3576 words on Music
Another superficial rundown of the past months’ music. Featuring Battles, The Clientele, BRMC, Tokyo Police Club, Wir Sind Helden, Shout Out Louds, The Lovekevins, The White Stripes, Death Proof Soundtrack, Get While the Getting’s Good Interpol, Spoon, Art Brut, Caribou, Friska Viljor, Architecture in Helsinki, The Cribs, Hot Hot Heat, Múm, Seabear, The Hives, Mando Diao, Jens Friebe, Stereo Total, Radiohead and more.
For a few weeks Battles’ album Mirrored was lauded throughout the music press. Highly lauded even as being great and new and revolutionary and otherwise fantastic. I couldn’t quite agree with that. Instead, I thought their music is quite interesting in its mix of real instruments with the way they are used quite mechanically to sound somewhat electronically weird. But ultimately the music was too mechanic for me. Too un-musical if you wish. Perhaps this music is a challenge to play and perhaps it even extends the frontiers in some direction. But it’s just not that enjoyable or interesting to hear. It’s music that’s great to read and write about, and it’s music you can conceptually appreciate when listening to it. But it’s just not that great to listen to.
I quite enjoyed the random depression (and the name) of the Clientele’s Strange Geometry and was curious about their new album God Save the Clientele when hearing that it has been released. That led me to conclude that it’s a bit too nice and lovely, a bit cheesy even.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s history is a bit difficult. Their first, eponymous, album was fantastic but they lost their edge slightly with Take them on on your own and with Howl, ending up a bit on the boring side. And while still not matching their first album, the new album Baby 81 picks up speed and strength again. Perhaps they’re getting back on track.
It’s a bit of a tragedy! I can’t really remember who first pointed me towards Tokyo Police Club. Then I ended up really liking their album A Lesson in Crime. And finally – tragically – didn’t catch more than a glimpse of them although they were playing at the Hurricane Festival a few hundred metres from myself because most of their gig clashed with Arcade Fire’s. (I got myself a T-Shirt at least as theirs was one of the very few that I didn’t consider to be completely horrific.)
And, well, there’s not much to argue with a band who all eight songs in eighteen minutes an album. Short, energetic, low-fi. I like it. And it may even end up being my favourite album of the year.
Even though Wir sind Helden’s music is a bit too 1980s for my taste I managed to wind up a fair bit of enthusiasm for them as they were still great and managed to make cool music. In German even, giving rise to the massive lyrics translation page I have for them which is the page with the best reader contributions on this site. Unfortunately things went a bit downhill as I wasn’t overly impressed by their Von Hier an Blind album which still managed to contain a few great songs nonehtheless.
Now their third album, Soundso, was released and I found it a bit disappointing. Not just because its name is so-so at best (and reminded me of the so-so name that Kings of Leon gave their Because of the Times album). But mainly because I found the music lacking. Sure, Wir sind Helden are rightly lauded for their clever lyrics and the word play in them. But at the end of the day I’m in there for the music. And Soundso’s just seems less musical. More attention is given to the lyrics and even less than before to the music. Which is a shame.
As I was ordering Haldern tickets anyway, I had the perfect excuse to order the Shout Out Louds’ new Our Ill Wills album along with them as the band now is with their label – and they will be playing at the festival this year, which I am looking forward to. While the album may be considered hard to decipher, the music remains very friendly and acessible. A bit slower and more solid/heavy than in the previous album perhaps and with rather dreamy moments towards the end (Ill Wills, Meat is Murder). I quite like the Blue Headlights.
And while we’re in Sweden, I should mention The Lovekevins again. Their album Vs. The Snow has one of the cooler names and those upside down owls are just cute. But, more relevantly I really enjoyed their gig when they played down the road a while back. Unfortunately the recorded songs fail to create the same magic as their live playing did, with the music sounding more mechanic or electronic and missing out on the nicer moments.
To quote from their web site
i wish i was a panda bear
// quiet life, perfect hair. Yay!
The White Stripes published an album once more. And from the somewhat overdone Get Behind Me Satan which only contains a few gems, they found their way back to their ‘roots’. Well not quite, as listening to to the new Icky Thumb and their initial The White Stripes albums in succession will show you. While the sounds are closer to their early simple guitar + drums setup again, the music is more professional (in both the good and bad senses of the word) now. It’s more directed and still contains plenty of ‘new’ sounds which in parts I find overdone and potentially annoying. Tricky to say how good this is as an album, as songs are quite different sounding. From the more White-Stripes classical Little Cream Soda to the somewhat squeaky (but quite cool) St Andrew to the too-brassy Conquest.
Compilations can be both nice and boring. Mr Tarantino has a bit of a knack for making his films’ sountracks nice and catchy in a retro way. The Pulp Fiction soundtrack was brilliant ages ago, the Jackie Brown one has fans (though I don’t necessarily count myself among them) and the Kill Bill 1 soundtrack was fantastic as well. It looks like he pulled it once more with the Death Proof soundtrack. The film already indicated that it will make good listening and it does. The closing track Chick Habit is quite sweet and the Riot in a Thunder Alley preceding it has a percussion laden middle piece which may just have been nicked by the Arctic Monkeys for the beginning of A Certain Romance (yeah it’s probably just a coincidence, I guess).
If anything, my problem with the soundtrack is that this Tarantino soundtrack scheme starts getting old. While my musical knowledge doesn’t cover these decades, the soundtrack seems so Tarantino that it’s almost predictable. I also start being annoyed by the short tracks with spoken bits from the film. Just spoils the music I think. Particularly as I don’t think they picked particularly great pieces of dialogue for this one.
New German label Aufgeladen und Bereit published a Sampler of Scottish music called Get While the Getting’s good. Perhaps not the most remarkable thing ever but nonetheless quite enjoyable to listen to.
[cf. Sven’s theory on Scandinavisation of music: Scotland is the UK’s Scandinavia and Canada America’s. Somehow The Scandinavias are better at music than average…]
Joyside are the band seen in the film Beijing Bubbles. They make old fashioned punky music. It’s fun, it’s not shockingly new, creative or foreign. Rather a bit of retro goodness.
As I mentioned before, after seeing them live in summer, I have a mixed relationship to Interpol. They managed to register as cool at some stage and Turn on the Bright Lights was a fine and energetic, if slightly repetitive, album. But since then, they didn’t really strike a chord with me. Their new album Our Love To Admire, doesn’t strike a chord either and I even find it a bit tedious and when setting my ears to evil-critical I hear some Meatloaf DNA in the music.
Spoon’s new album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga was a joy to receive. And it’s a joy to listen to as well. The odd thing is that I always find it hard to be highly enthusiastic about Spoon’s music but that I still think that their albums are rather good. It’s just that their music isn’t that enthusiastic either.
Be warned that You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb is quite addictive. Possibly even more so in the less polished ‘Garage Reverb’ version that’s on the Get Nice! album which was a included in the download.
Art Brut’s new album It’s a Bit complicated is, well, a bit complicated for a number of reasons. Even for an Art Brut lover like myself. The first problem with the album is what a superficial look at it gives you. While the cover art for their first album Bang Bang Rock & Roll was wonderful in both graphics and the text, this album’s cover art looks like they are trying to win a trophy for worst cover art of the year… says the mathematician who might even see a certain irony in geometry tools together with the statement that ‘it’s a bit complicated’.
And then we have the music. The album contains some gems like St. Pauli (
Punk Rock ist nicht tot […] I learned my German from a seven inch record) or Nag Nag Nag (
a record collection reduced to a mix-tape) which we could so far only hear at their live shows but in total I was left with the impression that the album isn’t as inspired as its predecessor was. While each song may have its funny twist and moment, that seems to be mostly limited to the lyrics rather than extending to the music. Luckily their shows are still great. Must go again.
After enjoying Caribou’s The Milk of Human Kindness, I was keen to listen to his new album Andorra which caused typographic joy and conundrums on first sight. Unfortunately the album didn’t really appeal to me. It seems to lack the clear flow which The Milk of Human Kindness had. Ultimately I only found the eternal (9 minute) closing track Niobe fascinating and the album was a bit of a listen and forget affair otherwise.
Friska Viljor played at Haldern this year while we were swimming. But the guys I caught a ride with went on and on about how great they are on our trip back home and played their CD Bravo! there. More nice Swedish music I say. Possibly a bit too happy but generally nice.
Architecture in Helsinki were one of the great discoveries of 2006 for me. And their music has been appreciated ever since, all the way to finally seeing them play at Haldern in summer which was brilliant. Their new album Places Like This came out shortly afterwards and made everybody go boum-boum-boum-bu-da-bum-bum-da-boum-boum-boum afterwards in the spirit of Heart It Races.
My impression is that the album is more clever than In Case We Die was, toying with more fancy rhythms and weird sounds rather than just sticking to the general oddity of their previous sounds. The album is also less laid back and has more aggressive beats. While that may actually be a good development and a step forward theoretically, I found that even after quasi-constant listening to Places Like This I keep thinking that In Case We Die was the more enjoyable album. Let
Apart from putting songs of theirs on the the odd compilation CD, I never really mentioned The Cribs here. While not exactly high-brow, I thought their initial albums The Cribs and The New Fellas were quite refreshing and fun. Each of them contains a number of great tracks, many of which clock in at well under three minutes. Powerful magic.
And while their typical sound has made it to their new CD with the elaborate name Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever, some of the power or the magic was left on the the way there. They seem to have been tamed or smoothly mixed to oblivion or something.
A fairly similar judgement can be passed on Hot Hot Heat’s album Happiness Ltd. Again, their previous albums [err OK I never wrote about Elevator, it seems, but its fun as well] and likewise their shows are great, but most of that greatness just seems to have been sucked out of the new album.
The difference is probably most blatantly obvious in 5 Times out of a 100 which had been published on their 2002 Knock Knock Knock EP already. The odd thing is that the 2002 version starts quietly and lasts almost 4 minutes, while the 2007 version is much louder aggressively produced and finishes after just three minutes. So by all informal metrics I keep the new version should be better because it’s shorter and more to the point. But – oddly – the new, quicker, version doesn’t leave the impression that it’s mainly more powerful, it almost seems lifeless and just made for the speed and power while leaving the actual song behind. While the old recording could perhaps done with a bit more speed, it manages to keep a tension along its duration which has just been lost in acceleration now.
Múm’s new album Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy sounds less ‘floating’ than Summer Make Good, say, but it has plenty of interesting sounds and instrumental oddities in it. It seems a bit more solid and pushing than the previous albums which – from my point of view – is a slight change of direction for the band, but it may prove to be an interesting one. I’m a bit addicted to Guilty Rocks and at the beginning of the song I keep thinking that it could be by Spoon.
In a way I found that seeing the band play live recently helped ‘understand’ their music a bit. So far I had imagined things to be far more electronic rather than full of odd instruments.
Be sure to listen to their Singing Arc EP which is available on their home page to enjoy Seabear’s more mysterious sides when they don’t happen to play live in your neighbourhood.
The Hives’ new Black and White album is a bit dull. While the band are great in principle and while they are bound to deliver fun shows, I think their whole game has become a bit too institutionalised and boring. Past their prime…
Pretty much the same is true for Mando Diao’s new album Never Seen the Light of Day. They so were my band of the year 2003 and I still think that they are brilliant. But with their popularity rising their new music became less and less interesting and compelling. I’m sure you can still enjoy listening to them live if you’re able to ignore all the teenagers, but that’s mainly because they’re great at playing and have a number of great ‘old’ songs already. The new ones just don’t stick with me. A bit of a shame, if you asked me.
I may be too old for it but I found The Pigeon Detectives’ album Wait for Me quite fun and enjoyable. Could be that all the energy of some other bands was just channeled to them. In fact, a few songs just seem to have a good deal of inspiration or DNA from bands like Hot Hot Heat in them and I suppose they have a bunch of songs there which we might hear when going out as well.
It has been pointed out to me that I shouldn’t like the music of German singer-songwriter Jens Friebe because, well, in total it’s a bit too cheesy to be Sven-compatible. And that assessment is right. But sometimes there’s just a song which pulls the trigger for you and gets you hooked. In this case it’s the album’s eponymous track Das mit dem Auto ist egal, Hauptsache Dir ist nichts passiert (Never mind the car, the most important thing is that you are fine).
The title on its own, of course, reeks like ZDF Vorabendprogramm. It’s hard to adequately all the prejudices these two expressions transport in a few words. Just imagine the conservative branch of public broadcasting, the ones who have ads for cleaning your dentures, and the TV series they broadcast in the late afternoons. Invariably these will involve some sort of rich suburbia where people are lawyers, doctors or had ‘noble’ ancestors. And in the good world of these series parents can express the love for their children by assuring them to not worry about the car they just crashed. Oh the drama!
Anyway, the whole feeling of that society and TV is communicated rather well (
durch den Rest der besseren Gegend) in the song an quite reminds me of watching television with my granny when I was young. Lovely. This general feeling can be found in many places on the album, for example in the track Frau Baron which uses the amusing line
in dem Raum neben dem Raum neben dem Raum mit dem Spinett.
So it’s all quite amusing. But not really, truly good. It’s a bit tacky and at times it even seems wholeheartedly and disappointingly unironic.
[And who could resist cover art in Garamond capitals? Even if it looks like Garamond 3 rather than the prettier Stempel or Adobe variants.]
Stereo Total are music turned in to weirdness, or le trash pop Franco-Allemeand, or whatever. When I got my first Stereo Total CD (Jukebox Alarm) as a present around ten years ago, I listened to it and put it on my shelf without the intention of listening it again. Somehow it did anyway half a year later and then actually started liking it or ‘got’ it or so. Since, the band who freely sing in German, French and English (but are said to also have a solid fan-base in Japan) have become more lenient and consumable but they still remain on the weird-ish side.
Their new album, Paris-Berlin, just fits in the line established by their previous albums. Shamelessly mixing styles from the minimalist electronic (Relax Baby Be Cool) to the poppy (Ta Voix Au Téléphone) and topics from weird (Chewinggum) to the kinky (Ich Bin Der Stricherjunge) to the rock’n’roll romantic (Küsse aus der Hölle der Musik). Which in total probably means that there are loads of possibilities to hate the band. And still they are quite great, it’s odd.
You may just want to download the Trésors Cachés CD of rare tracks from their site to get into the spirit. [If it were without the unnecessary table, I’d be tempted to say that it’s a good model for a band website: A lot of information, updated from time to time, even with a feed for updates, with free samples. And strangely they don’t even need Flash to pull that off.]
It’s odd with Radiohead. They were superfantastisch in the late 1990s. And they kept going on and on, changing their style to the – at times painfully – abstract and then returning to more accessible music. They keep going on with that and somehow succeed. I am tempted to argue that few songs which came out of Radiohead are actually bad. Which is quite an achievement. Yet, with their more abstract albums, it’s sometimes hard to really like the songs.
And the same is true for their new album In Rainbows. While I can appreciate it locally with all the cleverness that they managed to cram into songs, I fail to develop any global enthusiasm for it.
Perhaps I should develop a drug habit. Recommendations?
There are even more songs, albums and bands. Which I’ll go into even less detail for. Babyshambles’ new album Shotter’s Nation seems quite boring and might just be the last chapter in the whole Libertines aftermath. Which, believe it or not, I consider to be one of the greater tragedies in recent pop history, if not the greatest. The Bravery were of the nice but not brilliant kind to begin with and they firmly stuck in that track with The Sun and the Moon. The same is true for Band of Horses’ Cease to Begin. But they were firmly on the poppy (as in bad-poppy) side – and the Zune marketing side – to begin with, so I only had a very faint hope for them anyway.
To end on a high note, let me mention Ella Fitzgerald’s Live in Montreux ‘77 album. Definitely among the better €7 I spent on vinyl…