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Thursday , September 25, 2008

Zooey Deschanel is my new favorite backup singer ever (plus an almost-review of Acid Tongue by Jenny Lewis, which you need to buy right now)

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That's a lie: My favorite backup singer ever is obviously Mick Jagger on "You're So Vain." But Zooey Deschanel on "The Next Messiah" (off of Acid Tongue by Jenny Lewis, which came out Tuesday) is definitely my second-favorite, at least this week. She gives her croony voice to a bunch of the songs on Acid Tongue, but for me the moment when she starts singing that sweet little "I want to tell you I love you" refrain on "The Next Messiah" is maybe the most goosebumpy bit on the whole album. (It happens right around the 6:15 mark, and I'm not going to post the mp3, but you can go download it at The Leather Canary.) I also love her because we drive the same car (I saw her once at a bar, and lordy me: her skin really is that porcelain-perfect). And I really miss her as the adorably psycho ex-girlfriend on Weeds, and I'm so annoyed at myself for always forgetting to incorporate "Heart hug!" into my daily vocabulary.

Acid Tongue, by the way, is a shiny shiny gem, and basically the only thing I've listened to since around 8 o'clock on Tuesday night. That's partly because you really gotta let it grow on you, or at least I do: On first listen I was a little thrown off by the lack of "Hey, Jenny Lewis has been reading my diary!!" reaction I usually have to her solo stuff and Rilo Kiley's albums, but by second play I was pretty much over it. The record really is every bit the piece of early-70s-AM-radio gold every other review claims it to be, at least on tracks like "Bad Man's World" and "Trying My Best to Love You." And I love how Acid Tongue starts off with two mega-slow jamz, especially the oh-so-pretty piano ballad "Black Sand." A bunch of the less-than-glowing reviews seem to regard that approach as some kind of fatal flaw, but I think it's lovely and grand and just top class. Never underestimate the power of the slow build, dudes.

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Tuesday , September 23, 2008

Soundtracks: High Places by, um, High Places

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Brooklyn-based cutie-pie duo High Places are kinda like the sonic equivalent of candy-coated happy pills (probably Starburst-flavored). The last time I saw them was at SXSW, after a very very long day of drinking many Lone Stars and spending like 9 hours at the Todd P showcase, which left me desperately longing to either take a nap on the street or hitchhike back to L.A. just to be in my own bed. But High Places made everything all better, as though I'd miraculously escaped beery Austin and stumbled into some secret dance party in the midst of a magical jungle where everyone's banging on toy instruments and pogoing around whilst slurping on mangos.

If you ever want to host of a secret magic-jungle dance party of your own, you must make High Places' new self-titled album the soundtrack. The record comes out today and I want very much to share my favorite track ("Gold Coin") with you lovelies, but instead I'm going to respect the record company's wishes and offer you the equally stellar "Visions the First" mp3 instead. So I'll guess you'll have to get thee to iTunes and hear "Gold Coin" on your own. Get it now! The magic jungle awaits.

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Wednesday , June 18, 2008

Soundtracks: Free Kitten, Inherit + Katy Perry, One of the Boys

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Oh man, I can sooooooo see Laura's eyes rolling right now, but it's Kim Gordon -- what can we do? The spirit of this blog is so informed by Kim Gordon, with her nonchalant cool and unwavering commitment to lifelong art-damage, that we totally have to tell you what we think about her Free Kitten record. This is hard for me, because I'd much rather be listening to the new Lil Wayne record, which is ten times more genius and interesting and eccentric and fascinating. My advice to you is to get Tha Carter III if you're at all rap-inclined -- it will make your life ten times more enjoyable. But this record is okay, I suppose. It's total art-punk: atonal, arty, screech-y at times, full of feedback, fuzz and drone. (I feel like drone is very de rigueur if you want to be avant-anything these days.) It's like if some crazy German punk band from the 1970s got locked up in a time warp pre-school nursery with nothing but broken instruments to play and a lot of pot to smoke -- at least, those are the songs with lead vocals by Julie Cafritz, Gordon's colleague in Free Kitten and a legend in her own right as a member of Pussy Galore. Those are the best songs, especially "Roughshod," which is the aural equivalent of a monster truck rally swimming in a pink floral teacup. The songs that don't work so well are the ones where our girl Kim thinks she's some weird rock shaman. (Maybe she's channeling Jim Morrison?) Maybe those songs are awesome, but I honestly could not listen to them all the way through despite many promising beginnings -- I always ended up skipping to one of the Cafritz tracks, which are more playful and fun and just more energetic. This record's just too torpid, even for me, the queen of slow, dark and sludgy. Sorry, Kim, but we totes love you anyway, and you should check out that new Lil Wayne record if you want to go for the real effed-up shizzit sound.

On the total pop flipside, there's the new Katy Perry record, One of the Boys. I am sure you have all heard that "I Kissed A Girl" song, right? (It's the No. 2 single on iTunes, for God's sake -- get on that!) You'll feel a little embarrassed that it gets stuck in your head, but it will definitely lodge itself in those brain cells, waiting for a chance to pop up at the most inopportune moment -- and it will never go away. I'm always the first to root for a faux-punk grrrl-powered mainstream female artist; I like to think of them as gateway drugs to even more unadulterated doses of feminism and strong lady spirit. I'm a true populist at heart -- it's cool that there's something for everyone in terms of music and feminism. But for every right-on pop hit like "I Kissed A Girl" or the metrosexual kiss-off and Madonna favorite "Ur So Gay," you have to deal with some "Dawson's"-y acoustic earnest stuff, which occurs at a slightly higher ratio than I desire on One of the Boys. I know Katy's got range and a nice set of pipes, but if I don't want gentle, heartfelt tunes in my categorical guilty pop pleasures -- I want more sassy junk. Still, I like the fact that my 2-year old niece likes this record -- that's totally acceptable to me. She really hates Free Kitten, by the way, it makes her cry. But I still hold high hopes that she'll make her way to femme-centric art noise when she gets older. Baby steps, as they say -- Katy Perry, Free Kitten, it's all connected.

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Tuesday , May 6, 2008

Soundtracks: Santogold

santorecord.gifI wanted to be able to write a huge old beautifully-articulated magnum opus about Santogold and her debut record, so it is with great regret that I'm so crazed and manic these days with Life Outside the Blog that I'm reduced to reviewing her record in five paragraphs or less. Which sucks, because it's not often you come across a woman (of color) in the current musical landscape making genuinely interesting, insanely catchy pop music that's so good and smart, it deserves every bit of name-drop, blog-hype, tv-placement and boutique-wallpaper it gets. With her seductive, adroitly confident mix of everything from New Wave to dub to 80s British melancholy to pure pop id, she's revelation wrapped up in hooks and brutally infectious melodies. She's going to take over and your whole summer will be permeated with her music everywhere you go, and you know what? That's why your summer will rock.

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Wednesday , January 9, 2008

Soundtracks: The Bangles, All Over the Place (reissue)

Much love to The Smudge of Ashen Fluff for letting us know about the just-released reissue of All Over the Place, the first full-length by The Bangles. I think I have a copy of the album somewhere but it's vinyl and most likely hidden in my parents' attic in Massachusetts, and technically it belongs to my stepdad anyway. I don't remember much of that record, but I never stopped loving "Hero Takes a Fall" and still put it on mix CDs as proof that The Bangles made a lot of fiercely perfect jangle-pop songs apart from the one about walking like an Egyptian.

It's funny, looking through photos of the band now: I don't remember them dressing so much like secretly goth high-school art teachers. I can't deal with all that velvet but I do appreciate their getting the California hippie thing all tangled up with a Sunset-Strip-circa-'87 kind of glam. I just look at the hair and go, "Oh yeah, Aqua Net!" I'd forgotten that Aqua Net ever existed. And did you know that their original name was The Supersonic Bangs?

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Probably the main reason I'm writing this post is I've still got hardcore Bangle smittenness left over from when I was 11 and got to meet them backstage at one of their concerts. It was me and two of my best friends, and the band was supernice and signed our 8 x 10 photos and gave us Diet Coke and asked us about our summer vacations. (Vicki was the coolest one of all; I LOVE YOU, VICKI.) Anyway, that night they opened with "Hazy Shade of Winter," which is possibly my favorite Bangles song, even though it's not actually a Bangles song. And it's not on All Over the Place either but I'm going to post the video here anyway, because maybe we'll never do another post about The Bangles again and because - in addition to my enduring Vicki Peterson crush - I've still got a mega thing for Andrew McCarthy, who never looked better than in Less Than Zero.

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Wednesday , November 28, 2007

Soundtracks: Through the Wilderness: A Tribute to Madonna

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Madonna + guitar = boring. I'm talking about all that coffeehouse strumming on American Life, and the time I saw her on the Drowned World tour and she pulled her axe out and started attacking it in this angry, messy way that I guess was supposed to be pretend-punk or something but was actually just kind of dumb.

But it turns out that if you give Madonna songs to people who aren't Madonna and have them do lots of their weird guitar stuff, it can be quite transcendent. That's the deal with my favorite tracks off of Through the Wilderness: A Tribute to Madonna, a record released yesterday by Manimal Vinyl (with 25 percent of proceeds going toward Raising Malawi). The opener is Jonathan Wilson's gorgeous version of "La Isla Bonita," a song that Mother Jones reviewer Nicole McClelland insists "was not meant to sound long-form jam-band style with tambourines." But of course it was! Jonathan even slightly rips off "War Pigs" at one point, and his turning the "all of nature, wild and free" lyric into some tripped-out coda will make you want to do that hand-twisting hippie dance all over the place. Golden Animals' rendition of "Beautiful Stranger" (which you can download at My Old Kentucky Blog) reminds me of "Maggie's Farm" by Bob Dylan, while Lavender Diamond's "Like a Prayer" is sweetly true to the original (but with lots more innocence). And "Live to Tell" (covered here by Winter Flowers, a band I've accidentally seen live about a thousand times and might finally appreciate) has this bluesy guitar refrain that makes it even more haunting than Madonna's performance (or at least more haunting than Sean Penn and Christopher Walken's hair in the video).

The less guitar-centric songs don't do it for me as much. Jeremy Jay's "Into the Groove" sounds too much like Sonic Youth's version without being nearly so fun and fucked-up, and I basically hate how Ariel Pink's "Everybody" turns one of the most perfect dance songs of all time into grating lo-fi dreck.

It also creases me that an album titled Through the Wilderness doesn't include a cover of "Like a Virgin." On the weirdo Madonna tribute of my dreams, Devendra Banhart's taken on that one, but in reality he only appears here as a member of Mountain Party. Their track is "Material Girl," this spacey/scary electro thing with white-hot vocals provided by Argentinean ex-pop-star Erica Garcia. When Erica sings "I am a material...unicorn" at the chorus I'm halfway between being like, "Oh, knock it off!" and wishing the $50 tank-top I bought at the Drowned World concert six years ago were printed with those lyrics instead of the original's.

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Thursday , August 30, 2007

Five ways to wear your No Age bandana

noageweirdorippers.jpg Something exciting about today is that, at any given you point, you can go out (or stay in!) and get the supertight new record Weirdo Rippers by No Age. It came out Tuesday and it's awesomely ear-shredding but still as bouncy and melodic as your most loved Ramones song (plus there's lots of pretty guitar, too). My favorite track is probs "Semi-Sorted," which takes a long time to build but then explodes into something thrashy and heart-slugging that's so perfect for running up hills (all Kate Bush-stylez - except not really). Anyway, you can download a few tracks here and then score the whole damn record at Amazon or iTunes.

You can also grab yourself a No Age bandana - now available in many vibrant colors - by PayPal-ing the band $7. I recently replaced my tired old navy-and-white bandana with a far hotter hot-pink-and-gold one, which No Age's guitarist Randy Randall says was inspired by the cover art for The Greatest by Cat Power. I like to wear mine all boring/girly (folded repeatedly till it's about 2 inches wide, then wrapped around my head and tied at the back) but there are so many more exciting ways to do it. To demonstrate for us, Randy acted as our model in a super-exclusive No Age/nogoodforme.com fashion show extravaganza gala adventure thing deal. Photos are by Alisa Lipsitt, Randy's partner in Stacks and Layers (a boutique production company - check out their stuff on YouTube).

So yeah, here we go:

1. This is how to wear your No Age bandana when you're going to dress up as Bruce Springsteen in 1984 - and then maybe feel slightly regretful about it.

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2. This is how to wear your No Age bandana when you're going to dress up as that guy from Bruce Springsteen's band who wore his bandana around his forehead. You know, the guy that eventually ended up playing Silvio Dante on The Sopranos .

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(It's Little Steven/Steven Van Zandt. I actually knew that the whole time.)

3. This is how to wear your No Age bandana when you're going out to rob a bank in the Old West.

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P.S. Don't forget your gun!

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4. I actually don't have anything clever to say about this one; I'm just crazy about Randy's t-shirt and thought that this shot showed it off really nicely.

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5. Lastly, this is how to wear your No Age bandana if you are actually in No Age. It totally works here, but when we're out on the town and we see boys who are not in No Age and they're wearing neckerchiefs, we kind of break out in hives a little. Maybe the only excuse would be if you're a Boy Scout or a Cub Scout. Otherwise, no dice. Sorry.

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Thursday , August 23, 2007

Soundtracks: Little Dragon, "Twice"

Because I love you so, I bring you a lovely little video from Swedish band Little Dragon. What is in the water in Sweden, I ask you: Little Dragon make lovely, elegant dance-based music, but not like cheesy bad club music -- like many things Swedish, there is an intellectual detachment to their sound that no way detracts from its impact. It's leavened by singer Yukimi Nagano's husky and soulful vocals -- she clearly must have listened to a lot of Nina Simone for inspiration at one point because her voice gets that sly, sexy little growl to it sometimes. Anyway, the video is directed by Johannes Nyholm, who also did "Heartbeats" by the Knife. Man, I have to get to Sweden...

(And here is "Heartbeats," because come on! It's wobbly, identically-dressed skateboarders!)

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Wednesday , August 22, 2007

Soundtracks: Rilo Kiley, Under the Blacklight

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For some reason it took me a while to trust Jenny Lewis. The first time I paid close attention to her was the night I fell asleep on the couch and half-woke up a little bit later to find Rilo Kiley playing "Portion for Foxes" on Jimmy Kimmel or something. It was like, "Who's this redheaded ex-child-actor in the adorable babydoll dress, singing some really catchy song that makes me feel simultaneously ecstatic and terrible about liking the person I like?" She kind of unnerved me. But last year her solo record came out and I fell in love, then went back and realized Rilo Kiley are nothing to be wary of.

Nay, we should wholly embrace Rilo Kiley, if for no other reason than the fact that they're a fairly durable indie-rock band who just made a gorgeous record that sounds nothing like indie-rock. It sounds like really good radio, like spinning the dial and finding a really good disco song on one station, a really good country song on the next, then late-80s new-wave-rip off lite rock, then blue-eyed soul, then some hand-clappy perfectly Beatles-esque pop (though not exactly in that order). Jenny even kinda raps on "Dejalo" (sample rhyme: "My mama is an atheist/If I stay out late, she don't get pissed"), and it actually maybe works.

So now I guess I totally trust Jenny Lewis, at least enough to take my little sister to see the band on her 16-year-birthday next month. Plus, she's such a babe, and I'm still dreaming of that dress she wore on the cover of Rabbit Fur Coat. Is it not to die for?

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Wednesday , August 15, 2007

Things We Look Forward To: PJ Harvey, White Chalk

There's always so much we love to anticipate about fall: wearing coats and boots, cooler temperatures, that general feeling of purposefulness and endeavor that you get about new projects and fresh, clean notebooks just waiting to be filled with all sorts of ideas and goodness. And there's also the "serious" movies that come out, not to mention loads of records and art exhibitions and bands touring that you just have to catch because you know that in some way, it will change your life. Usually, of course, this doesn't happen, because movies are boring or records are disappointments or people just suck. But life-changing revelation generally happens more often for me in the case of the genius that is PJ Harvey, so this fall I am so looking forward to her new record, titled White Chalk and out on September 24th.

We've loved Harvey going on years now: I can remember driving out on I-90 as a thunderstorm rolled in, listening to the opening chords of her first record, Dry, and feeling like my own private world had come into view for the very first time. And I still have a tape that Liz sent me ages ago of a live Boston show that still manages to startle and wow me like never before. White Chalk is full of ghostly piano melodies and a surprising fragility to those more accustomed to Harvey's guitar and vocal theatrics. It's a succinct and haunted 30-odd minutes of music, with songs exploring mortality, time and, you know, the agonies of love.

Harvey's visual transformations don't get as much ink, but she's just as much of an experimentalist with her image as someone like Madonna or even Cindy Sherman. From her days as a post-punk riff on the riot grrrl for Dry to the fearsome diva of To Bring You My Love to the art-damaged ingenue of Is This Desire?, we've always been interested in her "look." For White Chalk, it appears she's going for a sort of Victorian thing; the recent cover art looks straight out of a Whistler painting:

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But in a weird way it's not so different from her take on useless feminine accoutrement that was at the heart of her 1992 video for "Dress," which is still ever-awesome, fifteen years on, and somehow seminal in my psyche for my continual conflicted pleasure in and detachment from overtly feminine fashion:

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