Driftless Euphonious Fancy Part 2

M Ward: Post-War (4AD, 2006)

I’d never heard of M Ward at all before the other day when I read that he had recently become the latest signing to 4AD. A bit of research revealed a few releases on Merge, some critical success, a cult following. You know, the usual. Upon first listen, nothing really reached out and grabbed me. Some jangly guitars atop a fairly standard mish-mash of fuzz guitars and plaintive indie-boy voice. Further listens revealed some subtle nuances: a Tom Waits influence, some great moody organ work, a couple early-Cure-ish downers, a bad metal solo or two, some annoyingly country-ish twanginess. However, I can’t help but feeling a little bored with the whole thing. Some of it may grow on me in a Devendra Banhart kind of way, but I have a hunch this album isn’t going to get a lot of spins around here. M Ward does have some impressive songwriting skills, but nothing really rises above average quality for me – it doesn’t say anything to me. It seems like these days you can’t swing a dead goth without hitting a moody 4AD folky-indie-emo singer-songwriter. Red House Painters, Cass McCombs, Mountain Goats, Vinnie Miller – they are all more interesting to me than M Ward. Maybe the music world in general just isn’t as innovative as it once was, but 4AD used to release records that were truly something magic and special. Sadly that’s not the case here. Not bad, just boring. Review: 5.5/10

The Fall: I Am Kurious Oranj (Beggars Banquet, 1987)

“I was a-walking-ah down the street-ah / When I tripped up-ah on a discarded-ah banana peel-ah / And on my way down-ah I caught the side of head-ah / On a protruding-ah brick-ah chip-ah / It was the government’s fault-ah / It was the fault-ah of the government-ah” blathers cantankerous Mark E. Smith on this album’s take on the song “Jerusalem.” It’s one of many out-there moments on a record by a band known for out-there moments. I’ve found that people either “get” The Fall totally or not at all. This album was my entry into their wonderful and frightening world, and admittedly it took me a while to wrap my brain around the plodding, repetitive bass lines, shout-along vocals, and general random oddness. I started picking up other Fall albums over the years. They have literally dozens of releases which are all near impossible to track down, used or new, some are brilliant, others drag, all were beloved by the late great John Peel. However, I keep going back to this album when I get the Fall urge. I really think it encapsulates the bands thick sound in a mighty way, blending straightforward post-rock with some more experimental elements. Plus, it just feels good to shout along loudly to “New Big Prinz" while driving on a hot summer afternoon. Rating: 8/10

Basement Jaxx – Crazy Itch Radio (XL Recordings, 2006)

Kish Kash, the last full-length from these British dance veterans was an amazing record, landing very near the top of my best-of list for 2003. I still put it on all the time. That album was all over the place at once, just pure creative madness with a plethora of kitschy guest singers (JC Chasez, Siouxsie Sioux). While nowhere near as groundbreaking, the hedonistic carnival atmosphere continues on their new album Crazy Itch Radio, which manages to take the Basement Jaxx sound even further over the top. “Intro” opens the disc dramatically with an epic chorus chanting “Basement Jaxx!!!” against filmic staccato strings, immediately pulling us into “Hush Boy”, the first single, a hot cherry pop-tart of a disco dance track, complete with a jazzy Wham!-esque horn section and hyper Brit-rap. These boys aren’t afraid of inventing new genres of dance music and “Take Me Back To Your House” could be called banjo-house. Rather than coming off all hokey like Rednex or something, the banjo sounds almost like a sitar and makes for a middle-eastern vibe. An accordion is mangled seductively in the streets of Rio on “Hey You”, featuring the voice of Swedish pop princess Robyn AND a 30-voice children’s choir from the African nation of Malawi. Phew! “On the Train” memorably uses and abuses the classic jazz melody of “Hit the Road Jack”, while “Run 4 Cover” featuring Lady Marga comes on like Spice Girls after too many crack margaritas, and that’s a good thing. Things come slightly back down to earth for a few moments beginning with “Smoke Bubbles”, a subtly swinging synthpop ditty with R&B overtones and some intense whistling. “Everybody” kicks the dirt back up with a mix of grime and soul. “Keep Keep On” swirls in with a sixties psychedelic lounge sound and closer “U R on My Mind” wraps things up with a dark electro space-out. The between track transitions give an enjoyably movie-like quality to the proceedings, making every track flow together. Like the soundtrack to a very colorful, violent and sexy comic book, this album is an exaggeration of pop music, so full of detail and masterfully produced for maximum fun. Rating 7/10.

Julie London – Wild, Cool & Swingin' - Ultra Lounge Compilation (Capitol, 1999)

Julie London must have caused some serious havoc during the peak of her popularity in the fifties. She was pure sex – her voice dripped with it, filling every nook and cranny of even the most innocent songs with pure sexual innuendo. Never is this more apparent than on her classic take on Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”, which appears here on this fantastic collection of her campiest tunes. The basic message is “Okay, all you hot young boys, you can fuck me all you want, but you can’t have me, I’ve got a rich man waiting for me at home.” What a ho! And that is why we love the old gal so very much. I’d been looking for a good Julie London collection for a while and when I saw the track list for this, I knew it was the one. Although the schmaltzy canned orchestra behind her can be tedious at times, it’s her sultry voice that draws the listener deep inside. From “Come-on-a-My-House” to “It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)” to “Nice Girls Don’t Stay For Breakfast”, it’s like a sparkling dish full of a variety of sweet candy, all melted together. Hot, hot, hot! Rating 9/10

Scissor Sisters – “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin'” – single (2006, Polydor UK)

Break out your bedazzlers, grrrrls, Scissor Sisters are back with a shot of pure disco fever energy. I’m not exaggerating when I say it is 70’s pop-rock at its most genuine – it sounds like it could sit quite naturally next to “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” on any given K-Tel collection of the original era. I have a feeling this is going to rake some nerves, along with Jake, Ana, Baby Daddy and the rest of the band’s Justice-League-on-coke-meets-the-Brady-Bunch-variety-hour outfits they’ve been wearing lately. I’ve already seen some cruel reviews of this single, but backlash was inevitable, I suppose. Their debut album swept Europe off its feet a few years back and it seems like there was no escape from it in the hipper corners of the US, sneaking out of speakers in trendy shops, salons and gay lounges. I think “Dancing” marks a fine and return, perhaps a bit over the top, but what it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in pure joy and catchiness. The remixes by Paper Faces (okay) and Linus (even better) inject some electro into the formula, dragging the song by the hair into 2006. Rating: 7.5/10

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