Saturday, June 30, 2007

Best Of 2007: Mid-Year Top 15 Albums

2007 has been a pretty good year music-wise, so it kind of deserves having some mid-year lists, right? Well here are my current favourite albums of the year so far...

15. Dälek - Abandoned Language


14. Stars Of The Lid - And Their Refinement Of The Decline


13. Menomena - Friend And Foe


12. Gui Boratto - Chromophobia


11. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible


10. Sally Shapiro - Disco Romance


9. Justice - †


8. Battles - Mirrored


7. Patrick Wolf - The Magic Position


6. Björk - Volta


5. Klaxons - Myths Of The Near Future


4. Panda Bear - Person Pitch


3. Deerhunter - Cryptograms


2. Studio - Yearbook 1


1. The Field - From Here We Go Sublime


Best Of 2007: Mid-Year Top 10 Songs

10 songs that have blown me away during the last 6 months...

10. Parts & Labor - Fractured Skies


9. Justice - D.A.N.C.E.


8. LCD Soundsystem - All My Friends


7. Matthew Dear - Deserter

(unofficial video)

6. Arcade Fire - Intervention

(live video)

5. Klaxons - Golden Skans


4. Battles - Atlas


3. Björk - Earth Intruders


2. Gui Boratto - Beautiful Life


1. Rihanna (feat. Jay-Z) - Umbrella


Friday, June 29, 2007

Music Videos # 52

Dizzee Rascal - Sirens

Never have Korn sounded this good (or: how to use a metal sample to build infectious hip-hop/grime anthems with brutal effects).

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Dizzee Rascal - Maths And English

Being one of the most interesting new musical genres so far appearing in the 21st century, it's a bit unfair the lack of attention that grime has been suffering lately, but that's the price you have to pay for the arrival of dubstep, which made everyone turn their focus into the new sounds coming by people like Burial, Kode9 or Skream, and forget grime pioneers like Wiley or Dizzee Rascal. Firstly seen as a British response to the predominance of american projects in the world of hip-hop, grime's originality was based in a collection of futuristic beats, dark basslines and videogames samples with killer effects. And if ever there was a grime's representative, that person was surely Dizzee Rascal. Did he deserve it? Try listenning to his anthem song "I Luv U" nowadays, 4 years later, and you'll come to the same conclusion as me: it still fucking rocks, sounding as unique and radical as ever
Having started his carreer at the tender age of 17, his first album, 2003's "Boy In Da Corner", was critically lauded, even receiving that year's Mercury Prize. After a second album ("Showtime" from 2004) which got a mixed reaction, "Maths and English" is here to clear all doubts and prove that there's more to Dizzee Rascal than being the wonderboy of a once-fashionable music style. Being his most varied record yet, it actually gives one step further and starts leaving grime behind, incorporating alien elements like old-school flavours, jungle beats, metal samples, cool synth lines or even guestspots by Lily Allen and UGK. Showing a maturity that surpasses every expectation, each and every song in here tries and succeeds in having an identity of its own, always including specific details and elements that keep demanding for our attention. And then there's Dizzee's presence, rapping in his trademark frenetic and urgent style, uniting all points and building what is probably his most solid and consistent record yet. (8/10)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Matthew Dear - Asa Breed

It's interesting to see how minimal techno has managed to keep upfront in today's music scene, after so many years of mini-revolutions and intense analysis from the media. The normal thing to expect would be that the hype had already gone somewhere else, but surprisingly, that still hasn't happened, on the contrary. The reason is probably minimal techno's ability to evolve and mutate, always finding a new niche to explore before the focus moves away.
Strongly associated with Berlin's vibrant club culture, there are still some other geographically isolated spots that contribute to this genre's good health, one of them no doubt belonging to Matthew Dear from Michigan in America, who already had a milestone in his curriculum with his 2004's "Backstroke" mini-album.
Always open to insert more pop-oriented tendencies in his minimalistic and hypnotizing recordings, never has this fact been more visible than with his latest album, "Asa Breed". Full of vocal-oriented songs and glitch-pop melodies, its meticulous production includes external warm elements to the usual cold and synthetic micro sound details, inventing what could be a synthesis between minimal techno austere atmospheres and indie-rock intense feelings. While a few tracks still sound like sketches to be further explored, most of the songs included in here largely succeed in this experiment, making "Asa Breed" a complete, compelling and involving record. And then there are 3 minutes and 55 seconds of the most intense, beautiful and purest aural pleasure, in a Song called "Deserter", which alone could take anyone to a private heaven. (8/10)

Myspace page

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Music Videos # 51

Daft Punk - One More Time / Aerodynamic (Live @ Hyde Park)

Respect the source. No Justice review is complete without mentioning one of their main inspirations, the now-reaching-legendary-status duo Daft Punk, so here they are sending a whole crowd of thousands into massive amounts of euphoria a week ago in London. Unbelievable.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Justice - †

Considering that the hype for this record was huge even months before its release and that expectations were sky-rocketing, the least we can say about "†" is that it doesn't disappoint at all. French duo Justice (Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay) deliver what will probably be the clubs soundtrack for this summer, destined to take crowds all over the world into an enthusiastic hedonistic mood. Full of maximalism anthems, loud metallic synthesizers that sound even more powerful than 100 guitars and an unstoppable digital energy, "†" is the aural equivalent of many electronic exclamation-marks put together to make a frenetic and kaleidoscopic no-rules party. Rich and full of not so discreet details, everything is multiplied by the highest possible factor, not afraid to embrace bad taste or committing excesses. In cases like this, when subtlety is something to be laughed at, everything could degenerate into inconsequence, but an hallucinating sense of funkyness and an inventive inspiration to take house and disco to new sick and twisted levels saves the day. Infectious stuff. (8,5/10)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Stars Of The Lid - And Their Refinement Of The Decline

Two hours of ambient music full of very long drones where almost nothing happens... Stars Of The Lid critics strongly use this argument over and over and, to be honest, they're 100% right. Why did I fell over this record then? Because the word is "almost" and in those little details lies the big difference. The key to understand this record is the "Refinement" expressed in the title, one that creates long sounds with a scientific precision and manages to evolve its listenner, slowly grabbing him with something hypnotic and ridiculously beautiful and then carefully inserting micro tensions with patience, giving them enough space and time to fully breathe. With brilliant titles such as "A Meaningful Moment Through A Meaning(Less) Process", "Dopamine Clouds Over Craven Cottage", "That Finger On Your Temple Is The Barrel Of My Raygun" or "December Hunting For Vegetarian Fuckface", this collection of smooth, emotional and nostalgic symphonies is actually very far from monotony. More than very slow ambient music to put you to sleep, this is more like heavenly poetry with redemptive powers, one that can also serve as an inducer of very pleasant levels of consciousness. (8,5/10)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Dungen - Tio Bitar

Sometimes it's nice to hear a band not worried with the latest trends and just doing what they like, with some old-fashioned and out-of-this-world results. In the case of Swedish project Dungen, this means playing as if we were still in the late 1960's when the word "psychedelic" was the rule, acids were the favourite drugs, hard-rock was just around the corner and Jimi Hendrix was God. "Tio Bitar" (Swedish for "Ten Pieces"), their already-fourth album, manages to concentrate all the best that you'd expect from those years: visceral songs with a rich-detailed instrumentation, some on the raw side of things, others more ethereal-driven, full of powerful guitar riffs, creative structures, complex flute lines, furious drums, hallucinating organs, smooth tambourines, concise pop melodies...and Swedish lyrics. Probably using the same vintage recording methods as during psychedelic rock golden years, its organic results are obviously timeless in their challenging appeal, a bit alienating and consequently hypnotizing anyone who adventures into its inventive and (surprisingly) sophisticated sounds. (7/10)

Myspace page

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Music Videos # 50

Justice - D.A.N.C.E.

Did I mention waiting for the Justice album? For the record, it's called "Cross" (or just "†") and it will be out next Monday, but in the meantime, here's the newest single, exploring a mellower sound than the one we hear on Ed Rec Vol. 2 and an even stonger than usual inspiration on disco-sound (with the inevitable infectious twist and addictive lines - do the dance!). The accompanying video is simply mesmerizing, full of nice visuals and cool t-shirts.

Monday, June 11, 2007

V/A - Kitsuné Maison Compilation 4 / V/A - Ed Rec Vol. 2

Imaginary or real, a lot has been said about the "nu-rave" movement. Supposedly invented by Klaxons as a joke, the expression was then adopted by the British media and got something out of control. After confusing the music press, which expected nu-rave sounds and got an (excellent) rock album, Klaxons later rejected being part of everything nu-rave related (goodbye glowsticks...or maybe not, as we ended up with more than a handful of great remixes of their songs). But that didn't stop anyone from further exploring the idea that something was happening around this term. Truth to be told, it's a fact that lately a lot of projects have adopted a maximal approach to music, specially inside the dance and electronics community, making excessive songs to inflame worldwide dancefloors. And it's also a fact that few have been doing it better than the french.
This country relationship with electronics is quite a recent one, having started already in the 1990's with the first-wave of "french-touch" and projects like Motorbass, St. Germain, Alex Gopher, Bang Bang, Rinôçérôse or Daft Punk. Thanks to those fertile years, a new generation finally grew up with a free no-complexes attitude regarding electronics and dance music and the results are now becoming visible. Surprisingly or not, the most important reference for this generation right now is probably Daft Punk and their rock-music approach to club genres like house or disco (something not far from the "nu-rave" philosophy).
Kitsuné is one of the most important labels for this generation, one also usually mentioned when analysing nu-rave. Their 4th Maison Compilation is an eclectic collection of originals and remixes, where the first idea is having no pre-conceived ideas and also no inhibitions. This means recording at full volume and looking for full-impact physical sounds. Essentially an electro collection, it also touches many other sub-genres (techno, house, hip-hop, new-wave, folk, disco) making the whole package very diverse. With some irregular results, its infections energy still makes it almost impossible to resist. (7/10) Myspace page
Irregular is not something that could be said about Ed Banger Records. Since its beginnings, this label has been one of the most consistent in today's music world, with a careful input into everything associated to its name, from music to videos or record covers. Also strongly inspired by Daft Punk, their trademark sound is funkier and more grandiose, making what could be called as maximalism statements, full of robotic voices and vocoders, infectious basslines and strong-impact metalic synthesizers, among many other rich and effective details. Destined to become huge this summer when the Justice album finally comes out, this very unified compilation serves as an excellent introduction to their explosive universe. (8/10) Myspace page

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Inland Empire

It's a fact that this movie doesn't have a linear plot and a normal structure, but so what? As I've recently read, cinema is probably one of the most complete art forms, one that includes so many different elements like image, sound, writing, time, space, so why should it also be one of the most conventional? True, "Inland Empire" doesn't make much sense (does it have to?), but that doesn't make it less valid, on the contrary. Considering that no director manages cinema's materials so well as David Lynch and that in here he made no constraints and limits to himself, it's safe to say that this is probably his most beautiful movie ever, even if not in a conventional way. Beautiful more in the sense that basically every scene and shot is mesmerizing. Beautiful in the sense that it explores new connections between cinema's different elements, molding them in an unique (and very "Lynch") way. The plot itself is what matters less. Call it abstractionism, call it a study on our fears, the truth is that this is probably one of the most radical movies we'll be able to see in the near future. As with all things new, it includes some imperfections, a few on purpose (the image noise being the most obvious and quite effective) some as an involuntary consequence of its radicalism (3 hours is maybe too much). But it's a highly-recommended experience, although one that is quite demanding and must be lived with an open-mind, if you want to let youself immerse in its creepy, disturbing and also fascinating universe.

Parts & Labor - Mapmaker

Exciting times for music, these ones, when you can stumble across a new favourite band almost every day. Of course that with so many new releases, projects and material surfacing, there has to be a selection, but Parts & Labor are one of those new discoveries that make all the research efforts worth it. For those of you wondering who are Parts & Labor, I had no idea until I heard this recent record which, for the matter, is already their fourth. "Mapmaker" is basically a very modern punk-rock-noise celebration. Modern because it grabs punk's teenage enthusiasm and infuses it with original rhythmic structures, explosive keyboards in place of guitars and unusual textures. But more than all the experimentation felt all over it (inserting so many surprising elements and effects in each song), there's also that cathartic and explosive atmosphere that takes it to a whole new level, one that breathes a joy-of-living-and-playing and finds a reason to celebrate above all the abounding misery facts. Inducing high-doses of adrenaline and a celebratory mood with noise-oriented tracks full of challenging details requires a huge dose of balance that is not a common achievement. With "Mapmaker", Brooklyn project Parts & Labor has managed to do just that in such an infectious way that makes it all seem the easiest thing in the world. (8/10)

Myspace page

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Music Videos # 49

Klaxons - It's Not Over Yet

Klaxons as some sort of mythological warriors in a ritualistic ceremony, fighting against flying crystals somewhere in a cosmic location? Whatever this all means, it does make for some very nice shots, directed by Saam Faramand. Oh and the crystals do explode in the end, opening some sort of transcendent passage to who-knows-where. As they say, it's not over yet, right? Love this band.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Music Videos # 48

Rihanna - Umbrella (feat. Jay-Z)

See what I mean with "transcendence"? Here with the accompanying visual translation. Explosive, huh? (Ah, and those keyboards in the background...)

Rihanna - Good Girl Gone Bad

So far, Rihanna was an average artist with a lot of potential but still not quite up there, although a couple of excellent songs ("Pon De Replay" and the Soft-Cell-based "SOS") maintained our hopes and kept us interested. That was all not in vain, as she's finally managed to meet everything that we expected from her (and some more). Any doubts? Just multiply those two songs by a whole album and you get a wet dream of pop-music-heaven proportions called "Good Girl Gone Bad": a kaleidoscopic mixture of styles (still mainly r&b, but also electro, soul, rock, club music, hip-hop...), touching everything with a fresh, energetic and even slightly experimental approach. The result is so effective that we end up with something so contagious, fun and colorful as only pop music at its best moments could be. Not afraid to be excessive (musically and also lyric-wise), there's always a multitude of details in every song that manages to take us by surprise, so much so that even the usually sloppy mid-tempo moments make a whole lot of sense in here. With 12 full-bodied and overwhelming songs the result could only be one: 46 minutes of pure addictive pop-transcendence. Beyoncé and Justin, watch your backs. (8/10)

n.d.: for the best and funniest review of the year so far, have a look at Popjustice's text for "Good Girl Gone Bad" here. It's called "100 things less brilliant than the new rihanna album" and it includes things like trees, dogs, cars, beaches, haircuts or shower curtains...