Monthly Archives: July 2010

Kanye West Unveils New Songs

Kanye drops some Oedipus-inspired rhymes standing on a table at the offices of Facebook. I don’t know why, but he looks sharp in that suit.

MP3: Kanye West – Power


Review: Best Coast – Crazy For You

What you take from Crazy For You depends on how much you stomach Bethany Cosentino. Like her boyfriend, Wavves’ Nathan Williams, her songs are inseparably connected to her day to day concerns and personality – as far as can be told through her many interviews and tweets. Coming in at just under half an hour, there’s no time for different characters, voices, perspectives or any kind of crafty artifice in her lyrics. Instead we’re treated to tweet-length streams of angst-ridden thought that typically jump from weed, relationships, other girls, and cats (Snacks, to be specific). Lyrically, Crazy For You is the Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr (delete as applicable) of your typical teenage girl set to fuzzed-out garage pop; if the needy yearning and gentle rebelliousness of teenage girls isn’t your thing then you might want to look elsewhere. Even if it is, the album’s honesty in this regard is one of its most notable problems.

Bethany Cosentino is twenty-two year old college dropout living in the twenty first century and this is where the artifice comes in. Most teenage girls would be more likely to bookend a blog about their guy with the sugary g-pop of California Gurls rather than The Beach Boys or 60s girl groups that the album’s clearly indebted to. That the music on Crazy For You is as borrowed and out of time as the lyrics are goes without saying but it creates an awkward jarring. The dorky, naïve yearning of Spector produced girl groups like The Ronnettes is much travelled territory and Spector’s patented ‘wall of sound’ is an even more familiar aspect in the indie landscape, (shitgaze,C86) but here she’s talking about smoking weed. She’s talking about getting high and displaying affection for a cat in a way that can only be described as post-millennial, post-lolcat. She’s approaching this earnestly. When, say, the Vivian Girls pull off these tricks there’s a separation – ironic and in terms of artifice: they’re not characters in their own stories and they definitely don’t inject their own 21st century behaviors into that archetypal first-love template. In doing it here, it’s hard to say whether Cosentino wants to aggrandise her own experience by placing her struggling relationships and what drugs she takes in that mold – updating, contemporizing The Ronnettes – or if she simply wanted to revel in a more romantic time and aesthetic. Regardless, it never quite sits well and as a 21st century woman in a 1960s landscape, it’s not flattering how needy and dependant she sounds as a result of how earnestly she approaches the project – especially when (if you’re a nerd for these things) the ‘you’ in her songs is unavoidably another artist you listen to.

Lyrical concerns aside, Best Coast know how to write a hook-laden pop song. Their compositions are devilishly simple (four chords and a five note solo simple), to the point and infectiously catchy, communicating the sunny melancholia and yearning for past times lucidly in their retro production and lo-fi gnarl. By grabbing at the right signifiers the band manage to bring to mind sun warped polaroids, first loves, endless summers and the end of adolescence. As the Wavves record perfectly captures a snottier, punkier, more MTV and Technicolor summer spent surfing, skating and avoiding your lame parents, Crazy For You draws to mind more subdued, bittersweet tones and inflection of a summer or relationship past.

If you can stomach a disciple of the unapologetically rough ’n’ ready ‘learning on the job’ school of songwriting, aren’t fed up of the flood of lo-fi crate-diggers already on the scene, and don’t mind adolescent posing in your music (perhaps you are an adolescent!) then Crazy For You might just be for you. Despite the inherent Myspace quality to her lyrics, Cosentino knows how to mine a niche; beyond juxtapositions of tone and (perhaps intentionally) stoner-minded rhymes there are plenty of compelling, bittersweet and sinister turns – see Honey’s minor-key transformation from sweet love-ode to statement of stalkerish intent – that Brian Wilson would (almost) be proud of. And whilst her earnest approach creates as many problems as it solves, it is refreshing and offers a nice dose of emotional sincerity that’s more than appreciated. People will miss the point and fire the same salvos at Best Coast as they did at the Vivian Girls in 2008, but as an album it mostly achieves what it sets out to do. More importantly, it does it more compellingly than most of its peers in an increasingly crowded genre.

7/10 Best Coast – Honey Best Coast – Boyfriend

Mountains Beyond Mountains

So The Suburbs leaked on Friday.

MP3: Arcade Fire – Rococo

Review: M.I.A – /\/\/\Y/\

If there’s one thing to say about M.I.A, it’s that she knows how to push an aesthetic: third-trimester Grammy performances, Twitter hijacks, juvenile scraps with old-media journalists and /\/\/\Y/\’s militantly gauche visual promotion featuring ‘radical’ lenticular images and messy album art depicting her peering out from behind a wave of corrupted video bars. You’d be hard pushed to find a more crudely confrontational statement of intent in pop music. A decent tip for those wanting to challenge that statement would be to scope out her previous two records that took little care in playing with revolutionary politics, symbols of warfare and, most indecently, abundant fractal designs.

She gets away with it because it’s all inseparable from her personality. M.I.A is her message and often her message is M.I.A. The vulgar first-world revolutionary spirit is a consequence of her childhood, the ability to earnestly namedrop Reebok and the P.L.O in the same song a result of an uprooted adolescence and, with /\/\/\Y/\, the confused, provoking nature the product of an artist trying to remain relevant with a millionaire boyfriend, child and Paper Planes around her neck.

Arular and Kala were both confrontational albums, too. They both urged you to hate M.I.A but you ended up falling in love. What makes /\/\/\Y/ \ exceptional is how hard it tries. The fine lines between militant and irritating; polemical and inane; forward-thinking and obscene have rarely been broken as often as they are here. MAYA is the bratty third child who, resigned that it’ll never achieve the critical acclaim of the eldest or best commercial success of the middle, goes rogue, drinks lots of spirits, smokes a lot of weed and takes a transparently dilettante interest in extremist politics to out contentious its elder siblings.

M.I.A has never been the most lucidly minded ideologue, but she stuck to her guns and the productions her slender voice flowed over were kind to her. The shtick worked best when kept brief; illusive rather than illustrative. The production of clattering magazine discharges, ‘oriental’ dialects, chunky tribal beats and baile funk rhythms juxtaposed with a shiny, western pop sensibility was a dazzlingly example of ‘show don’t tell’ with her own first-world revolutionary narrative. The landscapes of her songs said everything about where she was coming from on Arular or Kala before she even arrived in them. Here, she’s left floundering and her meandering voice too repeatedly reaches out to be provocative and current; where the Tamil Tigers and Reebok Classics feel historicized, beyond or past topical, Twitter, iPhones and Obama don’t. She often has something pityingly unhip – almost mum like – about her when she namedrops these late 00s signifiers. Like, yeah, this stuff has happened – where have you been?

In chasing her own half-formed idea of what the zeitgeist is to be shocking with she hits a lot of bum themes lyrically which are exaggerated by the album’s preoccupation with also presenting a musical zeitgeist of sorts, too – most notably represented by the inclusion of Rusko. By chasing hot genres like Dubstep the abrasive and cookie-cutter production is without any lead in hit like Jimmy, Paper Planes or even Sunshowers. It’s not a problem on its own but /\/\/\Y/\’s well of quality songs is pretty shallow so as a listener you’re left wondering what was the point of your investment. There’s a short-lived thrill in the noise of it all, but the most frustrating thing about this search for a sound that matches the militancy of M.I.A’s lyrics is that the brash homespun beats on her earlier works already had this organised chaos down.

Consequently, the absence of melody draws the attention more focusedly on the lyrics; inbetween the shrieks of a drill you catch the tail ends of political rants even the most outspoken campus politician would cringe at – mostly aimed at ‘the Government’, which never carries the Orwellian tones desired. Tact and nuance were never M.I.A’s strongpoint, but here lyrics are indulged for rhyme rather than reason which delivers lines that force the right images into mind (Like a hand-me-down sucker throwin’ bombs out at Mecca) but mean little when scrutinised.

Appropriately for an artist who invests so much of herself into her music, the best use of her voice has been to employ it as another instrument – whether that be delivering a insistent call to arms or maxim, hollering a wordless hook or captured, sampled and propelled back and forth like those lenticular images. The best M.I.A songs feature little of M.I.A’s voice in a conventional sense. When given the opportunity to over enunciate her politics, she loses all musicality, all sense. /\/\/\Y/\’s attempts to be a zeitgeist-capturing call to arms against the government, The Internet – or both – falls apart most notably when M.I.A adds too much to the conversation.

The album isn’t all failure; there are examples of this tactic being successfully employed on /\/\/\Y/\. Story To Be Told is a mid-album highlight that features an arresting vocal sample that trembles between sub-atomic bass trills; Meds and Feds stomps along on crunching bass hits and slabs of guitar sampled from Sleigh Bells whilst M.I.A keeps her verse vocals short and deliberate before launching into a chorus of processed vocals that eventually overlap and meld into an hypnotic rhythm of syllables which interlock with those uncompromising bass hits and crunchy, sampled handclaps to form an unrelenting, irresistible mess of sound which probably comes closest to achieving /\/\/\Y/\’s mission statement of capturing chaos in music.

A handful of other tracks feature enough promise that an enterprising remixer might salvage something from them – perhaps Diplo might reveal a director’s cut, but as is it stands, /\/\/\Y/ \is a mess of ill-convinced and half-executed ideas and a capitulation to the pressures of her previous successes. Whilst the savage critical mauling she’s received from certain sections has been just as much about M.I.A as an icon than /\/\/\Y/\ as an album, it’s hard to really feel much sympathy in this instance. The album’s a way below-par stumble. She’s done more damage to herself that the truffle fries ever did.


MP3: M.I.A – Story To Be Told

MP3: M.I.A – Meds And Feds

Zola Jesus – Sea Talk

There’s a select few artists that I will blog about before I’ve even heard the track, some because they’re so big, some because they’re so on form. Zola Jesus is in the latter category.

Sea Talk is a cleaned up version of the track that first appeared on her 2009 EP, Tsar Bomba.

I like Zola Jesus and so should you.

MP3: Zola Jesus – Sea Talk

Deerhunter – Revival

Strange how the usual two year album cycle can feel so long with some artists but so short with others, as is the case with Deerhunter.

MP3: Deerhunter – Revival

Major Lazer – Jump Up (Thom Yorke Remix)

Famed English miserabilist and creator of skittish, introverted bedroom IDM meets West-Indian zombie slayer and dancehall floor-filler.

Shouldn’t work; almost definitely does.

In other Reggae Radiohead news, this reminds me to recommend Jonny Greenwood Is The Controller the Radiohead guitarist’s excellent Trojan records comp.

From Major Lazer’s new EP, Lazers Never Die, out today.

MP3: Major Lazer – Jump Up (Thom Yorke Remix)