RSS
  • PJ Harvey: White Chalk

    7 Sep 2007, 22:16

    It's difficult to write a review for this album, as I'm still recovering from the initial shock of my first listen (I’m now on approximately my tenth or so). I suggest closing yourself up in a dark room with headphones for a first listen—this is how mine was yesterday morning, and I remember gasping for breath at a few points, and then desperately needing an afterglow-cigarette once the last wail of The Mountain had finished.

    The album is a horse of a very different color for Polly Harvey--where I think many of her albums (Rid Of Me, To Bring You My Love, Is This Desire?, in particular) involve detached performance, even though the music itself is very visceral, White Chalk is a very intimate, emotionally centered, contained album. I mentioned to one of my friends that this album, for me, is like what Sylvia Plath's "Ariel" poems would be if they had been channeled through music, rather than writing. There's the same quiet, seething rage beneath a (relatively) calm veneer--yearning to break free. I remember reading a review of Plath's writing that said it seemed as though there was always this nebulous darkness lingering in the corner of her eye--giving her writing that constantly anxious, haunted tone. That same peripheral darkness seems to haunt PJ Harvey throughout this album--there's blood, death and bones, unborn children, ether, rotting plants and growing seeds and twisted groves taunting her from around every corner.

    And what of the music? It's such a departure for her, in my mind. There are moments where you can hear a logical progression from UHH (I can't recall now, but there was a moment that sounded a bit like “Pocket Knife's” darker sister, and the harmonica hearkens back in another moment to “Shame”), but for the most part, this is new terrain for Polly. The songs are mostly minimalist in construction, even though I'm still discovering new sounds and touches in all of the tracks--her piano playing is fairly novice, but it makes perfect sense in this album, with a very demented and childish tone to many of the tracks (Grow Grow Grow, The Piano, To Talk To You, Dear Darkness). One of the things a lot of reviewers will touch on is the high register the majority of the album is sung in (think Nina in Ecstasy), but the nearly off-key voice never irritates (and I hate Nina in Ecstasy, just FYI) or distracts. In the same way the sometimes amateurish piano arrangements feed on the childlike, desperate mood, the high voice has its rightful place. And there are still a few wails and moans (Grow Grow Grow, The Mountain, end of Silence, Broken Harp and White Chalk are in a more normal register). But in the end it's the little touches in the arrangements that really give these songs life—as I wasn’t particularly impressed with the stripped-down, solo piano versions she’s been playing live. And now for some track-by-track review stuffs.

    The Devil: A very powerful opening track. The ghostly layered vocals set to some jaunty piano and driving drums catch the attention without detracting from the overall mood of the song and album. Old-school PJ is revived in the plea for some mysterious figure to “come! come!” It sets the tone—we know from the outset that there’s some fucked up themes and that this is a completely new and exciting direction for her music.

    Dear Darkness: This one hasn’t completely grabbed me yet, I suppose because it’s not a very immediate track. I’d venture to say it’s probably the most vulnerable on the album and certainly one of the most subdued—again, there’s the yearning and the pleas to another dark enigma (we see a lot of these in the album—The Devil, Darkness incarnate, a dead grandmother, and faceless daunting parents). A quiet track that hasn’t quite separated itself from the rest yet, but definitely a keeper nonetheless.

    Grow Grow Grow: More of the high voice here, but this track also features my favorite vocal performance--on the "grow" repetition, where her voice loses that vulnerability for a moment to cave into desperation and yearning. The chord progressions-particularly for the "grow" bit-are some of the strongest and most memorable on the album. Someone said that it’s like falling into a Tim Burton film—I don’t know if I agree, but it’s certainly got a very twisted cabaret/carnivale feel to it. This is my personal favorite on the entire album, though it seems as though there's not much love going around for it right now. Give it another shot.

    When Under Ether: Most of us are familiar by now with this one, and it is interesting to hear it in the context of the album. While I like the song, I think it still sticks out a bit as a sore thumb or weak link for me. It’s not a bad song, but I don’t think it’s as dynamic as any of the others. I might just be burned out on it right now. I will say that it’s one of the most interesting tracks from a lyrical perspective—what is the narrator under ether for? Many have argued that it’s an abortion (and that would be interesting and fitting, with the unborn children haunting several tracks), but I love that it’s left just open enough to not be able to pinpoint.

    White Chalk: An incredibly strong track—it’s got the elements of the countryside that she said inspired her to create this album, and also features some of the best lyrics on the album. The jam-out session towards the end with the harmonica and banjo is one of the most inspiring moments on the album. Blood is on her hands in this track—which would be pretty provocative following the possible abortion of WUE (and the “growing” of Grow Grow Grow—could it even be the aborted child?).

    Broken Harp: Now if we’re following the thematic progression, this is the asking for forgiveness. Begins a cappella, and I’m not entirely sold on this song yet. If nothing else, it’s an arrangement I never would have expected to hear from PJ Harvey. I think it’s a grower—her vocals on the track are again very different, but something about them definitely grabs your interest.

    Silence: The only song on the album I kind of actively dislike right now. I think the “silence” repetition at the end goes on too long, and it’s also one of the only tracks that takes me out of the dour, suicidal mood that the album maintains throughout.

    To Talk To You: This and Grow Grow Grow are my two favorites on the album—I feel that there’s a definite link between them, but it may be just my imagination. An image I keep getting when I think of the two tracks as a pair is that of the narrator planting the seed (Grow Grow Grow) in the earth where the dead grandmother is buried (TTTY)—trying to connect again to the lost family member. These two have the strongest Plathian images for me (think in “Daddy” when Plath envisions returning to her father through suicide—and the childlike mood of GGG and the yearning to be under the earth with her grandmother in TTTY)—so that may be why I connect them. The vocals are vaguely similar, and I’d say these are the two oddest tracks on the album…which might also make them the most hated of the album, but I have nothing but love for either of them. The piano riff is also one of the most memorable on the album—I love that the chords never really resolve themselves. You think for a moment during the “could you hear me?” bit that the music might resolve peacefully, but it only climbs ever more dangerously towards desperation. Probably one of the scariest tracks she’s ever put to record.

    The Piano: The driving opening to this song seems to conceal the much darker direction it turns in, especially as it runs toward the end. The bit about daddy rattling keys and mummy trying to leave is another really provocative moment—it gives this incredibly dark portrait of a crazed family scene. It’s simply a moment in time captured, but that’s probably one of the strongest progressions for Polly on the album—she’s found an unbelievable way to capture specific images that leave haunting, lasting impressions.

    Before Departure: This could almost be an unsalvageable and gratingly boring song, but somehow, once you hit the chorus, the buildup makes perfect sense. I was almost inclined to skip it during the opening, but it’s definitely worth a listen fully through—because once past the first verse, things get a lot more interesting. The male vocals on this one (and the first two tracks) add so much to the overall sound, and the chorus itself is another breathtaking moment on the album. Again—it seems that the music will resolve, but the chorus grounds (haha) the song again in that ethereal, mournful mood. While this one didn’t grab me on the first few listens, it’s definitely moving up the rankings as I listen more and more to the album.

    The Mountain: Thank GOD the wails from the live version made it into the final cut. I was really worried that they might get lost in production, but I actually think they’re better placed in the album arrangement—there’s a better buildup to the freakout in terms of the arrangement of the song up until that point. And because they’re a bit lower in the mix, it’s as if death herself is wailing in the distance—a banshee coming to claim whoever will listen to her shrieks. It’s such a fucking powerful ending note to the album, too—there’s nothing at all upbeat or hopeful in closing with the siren’s screams, and I think that’s probably the most fitting thing PJ could have done to bring this masterwork to its inevitable end.

    On the whole, I can’t praise this album enough. I’ve spent pretty much every waking moment since I heard it thirty-six or so hours ago wanting to listen to it again—it’s going to end up played to death in the coming months (especially as the weather becomes more and more bleak). This is such an autumnal/wintery album—it’s for those incredibly depressing, cold gray late-late night/very early morning hours. While it’s not the kind of album I ever expected to hear from her, it somehow fits so perfectly into her body of work. This is almost assuredly the best album I’ve found this year, and a worthy effort on her part. Check it out as soon as possible, and buy the album once it comes out! Prepare to find yourself face-to-face with the same demons that lurk in every crevice of this absolutely awe-inspiring record.

    Download: Grow Grow Grow, To Talk To You, The Piano, The Devil


    PJ Harvey
    White Chalk
    Grow Grow Grow
    To Talk To You
    The Piano
    The Devil
  • Thoughts on Blonde Redhead's "23"

    23 Feb 2007, 22:54

    I first got into BR a couple years ago around the time "Misery is a Butterfly" came out--it was lush, it was brooding and darkly romantic. I enjoyed a good half of "Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons," but I didn't really connect with it as much as I did with "Misery." Anyhow, I wasn't expecting the new one to live up to my expectations; fortunately, I was very very wrong. I've spent the past three days straight with this album (I must have listened to it a good 15 times through now) and I'm absolutely in love with it. First couple of times through, I was under the impression that the first five songs were far superior to the last five, but I'm working past that. A lot of people have said this doesn't hold a candle to the melancholy, artsy quality of Misery, but I think what really happened is that they achieved their goal in creating these songs--Kazu said in an interview that they wanted to be able to craft tracks that had more immediacy, and started out with urgency--be more straightforward, essentially. And while I love the intense buildups and comedowns of songs like "Magic Mountain" and "Melody" and the title track, I definitely see this album as one that not so much progresses past Misery, but that takes a sidestep and expands on that sound and feel.

    Some track reviews:

    "23" is an urgent first track, and a great single. The driving drums, the typically ethereal vocals Kazu's clearly worked on (she sounds better than ever), and god! the layers! One thing I think she achieved on a lot of these tracks was providing a lot of depth and texture with backing vocals--it's like a chorus of sirens throughout the album constantly driving everything on.

    "Dr. Strangluv" only sucks because I can't find a clean mp3 of it. It's riddled with skips, and fucks up and won't play all the way through on my iPod. Which is unfortunate, because I'd venture to say it's my favorite track on the album. I love the repeating "and they are calling me" throughout the song. Something just fucking haunting about it. If anyone does have a cleaned up version, I'd really appreciate it. ;)

    "The Dress" is the darkest sounding track on the album, and I love the little plucking sound that happens about 45 seconds into the track--I have no idea what instrument/sound it is. The fact that you can hear her breathing in and out all throughout is just one more instance where the layers create this undeniably lush soundscape (I know I'm overusing the word lush, but it works so well for them). "I love you less and less, now that I know you" is something I love about Kazu's lyric writing--she and the boys have a way with crafting incredibly simple lyrics that carry such power with the backing of their music.

    "SW" is our first taste of Amadeo's pseudo-whiny, but fantastic voice. Any other band, and I'd hate the vocals, but he fucking works it. This is a great track, but it doesn't stand out among my favorites. I love the brass/horns (or whatever they are) used in this and the next track, though--it's so epic and classic. Love to hear that kind of experimentation with them.

    "Spring and By Summer Fall" is my favorite Amadeo track on the album (and this really is Kazu's album in that respect, as she's the sole vocalist on 7 of the 10 songs, and does brief backing vox for both this and "Publisher")...another really driving track--so much momentum here. And again, the brass-y/horn type interlude that occurs 40 seconds in is one of the best moments on the album. This actually has the feel of one of my favorite BR songs--"Messenger." It's catchy and powerful. Definitely a standout.

    "Silently" is not one of my favorites. Guess I just don't like my BR very happy/upbeat sounding. I do love the bit from a minute and a half in ("your clock is tick tack tick tack") to the almost 70's disco breakdown part. Great drumming here. A great example, though, of the more straightforward song structure they were going for. I think it'll be a favorite among a lot of fans.

    "Publisher" is one of the few that starts off a bit meandering but catches up and packs a punch by the end. I love the buildup--it's slow, it gets a bit heavier, suddenly it's got that heavy-hitting momentum. The lyrics are a lot more concrete than they tend to be ("the say it to my face" bit). And I always love when Kazu and Amadeo duet--she sounds almost like an instrument at some points here, and presents a fantastically stark contrast to his vocals on the track.

    "Heroine" is another one that's very quickly growing on me. It's got the same general feel that "Silently" does, but I think it's a lot more successful, and very different from their typical stuff. "He goes without me" is another lyric that's so childlike that it kills me, and the chorus of Kazus comes in here again with dramatic power.

    "Top Ranking" didn't impress me at all the first few listens, but it's now second only to Strangluv for me on this album. And it's my most-listened one thus far (at a ridiculous 27 listens in three days!)--I can't describe why this song is so fucking great, but I think what finally caught me about it was the ending--from the "not today" bit into the "they will melt down your house, my brothers"...then the instrumental outro is fucking amazing. Her keyboards here complement the guitar and drums so impeccably--I'm actually kind of desperate now to figure this song out on the piano. Also, the "ohh!" outbursts that happen a few times in the track are so wonderful, in that once again, she almost sounds like an instrument, or a water-drop. I love that she really experimented with her voice on this album--ways in which to use it, backing vocals, inventive little things like the water-drop effect I just mentioned. Since Strangluv is a fucked up mp3, if you're going to download one song (IMO), do this one.

    "My Impure Hair" is the closest point they come to doing an acoustic-y song on the album. The guitar is very forward in the mix, very organic. The drum outro is a good way to let everyone enjoy the afterglow of such a fantastic album. That said, this is definitely my least favorite track on the album. I just find it meandering and repetitive--frankly, boring. But I can understand why they wanted it to close the album.

    Anyhow, those are my general thoughts after having spent three days of my busy life with this album. This has definitely solidified their place in my music catalog for a good time to come. I plan on seeing them in the beginning of May, assuming my exam schedule isn't conflicting with the show. We'll see. This is definitely a highly recommended listen. Download "Top Ranking," "23," "Spring" and "Strangluv" (if you can stand the skipping). And then buy it when it drops in April. They deserve it. ;)

    Blonde Redhead
    23

    Since this is just a leak, I'm not able to tag it as well as I'd like to. You get the drift.
  • *ahem*...Joanna Newsom.

    2 Ene 2007, 4:09

    Well, as is readily apparent, Joanna Newsom has captured my heart. I'm not sure how or why, as I despised her only a week ago (like, literally, her voice made me want to die)...but it's happened. I read an oddly articulate and intriguing interview with her in which she discusses the ties between her new album--Ys--and the mythical land of the same name. Downloaded the album, took a day or so with it...then suddenly COULD NOT STOP LISTENING. I honestly can't figure out how the fuck I've listened to a seventeen-minute-long song 15 times in the past 3 days! That's an hour-and-a-half per day of listening to this song, and that doesn't even count all the live performances I've searched out on youtube.

    You don't have to listen to her or like her, but I did need to acknowledge the fact that somehow--in spite of my preconceived notions about her--she's moved me. Quite a bit, actually. Listening to the album has me writing again, something I've not done in well over a month. So that's exciting. If you do want to listen, I recommend "Cosmia" for its brevity and accessibility and "Only Skin" for the epic feel, the striking lyric genius, and the fact that it had a cynic like me all teary-eyed.

    That's all.

    Joanna Newsom
    Ys
    Cosmia
    Only Skin
  • Jesusfuckchrist.

    2 Nov 2006, 3:53

    How in the fuck did I listen to Fleetwood Mac's "Planets of the Universe" twenty times today? I am a sick, sick individual.

    Fleetwood Mac
    Planets of the Universe (outtake)
  • from the choirgirl hotel

    30 Oct 2006, 6:26

    It's choirgirl time again. It's getting cold, I'm dreary and knitting scarves, and dealing with relationship/insecurity issues, among other things. choirgirl is yet again going to play comfort blanket to my Wintery persona. Wee.

    From the Choirgirl Hotel
  • The Dresden Dolls, DC 06.

    28 Oct 2006, 18:23

    This setlist isn't all that accurate--I think I'm missing a few and it's definitely out of order--but I tried...:)

    Sex Changes
    Gravity
    Missed Me
    Two-Headed Boy
    Modern Moonlight
    Backstabber
    Coin Operated Boy
    Mrs. O
    Mandy Goes to Med School
    Lonesome Organist
    Amsterdam
    Dirty Business (fucked up)
    Mein Herr
    Dirty Business
    My Alchoholic Friends
    Sing
    Jeep Song
    First Orgasm
    Delilah
    Mad World (with the Red Paintings lead singer on guitar/vocals, Amanda did backup)
    Half-Jack/Girl Anachronism

    Seriously. One of THE BEST SHOWS I have EVAR been to. Their live dynamic is breathtaking, and the energy was just flying through the club. Even a few assholes couldn't ruin the night. Some notes:

    -Just after the first verse in Dirty Business, Amanda's piano just cut out. She started joking about it, talking about how it had never happened during a show before. She got the tech guy on it and she and Brian went to the front of the stage where he accompanied her on guitar. I think it was Mein Herr, but I don't really recall--I didn't know several of the songs at the time, so...they were fucking hilarious at this point though. Brian started strumming and she was yelling "We can still stop. We can still stick to the setlist!" but the crowd cheered the guitar song on. They finished Dirty Business after that song.

    -Delilah was dedicated to her father, who was apparently in the audience that evening.

    -The dancers and A/B picked out 6 or 7 kids from the audience to sing the backup vocals during Jeep Song

    -All the tech people/dancers/Red Paintings people came out and did the backing vocals during Sing

    -Amanda talked for a bit about how they had been working on the sheet music book for a good three years and how proud they were of it. I really wanted it, but couldn't afford both a hoodie and the book--especially since I honestly couldn't justify spending $35 on the book (it came with a DVD I didn't even want)...but hopefully I can order it cheaper on their site or ebay or something.

    -Mad World was sooooooooooo good. The lighting, the fact that they brought out the lead singer of The RPs, the quiet part juxtaposed against when Brian kicked in and they all went batshit. Sooooo good. I loved it. Definitely a highlight.

    -Amanda jumped into the audience at the end of one of the guitar songs

    -During Half-Jack, Amanda started playing, and just before she went to sing we kind of saw her look over at Brian (who was seriously going crazy on the drums), and she nudged the mic away with her shoulder, and they did a good 2-3 minute instrumental improv before going into the song. Maybe they do that all the time--I don't know--but it was intense as all fuck. And then at the end of HJ, without even stopping, they went right into Girl Ana.

    -Also. The backup dancers were adorable, and the Red Paintings didn't suck. The other opener (the homemade instrument guy, don't remember his name) was pretty damn cool, though I have to admit when he came out a second time and started spewing drool through his flute, I nearly couldn't keep myself from laughing.

    Finally. Amazing, amazing show. It went on till 1 or 1:30, and Stef and I got caught in torrential fucking downpours on the way home. The 3.5 hour drive ended up taking almost 6 hours. Thank god for 4AM 711 coffee and doughnuts!

    The Dresden Dolls
    The Red Paintings
  • Regina Spektor at the 9:30 Club (Oct. 06)

    6 Oct 2006, 15:57

    Saw Regina Spektor at the 9:30 Club earlier this week, and she was stunning. Her voice is even more breathtaking in person, she was extremely humble and cute (even if she wasn't all that talkative). Her band actually *enhanced* the experience, and I tend to be a solo kinda person when it comes to my female pianists, so that's a big compliment. Here's a rough setlist:

    Pound of Flesh
    Music Box
    The Flowers
    Poor Little Rich Boy
    --ON GUITAR--
    Bobbin' for Apples
    That Time
    --BAND ENTERS--
    On the Radio
    Ain't No Cover (I don't remember it, but apparently she played it)
    Sailor Song
    Apres Moi
    Better
    Edit
    Fidelity
    Your Honor
    --ENCORE--
    UHMerica
    Ghost of a Corporate Future
    Carbon Monoxide
    Us
    Samson

    It was fierce. She played my favorite song--Apres Moi--and a few others I really, really love (Us, Samson, Better, The Flowers). And I had never heard Pound before; it's quickly become one of my favorites. I love her impression of Ezra Pound in the song, esp. as I just got done studying him in American Lit. The only songs I would have liked to hear were Chemo Limo, Lady, and Oedipus. But I don't guess she plays anything from before Soviet Kitsch now. It was a really great show, though.

    I'm going to see the Dresden Dolls there in a couple of weeks--a full report will be here when I do.

    Sidenote: I am on an insane Garbage kick. Shirley Manson's voice is badass, and Nobody Loves You is one of my new favorite songs EVAR.

    xo.
  • Current Obsessions...

    6 Sep 2006, 13:25

    Polly Harvey and John Parish--Dance Hall at Louse Point. There were always a few songs I thought brilliant (Rope Bridge, Veil, Taut) and the rest left me relatively cold. Now I've finally come to the light; Parish's instrumentation is eerie and layered and infinitely interesting, and Polly's vocals are completely different than basically anything she tends to do (Taut, in particular, is violently creepy, but the high vocals throughout the album are so intense). The lyrics she pulled together for the album veer in two directions: simple, sweet, to the point and emotive, or very narrative and poetic. And I adore them. I'm really really getting into Heela (the duet in the middle of the song is such an odd combo, but stellar) and Lost Fun Zone. YUM.

    Bjork's Generous Palmstroke is basically one of my favorite Bjork songs evar, all of the sudden. I only just heard it earlier this week, and I think I've listened to it well over 20 times since. The sparse instrumentation, the howling "embrace" and the ambiguous lyrics...all amazing.

    And I've been studying to Madonna's latest a lot. I know that makes me every gay man in the fucking world, but I can't deny the lasting power of some of those tracks.



    Any obsessives out there? I know all of my journals here are about my compulsive listening habits, but whatevz.
  • BingeFest!

    24 Ago 2006, 5:35

    Anyone else binge on certain artists/songs apparently without reason? Yesterday, I couldn't stop listening to Cat Power. Like, all fucking day, I had something of hers on iTunes, or was downloading something new of hers. Meanwhile, today I listened to three songs: Beth Gibbons' "Show," Goldfrapp's "Horse Tears," and Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang." It's pretty sad, but I can't stop myself. LOVE IT. Share your stories, if you feel like it.