Thursday, June 30, 2005

Listen take 2

Ah, Summer. No, not the cocktail waitress I flimsily made a pass at in Vegas, the actual season. While I eat, sleep and breathe music 365 days a year(and 366 on leap years), for some reason there is something different about music in the summertime. It's a time to pick exuberant tunes while riding in the car after work and on the weekends with all of the windows down and nodding and singing along quite badly. A time for rocking songs with extra huge hooks, and a contagious energy that make you happy it's warm and able to savor what few minutes you have to be relatively free.

This time out of the box, in increasing order of rowdiness, I thought I would choose some of the albums that just scream "It's Summer! Let's F**k!"

Wait...sorry, that was Dennis Hopper.

The albums I picked just make me grin like a lunatic and/or run around and shake my ass in the sunshine. Readers: Please note that your results may vary.

Astrud Gilberto: Astrud Gilberto's Finest Hour

As the season grows warmer, this young man's fancy turns to the summery sounds of Bossa Nova. For the uninitiated, Bossa Nova was a style of Latin music brought to fruition by Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim in the 1950's. This novel blending of improvisation borrowed from West Coast jazz with the breezy, relaxed rhythms of Brazilian music really caught fire in the States when the trio of respected Tenor Sax player Stan Getz teamed with Jobim and the relatively unknown up to that point, Joao Gilberto. While recording the smash hit, "The Girl From Ipanema", there was a desire to get a verse in English to make the song somewhat more accessible to American audiences. Neither Jobim nor Joao Gilberto felt they had a good enough grasp of English to do it, so they asked Gilberto's wife Astrud to give it a shot. The honey voiced ex-housewife's unassured, but sweetly crooned vocals were the missing link in that song which shot the Getz/Gilberto album to the number five in the Jazz and Easy Listening charts in the middle of 1964.

The rest was history.

This particular collection puts together a batch of some of the best material of her career. One of Astrud's greatest talents is the relative ease with which she can fit her voice to the material. She can be introspective and almost borderline melancholy on songs such as "Corcovado" and "Who Needs Forever" whose flourishes of languid strings swell and crash underneath her shy, unassuming voice, as smooth horns weave deftly in and out of the waves. On other cuts, however, she can be sassy and playful, such as the almost go-go influenced swing of "Canto de Ossanha(Let Go)" and the bouncy, snappy "Crickets for Anamaria". My only complaint about the album is the lack of the song that brought her to the forefront, "The Girl From Ipanema". Part of me, however, likes to believe that this is because this collection wanted to bring some of her other equally brilliant work to light, rather than focusing on the one hit that everyone knows.

Her voice carries the warmth of Rio and the easy flow of a tropical breeze, and her golden tones have just enough come hither to be sexy without resorting to tired diva posturing or being overtly slutty.

If summer were a woman, I'm damn sure it would be Astrud Gilberto.

Key Tracks: Corcovado, Wish Me a Rainbow, Canto de Ossanha, Trains and Boats and Planes

The Kinks: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society

In the midst of the English Invasion, not all of those who descended upon American soil made as large an impression on our youth as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. The Kinks led by Ray Davies, was one of the bands who were seemingly swallowed up in the shadow of those aforementioned bands. Initially, The Kinks had a very hard-charging guitar fuzzed treatment of the American R & B groups they had idolized and studied growing up. The result was a collection of lean, powerful and easily likeable pop tunes which served them well as American teens clamored for more of that New British sound. Somewhere after their American tour in 1965, they were not allowed entry into the US for causes unknown. It was during this time that Ray Davies decided to focus more on writing new songs which were both more personal and Anglocentric than any of his previous work. This led to some of The Kinks best output, releasing a string of highly creative and brilliant albums beginning with Face to Face in 1966 and ending with 1970's Lola Vs. Powerman And The Money-Go-Round.

In particular, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is possibly the best of them. If one had to describe the overall tone of the album, that word would potentially be pastoral. It's difficult to really explain it, but there is a feeling of English countryside that permeates the album, even through the harder edged rock numbers. Davies' songwriting is self-assured, building beautiful harmonies and melodies with strings and brushes of harpsichord, rather than relying on the crunch and distortion of some of their late Sixties contemporaries. The songs here are allowed to stretch out and breathe, imbued with an adequate dose of humor and reverence for their homeland. From lovely ballads to dark, hazy guitar freakouts, the album is a good balance of calm, sweet portraits of persons and places and fuzzier, bombastic rock moments without losing the overall cohesive feel of the album as a whole. God save the Village Green, indeed.

Key Tracks: Do You Remember Walter, Picture Book, Big Sky, Wicked Annabella

The Minders: Cul-de-Sacs & Dead Ends

If the lead singer of Portland, Oregon's The Minders sounds kind of's because he actually is. Originally hailing from over the pond, Martyn Leaper transplanted himself in Colorado where he enlisted the first lineup of The Minders before packing up and reforming in Portland. His spunky, candy coated jaunts drew the attention of Robert Schneider of the band Apples in Stereo, and braintrust of a loosely affiliated group of like minded neo-psychedelic artists known as the Elephant 6. This collective is home to such bands as Jeff Mangum's Neutral Milk Hotel, Phil Elvrum's Microphones, and Kevin Barnes' Of Montreal to name a few.

The Minders spin sweet strands of perfect pop. Like a slightly trippier, self effacing version of The Hollies or Herman's Hermits, they are energetic without being rowdy, pleasant without being cloying, and their songs are just quick enough to make you sad they aren't longer. Leaper and company's lo-fi antics play perfectly into the sunny throwback sounds that they have crafted. Replete with bizarre "Space Age" sound effects, effervescent guitars, and background "oohs" and "la la la"'s, Cul De Sacs & Dead Ends will hula hoop around your heart and make your spirit soar.

Key Tracks: Chatty Patty, Paper Plane, Now I Can Smile, Hand Me Downs

The Shins: Chutes Too Narrow

The Shins are perhaps best known from their two contributions to the Garden State soundtrack(New Slang, Caring Is Creepy) which lifted them to a slightly higher plateau of semi-obscurity. The band straddles two decades, looking back to the blissful sounds of late Sixties rock, but in contrast to the Minders, seem to pay homage to the bright, snappy material without attempting to emulate it. Mercer's voice is passionate against the backdrop of the loose freewheeling rhythm section, and is a great compliment to the bright guitars that bounce and gallop through the uptempo numbers(So Says I, Kissing The Lipless), and sound just mournful enough on the ballads(Pink Bullets). The use of clever lyrics and subtle touches of quiet, cascading keyboards and other quirky sounds coupled with lofty harmonies allow The Shins pull off a very difficult highwire act. By taking the best of their influences(The Beach Boys-circa Pet Sounds, and psychdelic folk bands like the Byrds) and infusing it with a certain moderninity that serves to remind us that they while they are indeed a band of their own making

Key Tracks: Kissing The Lipless, So Says I, Pink Bullets, Fighting In A Sack, Turn A Square

The Fiery Furnaces: Gallowsbird's Bark

In the year 2003, The White Stripes were the hottest brother and sister musical duo in memory. But as we all now know, they weren't brother and sister at all, but a pair of divorcees.

Enter the real, honest-to-God brother and sister team Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. Calling themselves The Fiery Furnaces, the siblings released this collection of warped, raucous tunes in the fall 2003. To describe the sounds of The Fiery Furnaces to someone who has not already heard them is difficult at best. They probably have a fair amount of influences, but none of them are immediately perceptible, and finding any sort of contemporary musical reference is even more futile.

The songs themselves are witty, crazy slices of boozy blues admiring themselves in a hall of funhouse mirrors. Similar to Jack White's unique screaming guitar sounds, Matthew is able to charm some of the wildest talk from his instrument I think I've ever heard. It's as though his parents left him in a guitar shop, and he was raised by a wild pack of wah-wah pedals. Eleanor's voice, which sounds almost strangely Victorian in some almost imperceptible way, matter of factly sprinkles her charmingly bizarre lyrical material as she rides over the top of the whole affair on antiquarian piano chords and dirty squelching and squiggling synth lines. For the most part Gallowsbird's Bark is filled with spirited merrymaking, but when the time comes to slow down and and be earnest, they never falter. The whole package is wrapped up with a giant wink and a grin to the audience as though they don't know exactly what the hell they've done either, but they know it's damned good; music for grandparents writ hip in a Bizarro universe. I don't know that it could honestly be pigeonholed into a genre, even if pressed.

Er, Vaudeville Garage Rock, anyone?

Key Tracks: I'm Gonna Run, Inca Rag/Name Game, Don't Dance Her Down, Bow Wow, Rub-Alcohol Blues


The Go! Team: Thunder, Lightning, Strike

I've saved the wildest album this week for last, and Christ on a Cracker, it's a bloody barnburner.

First the bad news: Right now this album is only on import, and won't be released domestically(read: at a normal price) until a certain amount of remixing is done in order to get around some sample difficulties in the US. The good news is: The rest is

This is another album that is difficult to explain to people because of the sheer amount of different genres that comprise it. In this case however, rather than them being so subtle you can't quite place them, the members of The Go! Team practically put them on a t-shirt and wear it while standing outside on your lawn doing jumping jacks. Thunder, Lightning, Strike is a bombastic box of sugary cereal, though rather than little marshmallow bits and frosted nuggets, we get Vince Guaraldi-esque piano lines(the guy who did Charlie Brown), brisk drumming, double dutch chant vocals, turntable scratches and harmonica riffs seemingly lifted from your favorite ABC Afterschool Specials from the 70's. Dig further and find uplifting Rocky horn stabs and sugar sweet breakbeats.

This is an infectious Insta-Smile. Tunes enriched with enough kitsch and groove to make even the thorniest wallflowers bloom into rump shaking wildmen(or women). Simply put, it's magic.
Or better yet, it's like watching Saturday morning cartoons while eating a bowl of Fruity Pebbles where someone has secretly switched the milk with E and wonders whether you'll notice.

And for my part, I would trade this album for that shitty decoder ring at the bottom of the box any day of the week.

Key Tracks: Ladyflash, Feelgood By Numbers, The Power Is On, Junior Kickstart

I hope these albums inspire people to get loose and really take advantage of the short, sweet time we only get once a year. Just remember, there's always mopey, depressing rock come September...


Kern said...

Jed: Sorry about Bollocksing everything up this morning. I was actually going to go as far as transcribing and retyping the thing.

Damfino said...

I would recommend dropping the links... but I am almost 100% sure that the problem was the fonts. Copy paste in this thing is tricky... hate to write something that big on the site live... but you may have to.

Let's see if anyone else can get back on.

Kern said...

Ok. I just thought it may have had something to do with the massive chunk of material. Though I checked it at home last night after publishing, and it was fine.

I am going to try to break it up into smaller pieces. Perhaps a week of a theme with albums per day, as opposed to one big one at the end.

Man, I feel like a dick!

krysta jo said...

Don't feel bad Alex - your review was awesome as always.

Kern said...

Ah. Thanks. I tend to feel naturally guilty for things if that makes any sense.