June 19, 2009
After a strong, fast paced first half, Music For Men, the new album from Portland based band the Gossip, slows down a lot towards the end, unfortunately putting the brakes on what is otherwise is pretty terrific dance record. Fortunately, the album follows up the concluding two disco and soul-styled ballads with an uncredited B-52’s style rocker, “Spare Me From The Mold,” which closes Music For Men on a high note. It’s not that the ballads are bad, as it’s pretty clear that lead singer Beth Ditto, who possesses one of the most distinctive and powerful voices in modern rock, could sing just about anything and make it sound compelling. It’s just the faster paced songs, which mix up New Wave, punk and disco influences almost seamlessly, are just so much better: Any band would kill to have songs as dance floor ready as the first single, “Heavy Cross,” as well as “8th Wonder” and “Pop Goes The World” and that closing number. (“Men In Love” would be included, too, were it not for a strangely uninspired chorus.) Despite some of my misgivings, I still recommend Music For Men, because when the Gossip are at the top of their game, they play dance oriented rock like they invented it, and that’s just too much good fun to miss.
June 8, 2009
First time listeners to the self-titled LP from New York City’s the Phenomenal Handclap Band may be forgiven for thinking they’re in for a prog rock fest based on the opening track, “The Journey to Serra da Estrela,” despite the presence of some funk and disco touches. Those funk and disco touches take over by the second track, “All Of The Above,” however, and are in full force by “You’ll Disappear,” which features a vocal by Carol C. that simultaneously recalls both the Fifth Dimension and the Tom Tom Club. The band, aside from the aforementioned genres, weave some 60’s influenced soul and psychedelic rock into the mix as well, and the result is some pretty sweet sounding, often slow burning jams, most hovering around the six minute mark, which gives the tracks ample room to breathe. The vocals are a mix of male and female, and the musicianship is inventive and top drawer, with some notably good guitar work. The album starts to run out of gas towards the end, but The Phenomenal Handclap Band is nevertheless an auspicious dance rock debut. Standout cuts: “All Of The Above,” “You’ll Disappear,” “15 To 20” and “The Martyr.”
May 6, 2009
I have nothing against Lady Gaga, but frankly, after listening to I Feel Cream, the new album from Berlin based American electroclash musician Peaches, it’s a little hard to take her seriously. Though I Feel Cream takes a while to really catch fire, despite the early appearance of the first single, “Talk To Me” (on which Peaches shows she can really sing), once the album does get started four tracks in with “More”, it makes Lady Gaga’s songs sound like the slickly made top 40 throwaways they mostly are. Peaches’s songs, by comparison, feel raw, effortlessly sexy and most of all, positively adult in their wit and sophistication. She works with a number of different collaborators this time out, primarily with Simian Mobile Disco, and the result is a bit more poppy than her past efforts, but still as entertaining and as playfully edgy as electroclash gets. I Feel Cream is by no means her masterwork, but it’s great fun to listen to for the most part. Standout cuts: “Talk To Me,” “More,” “I Feel Cream” and “Mommy Complex.”
April 24, 2009
Though the new album from the Juan MacLean (John MacLean working with vocalist Nancy Whang and musician/DFA label boss James Murphy) draws from a broad range of electronic and dance influences from the 70’s through now, once MacLean’s vocals kick in, most people will be thinking of one band in particular: The Human League. In fact, MacLean has described The Future Will Come as “a disco inflected Human League sounding record,” which will give you an idea of its basic sound, but not how immensely pleasurable and out and out fun this record is from first note to last. The tracks range from the high energy opening track and the fantastic singles “One Day” and “Happy House” to more moody, slower numbers like “Human Disaster” and “Tonight.” Many of the songs are duets featuring MacLean and Whang, though it’s Whang who kicks off the album with lead vocals on “The Simple Life,” one of the long songs that bookend the record. (The third long song, “Tonight,” arrives right at the midpoint.) Far from being simply a “retro” record, The Future Will Come functions more as a joyous celebration of the musical influences that have brought us to where we are now, and will continue to push us forward to where we need to be. Standout cuts: “The Simple Life,” “One Day,” “Human Disaster” and “Happy Home.”
March 18, 2009
Fist Of God, the second album of original material from Toronto based MSTRKRFT (Jesse F. Keeler and Al-P), is a real mixed bag. It kicks off strongly with “It Ain’t Love” and “1,000 Cigarettes,” the former a disco-inspired vocal track and the second a pretty groovy 70’s tinged instrumental, but dips a bit with early single “Bounce,” which starts out well enough, but is marred by an annoying chorus (“All I do is party, ha ha ha ha,” etc.). A later track, “Word Up,” falls into the same rut, despite a guest vocal from Ghostface Killah. The rest of the album has generally a more consistently fun, largely 70’s and 90’s retro electronic dance feel, with “Heartbreaker” (featuring John Legend) and “So Deep” (featuring Jahmal of The Carps) being other high points. Despite the presence of some duds, Fist Of God, if judged purely on MSTRKRFT’s own criterion for their music, which is to make their listeners dance, is mostly a win. Standout cuts: “It Ain’t Love,” “1,000 Cigarettes,” “Heartbreaker” and “So Deep.”
March 9, 2009
It’s Blitz!, the new album from New York City based band Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Karen O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase), was initially scheduled for release in mid-April, but a late February Internet leak forced a digital roll out of the album March 9 and 10, with a physical release due on March 31. This is good news for fans, many of whom have been eager to hear what the rest of the album sounded like, having heard the guitarless, electronica-inspired single, “Zero,” and read the band’s declaration that it would sound nothing like their last EP, and, in their words, “Not much like anything you’ve heard from us before,” though they added it would still sound like them. And as it turns out, that was a pretty accurate summation of It’s Blitz!, which is heavy on shimmering electronic dance pop, though the guitars do come out midway through on “Dull Life,” a rocker and an album highlight. There are also a number of slower numbers, moody electropop ballads like “Soft Shock” and “Hysteric,” that are also great tracks. The album closes on a rather lovely note with “Little Shadow.” The change in sound may rattle some fans, but Yeah Yeah Yeahs throwing in a bit of electronica and dance music into their rock repertoire certainly isn’t the end of the world, and when Karen O, who sounds as great as ever, and her bandmates make it work this well, who cares? It’s Blitz is a lot of fun. Standout cuts: “Zero,” “Soft Shock,” “Dull Life” and “Hysteric.”
March 3, 2009
The fourth album from UK based techno band the Prodigy (Liam Howlett, Keith Flint and Maxim Reality), Invaders Must Die is a most curious record: The band has made no great attempt to update their sound, made no lame attempt to make it “relevant” to 2009. So why does Invaders Must Die, which sometimes sounds like it’s caught in a time warp, rock so hard? Maybe it’s something as simple as that after nearly twenty years, the Prodigy know how to make a dance record, but from from first note to last, Invaders Must Die kicks absolute booty, frequently in a most spectacular way. Call it purity of vision or call it what you will, but whatever the reason, I was bowled over by how much I enjoyed this album. Standout cuts: “Invaders Must Die,” “Omen,” “Take Me To The Hospital” and “Warrior’s Dance.”
February 28, 2009
Comedy troupe the Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone) make their LP debut with Incredibad, a frequently hilarious collection of 19 tracks, several of which originally debuted on Saturday Night Live as digital shorts. (The CD version of the album comes packaged with a DVD featuring eight videos, two for songs not included on the CD, “Just 2 Guys” and “Bing Bong Brothers.” You can otherwise see the videos on their site and pick up a digital booklet if you buy the MP3 album.) What makes Incredibad especially worthwhile is that many of the songs, most of which are pitch-perfect send-ups of rap, hip-hop and dance music, are so catchy they bear repeat listens. The guest list is also totally impressive: E-40, T-Pain, Julian Casablancas, Norah Jones, Natalie Portman and Chris Parnell. There’s a dud or two, and at least one song worked better with its visuals (“Space Olympics”), but in general, this is one great comedy album. It’s profane, it’s profoundly silly, it’s absurd, and it’s quite possibly the album of the summer, several months early. Standout cuts: “Santana DVX,” “Jizz In My Pants,” “I’m On A Boat” and “Like A Boss.”
February 9, 2009
“…I am a weapon of massive consumption / And it’s not my fault, it’s how I’m programmed to function…”
UK based singer/songwriter Lily Allen’s followup to her starmaking debut, Alright Still, is more lush electropop than ska this time out, but her profane, cynical and frequently very funny worldview, delivered via her Cockney accented singing voice, is fully intact. The subject matter here is pretty much what it was on her first record, the ins and out of urban life in England (“Everyone’s At It,” “22”) and relationships, both romantic and familial, both bad and good, with a special emphasis on the bad (“Not Fair,” “Never Gonna Happen”). For such an autobiographical writer, it’s somewhat surprising, but also refreshing, that only one song, the current single “The Fear,” references Allen’s newfound fame. And it’s a good song, bitterly funny, but also catchy as all get out. It’s also indicative of the heavy emphasis on electropop this time out, though Allen changes things up from track to track, throwing in some banjo on “Not Fair,” ragtime style piano on “22” and even some accordion on “Never Gonna Happen.” Allen’s version of pop music is rousing, cheery sounding, danceable and laced with acid: She manages to sound sunny even as she berates a homophobe in “Fuck You.” There’s only one real dud, “Him,” about God, which is amusing but doesn’t really go anywhere. Whether or not Lily Allen will turn into a British version of Dorothy Parker still remains to be seen, but for the most part, It’s Not Me, It’s You is a charming, entertaining ride.
January 29, 2009
Little Boots (Victoria Hesketh) makes her American debut with her EP, Arecibo, which includes her first two UK singles, “Stuck On Repeat” and “Meddle,” along with some dynamic remixes of both tracks. “Stuck On Repeat” is firmly in Ladytron and Clinic territory, while “Meddle” is a bouncy electropop number, wherein Hesketh shows off a voice with some soul to it, not unlike Alison Moyet or Annie Lennox. They’re both solid singles, but “Meddle” leaped into favorite song territory as soon as I heard it. A full length release is due in the very near future, and if Arecibo is any indication, it should be very good stuff.