Saturday, August 2, 2008

This is a Post About Four Albums I Liked

It's been a while since a post, and I don't want to take up your time with non-criticism, but its worth saying: I've moved from northern New Jersey to Brooklyn. I'm a proper New Yorker now, so you can expect my tastes to become a little sharper and my words a bit meaner. Not this post thought. Because:


Elvis Costello & The Imposters - Momofuku

Just in time for his national tour with the Police, Costello & Co have released new album Momofuku. Named for Momofuku Ando, creator of instant ramen noodles, this album was made, from concept to conclusion, in 15 days - the naming parallel ought to be clear enough. Unlike ramen noodles, this album is hardly a forgettable filler meal. EC continues to prove his song writing chops well into the new millenium. Stronger than any other Imposters-era album, likely because of Rilo Kelly leader Jenny Lewis' influence. If college radio stations have been blaring EC + The Imposters work for the last 10 years out of some sense of obligation to Costello's earlier work, their loyalty has been paid off with this album. It features both his early-era angry young man (Turpentine), his mid period politco commentator (No Hiding Place), and his more recent nostalgic, dusty self (My Three Sons.) It's definitely a return to form, and I hope to hear more from him like this in the next few years. He's been an icon of adoration in the indie rock scene for a long time - it's just been cool to like Costello - and it's interesting to see him work with and for this new, young set of fans.

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

I started listening to these guys a few weeks before my recent Brooklyn-bound move, and it ends up they're from my new park slope neighborhood. They're an indie rock band with very very sharp afro-beat/afro-pop influences. They never veer too close to that sound though, and so they present great songs with tight construction and very american tone and lyrical content. For instance, the song Oxford Comma is a song to a girl who cares too much about an "oxford comma", a vague grammar rule about where to put the last comma in a list of things: "Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma? / I've seen those English dramas too / They're cruel / So if there's any other way / To spell the word / It's fine with me, with me." Despite (or perhaps because of) their throwback afro-pop roots, Vampire Weekend manages to be a superbly modern band.

Girl Talk - Feed the Animals

In an era of ring tone hip-hop, Girl Talk remains unable and unwilling to be summarized into 10 seconds of hook and chorus, while at the same time presenting no more than 45 seconds of any musical concept. The individual tracks on his latest album are vehicles for these half minute mashups, and are at most unified by a reoccuring phrase working more as bookends than as traditional chorus.

For those unfamiliar with Pittsburgh based Girl Talk (AKA Gregg Gillis), his music is the strongest argument there is that mash up music is more than just a gimmick. After years of making Noise/Glitch music, with light mash up elements, he released 2006's Night Ripper. The album was a breakout success for a small time DJ on a very small label (Illegal Art), and spurned Girl Talk into dropping his Biomedical Engineering career and tour the world, making people music instead of making them healthy. After hearing Feed the Animals, I have to say that he made the right choice.

Naysayers tend to object to the samples GT uses to mine for both back beat and lead vocal, finding them too varied in genre and style but, and I say this knowing it comes with a dose of elitism, GT's sample choices are a lot more complicated than just tempo and melody matching. Listing to his latest release "Feed The Animals" is a lot like reading master comics writer Allan Moore's latest installment in his "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" series. Moore makes literary allusions at a rapid, unaplogetic pace, and Feed The Animals follows suit. It is easy to get lost in eclectic set of references, and easy to feel overwhelemed - worse, underqualified to even partake, but its so damn hard not to enjoy the he'll out of it anyway.

He often chooses to emhpashize a thematic point by contrasting or complementing one layer with the other. In "Set it Of" he masterfully lay's Jay-Z's best "Roc Boys" verse over the first and second halves of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android." The former is a song about making it and moving from small time player to big time success, and Paranoid Android is in many minds the moment that Radiohead did just that.

Other times be plays with our musical beliefs and expecations. On "Here's the Thing" it's odd, but exceptional, to hear personal favorite Elvis Costello back up Atlantean Shawty Lo. He underminds the sincerity of Rick Springfield's pop hit Jessie's Girl by sprinkling in the Three Six Mafia's "I'd Rather (Get Some Head)", throughout.

Girl Talk isn't only about syncopation and mismatch, he can also match up songs that mirror each other's emotional effect and lyrical content. Hearing Chicago's "Saturday In the Park" and 90's jam "C'mon Ride It (The Train) by Quad City DJs, also featured on "Here's the Thing", just works. It's even clearer on "Still Here", where he drops BLACKstreet's R&B smash "No Diggity" into Kanye West's "Flashing Lights." Gillis even drops in the clicking back beat of Radiohead's "15 Step", interesting since Kanye's current side project CRS does lots of sampling from Thom Yorke and co. It all fits so well you might wonder why we haven't heard a collaboration between the artists already.

Gillis is able to draw a chart, showing influence and taste and respect, and he does it with music. Thankfully, a good Wikipedia community does their best to chronicle where he draws his own inspiration from, labeling each song with time stamps and listing what mash ups he uses. Even better is that he's made his album a pay-what-you'd-like release.

Pixies - Bossanova

You may know I'm a huge pixies fan, but I tended not to stray from their first 3 releases (Come On Pilgrim EP, Surfer Rosa, and Doolittle.) I may still think Doolittle is the best album they have, but I started listening closer to their later cuts. One of my favorite songs, Velouria, is from Bossanova, and I got the urge to hear it so I put the record on and really really listened to it for the first time about a week ago. I don't think I've stopped since. Some of these tracks are on that best hits album Wave of Mutilation, so dabbler might be lightly familiar (Velouria, Dig for Fire) but so many other great tracks aren't.

Rock Music, a two minute blast towards the front of the record, is broad and strong despite its length, and is a great way to kick start the album after the instrumental opener Cecilia Ann. Is She Weird, a song debatably about an girlfriend unapproved of, or about a vampire, or about both, has a lot of the early Pixies feel, driving bass lines and rolling vocals with sharp instances of loudness and quiet.

The Happening feels in tone like a song somewhere between Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and for good reason as it features a flying saucer crashing in the middle of the LV strip. The first half of the song is lonely, brooding chorus made up of a meandering bass line, an underlying guitar riff that seems to support the bass instead of the other way around, and sharp high notes that poke through here and there like stars in a too-bright city night sky. At the 3 minute mark, frontman Black Francis/Frank Black begins a rambling, stream-of-consciousness narration, featuring abstract lyrical sentiments like "I soon forgot myself, I forgot about the brake/I forgot about all laws, and I forgot about the rain" and "Everybody was remembering to forget they had the chills."

Hang Wire is admittedly and clearly inspired by the 1982 Rolling Stones track "Hang Fire." The song, like many Pixies tunes, would fit in a few years later in the grunge scene, or even in today's indie environs. In just four or five listens, it has become absolutely ingrained in my head. Black sings haikus about late night lovers rendevouzing by the farm house, and it couldn't come off better. The quiet, scathing guitar running in the background of the chorus is suspenseful and builds, like a backwards countdown, to something worth being afraid of. And all of this doesn't even mention the most original use of any old casio keyboard's pre-set beat settings, phasing in just in time with the the title lyric "I'll Bossanova with ya."

The album has very quickly smashed its way into my overall top 20, maybe even higher. While I'd tell you that each of these other albums is worth listen if a friend has a copy, at a discount record shop, or for free from the net, this one is worth every penny it might cost to own.

Next time: And This Is A Post About Four Albums I Was Disappointed By

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