What Michael Ward is listening to this week…
Songs for Halloween
As a couple of my contributions to our roundtable have already attested, I’m a big fan of Halloween and horror movies. So it was inevitable that I’d eventually devote a whole entry to this. And lately, as I’ve been gorging myself on horror movies, I’ve also found myself indulging in the best music that this genre has given us. That means plenty of Bernard Herrmann. Okay, so Vertigo isn’t really a full-on horror film. Its theme still communicates a feeling of unease and looming madness, so it situates itself nicely with the rest of the songs I’ll suggest. And of course, there’s Herrmann’s incredible string-only score for Psycho. The film’s main theme is a genius piece of work, and perhaps no sound has captured its concurrent onscreen horror as well as the incessant screech of those strings during the famous shower scene.
From the films of Dario Argento we’re blessed with the scores to Suspiria and Inferno. Both of these can sound a bit dated—but that takes away from the power of neither. Goblin, a prog rock band, provided the demented soundtrack for Suspiria, which has aged the better of the two, and remains a truly formidable work, while Keith Emerson went for a baroque synth and choral fantasia for Inferno that crosses over into pure camp, especially to contemporary ears—but camp of a truly delightful sort.
And, of course, you can’t forget the now-iconic theme from John Carpenter’s Halloween. Carpenter composed the soundtrack for the film himself—a real jack of all trades. And I’ll leave you with some non-soundtrack tunes, but songs that are definite homages to Carpenter and all things horror: Glass Candy’s Halloween and Chromatics’ Killing Spree. Both bands are part of the Italians Do It Better label/collective, and they owe a great deal of their aesthetic (both musical and visual) to the likes of horror maestros like Carpenter and Argento. These songs are glittering, dark-disco fever dreams.
What Matthew Kelley Rand is listening to this week…
See, I’m a firm believer in the thought that one should never, under any circumstances, listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving day. When you’re preparing the turkey, sure, dancing around the kitchen to Mariah Carey‘s “All I Want for Christmas is You” makes perfect sense. Any time earlier just reminds me of that lightly horrifying moment when you walk into a department store the week after Halloween and everything’s already decked in red velvet and fake snow. Color me surprised, then, as Kelly Clarkson releases her “Underneath the Tree” from a new holiday album, Wrapped in Red, and I physically cannot stop listening to it over and over again. It’s her very own Mariah moment, complete with the doo-wop hand claps, the sax solo, the undeniable festiveness of it all. Co-written by Greg Kurstin alongside Clarkson, the entire production is so perfectly charming, such an insta-classic of the genre, I can only hope it’ll rocket straight to the top of the Hot 100 ’round December.
What Haley Anne is listening to this week…
Jazzing It Up with Snarky Puppy
This week, I was really not feeling a whole lot of what’s been released – I’m looking at you, dated and offensive Eminem track – but managed to discover a fairly intriguing jazz-fusion band to fill the gap when visiting my old alma mater. Snarky Puppy is largely improvisational, and the album I spun constantly this week, groundUP, was recorded in front of a live audience, which makes its achievements even more impressive. The track “Minjor” combines a futuristic milieu with pristine instrumentation, filtering more traditional jazz through modern rock sensibilities, and is a particular standout; the last three minutes of “Binky”gives an incredible percussion-driven beat punctuated by snappy piano and horn blares. The entire album is worth a listen, though, for hearing talent at its finest.
Looking Back at Tonight Alive
Tonight Alive recently released a rather mediocre follow up to their breakout album, What Are You So Scared Of?, that left me feeling a bit numb. It’s a shame, because if any of the current crop of female-led emo bands deserves to break out, it’s them. Their debut had a raw sound, but a lot of lyrical depth and breadth, tackling a lot of uncommon themes very well. This is best exemplified in “Let It Land”, a track about the crippling fear of failing in life, juxtaposed with the realization that the singer just needs to “let it land”, let the cards fall as they may. Also worth looking up is the band’s duet with Mark Hoppus, “Thank You And Goodnight”, which is mind-blowing in its simplicity – the female narrator is not interested in the male one, so she flat-out tells him that. It’s amazing how something so mundane can be so refreshing in a world full of “Blurred Lines” and similar male-aggression songs.
What Aldo Álvareztostado is listening to this week…
Until a recent arrival of interesting alternative albums (Darkside, Fuck Buttons, Oneohtrix Point Never), the beginning of this autumn was full of female vocals. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about all-female Mexican act Haciendo el Mal, and now I want to talk about three sisters whose sound couldn’t be more Californian. Haim is the last name shared by Este, Danielle and Alana. Their first single and EP, Forever, came out last year to mild success. Their debut album, Days are Gone, was released the last day of September and has reached 6th place in the American charts. Seductive, optimistic vocals–and great style that cannot hurt–make me think of these women as the perfect sound to forget summer is over. It’s impossible not to remember Feist -which is a good sign- when listening to their album and most particularly to one of its best tracks: “Honey and I.”
What Shahab Yunus is listening to this week…
I was totally caught off-guard by Jake Bugg’s new direction. It seems that Alex Turner’s (from Arctic Monkeys) has entered his body. The broodingly passionate, melancholy, mature man is gone and we have a loud and cheeky punk. No harm done though, as the track ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’, from his upcoming album Shangri-la, is still short and sweet, focused and quite catchy. Most importantly, he is still singing about the same themes, he does so well, of getting out, of surviving, of being too well aware of painful realities of fate and hard-life.
Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan is a known name in French-Middle Eastern electronica/dub scene and has been working in that area for a while now. She has a multi-record resume, first, with the indie band Soapkills and then a project with ex-Madonna-producer Mirwais. But all of that was ranging from meandering and wannabe (re: most of the Soapkills stuff), to over-produced and conventional (see Mirwais.)
This year, her US release (and her solo debut) is collaboration with French producer Marc Collin and the album Ya Nass is a unique and atmospheric effort. Greatest achievement of this record is how the Middle Eastern themes, both musically as well as topic-wise maintain unique identity and don’t get lost or overwhelmed by the electronic/house production. It is, in fact, is the latter which is being augmented by the various Arabic accents and singing styles, that Hamdan brings to the table. Sparsely produced, the record stands on her simmering, slightly out-of-breath, sexy vocals alternating between tones and accents that take this electro-folk record to another original and hypnotic level and not just another New-Age/Chill out album.
There are renditions of regional classics like “Beirut” or the “Khayyam.” Here she falls short once again when the western genre (mainly because they are just not that good or original enough) tries to come on the forefront (‘Deny’ or “Enta Fen, Again.”) Highlight is the song “Hal” which was recently used in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. An otherworldly, sensuous, gorgeous track which seems like a constant pleasure, a high which you expect to just going to reach its peak any moment. You toss and turn, mesmerized and wanting more. There is a continuous and sustained tension and teasing that writhes through for the whole duration. The release comes, suddenly as a shock, towards the end, but in spite of being thankful of that much-needed release, we still miss the exhaustive pleasure that we just experienced.
Picks: “Hal,” “Aleb,” “Ya Nass,” “Beirut”
Where was Hazmat Modine all this time? Brainchild of Michigan-hailing Wade Schuman is a wondrous, rousing, hoot (just lookup the genesis of their name!) of a band. Their portfolio is limited with just 2 LPs, with latest output coming out in 2011, Cicada. But the real star achievement is Bahamut, their debut, which more than a decade old, coming out in 2002. Overwhelming, overflowing, whimsical fusion of Americana, bluegrass, roots, jazz, folk, blues and even world music. Loud and forceful but never jarring. Using instruments (tuba, trumpet, klezmer, harmonica and even Tuvan throat-singers), spanning genres from all over 6 decades of early 20th century American music, the result is rich, multi-textured, hard-to-resist music which, more importantly, is joyous and exudes a certain frankness and sincerity. A mind-boggling, genius of an album (just listen to “Lost Fox Train (For Joe)” or “Everybody Loves You“). I could just imagine what their live show would be like…
Picks: “Yesterday Morning”, “Everybody Loves You,” “Man Trouble,” “Grade-A Gray Day,” “Lost Fox Train (For Joe)”
What David Long is listening to this week…
Nicola Roberts’ Cinderella’s Eyes
This 2011 album has been pretty much what I’ve been spinning over the last few weeks. The former Girls Aloud member brings so much to the pop table here. Hip-hop inspired dance beats on “Beat of My Drum”, 80s nostalgia on “Everybody’s Got Learn Someday”, aggressive thumping electro pop on “Gladiator”. Everything you can possibly want in a good electro pop album is here. Her voice, while not the strongest, is used to its absolute fullest. As the least used girl in Girls Aloud she gives herself the opportunity belt out her voice that had been practically left in the background for all those years. It’s pretty much the quintessential solo album of the group.
I’ve been cranking the sophomore effort from this California Black Metal/ Post Rock act over the past few months now. I originally eyed it while browsing on Metacrtic and saw it had an unbelievable score of 92. I needed to see if it lived up to the hype. It sure did. The album from the very begging creates an atmosphere almost unparalleled with any other release this year. There’s almost this feeling of happiness that slowly turns into darkness and eventually into blackness. The sheer scale of this record (it’s over sixty minutes long but is only seven tracks) is insane. It feels like a million records combined into one beautiful, melancholic sound. It’ by far the best release of 2013 for me.
Ever since the first moment I heard “Poker Face” I knew Lady Gaga was destined to be the most interesting thing to walk on to the pop scene. It’s fascinating to watch her evolve and adapt into every era she creates for herself with every new release. With the release of “Applause” she’s begun her journey into what could be her most exciting era yet, ARTPOP. Although a lot of people seem to be down on the aforementioned “Applause”, I think it perfectly represents what she wants to say about herself in this era, that she’s an icon. “Pop culture was in art now/ art and pop culture in me”. That lyric just about sums it up. We’ve also gotten a nice glimpse into the album with the iTunes festival performance and clips every here and there including one of “Do What U Want” that will feature R. Kelly and be released on the 20th. It also leaked as I typed. It’s good. I’m really excited to see where this whole era goes.
What George Portades is listening to this week..
Jessica Sanchez, “Don’t Come Around”
One of the most overlooked songs of the summer, Sanchez’s slinky and sassy vocals paired with the incredible use of the sample is one combination that really should be heard. If her label ever decides on a follow-up single for the U.S., I really hope they consider this song. It’s the type of R&B song that really could change radio, and it would be a fitting step in establishing a huge career for this talented singer.
Jesse McCartney, “Back Together”
It’s been a few years since McCartney has released a single (“Shake”) and even more since he had a successful Pop run with his “Departure” album. Returning with this funky-laced jam that utilizes his melodic songwriting along with his upper register, this is what a lead single should be. I haven’t had this much fun listening to (and singing along with) one of his singles since, say, “Leavin'” or even “Beautiful Soul.” I’ve very excited about his upcoming EP (which has been delayed to 2014), and if it turns out to be on the level as this track, then I’m all for McCartney dominating the R&B/Pop hybrid genre that Justin Timberlake has been trying to do this year.
This track off her Grammy-nominated album Beautiful Surprise is a playful jam that always gives me the feel of a breezy summer afternoon. While it doesn’t contain a sample of any sort, I can’t help but feel its instrumental is a descendant of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” (cue mash-up!) which brings up many fond memories. Tamia is an excellent vocalist, and she handles this midtempo with enough warmth and sweetness to remind people how great being in love is.
Eve featuring Dawn Richard, “Keep Me From You”
It took me a while to finally listen to Eve’s latest album, Liplock, but it’s definitely become one of my favorites this year. This track is one that instantly caught my ear, especially in how it blends the beginning of a dance track with a thumping hip hop beat and continues to alternate between the two. From Richard’s chorus to Eve’s fast-paced delivery that rides the beat so well, this is a prime example of not overdoing it in using the influence that dance music has on Pop music right now.
What Jeffery Berg is listening to this week…
I’m digging this smooth, upbeat Classixx remix of “Always” by Panama.
Panama is fronted by Perth-bred singer / songwriter Jarrah McCleary. 80s atmospheric synth stomper “Destroyer” is also worth a listen.
So I recently re-watched Staying Alive (the critically-derided sequel to Saturday Night Fever) and forgot how dazzlingly tacky it is! Sweaty, young John Travolta in short shorts and a headband dancing ferociously to Frank Stallone’s (director Sly’s younger brother) amazing, bombastic theme song “Far From Over”? Yes please!
I want to recommend this Gigamesh mixtape which has a free download with an email unlock code that can be accessed here. A mesh of dope, disco-fried tracks by Kindness, Siriusmo, and Chela, it’s really good for a cardio workout or for cleaning your crib.