There are bad reviews, and then there's Pitchfork:
Finding the band's music polished to an almost blinding sheen, Blacklight is not a commercial album so much as Rilo Kiley's conception (or misconception) of what a commercial album is. It's their "Project Mersh", an alternate-universe sell-out move. But beneath that surface-- and Under the Blacklight is at first listen almost overwhelmingly surface-- Rilo Kiley must know they're full of shit. Either they're utterly serious about their flirtation with the mainstream or they're taking the piss with a wink. In both cases, the songs suffer a smothering slow death by context. ... At the same time, the fun-- or maybe "fun"-- disc stresses how humorless and full of shit Rilo Kiley's former indie brethren remain, scared stiff of the prospect of unabashed pop in the true please-the-masses sense. But it's still an audacious, fascinating exploration of banality, almost to a patronizing point.
... Ah, L.A., where there's a thrift shop on every corner, the breakfast spots bustle well into the night, the lines at clubland bathroom stalls snake to early 1980s lengths, acts get signed at karaoke bars, and the plastic surgeons know just the thing to do with all those rough edges. Forget that Rilo Kiley's songs namedrop Brighton, New York, and Laredo: Under the Blacklight adds up to the familiar headline "California Band Makes California Album." Were all the AOR indulgences at least tied together into a concept they might have been more easily forgiven. And were any of those lyrics a little more pointed and less generalized, like they were in the anomalously galvanizing anti-Bush protest "It's a Hit", they'd add up to more than just a 40-minute short story collection on tape (with incidental music).
For the relative few who really, really care, debates may rage over whether Under the Blacklight marks some sort of progress, though what's just as likely is that Rilo Kiley's earlier output was artificially regressive in a bid for some sort of cred. ... Song by song it goes down awfully easy, but be warned. The band sure cleans up well, but there's a fair amount of guilty washing and hand-scrubbing to be done afterwards.
One asks: What does that even mean? Isn't it all just a bunch of rambling, snobby pseudophilosophy from someone who evaluates albums based only on some ill-defined indie authenticity? Doesn't this show, once again, that Pitchfork reviews are less about the mechanics and expression of music, and more about getting back at someone's Creative Writing 101 professor?
Yes. It is, and it does. This has been another edition of short answers to rhetorical questions.
They say you can't appreciate some bands until you see them live. It's news to me. But from the Black Keys website, I found Fab Channel, which has collected an alarming number of live concerts in full, including the Keys:
You might also be interested in a few other shows they've got there:
I think I missed this the first time that CDM posted it, but Audiohead.net's tour of NIN's recording space is very, very cool. I listened to The Fragile again this weekend from start to finish while walking the dog, something I hadn't done since Tony Scott's hideous Man On Fire almost ruined it for me. The change from that sound to the more stripped-down aesthetic of With Teeth is striking, and Reznor's studio setup sounds like it lent itself to that process. Also: lots of gear pictures. What I would give for just one of those racks.
A regular on the Lowdown posted a link that he described as "grindcore played by cute little Japanese girls." It would be more accurately described as "the antichrist has arrived, and he is a J-Pop band." This is terrifying. Of course, I must share it with you.
Not safe for quiet work environments, small children, the elderly, or people who would prefer to associate Japan with Hello Kitty and big robots.
This is old, but still true.
Man, Fridays are slow.
Loaded up Pandora this morning, but left it in a window behind Notes, so I didn't see the station selected. The song starts: clacky synths, kind of annoying, and then the bass comes in, sliding up the neck into a quick triplet. And I think "John Entwhistle."
There aren't a lot of bassists who were distinctive enough that I could identify them with just three notes. Especially off an album I've never heard before (Who Are You) from a period of the band's history that I don't really care for (post-Quadrophenia). That's pretty impressive. I should really study more Entwhistle.
Clatter's first release, Blinded by Vision, was new territory for me. Combining melodic basslines with heavy distortion and powerful female vocals, it took former rhythm instruments and brought them forward. It's a solid album, with a few standout songs, so I had high hopes for Clatter's newest album, Monarch. For the most part, I'm not disappointed.
First, a note about the album's packaging: like Blinded by Vision, Monarch comes in a cardboard-and-plastic sleeve instead of a jewel case. Unlike that album, when you order it from Clatter directly, it comes with a few extras. The band has become increasingly green these last few years, and they've decided to not only advocate for global warming reform with their packaging materials, but they also include a monarch butterfly sanctuary kit, with information about the insects and seeds that will attract them on their migration patterns. It's a nice gesture.
But how's the music? For this release, Amy Humphrey (bass, vocals) has added a twelve-string bass to her toolkit, in addition to the ringing Rickenbacker that she had used before. You can really hear the drone strings in the bass sound, since they produce a much thicker, guitar-like distortion. In fact, this is a much more produced album in almost every way: there are added vocal harmonies by Humphrey, the occassional synth in the background, and speech samples integrated into the songs. It's not impossible to imagine that Clatter will play these live, since they've traditionally used a click track and sampler for backups. But at times the extra production does seem gratuitous, or even garish: "For Her" is a great Franz Ferdinand-like dance track, but it's marred by a clumsy dialog sketch dropped into the bridge.
In a lot of ways, that lack of subtlety is Monarch's biggest weakness. "House of Trouble," for example, rails against global warming skeptics and the Bush administration, and it doesn't hesitate to drive its point home. There's also a cover of Rush's "Limelight" that's surprisingly well-executed considering the difference in instrumentation. Humphrey's voice seems stronger this time around, but she's still not a singer with a great emotional range. Joe Hayes' drumming, however, continues to fill the space behind the bass without being obnoxious--say what you like about the choice of instrumentation, these two can lock into a tight groove together.
All in all, Monarch is a good album, but I'm not sure there are any standouts that I'm going to enjoy as much as Blinded by Vision. Its best songs, "House of Trouble," "For Her," and "Somewhere Inside" are more consistent, but there's less experimentation (there's nothing quite as distinctive as the auto-wah bassline of "Center Line," for example). I hesitate to call this a sophomore slump, but I'm definitely looking forward to what Clatter will do next. In the meantime, listen to the samples and see if it's to your taste--for non-bassists and more conventional listeners, Monarch might well be a better fit.
Courtesy of Dan in unrelated comments, NPR recorded the Black Keys show that Belle took me to for my birthday, and a blogger has broken it into discrete songs here. There seem to be a few volume jogs in the files--I'm not sure if they were there in NPR's original recordings, but at one point the sound dips for a few seconds in "ThickFreakness"--but it was a great show and this is a good (legal) way to check them out. Note the copious (sometimes overwhelming) use of feedback--these guys play loud.
I guess relatively few people have actually heard of the Black Keys. When Belle picked up the tickets, she said that she actually thought they were an older band from the recordings I'd played. It's true that they're a bit retro blues-rock. You should check them out anyway. You will like them. Or maybe you could just pretend to keep me happy.
In other pet band news, Clatter is taking pre-orders for their new CD, titled Monarch. It has a cover of Rush's "Limelight," which will be fun for anyone who still thinks "Anthem changed my life, man," but the previews sound quite good--if a bit different from the Blinded By Vision album.
All makes me want to break out the fuzz pedal and do some recording tonight.
Because I have the best girlfriend on the planet, I'm going to see the Black Keys tonight.
Everyone else may feel free to enjoy them vicariously:
Let's put it this way: Three Moods of the Noisettes is $6 if you can find it at the bookstore or order it from Amazon. For that price you're only getting four tracks--but they're pretty amazing songs, particularly if you've got a blues/rock itch that needs to be scratched. They bring the Rock. Considering that a lot of CDs nowadays, even by good musicians, often contain only three or four really great songs anyway, this is a pretty good deal.
Shingai Shoniwa, lead singer and bass, has a voice that's practically worth the price of admission on its own. It veers from throaty to sweet, Billie Holiday to Joan Jett, sometimes in a single passage. The drums and guitar are strong enough to support Shoniwa, but stay stripped down for speed. Percussion is almost a military shuffle, while the guitarist breaks up the distortion with some creative tremelo and ghost notes.
I'm not sure what the three moods of the title are supposed to be. The opening track, "Don't Give Up," staggers between jazz and punk, before collapsing into "Monte Christo," where Shoniwa and guitarist Dan Smith trade Alice in Wonderland lines about honeybees and the Count. "Signs" is probably the poppiest of the four, based around a riff that wouldn't be out of place on a Killers album. The album closes with "Burn," a glorious six-minute blues vamp.
Three Moods of the Noisettes clearly isn't for everyone--it's unapologetically retro in its inspirations and minimalist in its arrangements. If the singles I've heard are any indication, since this EP the band has moved toward more traditional (and less interesting) production values, which is a shame. As Three Moods shows, there's a lot to be said for a rough but unrestrained mix.