Listen to Prince’s new song, “Cause and Effect”

It’s been awhile since we heard from Prince, hasn’t it? Good news is the royal one is still on his game, proven by his new song, “Cause and Effect,” now streaming over 89.3 The Current, a Twin Cities public radio station. The tune is upbeat, silly, and might even entice you to leave the house.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

Beth Thornley: Wash U Clean


RIYL: Aimee Mann, Anya Marina, Ben Folds

It takes real talent to create music that is hip, yet melodic; accessible, yet not forced; and catchy yet not catchy to the point that you don’t want to listen after five spins. Piano songstress Beth Thornley has done this on her third album, Wash U Clean, a bouncy collection of pop tunes that are as infectious as any piano-driven ditties you’ve ever heard. Thornley herself is apparently amazed at the variation between the artists she is compared to, but that’s because that variation is genuinely as wide as the Grand Canyon – even from track to track. That’s just one of the many reasons to like this terrific set of music, and it’s a bonus that you’ll feel as cool as some hipster blogger while listening to it. The title track features a horn riff that will remind you of the synthesizer in Gary Numan’s “Cars,” but the soaring chorus is like one of those long-lasting wads of bubble gum. From there, Thornley weaves in and out from Ben Folds-like anthem (“Still Can’t Hide” and “It’s Me”) to the Aimee Mann-ish “There’s No Way” to the best track of all, the stunning ballad “What the Heart Wants” – the musical version of a lazy Saturday afternoon. Beth Thornley has really delivered a beauty with Wash U Clean, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a bad song on it. (Stiff Hips 2010)

Beth Thornley MySpace Page

Jason Castro: The Love Uncompromised EP


RIYL: Amos Lee, Michael Tolcher, Daniel Powter

Good luck trying to compare former “American Idol” finalist Jason Castro to anyone, because dude is clearly blazing his own trail. At times, you’ll hear elements of the artists listed above, and in the opening track of Castro’s The Love Uncompromised EP, he even channels Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. When Castro was on “Idol,” he played the part of the jam band stoner hippie, and he played it well. But one thing everyone knew about Castro was that, as Randy Jackson would say, he could “really sing, dawg.” And that remains the case today, but even better is the fact that Castro writes some nice, memorable songs that do not seem forced. The opener, “Let’s Just Fall in Love Again,” is acoustic and has some corny lyrics about falling “disgustingly” in love, but after that the fully produced fare is melodic with nice rhythmic arrangements – especially “Love Uncompromised,” which has a sort of reggae feel, and the bouncy “If I Were You.” But the best track of all is the riveting ballad, “Sweet Medicine,” which has the tenderness and soul of some of Amos Lee’s best material. The EP will leave fans wanting more, and that’s okay because this one is only available digitally and at Castro’s shows, but the full-length will be out this spring. Sometimes former “Idol” hopefuls tank, and sometimes they soar – and Jason Castro has the goods to be in the latter category. (Atlantic 2010)

Jason Castro’s website

Peter Gabriel: Scratch My Back


RIYL: Brian Eno, David Byrne, Harold Budd

On paper, covers projects don’t get much more intriguingly wacky than this: Scratch My Back finds the ever-restless Peter Gabriel covering 12 songs by other artists, to be followed with I’ll Scratch Yours, in which those same artists cover Gabriel’s catalog. Oh, and since it’s never a Peter Gabriel album without some kind of twist, he decided to record his end of the bargain with an orchestra. And did we mention the artists he covered? David Bowie, Paul Simon, Bon Iver, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Arcade Fire, Randy Newman, Neil Young, and Radiohead are only some of the famous (and mostly très hip) names who get scratched here – if ever there was an album that had a snowball’s chance of uniting the Pitchfork and Goldmine crowds, this is it.

On paper, anyway. In reality, Scratch My Back never comes anywhere near the zany generational/stylistic mash-up its concept suggests; in fact, it might end up being one of the more wildly divisive recordings of Gabriel’s long, proudly obstinate career.

How the album hits you will have a lot to do with what you expect. Given his track record, you might think Gabriel would use the orchestral setting to explore the expanded dynamic possibilities of the music by tinkering with polyrhythms and layers – just imagine what a healthy-sized string section could do with Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble” – but that isn’t the case. Really, aside from a few outbursts, this is a pretty sedate album; Gabriel’s overall approach is pretty well summed up with his morose, sleepy take on “Bubble,” which at least shows up early enough in the track listing to give you a hint of what’s to come.

So it isn’t everything it could have been, and may strike some listeners as something of a disappointment at first, but don’t be quick to dismiss Scratch My Back: Like most Gabriel records – especially his recent efforts – it’s a grower. Most covers albums are an opportunity for the artist to let loose and have a little fun with songs they love, and to try and add their own voice to someone else’s refrain. But not Gabriel – even at his commercial peak, he was an insular artist, and here, he mostly sounds like he’s running through some old favorites for his own benefit. The result is an album that opens slowly: With the exception of the slow-building “My Body Is a Cage” and his take on Regina Spektor’s “Après moi,” which comes barreling out of the gates, much of Scratch initially comes across as a bit of a beautiful snooze. Be patient, though, and Gabriel rewards you with a work of tender intimacy – and he makes Lou Reed and Neil Young sound positively tuneful in the bargain: His covers of “The Power of the Heart” and “Philadelphia” are two of the album’s highlights. In today’s heavily compressed sonic landscape, Scratch My Back may register as little more than an echo at first, but it’s rare we get to hear music with this kind of simple focus, or stark beauty. If it’s still hard not to wish Gabriel had wandered a little further afield with his interpretations, well, we still have I’ll Scratch Yours to hope for. (Real World 2010)

Peter Gabriel MySpace page

MixMeister Express 7: A potential death knell to the art of mixing, but a hell of a time saver

I learned how to beat mix in 1987. Back then, everyone was using Technics 1200s (the first CD players with pitch bend came the following year), and any effects you wanted to add – which basically came down to two things, phasing and back-beating – had to be done manually with the records themselves. No Pro Tools, no effects processing, no digital anything. Mix tapes were done in one take; I’d plot out each side in advance, press record, and hope for the best. I averaged roughly 3.5 train wrecks per mix tape.

In 2000, I finally upgraded from vinyl to CD. Denon made, and still makes, fantastic DJ equipment for use with CDs, so I bought that, a Numark mixing board, and a cabinet. But making mix tapes was still a pain, the old one-take scenario, and transferring them to digital form was worse. Roxio – which back then was called Adaptec – had a program that could transfer analog sources to digital format if you had the right equipment, but the signal loss was incredible. Once you amplified it to a reasonable level, the tape hiss was unbearable. Eventually, I stopped making mixes, though that had as much to do with a more demanding job and family life as it did with the archaic process of making the tape itself.

Needless to say, when the email promoting MixMeister Express landed in my inbox, they had my attention. The program’s layout is similar to the loop-based remix software Acid, another toy I played with a lot back when I had more time on my hands. And the way MixMeister analyzes songs and plots transitions from one song to the next is, well, ridiculously smart. In a matter of hours, I had assembled an 80-minute mix, and not a single train wreck in sight.

Express Screenshot


Read the rest after the jump...

Johnny Cash: American VI: Ain’t No Grave


RIYL: Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson

“There ain’t no grave that can hold my body down.” So sings the Man in Black on the opening track of what we are assured is truly the final entry in his series of his Rick Rubin-helmed American Recordings albums. It’s been six years since his death, yet if there’s anyone you could believe would make good on such a lyric, it’s Johnny Cash. In that brief interim between losing his beloved wife, June Carter Cash, and losing his own battle against the health issues which had plagued him for several years, Cash entered the studio and cut the material on both this album and its predecessor (American V: A Hundred Highways), but while the sessions may have given him the opportunity to provide his own musical epitaph, listening to material like “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” and “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound” serves first and foremost to reopen the old wound left by Cash’s demise. Only after getting past the sense of loss can one truly begin to appreciate American VI…and trust me when I tell you that it’s liable to take you a few spins to reach that point.

The stomping arrangement of the opening track, “Ain’t No Grave,” is immediately reminiscent of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” from American V, but it’s hard to argue with any song which could still give the ailing, mourning Cash the chance to come across as rebellious. From there, it’s into the only contemporary cover on the collection: Sheryl Crow’s “Redemption Day,” which becomes far more ominous and foreboding when being sung by a man who knows his days are numbered. Not that Cash himself was concerned about the inevitable: his take on Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times” shows a man who was aware of how little time he had left on this planet. (“Don’t look so sad / I know it’s over / But life goes on / And this old world / Will keep on turning.”)

How Johnny Cash greeted the Grim Reaper

At 10 songs and a run time of just under 33 minutes, American VI is a succinct album…but, then, the best epitaphs are. It was a wise decision to save the more maudlin songs from Cash’s final sessions until several years after his death, as releasing them too quickly after his passing would’ve made them seem like a cheap stunt. In its current context, the record at least feels like the farewell that Cash almost certainly intended it to be, and it will no doubt inspire many a toast in his memory, particularly during the surprising yet somehow perfect closer, “Aloha Oe.” Unfortunately, however, it is so thoroughly defined as a farewell that it’s unlikely to earn the same number of repeat spins as the albums which preceded it. – (American Recordings / Lost Highway 2010)

Johnny Cash’s official website
Click to buy American VI: Ain’t No Grave from Amazon

Little Boots: Hands


RIYL: Annie, Kylie Minogue, The Ting Tings

You have to admire the tenacity of UK pop stars. They keep trying to crack the American market, even though most of them are met with the equivalent of a hair tousle and a cheek pinch. “Oh, you’re so cute. Keep on trying, you’ll get there.” Of course, most of them never get there, and of the few that do, many owe it to their ill-gotten celebrity status (Amy, meet drugs; Lily, meet topless photos) as much if not more than their music, but you have to think that if anyone is going to buck this trend, it’s Little Boots, the solo pseudonym for former Dead Disco member Victoria Hesketh. For starters, look at her.

Little_Boots_01

Yep, she’s gorgeous, and her debut album Hands is stuffed to the gills with perky dance song after perky dance song not unlike a certain Ms. Gaga, though there are varying degrees of quality. “New in Town” is one of those earworm-type songs that will own your soul, “Stuck on Repeat” playfully tweaks the “I Feel Love” keyboard line, and she winks knowingly to her synth-pop predecessors by tapping the Human League’s Phil Oakey for a duet on “Symmetry.” She’s not blessed with the strongest set of pipes, but then again, neither is Madonna, and her voice is at least as good as, say, Lady Gaga, Rihanna or Katie from the Ting Tings. And with a hook like the chorus to “Remedy,” vocal power is almost beside the point.

Still, the bias against UK pop in the States is a strong one – ask Robbie Williams. Hands should be a hit on both sides of the pond, but any music fan will tell you that there are lots of albums that should have been hits. Will Little Boots be one of them? Who the hell knows, but there is enough here to entertain the question. (Elektra 2010)

Little Boots MySpace page

McCartney unveils first tour dates for 2010

Paul McCartney has announced two new shows, which could be the start of his rumored final tour.

From RollingStone.com:

After a 2009 that featured a headlining set at Coachella and the inaugural concerts at New York’s Citi Field, Paul McCartney will return to the stage this year with his “Up and Coming” tour, which will stop at unique venues and rarely visited cities throughout the U.S. The trek begins March 28th at Phoenix, Arizona’s Jobing.com Arena, marking the first time McCartney has visited the state since his 2005 tour. On March 30th, McCartney returns to the Hollywood Bowl for the first time since 1993. The exclusive pre-sale for both shows is going on now at McCartney’s official Website, with a general public onsale scheduled for February 28th.

McCartney promises more shows are on tap for 2010.

I heard great things from people who’s opinions I respect regarding his performance at Coachella, so I assume McCartney has enough left in the tank to continue touring. Despite a surprise appearance at a Paul Simon concert, I’ve never seen him live. As this may be the last jaunt of his career, it’s probably better not to risk it and just buy a ticket to a show out here in Los Angeles when it becomes available. I don’t want to regret not seizing the opportunity.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

Daniel Merriweather: Love & War


RIYL: Mark Ronson, Al Green, Elton John

It is said that late is better than never, but in an industry where timing is everything, the decision to push Love & War, the solo debut of Australian soul singer Daniel Merriweather – it is actually his second album; his first one remains unreleased – to 2010 is a curious one. If memory serves, the first word to come out about the album dropped in late 2007, presumably to take advantage of the buzz surrounding Merriweather’s performance of the Smiths’ “Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” on Mark Ronson’s album Version, released earlier that year. So what gives?

Our best guess: too many ballads. Love & War sounds exactly like you would expect a Mark Ronson-produced Daniel Merriweather album to sound. The arrangements are vintage soul and cutting-edge recording techniques at the same time, and Merriweather, who sounds like a soulful version of UB40′s Ali Campbell, emotes the ever-loving daylights out of these songs. The results are consistently pleasant and occasionally stunning, notably the horn-drenched “Change,” the Al Green-ish “Getting Out,” and the “California Dreamin’”-cribbing “Could You.” Give Merriweather credit for aiming high – the opening track “For Your Money” sports half a dozen key changes – but a few more shifts in tempo would have worked wonders. (J Records 2010)

Daniel Merriweather MySpace page
Click to buy Love & War from Amazon

BT: These Hopeful Machines


RIYL: Chicane, Paul Oakenfold, machine gun edits

BT’s 2003 album Emotional Technology is still arguably the most overproduced album in music history, which is saying something given the huge advancements in overproduction in the last few years. Indeed, it appears that Mr. Transeau himself knows that he went too far on Emotional Technology, because his next album, 2006′s This Binary Universe, consisted largely of ambient orchestral music, with not a single vocal to be found. Now seven years removed from his last pop album, BT finally gets back on the horse and, BT being BT, he goes whole hog, though in a slightly different way. Where Emotional Technology contained bushels of those trademark stutter edits, These Hopeful Machines contains boatloads of music. Two albums’ worth, in fact, with nary a track under five minutes…and six songs over ten minutes. Uh oh.

BT_02

Ah, we kid. These Hopeful Machines, despite its preposterous length – wisely, it’s being sold for the price of a single disc – is a triumphant return to form from a songwriting perspective. It may take 20 minutes to play them, but “Suddenly” and “The Emergency” are two of the best tunes BT’s written in ages, the latter of which sounds like a lost track from Chicane’s (awesome) Behind the Sun album. More importantly, BT has improved dramatically as a singer; the a cappella harmonies in “The Emergency” are stunning. He’s at the point where he doesn’t need guest singers to dress up his albums, though he brings a few in anyway, notably ex-Catherine Wheel singer Rob Dickinson. And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention “Rose of Jericho,” which blends Paul Oakenfold’s “Save the Last Trance for Me” with, of all things, Hot Butter’s instrumental “Popcorn.”

The album is still way, way too long – each song could stand to be at least a minute shorter – but closing Disc 2 with an ambient cover of the Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You” eases the listener fatigue a bit. The potential for a crossover hit is clearly here; if BT would submit to having an executive producer keep him focused, there would be little stopping him. (Nettwerk 2010)

BT MySpace page
Click to buy These Hopeful Machines from Amazon

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