Charlotte Gainsbourg + Beck = an album I will buy

Charlotte

Beautiful French actress/musician Charlotte Gainsbourg is probably most familiar to American audiences by way of Michel Gondry’s film “The Science of Sleep,” in which she played the female lead. Muisc nerds, film buffs, and all of France, however, knows her as the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. So far, she’s only released two albums in her entire career and they’ve each contained the pop goodness that her father always brought to the table. Having previously worked with Jarvis Cocker and Nigel Godrich, Gainsbourg isn’t done collaborating with qualified musicians as it’s been confirmed that Beck wrote all of the new record’s music, some of the lyrics, and produced and mixed the tracks. Hm, Charlotte’s voice and Beck’s musicianship together? Sign me up.

Daughter of legendary French songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, Charlotte Gainsbourg worked with Air, Jarvis Cocker and The Divine Comedy in the making of her debut album 5:55, and she hasn’t scaled down the contributor notoriety for her forthcoming follow-up LP. On KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, Beck revealed that he’s currently working on Gainsbourg’s second album in Los Angeles and Paris.

“I was supposed to work on her last album, but I couldn’t get over there,” Beck said. “Now I’m working on her follow-up record.”

The album, entitled IRM (French for MRI), is set for a January release.

Bob Dylan wants you to make a U-turn

Dylan

I have a GPS system. I spent the better part of an afternoon setting it up and figuring out how to operate the thing. Unfortunately, I had lost the mantle that sticks to your windshield, which is the safe and suggested place for the system. As a result, I would hold it up to my ear like a seashell, trying to keep my eyes on road. Still, I’d want to listen to music, thereby drowning out the voice, so I would quickly try to glance at the screen to find out where I would have to turn. Whatever I was doing, I’m sure it was highly illegal, but I can proudly say that I have found the mantle. When I get around to it, I’ll install it.

Anyway, the woman on my system, named “Samantha,” is very robotic. She seems very frigid and often gives the next direction a little too late, as if she wants me to get lost. Thankfully, one of the sharpest and well-traveled individuals alive today, Bob Dylan, is in talks with lending his voice to a GPS system.

You know I don’t usually like to tell people what I’m doing, but I’m talking to a couple of car companies about the possibility of being the voice of their GPS system,” he disclosed.

Motorists who follow Dylan’s directions, however, may take some time to reach their destination. “I think it would be good if you are looking for directions and you heard my voice saying something like, ‘Left at the next street…. No, right… You know what? Just go straight.” He added: “I probably shouldn’t do it because whichever way I go, I always end up at one place – Lonely Avenue.”

Dylan, 66, would not be the first celebrity to lend his voice to a GPS system. TomTom, the sat-nav manufacturer, currently offers the voices of Homer Simpson and John Cleese, while Kim Cattrall, the Sex and the City actress, and The A Team actor Mr T are also popular among British motorists.

How cool would it be if, when you were on specific highway or arriving at a certain city, Dylan would launch into an old story relevant to the location? I doubt I’m the only one who would appreciate this feature. Oh well, maybe in later model.

Kate Earl: Kate Earl

Earl’s 2005 debut, Fate Is the Hunter, came and went with barely a whisper, which might be why her sophomore effort takes no chances: With Earl’s name (and thoroughly enjoyable face) plastered across its garishly bright artwork, Kate Earl would leap off store shelves if there still were any. Musically speaking, these 11 songs cover plenty of bases too, from the moody, vaguely Dido-ish “Nobody” to the charmingly retro “Only in Dreams,” which sounds like Olivia Newton-John recording a Phil Spector tribute with Imogen Heap behind the boards. (In other words, awesome.) After drawing the listener in with a stack of unapologetically (and, it must be said, pleasantly) commercial pop tunes, Earl wisely spends the back half of the album getting deep. Tracks like “Golden Street” lack the bright melodic sparkle of Earl’s earlier cuts, but they also prove she has something more to say than “a love like this is everlasting” (from “Everlasting,” natch). An Alaska native, Earl may have picked the wrong year for her breakout – the poor girl will have to answer as many questions about Sarah Palin as she will about her own music – but she’s still primed for her major-label breakout. Whatever that means in 2009, anyway. For pop fans who can’t stomach Colbie Caillat levels of saccharine sweetness, Kate Earl is one of this year’s better bets. (Universal Republic 2009)

Kate Earl MySpace page

Our Lady Peace: Burn Burn

Canadian rock band Our Lady Peace has been around for a while – seven studio albums now, to be exact, and their latest, Burn Burn, hit streets last month. And while the members of OLP claim to feel great about having more creative control at this point in their career, they have not used that control to do anything earth-shattering here. In fact, the band has regressed a bit, and has begun to gravitate toward the adult contemporary end of the radio dial. Bands like Creed, Nickelback, and the Goo Goo Dolls have lived in radio suburbia for years, and now OLP has entered the neighborhood, as this batch of songs on Burn Burn are at times catchy, but mostly dull and lifeless. Many bands like this that used to be cool and alternative have softened greatly, having succumbed to years of record execs telling them to write “hits.” The first single off of Burn Burn, “All You Did Was Save My Life,” is a prime example, a formulaic track that you will tire of before the song has even played through. “Dreamland” and “The End Is Where We Began” also lean toward sugary pop, though it’s worth pointing out that singer Raine Maida can still bring it. One of the bright spots here is “Never Get Over You,” which may remind you of the Spiritual Machines days, but mostly, as on “Signs of Life,” there just aren’t many on this album. (LABEL: Warner Music Group)

Our Lady Peace MySpace Page

Stardeath and White Dwarfs: The Birth

Can nepotism be a genre? Seriously, these guys are the Flaming Lips Jr. Supposedly frontman Dennis Coyne is Wayne Cone’s nephew, but maybe that’s a cover story (kind of like how Jack Nicholson was led to believe his mother was his sister) and there’s some deep-seated family secrets hiding the truth and he’s actually Wayne’s secret son. Whatever the case, these guys don’t only sound like the Flaming Lips, they even seemed to have employed the same design team, as the cover art and liner notes ofThe Birth look like rejects from the the Yoshimi cover design sessions. Dennis worked as a roadie for his uncle’s band for a few years, so maybe the Flaming Lips are the only band he’s ever heard. It would make sense. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar; Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies, occasional psychedelic freak-outs, oblique lyrics about space, lasers and even a Superman reference. Really? Musically there is nothing wrong with this record, there is even one stand-out track, the bass-heavy “Those Who Are from the Sun Return to the Sun” but…it sounds just like the Flaming Lips! What’s the point? If I wanted to hear the Flaming Lips, I’d listen to The Flaming Lips, not their junior varsity squad. (Warner Bros 2009)

Stardeath and White Dwarfs MySpace Page

Seventh Void: Heaven Is Gone

Kenny Hickey and Johnny Kelly have two fairly high-profile gigs: they are half of the Goth Metal band Type O Negative and the touring guitarist and drummer for Danzig. Hickey not only plays guitar in Seventh Void but also provides lead vocals on the record. Those expecting a Type O Negative record, go look somewhere else, this is a doom metal record which has much more in common with Down and Black Sabbath than the bizarrely delightful and original sound of Type O’s progressive goth spliced with bits of the Beatles under the influence of Satan. Seventh Void does a very good job of creating a great vibe; they nail the musical soundscape for the genre, but the vocals and the songwriting are sub par. “The End of All Time” stands out with its Sabbath riffing and a bit of a tone change in Kelly’s vocals. Far too often he sounds the same verse after verse, with a higher but raspy vocal delivery that lacks the character and richness that would have improved the material. After the album is over, you may think that the guitar playing was good and the overall sound of the record captured the genre, but you can’t really remember any one particular track. Pantera’s Vinnie Paul (who also owns the record company) and Sterling Winfield do a decent job producing and mixing the record; they just needed better material. It’s not fair to ask, but I wonder if this would have sounded better and more interesting if Peter Steele was singing? (Big Vin Records 2009)

Seventh Void MySpace page

Tim Easton: Porcupine

After four albums of portraying himself as the sensitive singer/songwriter type, Tim Easton returns to his roots and offers up a kinetic collection of jittery, frayed and unhinged rock ‘n’ roll clearly designed to usurp any more melodic impressions. As its title implies, Porcupine is embossed with a jagged edge and a prickly sensibility, given there’s only two actual ballads to speak of – “Stone’s Throw Away” and “Long Cold Night in Bed” – and they’re a moribund selection at that. “Seventh Wheel” offers the most orthodox attempt at conveying purely catchy choruses, but the rest of the set comes across as a cache of edgy, agitated, insurgent leanings, with at least a pair of tracks – “Get What I Got” and “Baltimore” specifically – suggesting that Easton may have sourced his inspiration from two of rock’s better-known procurers of angst and outrage, John Lennon and Steve Earle, respectively. And speaking of influences, it’s hard to avoid the comparisons churned through “Northbound,” a deft reflection of Creedence Clearwater Revival in early swamp-infested mode. Still, Easton also manages to maintain his knack for pointed – and poignant – observation, via what ultimately gels as the album’s standout selection, “Broke My Heart.” “There are only two things left in this world / Love and the lack thereof,” he sings, oozing a combination of resolve and recognition.
Fortunately, for all its unsettled, topsy-turvy miasma, Easton finds some stability residing at the heart of this foreboding beast.

Tim Easton MySpace page

Pint Shot Riot: Round One

Hailing from the West Midlands and cribbing from the best of britpop, post-punk and pub rock, these
guys are so British they probably shit the Queen. On their debut EP, the aptly titled Round One, the foursome delivers with a trio of tracks that are rawer than Arctic Monkeys and made of pure, Union Jack energy. First there is“Punches, Kicks, Trenches and Swords,” which is the anthem to a violent night out if there ever was one. It’s followed by the equally energetic “Holes” and “Start Digging,” all of which are rowdy stompers tailor made for filled pubs and small clubs full of sweaty maniacs. Those three songs are great, but unfortunately Round One is a six-track EP. The other half consists of slow to mid-tempo acoustic tracks, which are labeled as “acoustic versions,” implying that the plugged versions exist somewhere. These quieter songs are interesting and still upbeat and full of energy, but they’re not the same as the explosive, hard-rocking numbers that accompany them. They sound neutered, as if they removed the energy from them for the sake of artistic diversity. If electric versions of these tracks exist hopefully they’ll get put on Pint Shot Riot’s first proper LP, because diversity is nice, but fast-paced fist-pounding rock is preferable any day of the week. (Life In The Big City Records 2009)

Pint Shot Riot’s MySpace Page

R.I.P. Ellie Greenwich

Ellie

Beloved singer, songwriter, and producer Ellie Greenwich has died at the age of 68. With her husband and musical partner Jeff Barry, Greenwich composed hits for the Ronettes, the Shangri-Las, Tommy James & the Shondells, and Manfred Mann.

In 1962, she was discovered by songwriter-producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in the historic Brill Building when they heard her playing piano in a waiting room. Greenwich began writing hits with others and was often used as a session singer. Later on, when she met Barry, her career took off as the team composed such classics as the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” and Manfred Mann’s “Doo Wah Diddy Diddy.” Unfortunately, their marriage ended, but they continued to work together through 1966 after they discovered Neil Diamond and helped launch his career.

In 1986, the popular Broadway show Leader of the Pack , which focused on her life and music, opened at Bottom Line. Greenwich even appeared as herself in Act Two. The musical continues to experience revivals.

She seemed like a great woman. I’m familiar with so many of her songs yet never knew she wrote them. Samples of her work are available below for your listening pleasure.

Pete Towshend preparing new musical and Who album

The Who

It’s been a while since we’ve heard any significant news about legendary rock band the Who. In 2006, the group released Endless Wire, their first studio album in 23 years, to generally mediocre reviews. Since then, Townshend and Daltrey received Kennedy Center Honors at the 31st annual awards ceremony in December of last year. As Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan continue to release albums as they get on in years, Pete Townshend has decided to throw his hat in yet again.

“I am writing a new musical,” Townshend blogged. “Floss is an ambitious new project for me, in the style of Tommy and Quadrophenia. In this case the songs are interspersed with surround-sound ‘soundscapes’ featuring complex sound effects and musical montages.”

Townshend said the album is designed as an outdoor “son et lumière piece”, to be debuted in 2011. He is in talks with producers in New York but hopes to release some of the musical’s more “conventional” songs on a new Who album next year.

I’ve seen the Who twice in my lifetime. Both concerts took place at the Hollywood Bowl and were around 2003 and 2007 — I can’t remember exactly. Regardless, they were solid both times and really seemed to be enjoying themselves. The first time I saw them, John Entwhistle was still alive and was still a master bassist. The second time, Entwhistle had just died, but the band decided to continue the tour in his honor. Nevertheless, Townshend and Daltrey were energetic and engaging in each performance. While I forgot about Endless Wire after a few listens, the Who remains one of the few bands from the 60s I wouldn’t mind putting out a new album. I’ll give whatever music Townshend records a chance.

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