Karen Elson | The Ghost That Walks

9 09 2010

For those not familiar with Karen Elson, simply put: she’s a very talented and beautiful  lady. To elaborate, albeit just slightly, she is a British supermodel who recently released an album on Jack White’s Third Man Records. Interestingly enough, this album has been getting a lot of attention, both positive and negative. The issue is that most people read something like that (“supermodel turned musician”) and immediately condemn the work regardless of it’s merit. For me, not only is the actual material important but the context is key to understanding where she is coming from as an artist. Only after considering both is it fair to opine one way or another. First, let me give you a little taste of the title track from her debut The Ghost That Walks. Then we get into the business…

Pretty good stuff, no? The girl has an excellent voice that is drenched in this moody folk meets gothic style. Here’s the scoop: Karen is a supermodel of significant notoriety (if you follow that world) but she has long been a singer/songwriter, using the guitar as her writing tool. The arts must be in her genes as her twin sister, Kate, is a film maker in her own right. Plus, it’s not like fashion isn’t a creative field. Sure the models tend not to contribute artistically but they need to “get it” as they are a large part of the atmospherics that collectively create a designer’s show.

That aside, She has actually been doing this singing thing for a while now. Many people don’t realize that she is a founding member of a political cabaret troupe in NY called The Citizens Band. Some might say cabaret is nothing but an arcane side show but that couldn’t be further from the truth. These girls actually put on an amazing show that transcends sex appeal covering songs by artists as diverse as The Velvet Underground, Kurt Weill, Elvis Presley, Mimi and Richard Fariña, Pete Seeger, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Marlene Dietrich. Not surprisingly, Karen is a strong talent that stands out amongst the others both with her fantastic voice and songwriting skills… ok, and the sex appeal too. Live footage of The Citizens Band is very rare but I was able to find this one performance of one of Karen’s originals called “Mouths To Feed”. It happens to be on the new album but it’s not exactly one of my favorite tunes. Not to mention that the video is very amateurish, literally as it was taken by an audience member, and it doesn’t necessarily capture the essence of their typical showmanship. But nevertheless…

This gig in The Citizens Band led to collaborations and supporting work with Robert Plant and Cat Power. But that’s not what produced this great great collection of material. Actually, it’s not what but who produced the work that is most responsible for inspiring her to take it to this new level. I casually mentioned earlier that Jack White was invloved but I purposely left out the details as I find this to be one of the more interesting parts of the backstory. Jack is just her producer, he’s her husband. Karen and Jack met while filming the music video for The White Stripes’ video “Blue Orchid”.

The video’s director, Floria Sigismondi, remarked that “you could sense the energy between them.” They married within the year and now have two kids together. An odd side note: They had a remote wedding on the Amazon River in Brazil where White Stripes manager Ian Montone was the best man and Jack’s ex-wife, Meg White, was Karen’s maid of honor. Anyway, while living happily ever after in their Nashville home Jack found Karen “hiding” away scrolling out these songs. He eventually persuaded her to show him what she had been working on and he was blown away with what he heard. With some more encouragement, she wrote a few more and, like that, the album was born.

White’s contribution is in sound design only as the producer but that is one of the most striking things about this album. It sounds richly organic. He very wisely blends a very gritty instrumental with her beautiful voice to create this fantastic combination that is strangely haunting yet alluring. All and all, I am please to say that she checks out. Her songs are good, her voice is great (so long as she doesn’t go too Stevie Nicks with vibrato) and artistically, there is certainly integrity there. Like many albums in this iPod era, this album is not a complete winner but there is definitely some good stuff there. If I had to pick just a few tunes, I recommend  “The Ghost That Walks”l, “The Birds They Circle”, “Thief At My Door” and this one: “Pretty Babies”

References: 

Karen’s Official Site

Karen’s MySpace Page

Karen on Facebook

Karen on YouTube

More info on Karen Elson

More info on The Ghost Who Walks

More info on Jack White

More info Third Man Records

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Cee-Lo | Fuck You!

1 09 2010

This is some pretty  interesting $h!t… Cee-Lo Green, of Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley fame, released his newest single “Fuck You!” on YouTube. This first video is just the song with animated lyrics, but nevertheless received instant attention due obvious reasons: 1. the explicit title/lyrics and 2. the explicit pop-stickiness of the song itself. It’s true. It’s one of tunes that you embarrassingly catch yourself humming or singing, not unlike his Gnarls Barkley hit from 2006, “Crazy”.  So, this whole tactic is a relatively new concept. No doubt it’s inspired by the the current state of the recording industry, the ever-growing use of social media and the fact that this particular piece of work would be hard to release anywhere but the internet. He, rather wisely, is using YouTube (an extension of his social media) to promote his new album Lady Killer. At first, I didn’t think much of it but I got to thinking about how clever a move that is… and like that, I had forgotten about it. All of a sudden as of today, Green releases a more “traditional” MTV-style music video but this time via Facebook. The catch is: you have to “Like” his page. When I heard this I was at the same time both disgusted and impressed. All these little teasers actually seem to be working. People are talking about it and he is engaging fans (albeit a tad forcefully). I am only curious what the next step will be. At this same rate, it should only be another week or so ’til we find out.

Below is the original YouTube video with lyrics. Many will tell you that they can not yet offer the Facebook video as it is exclusive to Cee-Lo’s Facebook Page. Well, no here. I was able to obtain a copy and uploaded it as discreetly as possible so that you do not have to officially become a fan on FB. Before watching, I should tell you that this “Official Music Video” is not all that cool. Actually, it kind of reminds me of Pepsi commercial… and not one of the good ones. Check out, it’s the second video below.

References:

Cee-Lo’s Official Site

Cee-Lo’s Facebook Page

More info on Cee-Lo Green

Read more about “Fuck You!” @ PitchFork.com HERE & HERE





Lee Fields & The Expressions | Ladies

27 05 2010

When I hear a song like this, I ask myself how it’s not ubiquitously known by all music fans. It’s one of those tunes that’s so good you would just assume that it has made the rounds on radio, TV and all the internet music outlets already. It was featured in the credit sequence of an Entourage episode a while back but even with that flash of exposure it still remains a hidden gem. It’s a total mystery to me but is, perhaps, telling of what today’s music scene is seeking. It’s almost like Pitchfork and all the other musical taste-makers don’t give any love to artists who A) are not younger than 26, B) don’t possess shabby, unkempt facial hair, or C) are not making cheap viral videos of their act. Because of such bias, the old talented guys like Lee Fields get swept under the rug. “Ladies” was released on the 2009 album My World, from Truth & Soul Records based out of Williamsburg, NY. El Michel’s Affair is on the same label. You may even hear a bit of their sound coming through in the arrangement as some of the players overlap. Blend that aesthetic with Lee’s incredible raspy soul-soaked vocals and it’s a no-brainer. Check out “Ladies”  and you will likely run out and buy this album right away. Be sure to look into some of the other bands on the label too.

References:

Visit Lee Fields & the Expressions online

More info on Truth & Soul Records





Karen O @ The MoMA

26 05 2010

Last night I attended the Party in the Garden at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art. Every year the MoMA throws a big bash in the their garden courtyard. It’s a really fun event that attracts art lovers from all over the city. Not only do you get to enjoy the installations in their gorgeous outdoor space,  but there is also an open bar and a GREAT live act to enhance the ambiance. Last nights billing featured Karen O and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They were joined by a few guest to help them fill out the band. Although the night was an acoustic set that featured a string trio, it was not short on energy. As would be expected Karen and Co. exuded that same intensity that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are known for. The set list included a variety of tunes, dipping into some material that was produced for Spike Jonze’s film Where The Wild Things Are as well as numerous songs from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs original catalog. Perhaps it was the setting of the MoMA garden, the renewed sense of life that emerges in this city when the weather finally turns, or maybe just the free booze but it was an amazing night of music, art and fun. Below are a few pics snapped from the event as well as some video I captured with my Flip Camera. The quality is less than perfect but it still displays the essence of their performance, enthusiasm of the crowd and overall energy that filled this lovely outdoor space in midtown NYC.

Here is the video… the first one is “Soft Shock” from It’s Blitz!, this is a great tune. I think I may prefer the studio version because of the electric pulse, but this acoustic rendition is still very cool.

This second one is even more mellow. It’s “Hideaway” from the Where The Wild Things Are soundtrack, which happens to be a really good collection of material considering it was produced soley for use in the film.

Finally, the last tune of the night was “Zero”. It was a great song to end on despite leaving me wanting more, but then again, I guess that’s the idea…

References:

More info on Yeah Yeah Yeahs

More info on Karen O

More info on MoMA

The MoMA site

Yeah Yeah Yeahs site

More info on Where The Wild Things Are








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