Monday, June 9, 2008

Rage Roundup – 6 June '8

In fact, the following selection is not only from Rage of June 6 — there's some stuff from the few weeks beforehand, too. Overall it's been a not-so-stunning month for new singles, I think. The most exciting music I've heard recently is the new Fleet Foxes album, and they haven't been on Rage at all, yet! (I could rave on about Fleet Foxes right now in more detail, but the eloquent ravings of more respectable folks are already all over Pitchfork, so...)

These new-music-on-Rage posts should probably be monthly instead of weekly, if I'm going to have any hope of regularity. Call this post a "Rage Roundup of the period from mid-May to early June", if you like?

This new single sounds like an off-kilter experimental pop thing, but Catcall's other songs make it clear that she's actually coming at this outta hip-hop. (While the vocals here could pass for indie drawl, on other tracks she's much closer to a straightforward rap technique). What (mis)places her sound into a less obvious context are the judiciously juicy organ loops. They're closer to choral pipe organ than the usual Hammondish jazz-funk, so they give the whole sound a surprisingly unique feel and texture. Interesting stuff, I think. The video clip is nice, too; clever and intriguing despite the obviously zero budget. And the word "Catcall" makes a neat pun out of her real name, so I like her already.

I've found all of Kate Nash's singles so far vaguely annoying. Maybe it's her accent... maybe it's her music? I figure that in theory she should be fairly appealing to me, but in real life the appeals are unsuccessful. Except for this one. From the sharp & syncopated piano riff, to the real depth of feeling she puts into the chorus, this one really works for me. The pop songcraft builds a nice momentum: there's a great musical use of tension to repeatedly draw us into, not actually "release", but into a different mode of tension. The lyrics successfully skirt the pop line between too-shallow and too-pretentious. Best of all, she restrains her usual hip-hop-influenced tendency to speak-in-tune rather than actually sing (which, don't get me wrong, is a perfectly fine & valid technique; but it does restrict the available dynamics, and I think it might be the reason I've found her earlier singles a little grating and repetitious). Particularly in the chorus, her voice here is great. Perhaps she's becoming more confident with her singing voice, now that she's found some success? Either way, I hope she keeps it up.

This song is mindblowingly cheesy and daft, but it's also hooky as hell; I had the damn thing stuck in my head for days. Which got kind of annoying, to be honest. But it's still a neat song. It sounds a lot like Gary Numan (even down to the vocal phrasing), but Numan's chilly alienation is replaced by a mood of weird, cheery irreverence. We're reaching an interesting little cultural tipping point, here: use of '80s synths is going so far past irony that it's becoming genuinely mainstream again (see also this post of mine from a couple of months ago, re: the Galvatrons & Ladyhawke; or listen to Van She). But at least here my ears aren't bleeding like it's the worst of 1988 again. As long as it's all as sweet and amusing as this, I'll be alright. How can you not grin at a stupid lyrical pun like "We! Equal m c squared"? Let's face it, absurd science-fiction synths deserve ridiculous science-pun lyrics. It's a one-joke song, but Grafton Primary make it count.

I've more or less ignored Death Cab For Cutie for years, on the grounds that their band name is the crappiest band name since, I don't know... since the coming of emo? Anyhow, this was clearly a wrong and short-sighted position on my part, because this song is excellent. Perhaps I should have been listening to them earlier, huh? The video has a pointlessly long stretch of silence at the start, which always strikes me as pretentious, and in fact the rest of the video is... also sort of pretentious... but it's basically inoffensive. And snowy, which is nice. But the music is the important thing, and the music is great. The singer has an interesting vocal style, the lyrics are compelling (and pleasantly sinister), and the arrangement is deceptively clever: listen to the way the guitars and drums drop out of the mix for only a couple of lines, just as the first verse starts. It's a well-written song, with enough depth to it that it improves over multiple listens. Who would've thought? And band names are usually such a good indicator of musical quality...

Another band channeling a weirdly 1990s vibe; even their video is just like one of those many 90s "alternative" videos that pretended to be aping a psychedelic 60s video. Heck, even their haircuts are grunge-90s-doing-60s. If retro style eats itself, does it matter? I'm not a gosh-everything's-so-unoriginal-today-it's-the-end-of-history-postmodern-aarrgh-run-for-the-hills sort of guy; I'm fairly convinced that this sort of cultural recycling & re-imagining is not an essentially "new" phenomenon. It's just that it becomes less obvious to identify, the further you look back, because as you look back you possess less and less of the cultural context with which to notice it. I can see now that there are lots of 40s and 50s notes sprinkled through typical 70s style, but (having grown up in the 80s and 90s) I didn't know enough to spot this until relatively recently. I'm pretty sure that you could say something similar about 1930s style, and 1840s and 1620s and whatever (with periodic kinks as new technology & other genuine novelties kick in). The prime caveat being, that the proliferation of modern communications and media of the last century has sped everything up by several orders of magnitude.
Or maybe not. Either way, it's a nice tune.

His grasp of punctuation may be questionable — shouldn't that be "around" or at least "'round" the sun? — but you can't argue with Paul Weller's musical conviction. This sounds contemporary in a way that his contemporaries (Hi Sting, hi) haven't been since, gee, the mid-80s or so? (Exceptioning the late Joe Strummer of course, I guess). Paul Weller is never going to be The Jam again, but 2008 is never going to be 1979 again, either. And that's okay. Please continue, Mr Weller, this is good stuff.

Good song title, although I'm not sure how well it matches the music — because at least for me, it's really not a panicky tune — but it's still a good title, and it's still good music. I think it's a really cool song, actually: charmingly loose lead vocals balance against the well-polished backing vocals, the arrangement is dynamic and the chorus is killer. They even wrote a bridge! Who still has the fortitude to do that, these days? Good work, chaps. It's such an enjoyable song that I won't even mention the OC, okay?

I'm still undecided about Laura Marling's solo work, but she sings fine on this single so I'll say no more. Mystery Jets, though, seem to become more impressive the more I hear of them. This is a really great, inventive song; it's not especially complex, but the subtle tweaks and polishes are extremely effective (eg, the crescendoing shimmer-chords at the end of the chorus lines). It's a rare talent to make pop that doesn't sound just like a retread of something else; I guess you could classify the Jets as brit-pop, but they're much better (and more unique) than that label would indicate. There's definitely something worthwhile going on here, I think. Very interesting, at the very least...

And to round out this post's selection of music, a sweet number from the talented Jamie Lidell. Sure, it's a total pastiche, but if you like this sort of thing then you'll probably like it anyway. It's not nearly as exciting as his last single — while that was Stevie Wonder verging on P-Funk, this is pure acoustic Motown — but it's still an overwhelming *smile*. I really need to check out an entire album of his some time.

And that's that, okay. Until next time, for goodness' sake: FLEET FOXES, people! In particular, I would suggest the tracks "Mykonos" and "Blue Ridge Mountains". (The recent albums from Crystal Castles and Eddy Current Suppression Ring are excellent, too; heck, there's enough stylistic breadth across these three groups to satisfy anyone's fancy, surely!)

--the Musical Thoapsl

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