There's something endearingly ungainly about Aviram Cohen's singing, but Silk Flowers is most successful in instrumental mode, and the majority of Ltd. Form steers clear of the morbid imagery and Michael Gira-like or Andrew Ridgely-type baritone posturing that characterizes three of the album's tracks. The highlight is "Small Fortune" (which I keep wanting to call "Small Wonder"), an electric dream Phil Oakey would covet. It cries out for a dramatic pop vocal, yet likely is more resplendent without one. Listen in after the jump. Read more »
With Arthur Russell duly sainted, the New York City avant-disco revival turns to this extensive, expansive studio project and its lush, sax-dominated epics. Blessed with the mastery of a conductor, Peter Gordon brought together a community of musicians -- including Russell, David Byrne, David Johansen, Art Londsay, and vocalist Rebecca Armstrong -- with distinctly lavish and madcap results. "Extended Niceties" and "Roses on the Dance Floor" are as terrific as their titles, and "Beautiful Dreamer" is exquisite. Two tracks after the jump. Read more »
FOREST SWORDS Dagger Paths E.P. (No Pain in Pop/Olde English Spelling Bee)
High on the "Ideas I Wish I Had" list is Forest Swords' cover of Aaliyah's "If Your Girl Only Knew," a different (if equally idiosyncratic) take on R&B than that of fellow Olde English Spelling Bee act Autre Ne Veut. The group's M. Barnes taps into the recessive, almost ghostly shade-throwing of the original — one reason why Aaliyah was a unique pop phenomenon — and slows it down to near-Gothic stasis, while adding another twist to the lyric's romantic intrigue by flipping the gender of the vocalist. The spirit of Aaliyah haunted dubstep and its mutant kin in 2010, thanks to Forest Swords' "If Your Girl," and also James Blake's "CMYK," which sends the vocals of her best-known hit, "Are You That Somebody?," through a series of flying-floating transformations. Check out the originals and covers/updates, as well as some more ruminations about this phenom, after the jump.
Strange world we live in, where the likes of Björk and Stephin Merritt have written musicals, but we don't have one by Paddy McAloon, whose songs far outdo contemporary Broadway's best in terms of melody, emotional poignance, and poetic wordplay. It's a tragedy that a composer and vocalist of such unashamed purity has been stricken with Ménière's disease, which effects hearing. But it's a blissful pleasure to hear previously-unreleased music by one of the late-20th century's greatest pop songwriters. Read more »
Phoenix is the most obvious reference for Darwin Deez's crisp, clean, and commercial tunefulness, with occasional traces of El Guincho -- and Beck's hipster clowning, which makes sense, as Deez made an unofficial 2009 video for Cornelius's 2001 song "Fly." (I'd hazard a guess that both Phoenix and Deez are influenced by the light beauty of Lô Borges.) My favorite aspect of lead member Darwin Smith's songwriting and recording is the melodicism of his guitar sound — counter-melodic grace notes whirligig through the air on songs like "Deep Sea Divers," "The City," "Up in the Clouds," and "Bed Space." His lyrics and look are way too precious for my taste, but I might succumb with the repeated listens the better songs here attract. Guitar pop alert: In addition to some Deez clips, after the jump you'll also find Damon Packard's HILARIOUS video for Buva's "Hide Away," with absolutely unparalleled animal control puppetry!
There is the fraud that is witch house, and then there is the musical spell cast by Demdike Stare, a duo that takes its name from 17th-century accused witch ElizabethSoutherns. Tryptych gathers three near-LP-length EPs, and its highlights are numerous. While Liberation Through Hearing delivers on the title's promise, my pick of the trio might be Voices of Dust, thanks to the swelling charge "Black Sun," the frenetic "Hashshashin Chant," and the seductive dirge "A Tale of Sand." These songs conjure dark visions on their very own, but after the jump, check out some montage videos that Jonny Redman of the European cult movie site www.lovelockandload.net has created for Demdike Stare tracks. If you can I.D. any of the amazing source material he's using, I'd love to know.
Pure zaniness: acid house from 1982 -- up to four years before the genre was invented -- that demonstrates Bollywood composer Singh's intuitive and innovative proficiency with the genre's prototypical Roland keyboards and drum machines. This reissue removes the word synthesizing from the beginning of the album's initial title, to downplay the kitsch factor, I guess. The mix of repetition and raga variation runs from meditative to maddening and is sometimes outright revelatory. One of a kind. After the jump, check out a comic and informative short movie from last year in which an enthusiast seeks out and meets Singh, and a few tracks from the album. As one online commentator suggests, it's time to put a bindi on the acid smiley. Read more »
This is probably the most-anticipated album of 2011, thanks to the promise of Blake's lavishly praised EPs, which have conjured the ghost of Aaliyah ("CMYK" draws brilliantly from "Are You That Somebody?") while deploying a innovative sense of dubstep's space and silence. (See the starts and stops and teasing not-there quality of "I Only Know (What I Know Now)" for an example.) Here, Blake adopts a more traditional pop vocal songwriting approach akin to his cover of Feist's "Limit to Your Love," which is included. The result teeters between Kid A-era Radiohead angst and something a lot more interesting and unique — a singular interplay between the possibilities of composition and production. Read more »
BILL ORCUTT A New Way to Pay Old Debts (Editions Mego)
Recorded at 24th and York in SF in the early summer months of 2009, these 14 songs are characteristically live enough to give the impression of hanging out in the same room as Orcutt, or an adjacent one, rather than hearing him filtered through a studio. The approach suits the furious storms of broken-neck blues — literally: Orcutt plays a repaired acoustic Kay guitar with two strings removed — that are unleashed from start to finish. Along with the BerkeleyGuitar compilations and recent solo albums by Ava Mendoza and Sean Smith, A New Way to Pay Old Debts is a sure way to prove the Bay Area is a guitar nexus. Check out a track from the album after the jump. Read more »
Why "vs." evil, Deerhoof? Wouldn't Deerhoof is Evil be more challenging? No matter, while navigating familiar territory, the 12 songs here show the band is still inspired, and more graceful. The melodicism and gleaming decorative touches of "Behold a Marvel in the Darkness" and "No One Asked to Dance" match a romanticism that is winning. "Secret Mobilization" is a straight-up rocker, and the time-lapse bloom of "I Did Crimes for You" is just about gorgeous. In moving further beyond a Jane Birkin-meets-1990s-noise realm, East Coast counterparts Blonde Redhead seem to have gotten lost as of late. Not Deerhoof. A song from the album and album release show info after the jump.