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





Sneak Peek: Weezer | Hurley

10 08 2010

Have you seen this new album cover for the forthcoming Weezer album, appropriately titled Hurley? It’s a hilarious picture of Lost character, Hurley (actor, Jorge Garcia).

When asked about it by Pitchfork.com, frontman Rivers Cuomo explained the rationale behind this odd choice, “We just wanted to use that picture of Jorge Garcia’s face on the cover. It’s such an amazing album cover, and we didn’t want to have any other words on it, so we just figured everyone was going to call it Hurley, so that’s what we call it.” I can accept that. Given a few of their other albums have just been self-titled and otherwise referred to by their colors (i.e. the green album, the blue album, the red album) this seems like a slight shift in protocol. Hurley comes out on September 14th but they released a single entitled “Memories” early to create a little buzz. Honestly, I like the picture of Jorge more than this song but I’m sure there are fans out there that are excited about it nonetheless. Below is a sneak peek of the new track for those loyal Weezer fans… I know there are still quite a few.

I’m more partial to their old tunes but I suppose they can’t just keep doing that stuff anymore. Anyway, it’s nice to see they still don’t take themselves too seriously. It is actually their sense of humor that I appreciate most about them these days. In fact, I think they might be getting sillier with age. Check out some of their music videos from the last decade+ below and tell me if you agree.

References:

Pitchfork.com Article/Inteview

More info on Weezer

More info on Hurley

Weezer’s Complete Discography





Berry Jones | Tonight

3 08 2010

This album from Philly-based Berry Jones is an extremely refreshing release from some young new talent. Tonight is a collection of works that honors two musical legends who spent their careers perfecting the art of the dance song: Quincy Jones and Berry Gordy. Released on a format I happen to think is ideal for today’s consumers (LP w/ free MP3 download), it’s one of my top Summer picks that will surely be great for late night parties and lazy beach days alike.

As I said, all of the music was conceived as an homage to two of leader Jim Thomas’ musical heroes. Creating something that stands up to such visionaries is quite a tall task but Thomas does it with great reverence while being sure to inject his own youthful sensibilities into the mix. The album is separated (rightfully so) into an A Side & B Side, true to vinyl form. The A side tends to showcase the aesthetic and appeal of mid-80’s Quincy Jones. Throughout you’ll hear all the electronic synthesized tendencies that ooze so tastefully from those great Michael Jackson albums of the era, along with a pulse that undeniably makes you want to move. The opening track “Bouffant Bangout” is, perhaps, the best tune on this side as it’s inclusive of all the elements that made Quincy an icon. “Philly Night” is also a standout but it’s difficult to narrow them down as each song has it’s own unique thing happening and all are equally enjoyable. The B Side is full of tunes that bring back that propulsive Motown sound. Wisely, Thomas doesn’t try to recreate the sound of Gordy’s famous Studio A. Instead, he focuses on the power of those old R&B  arrangements from yesteryear. It’s a style that has nearly been forgotten by young musicians but Thomas seems to be a long time fan who grew up listening to old Detroit soul music. Fittingly, there is a little inspiration from the Sweet Philly Soul days as well. As a native to the Philly area, it would be hard to ignore such influences like Jackie Wilson, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and even The O’Jays. As evidenced by songs like “Baby, Baby” and “Work It Out”, he definitely has a firm grasp on this 60’s soul thing. But, what is most interesting to me is how the sound and style of the contemporary singer/songwriter at the heart of Thomas’ solo work blends so smoothly with the material on this entire album. By design, it’s a concept album but in execution it’s much more. Each song is a testament to something old but they all seem so relevant and relatable for young audiences. As an album, it proves to be very accessible and may be just what the doctor ordered for the tail end of this long, hot Summer.

Here are a few of my favorites songs to sample:

“Bouffant Bangout”

“Philly Night”

“Baby, Baby”

“Work It Out”

These guys are pretty cool live too, although  as of lately you can only catch them in the local Philly area. Here is a video I captured from a pre-release gig a few months back. Right on par with Thomas’ typical musical tastes, they do a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s classic “Move On Up”. They were a horn or two short that night but the energy is still all there…

Below are some links to learn more about the album, artist and this interesting side project. Of course,  you will also find a link to sample the album and purchase it in either vinyl or digital format.

References:

Purchase Tonight Online

The Official Berry Jones Site

Berry Jones on Facebook

Berry Jones on MySpace

Berry Jones on YouTube

Blue Floor Records Site

Blue Floor Records on MySpace

More info on Quincy Jones

More info on Berry Gordy





Maps & Atlases | Pigeon

22 07 2010

I recently found this cool video of Maps & Atlases playing “Pigeon” live in the studio. In the first bit, lead singer/guitarist Dave Davison explains the moment the song came to him during a walk in their home city of Chicago. The story is pretty cool, although, he seems to have a hard time finding the words at some points (warning: there are a lot of “likes”). It’s actually very funny because he does not seem like the type. Nevertheless, the whole thing is really interesting and the performance is great. Their sound is quite cool, featuring some very technical playing but in a really organic manner. This song, from their recently released LP Pertch Patchwork, is a perfect example. This style reminds me a bit of Prog Rock in that it is pretty sophisticated stuff. So much so, that it is being called “Math Rock”… but don’t let that scare you away, it’s not calculus or anything.

References:

Maps & Atlases Official Site

Maps & Atlases on MySpace

More info on Maps & Atlases

Purchase Maps & Atlases Merch

More info on Math Rock





New Avalanches Album… Coming Soon

28 06 2010

According to a recent Pitchfork.com article, The Avalanches are nearly ready to release a new album. This new work would be just their second but is very highly anticipated after nearly 10 years since their initial debut, Since I Left You. For those that are not familiar, The Avalanches are an Australian band, turned DJ troupe, that has become a quiet sensation after their first official full length release. I must say, all the accolades are 100% well deserved as it was truly a masterpiece. Since I Left You is a collection of 18 tracks that were created from some 3,500 samples. It was not originally intended for wide release, which lead them to disregard any concerns about copyright restrictions and therefore paid little attention to keeping track of the samples of music they would later need to clear. Although the band started as a noise-punk outfit, they became interested in the potential of mixing and the “mash-up”. Armed with an extensive vinyl collection from artists, both popular and obscure, from all over the globe, they turned out a fluid, thoughtfully conceived and flawlessly produced album that has not lost it’s luster since the initial release in November of 2000. Essentially, what started as a concept album for a mere side project soon turned into a permanent gig. They spent the last decade touring the world, both playing their material live and performing DJ sets. During that period it has long been rumored that they have been working on a new album based around a similar premise. The rumors have wavered considerably so it’s tough to tell what is what, but many sources close to the band feel that this is finally it… the new album is on it’s way with a release date yet to be announced. I’ve got my fingers crossed that this time, it’s for real. I, for one, can’t wait to see what they do as an encore to their breakthrough coming out.

Below is the official video for the title track, “Since I Left You”. It’s one of two singles from the album. They had a really tough time selecting the singles, not just because many of the tunes are so good but because the entire album flows straight through from one song to the next. It’s like one continuous piece that mimics the seamless feel of a DJ set. But, I actually would liken to something more in the realm of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon because it is cleverly more deliberate than a bunch of cut up dance tracks. You will notice the faded ending, which is not how it appears on the album but, with the help of the cinematic subtext, it works for this format.

Here is the video for the other single and perhaps the most radio friendly of all the tracks because it stands up really well out of the context of the album, it’s “Frontier Psychiatrist”. This one contains a sample from the film Polyester as well as numerous others from artists like Flip Wilson, Enoch Light, Wayne & Shuster and many, many more. One of the toughest things about releasing a project like this is that you have to get the proper approvals to use such samples. It has been said that the new album has been complete for a few  years but is still awaiting clearance. Perhaps it’s just a rumor but it sounds like typical industry red tape, which I believe to be true. They were able to get permission from artists as large as Madonna for the first one, so it’s only a matter of time before they get it all cleared and ready to roll.

The Avalanches have a pretty good website that keeps their fans up to date on the latest developments. You can find news about the new album and other mixing projects or performances. They often have info about what samples they are using so you can check them out in their original state, which is really cool. They also have a forum that has been very helpful to sort through all the release rumors and other BS. Check it out to keep on top of the status of the forthcoming album.

References:

The Avalanches Official Site

The Avalanches on MySpace

More info on The Avalanches

More info on Since I Left You

Track Listing: Since I Left You





The Black Keys | Brothers

8 06 2010

A week or two ago I picked up the latest Black Keys album Brothers. For those not familiar with the band, they’re a blues-rock duo consisting of vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer/producer Patrick Carney. Formed in 2001, they have 7 full length albums to their credit plus some EPs and collaborations. At this stage in their career I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. In recent years they have become wildly popular, receiving accolades as one of a hand full of true rock bands on the scene. In the last 5 years their music has even been used in movie soundtracks, on TV and in video games. Such success can often be a double-edged sword. On one hand, this means access to some better industry resources, including studio collaborators like high profile producers or guest artists. But on the other hand, such widespread acclaim and reverence can also heavily dilute the music.

After numerous listens (I always give it the proper due diligence), I’m a afraid I must give Brothers mixed reviews. I’m really glad to see the guys have moved on from the same old sound of their first few albums. I really appreciate that raw, simplicity-is-key, blues-based aesthetic but have thought that most of their past material sounds very much the same. So much so that if you were to put all their songs on a playlist and hit shuffle, it would be hard for anyone who’s not a fan to tell if they’ve heard a song twice. However, Brothers is a venture that showcases their ability to create something a little different. There is no absence of the root of their sound but it is now developed just a bit further. Some songs are simply embellished with bigger multi-track arrangements while others feature a more complex structure at the core. Not all are winners but it’s refreshing to hear a more distinct progression in their music. On all of their albums The Black Keys always seem to produce at least one standout that shines a bit brighter than the rest. Brothers is no exception. “Tighten Up”, which is the albums single, is without a doubt the best song. It’s a fantastic tune that is still very rough around the edges and yet is very catchy featuring a great hook and syncopated beat. The B Side to the “Tighten Up” single is “Howlin’ For You”, which is also very catchy but I have a hard time really getting in to it. If I had to pick a few other songs that rise to the top, I would definitely select “I’m Not The One”. It’s a very cool tune that sounds a bit like an updated Traffic song. Digging deeper into the cuts, I would go with “Ten Cent Pistol” and “Never Gonna Give You Up”. The former is a blues soaked beauty, while the latter takes it’s musical cues from the world of late 60’s soul. Both are refreshing takes on the status quo.

Below is the video for “Tighten Up”. It will likely be on every playlist I create this summer… and perhaps beyond. They did a great job with this video too. The music is very fitting for what transpires…

Here is “Ten Cent Pistol”. It’s no fancy high quality/high priced, studio produced video like “Tighten Up” but at least you can get a taste of the song.

References:

The Black Keys Official Site

The Black Keys YouTube Channel

More info on The Black Keys

More info on Dan Auerbach

More info on Patrick Carney

Purchase Online:

Buy Brothers on Amazon

Buy Brothers on iTunes





MGMT | Congratulations… again

13 04 2010

MGMT’s new album Congratulations came out today. It’s not really a big deal given it was leaked a few weeks ago. But, as part of the fanfare they have released a new video for the single “Flash Delirium” and are rolling out an all new website with some pretty cool features. Buy the album or just check out the new site: www.whoismgmt.com.

Previous GG posts about this “long awaited” album:

*Update: MGMT | Congratulations

Sneak Peek: MGMT | Flash Delirium








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