Saturday, March 22, 2008

Death Cab For Cutie - I Will Possess Your Heart (New Single)

Artist: Death Cab For Cutie
Album: Narrow Stairs
Single: I Will Possess Your Heart
Style: sellout, would-be, indie legends
Label: Atlantic Records (Vinyl on Barsuk, so at least there's that to look forward to)

Death Cab For Cutie return to the corporate-sellout, indie pedestal with their new single, I Will Posess Your Heart, off the new album due out May 13th entitled Narrow Stairs. I actually really like the new direction the album seems to be taking. This single is a jim jam jimmy jam jamma, clocking in at over eight jammy minutes! All the Can references were true =0 The intro is completely bass driven, accompanied by piano (in true Gibbard style) and backed by a solid drumline. The chords echo with slight variations for four and a half minutes until Gibbard chimes in with his eagerly-timid vocals. To match the repetitive instrumentals, the lyrics are mostly chorus (with increasing cryptic voracity with each repetition) and a few fatefully-tragic, wintry verses ammounting to a mere shell of the shining indie songs from Death Cabs early career. A shell containing no nucleus, growing no greater form inside of it, tricking us into thinking that real, artistic creativity still exists, as opposed to profit-driven creativity which seems to be all a lot of bands I used to love seem to have left.

I miss songs like Photobooth, the sad songs with inspiring lyrics and catchy, drum-sequencer hooks. Now we get repetitive 6-minute-long intros with weak writing. I think if they stop writing songs for money, and went back to writing songs as a form of expression, the final result would be a lot more powerful in the ears and emotions of their fans. But I'm not them, and I don't have the options they have, and if I did I'm not certain that I wouldn't make the same decisions as them if I did have those options, of which I have no idea about anyway so I probably have no room to criticize them, as people at least. I'm here to criticize the music. And that is, in short, I like the new direction, but it has nothing for substance, musically and lyrically. That's not something I can overlook as a fan, and I'm not that jazzed to hear the new album based on this new single. I bet they didn't spend very much time at all creating it, perhaps even of tracks that didn't make previous albums, just strung together and produced the shit out of into a listenable collections of songs that Gibbard likely had to sit up until 4am for a week trying to think of lyrics for.

But that's my opinion, and I'm jaded. The song isn't really that bad, except the part where he starts "You reject my advances, in desperate plea" that part is really awful and is only made up for a little by being followed by solo Gibbard vocals, which I like when used in good taste. But damn that little breakdown part is bad. It ruins the song a lot for me. The rest is ok, just a little uninspired for my taste.

Emo kids need not get their boxes of kleenex however, this one isn't much of a tear jerker. Hope for a more solid heartbreaker on the rest of the album perhaps.

Also, I was going to put a copy of the song up to listen to like usual, but it's too big for my box widget. You'll just have to hear it at their Murdoch Space.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Vampire Weekend - Self Titled (2008)

Artist: Vampire Weekend

Album: Self Titled

Released: January '08

Label: XL Recordings

Style: Yacht Rock, African Influenced


  1. Mansard Roof
  2. Oxford Comma
  3. A-Punk
  4. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
  5. M79
  6. Campus
  7. Bryn
  8. One (Blake's Got A New Face)
  9. I Stand Corrected
  10. Walcott
  11. The Kids Don't Stand A Chance

I love this album so much; it's one of my favorites this year. I think mostly because it's so fun. The music is light hearted and neatly arranged, it covers many different styles on each song while keeping it's own unique sound throughout, and the writing is flawless. I'm a big fan of good writing; this album certainly sets the bar. Vampire Weekend are really setting the bar for pop music this year.

The video for the opening track, Mansard Roof, speaks volumes about the band themselves. Set on a yacht, we find the band sailing from New Jersey to Manhatten (I seriously have no idea where they're going, don't trust my judgement on this), eating neatly arranged snacks, and doing other yachtly activities, like playing Mansard Roof at the helm. The video looks like it was shot in the 80s, even down to the khakis, collared shirts, and video quality. This is exactly what I would picture them doing in their leisure time away from campus.

And while we're covering videos, the video for track 3, A-Punk, is also pretty rad. It reminds me a lot of OK Go's A Million Ways video, for no other reason than it's a dance that they probably had to practice over and over to get perfect for the video. I think Vampire Weekend's video builds on that concept a lot. In their video the setting changes a few times, the band changes clothes at different points, and everything seems like it's sped up really fast, even though they're all playing in time with the music. And they all look like they've been shrunk too, it's hard to explain. There's a lot going on, which is cool. You don't have to focus on any one part of it, and it changes enough to keep the viewer interested. I can't tell if they're trying to sound like the Sex Pistols or Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah though..

So yeah, they have cool videos. Lets talk about the album for a second. Quoted from their website: "The name of this band is Vampire Weekend. We are specialists in the following styles: "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa", "Campus", and "Oxford Comma Riddim."" The wiki says that they are influenced by african popular music and western classical music. I hear the western classical music a lot more, though the african influences are very apparent on some tracks. Perhaps they all listen to a lot of african popular music, world music is always trendy, but a lot of this doesn't sound like anything african I've ever heard. It sounds like a band of college kids made a witty album and used some drum samples from songs nobody knows about in Africa (like geniuses Daft Punk with their borrowed funk samples) then thought of some interesting names of styles to call it, which they also named the songs exemplifying each style apparently.

The song Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa sounds a lot like a track off Paul Simon's Graceland album, which has a lot of African influences too. I think his African influences may have been a little more genuine, or at least more unified and apparent throughout his entire album, because the next track on Vampire Weekend's album starts off rife with violins and the western classical influences mentioned. Also, Louis Vuitton gets their product placement in this song, but the band makes up for it by rhyming it with Reggaeton. In my book, since I loathe product placement so much and love reggaeton equally, they cancel each other. In short, I don't hear the african stuff on all the tracks, though it's very obvious on some. I hear more consistently the "Campus" style, especially in lyrical content.

The band apparently met while attending Columbia University, which explains why the entire album seems to be about life at an ivy league. It reminds me of Chuck Coleman's album People, Places, and Flings. There's a lot of talk about subtle differences between English Breakfast and Darjeeling, "diction dripping with disdain", and sleeping on the balcony after class. As was the case with Chuck Coleman, this does nothing to detract from the album. The songwriting is entirely clever, and it gives so much perspective on the band themselves; it would be a shame if they hadn't written it as such. You can check out all the lyrics here, and yes they are worth reading on their own.

This is a year-end-list maker for sure, and a band you can expect to hear a lot of hype around this year. You should definitely hear this once or twice, if for no other reason than to hear what the styles they've created to describe their music actually sound like.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Mohawks - The Champ (1968)

Artist: The Mohawks

Album: The Champ

Released: 1968

Label: Pama

Style: Library/Jazz/Funk


  1. The Champ
  2. Hip Juggler
  3. Sweet Soul Music
  4. Dr Jekyll and Hyde Park
  5. SeƱor Thump
  6. Landscape
  7. Baby Hold On
  8. Funky Broadway
  9. Rocky Mountain Roundabout
  10. Sound of the Witchdoctors
  11. Beat Me Til I'm Blue
  12. Can You Hear Me?

Alan Hawkshaw has been acclaimed as "King of Library Music Composers" for his works in the late 60s, and on into the 70s and 80s, making stock songs for radio commercials, tv themes, and more notably for this very album. Much of his library tracks were recorded for KPM Music (a UK, production-music library owned by EMI) and later released under different names like The Mohawks or Rumpelstildtskin. He also lent production and pianist skills to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin on their album, as well as Olivia Newton John and many others. You can find all kinds of neat information about tv jingles you might recognize by him at the wiki.

This is seriously funky business, don't let the stock music part throw you off. Apparently the jingles of yesteryear carried a lot more weight than the indie-pop-song, advertising revolution of today. (See Iron and Wine M&Ms commercial my personal, least-favorite example) You really don't hear stuff like this anymore, in fact you'd have even been hard pressed to find examples of music this good at the time it was recorded. It's the best of the best, which is probably why this album is so highly sought after by collectors and music enthusiasts alike, with many bootlegs and reissues in circulation. Apparently the real vinyl copies have a red fist on the cover, ftr.

Hawkshaw takes the lead role throughout the album on his Hammond organ, backed by a jazz orchestra made up of other session musicians. Most tracks have no vocals, and the few that have very little are mostly like background girls for the chorus. It's just good, funky jammin with wild solos by Hawkshaw throughout the album, most notably on the albums title track, The Champ. But not all of it is organs with Hawkshaw, like Funky Broadway is mostly horns swapping back and forth with eachother. Rocky Mountain Roundabout has some excellent rock-and-roll guitar stuff along with the Hammond solos, all backed by jazz horns. So much of this album is just fantastic, and you can really see how they'd all have to be studio musicians. The music is perfectly arranged, and played. These guys really know what they're doing, no doubt about that. They don't miss a note, nor is there a note that doesn't sound perfectly placed to build the song continually, even into the fadeout on some tracks.

The Champ is also a widely known song for having been sampled in so many other songs, notably because the actual word they're shouting in the songs opening and chorus is actually Tramp, which may or may not have anything to do with it's popularity amongst hiphop artists. One could also argue the point that the beat is so genuinely great, making it an obvious candidate for popularity. A list of tracks that sample The Champ is here.

This album is a true gem, and comes highly recommended by me and many, many others.

Also, I think it bears mentioning that I've seen track 2 listed as both Hip Jigger and Hip Juggler. It's hip jigger on the copy I have, but wiki says Juggler =/