Video: Janelle Monáe’s “Tightrope”

I don’t know much about this Janelle Monáe chicka, but I’m definitely into this song. Another young and talented musician that’s gone over my head, Monáe has been on the scene, more or less, since 2007.

There’s a fashionable futuristic theme shoved in your face, which you’ll have to subscribe to instantly if you are to enjoy the video. But I found myself forgetting about the visuals and plot simply because I was caught up bobbing to the beat. While listening to this song my body and is a prisoner to the music — I couldn’t handle paying attention to anything else. That’s a good thing.

Either way, this video is at least mildly interesting. Big Boi from Outkast is waddling through there, if that’s your thing.

The Disco Biscuits: Planet Anthem


RIYL: Sound Tribe Sector 9, Umphreys McGee, String Cheese Incident

Planet Anthem is The Disco Biscuits’ first studio album since 2002, which inherently highlights how this is a band more known for their live prowess. The overdue album finds the band exploring a wider array of sonic directions, but the track selection seems to indicate that the band has fallen victim to Ryan Adams Disease – being such prolific songwriters as to lose the ability to distinguish which of your own songs are the best ones.

It’s hard to believe that anthemic live winners like “Rivers” and “Mirrors” didn’t make the cut here. “Mirrors,” introduced in the spring of 2009, is one of the most infectious tunes the band has come up with in years, and would have seemed the best chance for crossover appeal. But then, mainstream appeal has never really been a concern of these counterculture jam rockers. They’ve made a living by earning a diehard core following that will travel great distances to see multiple shows, and who aren’t particularly concerned about albums or singles.

2010 finds the livetronica stalwarts dabbling in hip-hop, dance and even disco flavors, somewhat ironic since that is not where the band’s name is derived from. Opening track “Loose Change” is one of the more intriguing songs on the album, with a big bouncy groove and some socially conscious lyrics about how “money is the root of all evil.” “On Time” and “You and I” have a dance pop flavor that may catch some fans off guard, as this is not the trance-fusion that fans have come to know and love. But the funky beat is still there. “Konkrete” has a trippy, dreamy sort of vibe mixed with a dark heavy groove. “Uber Glue” also starts out trippy, but then moves into a techno direction that is probably going to have some fans scratching their heads.

Rain Song” is one of the more unique tracks, mixing an atmospheric PJ Harvey/Morcheeba sort of vibe from guest female vocalist Ryat with the band’s psychedelic exploration. “Fish Out of Water” could well have been the name of the album, for the way the band is experimenting outside of its comfort zone. The song is more of a straight-ahead, mid-tempo rocker about a girl who’s “gonna make a rebel out of me,” with guitarist Jon Gutwillig finally taking a short solo. “Sweatbox” moves back into techno territory, but builds into a party vibe where “the room is getting hotter” with Gutwillig doing a little wailing behind his vocals.

The last three songs on the album return to the melodic jam rock sound the band is known for, showing they haven’t gone totally off the deep end. “The City” has a big beat and melodic motif with bassist Marc Brownstein getting philosophical about “sitting on a mountain top.” “Big Wrecking Ball” is even catchier, with melodic riffs and vocals from Gutwillig on a tune that seems primed to open up for live exploration. “Vacation” closes it out with an epic track that opens with some ambient ascension before shifting into space rock.

The band gets credit for taking creative risks instead of playing it safe, but some fans are likely to feel a bit puzzled about the overall output. Some of these tunes may grow on stage though, so it’s always hard to grade a jamband album when you know an incomplete is the most appropriate grade until the songs become more seasoned. (Diamond Riggs 2010)

Disco Biscuits MySpace page

Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez: The Deep End


RIYL: Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, Kim Lembo

She’s been appearing on albums since the early ‘70s, but if you know Christine Ohlman at all, it’s because of her long (and supremely beehived) stint as a member of the Saturday Night Live Band. Ohlman’s a tenured member of the New York City session crew that produced fellow TV vets like Paul Shaffer and G.E. Smith; it’s a group stocked to the brim with incredible musical talent, but – as Shaffer and Smith’s sporadic recordings attest – not the first place you look if you want to hear inspired songwriting.

Happily, Ohlman’s an exception to this rule, which might have something to do with why her sixth solo release, The Deep End, is crowded with an eyebrow-raising list of guest stars that includes Ian Hunter, Al Anderson, Dion, Marshall Crenshaw, and Levon Helm. Fifteen songs and nearly an hour in length, The Deep End has its perfunctory moments, but it’s as expertly played as you’d expect, and it hits its targets more often than not. In fact, it’s one of the few modern blues records that cops a convincing ‘tude and remembers to bring some real songs to the table. It might be tempting to look at Ohlman in her shades and towering hair, read hackneyed song titles like “The Cradle Did Rock” and “Everybody Got a Heartache,” and wave off the whole thing as just another wine cooler blues record, but don’t judge too quickly – The Deep End lives up to its title. Dive in. (Horizon Records 2010)

Christine Ohlman MySpace page

A reunited Libertines to stumble into Reading and Leeds Festivals

Predictable? Maybe. Kind of awesome? Certainly. For the first time in six years, the Libertines are about to perform as a complete band. And where do they plan on gracing audiences? The UK’s Reading and Leeds Festivals, which are fine choices, really. Guns ‘n Roses, Arcade Fire, Weezer and Modest Mouse will also join the fray.

From The Independent:

The Libertines released two albums, 2002′s Up the Bracket and 2004′s The Libertines, before breaking up in 2004 due to disagreements between guitarist Pete Doherty and co-frontman Carl Barat. Last May, three of four group members performed together during a concert by Doherty’s band Babyshambles, suggesting that a reunion might be near.

Tickets are now on sale for both festivals, which take place simultaneously in the two UK cities and feature the same lineup. The capacity is about 80,000 at the Reading site and about 70,000 at Leeds.

The Libertines were one of those “in” bands I took a chance on a few years ago. They were getting so much publicity at the time that I couldn’t help but be discouraged. But the praise was nonstop, so I took the bait.

They blew me away. It’s a shame really, that they were/are lumped in the “garage band” genre. They offer so much more than the Strokes, Hives, Vines, whatever. The Libertines were just of the same time period, and leaps and bounds more interesting. The songs actually go places, and your body submits willingly, wrapped in the beat and all those slurring hooks. Listen to their self-titled album and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Try me: “Can’t Stand Me Now,” “Music When the Lights Go Out,” “What Became of the Likely Lads.”

The band just wanted to play rock music, in the vein of the The Who and the Rolling Stones more than anything. The Clash? Please. I dig the Clash, but they had a focus and agenda from their formation, despite the childish “punk” tag. With the Libertines, it never felt like they were going anywhere since they didn’t have interest in dealing with fame. Helplessly diverted by their self-destructive nature, coupled with their sheer talent, is what made them so enticing. How could a band be so obtrusively pretentious, yet inherently genuine and endearing? In a strange way, the Libertines were out to eliminate themselves and embarrass your tastes. Of course, this is in large part to Pete Doherty, who, despite his shortcomings as a human being, is more reminiscent of a classic (not classy) rock star than any other current musician. Now the band is getting back together to play some shows. There you go.

I know I strayed from the topic at hand, but none of us were going to make it to England, anyway.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

Codeine Velvet Club: Codeine Velvet Club


RIYL: The New Pornographers, Nancy Sinatra, John Barry

Here’s the awful truth about life as a musician: when they’re not recording, touring, shooting a video, or doing press – in other words, when they’re not acting like a musician – they get bored, really quickly. It only took Jon Fratelli, lead singer and guitarist from Scottish trio the Fratellis, a couple days of down time after a lengthy tour commitment to get the itch, and before he knew it, we was recording an entire album of ’60s-styled boy/girl pop with a friend of his wife.

Codeiene_Velvet_Club_01

All people should be so productive at the brink of exhaustion; the resulting collaboration, Codeine Velvet Club, is a swinging collection of soundtrack music for an imaginary film. (Think Madonna’s I’m Breathless, only cooler, and ballsier.) Fratelli’s partner, chanteuse-in-the-making Lou Hickey, is like a poor man’s Neko Case, but the imperfections of her voice work in her favor more often than not. (Contrary to what the suits would have you believe, personality matters just as much as technique, if not more.) The vampy “Vanity Kills” slinks like a film noir femme fatale, and the charging “I Would Send You Roses” has an unforgettable, if breathless, chorus. Two showstopping ballads anchor the album’s middle, as “Nevada” and “Reste Avec Moi” could both pass for lost Bacharach compositions. The cheeky bastards even did a period-piece cover of the Stone Roses’ “I Am the Resurrection”; amazingly, that works, too.

Codeine Velvet Club is a most pleasant surprise, especially considering it comes hot on the heels of Fratelli’s underwhelming sophomore effort. There’s a statement in here somewhere about how it took a couple Scots to make a good old-fashioned American pop record, but we’re not really in the mood to point fingers – we’re just glad someone still remembers how it’s done. (Dangerbird 2010)

Codeine Celvet Club MySpace page
Click to buy Codeine Velvet Club from Amazon

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Glen Campbell to go out with bang of an album

Glen Campbell has been producing studio magic for decades, but he’s not ready to step away from the industry until recording one final album, which happens to include a slew of talented performers.

From Billboard.com:

Glen Campbell is collaborating with Jakob Dylan, Chris Isaak, Paul Westerberg, Bob Pollard and others on “Ghost on the Canvas,” which is slated to be the veteran artist’s farewell album.

Producer Julian Raymond tells Billboard.com that the album’s basic tracks have been recorded in Los Angeles, with orchestra sessions slated for April 2. Campbell is currently negotiating with several major labels to release the album, which will be supported with a farewell tour. “It’s not your mother’s Glen Campbell,” Raymond says of the project. “He’s playing guitar better than ever, singing and writing better than ever. It’s really going to be a great final statement from him.”

Campbell is still looking for an album deal, so why don’t you crack open that piggy bank and do the guy a favor.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: Pretty Lights

After Dengue Fever’s hot set at Emo’s, I was down to my final showcase of the festival as I pedaled over to La Zona Rosa on West 4th Street for a 12:45 AM set from Pretty Lights that I figured would close out the festival in maximum party style. The Colorado rock-tronica duo have been blowing up over the past year, winning raves while opening for Sound Tribe Sector 9 at Red Rocks last summer and becoming the hot new flavor in the livetronica scene.

The club was already hopping when I arrived, with the Crystal Method wrapping up what had clearly been a hot set of their own. Pretty Lights soon hit the stage and owned the crowd from the start, as DJ/synth master Derek Vincent Smith and drummer Cory Eberhard threw down one smoking hot groove after another with a spectacularly psychedelic light show behind them.

“Sunday School” was a scintillating jam, featuring a sampled vocal of “Fuck ‘em, I didn’t want to go to heaven anyway” over a big trippy groove that had the whole room moving and grooving. It was a 75-minute dance party of block-rocking beats whose energy never waned as the set went right up until 2:00 AM. Some of the songs tended to sound kind of the same due to similar beats and tempos, perhaps suggesting Pretty Lights could go even higher by adding a guitarist. But there’s no doubt that this duo knows how keep a psychedelic dance party rocking.

“Finally Moving” closed out the festivities with a fresh bite on “All Along the Watchtower,” showing that there’s always another way to use the same three chords. Pretty Lights transformed the three-chord progression into a psychedelic down-tempo dance groove tricked out with all kinds of sonic bells and whistles for a dynamic 21st century remake of the classic groove. It was an elated crowd that wandered out into the night afterward. SXSW 2010 had just gone by in a flash, but it was hard to imagine a better ending.

Pretty Lights
Photo by Tobin Voggesser

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: Dengue Fever

Los Angeles’ Dengue Fever hit the stage at Emo’s main outdoor stage at 11:00 PM, with charismatic Cambodian singer Chhom Nimol battling the chilly conditions in a hoodie and skullcap. The first song seemed like kind of a warm-up, but song number two turned up the groovy funk factor to get the party started and the crowd dancing. The horns from David Ralicke provided an extra festive flavor which fit the mood perfectly with SXSW in the homestretch.

“Sober Driver” featured a duet between Nimol and guitarist/bandleader Zac Holtzman, who looks like a rabbi but rocks out with great skill. The song has a smooth groove with a mystical flavor enhanced by the saxophone and trippy keyboards from Holztman’s brother Ethan. Another funky jam had the crowd grooving again as the band was definitely heating things up – Nimol soon removed her hoodie and skullcap to appear in just a pretty blue dress.

Bassist Senon Williams toasted the crowd “to a great SXSW” and “to all the fallen soldiers that can’t be here tonight.” The band started into a slow bluesy intro, with Nimol emoting almost like a shaman before some funky riffs and psychedelic keys kicked in to get the dance party going again. With at least seven showcases, Dengue Fever may well have been the hardest working band at SXSW and this final performance definitely capped off their week in winning style.

dengue fever

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: The Watson Twins, again

I’d found The Watson Twins’ Friday day party set at the Belmont to be somewhat disappointing, but was still intrigued to see their 9:00 Saturday headliner set at the Central Presbyterian Church on 8th Street. Boy, was I glad I made it. This is an incredible venue since it is, as it sounds, an actual church with otherworldly acoustics that were perfectly suited to enhance the Watson Twins’ dynamic sound to a higher level. There’s no booze for sale, but I took that as a sign from God that I should slow down on my drinking for an hour.

The Twins opened with “Modern Man” again, but I was now hearing the new material in a whole different light. I still find the new album to be missing the rich melodic hooks of some of their earlier material (“How Am I to Be,” “Dig a Little Deeper,” “Bar Woman Blues,” “Waves”), but hearing the new songs sparkle in this setting provided a new window into what the Twins are going for on Talking to You, Talking to Me, with jazzier and torchy soul flavors. “Harpeth River” took on a shimmering evening ambiance that was missing on Friday afternoon, and the sexy dancing between Leigh and Chandra Watson definitely enhanced the vibe. Chandra said she had enjoyed seeing Everest and Billy Bragg, as well as visiting East Austin, which she felt provided the “true Austin vibe” that some may find wanting on the more commercialized 6th Street. “Devil in You” also featured an extra shimmer with the brilliant church acoustics, with Chandra proclaiming the song as an exorcism.

Leigh donned an acoustic guitar on several tunes, including the melodic closer “U N Me,” which once again sparkled in a new way in this fantastic setting. The band jammed it out a bit and received a rousing ovation for what was most definitely a triumphant set and another top highlight of the week. The Central Presbyterian Church is a venue not to be missed at SXSW.

The Watson Twins, SXSW 2010
Photo by Steve Hopson

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: Antennas Up

Kansas City funksters Antennas Up kicked off the evening showcase at Spill on 6th Street with an energetic 8:00 set that mixed homage to George Clinton’s Mothership with modern electro-synth pop. Bassist/vocalist Kyle Akers is a boisterous frontman, with a thick mustache and ’70s vibe that recall Ron Burgundy jamming in a San Diego jazz club. Drummer The Ryantist drives the band’s sound by triggering a variety of synth samples to go along with his drumming. With Space Invaders stickers on the drum kit and astronaut helmets on the speakers, it was clear that the band is into a spacey vibe, while their funky pop rock recalled artists such as Jamiroquai and Maroon 5.

“Don’t Wait” was a high-energy tune with guitarists Bo McCall and Wayne Hutcherson throwing down some funky comping, while Akers got funky. “5P4C35H1P” was another highlight with a synth-heavy and trippy dance sound that recalled the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me.” Most of the band members donned the astronaut helmets during the tune about a spaceship and a girl who wants to ride it. One could wonder if the band might be able push their sound in a more dynamic direction by adding a human keyboardist to the mix instead of having all the synths triggered by the Ryantist, but there’s an intriguingly funky formula going on here.

antennas up
Photo by Alistair Tutton

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