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Archive for the ‘Damon Albarn’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GORILLAZ-Plastic Beach (2010).

I have been a huge supporter of Gorillaz since the drew their way onto the music scene all those years ago.  It’s true that part of my love for the band was the art of Jamie Hewlitt, who I assume doesn’t really have any input anymore.  I also love Del the Funky Homosapien (who is also missing).  But I’m almost slavishly devoted to Damon Albarn, so I was pretty psyched when I heard they had a new album coming out and that it was getting rave reviews.

I was severely disappointed when I heard the record. 

“Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach” features Snoop Dog who is phoning it in from a vacationland far far away.  He was more exciting on his cameo for The Lonely Island.  Even musically, it’s not very interesting.  “White Flag” is more promising, with the cool flute and string intro, but the rap by Bashy (which I wanted to like because of his accent) is just bland.  And Gorillaz must agree as the rap is less than a third of the song. 

“Stylo” has a cool bass line but the track overall is surprisingly discoey.  The Mos Def bit is interesting but I guess I’m not a fan of Bobby Womack, as I don’t care for his part of the song at all.  “Sweepstakes” has some interesting parts but the intermittent yelling of “Sweepstakes” kind of ruins it for me.  “Plastic Beach” features Mick Jones and Paul Simonon but you’d never know it.  And I actually don’t enjoy the manipulated voice much here, it sounds uncomfortably like early 80s technology.  “Cloud of Unknowing” is barely there at all (sorry Bobby Womack, I’m, not convinced)

It’s probably unsurprising that my favorite song with guests is “Superfast Jellyfish.”  I love De La Soul (although their “dopey” sounding rap is a bit much).  But I like that they play up the cartoon feel of the song (and the band).  I also didn’t even realize that the main singer was Gruff Rhys until a few listens in.  And since I love him, it all plays out nicely.  I also like “Glitter Freeze” because fun with keyboards can be interesting. I didn’t realize it was Mark E. Smith until recently.  I’m not really sure if that makes any difference since he just says a few words, but things are always more interesting when he’s around.  Of course, this song could have been 2 minutes instead of 4.  “Some Kind of Nature” features Lou Reed.  Reed has been hit or miss lately and this is more miss than hit.  “Empire Ants” features Little Dragon (unknown to me).  It is very slow to get to the interesting part, but when it does, the song is pretty cool.  The other song with Little Dragon, “To Binge” is wonderful.  It reminds me of a track from A Clockwork Orange and it also features some great lyrics. 

The few songs that I like on the album are ones that are credited to just Gorillaz.  “Rhinestone Eyes” is a bit lazy for my tastes, although the second part of the song really showcases the first decent melody on the disc, and the introduction of Damon’s voice is like a salve.  “On Melancholy Hill” has the best wispy keyboard intro this side of early 80s Madonna–a wonderful counterpoint to the title and lyrics.  “Broken” is actually a little too mellow for me, but again, the melody is a nice one.  “Pirate Jet” is a simple, dopey song that ends the album in a kind of limbo state.

I’m confused by all the rave reviews, especially the one that says the album is chock full of singles.  I mean, “Dare” now that’s a single.  I guess I just miss Del (and Russel) way too much.  And frankly, even the artwork is pretty lame on this one.

[READ: January 10, 2012] “Center of the Universe”

Simon Rich never fails to make me laugh. Sometimes his ideas are completely original.  Other times he takes a fairly common observation and runs with it into a land of lunacy.  And sometime he takes an idea that seems like it’s been done before but he puts a fun twist on it and makes it entirely his own.  Such is the case with this.

The very simple premise is that while God is busy creating the earth, his girlfriend is not only complaining that he never spends time with her, but she also feels slighted that he doesn’t seem to care how hard her job is.

A wonderful part of this scenario is that God has not yet finished making the earth–He’s only on the sixth day–but His girlfriend, Kate, is hanging out in Chelsea reading a magazine impatiently waiting for Him to show up.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DEARS-Degeneration Street (2011).

I’ve loved The Dears for a long time now.  And yet with every new album I feel like I have to prepare myself for what’s to come.  And with every release I’m a little disappointed when I first play it.  Maybe for the next release I’ll realize what my problem is–The Dears do not stand up to cursory, casual listening.  They demand attention.  If you put them on as background music, you miss everything.  So when I finally gave Degeneration Street some attention, I realized how great it is.

The Dears write emotional songs that are fairly straightforward.  But the magic of their music comes in the layers of ideas and sounds that they put on each track.  And of course, there’s Murray Lightburn’s voice.  He sounds like Damon Albarn if Damon Albarn could sustain a note for a long time–could emote with his voice.  Now I happen to like Damon Albarn quite a lot, but Lightburn can really just out-sing him.  It’s wonderful.

“Omega Dog” opens with an electronic drumbeat, eerie keyboards and skittery guitars.  When the vocals come in–falsettoed and earnest, you don’t anticipate the full harmonies in the forthcoming chorus that lead to an almost R&B sound.  Not bad for the first 80 seconds of a song.  That the song is actually 5 minutes long and by minute 3, it sounds like an entirely different song is even more testament to the versatility of The Dears (check out the harpsichord solo that more or less ends the song).

“5 Chords” is a chugging anthem, a song with potential to be a hit (but which of course never will).  I find myself constantly singing the infectious chorus of “Blood”: “Since I was a baby I have always been this way; I could see you coming from a million miles away.”  Or the excellent chorus of “Thrones” “Plucking our eyes out, turning to stone, give up on heaven, give up the throne.”

“Lamentation” mixes things up with a slower pace and backing vocals that come straight out of Pink Floyd (any era really, but probably more of their later albums).  It adds an amazing amount of depth.  “Galactic Tides” has more Floydian stuff–the guitar solo (and the instrumental break) are really out of mid 70s Floyd–more backing vocals again).

Follow all of this intensity with the super poppy “Yesteryear”. It’s got an upbeat swing to it: happy bouncy chords and an inscrutable chorus: “What’s the word I’m looking for; It starts with ‘M’ and ends with ‘Y'”  It’s followed by the more sinister “Stick w/Me Kid,” in which Lightburn shows off his bass range.  There’s an awesome guitar riff in “Tiny Man,” simple and mournful that sticks with you long after it’s over.

The last couple of songs don’t really live up to the excitement of the first ten or so.  But the final song brings back the drama, with a swelling chorus and soaring vocals.  The Dears have managed to do it again, an emotional album that comes really close to being a concept album yet with none of the pretensions that that implies. 

[READ: July 13, 2011] Five Dials Number 16

Five Dials Number 16 is a brief Christmas Present from Five Dials.  The issue even seems longer than it is because the last ten pages are photos from the Five Dials launch party in Montreal.  The photo essay, titled In Montreal, includes local scenery and (unnamed) people photographed by ANNIKA WADDELL and SIMON PROSSER.

That leaves only 7 pages of text: The Editor’s Note, a look at London, a Christmas Poem and a short story from Anton Chekov.  And there’s another cool illustration from JULIE DOUCET

CRAIG TAYLOR-Letter from the Editor
Taylor thanks Montreal for their warm welcome (despite the crash course in what Wind Chill actually means).  He also hopes we enjoy the Christmas offerings contained within: the traditional Christmas poem and the Chekov story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOW-“Try to Sleep” (2011)

This was NPR’s song of the day for March 2.  I don’t really know Low all that well.  I know they play very slow music (which I’m typically not a fan of –slow music, not Low specifically).

I think I have been kind of frightened off of Low as being so soporific that it would make me sad.  But this song is a delight.  It’s not particularly slow and there’s a very cheery bell motif that pecks out the gorgeous melody.

The vocals are very nice harmony between the male voice (which reminds me a bit of lower register Damon Albarn–in fact the song gives of kind of an Albarn vibe) and the high-register female vocals.   It’s a really beautiful song.

In fact, this song has really changed my opinion of Low, and I may have to check out more by them.

[READ: March 2, 2011] “Backbone”

This is an excerpt from DFW’s forthcoming posthumous novel The Pale King.  Wallaceheads have already heard and/or read a variant on this piece which DFW read aloud at the Lannan Foundation.

I was reluctant to read this piece for a couple of reasons:  The Pale King is coming out in a little over a month.  I have read/listened to this particular piece not terribly long ago.  And, I didn’t love it all that much.

Well, it turns out that much like any draft or work in progress, with a bit of tweaking and editing, the passage can be made very strong and quite enjoyable.  This finalized version also intercuts a lot more information about other characters than was in the original version, making it a far more compelling piece of fiction in toto. (more…)

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end.jpgSOUNDTRACK: THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE QUEEN-The Good, The Bad & The Queen (2007).

goodbad.jpgOnce upon a time, Damon Albarn was just the singer from Blur. This was long before he became a multi-band, genre-hopping, composing man about town. Blur were a fun, poppy band who wrote fun poppy hits and sort of bubbled under in the U.S. until they hit it big with “Song 2” or the Whoo Hoo Song, if you will. I think that “Boys and Girls” or is it “Girls and Boys” from one of their earlier albums was a minor hit here. At least that’s how I first heard of them.

During the nonsensical Blur vs Oasis war that raged all across the world (or at least the UK Music Press), I liked both bands, but was clearly more in the Blur camp. And then one day Damon met up with Jamie Hewlitt who made the great comic Tank Girl, and they formed a great comic band Gorillaz. And boy was it big; even if you don’t count that they were cartoons, they were still huge! (more…)

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