Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Area 52 : Rodrigo y Gabriela

This is not an album. It’s an assault. It’s an assault by a troop of incredibly deft musicians taking everything they’ve got and charging forward with all the zest and dexterity they can muster.

And some how, there’s that danger that Rodrigo y Gabriela’s latest album, Area 52, might wind up in a bin somewhere under the label “World” music.

That’s in no way a dis on the genre, but rather a lament that broader American audiences don’t generally take to popular music from abroad. Unless it’s British. That’s a shame, because Area 52 in many ways represents that “melting pot” ideal we sling around.

Case in point: Rodrigo y Gabriela are a pair of Mexican musicians, flamenco guitarists, specifically, who first made it big in Ireland, playing on the streets of Dublin outside of pubs. On their third album, Area 52, they forgo their typical two-some of intricate acoustic guitar work in favor of exploring Cuban music and playing with a 13-piece mini-orchestra aptly named C.U.B.A. The album features everything from Cuban folk to salsa, blended with jazz, backed by sitar, run through wah-wah pedals, and oh, did I mention they were in a metal band?

While that all may sound like a mess, it’s not. It’s an exhausting (in a good way) emersion in polyrhythms and an enveloping and gregarious sound born of a culture that is itself, enveloping and gregarious.

Take “Hanuman.” It’s relentless– bursts of Santana-esque guitar, fast jazz piano and a jabbing horn section, spinning around. Every instrument, every beat, every little piece of influence are held together, but just so, right up to the breaking point where everything should fall apart, but it doesn’t.

Area 52 is somewhat of a departure for Rodrigo y Gabriela because of all the extra accompaniment. While it is more difficult to get the full effect the duo’s guitar playing, nine of the songs on the album are featured on earlier albums in their original bare arrangements. “11:11,” for example, is the title of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s previous album, but the track is fleshed out and re-arranged to fit C.U.B.A.

In 1999, David Byrne wrote a piece in the New York Times about why he hates world music. To start, he talked about the odds and ends that make up a world music bin– it’s the stuff that “just isn’t ‘us.” He summed it up saying “exotica is beautiful but irrelevant.”

A record like Area 52 that’s such a synthesis of styles, techniques and influences says most about a world where cultural isolation is becoming less feasible and less desirable. The sounds on Area 52 are definitely exotic, they’re anything but irrelevant.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Singled Out: Benson, Bird, Dr. Dog

January isn't necessarily the most exciting time for music (or for anything, now that I think about it.) There's a lull in between the onslaught of "Best Of" lists and when new releases start rolling out around the end of the month. Fortunately, the gears are beginning to turn again. Evidence? Here are three new singles– call them harbingers of a promising year for music. We hope.

"Bad For Me" by Brendan Benson

I'd like to go ahead and declare Brendan Benson as one of Michigan's favorite sons. (Haven't asked Michigan, but I figure they'd be cool with it.) He's set to release a new album called What Kind of World on April 21, but until then, here's "Bad For Me," a piano-driven helping of drama served with... do I detect the slightest whiff of the Beach Boys on the chorus? Yes. I believe I do. 

Download the song courtesy of Stereogum. - Brendan Benson – “Bad For Me”Download

"Lonesome" by Dr. Dog

Check out the catchy, shuffling open track from Dr. Dog's Feb. 7 release, Be the Void. Paste reports the band said the record will be more of a return to form, showcasing "rough around the edges rock." Sounds accurate.

Dr. Dog - Lonesome by antirecords

"Eyeoneye" by Andrew Bird

We've been waiting for Bird to follow up Noble Beast since 2009, and we are almost there, people. In true Bird fashion, the title makes no sense, but the song features all the quirky sounds we expect from an Andrew Bird tune, like whistling, violin and who knows what else. (Pretty Much Amazing flagged a glockenspiel.) Something different though, is the speed "Eyeoneye" works itself up to at the end. Break it Yourself comes out March 7.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Avett Brothers Cover Dylan

The Avett Bros made an appearance on Jimmy Fallon the other night in promotion of an Amnesty International charity record of Bob Dylan songs. No surprise, they performed a Dylan song. And you know what? Their cover of "One Too Many Mornings" was lovely.

Laments: Etta James

The great Etta James passed away this week. James was possibly one of the most powerful female vocalists to walk to the Earth, and it's all kinds of sad that she won't be around anymore. What I found striking about her passing though, was that it was a bigger deal than I thought it would be, and rightly so. She was much more than the singer behind "At Last," after all.  In high school, Etta James was like a secret I knew about, a secret so cool and yet so undiscovered by people my age. They didn't even know what their iPods were missing.

Glad to know that I would eventually be very wrong in my assumption.

Here's one of my favorite Etta James songs, "I'd Rather Go Blind," a perfect example of the strength and vulnerability that she could communication in her singing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Death Cab For Cutie Release "Underneath the Sycamore" Video

I wasn't crazy about the last Death Cab for Cutie release Codes and Keys, partly because many of the songs were pretty forgettable. Despite that, I will say that Death Cab continues to make pretty decent music videos.

Take their latest for "Underneath the Sycamore." It's a animated film noir in the style of the "Grapevine Fires" video. Walter Robot directs this tale of a PI looking for a missing woman. Check it out.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Simple Song : The Shins

Finally a mailing list is good for something. The Shins released "Simple Song" off their forthcoming album today for mailing list subscribers. Lucky for you, the Sound Cloud embed is above.

"Simple Song" is Shins-peppy, but a deviation from the Brit pop vein they were tapping on Wincing the Night Away. James Mercer, on the other hand, sounds as English as usual.

Port of Morrow is out March 20, and if you're hardcore about it, you can order a reel-to-reel version of the album.... because so many of us have reel-to-reel machines.

Avett Brothers Talk New Album

May all siblings get along this well. 
File this one under "Are we there yet?" The Avett Brothers told Rolling Stone that they're nearly finished with their new album. There's not tons of concrete info, but Rick Rubin returned as producer, and the Avetts did divulge a few details about several tracks. Of course, we can expect typical Avett Brothers fair (The Once and Future Carpenter, Down with the Shine), but apparently there's a "grunge"-type tune called "Paul Newman Versus the Demons."

Sounds promising.

Anyhoodle, stay tuned for a release date. Hopefully it's not too far off.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Band Covers Gotye with One Guitar

I'm going to go ahead and say that Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" is going to be the most covered song of the year.

Evidence: Besides Ingrid Michaelson's recent version, check out this crazy cover involving the five members of Canadian band Walk Off the Earth, and one guitar. Props to these guys for figuring out and coordinating all the different parts, including percussion, and trading off vocals so smoothly. It reminds me of ancient indigenous people using every part of the animals they killed. No part of that guitar goes to waste. Maybe that's just me.

Bits of Things: Insults and Thin Rays of Hope for Music

Stuff has been happening. Here's some of it.

- The war against Nickelback continues. After Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney dissed the ever atrocious Nickelback in Rolling Stone, saying ""Rock & roll is dying because people became OK with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world," Nickelback tweeted thanks for the "biggest band" compliment. You're welcome?

- Good news for people who've had mostly bad news. For the first time in seven years, music retailers saw a bump in music sales. It may be a meager 3%, but hey, we'll take it. This also means that the new Nielsen Soundscan report is out, which is just about as exciting as the annual State of the Media Report. I believe a "woot" is in order.

- And speaking of selling music, The Beatles's Abbey Road sold 41,000 copies– vinyl copies, that is– in 2011. That makes it the top selling vinyl record of the year, as it should be. Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Mumford & Sons, and Radiohead rounded out the top five.

- Brendan Benson of the Raconteurs is set to release his fifth studio album, What Kind of World, in April. What's more, he'll release it on his own label, Readymade, which is also brand-spanking new. 

- Another release to look forward to is Of Montreal's forthcoming album Paralytic Stalks, out Feb. 7. Until then, Pitchfork is streaming a song from the album titled "Dour Percentage." Have at it.