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Tuesday , December 14, 2010
Five Best Things: Records by Telepathe, The Fly Girlz, Fever Ray and PJ Harvey & John Parish
A sort of sister column to "All Time Top Five," "Five Best Things" is just that. Actually, it's more like "Five Semi-Cogent Thoughts About Various Records, Movies, and Books of a Recent Ilk," but that doesn't look as good in our Categories list. God! Life, why do you always demand convenience?!!
Telepathe, Dance Mother
1. Brooklyn, represent! There is this weird strain of music coming out of there that is very world-music-y, quasi-urban hippie stuff. This is not really that, despite what the title might make you believe. It's very much on the dark synth-y tip, albeit a very shambolic, rambly version of that. So maybe it is a little world-music-y than I thought.
2. The Brooklyn pedigree is pretty solid, however: this was produced by Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, and Telepathe are often in the same sentence as Gang Gang Dance and other noiseniks. They're a bit more pop, though in a very left-field way.
2. I actually went on a run recently with this on my headphones and it worked out quite well. It has a energetic yet soothing energy, so it musically fueled my athletic endeavor while at the same time quelling my desire to shoot myself for ever thinking that running was an enjoyable activity.
3. That said, it is hard-pressed for me to pick out a "stand out track," except for maybe the first one ("So Fine"). I know it's not cool to write classic pop songs anymore, but I was hoping there'd be a sort of "mix tape must-have" track on here. The songs kind of exist at the same register (or musically speaking, in the same key) for much of the album, making it blend together. It gets a little wallpaper-y, but that's not necessarily a bad thing if you're looking to just throw something on and do something else or go shopping at Urban Outfitters.
4. Still, we are in favor of cool girls doing cool things with instruments, and there is a lot of cool here. I would love to see Telepathe a bit less cool and a bit more silly their next time out. I think they could do that way well. Telepathe, get effin' down, get that bass pumpin' all up in yr shit, dudes!
The Fly Girlz, Da Brats From Da'Ville (Sockets; 2009)
1. The Fly Girlz are these girl MCs from Brooklyn between the ages of 12 and 14 who are holding fast onto their dreams in the midst of stupid school and boy problems. Man, I can relate, even being like two and a half times their age.
2. This record is produced by a dude from that electropunk band, Excepter, who makes kinda toughie and sinister beats that the girls chatter and jive over. So it's not like straight hip-hop or even retro hip-hop. It's just kind of fucked up-sounding electronic bleeps and stuff.
3. This whole enchilada is like a super-hot mess. It's like the producer got drunk and broke the drum machine and the girls are joking around and rapping over the whole melee while on the world's biggest sugar high. A lot of the songs start out like they're going to be normal songs but then they kind of fall apart and get chaotic and noisy. It walks the line between a weird conceptual art project and a broken boom box-cum-time-machine. How did these two entities hook up? I must know!
4. I love their very pro-positivity, pro-"stay in school" message. These girls are really sassy and fun, and they've got charm in spades. I wouldn't mind being stuck on a bus with the Fly Girlz; they'd probably be super-hilarious to hang out with. They tell it like it is. Take a listen to "Born 2 B Fly"; it's the truest thing you will ever hear in your life!
5. Dudes, the record cover is the most awesome thing I've seen in a long, long time.
Fever Ray, Fever Ray (Mute; 2009)
1. Fever Ray is Karin from the Knife's solo record, and it is both the perfect continuation of that work and a wonderful jumping-off point into a new direction. I really loved the Knife; they were the perfect combination of darkness, leavened with a dry sense of humor that keeps things unpredictable. All those elements are still here, but they're rendered a bit more gently.
2. If the Knife's epically amazing Silent Shout was influenced by house (albeit a very dark form of house music), then Fever Ray is more highly indebted to 90s ambient. It's not as dance-y, but in a way it's more emotionally accessible and less opaque thematically -- the thoroughlines of the songs are more traceable, so to speak.
3. If you liked the whole weird demon-vocal thing the Knife had going for them, then this is totally up your alley because Karin still processes the high holy shit out of her vocals. The effect is not like talking to your animal familiar, or your alter ego, or a schizophrenic. These are all really fascinating and artful effects.
4. Have you seen the video for "If I Had A Heart"? It's soooooo creepy!
5. The record is kind of really great for late-night writing, especially if you are working on a thriller or horror movie screenplay. It's slightly perverse for a makeout record or a getting-ready-to-go-out record, but it could work for those if you really wanted it to. I have listened to Fever Ray about a million times already and really, really, really dig it. It's kinda just good.
PJ Harvey & John Parish, A Woman A Man Walked By (Island, 2009)
1. I really think Polly Jean Harvey is a musical auteur of the highest order; she's sort of unparelleled in terms of raw musicianship, classically great rock songwriting and emotional range and honesty. So it's interesting when she cedes many of her strengths to her longtime musical collaborator and concentrates on just singing and lyrics.
2. Don't let the opener, the dirge-stomper "Black Hearted Love," mislead you; the album is pretty avant-weird in many parts. John Parish has a garishly precise way of playing bluesy-yet-Thurston-y type of guitar; there's a bite to his tone, and it seems to bring out some equally caustic song structuring. It's like, "Ooh, we're going to go into a real awesome riff here...NO, WE WILL DENY YOU PLEASURE!" But there's a real howler of a track, "Pig Will Not," where Peej goes basically apeshit tantrum-y in the best way possible. I am going to play it at my wedding. Joke! Or is it?
3. That said, there are some way gorgeous songs here as well. Most of the songs have a spooky beauty, making them revved-up continuations of White Chalk. But the closing pair of songs ("Passionless, Pointless" and "Cracks in the Canvas") sound like they're practically mist-covered, so delicate and fragile they are.
4. Letting Polly just focus on words actually doesn't seem to have much of an impact on her songwriting; she's always been a really concise lyricist, able to combine storytelling with word sculpture. But letting her just chanteuse her heart out is pretty incredible; you can feel her emotional and vocal range stretching to the extremes, and it should be pretty exciting to hear what her next record will be like.
5. All that said, I really miss Polly on guitar and main songwriting duties. Parish is good, but you can tell he's more of an intellectual musician. And while the songs and music are often interesting, they're not as visceral or direct as Polly on her own. This sort of smartypants quasi-blues rock is nice enough, but when you know a musician like PJ Harvey is capable of grabbing you by the throat and ripping your guts out, you really just want to let her unleash herself. Polly, just let yourself balls-out rock!
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