Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Fiery Furnaces- I'm Going Away (2009)

I think Brooklyn duo The Fiery Furnaces was the first ‘indie’ band I saw live, back in 2007. The Fiery Furnaces is the moniker of brother and sister duo Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger. If you ask me, Matthew Friedberger is one of the most talented songwriters of our time; brother Friedberger writes all of the Furnaces’ music, records most of the instruments and writes the lyrics, which are in turn sung mostly by his sister. Whether it be the sprawling 10 minute, mind melting tracks found on 2004’s Blueberry Boat or the concise, complex pop of 2009’s I’m Going Away, Friedberger’s ambitious songwriting abilities are evident in all facets of their music. Blueberry Boat, while being one of the most critical acclaimed albums of the year, can be an admittedly difficult and tedious album to appreciate. But what the Fiery Furnaces managed to do on Blueberry Boat was strike the perfect balance between their zainy, schizophrenic songwriting and their pop song sensibilities. Think about what it would sound like if Girl Talk had been the fifth Beatle. Matthew Friedberger’s love for abrupt switches and off-tempo interludes makes their music paradoxically both cohesive and spastic. Their efforts since Blueberry Boat have found mixed success in finding that balance. 2006’s Bitter Tea is overbearing and tough to get through and while 2007’s Widow City lacks a distinct flow, it contains some of the band’s technically impressive material. The band’s live show is one of the most incredible I have ever witnessed, with Matthew leading onstage instrumentalists through seamless transitions from song to song and tempo to tempo, while jumping back and forth between two keyboards and singing.

What’s interesting is how polarizing the band’s signature musical dynamics have managed to be.
Their ADHD styled compositions have been lauded by some, but called “toe-curlingly unlistenable” by NME magazine. Not to mention their love for doing weird shit like writing concept albums with and about their grandmother (check out 2005’s Rehearsing My Choir if you want to hear Grandma Friedberger do spoken word, seriously) or hiding secret messages in backwards vocals will surely turn a lot of people off. That’s why I think that The Fiery Furnaces’ 2009 album I’m Going Away will both please fans of old and perhaps convince some people originally turned off to the group’s wild antics. I’m Going Away finally finds a band focused and content with writing concise, traditional alternative pop songs. The result is a strong, refreshing and catchy album that retains the complex subtleties that have gotten the band this far while embracing a more manageable approach to songwriting. Album opener “I’m Going Away” has the signature driving dynamics that we saw on Widow City: sliding bass, bouncy piano, intense percussion and Eleanor’s frantic lyrical onslaught. Much of the album’s songs find their strength in their use of catchy piano and guitar lines that mirror Eleanor’s subdued vocals, namely the gripping “The End Is Near,” the lighthearted “Even In The Rain” and the brooding “Keep Me In The Dark.” Equally as rewarding is how well the album’s longer tracks work when placed next to the rest of shorter tracks. “Lost At Sea,” the album’s standout, features one of Eleanor’s most riveting and emotional vocal performances paired with dramatic chord changes and a revolving guitar line. And despite its six and a half minute length, album closer “Take Me Round Again” is one of the most captivating, with Matthew and Eleanor repeating a rousing chorus backed by jangling piano keys.

Unlike Blueberry Boat, there’s no 10 minute title track to be found on I’m Going Away. Instead, we find shorter but equally as ambitious stabs at eclectic alternative pop. And while I’m sure some fans will find call it a ‘lazier’ or ‘dumbed down’ version of the band, I think I’m Going Away is the strongest thing the band has done in years. In a musical year full of surprising comebacks (It’s Blitz!), the Fiery Furnaces have earned a spot on the list of the year’s most interesting albums and have certainly reassured me that they are still capable of captivating and reinventing. And don’t worry, the band hasn’t lost any of their craziness, as is exhibited through their recent release of Take Me Round Again, for which they both recorded their own interpretations of songs from I’m Going Away. Right on.

Click the album artwork to sample I’m Going Away and I have also included a little bonus: The Fiery Furnaces’ awesome cover of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” from the Rubber Soul tribute album This Bird Has Flown.

mp3: The Fiery Furnaces- Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) from This Bird Has Flown: A 40th Anniversary Tribute To The Beatles' Rubber Soul

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Brightblack Morning Light- Motion To Rejoin (2008)

One album I thought went largely unnoticed in 2008 was Brightblack Morning Light’s Motion To Rejoin. Brightblack Morning Light is primarily the work of Nathan Shineywater and Rachael Hughes who specialize in jazzy psychedelic folk. After being discovered by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (with whom the band did a split record with in 2004), Shineywater and Hughes apparently abandoned civilization to live in tents in northern California. Not weird enough for you? Brightblack Morning Light also encourages their fans to bring crystals to their live shows. At its core, Motion To Rejoin (which was recorded using solar energy) is Shineywater on guitar and vocals and Hughes on keyboards, though the record boasts contributions from instrumentalists
who have played with TV On The Radio and Bob Dylan.

Motion To Rejoin
is about as psychedelic and engulfing as the four feathers and vast ocean featured on its album art. “Introduction” starts off the record with a few sparse bursts of organ before moving into the album’s first track, “Hologram Buffalo.” “Hologram Buffalo” is a mix of snaking guitar lines, thunderous blasts of horns and bass, twinkling organ and Shineywater’s signature wispy vocals, this time significantly fortified by robust female backing vocals. The album sounds more jazzy than it does folky, with its use of repetitive song structure and smooth horn section. The record always seems to have a different effect on me. On one hand, it’s a bombastic, slow moving glacier of an album, with each shrill blare of trumpet or cryptic lyric giving it a more apocalyptic, haunting aura. On the other hand, Motion To Rejoin is a beautifully eclectic album that, despite the fact that the tracks are indistinguishable from one another, captures the listener’s attention from start to finish. What’s even better though, is that there is a message behind all the weirdness. “Nobody wants oppression, we don’t need oppression,” moans Shineywater over “Oppressions Each,” the band’s most concise track and best starting point. Shineywater explains the motives behind Motion To Rejoin on the Matador website:

“Previous to this recording, while BBML toured Europe, singer Naybob Shineywater sang each show with an arrowhead in his mouth. Why? To let his own sung words & breathe touch this stone before european ears could hear them. "I was not singing for war, but to engage the spirit of the maker of the arrowhead itself, to offer up Peace, that his warrior effort find a new respect, and to help my own warrior spirit sing in Peace," reveals Naybob. After returning from the european tour a chance to move in to an adobe on a secluded enchanted mesa came to Naybob. With only 4 solar panels, it matched his desire to live in a meager way while making the 2nd BBML LP. "Motion To Rejoin" is anti nuclear & coal, but also aligned with the phases of the sun. "With only 4 solar panels you are entirley dependent upon how much the sun is shining," informs Naybob.

Marijuana is a native herb from North America & a progressive society should include it's legalization, this debate can only be renewed when lies about it have been answered with truths, by now we know that most responsible pot smokers are not criminal, to the contrary, they actually care about Peace & Unity in ways that help define true Freedom!"

Dude’s got the right idea. Check out Brightblack Morning Light on myspace or click the album artwork to sample Motion To Rejoin.

Recommended if you like:
Six Organs Of Admittance- Luminous Night, Pocahaunted- Island Diamonds, Beach House- Devotion

Monday, December 7, 2009

Wale + AZ's Chillin'

So D.C.'s self-proclaimed hip-hop king Wale performed at my school on Saturday and despite not expecting much, I was pleasantly surprised. Wale was backed by local go-go band UCB, which made for a much more engaging and interesting live show than I would have expected. In case you don't know what go-go music is, it's a style of funk that originated in D.C. in the 1970s. Admittedly I'm no expert, but I like what I've heard and Wikipedia tells me I should check out Chuck Brown. Anyway, Wale ran through classics both new and old, including his remix of Justice's "D.A.N.C.E.," "W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E.," as well as "Mirrors," "90210," and "Pretty Girls" from his new album Attention Deficit. Luckily, after a set filled with some always necessary "I'm the greatest" stage banter and a brief jam of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Wale ended with his claim to fame and one of the best singles of the year, "Chillin'." Overall, the performance was one of the better school sponsored events that I've seen and despite the fact that Wale continuously berated the crowd for not knowing the words as well as U.V.A., he managed to get everyone's hands in the air and entertain.

Speaking of "Chillin'," though I always knew Wale had a penchant for borrowing lines from his hip-hop influences, but I never realized the hook to "Chillin'" is in fact an homage to Brooklyn rapper and Nas collaborator AZ's track "AZ's Chillin'" from his album A.W.O.L. Hearing the track yesterday served as a kind of "why the fuck haven't you looked into AZ?" moment for me, so I'm definitely gonna have to check out more of his stuff.

I just got Wale's Attention Deficit and I'm really digging it so far, there might be a post about it on the way. Until then, enjoy some of the tunes I linked for you guys.

Wale- W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E. from 100 Miles & Running

Wale- Chillin' (The Knocks Remix)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Girl Talk- Bone Hard Zaggin' (2006)

Girl Talk- Bone Hard Zaggin'

Inspired by mashup DJ Gregg Gillis’, aka Girl Talk, performance at Atlantic City’s House Of Blues on Saturday night, I thought I would do a little write up on Gillis’ rarely heard Bone Hard Zaggin’.

Bone Hard Zaggin’ is a 7” single released in 2006 by 333 recordings, shortly after the release of Girl Talk’s breakout LP Night Ripper. Despite only featuring two tracks, both tracks have a distinct, fresh sound and are amongst Girl Talk’s best. Gillis’ mashup techniques are much more frenetic than those used on Feed The Animals. Side one’s “Pure Magic” has Gillis’ mashing up classics such as Genesis’ “In Too Deep,” Birdman’s “What Happened To That Boy,” Kanye’s “Jesus Walks” and Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl.” In a somewhat recent article, Gillis mentioned that for his next album he is going to experiment with recurring themes and even verse-chorus structure, like Feed Your Animals' use of “International Players Anthem (I Choose You) ” as an opening and closing theme, but on a much smaller, song by song scale. “Pure Magic” may be the most pertinent of example of what that might sound like. In addition to the use of repetition, Gillis’ mash-up work is much more overdriven and glitchy sounding, unlike the smooth layering of Feed The Animals. Both of the aforementioned techniques make “Pure Magic” one of Girl Talk’s most interesting tracks. Side B’s “LC and Lo” continues in the same manner, with Gillis’ dropping instantly recognizable tracks like Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Maps.” The track has the similar uncharacteristic, chopped up style of “Pure Magic” and also succeeds at being one of Gillis’ exciting tracks.

Despite it’s short length, Bone Hard Zaggin’ is a must for any fan of Girl Talk, especially those who enjoyed the more complex style of mashup of Night Ripper. If Gillis really does expand upon the concepts of song structure and repetition, Bone Hard Zaggin' must just be the best example of what we might be in for.

Click the album artwork to sample Bone Hard Zaggin’ and make sure you don’t miss Girl Talk next time he stops by your area, his live show is one of the best I’ve seen.