Got Enough Guilt to Start My Own Religon Part 3 – Tori Amos’ Secrets

3 09 2008

This is very belated. Work (my real day job) got crazy. But here it is! Yay! I wrote most of it a month and a half ago. If you would like, go back and read part 1 and part 2.

I think a lot of people are going to give me shit for the artists I chose. Why Paula Cole? Isn’t she pop? Why Tori Amos? She plays piano! This blog has been pretty traditional in its definition of rock & roll. But when I was looking for women to talk about to explore the creation of an American female narrative in 90s rock, I needed 4 women who were writing their own songs, getting radio airtime and not overtly political. Sure, I could have chosen L7 or Bikini Kill, but they were coming from an entirely different context than the 4 women I did choose. Sure, Exile in Guyville is political – it’s a response text, how could it not be – and Tori Amos covering an Eminem song about murdering his wife is also a political statement (as is that whole album of covers, Strange Little Girls, in which Amos tries to bring out the female voice within each of the former hits), but what these 4 women have in common, I think, more than anything, is that they are all storytellers. They have things they want to write about, both from their own person perspective and from the perspective of characters they create in their song lyrics, and what is interesting to me more than those overtly political statements is the profoundly disenchanted, cynical voice and narrative that is created when you add all these stories up.

I think of all 4 women, Tori Amos is perhaps the best and most complete storyteller, even if you don’t know what she’s talking about half the time. Breathy inflection reminiscent of Kate Bush, an awesome voice, a confessional attitude, great lyrics and mad piano skillz would all be enough to make excellent albums, but Amos knows how to combine all of her talents, emphasizing what is needed to best tell the story. She seems to inhabit her characters fully, whether her characters are outlaws, gay men, washed up models or herself, reliving her own rape at knifepoint (as in “Me and a Gun”).

I want to talk about three of her best-known songs, and explore how they fit into the “narrative of guilt” I’ve been talking about for the past two entries. “Cornflake Girl,” from 1994’s Under the Pink is maybe the quintessential song about being an outsider. The idea of a Huck/Ahab sort of mentality is problematic in the context of being a female rocker, because you are already an outsider, and if my assertion that women of this time period were more exploring the guilt that came with being an outsider, of wanting that freedom but also having the enormous pressure to conform that comes with being female in general, then “Cornflake Girl” is an anthem for the age.

Amos’ words are chosen so carefully and are so painstakingly assembled (she is truly a craftswoman in this regard) so that you have no idea what she is actually talking about, and yet somehow, emotionally, you fully understand that when she confesses in a downbeat, morose way that she “never was a cornflake girl,” she is talking about sex and her own understanding of her sexuality.

I also interpreted a “cornflake girl” in Amos’ world as being the kind of girl who could deny herself what she wanted (cornflakes having been invented, the urban lore goes, to sublimate sexual feelings so that people wouldn’t want to masturbate). And yet again, we have lyrics that say one thing, but the underlying emotion of the song both in Amos’ delivery and in the forceful piano notes, is of anger.

And the man with the golden gun
thinks he knows so much
thinks he knows so much, yeah

Knowing what we know about Amos’ history, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here to point out that the song seems to be about feeling a kind of guilt for her rape because of her sexuality.

“God,” also from Under the Pink, is Amos essentially scolding God for not being around when she needs Him. I say “Him” because in this version of Amos’ God, God is definitely not a woman.

God, sometimes you just don’t come through
God, sometimes you just don’t come through
Do you need a woman to look after you?
God, sometimes you just don’t come through

You could argue that Amos isn’t addressing God specifically, but rather using the word “God” as emphasis. I think in context, and with the song title being “God” that she is indeed addressing some idea of God, and that again, she is mad. But here what’s interesting is the pronouns. In the middle of the song, amid cascading piano, Amos screeches – well the proper word would be “screeches” but that makes it sound like she is off-key or anti-melodic and she is in fact still singin’ pretty – “would you even tell her if you decide to make the sky fall?” (emphasis mine) implying that God has a certain apathy toward the female gender.

There are funny bits of the song, when she characterizes God as being a dude with a golf club in a “4 wheel” headed off “south,” presumably on vacation. The anger she feels at a deity who has turned his back on her is palpable, but what strikes me about this song is that in her vocals, Amos almost seems to give up a little. Never do you hear her ask God to help her, to come back from vacation. Instead, she simply scolds and moves on. This is a quintessential aspect of the female narrative of 90s rock, the idea that we (as a gender) and they (specifically) have somehow been left behind, left out, exiled.

Finally, I wanted to talk a little bit about one of Amos’ later 90s efforts, “Raspberry Swirl,” a single for which she was nominated “Best Female Rock Vocal Performance” at the Grammys in 1999 (the album it was off of, From the Choirgirl Hotel, was released in 1998).

I chose this song because it’s a little weird. You can barely hear the lyrics. The song sounds like its name, a swirl of tart-and-sweet lyrics and breathy sounds with layer upon layer of complexity. It is a great song to end a discussion of Amos with, because there is an anthemic feeling to it. There is also an undercurrent of sapphic love, and though Amos says the song isn’t about sex specifically, she has admitted it was written for her best friend, who was having a rough time with men.
Things are getting desperate
When all the boys can’t be men
Everybody knows
I’m her friend
Everybody knows
I’m her man

Here Amos is willing to play around with her sexuality in a playful but forceful way. It’s almost as if she’s daring the men in her friend’s life to be as good as she is to her friend. And while there’s no hint of the guilt I’ve been describing in this song, I think it’s interesting on a gender-play, feminism level. I also think there’s a fair amount of anger in this song too. You think “Angry Girl Music” and you think about Liz Phair and Bikini Kill, but all of the women rockers from the 90s I’ve explored have been angry in their own way, and mostly about misogyny/gender identity/feeling like an outcast.

Amos’ contribution to the narrative women wrote on the airwaves of the 90s is an emotional connection to her characters whether they are substitutes for her own viewpoint or not. She has a gorgeous voice and is a talented – if often obtuse – writer, who manages to describe that feeling of being an outcast and of exiling yourself because of perceived differences that so often were wrapped up in the idea of a “feminine” sexuality. It’s the exact same thing Liz Phair is angry about; the Madonna/whore complex that seems to trap women into feeling guilty about what for men would be “normal” or “healthy” sexuality. And how that sexuality gets twisted even more when you’ve been the victim of a sexual crime. This is what we’re left with after the women’s movement of the 60s and 70s. We have the tools and power to be as sexually free as men are, but not the societal acceptance to do so, and I think because rock & roll is so closely tied up with men’s sexuality, the guilt for women that is wrapped around our sexuality became a huge theme for women rockers of the 90s.


Guilty Pleasure Friday – Alanis Morissette’s Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie

13 06 2008

I will be the first to admit that this album isn’t for everyone, but I – ashamedly – have loved it since it came out and continue to love it.

Alanis got quite a bit of flack for her sophomore effort. It was complicated, a little too new-agey, and not full of the rage of Jagged Little Pill, the rage that made her famous in “You Oughta Know.”

But I gave Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie a critical listen recently and was still impressed at the quiet moments of brilliance on the album. Morissette can write a lyric, but this album is more like beat poetry set to complex music, which evokes a strange and mysterious mood. She is unconcerned with rhyme and meter in more of the songs; many of them have no hooks and no chorus and most of them weave lyrics that move in and out of various characters’ heads. It’s a bizarre album to be released by someone who, at the time, was arguably one of the best-known female singers.

I think that is what I like so much about this album; sure, she’s not talking about performing oral sex in a movie theater and she’s not as overtly angry, but the entire album is basically a “fuck you” to the record industry and anyone who expected her to make Jagged Little Pill II. How punk rock of her!

So the story goes that after her meteoric rise to fame, Morissette went to India (what else?) and came out on the other side with some doubts about her own position in the world. Okay, it’s a little cliche for my taste, and I can’t really stomach some of the more New Agey philosophies Morissette espouses on the album (“Baba,” about a guru and “Thank U,” the hit single from the album, are both still too much about a vague notion/idea of “spirituality” more at home in a holistic witch doctor’s office than on a rock album), but the writing is absolutely brilliant. Brilliant.

Take a look at “Front Row,” a stream-of-consciousness song about the dizzying highs and lows of a relationship (the chorus is “I’m in the front row / the front row / with popcorn / I get to see you / see you / close up”)

The complex instrumentation here, the Indian instruments adding a rich tapestry of beautiful but intricate music that completely supports the complex story being told. My favorite moment is when she is talking about “30 good reason why we should not be together.” The list she gives her lover is funny. “You smoke. You live in New Jersey,” she smirks. “But the conversation was hypothetical,” she sings, and here, a well-placed, quick breath tells more than any words could, and she continues, “Oh I am totally short of breath for you / Why can’t you shut your stuff off?” That switch is just beautiful; think about the last time you were totally that hot for someone and trying to deny it.

What is particularly interesting about the song is that it pretty much requires you to have the complete lyrics in front of you. Morissette has added lyrics behind the chorus that you can kind of hear, amid the bongo drums and electric guitars, but can’t really hear all of, and they add emotional depth to the song, and remind you – if you are the sort of person I am – of all the crap your brain spews out when you are thinking about or involved in a relationship.

“The Couch” is about Morissette’s father, who was a therapist. She weaves stories of herself, her father, and his patients in second and first person, jumping from character to character. Again, there’s a “world music” kind of flair, but the music is dark, as are many of the stories.

Download The Couch

I walked into his office
I felt so self-conscious on the couch
He was sitting down across from me
He was writing down his hypothesis
I don’t know I’ve got a loving, supporting wife
who doesn’t know how involved she should get
You see his interjecting was just him
calling me on my shit

At the risk of sounding too rah rah self-discovery, this is brave songwriting that lays Morissette open in the most vulnerable way. She gets inside the complicated relationship between patients and their therapists, but against the backdrop of getting inside her own father’s head and writing at the same time about his impressions of her. “Here we are battling similar demons not coincidentally.”

I told you I liked songs with literary lyrics I could sink my teeth into. This is why; because they warrant a thought process much more than “Oooh! Pretty!” and that is Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie’s strength (or weakness, depending on your perspective on really, really complicated music). I have nothing against people who like “Ooooh! Pretty!” music, which is how I classify the recently-reviewed Fleet Foxes album; or Hot Chip; or the Ting Tings. Fun, pretty, good. This album is neither pretty nor fun all the time.

Of course it has its moments. Its biggest weakness is its length, the number of tracks, and its lack of cohesiveness. Songs that would be lovely on another record falter here because they don’t stand up in complexity to songs like the above or “One,” in which Morissette calls herself something that I have often used to describe a certain type of woman, “A sexy treadmill capitalist.” This weakness is apparent on “Unsent,” another single from the album. A lovely, acoustic unsent letter to Morissette’s former lovers, “Unsent” sounds strangely hollow, though it is probably the song on which her voice sounds most traditionally pretty.

It still has that rambling, un-rhymed feeling, but once the strings kick in, it sounds much more like a traditional folk-pop song and less like the rest of the album, which is, actually, my only complaint about the song. Otherwise, it’s funny, self-deprecating, pretty, and interesting.

So, that’s the first guilty pleasure album I’ve done. What do you think?

Random Sunday – 5 Summer Albums

8 06 2008

I’m not really a summer kind of person, but here in Seattle our winter has dragged wearily on, from October until now, with precious few good days over the past 8 months. We are pale. We are sickly. We are in desperate need of some of that heat y’all on the East Coast are hoarding.

Usually, around this time of the year, I pull out my favorite summer records and start bopping around my home or my office in sundresses and large sunglasses. This year, it appears, at least for this first part of June, I’ll have to content myself with imagining warm sun on my wan skin by defying the weather and breaking out my favorite summer albums anyway.

What makes a good summer album for me? It has to feel breezy, inconsequential. It usually reminds me of The Beach Boys in some way, and it’s usually a little kick to it somehow. I could have chosen many albums. Pet Sounds, obviously. Anything from the ouvre of the Beastie Boys (well, I suppose anything by any band with the word “boys” or “boyz” in it). It has to leave you wanting a little bit more, just like the best summer days. On top of all of that, though, it has to make you a little nostalgic, if not for your own youth than for a vaguely defined “better time” in general.

5. FemursModern Mexico
A new entry from just last year, enters my heart and my summer iPod rotation. Femurs were one of my favorite local bands of the last year, and the jangly jangly guitars, along with the slightly juvenile lyrics and the wild, acoustic punkiness of this almost DIY album make me feel like I’m hanging out in some garage back in my hometown, listening to the two cute dudes down the street jam on guitars and drums. They certainly aren’t the most musically innovative or gifted band, but they just seem to be having so much damn fun it’s hard not to adore them. (Plus, they put on an INCREDIBLE live show).

Download Crazy Girl

4. Belle & Sebastian – The Boy With The Arab Strap
B&S are one of my favorite bands of all time, but I mostly tend to think of them as autumnal music. The pretty harmonies and lovely strings, Stuart M.’s plaintive voice and the plonky piano all seem to add up to something a little more cerebral than I like my summer music to be. Yet on The Boy With the Arab Strap, we get the title track (a fast-paced, fiercely hand-clapped number that will, I swear, be stuck in your head for DAYS if you’re not careful with its deployment), the Stevie Jackson-sung number “Chickfactor,” which is whimsical, but a little heavy, like a humid summer evening, and “Dirty Dream Number Two,” which is one of my favorite summer ditties. It’s about dirty dreams, which I have often when I’m laying prone and semi-naked in the summer heat.

Download Dirty Dream Number Two

3.Weezer – Weezer (the blue one)
Oh, halcyon, bygone days of youth, when Weezer burst onto the scene with their cute, funny debut album, a nod to another halcyon, bygone era of music with an edgy, hard-rockin’ twist. Released at the beginning of May in 1994 it slow-built its way to the most explosive hit of the summer I was 11. It is the perfect summer album because it combines songs with irrepressible hooks and a beat you can dance to, with humor that slides off the palate like a grape popsicle. Remember “Undone (the Sweater Song),” which was a self-mocking tribute to geeky love come unraveled? Remember “Surf Wax America,” which was about surfing to work and, of course, “Buddy Holly,” which was played over and over at every party I went to the summer between 6th and 7th grades, and still makes me long a little for cake and ice cream instead of the wine and cheese I expect at parties now. More than being simply a cute album, Weezer’s blue debut was – for me – the season of summer wrapped up in a neat little package, all sunny melodies and ever-so-slight overexposure.

Download Buddy Holly

2.Dressy Bessy – The California EP
An unexpected foray into Beach Boys territory by Colorado post-riot grrrl rockers Dressy Bessy, the California EP offers a sunny take on a post-modern sound from the year 2000. The tunes are so catchy, you’ll be singing them for days, and despite being a self-conscious effort at a 60s sound, Dressy Bessy injects their punky roots into tracks like “Hangout Wonderful,” which features the surf-rock guitar over a steady, danceable drum beat, but has truly rock & roll vocals from lead singer Tammy Ealom. The title track, “California” asks with almost childlike desperation “Can we go there / this summer / I’ll wear a flower in my hair / If we go there / this summer / I’ll walk right to that salty air / Can we go there / this summer?” Drenched in the “good vibrations” of summer (oh snap! see what I did there?), you want to take Ealom wherever she’s asking to go.

Download California

1) Blur – Parklife
Parklife is one of my favorite albums of all time, but is certainly my favorite summer album. It’s fun, light without being forgettable, includes references to Martin Amis’ book London Fields and features a song (“To the End”) with the gorgeous, sunsoaked vocals of Stereolab’s Lætitia Sadier. I like Parklife because it feels like a slice of my life, of being broke and young and enjoying life anyway (this was a theme of a lot of mid-90s Britpop, c.f. Pulp’s Different Class). There is a hint of paranoia on the record, a slight feeling that perhaps summer’s at its end, but the hope of the sunshine is always there, and, on a bittersweet note, there are always more bank holidays in the future, even if we all have to work our asses off to get there. No, this isn’t entirely a rain-free record, but it’s light enough to put a great rock sheen on any summer gathering.

Download Bank Holiday

So those are my suggestions of 5 great summer records. There are more, and about 10 more I can think of just off the top of my head, but those are my favorites. Enjoy!

Tuesday I’ll review The Ting Tings.

Thursday Memoir – Camera Obscura & Love at First Listen

1 05 2008

Winter 2003-2004 was a moment in my life where I felt things I am almost certain I will never feel again. I was attending Oxford in my senior year in college, being challenged in ways I haven’t been since both academically and emotionally. I was carefree, happy, full of warm fuzzy feelings for the dreaming spires surrounding me, the friends that had come abroad with me, and the friends I had met in Oxford.

I was listening to a lot of Belle & Sebastian and the Smiths at the end of 2003; winter in Oxford can be dreary and lonely if you’re not among the students who leave after Michaelmas Term has completed, and since home for me was 7,000 miles away, I didn’t go home. Belle & Sebastian’s sardonic sunniness and The Smiths’ downright miserablist vibe went well with the very short days and very long amounts of time I had in which to do very little. Not to say I was unhappy. On the contrary, but there’s something about southern England in the winter that simply demands irony.

I was taking a film-as-lit course with an instructor who sent me to the outskirts of town to retrieve strange and disturbing Dutch films and since term had ended, I went almost every day to rent new, non-disturbing movies. It was a haul, but worth it, because I could get American and European indies that weren’t available at the bodega down the road from where I lived.

One rainy winter day I was trudging my latest bunch of movies back up to Summertown and browsing for a new selection of time-killers. I smiled at the terminally bored video clerk.

And then I heard it. Well, to be specific, I heard this:

Camera Obscura’s “A Sister’s Social Agony.” It was beautiful! The voice! The voice!

I loved it; immediately I had to own it. I asked the clerk who it was. Camera Obscura, he told me, a Glaswegian band kind of like Belle & Sebastian. I hopped on a bus headed back to the centre of town and to the nearest HMV and purchased Underachievers Please Try Harder, Camera Obscura’s gorgeous second album. Frankly now, knowing what I do about them, I’m surprised that it was carried in a large, Oxford HMV. But there it was. I bought it, took it home, and thus began what is still an intense love affair.

Though they have a lot in common with Belle & Sebastian (and their first single from 2001 “Eighties Fan” from their first LP, Biggest, Bluest Hi-Fi, was produced by Stuart Murdoch), Camera Obscura are absolutely, positively not Belle & Sebastian. Gentle charms and harmonies combined with lovelorn lyrics, Traceyanne’s gorgeous, evocative vocals, and some kickass strings. I listened to the album over and over and over again, walking to and from town, on the bus to Summertown, wherever I could. I fell in love, completely, utterly, totally with that album, and tumbled into Camera Obscura hard and fast (it should be noted that there was a boy, too, and my feelings for him, for Camera Obscura and for Oxford are utterly, completely entwined in this massive ball of love). “Knee Deep at the NPL” became a mantra. I can hear you calling / to me in the morning / How could I be falling in love with you?

“Let Me Go Home,” too, with its doo-wop flavor and pretty male vocals (Traceyanne became the sole singer from 2006 on, but I happen to think the male vocals on this album are very nice and bring a nice contrast) had me bopping along from winter into spring into early summer, feeling like every single color shined bigger and brighter. Underachievers was the soundtrack to one of the best periods of my life, fitting in perfectly with the academic, European carefree life I was leading.

In summer 2004 I moved to Southern California, and missed Oxford, college, and that pesky boy more than I ever thought I could miss anything. Camera Obscura were so evocative of the place that they brought me comfort in a very turbulent time in my life. I was excited when they decided to tour the US in support of Underacheivers, and caught their very first US gig ever in San Diego at the Casbah. It was…awkward. They were clearly uncomfortable performing live and the audience consisted of me, my two friends, and four very large dudes who seemed extremely out of place. There are a few other indie kids hanging about too, but mostly the room was fairly empty. I didn’t care. I cried the entire way through the concert, the emotion of seeing them live overwhelming me with joy and nostalgia.

It’s weird how an album can become tied into your feelings about a person or a place or, in this case both. For me, listening to that album now is difficult, because I am positive the kind of optimism it represents for me has long-since died, and it’s a bittersweet feeling that overcomes me now. I still think it’s a fantastic piece of indiepop, but you will rarely find me listening to it. It’s still too emotional, even 5 years later.

So a question I would like to pose: Did this album come at just the right moment because of fate, or because I was open to it? If I heard it four months earlier, or later, would I have thought it pretty but not paid much attention?

Sex and the City style question: Is music like love? Do you have to be open to it? And does that mean that my first, real, adult love (Camera Obscura), will forever be the litmus by which I measure all subsequent music crushes? Hrm?

Luckily, Camera Obscura continue to release brilliant, acoustic indiepop that transcends anything, in my opinion, that Belle & Sebastian ever did. Ending on an uplifting note I saw them again here in Seattle in February 2007 at Neumo’s in support of their universally-lauded 2006 album Let’s Get Out of This Country. The house was packed, the band were – in my own words, later, to a friend – “resplendent” and I didn’t cry this time. I smiled the whole way through, a big, big grin, as my heart swelled and I felt a little proud that this UK band I had discovered in some out-of-the-way video shop in Oxford before they had ever released anything major in the US, were suddenly playing to packed, enthusiastic crowds in Seattle. It gave me a little bit of a thrill, and a lot of contentment.

Tuesday Teaser – This Is Ivy League

29 04 2008

I am privileged to work with someone whose love of music almost outweighs mine, and today she came into my office with “This will make your day.” And it did, so today I bring you This is Ivy League.

I had planned today to write about Dizzee Rascal, but he can wait until the weekend. Instead, allow me to introduce you to Ivy League, some very adorable Brooklyn twee pop scenesters. I know, I know. It sounds overly arch, and it probably is. They wear sweater vests on the album cover and sing about Japan. Normally I would say, “Eh. Decent indiepop, if you want to listen to some faux Belle & Sebastian” but there’s just something about Ivy League that break the mould of happy, clappy indiepop. Not to say they aren’t happy and also clappy. Consider “The Richest Kids In Town”:

Goodness. That is some well-produced, funny, slick indiepop. That lovely, punchy rhythm section added to the Belle & Sebastian-eque horns make for some great music for this time of year, with the promise of summer looming just over the horizon.

This is Ivy League is their first full-length album. Both of the boys in the band – Alex Suarez and Ryland Blackinton – are from a band called Cobra Starship. Hrm, you are thinking. Cobra Starship. Vaguely familiar…

…Remember Snakes on a Plane? Remember the theme song, “Bring It (Snakes On A Plane)”? No? Well, you are a better person for it. That song – admittedly the only Cobra Starship I’ve ever heard – is patently awful. So imagine my surprise when the people behind brilliant lyrics like “Times are strange / We got a free upgrade for snakes on a plane / Fuck ’em, I don’t care. / Bought the cheap champagne, we’re going down in flames, hey” were also behind these fantastic ditties called “A Summer Chill” and “Visions of Tokyo” respectively.

I tend to think most indiepop sounds relatively alike, and it usually does. Maybe if I had heard Ivy League three months ago, when the album came out, I would have been underwhelmed. But at the moment I think that “The Richest Kids in Town” will be Spring’s new anthem and I expect I’ll be listening to them all season, or until I drench myself in summer hip-hop.

Tuesday Teaser – M83: Saturdays=Youth

15 04 2008

Alright guys, so I’ll upfront and say there are no samples here because I am broke and I bought this album on iTunes and need some CDs to strip the protection to post as mp3’s.


My recommendation, if you’re going to buy 1 new album this week, is to purchase French shoegaze band M83’s new one Saturdays=Youth, which is out today, and then go to your nearest hipster bar and pick up a member of your preferred gender and take him or her home to have a listen. He or she will be putty in your hands!

Saturdays=Youth is a lovely dreampop effort with a lot of 80s influence, gorgeous harmonies, and is just generally one of those albums that makes you feel like you’re in some sort of lovely, sun-saturated movie taking place on the French Riviera. Supercool, super laid back, and absolutely gorgeous. Exactly what you want someone to think of you, right?

The current single is “Graveyard Girl,” which features this very strange goth-poem interlude, but that can be ignored since the rest of the song is just perfection. “Dark Moves of Love” is retro-synth at its best, and, like their countrymen Air, M83 don’t skimp on the reverb or on the harmonies, which all combine for an album I’d highly recommend the next time you want to smooch with a dreamy indie boy or girl. It’s an album made for kissing. The second half dissolves a bit into noise and ambient music, and “Midnight Souls Still Remain” is 11 and a half minutes of sound with little actual songwriting going on, but by then you’ll be having hot hot makeouts, so it won’t matter.

So I don’t have any samples, but I just told you how to smooch with dreamy indie boys or girls; I think I’ve done my duty this Tuesday.

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?