High Places

October 3, 2008

Every now and then, artists emerge to re-energize the electronic music scene, and the latest to do that is Brooklyn based band High Places (Mary Pearson and Robert Barber), who make their LP debut with this album. The songs on High Places are alternately clever, fun, childlike and haunting. Pearson’s naive, delicate vocals are augmented by an often densely layered wall of sound, created from an impressively wide range of traditional instruments coupled with, and I have to say I’m happy to be able to say this in a music review, common household goods. The result is music that’s simultaneously evocative and embracing of the world at large, but also intimate and elemental. If you liked their singles collection, I can safely say you will like this High Places release even more. I’ve heard nothing like it so far this year. Standout cuts: “The Storm,” “Vision’s The First…,” “Golden” and “From Stardust To Sentience.”


For their latest release, Radio Retaliation, Washington D.C. based Thievery Corporation (Rob Garza and Eric Hilton) decided to make an album with a more overtly political bent, and towards that end, they collaborated on tracks with an impressive roster of international musicians. The roster includes, to quote their press, “Nigeria’s afro-beat heir Femi Kuti, Brazilian star vocalist and guitarist Seu Jorge, Indian sitar virtuoso Anushka Shankar, Slovakian chanteuse and violinist Jana Andevska, and Washington D.C.’s own go-go originator Chuck Brown.” The results are mostly good and often great, though, no doubt owing to the broad range of their musical collaborations, Radio Retaliation sometimes loses a sense of cohesiveness and stops seeming like a Thievery Corporation record. Nevertheless, enough of their trademark masterful blend of electronica, downtempo, dub, jazz, lounge and world music elements can be heard here to make this rank as a good, if not great Thievery Corporation release. Standout cuts: “Radio Retaliation,” “Vampires,” “Beautiful Drug” and “La Femme Parallel.”


New York City quartet Brazilian Girls press ever further in new directions with their third album, named after their home base. There’s still a sexiness to their sound, but New York City isn’t exactly the readymade party record their self-titled debut was, as a lot of it is dark and moody and decidedly downtempo. Not that this is a bad thing at all, as New York City is certainly their best and most diverse sounding album, sounding like a wildly eclectic collaboration between Marlene Dietrich, Kurt Weill, Blondie, early Eleni Mandell, the Thievery Corporation and Link Wray, with some 60’s French pop and other world music influences thrown in to boot. Instead of the mess all those elements combined could’ve resulted in, the band sounds fantastic, the best they ever have, with versatile lead vocalist Sabina Sciubba singing in English, French and German, sounding terrific in any language. It’s difficult to say what sort of album Brazilian Girls have made here, but suffice to say that whatever category it falls under, it’s worth seeking out. Standout cuts: “Losing Myself,” “Good Time,” “Nouveau Americain” and “Internacional.”


Barcelona based band the Pinker Tones have released a new album, Wild Animals, that can be generally classified as “electropop,” but the duo throws in rock, disco, French pop, Latin and other world music influences, some dub, some 60’s style lounge and a lot of humor and fun that makes for an appropriately wildly evolving sound from song to song. There are a lot of highlights along the way, like “S.E.X.Y.R.O.B.O.T.,” the mostly French language “On Se Promenait,” “The Whistling Song,” “Electrotumbao” and later tracks, “Wild Eleganz” and the excellent “Working Bees.” (I’m also fond of the odd instrumental, “Fugaz.”) The Pinker Tones exercise just enough restraint and control over their material that Wild Animals never devolves into a noisy mess. Instead, it’s an exercise in a bit of electropop musical virtuosity. Plus, it’s just damn fun.


Miles Of Styles marks the seventh release from Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra, which is primarily the work of Shawn Lee, American born and London based multi-instrumentalist. According to Ubiquity Records press for the album, Miles Of Styles “is the soundtrack to places Lee has been and would like to visit. ” The titles of the mostly instrumental tracks give you an idea of the globetrotting nature of the 20 tracks included here: “Brazilian Bubble,” “Prague Rock,” “Italy 73,” “Heist In Helsinki,” “San Diego” and “Greekout.” The Ping Pong Orchestra project was originally aimed at establishing a musical library, though by now, with Christmas and a hits cover album among its recent releases, the project now seems more like a vehicle for Lee’s wildly prolific and diverse creative output. If you are new to the Ping Pong Orchestra, I envy you because you have seven albums of music to enjoy from a modern Carl Stalling, who blends rock, soul, funk, pop and world music influences into heady, groovy and often surprising mixtures. (He also has a couple of albums out as Shawn Lee, including Soul Visa and Monkey Boy.) If you don’t know Lee by name, you no doubt know his music, as it’s been featured on the soundtracks of scores of movies and TV shows, as well as the video game Bully. Miles Of Styles is as good a place as any to start discovering the work of this true musical virtuoso.


When I did my first listen-through of the second album by New Zealand band the Ruby Suns, I thought I was listening to a remixed version of the soundtrack from an old world travelogue film. World music influences permeate the album, which is largely experimental pop along the lines of Animal Collective or Panda Bear, though from song to song, the music on Sea Lion can seem the work of multiple bands instead of just one. Despite its esoteric, often restless seeming wanderings, Sea Lion remains refreshingly unpretentious, the sound of a band not showing off, but simply expressing the love of music they have arrived at and the joy of playing it. The whole album is good, but here are some standout cuts: “Oh, Mojave,” “Tane Mahuta,” “Adventure Tour” and “Kenya Dig It?”