tremble clef

Friday, March 30, 2007

Hilary Duff, "Never Stop"/"Outside Of You" (2007)

It took a while (at least in internet time) for me to get around to sampling the new Hilary Duff album, because...well, first of all, because it's Hilary "I Killed Joan Of Arcadia Dead" Duff. But a bigger reason had to do with the title of the record: Dignity.

If it's true, as Edward O. once remarked, that teenpop albums tend to be about identity, then we might add that around the second, third, or fourth albums, such teenpop stars tend to continue that narrative with a title or concept about growing up and possibly out of that original identity -- and towards, of course, some sort of "authentic" "maturity." In the 80s, Debbie Gibson came from Out Of The Blue to Electric Youth to Anything Is Possible to the allegedly more integrated Body, Mind, Soul; today JoJo has already accelerated from a self-titled debut to The High Road and promised/threatened that her third album won't be released until she's eighteen, so that her music can "grow." And while Ashlee Simpson (Autobiography; I Am Me), Amy Diamond (This Is Me Now; Still Me, Still Now), and Lindsay Lohan (Speak; A Little More Personal) seem a bit arrested, we can expect all their third albums to be called something like Me More Mature).

Given this naking/conceptual pattern, I initially rolled my eyes at Dignity: clearly, I thought, this was Hilary's clichéd Me More Mature salvo. It didn't help matters that, for the cover, Ms. Duff seems to be trying to look like Angelina Jolie...'s grandma.

As it turns out, although Dignity, as an album title, is still obviously meant as a kind of statement about Hilary's newfound whatever, the song that gives the record its title is nothing of the sort. It's rather a reasonably sassy number about a Jimmy Choo-wearing material girl who has no dignity, having lost it "in the Hollywood Hills." The fish-in-a-barrel thing to say about this "critique" is, of course, "um, kettle?", but at least the song, to my relief, isn't a dreary ballad about Hilary's tremendous Gandhi-like grace.

Once I got past that title, I discovered an electropop album that thankfully exhibits few signs of a tedious obsession with self, growth, maturity, dignity, blah blah blah fishcakes. (Indeed, the whole album only boasts one cringeworthy "self-empowerment" number -- "No Work, All Play," which wrongheadly insists that "you gotta know yourself to be yourself.") Now, it's not a great album. It's quite, quite enjoyable in parts, but for me Dignity isn't "an American version of Rachel Stevens' Come And Get It", 2007's best album thus far, or even destined to be this year's underappreciated electropop gem a la Holly Valance's State Of Mind, Dannii Minogue's Neon Nights, or Rachel's record. (There are a couple of what I would like to pretend are shout-outs to Rachel and Xenomania, though: on "Between You And Me," Hilary declares that her love is "not up for negotiation," and "Happy" has a twangy guitar line that reminds me a little of Frank's "I'm Not Shy.")

Because, leaving aside Hilary's singing, Dignity is simply not as good as those classic electropop records. The tunes aren't especially memorable, and the lyrics range from run-of-the-mill to insipid ("cause I see danger, danger, danger in your eyes!/There's danger in those eyes!"). The production is often competent but uninspired. For instance, "I Wish" contains a guitar riff that would be quite catchy if it weren't playing the same notes that Hilary herky-jerkily sings as the chorus. But it is, so the song, instead of agilely featuring a tune counterposed against, or underlined by, a muscular guitar riff, simply consists of two clunky instruments making the same point.

But even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and there are at least two moments on the album where everything comes together. "Never Stop" has a new wavy synth line and boasts some exhilarating drumming (or an exhilarating drum pattern) -- it's this album's "Funny How," if you really want to continue the Rachel Stevens comparisons -- some of which seems intentionally dissonant, and often stops the song. To some extent, these drums are almost too aggressive for the lyric (about how Hilary will never stop loving us), but they are energetic and outstanding on a record that is oftentimes too staid, production-wise. Meanwhile, "Outside Of You" has the best pure pop melody of the album, one that compels Hilary to start singing with her usual lower register before kicking it up for the more ethereal pre-chorus ("See the funny thing is/You're just as useless as me") and chorus ("I'm outside of you/And I just can't get through"). The lyric -- essentially, "we are both lonely and useless, so what say you that we be so together?") in fact has a kind of wittiness missing from the other words for the album (it's the only song not cowritten by Hilary, so make of that what you will). True, Hilary's voice doesn't have enough personality to quite carry off the middle eight's "I look in the mirror, I see your future, you look good with me" line, and the producers shouldn't have made her sing it twice; but that's ultimately a minor weakness in what is a Rather Good Electropop Song.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Lucky Soul, "Add Your Light To Mine, Baby" (2007)

Given the instanteously hooky nature of Lucky Soul's music -- the Spectorish, 60s girl group sound overstuffed with smudged lipstick and tear-stained mascara melodrama -- it seems only apt to do a real-time review of their The Great Unwanted album, doesn't it? Yes. Yes, it does. (Of course, the fact that quite a few songs surfaced in advance of the album -- as demos, singles, b-sides -- and are thus not being heard for the first time, takes away from the concept a little, but whatev.)

00:01 - Drumroll! (Literally.) Bluh bluh bluh BLUH BLUH!!! Oh, glorious horns. I've missed you since...the last record with glorious horns. Actually, they sound a little bit like Pet Shop Boys' "Saturday Night Forever."

00:13 - "Add your light to mine, baby, add your light to mine! Add your light to mine, and together we could shine!" I'm not quite sure why she says "could" instead of "will," but it adds a slight tentativeness to the song that makes it even more charming.

01:25 - I love the little breakdown: "dun dun DUN," then the "tock tock tock" bit. Wheee!

02:01 - Ooh, the music and vocals go up a half step, just to keep things interesting. Never noticed that before now. God, this is really their best song, and luckily getting a proper release as the next single. Dare we hope that it'll be this year's "Pull Shapes"?

02:27 - What an excellent title: "One Kiss Don't Make a Summer," which obviously plays off of that "one swallow..." proverb. Right? It does, doesn't it? Real time means NO TIME TO GOOGLE, PEOPLE. The bomb might go off at any second.

03:05 - Anyway, the heartbreaking lyrical conceit is that her friends tell her that she shouldn't fall for the guy too quickly, because it was just one kiss. Don't I know it.

05:03 - We get one of those parts where her vocals come in short, sharp bursts as the music punctuates those outbursts. Tres emotional.

06:15 - "What am I supposed to do? What am I suposed to do?" Awesome song, awesome end.

06:17 - Track three, "Struck Dumb," has appeared as the b-side of the "Ain't Never Been Cool" single, but it's far from a filler track on the album.

07:40 - Like the previous song, the slower, more sedate verses are counterposed against much more distraught choruses. This one's an especial gem: she sings, "I want you so bad that it hurts!" and the male backing vocalists go like this: "URGH URGH URGH!!!!" And she goes "dumb dumb dee do woah woah." Everybody's been struck dumb, you see.

09:07 - Oh, "Lips Are Unhappy"! We know this one too.

09: 43 - The title is such a great tin pan alley kind of phrase: "lips are unhappy without you." Clearly, it's a kind of coping mechanism: if I can detach and imagine that it's just my kissless lips that are unhappy, maybe I can pretend the rest of me is fine. (No luck. Turns out the rest of me is not doing too hot either.)

12: 20 - Everybody join in the marvellous outro! "Shake shake shimmy..." (Just chanted at first, then slowly building up into a more definite melody.)

12:44 - "My Darling, Anything." One to stagger drunkenly around an empty ballroom to.

13:42 - Man, great chord change, and I don't usually recognize those even when they bite me on my proverbial ass.

14:35 - The "surrender surrender" bit randomly reminds me of Bomb The Bass's "Don't Make Me Wait." Random, I told you.

15:00 - "You, got to remember/I've got a heart condition/Just listen closer/Every fourth beat [here the beat of course drops out] is missing/If it ain't missing then it skipskipskipskipskipskip..." And THEN horns come in, because this part wasn't nearly awesome enough. No, sorry, THIS song has the best outro.

15:53 - Oooh, first song that's new to me: "Get Outta Town!"

16:19 - This one is racuous, all growling bass. It's practically punk rock.

16:20 - Or at least the closest the band has come to being The Primitives.

16:21 - Do I like it? Maybe it's too shambolic for me. This one needs at least a second spin.

18:08 - "I'll kiss you once! Alright, I'll kiss you twice!" An Irresistible Bit.

19:00 - Okay, I'm won over. She does need to watch it with the slight shrieking, though. But there's cheering at the end, and I join in.

19:38 - Title track time. As good as when it first leaked, and notable for the locution "a life less boring." (I'm a sucker for Latinate syntax, what can I say.) Which means that I can use this to take a deep breath so that I don't pass out from all the excited hyperventilating.

23:20 - "We will not be ignored." I hope not.

23:28 - Twangy, reverby guitar chords open the next track, "Baby I'm Broke." They remind me of "Bang Bang," so my mind starts imagining Nancy Sinatra covering this one.

24:58 - We're in lighter-waving territory with this one, I think. The organ that rumbles underneath will do that to you.

27:43 - Dur-rum-BAM! Ah, the song the band wrote just for me: "My Brittle Heart."

28:23 - The backing vocals on this kill me all over again. "Honey honey," she cries, and the backing vocalists come in, all "aaaah aaahh!" and then even a few "shoop shoop"s. I'm so cheap.

28:56 - "I need you more, than a life raft needs the shore." I can't decide if that's a good or bad line. Fortunately the debate in my head gets cut short by the return of the "shoop shoop"s.

30:57 - "Ain't Never Been Cool"! You can't see me, but I'm totally doing the frug.

31:40 - Oh, you know what happened? My virginity grew back this past week.

31:42 - Just wanted to see if you're still paying attention.

34:01 - "The Towering Inferno" begins like she's channelling Gwen Stefani in one of her curtesy voice moments. Or maybe Cyndi Lauper.

34:05 - Man, Gwen owes a lot to Cyndi, doesn't she?

35:10 - This track is not working as well so far. The lyric is less in the moment, and as a result somehow more indulgent: "the towering inferno will one day consume me." Hmmm. Show, don't tell.

35:43: Yeah, she's crossing the line into shrieking here, although perhaps track 10 on such a unabashedly melodramatic album was always going to do so.

36:51 - Okay, we'll calling this The Weak Track.

36:55 - A lot of the songs do follow a certain trajectory: start off more mid-tempo, then rachet up the tempo and drama, trashes around very tunefully, and falls down a bit drunk. Just like me every Friday evening.

37:20 - "It's Yours." On which she tells us that everything we ever wanted, it's ours, and means it too. The rumbling organ returns, though the effect this time is more heartfelt than regretful.

41:10 - I'm definitely back to enjoying things again.

41:50 - Even slower and more placid, "The Last Song" comes along to close the album. We're down to strummy acoustic guitar and rumbling organ here. She sounds, if it's possible, even more weary and bruised than she did at the start of the album.

43:46 - Oooh, piano and slide guitar. To break what's left of my heart, presumably.

45:40 - "The penultimate beat of the drum/When the second to last part is strummed/And when all other words have already been heard/I'll sing the last song for you." Bless.

46:17 - Except we now get the obligatory few minutes of silence before the hidden track kicks in.

47:00 - While we wait, can I just tell you that we are finally getting the Barbara Walters Oscar special on TV this weekend, so all month long they've been torturing us with preview clips, and each time Baba Wawa leans in to Jay Z, bugs her eyes out, and says, "Do you find Beyoncé 'bootylicious'?!" a small part of me dies in the midst of the hysterical laughter.

48:18 - We go even gentler: a pretty acoustic lullably to really end things. A clock ticks away in the background, and a toy piano tinkles us to sleep. Sweet.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, "Got It Together Again" (1971)

V. EXCITING WEEKEND: I spent most of it trying to balance the checkbook for an account that I've neglected to keep close tabs on since, oh, December, and yet have spent lots out money out of.

My favorite example of mathematical incompetence occurs in the middle of "Got It Together Again," the track that closes Nancy's and Lee's 1971 vinyl album Did You Ever? Saint Etienne covered the song for Total Lee!, but sadly declined to recreate this classic spontaneous exchange:

Nancy: We're the oldest...
Lee: ...teenyboppers? In the world? 72?
Nancy: 72?! No, that's the next album!
Lee: No, if you add us together!
Nancy: Oh. How old are you?
Lee: I'll be four-two.
Nancy: 42? And I'm 30.
Lee: Right. That's 72, any way you add it up.

You'd think that Nancy, bless her soul, could have avoided having her blonde moment committed to record by paying attention to THE TITLE OF THE SONG SHE WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF SINGING.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Brett Anderson, "Scorpio Rising" (2007)

Suede released some good records, but I'm afraid that as far as I'm concerned some of these were great despite Brett's singing. His voice didn't actively annoy me, but here is an artist's impression of how I tend to experience Suede songs:

And The Tears? Yeah.

However! I actually like Brett's first solo album quite a bit, voice and all. It helps tremendously that the record largely consists of beautifully-arranged orchestral ballads (many produced by Fred Ball), a setting that frees Brett's more mature singing from making me hungry for rosemary-rubbed lambchops. Brett Anderson has gotten very lukewarm reviews, but definitely rewards repeated listens. Yes, the anti-consumerism song is hilariously bad, but I'm finding "Love Is Dead," "Song For My Father," and "One Lazy Morning" all very good.

And there's also "Scorpio Rising," which goes something like this:

See? It's obviously quite good.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Elliott Yamin, "Wait For You" (2007)

That the second runner-up of American Idol 5 snagged Stargate to write and produce his debut single is something of a coup -- seriously: well-played Elliott, well-played -- but it was always going to be the case that he gets a track that Stargate's other clients most likely passed on. (Just ask Katherine "Poor Man's JoJo" McPhee.)

And indeed, "Wait For You" sounds like one of the smooth, lite R&B ballads that Stargate has been knocking out for, in particular, Ne-Yo (or, if Ne-Yo should reject them, Joe). (For some reason, Stargate's work for female acts is more diverse -- aside from their mutual greatness, Beyoncé's "Ireplaceable" isn't much like Paula DeAnda's "Walk Away" -- but the reasons why this is so deserve a separate post. When I actually come up with a theory, that is.) Like "So Sick" and "Because Of You," "Wait For You" is built around a tinkly piano riff that may be hookier and more insistent than the actual chorus, and all these songs also have rhythm tracks that either mimick or actually utilize finger snaps and/or handclaps. Plus, not only does "Wait For You" therefore sound derivative of Ne-Yo singles, but its chorus is pretty much a direct steal of S Club 7's "Never Had A Dream Come True" (co-penned by Cathy Dennis, who may or may not be contacting her lawyer right about now).

And yet, despite these preemptive strikes, I'll be damned if Elliott doesn't totally sell his single. (Can I say "he sells it"? I'm trying hard not to slip into Idol judge-speak. It simultaneously amuses and irks me that while everyone [but especially bloggers] makes fun of Randy's or Paula's incomprehensible critiques, just as many slip into parrotting their fucking vocabulary -- sometimes "ironically" or with self-awareness, but I don't see how that excuses it.)

There is, for one thing, Elliott's voice, which retains all the nuance and passion it did on the show. He doesn't indulge in a lot of bells and whistles, concentrating instead on letting the melody tell him where to place his emphases. The tune of the chorus, for instance, asks Elliott to put almost equal amounts of stress on each word -- "Baby I will. Wait. For. You" -- as if he really, really needs for his lover to hear every syllable of every plea. At the 3:33 mark, Elliott varies the melody just a bit, shifting the emphasis to "baby I will wait for you" (as if resorting to a more direct address of his loved one), and hitting the first five words of "if you think I'm fine it just ain't true" more plaintively (as if her mis-impression hurts him more than anything else).

And it's not like he gets no help: second rate Stargate writing and production work is still very good. So, even though the lyric is clichéd, it still boasts a run-on line -- "Don't tell me I ran out of time/If it takes the rest of my life/Baby I will wait for you," where the middle line appears melodically to belong to the previous sentence, but turns out to semantically initiate the next -- that gets at the painful confusion of the song (and gives the less casual listener some mental work to do). Or listen to the way the piano riff and Elliott's promise to "wait for you" (both essentially cover the same notes) hardly ever begin at the same time, mostly depending on whether Elliott leaves out the "so" at the start of the phrase: either Elliott begins the phrase before the riff comes in ("So BUMP BUMP BUMP"), or the reverse is true ("BUMP baby I will wait for you"), thereby dramatizing the way Elliott's wait has been largely fruitless and the situation is out of sync. And most obviously, the cold finish -- the song ends in the middle of the line, "I'll be waiting..." -- effectively if somewhat unsubtly conveys the sense that Elliott is still waiting, and always will. Having always enjoyed Elliott on Idol, I am admittedly predisposed to like his single, but there's no shame in being won over by a personality in the pop game.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Escort, "All That She Is" (2007)

"What's so great about her?" "Well, she is all that she is." "And what's his problem?" "He is not what she is."

Um...illuminating. This Escort track -- the superior b-side to their latest 12" "A Bright New Life" -- could not have a sillier and more insubstantial lyrical hook. And yet, the fact that its one line, about her being her but him not being her, is urgently whispered makes it not completely ridiculous. It's an old trick of disco records; somehow, the whispering makes it feel like the song is imparting some terrible! Scandalous! Gossip! Have you heard the latest? You know that he and she and they did it during the day when it and she and he went there to see her and them and us? So the gossip turns out to be nonsensical. What piece of gossip isn't?

Meanwhile, the rest of the track keeps up the atmosphere. The beat, as on previous Escort records, is largely old school boogie, although this one is augmented by two particularly distinctive synth lines. One -- played at different points by a synth and then by strings -- is bassier and ponderous (as if revealing some secret: dong dong DONG DONG!!), while the other is a more agile, fleet-footed arpeggio (that sounds like word is spreading faster and faster). In a sense the record owes as much to 80s sleaze as it does to boogie, but whatever its influences, it continues to boost Escort's reputation as purveyors of fine revivalist dance music.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Marit Bergman, "Green Light" (2006)

I like but didn't love Marit Bergman's "No Party" from late last year -- although I did enjoy tremendously the video, because, hello, it had A DRUMMING WALRUS IN A RAINCOAT -- and thus never sought out the parent album. But the latest single from I Think I See A Rainbow, "Mama, I Remember You Now," a Spectorish tribute to Mama Cass, prompted me to belatedly seek out an album that got lost in the year end shuffle. Which is what singles should do. Wow. The record industry worked the way it's supposed to. Imagine that!

Of course, maybe it would have worked even better if this album track had been a single. (I don't think it's been a single; this weird computer-animated gay video is unofficial, I believe.) "Green Light" has the same retro 60s feel as "Mama": a big, joyful beat; some lovely horns on the chorus; "ooh ah ah ah!" backing vocals; a spoken bit that is pure girl group; and even that tockity-tock bongo drum sound (only in your left ear) that always reminds me of spy or exploitation movies from that era. Meanwhile, at certain points in the song Marit sounds like, I kid you not, Belinda Carlisle. Though Belinda, as far as I'm aware, never sang songs to a walrus (no jokes about all her vodka-and-coke weight, please).

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Fountains Of Wayne, "Someone To Love" (2007)

Fountains Of Wayne's new single features two protagonists: Seth Shapiro, a lawyer, and photo editor Beth McKenzie. With its usual precision and detail, the band sketches these lives: Seth listens to Coldplay and devours books about organized crime, while Beth watches The King of Queens on Thursday nights (not the first-run version, presumably, which has never been on Thursdays, but syndicated episodes). As the song title suggests, despite their otherwise full lives, both need "someone to love," an idea the song expresses less as a bullying imperative, and more as a hope for them, and us all: "When it's late, and it's hot/And a date with The Late Show is all that you've got/Don't give out, don't give up/One of these nights you might find someone to love."

Is that hope fulfilled or dashed at the end of the song, when our two characters cross paths? "Seth Shapiro is trying in vain/To hail a taxi in the morning, pouring rain/Beth McKenzie sees one just up ahead/She cuts in front of him and leaves him for dead." The track screeches to a halt for a second, before kicking into the chorus one more time. It's hard to tell if the song is therefore a four-minute musical version of every Hollywood romantic comedy ever, or a critique of them. (A typical ambiguity for the band, and one reason why critics can never tell if the Fountains are "ironic" or not, truly sympathizing with or mocking their characters -- but also the reason why I love them.) On the surface, Beth's theft of the cab seems to mean that she misses a chance to meet a man the song has set up as her possible partner. But by cutting away when it does, the song doesn't foreclose the possibility that Seth...what? Spiritedly goes up to the cab, bangs on the window, forces his way into the taxi despite Beth's squeaky protestations, and the two reluctantly share a ride uptown, squabbling all the way, whereupon they realize they are made for each other?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Rosebuds, "My Punishment For Fighting"/"Silja Line (On Settling For A Normal Life)" (2007)

In my musical world -- though, I would acknowledge, not in everyone's -- "epic" has a vexed, even paradoxical quality. If I had to be schematic, I would say that "epic dance/pop music" gives me thrills, but for "epic rock music" I have little to no use.

A lot of this bias has to do with my sense of how self-aware "epic music" is, and, specificially, how self-serving its aims are. When I think of instances of epic dance music -- the hi-NRG productions of the Pet Shop Boys, say, or Kylie's "Your Disco Needs You" -- they usually have their collective tongue, if not in, then not too far from, their cheek. That's probably not a good way to put it, because it slides too easier into the idea that epic dance-pop is "okay" because it is "ironic"; better to say that epic dance-pop lacks a kind of self-important earnestness that epic rock unfortunately possesses in spades. Indeed, epic dance-pop's aims usually have little to do with the artists themselves; it doesn't exist, for the most part, to demonstrate how magnificient its creators are. (Whereas much of epic rock...well, let's just mutter "U2" and not even mention all the other rock messiah wannabes.) If anything, creators of epic dance-pop seem to know that they risk coming off as silly, trivial, camp -- but if the track is glorious as a result and likely to be enjoyable for the listeners, they don't care. In this sense epic dance-pop doesn't have the self-serving nature that I find quite distasteful in epic rock. Because of this, I'm always wary of rock acts that -- usually around the second or third albums -- attempt to go "epic." It's usually a, Killers?

But then there is Night Of The Furies, the third album by The Rosebuds, the Raleigh band made up of Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp. It is likely to be the one that critics hail, if they pay attention to it, as taking a disproportionate leap forwards, perhaps even towards "epicness." And it's true enough. Although the band's two previous albums were already quite excellent -- 2003's Make Out, and 2005's Birds Make Good Neighbors, which featured one of my favorite songs from that year, the achingly beautiful "Blue Bird" (never heard it?! Rectify that immediately, please) -- there is something about Night Of The Furies that seems more ambitious in scope, less interested in simply being a collection, as its predecessors were, of pretty, jangly guitar pop songs.

One reason why the album is likely to be seen as a conscious leap forward is the way The Rosebuds have -- let's use a critical cliché for a moment, heh -- "expanded their sonic palette." The sound of the group is still rooted in lovely guitar pop, but they themselves have acknowledged that a couple of the tracks are almost discotastic, in the way that The Killers' "Bones" tried to be: the first single, "Get Up Get Out" (try Hype Machine if you want to hear it), and "Hang On To This Coat." (Apparently remixes of album tracks are already being prepared, by Dean and Britta and Mark Saunders.) No doubt this helps the newly "epic" band avoid the pitfalls of coming across as self-important: Night Of The Furies is as much as epic pop record as it is a rock one.

But the bigger reason to deem the record "epic" is due to the mythical theme that runs through its nine songs; as the album title suggests, the idea of the Furies -- the Roman deities that descend on Earth to punish and avenge -- run throughout the record. "In the day and night, better hold on tight to your loved ones," the lyric of "Cemetary Lawns," which begins with an exhilarating burst of drums, goes. "The rumor is the truth, the Furies are here upon us." According to press materials, it looks like the band re-imagined the night of a tropical hurricane as such a visitation, and as a result the record is made up of songs connected in the sense that they speak recurrently of guilt, conscience, turmoil, sacrifice, retribution.

There is in fact something very Southern Gothic about the record: in its thematic concerns, yes, but additionally because Ivan sings about them with a dextrous voice that, in its lower register, has the same kind of rumbly weight as Scott Walker's or Nick Cave's, but often also kicks into a higher pitch that is floaty and ethereal. (When he does both within the same song, as happens in the opener, "My Punishment For Fighting," the effect is mesmerizing: after each verse sketches out his troubles, the chorus sees his voice lift and sing, with almost a kind of spooky disembodiment, "I could never be/All you need me to/My punishment is living without you." The line has haunted me all weekend.)

But The Rosebuds don't present Ivan's voice as some kind of pompous soothsayer's, instead surrounding it with others -- not necessarily other people's (Kelly takes the lead on "I Better Run," but nowhere else), but with backing vocals that simultaneously rachet up the drama and deflate it. They heighten by punctuating and emphasizing, as dramatic backing vocals always do (just think of gospel backup). But on Night Of The Furies, these backing vocals also puncture any kind of pomposity, because they are incredibly hooky, almost in a kind of cheesy Eurodisco way -- or, in keeping with my characterization of the album as "Southern Gothic," the way backing vocals on, say, a Sisters Of Mercy record might. (Or at least what I remember of the one or two Sisters Of Mercy tracks I've heard.) This is an album filled with woahs, woos, ahs, and oohs. (Highlights: the "ah ah ah ah"s that start "My Punishment For Fighting" and thus the whole album; the way Ivan sings "Woah oh...WOO!" at the end of the chorus on "Cemetary Lawns"; the "Woah, oh! Woah, oh! Woah, oh oh oh woah!" from "You Better Run"; the four introductory bars of "whoo, whoo, whooo" that glide gloriously up and down the scale at the start of "Silence By The Lakeside"; the "ah, ah-ah-ah-haaaa"s from "Hold On To This Coat"...)

The marvellous track, "Silja Line (On Settling For A Normal Life)" -- whose nautical lyric The Decemberists would be envious of -- provides an especially good example of how these supporting voices do both: for most of the song, the backup vocals take the form of ghostly "ah, wooooooooo"s that rise up in between the verses. But later in the song, though, all ghosts are dispelled by the heartiness of the way Ivan is suddenly joined by what sounds like an entire male choir, going, "Oh oh oh! Let's all toast to the ones we love!" It would be a eyerollingly self-important moment, if not for the way the rest of song frames it as as much a guiltily poptastic moment as a "meaningful" one.

It's only the beginning of March, but there have been a ton of good -- or at least hotly anticipated (by me) -- albums leaked released so far: Tracey Thorn! Patrick Wolf! Jay-Jay Johanson! Pleasure! Weeping Willows! Mika! The Go Find! Feist! Fountains Of Wayne! (And in the wings: Lucky Soul! Sophie Ellis-Bextor!) It's too early to tell which of those, let alone which future release, will end up among my true favorites of the year. But at this point, I can say that Night Of The Furies has been one of two albums that has brought out the most obsessive behavior in me -- such as, playing it four times in a row without a break when I first got it. (Wanna guess which is the other, which is included in the list at the start of this paragraph?)

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Go Find, "Adrenaline" (2007)

Things I Grudgingly Understand About The Go Find: why critics compare them to Styrofoam and Postal Service.

Well, the Belgium act -- just Dieter Sermeus for the first album, 2004's Miami, but now a full band for their excellent second album Stars On The Wall -- is often produced by their fellow countryman Styrofoam, and share the same label (Morr Music). And especially on the new album, Dieter, singing the same kind of electropop, does sound like Ben Gibbard (who himself sang on a Styrofoam track a few years back, so it's all connected). So compare away, unless you're talking to people who don't like Styrofoam and Postal Service.

Things I Do Not Understand About The Go Find, But Don't Really Care: why there is a Mel and Kim poster on the wall in this videoclip for "New Year," the lovely single from the album...

...but whatever the reason, it's awesome.

Things I Do Not Understand About The Go Find, But Upon Further Thought Kind Of Get It. Or Maybe Not: why my favorite song from the album -- although "New Year," "25 Years," "Ice Cold Ice," and even the brief opener "Beautiful Night" are jostling it -- is called "Adrenaline."

The word doesn't actually appear in the lyric, nor does that lyric ostensibly have much to do with adrenaline. What the lyric does have to do unclear. Dieter asks the song's addressee: "If I should be on your trail, would you turn around, be a friend of mine? Cause if you’ve seen the truth, I’d be a fool not to follow you." But later in the second verse, he declares: "How can I trust you? Cause every time I do, there’s always another point of view. So tell me what to do." The chorus resolves nothing, even if it haunts with its constant refrain: "Cause you, are the only one, who could prove I’m wrong, who could prove I’m wrong." Does he want to be proven wrong, or right? Does he love this person? Does he hate and stalk her? Does the possibility that she might love him back constitute the only thing that could disprove his own idea that he is unloveable? Meanwhile, the deceptively simple musical backing starts off slow and brooding, swirls a litte more on the chorus, and always seem on the verge of breaking into a full gallop -- but never does, and yet the song is somehow more gorgeous for it. Maybe the title refers to the music? No?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Sophie Ellis-Bextor, "Down With Love" (2007)

(Something a bit more poptastic today, I think, partly in honor of the word's recent entrance into the OED.)

Perhaps it was considered a bit too simple and straightforward of a pop song to warrant being included on Sophie Ellis-Bextor's forthcoming album, but that's the only reason I can think of why "Down With Love" has been relegated to being the b-side for "Catch You." (Although the way Sophie overlaps her own vocals, and sqwauks "down down down" in the outro, already lifts it above the ordinary.) Backed by big, brash drums and a kind of new wavy synthline -- thereby making the song sound a bit like the lovechild of Pet Shop Boys' "Flamboyant" and The Killers (the "doo-woo-woot woo-woot-woot" sound effect after each chorus especially recalls "Somebody Told Me") -- Sophie sings about being afflicted with a nasty case of this thing called love.

Stupidly, I'd never really thought about the expression before this song, despite its use in a movie that several people suggested I would like but never actually saw. I'd always assumed that the phrase was being used in, like, the street slang way: hey dude, I'm down with that! But in Sophie's song at least, it's "down" as in "being down with the flu," except that "when you're down with love, there ain't no cure at all." Why have I never realized this other meaning -- and thus the possible ambiguity, whereby being down with something is either simpatico, or its exact opposite, extremely isolating? Tee sometimes calls his dog "Downy," both because she's soft and fluffy, but also because she can be gloriously dumb, and I hereby join her in one of those categories.