Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Song Title: "Tximistorratz Aroko Errotak"
Artist: Bizardunak
Search Term: "Zugzwang" [This is from an album entitled En Zugzwang.]

This song, hailing from the African republic of Gabon, starts off with a minute of a capella crooning in a dramatic style I am helpless to describe properly. (I'd call it "operatic," but then someone would probably inform me it's a popular Gabonese schoolyard taunt or something, so in the interest of retaining my ever-dwindling dignity for as long as possible, I'll abstain from guessing.) Then the singer breaks his solemnity with a strident trill, and the tune turns into a rollicking pub-punk stomper that is clearly the work of devoted Pogues fans, which I found a thrilling surprise upon my initial listen. ... For a while.

Antsy crab that I am, the piece strikes me as somewhat too simplistic to justify its length, but I grant my opinion might be different if I could understand the lyrics. Not that you always need to be conversant in the singer's language to appreciate a song, naturally, but with some artists it's essential. I can't imagine Tom Waits, for one, enjoys a following outside the Anglophone world that comes anywhere near his following within it because his skill with the English language is key to his appeal. (Also, I feel doubly ignorant here because not only can't I understand Bizardunak's lyrics, but I can't even identify the language. Wikipedia tells me Myene and Fang are the two main vernacular languages of Gabon, so maybe it's one of those?) So I may be missing out on some really inspired poetry that would more than make up for the three-choruses-too-many repetition. Who knows. If you generally like the accordions, tin whistles, and slurred, anthemic barking of the Pogues, you will probably find this an acceptable simulation.

This probably could have been a review that poignantly explored the ever-dissolving cultural boundaries of our world. 900 years ago, our species was so compartmentalized that Marco Polo's written accounts of spices that existed in China and India were so revelatory that they sparked a trading boom. In the 21st century, communication between people in disparate geographical locations has become so astonishingly fluid and simple that a band like the Pogues, whose music is a bleary, blustery take on the traditional music of Ireland, can reach and resonate so strongly with a band in Africa that they've been spurred to re-create it, and that song can then be instantly accessed by some dipshit in Maine who wasn't even specifically looking for it. Whatever pitfalls may come with our age of globalization, it's worth taking a moment to discuss how truly incredible it is that this artistic cross-pollination is not just possible but commonplace. But instead you got a review panning this track because it's too long for the author's liking. The Internet: Making Instantaneous Worldwide Discourse Not Worth It!

Monday, May 30, 2011


Song Title: "Ten Little Bluebirds in My Lapel"
Artist: Johnnie Lee Wills and His Boys
Search Term: "Lapel"

Yesterday afternoon, my car was halted in the middle of a busy road by a mother duck and a dozen ducklings who were thwapping their way to a drainage ditch. Once I got over my brief, intense panic that the cabbie coming the other way would not stop for them (obviously he did, because most people are not caricatures of pure sociopathic evil, but this is what my brain does to me), I smiled goofily for the rest of my commute. So I'm perfectly willing to believe that there is a one-to-one correlation between clusters of little birds and happiness. I have branded this new scientific law the Little Caesars Equivalence, following careful consideration that I assure you was not biased in any way by my receipt of a hefty "research grant" from Mike Ilitch.

Anyway, cowboy swing artist Johnnie Lee Wills provides further evidence to support the Little Caesars Delicious Crazy Bread Equivalence with this convivial ode to the feeling of falling in love, which radiates so invitingly from his being that it has attracted a passel of avian buddies to his shoulders. The high-spirited piano and fiddle make for a peppy accompaniment, but it's the tight western harmonies that provide the song's biggest pleasure. It would be thoroughly irresistible even without the imagery, but Wills' suggestion that we picture him strutting around in a state of giddy infatuation, his neck ringed with contented, puffy bluebirds, lands this song among the most unfailingly grin-inducing I've ever heard.

Pizza! Pizza!

Friday, May 27, 2011


Song Title: "Porcine Financial Issues"
Artist: MC Lars
Search Term: "Porcine"

It seems MC Lars recorded this microhouse track while still in high school, so if the reader is feeling nitpicky about production refinement or innovation, she may wish to move along: There's a beat whose only notable attribute is that it is indeed a beat, a run-of-the-mill acid bassline, and a Basement Jaxx-style acoustic guitar that sounds like it's being strummed with a pair of salad tongs. The spoken vocals are pitch-altered, electronically harmonized, and run backwards half the time, so it's tough to pick out the lyrics, but they do include the phrase, "The three little pigs could not get house insurance," which I think is mildly funny. For all the teenage fumbling on display, though, "Porcine Financial Issues" is an undeniably catchy song that doesn't aspire to anything greater. If you can somehow imagine a non-wretched fraternal twin of the Detroit Grand Pubahs' sophomorically lazy laptop throwaway "Sandwiches," you may be conjuring something close to this track's endearingly nonchalant wiggliness.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Star Chamber"

Song Title: "Star Chamber"
Artist: North Atlantic Oscillation
Search Term: "Star Chamber"

One bit of musical misdirection I always fall for is the guitar intro that lulls you into thinking the song will proceed with a certain rhythm, only to force you to quickly recalibrate your location as a listener once the drums kick in and make it clear that the guitar is actually holding down some rhythmic counterpoint within the composition's main trajectory. The first time I can remember getting tricked that way was when I heard Soul Coughing's "Fully Retractable," and I was very impressed by what I found to be a canny bit of legerdemain. More than a decade later, though, I find myself getting confused by guitar intros with dispiriting regularity. For instance, every episode of Top Chef contains a piece of montage music that starts off with a guitar lick that is revealed to be oddly syncopated once the drums appear, and literally every time I hear it, my brain is unable to process the actual beat before I hear the percussion. So given that I am intellectually outmatched by the music package on a reality show, I am uncertain of how much of this phenomenon is artistic cleverness and how much is me slowly ambling down a path of senility that will terminate in my eventual inability to comprehend "We Will Rock You."

Either way, though, I feel compelled to give a band points for successfully accomplishing this maneuver, so North Atlantic Oscillation earns some goodwill right off the bat of this rangy instrumental. The overdriven guitar and stout rhythm section give the song a lot of strength, but the band is also able to gracefully integrate elements like a muted piano break, sort of like a more mature Linkin Park. My problem with the track is that it doesn't strike me as especially musical. Unlike the Te' song I reviewed a while back, which brandished hooks big enough to easily keep up with the hulking arrangement, "Star Chamber" expends a lot of energy without putting forth any sort of memorable tune. These guys are clearly fine architects, so I'd be curious to hear whether their vocal tracks fuse into something with more substance, but although this piece itself effortlessly bested me right off the bat, it ultimately never won my admiration.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Song Title: "Dream On Daisy"
Artist: Parallelograms
Search Term: "Daisy"

Sugary without being cloying and upbeat without being Pollyannaish, "Dream On Daisy" is a fine example of a twee-pop song that remembers catchiness still outranks cutesiness, likably chipper though the handclaps and glockenspiel may be. Singer Meriel's upbeat voice has so much in common with the tender earnestness of Lush's Emma Anderson that I was initially convinced Anderson herself must be the Parallelograms' frontwoman. This light touch enables Meriel to come across not as cruel or dismissive when she intones, "Dream on," to a friend who is crushing on a guy who's already in a happy relationship, but rather compassionately realistic. And speaking of which, I especially like the subtly counterintuitive way the guitar and bass double (and triple, I suppose) Meriel's sing-songy vocal line when the title phrase appears in the chorus. In all, it's an uncomplicated, breezy, and hummable little snack.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Song Title: "Dinosaur Disco Meets the Swampstomp"
Artist: Glaxo Babies
Search Term: "Dinosaur"

Apparently the Glaxo Babies started their life as a reasonably well-regarded, trademark-flouting postpunk band, but quickly mutated into something more artsy and jazz-influenced, much like Spinal Tap did following the departure of Nigel Tufnel. A move which paid similarly meager creative dividends, if "Dinosaur Disco Meets the Swampstomp" is any indication. It sounds like saxophonist Tony Wrafter is randomly honking (or sometimes just speaking through) his instrument, which has then been run through any number of delays and phasers and things to sound like a bloviating pterodactyl. It's kind of an entertaining sound, but nothing is done to develop the track beyond these aimless sax squirts, and the backing arrangement is limited to distant ambient groans and drum circle bongos. The best I can say about this is that I'm sure it was scads of fun to record.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Song Title: "Lanyard Loop"
Artist: Allan Holdsworth
Search Term: "Lanyard"

Well, I suppose it was inevitable that someone would invent smooth jazz fusion, combining the unmoored improvisation of fusion with the milquetoasty and immediately tiresome tones of smooth jazz. The result is a lot of gloppy tunelessness that doesn't even possess the saving grace of freewheeling momentum, since the instruments' timbres are disgustingly timid. I know this description sounds like it might be kind of a funny idea for some sort of jazz parodist, but as this live recording concludes with enraptured applause and is not flecked with the crowd's belly laughs along the way, it appears Allan Holdsworth actually means it, please stop it Allan Holdsworth please please stop oh it burns stop it why.

I'm going on vacation for a couple weeks, so there won't be more posts here until the week of the 23rd... or ever, if something zany happens to my plane in midair! The point is I'm not just being lazy this time and I have an excuse for not updating. Have a good two weeks, Amanda!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Song Title: "Hospitalville"
Artist: Frankie Sparo
Search Term: "Crummy" [This song is from the album Welcome Crummy Mystics]

This is an absolutely stunning slice of drizzling jazz-pop moodiness that draws equally from Portishead's noir fixations and Radiohead's cranky urge to unpredictably push notes out of place. The piano and upright bass keep the song grounded in a recognizable melodic theme, which allows the strings and horns to flirt with (but never succumb to) squeaky dissonance. Sparo's voice is more nondescript and reedy than you'd expect to be paired with such cinematic surroundings, but it's not at all a liability. Rather, it brings a sense of proportion to the otherwise oversized atmosphere: One small human ruefully making his way through a booze-soaked world of dreary folly. Gorgeous.