Saturday, April 28, 2007

Björk - Volta

Björk's career so far has probably been one of the most intelligent ones ever. Carefully choosing and studying everything that's associated with her universe, each step she's given has had the ultimate consequence of building herself an iconic status, seen as an alternative symbol and fanatically adored by many (and, consequently, hated by others). What's even more interesting is that she seems to do this in a natural and instinctive way, as if it was (and probably is) involuntarily.
Musically, each Björk album has a life of its own, a concept and a philosophy that is very individual and unique. In this decade, so far she was riding an experimentation curve, with records being gradually more difficult and conceptual: there was the emotional soundtrack for the most sadistic and masochistic movie ever - Dancer In The Dark ("Selma Songs", 2000); the laptop-created highly intimate album ("Vespertine", 2001); the all-vocals no-instruments album ("Medúlla", 2004); and the soundtrack for one of Mathew Barney's - her partner - movie installments ("Drawing Restraint 9", 2005). Now, with "Volta", she makes a radical cut in this curve, turning her head again into pop music - but of course, pop music seen as a ground for experimentation.
There's two ways you can look at "Volta", each one as a sum of many things.
If you want to look only into her universe, "Volta" picks some bits from the many Björk's we've had in the past and builds something that feels completely new. From "Medúlla" we have the sense of experimentation; from "Vespertine" we have the scientific attention to details while following an ideal of beauty; from "Post" there's the energy and the colorful approach; from "Homogenic" we have the geometric electronic beats and the extrovert singing; from "Debut" comes the pop sense; from "Selma Songs" she takes the dramatic feelings and the use of brass instruments; and from "Drawing Restraint 9" she continues to study oriental music and building cinematic atmospheres.
The second way to look at "Volta" is more global: it grabs a lot of things from different music styles and parts of the world, with some details that could be a world music lover's wet dream: flamenco guitars that are, in fact, oriental objects; hip-hop beats twisted in imaginative ways; punk and protest shouts married with horns and synthesizers (that sound like loud guitars); african beats mashed up with hip-hop samples; hallucinating percussions used to take torch love duets to insanely intense proportions; intimate songs with unexpected beautiful details and imaginative vocal harmonies.
What's born from all this? Something with a sense of unity that is unexplainable but can be understood with her own words, when she said she wanted to create a universal beat for the human race to march. Hearing "Volta" can be a pretty intense experience: there's a huge sense of ceremony, as if we're listenning to something truly important; also, each song is so cleverly built that involves its listenner to higher levels (hence the many goosebumps felt). But when she said she wanted to make something celebratory, she didn't lie. This is also an ode to nature (felt, for example, in its interludes), to our most primitive feelings and ultimately to the world, including some of her most political lyrics ever, along with the usual abstract poems. At the same time, its most proeminent instrumental elements (the 10-piece brass section and the beats/percussions) are used as two sides of the same coin, a bit like appealing to our most primal instincts in a sophisticated way. And the brass sounds also add a beautiful atmoshere that is literally breathtaking. But better than words, the best way to understand "Volta" is to hear it. In her quest for musical perfection, she has once again outdone herself. (9/10)

Jantar em Lisboa

The best movie I saw at this year's Indie Lisboa - 4th International Independent Film Festival, was a short 7-minute animated piece called "Jantar em Lisboa" ("Dinner at Lisbon") directed by André Carrilho. An imaginative story with beautiful visuals that, besides its crazy main plot, managed to perfectly capture everyday's life in Lisbon, including some of its most peculiar small details, all done in an irresistible way.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Daft Punk's Electroma

Thinking of Daft Punk as musicians that make electro-house party anthems? "Electroma" will defraud your expectations then. This is the experimental movie that Daft Punk made in 2006 and is more of a visual-installment that doesn't even have any songs from them, instead featuring music by Brian Eno, Curtis Mayfield, Sebastien Tellier, Todd Rundgren, Chopin or Haydn. The plot is minimal to the point of almost non-existence: two robots in their quest to be human, their failure and one last walk through the desert. But this is just an excuse for making something close to surreal, creating poetic ambiences while playing with geometrical forms and beautiful shots, all with a very subliminal sense of humor. Two movies come to mind in the end: "2001: A Space Odyssey" by Stanley Kubrick with its 1960's sci-fi imaginary; and "Gerry" by Gus Van Sant with its minimal approach to the act of walking through a vast desert. And I was reminded that I really like Daft Punk.

Music Videos # 42

Björk - Earth Intruders

Here's Björk's brand new video for "Earth Intruders", boys and girls! I don't know how she really does it, but why is it that she never seizes to surprise/impress/amaze/conquer me in every single thing she does? The song, first one taken from the upcoming "Volta" album, has been on constant repeat in my ears for the last two weeks, with its insane rhythms, powerful hooks and addictive lines and now the video has blown me away with its wild creativity. And it also totally suits the feeling of the song, it really feels like Iceland meets Africa, doesn't it?

(...and regarding "Volta", after listenning to it three times, I'll just say for now that it feels too good to be true. Yeah, to hell with the objective point of view :) More about it soon!)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Tussle - Telescope Mind

The early 1980's, again. Until further investigation, this is probably one of the most creative times in moden music history, at least in my personal opinion, as shown in seminal masterpiece works by bands and musicians like This Heat, Liquid Liquid, Glenn Branca, Arthur Russell, Material, Was (Not Was), A Certain Ratio...well, you get the idea, the list is endless. Coming out of the punk obituary, and promiscuosly blending with other art forms, there was a limitless approach to experimentation, mixing genres in a way that, still today, sounds radical and unique. Just ask nowaday's people like LCD Soundystem, The Rapture, Black Dice or !!! where would they be without those adventurous years, and their answer will be the same: nowhere. With "Telescope Mind", Tussle revive that era in such a perfect way that it seems almost absurd. The ingredients for this infectious dance-punk-funk cauldron are minimal: percussion, bass and a few electronic appointments. But add to that a strong dose of rhytmic poetry and an adventurous sense of space and time and you get the main factor that takes this apart from the usual copy/paste pastiche. The last song, "Pow!", with special guest-appearences by Sal Principato and Dennis Young (former members of Liquid Liquid) is just a small reminder that respecting your source of inspiration can do no harm when you use it to reinvent yourself. A lesson for many to learn. (7,5/10)

Myspace page

Black Devil Disco Club - 28 After

Thanks to people like Lindstrøm, Prins Thomas or Todd Terje and a few compilations, there's no way to deny that italo-disco is back as a source of inspiration to many great musicians of today. So there's no better time to enjoy this record than now. But where does "28 After" actually come from? The mistery reads like this: Black Devil, a french duo consisting of Bernard Fevre and Jackie Giordano, made a rare and seminal electro-disco EP back in 1978 called "Disco Club" and then went back to obscurity. 28 years later (hence the title), this new record appears, credited only to Bernard Fevre and with no additional information. So, was this produced in 1978? 2006? Who's Bernard Fevre anyway and where has he been all these years? The fact that listenning to "28 After" gives no answers, is the most evident proof of its timeless appeal. So in the end, there's no other choice than to just sit back (or stand up to dance, as you prefer) and enjoy the material coming from this delicious mistery. Cosmic digressions, analog synthesizers, vintage keyboards, Moroder-like basslines, funky handclaps and heavily-processed vocals make an album of six infectious, dense, twisted and irresistible disco-groove anthems. A travel too precious to miss. (8/10)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Home Videos # 4

Patrick Wolf - Accident & Emergency (live)

Patrick Wolf - The Magic Position (live)

Patrick Wolf showed yesterday in Lisbon that he's a complete artist, giving space to his many intriguing sides at once, from the extravagant singer to the forrest folk troubadour, from the viola player to the piano virtuoso, in a show that mixed cabaret elements with an intimate encounter. It was also really nice to see that there's a common and even slightly shy guy behind the thousand masks, making the full artist seem even more charming.

(filmed on the 18-04-2007 in Lux, Lisbon)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Field - From Here We Go Sublime

With music like this, it's really hard to resist the obvious temptation of citing this record's title when describing it. Coming from Sweden (hum...), "From Here We Go Sublime" is, at first listen, just another take into the techno and trance universe. But as always with the best things, there's really much more to it than the eye first meets. Containing some of the most evocative sounds coming from an electronics album in recent years, it's really hard to put in words what's transmitted by this music, but here's a modest try: using involving sounds and poetic resonances, Axel Willner, the producer behind this project, turns techno music into a vast dreamy landscape, full of subliminal frequences and gigantic hypnotic powers. Glorious, luxuriant, spacious, emotive and also slightly nostalgic, "From Here We Go Sublime" takes simple minimal loops, trance-y effects and shoegazing sounds and builds something grandious that can actually be used as an ultimate form of escapism. Yes, this is music that takes its listenner to new places and, with that, it manages to do something that only very rarely is achieved. Rewarding and conforting as few other records, there's only one word that comes to mind in the end. And yes, that word is "sublime". (9,5/10)

Myspace page

Incognito - Bees + Things + Flowers

For a demonstration of "savoir-faire", nothing better than to look at what the voice of experience has to say. Incognito were a popular british band during the acid-jazz explosion in the early 1990's and, many years afterwards, they are here again to show us that they definitely still have it. Consisting mostly of covers of 1970's classics and also new versions of their old songs, "Bees + Things + Flowers" is exactly what could be expected from a group of musicians with nothing to prove and no other goal than to enjoy themselves: eleven soul, r&b and jazz songs that won't change anything but are a breeze of fresh-air in today's music scene. Solid arrangements, a fluid song-writing, soulful voices and, most of all, an amazing and powerful use of strings and violins are used to build an atmosphere of elegance and radiance. And even though there are mostly downtempo songs in here, the final result is not far from what its title suggests: simple things that can make the world a happier place. (7/10)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Music Videos # 41

Panda Bear - Bros

The first video taken from Panda Bear's sublime "Person Pitch" album is full of small details and multiple references, something that suits quite well the music itself. It's also really interesting to see the native-american imaginary that is used, making the whole thing seem even more like an hypnotic ritualistic chant.

Patrick Wolf - The Magic Position

I have to confess that for some time i developed some sort of resistance towards Patrick Wolf, something that, for a while, stopped me from fully enjoying this record. I suppose this was due to an excessive and slightly camp imaginary lately used by him (even seen, for example, in this album cover). But then I got reminded that this excess is not any different from what David Bowie did during his Ziggy Stardust days, more than 30 years ago. So it's all part of an artistic persona, right? Well, and with my mind now opened, I was finally able to enjoy "The Magic Position" in all its full glory. And how glorious can music be? After two introspective albums, it seems as if this is finally his big affair. Incorporating more electronic textures than ever and with tunes mainly written in major key, we have pop music that is not afraid to be Pop (like that, with capital letter): excessive, catchy, risky, grandiose, experimental, contagious. We have fireworks, violins, trumpets, dramatic scenes, joyful tunes. We're invited to make a wild ride to his colorful world, a world full of rollercoasters, trees and bees, blue skies, lovers and parties, drama and happiness. A complete and thrilling life is put in front of us, to our never-ending pleasure. And we also have Songs (like that, with capital letter), proof of his amazing writing-skills and the final touch that takes "The Magic Position" to a higher and unique place. In the end, I do surrender myself...this guy has too much talent to waste. (8,5/10)

Friday, April 06, 2007

Radicalfashion - Odori

And now for some completely different and almost (but not totally) classical sounds... Radicalfashion is the unfortunate name of an otherwise excellent project by japanese composer Hirohito Ihara. Consisting mostly of minimal ambient music, the sounds heard in "Odori" manage to explore a multitude of raw textures, melodies, ideas and atmospheres with minimum resources. So how can "Odori" be described? In a very simplified way, like this: ten short piano compositions with a few sparse electronic appointments and some rare manipulated vocal samples. With that in mind, the final result is actually much more complex. Why? Because there are two sides from which we can perceive "Odori" that actually complement themselves: this is formal music, presenting itself as a beautiful solemn ritual; but it's also adventurous as few other projects in modern music, in the way that explores new connections between just a handful of elements, not afraid to include apparent imperfections to enhance its (and our) experiences. And with that, we end up having something that actually pushes music boundaries. And our perceptions too. (7/10)

Myspace page

Dälek - Abandoned Language

With most people proclaiming that "Hip-hop Is Dead" or, at least, extremely ill, it's nice and curious to be blown away by another hip-hop release, not long after the latest and excellent Clipse album. Ok, "Abandoned Language" may have been released on Ipecac (Mike Patton's label) and lauded mostly by the metal and noise community, but that doesn't change the fact that it's an hip-hop record...and what a record it is. More than its beats and rhymes (pretty common and regular, to be honest), Dälek's main qualities come from the arrangements that are heard over its main foundations. Wicked synthesizers and distorted sounds and noises, inserted in multiple layers, serve to build an industrial and paranoid atmosphere, making "Abandoned Language"'s universe not far from David Lynch's most strangest and challenging moments. Eleven dense anthems in one of the most claustrophobic and hypnotic records we'll ever hear this year. As someone has put it, "an overwhelming air of avant-garde menace" (8/10)

Letters From Iwo Jima

I finally got able to see the latest Clint Eastwood movie and after reading that it was a future classic, I wasn't disappointed at all. Besides having so many beautiful shots (in a war movie? hell yeah...), an unique cinematography much appropriatted to its theme (mainly dry and lifeless colors like brown and grey) and an amazing serenity in its time construction, there were also so many different aspects shown that I would say this is probably one of the most complete war movies ever made. Examples? The fact that in a war there aren't just two opposing sides but a multitude of human beings involved, that we all pretty much have the same dreams, etc etc. Ok, I recognize that this may sound like a cliché, but, again, it's all shown with such a neutral point of view that any possible sense of déjà-vu is completely eliminated.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Music Videos # 40

Deerhoof - Kidz Are So Small (unofficial video)

From another good album of early 2007 (Friend Opportunity by Deerhoof), this is actually not an official video but the ending results are just too hilarious to be missed. The clip was created by Face3Media.

Music Videos # 39

The Gossip live @ SXSW 2007

Do I really have to say anything? Judging by the video above, this girl is pure fire on stage. And for the record, she did take her clothes off by the end of this performance. Beth Ditto rules!