Saturday, July 30, 2011
What has changed is that, just prior to the release of that first record, keyboardist Dax Pierson was paralyzed during a tour accident with Subtle – an event that would force him to go entirely digital as a musician (and, as he's previously blogged, as a music consumer). As a result, he's forced to play a less active role with respect to touring and collaborative recording. As a member of 13 & God, online communication has replaced the possibility of physically recording with the Notwist in Germany, and Pierson's voice has become his biggest asset. And yet, this hardly affects the record – not because his role was insignificant in the first place, but because 13 & God records feel very much like Notwist records with an added bit of thunder, and Dose’s nasal vocal spinning.
Whereas Subtle and Themselves can take on heavier beats, or even an angry, somewhat bitter political or anti-(fill in the blank) message hovering above and throughout Dose’s nerdy wordplay, the Notwist provide a more somber coolness – Themselves give a shit and then some; this isn’t so much the case here, and lyrics seem less a focal point this time around, although “You can’t get the eat out of death” is a line appearing on no fewer than three songs on Own Your Ghost.
But 13 & God are at their best when that coolness is broken; a hint of that Oakland magic begins to come through on “Janu Are,” where Markus Archer's unwavering coo-as-chorus is backed by a steady and toned-down tuba beat that almost reminds of a bass/clarinet hybrid. The low buildup of the record finally satisfies in its final four tracks, with “Death Minor,” a pure piece of noir and perhaps an update on Portishead’s “Wandering Star,” leading into “Sure as Debt,” an aggressive, bass-heavy dancehall-style track that serves as the album’s climax, and falling beautifully into “Beat On Us” and “Unyoung” (completed from a demo by Pierson). This record is perhaps not entirely consistent with itself, but it is consistent with the relationship between bands that 13 & God established on its debut.
Purchase Own Your Ghost
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Sunday, July 17, 2011
I'd like to say a few words about Sufjan Stevens before moving onto something more current. Stevens, at one point, had caused me to stop in my tracks with his whimsical and minor orchestral arrangements, and of course, his lyrics – songs like “Flint” and “For the Widows in Paradise, for the Fatherless in Ypsilanti” had, eight years ago, caused me to rethink what it meant to be a good songwriter. The stuff was beautiful. And sure, maybe his state projects, all two of them, were based off research and not firsthand accounts. But boy, he nailed his words well. And his music set a tone well enough that he could have muttered the alphabet and still made me cry. It should also be noted that he was the first banjo player I could name without following with the word “corny.”
But the more attention he received, the more he began to come off as a snooty dad who decided it better to spend his media time accusing Vampire Weekend of being an “Afro-beat Ivy League pop” novelty, which he is entitled to do but which was somewhat unnecessary, and eventually his music began to look more like acting than genuine feeling. Which really made him no better than the music he criticized.
So, for that more current something. Last month saw the full-length re-release of Must We Find a Winner, from Klak Tik, a project from Copenhagen-born Søren Bonke and his team of seven, currently based in the UK. In a nutshell, the record is gorgeous. It is chilling and it is whimsical. It is clean and simple, yet full and warm. The acoustic guitar strings are as necessary and prominent as each brass piece. And it sounds as though there might be a hint of something genuine behind Bonke's voice, other than, you know, research.
At times (e.g., “Driverless Train to Expo”), Must We Find a Winner recalls the clean style and recording quality of the last Kings of Convenience record, with moments of silence so pure you could hear the drop of that proverbial pin; at others, like “Tomme Domme,” and “I Am Your Memory,” it is very much the stuff of Sufjan Stevens at his 2003 best. And as the group is quite outwardly influenced by him, I'm sure they'd be flattered to know that they pull off the qualities that once gave him his largest fanbase.
Purchase Must We Find a Winner
Saturday, July 9, 2011
I recently came across an article from a 1996 issue of New York Magazine (thanks, Google Books) that ran a feature on women in rock, in which artists like Nina Gordon, Liz Phair and Exene Cervenka expressed a likelihood that men would go back to dominating the charts after a brief chimera of neo-feminism came and went and made a novelty of female musicians. I think this happened, but I don't think it was initially an issue so much of the novelty of the female musician so much as the female rock musician. Hell – look to the riot grrl movement, even, which abruptly ended and no longer seems to exist outside of Olympia.
In the late '90s, it came to be that for every PJ Harvey, Justine Frischmann or Courtney Love, there was a Beth Hart, Jewel or Abra Moore, and then some. And maybe that defined the difference between 1996 and 1997 – if 1996 was the year that women stood a chance in the rock world, Sarah McLachlan destroyed that chance, to an extent, by bringing the Lilith Fair to life in 1997 and ironically making a novelty out of the female musician. How? By lumping together every remotely successful female folk musician of the time and creating a fresh stereotype. Not only did the ballsy female rock musician become near-extinct in the mainstream as she gave way to the limp-voiced Lilith Fair stage subject, but Lilith Fair itself killed the possibility of women outgrowing the novelty title as it brought a label to the idea of the female musician in general. And the concept of the feminist, perhaps once “angry,” “bra-burning” and “lousy in the kitchen,” now turned to a picture of the female hippie with unshaven armpits and at least one song with a yodel of sorts. A soft, watered-down version of third-wave feminism. Fuck you, 1997.
That said, it kills me a little to lump together some whatsits on a couple of new girly rock bands. But it seems appropriate because they're quite similar, and, interestingly, largely reminiscent of the early-to-mid-'90s grunge and shoegaze periods. Which I love.
The first, Is/Is, has roots in Minneapolis and have self-referenced themselves as a “witch-gaze trio,” which is strangely accurate. They're like a grungier, more assertive version of Mazzy Star – a personal favorite of mine, nostalgic or otherwise – and they're currently celebrating the release of a 7-inch, which follows up their This Happening EP. Video for “Eating Hourglasses” to follow. Immediately.