otherwise, the lyrics are just “goodnight.” (That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the lyrics do leave something to be desired. The song ends with him repeating “goodnight” 13 times. That’s too many.)

On “Not Falling Apart,” Levine sings in a startlingly lower key for much of the verses. It adds an element of interest to the track, about a man girded against the heartbreak he may or may not have to endure, as he relives the night of their breakup.

“Kiwi” contains the lyrics: “Sweet Kiwi/your juices dripping down my chin” and continues in graphic and poetic detail to describe a rendezvous. It’s the closest to pop music erotica as I think they could get away with, so hats off to them for at least that.

“Better that We Break” is the piano ballad on the album. It’s definitely pretty. That’s about it.

I do really like the track “Back at Your Door.” The verses are a bit of a throwback to the old doowop songs. I want to hear girl backup singers “da-dooping” in the background. And the song soars into a very pretty orchestrated chorus. This song is definitely the big finale of the album.

The “bonus” track, “Figure It Out,” starts with a cowbell and jerks into heavy distorted guitar and “Never-Gonna-Get-It”-by-En-Vogue-like electric guitar picks. It’s another very sexy song, in terms of the guitar and drums combination.

Like I said, these boys know what they’re doing, in that regard. I just wish a little bit that I could distinguish the songs better between each other and that they left a more lasting impression. But yes, they’ve got sexy down.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Music Explorers, vol. IV

Last night was my inaugural music project as a team leader. I was mostly excited but slightly nervous. I think the biggest thing I've learned, in the last 2 sessions I've spent with kids this age (6-12), is that it's really always an exercise in improvisation. My co-team leader and I had a pretty set plan because our last session was cancelled. We were going to attempt to teach the kids a little bit about rhythm and notation.

The focus game we tried to play basically crashed and burned. Then, we helped them make little shakers with which they would keep the 4/4 rhythm we introduced. (Note to self: Keep children away from dried beans or anything that they can make noise with. Especially kazoos.) Finally, my co-leader started in on the content of the session, introducing whole notes, half notes, and quarter notes, as a start. From the looks and sounds of them, they weren't interested and weren't retaining anything. But, of course, when we had them create their own 4-beat measures and play them by themselves, nearly all of them got it. We were astounded. I introduced the concept of syncopation but decided delving into it too much might just bore/confuse them further.

All in all, it was a pretty successful night, barring our fairly reserved volunteers (only 4 of them) and the fact that we had too many kids for me to give them the Juicy Juice I bought. (16 juice boxes for 17 kids=no one gets any.) By the end of the night, I was pretty exhausted and decided to drink 4 lychee martinis.

Now I'm hungover.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

small frickin' world

I spent the better part of the first few months that I lived in Park Slope turning carefully at each corner, keeping my eyes pealed for some vision of my past, some vaguely familiar face. I've run into a small handful of people I know or have known, but the reality of this city is that you can walk down the same streets everyday and see different people there. No one you'd recognize. I figured I was safe from the awkward, I-knew-you-once confrontation.

This month three girls that I went to camp with and haven't seen in over 10 years moved into my building downstairs. Only slightly guiltily, I've avoided them like the plague.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Reminder

Feist (full name: Leslie Feist) sounds a little bit like every other girl singer/songwriter out there. She’s Sarah McLachlan when she whispers, Tori Amos when she yowls, and Imogen Heap when she sings to electronica. Somehow, she also sounds like no one else, and her vocal range, both physically and in terms of the genres the album spans, is impressive. Her third album, The Reminder, is smarter and more satisfying every time I listen to it, even though it didn’t grab me right away.

On “So Sorry,” her whimper is McLachlan-esque, if Sarah had as much strength and control as Feist exhibits here. The album then shoots into catchy, bouncy, fully orchestrated “I Feel it All.” It’s the first time we hear how gifted Feist is as a pianist. (For the record, Gonzales is also credited as a pianist on the album.) Throughout the album, they make the piano growl, throb, and sing beautifully along with her, and it is often the star of the songs, second only to her interesting vocals.

“My Moon My Man” is the song that convinced me to buy the album. It is an infectious disco song, and Feist’s incessant purr through it is a brilliant and smartly contrasting accompaniment to the driving piano and drums. The song even features a slap bass and an effect that sounds like the cell phone-radio interference. Appropriately enough, it's featured on a currently-running Verizon commercial.

The piano that opens “The Water” sounds like that which might be featured in a Zero 7 song and an unexpected blues instrumental break electrifies the song past its apparent somberness. “Sea Lion Woman” is an interesting track, a veritable African chant, but with a true rock n’ roll instrumental break. “Past in Present” surprises with its country/rock vibe, complete with wah wah guitar and tinny vocal effect. It’s vaguely Sheryl Crow-esque and unlike anything else on the album. On “The Limit to Your Love,” Feist’s vocal range reaches Bjork’s, and again, the piano becomes the featured player.

“1234” is her current single. It’s pretty much all over the place right now, but I still think it’s lovely. The piano break in the song is killer. It sounds like a Tori Amos piano break but with brass, which makes it even better really. And the video’s pretty adorable too.

The album seems to begin dragging after “1234.” I think “Brandy Alexander,” with only piano, bass, and snaps to keep the beat, is interesting and pretty. But followed by “Intuition” and “Honey Honey,” the minimalism of the tracks begins to invoke boredom. It isn’t until the album’s incredible finale, “How My Heart Behaves,” that it is redeemed again. This song’s full orchestration, including a harp, strikes me as much broader than the rest of the album, more filmic. And it’s amazing what a harmonizing male voice does to deepen a song, when you haven’t heard male voices the entire album.

This album isn’t a homerun, but I think Feist is a gifted and risky vocalist and musician. I didn’t think I liked it this much, until I heard it one more time. I bet I’ll like it even more the next time I listen.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


I want my brother to buy this shirt.

And here's a genius commercial, thanks to Kender.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Favourite Worst Nightmare

The young men of Arctic Monkeys are from Sheffield, England, which basically means their accents are so thick, it’s hard to discern the lyrics being sung on their short and sweet album Favourite Worst Nightmare. Still, the catchy, bumping songs are infectious as well as surprisingly mature.

The themes of the album range from bad breakups to random and reckless hookups, which is appropriate for the band made up of four boys under 21. Still, there’s a lot more reflection than one would expect from such youngsters. It’s also a more complicated album in terms of melody and rhythm than their debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.

“Brianstorm” is reminiscent of the surfer rock song, Misirlou, with its electric guitar riff and driving drums. (The high hat then has a hard time keeping up with the beat, but we’ll forgive that because the song is so dang much fun.) It seems to be an ode to(or is it a rant against) a bloke named Brian, who hooks up with chicks with little effort and wears t-shirts and ties combinations that they can’t keep their eyes off. Sounds like a cool guy.

There are certain songs that are just primed for a greater venue. I find myself nearly shouting out with the songs when I’m listening on my iPod. I can’t imagine how ridiculously fun a live show may be. “D is for Dangerous” is one of the most satisfying songs, yearning to be sung along to. The instrumental pauses within the guitar and drum beats make me want to scream along with the song.The syncopation of the drums and wooden block in “Balaclava” are like the best beats in funk.

But it’s in the lyrics on this album that the band really impresses me. They’re nearly Sondheimian in their wordiness and internal rhyme and for boys under 21, they’re incredibly poetic and complex. “Only Ones Who Know” is a veritable poem about how the two people involved in a breakup are the only ones who know what’s best for them: “And even if somebody could have shown you the place you wanted, well I'm sure you could have made it that bit better on your own, you are the only ones who know.” Instrumentally, it’s a departure from the rest of the album, which is otherwise so full of electric guitar and solid, 8-count drum beats; this track uses some kind of sliding guitar that sounds like violins.

“Do Me a Favour” is my favorite song on the album. It too is about a bad breakup and begins with “George of the Jungle”-like drums. It starts innocently and even sadly: “Well the morning was complete./There was tears on the steering wheel dripping on the seat,/Several hours or several weeks,/I'd have the cheek to say they're equally as bleak!” (Note the ingenious rhyme of cheek and equally.) It’s a song that then slowly creeps towards an intense and bitter crescendo: “And to tear apart the ties that bind, perhaps fuck off might be too kind, perhaps fuck off might be too kind.”

In my opinion, the lyrics are the star of the rest of the album. I almost stop listening to the music, even though it too is very smart. On “If You Were There, Beware,” the singer sneaks off into an echo, singing “There's a circle of witches, ambitiously vicious they are.” On “Old Yellow Bricks,” the band bumps through these lyrics: “She said I want to sleep in the city that never wakes up,/And revel in nostalgia,/I know I said he wants to sleep in the city that never wakes up but,/Dorothy was right though.” These are the kind of phrases that continue to run through my head, hours after hearing them on the CD. They’re well worth a listen, and the youthful, garage-bandy innocence and spunk of their music is an added bonus.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

My December

(Posted a bit early in honor of the holiday :))

I am an unabashed Kelly Clarkson fan. I marked the date of the release of her 3rd album, My December, on my work calendar and bought it that day. I think her voice is powerful and unique. I was eagerly anticipating this CD, especially because it’s already made so many headlines. The album itself is almost disappointing, but I think her voice transcends the mediocre music she’s singing. And there are a couple of startlingly beautiful singles, which are definitely worth a listen.

The first released single, “Never Again,” is a bitter but catchy song, full of threats and ill wishes: “I hope the ring you gave her turns her finger green,” “You’ll die together but alone.” This girl is pissed. It’s a song driven by hard bass and drums, full of rage and spite, which is obviously a departure from her previous CDs but nothing particularly shocking to my ears. The overt theme of the album is Woman Scorned; it should really be the subtitle.

On the techno-pop track, “One Minute,” Clarkson sings about how things change quickly in a relationship. This is a new sound for her, but I’m not sure it works. The impression this song leaves isn’t long-lasting. “Hole” sounds a bit too much like “Never Again” for me. It features amateur lyrics and weak segues, but her high belt is really unparalleled when she sings “I can feel it/It’s all wrong/I’m so sick of this.”

“Sober,” however, is simply stunning. It snuck up on me the first time I heard it, making me cry on a subway platform and giving me chills in 90 degree weather. She sings of not being sure who she is or if she’ll survive without him in the aftermath of a breakup, “I could crash and burn but maybe at the end of this road, I might catch a glimpse of me.” In this somber song, a bass tin drum beats forebodingly in the background and she sings at a low boil until she explodes in a literal wail, singing “three months” like an obsessive reminder, a mantra that is failing her.

After such a gorgeous, effective song, the next few are a letdown. The album in general feels a little bit like Clarkson wrote a bunch of songs and they just recorded them and threw them together, slipshod. Still, she’s a gifted singer, and the way she plays with the melody of “Judas” makes the song even sadder. And who doesn’t feel her on these lyrics? “Forgetting me, you took things in your hands and left me out/After we’d been through so much, how could you let me down?” The beginning of “Haunted” sounds like the instrumentation at the doomed end of an Eminem song. The track is reminiscent of Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life,” and ends with Clarkson chillingly whispering “You were smiling” over and over, on the verge of a meltdown. “Be Still” is a bit more of a sweet song, where Clarkson remembers the good ol’ days, “Before we lost hope/when we still touched and love wasn’t so hard.”

Conversely, “Maybe” looks into the possibilities of reconnecting in the future. She bravely sings of her stubbornness and the mistakes she’s made. This isn’t an album full of “Woe is me” sentiment, “Yeah, I’m hard and life with me is never easy to figure out.” It begins with just acoustic guitar and drums but eventually intensifies and keeps getting harder, “I don’t want to be tough and I don’t want to be proud/I don’t need to be fixed and I certainly don’t need to be found/I’m not lost.” She seems to be gaining clarity as the song resolves, wondering if one day they’ll meet and understand each other finally.

On “How I Feel,” Clarkson sounds alternatively like Gwen Stefani, as she vocally scoops to and from notes, and Pat Benatar, when she growls. Here, she’s singing about how all the good men she meets are married with babies, how babies are everywhere, and how she’s sick of hearing about everyone’s wonderful life. Aren’t we all?

“Yeah” is an old, brassy, soulful song, backed by a chorus of girls. It has a spoken word interlude that reminds me of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” and features a key change that enlivens this otherwise unexciting song.

The melody of “Can I Have a Kiss” is just a tad too sharp throughout the song. It sits funny. Perhaps that’s to suggest a lack of resolution, a pleading, but I just think it sounds unsettling. The lyrics here are also brave; she admits being a mess and that she’s still working on herself and being able to commit.

The final track on the album, “Irvine,” is the furthest departure from the Clarkson with whom we’re all familiar. A guitar strums and this ethereal echo nearly whispers the lyrics. I read this song described as “near suicidal,” and it’s true. “Why is it so hard?/Why can’t you just take me?/I don’t have much to go/Before I fade completely.” It’s a send up to the gods to save her, and the result is haunting and evocative.

The “Deluxe Edition” of My December on iTunes also includes a hidden track after “Irvine,” a bonus track, and two remixes of “Never Again.” It’s certainly chockfull. Too bad it’s not her best. But you should certainly invest in “Sober” the single.

Borat Faux Pas

I typed the following to be included in a preclinical final report for my work:

"Three assays are employed to determine the amount of Carraguard retained in the vagine after various time points."