Monthly Archives: January 2009

#150 kanye west – street lights

kanye

as mark from unity song has rightfully pointed out, kanye west was sorely missing in my best songs of 2008 list. this was for the simplest reason that i’d just been too slow to get my hands on his 808s and heartbreak album released late last year (i’m just slow that way, but that’s how it is i guess). written and recorded in the wake of his beloved mother’s death and a relationship breakup, this album dwells emphatically on the expected themes of loss (and, yeah) heartbreak, not unlike its other distant predecessors like the mountain goats’ get lonely. the difference for kanye, however, is the trading of his accustomed mode of expression (rap) for what really is his strength as a musician (production). while the singles released so far, “heartless” and “love lockdown” represent this shift in terms of the emphasis on melody and west’s voice sung through auto-tone, other less noticed tracks like “street lights” seem to articulate his predicament most subtly but accurately, letting his ordinarily upfront personality take a backseat for once. i know my destination but i’m just not there, he repeats through the song, reminding us that ridiculously rich pop stars, like us, do feel lost and empty sometimes.

mp3: kanye west – street lights

#149 jenny lewis with the watson twins – rabbit fur coat

jenny-lewis

while the record industry remains obsessed with weeding out music piracy, engaging itself with a futile battle when it should really be looking towards how to best harness the potential of this digital age, it’s nice to come across forward thinking labels that embrace change rather than fight the inevitable. team love recently opened their online library, where each month different releases are made available for free download, no strings attached. it’s certainly a bold move, and one would question the sustainability of such a strategy, but the bottom line is, barriers between music lovers and their music are being broken. for me, that’s how i got listening to the debut album for jenny lewis from rilo kiley, backed up by the watson twins. production wise, other barriers are broken as well: lewis’ voice is recorded and mixed with such an unrivaled clarity and proximity that i hear her every breath in my ear. this intimate treatment works especially well in the title track, a sentimental piece walzing through lewis’ bittersweet tale of her childhood.

mp3: jenny lewis with the watson twins – rabbit fur coat

pay a visit to the team love library today!

#148 s.o.u.l. – soul part 1 and 2

soul1

since we got started on the topic/theme/genre of soul, i thought it might be a good idea to dwell a little longer on it. what is soul and how do you get it? one group that attempted to answer that question, or to at least present a practicing definition of it was the quartet from cleveland, ohio – s.o.u.l. (sounds of unity and love) with their song (yes, you guessed it), “soul”, a song notably sampled by dj shadow in “midnight in a perfect world”. as vocalist lee lovett spins his tale of meeting a man who’s gained the whole word but just can’t pinpoint what he’s missing in life, gus hawkins’ flute theme takes a life of its own, circling around that man and buzzing in his ear like a fly that just won’t go away. but it’s in the second part of the song where the action really is, when the band gives up playing games a delivers the punchline: you’ve gotta have soul! it’s as simple as that, really.

mp3: s.o.u.l. – soul part 1 & 2

mp3: dj shadow – midnight in a perfect world

for more about s.o.u.l., do check out a very well written article at musthear.com.

#147 nina simone – don’t let me be misunderstood

nina-simone

i was listening to lil wayne’s “dontgetit” a few days ago when i was struck by the nina simone sample that featured so distinctly. while it was used as a deliberate foil for his commentary on racial prejudice, simone’s original touches on a more universal theme of human fallenness. it’s not so much a cry but a plead for acceptance (i’m just a soul whose intentions are good/ oh lord please don’t let me be misunderstood), and one that’s drawn out repeatedly in agony and anguish, but never in exasperation. the song never seems to make any headway through its entire duration, with simone’s questions remaining rhetorical and never resolved. and yet, although her efforts appear to be in vain, one is won over by the sheer persistence of her requests and the vulnerabilty of her soul laid bare.

mp3: nina simone – don’t let me be misunderstood

mp3: lil wayne – dontgetit

do pop by to how marvellous for a very neat and comprehensive look at the available versions of “don’t let me be misunderstood”.

#146 the silt – come back to the willow

the-silt

many have likened toronto experimental folk trio the silt to the works of will oldham (especially the singing), and jason molina (song structure). indeed, in their debut cat’s peak, released just last week on fire records, many of those comparisons ring true. however, the silt trades some of oldham’s mournful beauty and molina’s consistency for some experiments of their own. what strikes me most immediately in this album is the opening track “come back to the willow”, which starts off with a soulful groove sung along to with a buckleyesque falsetto that doesn’t quite keep to the pitch, yet never strays too far off either, aided kindly by very assuring harmonies. look out, though, for the surprises in between. they don’t ever sound like they belong, but they do keep the song in its precarious balance between pleasantry and dissonance, and treading that uncomfortable yet rewarding line between the beautiful and the ugly.

mp3: the silt – come back to the willow

cat’s peak is available now on fire records. do get your copy!

#145 the decemberists – the rake’s song

decemberists

the songs of the decemberists have always been characterized by colin meloy’s unshakable urge to tell a story and tell it well, with a musical accompaniment that oscillates between the light-headed and the grandiose. but with each tale often comes a darker underlining that isn’t that obvious with the exception of some of their epics like “the mariner’s revenge song”. in “the rake’s song”, our first taste of their upcoming rock opera the hazards of love (due in march), this darkness surfaces in dominating both the words and the music. meloy adopts the voice of the young man who marries early, something that “whetted his thirst/ until her womb started spilling out babies” which then becomes the bane of his existence. while the decemberists have always sounded direct and immediate, they’ve hardly expressed themselves as aggressively as this, with a deep growling guitar prodding meloy to an eventual annihilation of his narrated family, and towards a twisted end with a haunting little twist of its own.

mp3: the decemberists – the rake’s song

#144 the sound of arrows – danger/m.a.g.i.c.

the-sound-of-arrows

swedish duo the sound of arrows, signed not too long ago by our favorite labrador records, seems to have a prolific year ahead of them. following last year’s danger! e.p., this year will see the release of their m.a.g.i.c. e.p. (next week) and their debut full length puzzles and wonders in march. listening to the danger/m.a.g.i.c. pairing gives one a glimpse into the contrasted worlds of stefan storm and oscar gullstrand, a former house producer and orchestra musician respectively. the synthetic feel of their exuberant sound is reminiscent of the pet shop boys, especially with the slightly nasal vocals, but the more you listen to these songs, the more you’ll find traces of life lingering quietly behind the big beats and loops.

mp3: the sound of arrows – danger!

mp3: the sound of arrows – m.a.g.i.c.