Posts Tagged ‘music time’

Goldfrapp: Silver Eye

March 30, 2017

It takes Alison Goldfrapp more than a full verse into Silver Eye’s leadoff track “Anymore” before she utters a single word with more than one syllable: “You’re what I want. You’re what I need. Give me your love. Make me a freak.” Reductive? Considering her and collaborator Will Gregory—whose past lyrics would gussy up their earthy emotions and desires in hazy surrealism like, “Wolf lady sucks my brain” and, “Now take me dancing at the disco where you buy your Winnebago”—you might be tempted to think so. Prior to “Anymore,” Goldfrapp hid their most verbally explicit expression of lust (“Put your dirty angel face between my legs and knicker lace”) in an elaborate fantasy about a tryst with a traveling carny titled, appropriately enough, “Twist.”

But the direct approach suits this new album, the group’s first since 2013’s Tales of Us. Ever since the pair swapped the John Barry ambience of their debut album Felt Mountain for the electro-glam of its successor Black Cherry, they’ve staked their identity on being able to assume new identities at will. Wanna double down on that sexy “Spirit in the Sky” shimmer? There’s Supernature. Wanna go pastoral? Check out Seventh Tree. Wanna trade Gary Numan and Marc Bolan for the Pointer Sisters and circa-“Jump” Van Halen? Head for Head First. By contrast, Silver Eye is a synthesis—a combination of all the things the group has done well. “Become the one you know you are,” commands a key track, and they’re teaching by example. Who needs many syllables to express something so fundamental?

I reviewed Goldfrapp’s new album Silver Eye for Pitchfork.

Nine Inch Nails: ‘The Fragile (2017 Definitive Edition)’ / ‘The Fragile: Deviations 1’

January 11, 2017

The Fragile arrived a stylistic turning point, emerging at the point where the “alternative” sobriquet fell out of fashion and “indie” achieved dominance. Today, though, reservations about the lyrics’ outré confessionality and the music’s jam-packed, everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink gigantism seem positively quaint. (Don’t care for titanically hyper-produced albums stuffed with uncomfortably intimate and self-mythologizing lyrics about your emotional world falling apart? Tell it to Lemonade.) The Fragile may lack the tightness of Nine Inch Nails’ other highlights: the concise fury of Broken, the inexorable depressive logic of The Downward Spiral, the late-career professionalism of Hesitation Marks. But it takes the emotional distress that gives it its title and transmutes it into something colossal, defiant, and resilient. Listen to it at your strongest or your weakest (and I’ve certainly done both) and it will offer you a sonic signature commensurate with the power of what you feel inside.

I reviewed Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile, one of my favorite albums of all time, plus its recent instrumental revamp The Fragile: Deviations 1, for Pitchfork.

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Music Time: Underworld – Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future

March 15, 2016

Let’s talk about love—with Underworld, you kind of have to. Though still best known for shouting “lager, lager, lager” in their epochal 1996 hit “Born Slippy.NUXX,” the long-running dance duo, consisting of singer-lyricist-multi-instrumentalist Karl Hyde and producer Rick Smith, have quietly but persistently placed matters of the heart at the center of their best songs. Their breakthrough single “Cowgirl” pledged “I wanna give you everything,” robotically chanting the final word like a mantra for emphasis. “Jumbo,” the buoyant highlight of 1999’s Beaucoup Fish, took a (literally) sweeter approach, with singer Karl Hyde purring “I need sugar” when “I get thoughts about you.” And despite the involvement of a series of guest producers whose work never quite gelled, UW’s last studio album Barking was held together by a chain of out-and-out love songs, from its singles “Scribble” to its tremulous closing ballad “Louisiana” (“When you touch me, planets in sweet collision”). Regardless of their reputation for turning late-night urban-hedonism anthems into festival-filling crowdpleasers, Underworld remain romantics at heart.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future—perhaps because Smith and Hyde’s own creative romance needed rekindling.

Today I made my Pitchfork debut by reviewing Underworld’s excellent new album Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future.

Music Time: Nine Inch Nails, Barclays Center, October 14 2013

October 15, 2013

Nine Inch Nails’ 20th-century iteration was a matter of excess. It was excess of abandon during the Broken and Downward Spiral period — smashed instruments, trashed dressing rooms, primal screams on the records. And it was excess of ambition during that era’s summary statement, The Fragile — live-in recording studios, Bob Ezrin on the boards, a level of sonic perfectionism that literally drove Trent Reznor to drink.

Since the band’s post-sobriety return with 2005’s With Teeth, however, Nine Inch Nails has been about keeping control. With Teeth pared the act down to a tight, pummeling rock-band model, one that remains a centerpiece of its live shows. Year Zero belied its concept-album dystopia with a quick-and-dirty recording process — a couple of laptops on a tour bus, pretty much. Ghosts may have been an instrumental triple album, but each track was more of a sketch than a song. The Slip blended several of these modes.

The pattern culminated in Hesitation Marks. It’s a throwback to The Downward Spiral and The Fragile in terms of its visual and sonic vibe, but lyrically it’s a contemplation and rejection of the Reznor of that period. It’s about an emotional life he now has control over, and his fear of losing his grip the way he once did. All told, the career trajectory that emerges from juxtaposing these eras evinces a great deal of thought about what this band does and what it means to its architect.

Nine Inch Nails’ live show reflects that care and attention. It starts in full muscular rock-band mode, with stark white lighting that’s equally no-nonsense. When the set expands to encompass more expansive material from Hesitation Marks and The Fragile, a pair of backup singers are added — their first vocals got a big audience pop, since that’s pretty much the last thing anyone expects at a Nine Inch Nails show, but for the most part they serve to unobtrusively shore up and support Reznor’s vocals, which often play off subtle but crucial harmonies or calls-and-responses in the songs’ studio version that have traditionally been lost in live translation.

A digital light show of genuinely stunning sophistication and ambition fleshes out the visuals accordingly, rivaling if not surpassing your widescreen rock band of choice for sheer spectacle. But again, the range of effects is carefully considered, primarily involving shifting digital colors, three-dimensional wire frames, and silhouettes. It’s evocative but non-narrative, designed to command audience attention during lesser-known or more difficult songs.

The lighting cues often get very specific, highlighting individual musicians in frequently unorthodox ways: I think pretty much every trick in the book was used to spotlight drummer Ilan Rubin except an actual spotlight, while one memorable solo from guitarist Robin Finck was reverse-spotlighted, a digital projection sort of burning away to blackness as he played. Bassist Pino Palladino, who takes his on-stage comportment cues from the similarly stoic John Entwistle (whom he’s replaced in the Who), is barely ever lit at all.

And for all its high technology, a couple of its strongest moments were callbacks to the band’s rich design history: a Batsignal-like projection of the classic NIN logo ended the main set during the final notes of “Head Like a Hole,” while the encore’s closing performance of “Hurt” was accompanied by the same black-and-white montage of disturbing images that ran when the band played the song during the Downward Spiral’s arena tour nineteen years ago. It’s a clever way to emphasize the time period during which his relationship with the largest segment of his audience was forged, while connecting it visually to his more recent and forward-thinking work — a capstone for a thoughtful, frequently spectacular show that incorporates the person he was then into the artist he is now.

Music Time

July 25, 2012

Recently I wrote about “Voodoo-U” by Lords of Acid and “Born Slippy .NUXX” by Underworld for my tumblr about music and coolness, Cool Practice.

(I used to call all fast-paced electronic dance music “techno” — was that a common thing, like how all non-punks used to refer to all punk and post-punk people by shouting “DEVO!” at them?)

You shouldn’t have worn that dress?

June 15, 2012

I wrote about a memorable live performance of “Sex Type Thing” by Stone Temple Pilots for my music tumblr, Cool Practice.

Music Time: Lords of Acid – “The Crablouse (Ludo’s ‘Coming Even Harder’)”

April 20, 2012

In its original version, which I think is the ’90s dance-industrial act Lords of Acid’s single best recording proper, “The Crablouse” was already one of the sleaziest songs I owned. What can you say about a paean to the erotic and orgasmic potential of pubic lice? The lyrics, barked by a female vocalist in a mic-distorted Euro-rap that gives way to a reach-for-the-heavens ululation in the chorus, don’t actually, you know, make any sense, but they didn’t need to. The point was simply “THIS IS A DIRTY SEXY SONG ABOUT DIRTY SEXY DIRTYSEX,” and the music flung a gigantic beat and huge guitars and synths and snarling raging panting jungle-beast vox at you to reinforce the point. (The immortal album cover by friend of the blog COOP didn’t hurt, either.)

Much as I like that original version, though, I think I like this remix by Carl. S. Johansen even better. I like it for its focus. Instead of the frantic, distortion-laden industrial instrumentation of the original, this is just big glittering washes and skittering snakes of synth, the kind of beat that always sounds like you’ve turned the bass up in your car too loud to be properly heard, and seven words’ worth of lyrics (not THOSE seven words, but you’re not on the wrong track) that boil the Lords’ entire dirty-dance project down to its barest and most goal-oriented essentials. (The EP it came on had a pretty great cover of its own.)

Maybe I’m overthinking it now, years later, but looking back this song must have hit me at just the right time. It’s loud, scary, heavy, danceable, utter anathema to square notions of taste, futuristic, weirdly lovely at times, and hyperbolically sexual in a relentlessly pleasure-seeking and bluntly honest way. A terrific fantasy version of adulthood for someone just becoming an adult! It didn’t all work out quite that way for me, I suppose, but you know, I did alright.

Music Time: Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne

August 12, 2011

Crossposted from All Leather Must Be Boiled.

On Watch the Throne, the new collaborative album by Jay-Z and Kanye West, the title phrase or a variation on it is uttered nine times over the course of sixteen songs. Meanwhile, a recurring orchestral sample — its nervous energy evoking the spooky bits of Magical Mystery Tour, sinister ’60s children’s movies, and the shifty-eyed rhythm of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” — shows up in looped form as an unofficial theme at the end or beginning of four separate tracks, including the opener “No Church in the Wild” above.

Did this remind anyone else of George R.R. Martin’s character mantras/catchphrases from A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones? “If I look back I am lost.” “Where whores go.” “It rhymes with…” “She’s been fucking [names redacted] for all I know…” “Kill the boy.” “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” “Valar Morghulis.” “Weese, Dunsen, Polliver, Raff the Sweetling…” In each of these cases, these are phrases that wounded, worried minds keep circling back and back and back to, obsessively. They’re phrases they cling to and phrases that haunt them.

Can you think of a better way to describe what the the repetition of the words “watch the throne” might mean to two men whose unquestioned position at the top of their field means, as Jay-Z puts it, that the only place they can find an opponent is in the mirror?

I’ve been writing a post comparing Watch the Throne to ASoIaF/GoT since my first listen, but when you play the game of Game of Thrones comparisons, you publish or you perish. Oh well! I actually don’t mind that other people have gotten there first, because it means that the initial, incorrect critical narrative about the album — two rich people rapping about how rich they are, which is bad because of the debt deal and the London riots or something — is falling by the wayside. It’s as if the pressure to turn reviews of an important album around in 24 hours (due to the record’s unexpected, exclusive, leak-thwarting midnight release on iTunes) led critics to forget that anything ever happened at any other time. If it’s not okay to rap about fame and wealth to a struggling audience, then flush the last two decades of hip-hop, including multiple chart-topping critically acclaimed albums by Jay-Z and Kanye West, down the toilet.

But not only is the thesis ridiculous, it’s not even accurate. Obviously Kanye and Jay rap a lot about their money and the stuff they’ve bought with it on this album, and obviously the names they’re dropping are high-end and/or highfalutin’ enough to stand out to critics under deadline pressure. (I bet the Museum of Modern Art didn’t expect to have almost as much of a role on this record as Frank Ocean does.) But you’d almost have to purposefully ignore the rest of the lyrics, and most importantly the sound of the thing, to think that’s all there is to it, to characterize this album as a less forceful-sounding Rick Ross record. For all the talk about life at the top, they seem about as comfortable there as Robert Baratheon, Eddard Stark, and the stained knight Jaime Lannister. The music is foreboding and paranoid, minor-key prog samples, witch house synths, and soul legends chopped and pitch-shifted into demon shouts and banshee wails. The lyrics describe difficulties — from Jay-Z copping to depression, to Kanye’s R. Crumb-like dissections of his sexuality and misogyny, to overcoming the obstacles of a racist society to “make it in America” only to discover that the higher they go, the fewer people like them they find — that go a lot deeper than the usual litany of complaints about haters and biters. Both aspects of the record are embodied by those repetitions — that cycling, recurring, uncomfortable theme music; “watch the throne, watch the throne, watch the throne,” over and over again. If they were comfortable on the damn thing, they wouldn’t constantly be telling themselves and everyone else not to take their eyes off it for a second.

Jay-Z Kanye West “Why I Love You”

Music Time: James Brown – “Cold Sweat” (Live in Dallas, 8/26/68)

July 21, 2011

Download it here

When my baby daughter gets fussy, which usually happens every night around 7:30, the one thing guaranteed to calm her down and cheer her up is for me to pick her up and dance around with her. So every night for about forty minutes or so we have a Daddy Dance Party, also known as Family Funky Time when my wife joins in. An undisputed highlight of the DDP playlist is this live version of “Cold Sweat” by James Brown from 1968, which over the course of its twelve minutes has exposed my daughter to more funk before age 2 months than I heard before age 20.

Virtually everything great about James Brown is on ample display in this recording. For starters, the man’s skills as a bandleader, even outside the studio and in a less controllable live setting, are quite simply astonishing. Listen as he and official bandleader Pee-Wee Ellis lead the group through an airtight version of the song, through minute after minute of vamping and solos, and back into the song again: Every note, every beat is hit hard enough to draw blood. As I listen to the thing, I marvel at his rapport with the band as they turn on a collective dime time after time — they seem linked almost at a telepathic level, where no cue comes as a surprise to anyone except everyone in the audience. Meanwhile, Brown’s charisma as a frontman is equally astonishing here. Those shrieks and yelps are really quite something, if you can try to forget you’ve heard them a million times and appreciate their ecstatic insanity afresh. But beyond that, his banter with both the band and the audience is funny and effortless, making cool-dude nonsense like “Excuse me while I do the boogaloo” or “If you ain’t got enough soul, let me know and I’ll loan you some — I got soul to burn” or introducing the latest dance move by challenging the band to guess its name (spoiler alert: it’s “the Detroit Pimp”) sound inspired, like a template young fans can apply when they want to be awesome.

But best of all, especially for those of us who’ve heard rock bands of Brown’s funk era stretch songs out into double-digit running times to enervating effect when performing live, there’s never a dull moment. The solos — fiery saxophone by Maceo Parker, follow-the-bouncing-ball bass from Alfonso Kellum, and most impressively, a double drum solo from Clyde Stubblefield and Nate Jones that ends with literally the funkiest break I’ve ever heard, driving the audience totally batshit — feel vital and exciting, an integral part of the performance, rather than a self-indulgent opportunity for the given player to show off while the rest of the band sneaks off for a cigarette break. And you never know when a lengthy vamp will be punctuated by Brown saying something funny or badass, or leading the band through snippets of Allen Toussaint and Lee Dorsey’s “Ride Your Pony” or Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man,” or quoting “my friend Sammy Davis,” or eliciting wild cheers from the audience with some unseen but undoubtedly crazy dance move, or god knows what else. The song is simply packed with pleasures I’m still discovering and delighting in after innumerable listens.

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Music Time: Washed Out – “Before”

July 19, 2011

My friend Matthew Perpetua is fond of pointing out that beneath the gauzy haze of shoegaze is sex, at least when it’s done right. The formlessness and distortion isn’t just an anti-mainstream distancing aesthetic, it’s an evocation of sex’s obliteration of the self, the way the boundaries between you and your lover, your conscious and unconscious, your conception of the present as a step toward the future and a present that envelops all of existence, all blur. There’s more to it than Kevin Shields blowing Alan McGee’s money on the perfect guitar tone, and a bunch of lesser lights ripping it off.

If the maligned alt-pop subgenre commonly called chillwave can accurately be described as bouncy beats and bubbly synths subjected to a shoegazey sheen, then it seems to me that Washed Out has always been the act that acknowledges that heat beneath the Hipstamatic filter. I think people looked at the cover of his debut EP, Life of Leisure, and came away thinking it was the usual amorphous hat tip to summer and beaches and nostalgia, but I always thought something crucial was being conveyed by the fact that it’s not just any beach scene, it’s photo of his wife swimming in the ocean during their honeymoon. There’s an erotic component to it that goes beyond making the music sound like your synthesizer was left out in the sun to melt a bit before you started playing it. That’s what I get from “Before,” the standout track from Within and Without. (And hey, you wanna talk about a cover that tips the album’s hand?) I say this even though I can’t understand a word Ernest Greene is singing, even though I can’t even make out the two-syllable sample that recurs every fourth measure. That last bit is sort of the barb on the end of the beat, the part that hooks you, makes the beat exciting to listen to as it cycles through the song (itself the most beat-driven on the album, in a sort of trip-hop sense). It’s what keeps you moving through showers of sound that ebb and flow in intensity: high-pitched cascades, low pulses of synthesized strings, tinkling melancholy melodic lines where the chorus might go, texture provided by live percussion. In other words, for all its shimmering softness, it’s actually quite a pressure cooker of aural information, designed to create an intensely sensual listening experience — not background music, not hey-remember-when nostalgia. It is a super sexy song. Listen to it with someone you fucked on your honeymoon.

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Music Time: Drake – “Marvin’s Room”

July 5, 2011

When last I checked in with Drake he was sounding like Everything But the Girl. In “Marvin’s Room” he’s sounding even more like Everything But the Girl — specifically “Single,” in which Tracey Thorn engages her ex in a bit of extraordinarily bitter concern-trolling over a hotel phone, accompanied a shuffling beat and ghostly synths. Voila, I’ve just described “Marvin’s Room” as well. But what Drake lacks in Thorn’s luscious vocal instrument he more than makes up for in a level of lyrical candor that is either really exquisite artistry or the complete lack thereof. This is a guy who’ll lilt “Fuck that nigga that you love so bad” like it’s the most romantic thing in the world, who’ll say “After a while, girl, they all seem the same / I’ve had sex four times this week — I’ll explain” in a song whose sketch of a chorus revolves around chiding his ex “I’m just sayin’ you could do better.” I have no idea if he knows what a leap it is to expose his assholishness to the world like this and is consciously making that leap, or if he’s simply so fascinated by himself that he’s sharing this information because he’s his own muse. In the end I’m not sure it matters if it makes for sad, lovely, disturbing music like this. Bonus points for repeating the ex’s incredulous “Are you drunk right now?” like it’s one of those Houston-to-Apollo transmissions from The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld.

Music Time: Beyoncé – “I Care”

June 30, 2011

Beyoncé – I Care

4 is the first Beyoncé album whose slow, serious songs I don’t automatically skip. Good thing, too, because it’s mostly slow-ish, serious-ish songs, as opposed to Dangerously in Love, which dumped them at the back end of album; I Am…Sasha Fierce, which gave them their own disc; and her best record, B’Day, which nearly excised them altogether. The up-tempo “Countdown” is getting a lot of attention right now, with its Franken-pop construction and inspired gibberish like “ME and my BOOF and my BOOF BOOF ridin'” (thus joining “Ra-ra ah-ah-ah, roma ro-ma-ma, gaga ooh-la-la” and “Mama say, mama sa, mama ma coo sa” in the annals of great pop nonsense), but the album’s undisputed highlights for me are the aforeblogged lovesexy scorcher of a ballad “1+1” and this song, in which Beyoncé addresses a lover’s indifference by attacking it with the nearest weapon to hand, her voice. Listen to the way she shouts “IIIII CARE!” in the chorus, or just plain screams at the end of it — it’s like Chris Cornell wailing into the abyss of Andrew Wood’s heroin overdose in “Times of Trouble” by Temple of the Dog. Sonically the two songs aren’t even all that dissimilar: state-of-the-art production that creates a nice melancholy purple cushion of air around the instrumentation, in “I Care”‘s case the tumbling drums in particular. Hell, in a world where Bey’s mashing up Prince and Kings of Leon and having freaking Tricky do the Sean Paul part in “Baby Boy” at Glastonbury, I wouldn’t be surprised if I woke up tomorrow to find out she’d covered it. It’d be a fine outlet for the sort of skill and conviction she displays here (like the way her voice warbles when she says she’s been “deserted” or the way she sings along to the guitar solo like she can’t bear to stop pouring out the emotion she’s feeling), and for her ever-sharpening taste for interesting arrangements (“I Care” and “I Miss You” are mostly synth tones and spare percussion; the latter just sort of disappears rather than ends the way proper commercial pop songs do; even the Diane Warren-penned “I Was Here” has some weird spectral Interpol guitar stretching out from the end of the chorus). She’s taking the sort of stuff that usually made for turgid one-listen mom-radio bait and making it lively and engrossing. Frankly there’s not much she can’t do at this point.

Music Time: WU LYF – “Heavy Pop”

June 28, 2011

WU LYF – “Heavy Pop”

Played from start to finish, WU LYF’s debut album Go Tell Fire to the Mountain comes across like a music-nerd Mark Millar Idea: “What if there was the most uplifting anthemic indie rock album ever…but the lyrics were GIBBERISH?” And like most Mark Millar Ideas, real and imagined, the joke gets old quickly. The formula is simple and adhered to with minimal variation: Cavernous production (the album was apparently recorded in a church; the ever-present pipe organ’s a tipoff too) plus chiming guitar plus glossolalia screamed at the top of lead singer Ellery Roberts’s lungs. Slow songs, fast songs, quiet songs, loud songs, every song on the album gets the same treatment. By the time you reach track nine or so, the initially bracing effect of the approach, this sense that you’re witnessing something that’s half-hymn, half-howl at the moon, is diluted through repetition and general lack of imagination. No amount of Captain Caveman hollering is going to distinguish the umpteenth life-is-beautiful, we’re-all-in-this-together Joshua Tree legacy-character record.

But everything that makes WU LYF a lousy place to live makes it a terrific place to visit for the five minute, thirty-five second duration of the album’s concluding track, “Heavy Pop.” An admirably lengthy, virtually ambient organ introduction sounds like the world is slowly waking up, and when those first guitar notes hit, it’s like rays of morning sun, and Roberts is like a man screaming right back into the sky, greeting the dawn with defiance. It’s another answer to a goofy unasked question, in this case “What if the problem with Bruce’s vocals at the end of ‘Jungleland’ was that they sounded insufficiently committed?” At album length this doesn’t work at all, but for a single song it’s epic, genuinely so — it’s huge, it sprawls, it conjures images of great vistas and lone heroes and everything. There’s no need to press your luck with the other nine tracks. Unless you’re an Arcade Fire fan, I suppose, in which case go with God.

(Buy the album from

Music Time: Beyoncé – “1+1”

June 21, 2011

I admire how few concessions this song makes. I figured that after a few introductory measures they’d clean up and smooth out that guitar triplet, but nope, it stays fragile-sounding and rough around the edges the whole time. The expected “TICK two three TOCK two three” 6/8 slow-jam drum never really materializes, requiring you to lean into those rich-sounding chords, which are themselves constructed largely from a subtle interplay between piano and bass. Synth strings and a watery organ sound and a snippet of piano played backwards are sketched in here and there, but you really have to wait for them. Beyoncé’s vocals, to paraphrase her lyrics, pull you in close and won’t let you go — there’s simply no ignoring those big whooping “OO!” sounds at the end of each line, nor a chorus structured around the simple phrase “make love to me,” nor a final verse that sets this lovemaking up as an alternative to a world at war. And when the climax finally comes, all that pent-up energy isn’t diffused into a dully loud full-band finale with a full-fledged beat or whatever, but poured into a reach-for-the-sky guitar solo. Everything surrounding it stays relatively restrained; the guitar does the shouting. Then it all just kinda disappears. “1+1” is, fittingly, more than the sum of its parts, all of which are astutely selected and intelligently, unapologetically deployed to transport you to a more beautiful place for four minutes and thirty-five seconds at a time.

Music Time: King Missile – “Happy Hour”

June 17, 2011

King Missile – Happy Hour

The other day my wife told me how glad she was to have come of age, culturally speaking, in the early to mid ’90s. We’ve had this discussion several times, because every time it becomes apparent how easy it was to have really terrific music placed right in front of you by the paltry-by-today’s-standards number of outlets geared toward putting music in front of teenagers, by god, it’s worth talking about. A case in point for me is this, the concluding and title track to the album that “Detachable Penis” came from. I still think “Detachable Penis” is very funny (“He wanted twenty bucks, but I talked him down to seventeen”). But what I couldn’t have known when I brought home the CD in its giant cardboard longbox from Tower Records was that the album that surrounded that novelty classic was stuffed with really first-rate alternative-rock musicianship. Some of it was pastiche of genres I really didn’t have any experience with yet (“VulvaVoid” is shoegaze! “Trapped” is mid-period time-to-rock-happily R.E.M.!), some of it was spoken-word weirdness and wordplay draped atop roiling hard rock I had no problem appreciating (“Sink,” “Ed”), and a lot of it is just crushingly morose songs about complete failure. “I’m Sorry” and “Heaven,” the third-to-last and penultimate tracks, contain lots of imagery of crushed birds and breaking things that can’t be repaired, all delivered with John S. Hall’s twerpy speak-singing to undercut the heaviness. No such undercutting takes place in “Happy Hour,” a dirge I put on to this day when I want to feel unremittingly awful. Funereal organ, some kind of electronic reverse-tape effect that sounds like something shuffling into a grave, lyrics that conclude with the lines “While the flesh fell off our bodies and we lost our limbs,” so fuzzy and distorted you can’t make it out without the lyric sheet, and on top of it all a melancholy, briefly beautiful piano chords and, finally, a guitar that sounds like it’s bleeding to death. Back then you could stumble bass-ackwards into shit like this all day long. You had it so easy you weren’t prepared for a time when you’d need a song like this.

Music Time: Gang Gang Dance – “Sacer”

June 14, 2011

Gang Gang Dance – Sacer

Because we absolutely, positively need more art-pop that sounds like T’Pau’s “Heart and Soul.” It took me forever to place what I was hearing in this standout track from Gang Gang Dance’s engrossing, energetic new album Eye Contact but even before I struck upon what I think is the most direct influence, this song’s project of rehabilitating big sky’s-the-limit mostly English alternative pop sounds from the ’80s had my full support. Everything about it makes me feel like I’m sitting in some teenage bedroom I never had, playing it at full volume and sharing some secret delirious joy with myself. That stop-start beat, with its synth stabs and big flat reverbbing drums, is just made to dance to in your mirror, awkward and uncaring, while Lizzi Bougatsos’ vocals run the impenenetrability of Liz Fraser (another icon of rhapsodic interiority) through a strange Bollywood filter. Which works perfectly, because to me the appeal of all the Big ’80s bands was just how far away their world felt from mine, like these were transmissions of heartache and happiness and emotions too intense to filter down to me as anything but pure excitement, in a secret language of adult glamour I was lucky enough to understand for three or four minutes at a time.