Metronomy’s third LP is easily one of my favorite albums of the year, something like the British version of MGMT’s Congratulations—a catchy, contemporary psych-pop album—except without the baggage of “Kids” and “Electric Feel.” The falsetto harmonizing, punchy bass and squeaky synths remain intact, but The English Riviera is, at its core, a remarkably consistent collection of crisply produced pop tunes, a testament to frontman Joseph Mount’s songwriting prowess. (Suffice it to say that the Hockney-esque album art is appropriate.)
That said, the female backing vocals are the key ingredient to my favorite tracks, “Everything Goes My Way” and “Corinne.”
Although the album was released in April, I didn’t get around to listening to it until around CMJ, when I RSVP’d to see them play a free show at the Fader Fort; now that I’ve had The English Riviera in heavy rotation for the past month or so, I deeply regret missing them this year. (I recall seeing them in concert—DIY light-up shirts and all—at the now-shuttered warehouse formerly known as Studio B, back in what constitutes “the day” for a Millenial transplant, probably circa 2007…)
Radiohead (my favorite band by some modern metrics) have just announced their eighth full-length album, The King of Limbs, slated for digital release on Saturday, February 19th and physical (and possibly metaphysical, lest the $39-worth of packaging is actually printed on newsprint) release on Monday, May 9th.
I can only assume this is a portrait of Thom & Stanley Donwood
The name of the new album relates to an oak tree in Wiltshire’s Savernake Forest, thought to be around 1,000 years old. The forest lies around three miles away from Tottenham House, a listed country house where Radiohead recorded part of ‘In Rainbows’.
The tree is a pollarded oak, referring to an ancient technique for harvesting timber for fencing and firewood. The phrase also appears in the 23rd chapter of the Qu’ran.
“I guess I am deeply embedded in the ‘myth-making’ process…” –Matthew Niederhauser
A long-delayed (if not long-awaited) follow-up to Part 1. I would also suggest (re)reading my first impressions of the Beijing indie rock scene, and I strongly advise you to listen to the following track while you read this post (and, hopefully, while you do other things in the future):
All photos by the amazing Matthew Niederhauser, who offers an insider’s perspective on the Chinese rock underground, specifically D-22/Maybe Mars:
Wired.com: As an indie rock fan in the United States, I don’t feel like a similar scene could exist here anymore without the bands being marginalized as posers and hipsters. But in your photos there seems to be an authenticity in the subjects that can’t be faked. Is this just my perception as a Westerner looking in, or do you think there’s something about really tough circumstances in China leading to more authentic rock and attitude?
Niederhauser: The socioeconomic circumstances of China cannot be divorced from the music scene.
[These musicians] are repelled by and don’t wish to participate in a largely vacuous and inherently unsustainable consumer culture taking hold of China. While they might not brazenly attack the government, their embrace of such a fringe lifestyle along with the music they produce is a powerful statement in and of itself. This choice comes with a social stigma that is hard to imagine outside of China.
During my second month in Beijing, I continued to explore the indie rock scene, to the extent that this lengthy postscript to my initial thoughts on ‘Beijing Rock City‘ is a felicitous introduction to this second look at the Fabled Chinese Hipster.
With no idea how to go about pirating music, I went out of my way to catch hyped bands such as ReTROS and Pet Conspiracy at their concerts. Meanwhile, I came to enjoy the likes of Carsick Cars and B6—probably my two favorite Chinese acts, at this point—by purchasing their albums (in retrospect, I should have gone pre-teen rock-virgin style and bought every CD I could get my hands on).
In fact, in many ways, it was like going back a decade in time, to those glorious teenage days when every five minutes on Napster yielded a new rock ‘n’ roll gem. In a particularly portentous coincidence, I happened to discover the likes of the Velvet Underground, early Red Hot Chili Peppers and Radiohead in Chinese bootleg form on the relatively lawless streets of Beijing in the early days of cheap CD-burners—as did many of my fellow countrymen (the rebellious teens of my generation, at least), including Zhang Shouwang of Carsick Cars:
The generation before us didn’t have as many chances to get to know the rock music of Western countries, but nowadays we listen to music from many other countries. I believe that when my bands write songs, we might be influenced some elements of Western culture. I think the next generation of bands will be much different than ours.
Carsick Cars is China’s answer to New York’s (/NJ) holy trinity of feedback-drenched songcraft: Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo; in keeping with the fuzz aesthetic, a couple of their songs from the first album are deadringers for Jesus & Mary Chain. Say what you want about influences and imitation, it’s pure rock ‘n’ roll: guitar tones that are simultaneously warm and bright, backed by thick slabs of bass and unfussy drums—and Carsick Cars a damn good band for it.
I’ve been hooked on their hit single (for lack of a better term) “中南海” since I first heard it last fall, after buying their albums directly from Maybe Mars’ headquarters near where I was staying. It’s a fairly simple song: the lyrics consist mostly of one phrase (“中南海”; literally “Middle South Sea” [Zhōng nánhǎi; sounds vaguely like "drunk not high"]) repeated over a catchy riff; the album version disintegrates into a pleasantly noisy breakdown—just to prove that they can—where the song would normally be truncated for radio, before cutting back for one last uplifting refrain.
Frankly, I was disappointed with the squirmy PG-13 implied violence / homoerotica (not to mention the gimmicky bowlcuts) of “Alejandro”—especially because I thoroughly enjoyed “Telephone”—though Gaga is clearly (and perhaps commendably) going for broke on the Madonna ‘gay-man-in-a-woman’s-body’ schtick.
Perhaps I was unimpressed with Gaga’s latest S&Meh-tinged (as they say on Brooklyn Vegan) effort because I’d recently seen the entirety of the Cremaster cycle for the first time, over the past two weeks at the IFC Center. (Despite the datedness of the special effects, the scope of Matthew Barney’s vision can only be described as epic, and I have yet to fully digest the visual language of the five-part arc, much less form an opinion about it.)
Of course, the comparison is patently unfair to both artists, and, to Gaga’s credit, “Bad Romance” is easily one on my favorite music videos of all time. Now, let’s see if Klaus Biesenbach can get them together for some kind of blockbuster collaboration…
Another: Nylon has an excerpt of their forthcoming interview with M.I.A. Highbrow: Mike Barthel validates her artistic merit (despite her bitter Twitter) very nicely. Lowbrow: there’s a video to go with those photos (but at least it’s only a fraction of the length of her last pointless video.)
Lynn Hirschberg profiled M.I.A. (née Maya Arulpragasam) for the New York Times Magazine this week. To be perfectly honest, it’s not all that interesting; you could easily get away with reading the first and last bits without missing much (in fact, to facilitate the skimming process, I’ve culled a few choice quotes, below). However, I appreciate that Hirschberg picks at the seams of Maya’s authenticity—the piece is rather unsympathetic to her (purportedly) superficial politics and unremarkable artistic gifts, spinning M.I.A. as a cloying cultural mash-up—without straying far from the empirical vignettes that constitute Maya’s sweet new life as a 34-year-old (!) mom in L.A.
In other words, Maya has mastered the art of knowingness with the sort of pop prescience commonly ascribed to the likes of Madonna or Lady Gaga. Although Hirschberg plays the Madonna card rather early, she withholds the inevitable Gaga comparison until the end of the article—a little late, in my opinion, though it’s probably in the best interest of reader and writer alike to ignore Gaga’s long shadow for as long as possible. However, to Hirschberg’s credit, I completely agree with her assessment of the video for “Born Free”: “exploitative and hollow,” “seemingly designed to be banned on YouTube,” and “at best, politically naïve.”
That said, I’m still a fan, and I’m looking forward to the new album. If the profile itself is a little labored, Ryan McGinley’s photos for the Times are a romp. Apologies in advance for the decontextualized and admittedly pointed quotes.
I’m tone deaf and not very musical, but I like dancing, if that counts.
Maya is postmodern: she can’t really make music or art that well, but she’s better than anyone at putting crazy ideas into motion. She knows how to manipulate, how to withhold, how to get what she wants.
If I was a terrorist, I wouldn’t be wearing American clothing.
Maya is a mixture of black American culture, Sri Lankan culture, art, fashion. We mix it up well here [in England] and sell it back.
–Richard Russell of XL Recordings.
Maya has ideas that can’t be physically done. She wants this sound or that sound — the tracks already exist in her head. In the end, she has a plan for everything.
Pop stars should be pretty.
–Romain Gavras (who directed the video for “Born Free”).
If you don’t know, now you know: Sleigh Bells are the latest product of blogosphere hype machinery, and at the risk of fanning the flames, I’ll echo everyone from my friend Sean (who has a nominal claim to their rise, since he booked their second gig back in October) to the New York Times in praise of the Brooklyn duo.
Despite Sean’s best attempt to get me to see them last fall, I didn’t end up at that show (I should have known better after his last tip on the Drums), but between CMJ and SXSW, Sleigh Bells blew up: they played to a sold-out crowd at Ridgewood Masonic Temple on Tuesday to mark the release their debut album Treats. I was lucky enough to have bought my ticket before M.I.A.’s unannounced guest appearance at smaller gig last Friday, which surely spurred ticket sales over the weekend.
The Sundelles’ surf/garage stylings was merely a diversion and I was curious about Cults, who are on the fast track to blowing up, but I was mostly looking forward to my first Sleigh Bells experience and they didn’t disappoint. There’s not much to the performance itself but it’s as good a time as one might have at a concert, and I completely agree with Matthew Perpetua’s excellent appraisal of Sleigh Bells at Tuesday’s show:
Like the music itself, the show is elemental and assertive, simple enough to be obvious, though novel enough to make you wonder why no one has ever really done it quite like this before.
To Perpetua’s list of adjectives, I would add: visceral, immediate and cathartic; apocalyptic yet ultimately triumphant. It’s pop, punk and hip-hop, compressed to the limit of listenability, which somehow makes it all the more appealing… or overhyped, depending on your point of view.
As for the music itself, Alexis’s vocals strike me as more riot-grrl than M.I.A., though affinity is clear: those drum-machine-gun beats could turn a ghettoblaster into a Future Weapon, while Derek’s SG delivers more hardcore riffage than most indie kids would dare (he previously shredded for Poison the Well).
Even so, the sonic assault scarcely belies the sheer catchiness of the tunes, and Treats is the first party album of the summer whether you like it or not. Sleigh Bells are the band of the moment, and frankly there’s nothing wrong with that.