Monthly Archives: August 2010

398. Hot Chip – “The Warning”

Lest you all think I haven’t engaged with new, youthful music in the past few years, here’s one the ‘kids’ might recognise.

I fell for this CD on the basis of the self-fulfilling Over and Over single. It was very hard to resist this tune, so reminiscent of mid-to-late 1980s keyboard pop.There is a New Order-ish mentality there that really appeals.

Indeed, this release shares the paradoxes of New Order’s work.  The music is all upbeat, somewhat relentless euro-pop, yet lyrically there is a cheeky bleakness and brutality.  A violence and cruelty pervades various songs here, but the band delivers this duality without the pompous melodrama of someone like Depeche Mode.

The title track is a case in point, with threats to break my legs and put me under the ground delivered over a ludicrously upbeat minimalist beat with breathy, summery vocals.  Actually, this track could also just as easily be Darren Hanlon in his most experimental form.

I love an album that surprises.  This delivers.  And it has this gem:

File under: Fair warning

397. John Lee Hooker – “This is Hip”

Ahhh, it feels like time for some blues.  It’s been too long.

And here we are with one of the true greats. Mr. Hooker is a giant of the boogie-woogie Delta blues.

This is music that sounds deceptively simple, with Hooker almost talking rather than singing over a stompy beat and a repeated riff.

But, surely it can’t be that simple.  The growl, the syncopation, the sound of that electric guitar is somehow distinctive and memorable.  It is infectious and uplifting.

Hooker’s tunes feel like the sneaky whispered aside of some cool guy sitting in the corner of some bar ready to prowl, or just back from some enviable sexual conquest.  The purr on Boom! Boom! is a benchmark for blues:

I get the sense that Hooker had a sense for the popular and the crowd pleaser that lifted him above so many of his contemporaries and forebears.

This album is full of fun and innuendo. He was clearly a legs man, as Dimples and Big Legs, Tight Skirt testify. I’m not going to think too hard about Crawlin’ Kingsnake.

I’ve loved spending a day with John Lee, and with over 100 albums to his credit, everyone should own at least one.

File under: Earbait

396. Hole – “Live through This”

This is an album that should probably take up its own shelf in my collection given the baggage associated.

Sure Courtney Love is a bit of a nutbag, and perhaps she is a Yoko responsible for the early demise of one of the most important bands of my lifetime.  Maybe her hubby wrote all the songs on here, maybe he didn’t.  Maybe this is a cynical facsimile of what the Seattle grunge sound was all about and a spit in the face to the hard-working womyn of the riot grrl movement.

Whatever!! In the end doesn’t deserve the hating.  It still has a pile of big, rage-filled, rocking tracks that bring back so many memories for me.  I use to throw this CD on regularly and turn Violet and Rockstar and up very, very loud:

I’m sure for a while I was convinced that I did indeed go to school in Olympia.

Given there’s also Miss World, Doll Parts and Jennifer’s Body on here, it is hard to dismiss this album.  For a brief moment in time this was a band who mattered, and this is the record thereof.

File under: Forget the whole, and enjoy this part

395. The Hold Steady – “Separation Sunday”

Our domestic odyssey through all fives series of The Wire came to an end on Saturday.

I was wondering where I’d get my fix of junky antics until I spied this album next on the CD rack.

This is one of those rare concept albums that: (a) holds attention; (b) doesn’t reek of self-indulgence; and (c) tells a gritty tale with humour.

We’re thrown into the world of Charlemagne, Holly and their drug-chasing, ass-pimping friends as they roam the bad streets of various cities (although I don’t think Baltimore is amongst the locales).

Over a fantastic bar-room rock soundtrack, we get mainly spoken word vocals that are biting in their vitriol, and absolutely captivating.  Our cast swing through highs (surprise, surprise) and lows, and fire off snappy dialogue worthy of Chandler or Kerouac.  The Catholic imagery flies thick, as Holly wrestles with her demons, while partying very, very hard.

This is a unique album in my collection.  It is not background listening, but more like picking up a grimy book of short stories. These guys have pushed music to an exciting, literary place. And before this I’d never heard the phrase “hoodrat”:

File under: A trial worth enduring

394. His Name is Alive – “Ft Lake”

This is probably the biggest mystery CD I’ve reviewed so far.

I’m sure I’d never listened to it before. I probably picked it up at a sale. I was convinced for some reason that it was some ethereal electronic effort, as I had it in mind this was some one-man show, with perhaps a lo-fi bent.

It turns out I was right on the ‘solo genius with a long history of self-released cassettes’. But this is far from an ambient soundscape collection.

Rather it is a fascinating collection of funk-ringed soulful numbers by a full band included a talented female R&B vocalist (as the genius decided to work with lesser mortals for once). It’s at the rocking end of the funk spectrum on a few tracks (e.g. Wish I Had A Wishing Ring):

Other tracks have that indie-pop feel of the more user-friendly Sonic Youth stuff, or perhaps the Clouds.

I’ve been really rapt to find this album hiding in plain sight. I look forward to giving it much more time in the future.

File under: Spend some time by this pond

393. Hilltop Hoods – “The Hard Road”

A peril for suddenly successful acts is that they rush out a follow-up that lacks the power and pullof their breakout release.

The Hilltop Hoods didn’t fall for this trap, perhaps because of their veteran status by the time they won us over.

This album keeps up the pace, with a heap of very solid tracks. The themes often don’t venture far from their usual: Hip-hop as the big joy in a strife and struggled-filled life; the potency of these dudes’ rhyming versus the rest; and the joys of alcohol consumption:

But there is welcome attempts to stretch the boundaries. Stopping All Stations works as a layered, multi- narrative short-story on par with Michael Franti’s best efforts like Hole in the Bucket.The track is a harrowing tale of the failings of rail privatisation…

An Audience with the Devil is an amusing attempt to probe the nature of good and evil.

Musically, the sampling is still strong (although I probably don’t need any more flute riffs), with perhaps more musicality than previous releases.

All in all, this is a long player I still enjoying diving into.

File under: Aren’t all roads hard?

392. Hilltop Hoods – “The Calling”

Like an enormous proportion of their fan base, I jumped on the Hoods’ bandwagon with this release.

There was a lot of reasons for that.  Firstly, it was the first time I remember hearing them.  But more than that, it was the first time I heard Aussie hiphop that felt globally competitive.  The rhymes were strong and the samples and beats added up to something catchy and creative.

The guys do a great job of building a strong narrative across the album about their experiences as a band, while showcasing their skills.  I love some of the passages on Dumb Enough (especially the tsunami/origami pairing):

The ‘stickiest’ track is probably the big single too. Nosebleed Section speaks to anyone whose jumped around at the front of any gig hiphop or otherwise.  I love that it’s built around a relatively obscure folksinger vocal too:

The album does quite maintain the quality throughout ther 17 tracks (it gets a bit sloppy on a couple of the ‘guest’ tracks and on Walk On and Working the Mic), but this is stronger than most hiphop longplayers in my collection.

File under: Answer the call

391. Hilltop Hoods – “Left Foot, Right Foot”

If there is such a thing as Aussie hiphop royalty, then I guess these blokes would be the wearing the fancy robes, jaunty crowns and wielding sceptres shaped like mics.

They were the first to overcome the cultural cringe about Aussie accented raps and really win over a broad audience.

But that was an album after this one.  Here they are still finding their feet and talking to much narrower, and perhaps more sophisticated, ‘home ground’ crowd.

What is clear is that the MCing maturity and acumen was already well-honed by this release.  The lines are spat out at a rapid pace.  They are funny, and biting, clever and thoughtful.  It is refreshing and liberating to hear language and themes that are much closer to home (despite the occasional Adelaide pronunciations).

The tales of shit jobs, sneaking off on summer days, preferring pubs to clubs and struggling to make it are well-structured.

The weakness, or rather the real area for improvement, is on the musical side of things.  The beats are a little laboured and lacking in variation.  The samples don’t often hook.

There is all a tendency to fall-back on MC battles, which, while amusing and impressive on first listen, to get a little tiresome on repeat play.

File under: Like a stumbling foal

390. Missy Higgins – “Sound of White”

My sassy spouse is denying any knowledge of purchasing this CD, but I’m sure it came into our house via such a route.

Missy is a bit of a mystery to me generally.  She exploded onto the Aussie music stage with this album and was quickly a multimedia megastar. I’ve never quite understood what all this fuss is about.

There are certainly local artists in this vein who I find more engaging and ambitious – Sarah Blasko and The Audreys spring to mind.

This album has three decent songs on it and a series of very dull facsimiles thereof.  The pick of the tunes is the jazzy Casualty, a song where Higgins manipulates her voice in the least annoying fashion over a jaunty white-man faux funk bassline (although this live version is much less enjoyable for the Midday show band feel):

Elsewhere, huge singles Scar and The Special Two do appeal as slightly more lyrically adept than most pop fare. Otherwise this CD is obese with confessional fodder that all melds into one mopey mess.

File under: Please paint if black

389. Headless Chickens – “Body Blow”

I haven’t reviewed a Kiwi band on here for a bit. The last was probably the Datsuns (I’m too lazy to look).

This mob are the odd ones out in my NZ holdings, as they lean towards the electronic rather than organic. And they do a damn fine job in this perilous domain.

At a time when various sample-reliant bands where out and about (Pop Will Eat Itself and Carter USM immediately spring to mind), these guys crafted some less bratty tunes that were dancefloor worthy. As with both mentioned bands, the songs were wordy and sarcastic.

The song that stands out on here was the first single Gaskrankinstation which came with a brilliant clip (only accessible via that link as NZ doesn’t have the internet all worked out yet), and featured some genuinely grungy Taxi Driver-like character development.

But the album has so much more: the super smooth Massive Attack-like Juice that gels so well with Cruise Control; the slap-happy Body Blow; and one of two tracks in my entire collection to teach me Spanish (the other is from Ween):

There is a bit of “fuller” on here, but not much bro… and with a set of bonus remix tracks it is good bang for your buck.

File under: Punch-drunk love