Thursday, September 30, 2010

It's Been a White Knuckle Ride, Jamiroquai

Jamiroquai, one of the UK's most prominent chart-topping acts, have spent the past eighteen years defying eras and turning the tables on pop music. They have spun out seven albums (greatest hits included) from disco and funk to jazz and soul, each one taking a #1, #2 or #3 spot on the charts. Jay Kay and his band are now preparing to release their seventh studio album, Rock Dust Light Star, which is slated for November 1, over five years since 2005's Dynamite.

The first teaser from the album is “White Knuckle Ride”, which starts as a solid disco track, but becomes massive once you hear the remixes, compliments of Monarchy, Penguin Prison and Seamus Haji. Jamiroquai's frontman Jay Kay lives by a few simple rules; one of them being, “if it doesn’t sound good with just a keyboard and a voice or a guitar and a voice, drop it.” And that's exactly how “White Knuckle Ride”, the first teaser from the album, starts as a stripped-down disco track but evolves into three elaborate remixes—compliments of Penguin Prison, Monarchy and Seamus Haji.

Monarchy twists the funk bassline into a synth-driven electro track. Penguin Prison adds even more disco to the track, making it irresistibly danceable and sprinkling his distinctive sound all over it. Seamus Haji draws back the disco reins and veers into his home territory, a smooth, entrancing house beat that builds into epic massiveness somewhere past the 4-minute mark.

Jamiroquai - White Knuckle Ride (Penguin Prison Remix) (zshare) (YSI)
Jamiroquai - White Knuckle Ride (Monarchy Remix) (zshare) (YSI)
Jamiroquai - White Knuckle Ride (Seamus Haji Remix) (zshare) (YSI)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

School of Seven Bells at The Biltmore (Vancouver)

The Biltmore again! This venue is becoming one of my favourite places in Vancouver. Incidentally, I saw School of Seven Bells here last year, too. They were a bit disappointing last time, but I don't think my taste was in the right place at the time.

School of Seven Bells, often shortened to SVIIB, is a three-piece shoegaze/dream pop band, fronted by identical twins Alejandra and Claudia Deheza and backed by Benjamin Curtis of Secret Machines, who met the girls when they toured with Secret Machines in their previous band.

Starting the warm evening was Active Child, aka Pat Grossi, a two-man solo act from Los Angeles. He started his set with a few smooth ballads that were lost somewhere between new age synthpop and shoegaze. He played the harp beautifully for his first song, which distracted me for a few minutes from what I realised about three songs into the set—this man's tenor voice is divine. He doesn't force out his high notes and breathe heavily like a trained singer, but rather, he sings gracefully with a hauntingly beautiful voice. He was the perfect melancholy warmup to put me in the mood for School of Seven Bells.

I had only taken a few hours to listen to School of Seven Bells' new album, Disconnect from Desire, so most of what they played was only vaguely familiar. I felt like they could have had a stronger start, with the first few songs, but it's clear that they put more thought into how the songs themselves work together, rather than how the audience will react when they hear them. School of Seven Bells loves to share their music onstage, but their priority is music for the sake of making something beautiful, and I have to give them credit for that.

Nevertheless, the energy began to build, several songs into the set. Not to say that people were dancing. I think that all shoegaze bands should bring enough couches for their entire audience to sit back and close their eyes. Nobody dances or moves much.

“Joviann” was the song that signalled the slow rise towards a climax. One track along the way got stuck in my head; “Bye Bye Bye”, although it doesn't seem to be one of the more popular songs from the new album. Then they finished the set with all my picks, right in a row; “Windstorm”, ”I L U” and the smashing “My Cabal” from their debut album. I noticed, when they played “My Cabal”, that the song is very special to the girls, Alejandra and Claudia. Perhaps there is a meaningful backstory to the song, or perhaps they just adore the song as much as their fans do.

School of Seven Bells played the same small venue here that they did a year ago, but they may be destined for bigger things, if they want it. I, for one, would love to see them in a slightly bigger venue with a better light show to back them, even though The Biltmore was only half full (everyone was at Arcade Fire tonight).

School of Seven Bells - Windstorm (zshare) (YSI)
School of Seven Bells - Heart Is Strange (Active Child Remix) (zshare)

School of Seven Bells' new album Disconnect from Desire is available now on Vagrant Records. Active Child's Curtis Lane EP is out as well, and he has also just released a split 7" with School of Seven Bells, each remixing a song by the other.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Munk - La Musica

Munk, German DJ spinning Italo-pop, is making waves in the Euro dance scene, supported by the likes of Erol Alkan, Mark Ronson and Busy P. His new EP, Mondo Vagabondo, is out October 18th on Gomma. Here's a peek at the lead single, “La Musica”, and it's video.

“La Musica” is a funky Italian disco song that is minimal, weird and is stuck on repeat right now. It's so subtle that it probably would not have caught my attention if I hadn't watched the video first—so do that.

Munk - La Musica (YSI) (zshare)

The video is a seamless mash of modern and retro clips of people in clubs and at home, moving their feet to the music. Some of the best things in life happen amidst strobe lights and disco balls. I think I saw Brigitte Bardot a couple of times!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hurts - Happiness (Album Review)

Theo Hutchcraft. Adam Anderson. Dark suits. Slick, oiled hair. A transcendent voice backed by a monstrosity of synthetic sound. Everywhere they go, things happen in slow motion. I cannot begin to surmise whether they are time travelers or gods. We would never be able to tell the difference anyway.

Hurts' first public offering, Happiness, is the fastest-selling UK debut of 2010. They embark on a sold-out UK tour in a few days, followed by Europe. They have already upgraded a few venues, and more are sure to follow.

Theo and Adam are here, if anything, to signal the end of the 80s revival. Not because anyone killed it, but because no one could ever best them at this. This isn't really the end though - it's just the point where things change from 80s revival to second wave synthpop and...whatever we decide to call the new wave of new wave.

Now, I'm still fairly new to writing reviews, but I have learned that there are two ways I can go from here - I can tell you more about the music, in far more spoiling words than you care to read, or I can spend paragraph after paragraph comparing them to bands you have never heard of. Neither direction will be of much use to anyone besides another music critic, so I'll try something new.
I heard a new sound.
It was like a moonlit night,
Blinded by stormclouds.

It hurts to listen.
We're all illuminated,
Burning from inside.

The smokescreen rises,
Melancholy eyes concealed,
Yet I hear his voice.

I am not done, yet.
Leave me with the medicine.
Don't you understand?

Leave it unspoken.
I will never change your mind.
Take me now, safely.

Nothing happens once.
But it's over, much too soon.
Press play to repeat.
I literally just went with the first random idea that came to mind after I wrote “so I'll try something new”. So there it is—a series of haikus, expressing what I see and hear when I close my eyes and listen to Hurts' unimaginably perfect album.

Hurts - Better Than Love (zshare) (YSI)
Hurts - Wonderful Life (zshare) (YSI)

Hurts - Illuminated (Live music video)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gonzales and the Ivory Tower

Like a mad scientist, cackling in the darkness as he watches his latest creation come to life, Gonzales has reanimated himself with yet another masterpiece of experimental piano pop.

Ivory Tower is solid warning that there are no bounds to the creative eccentricity of Chilly Gonzales. The album will soon be accompanied by a feature-length indie film of the same name, starring Gonzales alongside his longtime collaborators—Peaches, Tiga and Feist.

The album is out now on Gentle Threat and the film is set for theatrical release this fall. Here's a sneak preview of both the album and the film...

Gonzales - I Am Europe (zshare) (YSI)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Free Energy at The Biltmore (Vancouver)

I arrived at 9:30 last night, just in time for the show to start. I feel sorry for anyone who came for the door time of 8pm, because the show didn't actually start til almost 11pm.

The crowd was slowly growing in size and in boredom up to that point, but within three songs, Free Energy had the whole mob of sweatered and flannel-clad indie kids moving to their nothing-but-upbeat tunes. Lead singer Paul Sprangers quickly noted several hot babes wearing moustaches at the front of the crowd.

A few songs in, someone at the front shouted something about the guitarist ripping off The Ramones. Paul quickly shot back, "and Springsteen too!" Then it dawned on me why I like this band so much. I like to say that I'm not into classic rock because all the overplayed songs annoy me, but in truth, I love finding the gems among the lesser-known tunes of Billy Joel, the Stones, Rod Stewart, even The Beatles. Free Energy is a chart-topping 70s rock band, singing teenage anthems in an alternate universe. Fortunately for us, they have crossed over through time and space to our present day.

Later in the set, my mind began to wander, but snapped back when a song ended and Paul mentioned he was thirsty. Someone asked him what he wanted and he said "any local brew that's good." A few songs later, a fan named Chad walked on stage with a grin on his face and a tray of six pints, saying "Here's some local beer, guys!" Paul pointed the mic in his direction and Chad said, "I just wanted to say, you guys made my Sasquatch [Festival], and you weren't even there!" Paul looked confused and everyone laughed until they began the next song.

The band continued to play and came to a song, I think it's called "Bad Stuff", that showed off their less cheerful and more dramatic side. The guitarists broke into a slow, grinding solo after the bridge—the kind that makes you close your eyes and drift off into the distortion field.

More silly stage antics—a power cord suddenly falls from the ceiling right in front of Paul, and he quips, "This place feels like it's run by young people. Like the cast of The Goonies. There's no man." He's probably right, but maybe it's why we all love going to The Biltmore to see a band we don't know but have heard good things about.

Free Energy - Bang Pop[zshare][YSI]
Free Energy - Free Energy[zshare][YSI]
Previously reviewed: Free Energy - Dream City

Check out Free Energy on their US tour from now til the end of the month. Their LCD Soundsystem-produced debut Stuck On Nothing is out now on DFA.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Naked & Famous

Do you have a friend who stops midsentence whenever MGMT's “Time to Pretend” comes on, and starts jumping around and singing like he's trying to start a moshpit at the supermarket? Introduce him to this song.

New Zealand's own The Naked & Famous made their debut in June with “Young Blood”, becoming the first New Zealand band in 3 years to have a #1 single at home. Look for their album Passive Me, Aggressive You on September 6.

The Naked & Famous - Young Blood (zshare) (YSI)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Five Songs You Overlooked This Summer

Yes, we're back! It's been a year in Vancouver and we're overdue for some concert reviews, but first, here's what you missed this summer.

5The Legendary Tigerman – Light Me Up Twice (zshare) (YSI)
The Portuguese one-man-band is joined by Cláudia Efe in a sexy blues duet.
"God is everywhere—under a woman's skirt and inside a man's pants."

4Alabama 3 – Jacqueline (zshare) (YSI)
The British acid house rockers are back with a wild west tune about Jaqueline, a down-and-dirty cowgirl out on the prowl.

3Professor Green – Just Be Good to Green (Camo & Krooked Remix) (zshare) (YSI)
Joined by Lily Allen, East London rapper Prof. Green drops his massive second single of 2010. The drum and bass remix by Camo & Krooked tops the original beat by a London mile.

2Frank Black – I Heard Ramona Sing (zshare) (YSI)
Pixies' frontman Frank Black delivers his signatory chord progressions from hell, in a rock and roll tribute to The Ramones.
"I hope if someone retires, they pull another Menudo."
(Before he was livin' la vida loca, Ricky Martin was a Menudo—Puerto Rican boyband infamous for their frequent lineup changes.)

1Cee-Lo Green – No One's Gonna Love You (zshare) (YSI)
Frontman of Gnarls Barkley and one of hip-hop's most charismatic vocalists, Cee-Lo Green returns to his solo career with this December with The Lady Killer. His cover of the Band of Horses breakup song has been overshadowed by his smash hit "Fuck You" this week, but I have a feeling "No One's Gonna Love You" is going to stay in my playlist a lot longer. Check out the music video, featuring a real storyline! Oh and it's definitely NSFW.