Category Archives: Musical Reviews: So Tell Me Whacha REALLY Think?

Bitch Slap of the Week: CD Review of Zero 7’s Yeah Ghost

                       

Ms. Mix & Bitch’s Gotta Get Track:  Swing

If you’re one of the millions who fell madly in love with Zero 7’s down tempo sound on When It Falls and Simple Things, then you’re not going to be happy with their latest release, Yeah Ghost.  However, if you’re open to a more soulful  – may I even dare say, funk-inspired Zero 7 – then you’re going to love this record.  I have a feeling, however, that many of their urban–lounge-hanging fans are going to sigh deep and long for the Zero 7 girl they fell in love with – not the one all glammed up and arriving at their door today.

What has stayed the same is the songwriting team of Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns, who still expertly craft each song without falling into the familiar traps of overproduction like so many others of their genre tend to do.  Also a continuing staple is the duo outsourcing vocals (bringing to light such talents in the past as Sia, José Gonzalez, and Tina Dico):  this time, you’ll hear the likes of Martha Tilston on tracks Pop Art Blue and Swing, and Eska Mtungwazi on Medicine Man, Sleeper, Mr. McGee, and The Road.  Each vocalist offers their own spin and interpretation to Binns and Hardaker’s hardware, and add some delicious texture and depth to the album, maybe even more so than past vocalists (and that’s saying something because I loved those guys and gals).   Binns also performs on Everything Up (Zizou), and while not astounding, somehow still adds to the richness of their direction.

Overall, a new direction for the electronica superstars – one which may not be fully embraced by their fan base, but one which may bring new minions on board nonetheless.

 

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Bitch Slap of the Week: CD Review of A Band You’ve Never Heard Of, in miniature

 

This Chicago-based quartet of indie folk-popsters have yet to be featured at your local Starbucks chain or on iTunes Singer/Songwriters section, but that’s exactly where they should be heading.  This is perfect coffeehouse music, with its dual harmonizing melodies accompanied by an unobtrusive acoustic sound.  Think Indigo Girls or Girlyman without the strong political agenda hitting you over the head.  Not that they don’t have anything to say, they do, but like the name implies, this group’s gonna deliver it to you in a quirky, tongue-in-cheek style with a nod towards the taciturn.  And when you hear how this band formed, much of their inside-joke vibe comes to light and makes-ya-go ‘ah, now I get it.’

Erin Frisby (vocals/guitar/piano) and Stefanie Kohn (vocals/guitar/banjo/accordian/xyloshi) met at a costume party on a houseboat on the Gulf of Mexico. Frisby was dressed as e.e. cummings and Kohn as William Carlos Williams. In their words, ” our love for diminutive lettering and an economy of language naturally made us fast friends. In fact, our first conversation consisted of just four words: “Can I sit?” “Yes.”

They found each other again in Chicago and thus formed in miniature, but didn’t stay a duet for very long with the addition of  Philip Rabbitt (bass/guitar/banjo – how many banjos does one band need?) and Sarah Sterling (drums/guitar).  Right now, you’ll find the four of them playing around Chicago – certainly a vibrant music scene to cut one’s teeth on.  Their eponymous first release is a self-produced effort, but you can take a listen to them through their MySpace account and follow what they’re up to on Facebook.  Even though these four are just starting out, they have a well-honed sound which will appeal to both the college circuit kids and aging hipster adult alternative crowds alike.  If I had to offer anything in the spirit of constructive criticism, all I’d offer is for them to play up their harmonies even more and experiment a bit more with layering their sound.  They all play an array of instruments, but I can’t always say that I hear that variety in their arrangements.  A minimalist approach is fine – frankly one to be lauded in our over-produced musical climate – but then in miniature needs to keep their audiences surprised and offer even more of the unexpected.  Other than that, a very fine debut, earing three bitch slaps out of four. Well done.

 

 

Ms. Mix & Bitch’s CD Review of the Week: Actors with Albums, Part II

Ms. Mix & Bitch’s Gotta Grab Track: Clean

So the story goes that Pete Yorn had finally fallen asleep after a vicious bout of insomnia, and while drifting off to the sounds of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot, he decided he wanted to do a duet record in the same vein.  Hmm…so, if you’re an indie pop dude with good hair, the appropriate amount of French-inspired facial fuzz, and  a ‘definitely-take-me-seriously’ vibe, whoya gonna get to play the Bardot to your Gainsbourg?

Well, of course, Scarlett Johansson.  She certainly’s got the look down, with batty doe eyes and a mouth Ginger Lynn would’ve envied in her prime.  Plus, Scarlett’s a genuinely talented actress.  So, of course she can sing – right?

Well, yes and no. If you’ve been waiting for a whisper-twang version of Tom Waite, then Johansson’s your gal.  Yorn doesn’t help much either because, well, it’s a typical Pete Yorn album…full of somber moments of contemplative beige to match the shag carpet by your low-fi stereo.  Of course, because this album comes out right at the same time Deschanel and Ward release She & Him, comparisons are going to be made.  And they should, because they’re both mediocre.

The problem for me is that Yorn and Johansson frame this record as a conversation between a passionate couple on the verge of breaking up, with the songs serving as back-n-forth table tennis of “oh whoa, what to do?”  There’s no heat, no sex, no passion between their voices.  They just seems to be, well, too sweet and laissez fare to be taken seriously. This isn’t a bad record.  It’s pleasant, it’s innocuous, and for those of us who’ve heard the Bardot/Gainsbourg sound…it’s like comparing an original creme bruleé to cotton candy.  They’re not even in the same league, at least in terms of sexual tension. 

I personally don’t care for the country twang incarnations evoked by Johansson on tracks such as “Relator,”  “I am the Cosmos,” and “Wear and Tear.”  It  just feels phony as hell.  However, “Clean” is a decent, typically lo-fi track, as is “Shampoo.”  Those two especially evoke the Pete Yorn vibe so many Generation Y ers tend to swoon for, so it won’t disappoint.  I guessed I’m just a little bit shocked because Scarlett Johansson is one of the most naturally sexy girls I’ve ever seen.  I don’t know how Yorn did it, but he managed to neuter what makes Johansson, well, a sultry creature of the Gods on par with Bridget Bardot.  That’s quite a parlor trick.  Perhaps he simply bored her to death with his strummy-strum guitar arrangement and occasional pluckety pluck honky tonk twinges. 

 

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Bitch Slap of the Week: Actors with Albums

I make no attempts at hiding the fact that I’m basically Steve Job’s nasty lil’ bitch.  If he and the rest of the Apple-tinis came out with the ability to put an iTunes chip inside my brain, I’d be the first to sign up.  So, it’s no big whoopin’ surprise that I cruise the iTunes music library as frequently as a perv at a playground, and under its My Groove section (yeah, whatev on that title) they have a tasty lil’ category entitled “Actors with Albums.” I couldn’t help but chuckle.

Although, it’s not like the idea is something new there, right?  Those pesky, attention-obsessed thespians have been trying to trample on the coattails of rock-n-rollers almost as much as rock stars have attempted to break into film (blame Elvis and Cher -among many, many others –  for the cross-dressing.  Aren’t so many culture faux pas always traced back to Elvis and Cher??). 

Anyhoo…

While I admit to having an inherent bias against actor-crossover-albums, I have decided to be less judgey and give a few of the latest albums a good, solid, listen-to…so here it goes…

Mix Tape Therapy’s Worth-a-Grab Track:  Saint Jerome

Coconut Records is actually the solo musical efforts of actor Jason Schwartzman (prob best known for his new HBO series, Bored to Death, along with movie roles inI ♥ Huckabees, Funny People, Shopgirl, amongst others).  Davy is his second release on his own label, Young Baby Records – his first was Nighttiming, also an indie pop album featuring – WHOA BIG SURPRISE!!! indie pop-styled singers such as Zooey Deschanel and Kirstie Dunst (before the rehab – ouch).   With his sophomore effort, he’s lost the Sundance Film Festival entourage and has produced a record indicative of Schwartzman’s California easy-breezy Cover Girl style- with just enough twenty-something, medium-bodied angst to keep it interesting.  In other words, Schwartzman-as-musician (which is, ironically, how he started) has some musical chops.  The range of reviews you’ll probably read for this album range from begruding acceptance of talent to comparables to the likes of Elliott Smith or Sgt. Pepper’s-fashioned Beatles.  The truth is somewhere in between. 

While there’s certainly a case to be made for choosing a favorite track or two, the beauty of this record is to keep it playing on a continuous loop and let it serve as the soundtrack of your everyday. It’s certainly not soulful enough for your next life crisis, but Davy has enough artistry and charm to keep you buzzing regardless.

 

           

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Mix Tape Therapy’s Worth-a-Grab Track:  This is Not a Test

First of all, I adore Zooey Deschanel.  I don’t always love her movie choices – but I fell for her almost as hard as I fell for Kate Hudson in their shared movie, Almost Famous.  Remember her?  She was the sister who left the prophetic note for her brother saying, “Someday, you will be cool.”  Of course, I’m still waiting 😉

Anyway, she’s the latest indie film flavor-of-the-month and to help her segue into the independent music scene is none other than indie pop music darling, M. Ward.  A musical marriage made in heaven or hell, you ask?  While I’m thrilled to say that this album doesn’t suck, I can’t go so far as to say it’s a must-have for your personal Christmas list either.  Unless, of course, you really dig those retro 60s and 70s, soft rock hits.

Which, by the way motherfuckers, I do.  Lots of music critics have been comparing Deschanel to the likes of Carly Simon and Rita Coolidge, and man o man, I sure wish I could do the same – psst, how many of my readers born after 1980 did I just lose with those references?  But somewhere, somehow…in the path where Deschanel’s  vocals breathlessly escape their strung-way-too-twangy chords, skipping the depths of her diaphragm altogether, her voice somehow gets lodged in the morass between the back of her throat and her nasal cavity.  The result leads to a sound more resonant of a Tammie Wynette whine than a Linda Ronstadt roar. 

Yeah, I know..that was bitchy, but I say it with a heavy heart because I so wanted to love her voice and this record.  Don’t get me wrong – M. Ward has accurately captured the upbeat, sing-song simplicity of this songwriter genre through his crafty string arrangements.  Covers of 60s gold classics and torch song standards – such as “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today” and “You Really Got a Hold on Me”  are technically sound and relatively straight forward.  They just don’t have any soul.  The results ends up sounding like a karaoke act – a well-rehearsed, above-the-basement karaoke act – but a tribute band job just the same.

Until you get to tracks actually written by Deschanel and Ward, like “This is Not a Test.”  Then, the cutesy-twang sound filtered  through the dry-witted lyrics and sound work. And work quite well.  My advice? Stick to writing you own stuff for Volume II, k? M. Ward is not a creative enough arranger and Deschanel doesn’t have the musical chops to cover what they covering.  Keep it simple, don’t take yourselves too seriously, and inject your intelligence and sense of humor into what you’re writing – and I’m positive Diablo Cody will be calling you for some tracks to her next Juno-inspired classic.  Good luck.

    

 

Next:  Actors with Albums, Part II

 

 

 

Bitch Slap of the Week: CD Review of Imogen Heap’s Ellipse

ImogenHeap-Ellipse.jpg image by j_u_l_i_e_e

Mix Tape Therapy’s Gotta-Have Track:  First Train Home

First things first: I’m a big Frou Frou fan and I adored Imogen Heap’s breakout record,  Speak for Yourself.  So this is when I start getting nervous for an artist, because so many flounder at this pulse point in their career.  While Ellipse is technically not her sophomore effort (first was I Megaphone, and then came Speak for Yourself), it might as well be for us, her American audience.  

Happy to report that Imogen masterfully avoids the “sophomore slump,” creating an ethereal, electropop record which takes the best elements of her Frou Frou and Speak for Yourself success and brings it to the next level. 

What exactly do I mean by that?

Well, for starters, if you dug Heap’s use of a cappella on such hits as “Hide and Seek,” you’ll find that again on this album, through singles such as “Earth,” along with lush, symphonically-styled laptop numbers such as “Canvas” and “2-1.”  Many don’t know that Heap is a classically trained pianist, and while she highlighted her ivory-tickling talent on I-Megaphone, we haven’t really heard much of that until this record. On Ellipse, Heap brings her piano back without allowing it to consume the harmonic, light-as-air arrangements on tracks such as “Half-Life,” “Between Sheets,” and “The Fire.”  The results are hypnotic and transcendental without becoming an electropop cliché.

That all said, what Heap fans really come for is her voice…those androgynous, silk-smooth pipes which sound like no one else in the business.  She’s an original voice in a oxygen-deprived, overly produced genre – and with Ellipse, Ms. Imogen has given us a reason to believe she’s with us for the long haul.

I give Imogen Heap’s Ellipse a 4 out of 5 bitch slaps.

         

 

Catch and Release of the Week: Darker My Love’s “2” Album

The term “psychedelic rock” conjures images of blotter acid on tongues and tacky tie dyed shirts, of Jimi Hendrix trippin’ off his tricked-out bandana and never-ending drum and bongo solos.

In other words, more about the psychedelics, less about the rock.

However, there’s a group of boys from Los Angeles that’s reversing the usual equation, and putting the music back into the genre.  Darker My Love’s latest release, entitled “2,” may only be the band’s sophomore release, but it’s a tight record – one showing a heck of a lot more restraint and maturity than their debut release in 2006.  Tracks such as “Northern Soul,” “Pale Sun,” and “Blue Day” are stand-outs, and many music critics are already comparing them to the likes of The Warlocks and The Out Crowd.  While it’s certainly a complimentary comparison, in this case it actually may be selling Darker My Love a bit short.

I wish I could share a lot of back story on these guys, but I couldn’t find anything particularly noteworthy: just a couple of boys from high school that got together to play some music. No tawdry ODing stories. No scandelous bed-hopping. The focus of their story is the music, and I guess that’s the point now isn’t it?

I’m going to give Darker My Love’s 2 release 4 Bitch Slaps our of 5.

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Catch and Release of the Week: Kerli’s Love is Dead

     

Hello Mix Tapers. This is Kerli.

I know, I know – her publicity shot look like one of those airbrushed stock photos from one of those New Age bookstore posters, but we’re going to focus on the music anyways.

We’re also going to ignore the fact that the title of her album also reads like some bad emo ‘zine entry.

We will discard all these faux pas because Kerli has actually come out with a decent debut record.

Born in a small town in Soviet-occupied Estonia, Kerli has the stereotypical story of the girl who had dreams too big for her little village.  She performed in a series of really bad European versions of Star Search and American Idol contests with mediocre success…blah, blah, blah, right? Well, eventually – and when I say “eventually” we are relatively speaking here, considering this girl’s only 21 – music industry Svengali, LA Reid, signs her (he was the man behind such discoveries like P!nk, Janet Jackson, TLC, Usher, Oukcast, Dido, Avril Lavigne, among many others) and here we are today folks.

I’ll be honest. Usually I wouldn’t devote the time to promote one of Reid’s pet projects. Firstly, because he certainly doesn’t need me to move his publicity train along, but also because I think he represents almost everything wrong with the music industry today. I’ll spare you my whole rant on the bastardization of everything good and holy that was rock-n-roll through the mafioso leanings and overall anal probing of the corporate America machine. That said, I think he does find talent and Kerli is no exception.

Tracks such as “Love is Dead,” “I Want Nothing,” and “Creepshow” could be played at a 90s-theme seance for their powers to evoke the spirits of Evanescence and Bjork, while “Bulletproof,” “Hurt Me,” and “Strange Boy” certainly took some tips from the Avril Lavigne playbook as well.  While Kerli is occasionally overwhelmed by her influences – which is understandable considering her age and production team – she delivers enough of her own stamp to this project to make it hers.

Time will tell if she will emerge as her own artist – or become just another banal chart-seeking whore monger. Kerli can really go either way.

For now, it deserves three bitch slaps…

 

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