Quick Hit Wednesday: Condo – Best of Luck

1 10 2008

No time for a real review, but I am currently majorly digging on Condo’s third album Best of Luck, which is due to be released on October 14th on Rock Park Records. I found their press release a bit funny, as it describes them as “channeling the cool glare of Bauhaus and the Fall with the playfulness of Siouxsie and the Banshees.” The front cover compares them to Jarvis Cocker/Pulp.

Uh, no. Try again.

Condo aren’t innovative or new, and despite their current residency in New York City they are squarely, squarely in the “Britrock” genre of music (their lead singer is British). Think The Editors mixed with a smidge of James, nothing so edgy as Siouxsie. “Judge of That” is the epitome of this 90s throwback sound:

Download Judge of That

Still, the guitars get pretty hard at points on the album, something else I appreciate. The twee-pop standard of a boy-girl duet (ergh; come on? seriously? are we not past that?) turns dark and un-twee on “Left at the Lights,” which starts off sort of boring but picks up around the middle.

In short, Best of Luck isn’t an album that will change your life, but I always like to give a shoutout – however brief – to those doing rock music and doing it well, and the points Condo lose for trying to be trendy (and succeeding – 10 years ago), they gain by being great musicians. Check it out.

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Tuesday Teaser – Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid

22 04 2008

Someone whose musical chops I admire very much told me to give this album by Manchester-area rockers Elbow a listen just last week and lo and behold today is its US release date, thus its inclusion on this blog. I will admit to not knowing a lot about Elbow. I have Leaders of the Free World, their album of 2006, and I like it, mostly because of the strange, compelling voice of lead singer Guy Garvey, but I haven’t really sat down and thought about it. The person who recommended this to me did it on the basis of my love of Arab Strap, and I can see how the two bands have a certain sense of the miserable in common, but Elbow have such a lovely, dreamy-but-rocktastic, melodic sound to them, it would be hard for me to draw much comparison to the Strap. Like Arab Strap, though, they write beautiful lyrics, and I am glad they were rec’d to me.

The Seldom Seen Kid is kind of all over the place as an album, musically. Flamenco, country, blues-rock, you name it, its on here. I’m not entirely sure it holds up as a cohesive album, but there sure are some lovely moments.

The Spanish-influenced “The Bones Of You” is one of my favorites (“I love the bones of you / That I will never escape”). Lyrics of longing with that distinct musical flair. What is not to like? The song starts almost in medias res with a nonchalant “So I’m there” and then crams in this loaded, lovely little simile “Cramming commitments like cats in a sack / Telephone burn and a purposeful gait.”

The chorus soars above those Flamenco guitars and rich vocal harmonies:

And it’s you, and it’s May
And we’re sleeping through the day
And I’m five years ago
And three thousand miles away

Download The Bones of You

Amen to that. Fantastic, right? And it doesn’t sound like anything else out there as far as I know, which makes Elbow – even in their more miserable moments – somehow sunny and refreshing.

One of the other reviews of the album I read ends with the following assessment:

Those who find Elbow drab will still probably be unmoved by this Talk Talk-inspired band’s latest. But for everyone else who likes to be moved, relaxed, and cheered by superior, soulful Mancunian lullabies, The Seldom Seen Kid is essential.

That is probably a pretty fair statement. And yet there is something more than “soulful Mancunian lullabies” to be had on this album. That review gives the impression that it’s all slow, contemplative, and a lot of it is, and yet the solidly blues influence of “Grounds for Divorce” hints at a much more upbeat enthusiastic Elbow:

(sorry for the poor sound quality; not sure what happened when I ripped it)

I would say that based on my surface knowledge of Elbow, this album is probably their biggest chance to get really noticed here in the States. It’s smart, it’s catchy, it’s beautiful and it’s accessible. It is also their first self-produced album, and there’s a level of perfectionism here that’s been absent in previous efforts. To many bands (like, say, Arab Strap) that kind of over-production would make songs feel too rehearsed and static (like say on Arab Strap’s The Last Romance), but for Elbow peeling away their musical layers only adds to their dreamy charm.





Tuesday Teaser: The New British Dance Craze

1 04 2008

The past three entries in this blog have been relatively obvious and easy for me to write. The topics came naturally. Both Counting Crows and Paul Simon were a natural place to start because of the place they each hold in my life. But there really isn’t any new music that I was eagerly anticipating that came out this week; really, the only new music I am waiting for with anticipation is the new Isobel Campbell/Mark Lanegan duets due out in May and Dizzee Rascal’s US release of Maths + English, due out in about a month (although I already have it since it’s been out in the UK since last year), both of which I will review.

But upon looking at the singles and albums I’ve purchased via iTunes in recent weeks, a pattern started to emerge. For a girl who cut her teeth on Smashing Pumpkins, I sure am digging that electronic music lately. There have been some great releases since the beginning of Jan 2008 on the electronic music front, almost all of them from British/European bands.

Last week Foals’ Antidotes came out (they are on Seattle label Sub Pop in the States) and is getting quite a bit of press. They hail from all over, but formed in Oxford, England, a place dear to my heart, and make music that defies genre. Supposedly, they want their guitars to sound like “insects” which I guess I can kind of see. It’s like speedy rock music with backing synth and shouting vocals, which I know doesn’t make it sound appealing, but they are extremely appealing. I hear a lot of 80s alternative music in Foals’ sound, sort of like if, um, The Cure maybe got some happy pills and then met, like, The Rapture and got James Mercer of the Shins all hopped up as well and had them sing for this new superband. Wow that was a nerdy sentence, but you kind of get the idea. “Balloons,” the first single of the album is absolutely ridiculous fun. I purchased the album on iTunes (it was only like $5.99 for the whole thing) and got some bonus tracks, one of which hums and buzzes along with those insecty guitars and has the awesome name “Mathletics.” So, enjoy:

My friend H. turned me on to Hot Chip, to whom I will only give a little mention about because they have been blogged endlessly (check the Hype Machine for proof on that) and are big news now that their remix of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” showed up everywhere. But Made in the Dark (which came out in January) is dancetastic, with more electronic noise and more of a dependence on 80s alternative rock on this particular album (not necessarily as evident in their first two albums), which connects them now in sound to Foals (kind of, except Hot Chip are far more electronica-poppy). Their record label (EMI) call them “minimalist disco pop” and I am frankly not sure what that means. This is “So Deep.”

I just think that Gary Numan would be so proud of these guys…and the fact that depressing 80s British new wave synth is being revived via modern British dance tracks makes me happy. Bring on the Hot Chip remix of Jesus and Mary Chain, I say!

Finally, I say, if you are immune to the charms of The Ting Tings, you are out of your mind. With only two songs and a few remixes out and about, The Ting Tings are my new favorite band that I know nothing about. “Great DJ” is a single they’ve released in anticipation of their first album and I found “That’s Not My Name” floating around on the internet. Give it a listen because it will rock your world!

The Ting Tings – That’s Not My Name

The Brits have a long history with dance records from those heady days of The Bristol Sound through to groups like The Streets. British dance music has almost always been more intelligent, deeper, somehow…and I think more listenable than its American counterparts. That’s not to say the States hasn’t produced some memorable dance music, because we have (Battles was mentioned by a music-loving friend; The Rapture and The Faint and all that stuff from the Midwest from a few years back would also be something to point out here; but they were the exception, not the rule). I think there is the idea that dance music in Britain can be much more than just something you dance to, whereas it’s often just chest-thumping beats or bubblegum pop in the US. Sugar with no spice.

Britney Spears has some good dance tracks though. It’s a guilty pleasure, ok?