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Phoenix – Bankrupt! – WBH Declares it Rich

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It’s FINALLY here – Phoenix’s Bankrupt! – the most anticipated album of 2013 (except maayyybe for that Daft Punk thing coming out in 4 weeks…), the long awaited follow-up to 2009’s utter masterpiece Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. So how is it? (rating at the end)

If any of you Phoenix fans are fans of MGMT, then you might remember the anticipation, hype, and disappointment that Congratulations was to its brilliant predecessor Oracular Spectacular. Effortless, electronically-tinged, catchy pop, followed by bizarre experimentation and a rejection of everything that made MGMT good. The good news for Bankrupt! is that it’s not like that! It is, like its comparator, a bit more experimental, less immediately catchy. A bit more deliberate feeling, as opposed to WAP‘s effortlessness. But the hooks, synths, brevity,  and sense of cool that made Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix such a work of art are still there.

In Phoenix’s feature-of-the-month, cover story interview with Spin , they mention that the success of WAP means you’ll probably give the new one 3 listen-throughs by virtue of the hype and expectations. There’s some truth to that – when they released it streaming over iTunes, I listened to it at least that many times, and with each time grew fonder and fonder. Indeed, the same thing happened with Wolfgang. Although Bankrupt’s tracks aren’t as effervescently poppy as its predecessors, I didn’t really think that about the last album until a few listens through. What Bankrupt really portrays is diverse musical texture and layers (lots of new sounds and key changes), and a more grown up, at times even psychedelic sound. Don’t worry, by the way, the vocals make just as little sense as they did on Wolfgang, but singer Thomas Mars delivers again.

Enough generalizing! Track-by-track review:

1. “Entertainment”, the big first single, huge synths, Chinese-sounding main melody, oddly has echoes of “Armistice”, the fantastic closer of WAP. One of the catchier tracks, also the most upbeat by a significant bit. I suspect this will get a lot of airtime this spring and summer.

2. “The Real Thing” takes the drums straight out of Prince’s epic “When Doves Cry”. Synth pads, soft vocals, and a sick chorus chord progression. Good music to chill to in the afternoon on a warm day.

3. “S.O.S. in Bel Air” – Very Wolfgang-y upbeat verse, ethereal, dreamlike chorus, overall great song.

4. “Trying to be Cool” – Reminds me a bit of In Ghost Colors era Cut Copy, or Empire of the Sun. Medium-tempo jam, with detectable guitars beside the synth pads. More banger chord progressions in the chorus and a huge, effective key change towards the end.

5. “Bankrupt!” – Let’s be upfront, this is this album’s “Love Like a Sunset” (the epic 7:39 mostly instrumental synth epic from Wolfgang). The comparisons are just too easy, at nearly 7 minutes, with synth chirps and warbles, a slowly building beat that suddently shifts to a quick piano line, then into nearly Baroque-sounding square-wave synthesized arpeggiated goodness. Mars and guitars return at the end, much like “Love…”, but in an achingly beautiful minor key minor key that may be the vocal highlight of the album. Excellent.

6. “Drakkar Noir” – sounds like it could have been a hit in an alternate universe mid-80s, if only the 80s had the Phoenix touch. Strong track, typical Phoenixy synths, typical Mars vocals riding atop the Phoenix beat. This shows a very strong link to WAP, and wouldn’t have been out of place if it were released in 2009 – dare I say it has elements of “Lisztomania?”

7. “Chloroform” – again a bit 80s sounding. The critics seem to love this song, but apart from the occasional beautiful blooms of synths, the highlight of the song is the last minute, where the instrumentation changes (softer sounding synth pads and melodies, synth bass, and another key change) and Mars shines again.

8. “Don’t” – An upbeat rocker, more classic tried-and-true Phoenix sound, though without any guitars – More Wolfgang-esque material but with arpeggiators. This song gets better with each listen. Another of the catchier tracks, this one is another highlight, and I can easily see it released as the next single, and it has great live potential.

9. “Bourgeois” – a brilliant repeated synthesized harpsichord motif opens, then the rest of the band comes in before a scratchy acoustic guitars and Mars perform a quiet duet,,before everyone else comes back in and the song really kicks off. It’s not especially catchy, but the melody certainly beguiling and captivating, and it has the most balanced instrumentation on the albums, mixing guitars, real drums and bass with their synthesized counterparts beautifully. A beautiful, under-the-radar track.

10. “Oblique City” – forget what I said about Baroque sounding earlier, the opening keyboard line to this one is straight up Bach. But that ends quickly, transforming quickly into an upbeat rocker, with some pretty crucial instrumental/key/time changes. The acoustic guitar ending is especially pretty. Another one that I’m sure sounds great live.

So, it should be clear that I generally like Bankrupt! As I said, none of the tracks jump out the way nearly EVERY song on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix did, but if Phoenix managed to pull that off, they would be superhuman (or they’d be robots…like…well you know). Standout tracks include “Entertainment”, “S.O.S. in Bel Air”, “Bankrupt”, and “Don’t”, with “Drakkar Noir”, Bourgeois, and “Oblique City” coming right behind them. So that’s 7 of 10 songs as either very good or really quite good. The remaining three, while not my favorites on the album, have their own redeeming features, mostly in the form of tempo, key, and instrumental changes that highlight Phoenix’s self-declared “experimentation” on this album. This is really the first full album review on We Ball Harder (not counting my mini review of the Raveonettes), so there’s my attempt at methodology. I’d say Bankrupt! warrants an 8/10. Very creditable, more mature, more diverse musically, and pretty solid tunes. It’s no Wolfgang, but it’s no disappointment.  Well done, Phoenix! Allleeeezzz!!!

PS – yes, I bought another CD, just like I did with Observator by the Raveonettes. These things are hard to track down these days!


Song(s) of the Day: Leslie – “Tes États d’Âme Éric”; Teki Latex – “Les Matins de Paris”

What a song to kickstart the weekend, all oppan party style. Pull back the top of your convertible and blast off, hit the club hard, or just rock out to this catchy , ultra-upbeat French pop, whose title is a pun on the French for the USA, “États [Unis] d’Amérique”, by Leslie (imagine a French Rihanna) and Teki Latex, the most unlikely rapper ever.

PLUS! We have a bonus from Teki himself, featuring Belgian 80s pop legend Lio – for a song to get you going tomorrow morning: “Les Matins de Paris” – “the mornings of Paris”, a huge pop hit from 2007. Get ready for one of the most infectiously catchy songs ever, even if you don’t speak French. Six years on and this song is still in constant rotation.


Observator – The Raveonettes’ New Album Out Today (And it Rocks!)

I actually bought a CD today, a physical compact disc.  What could prompt such ludditery?  Well, the dark Danish duo have done it again and released another quality album (their sixth, or in my count, seventh) shortly on the heels of the last one.  Observator, released today, showcases the mature Raveonettes in a more emotional, stripped down mood.  Recorded in a week in LA, after an apparent down period in Venice Beach for Sune Rose Wagner, the album and its title translate his many reflections into music.  In his own words:

“This album rose from such a dark place but ended up illuminating the gloominess and restlessness in a way I never thought possible. I honestly never thought this album would see the light of day, all the turmoil, all the craziness, all the sleepless night but in a single burst of spontaneous madness it came to be. I’m so thrilled for people to hear this new album in its entirety, it’s quite a dark ride.” (quote from NME interview)

That said, when have any of the last several Raveonettes albums not had a dark side? Well, quite.

Musically, Observator has a back-to-basics sound, with the same lush melodies and some noise, as always. It opens with pure, melancholic vocal harmony, and ends with a wall of sound. Familiar territory? Sort of, but it’s by far the cleanest, purest, warmest Raveonettes album, with fairly unaltered guitars, simple beats, and some monstrously heavy piano, especially on “Observations,”  the first and best single from the album.

Some of the other songs sound like distilled versions of classics from their last three albums, and they work very well (“Sinking with the Sun”, “She Owns the Streets”, and “You Hit Me (I’m Down)”.)

Others have a more original sound that makes for an interesting deviation. We end with “Till the End,” possibly the best wall of sound, harmonic noise-epic the Raveonettes have ever done – a song that could sum up their entire career. Tight melodies, punchy beats, chimey guitars, and waves of noise.  It’s the Raveonettes at their best, and for me the best track on the album.

It’s hard to believe that Sune and Sharin could put out yet another quality album just a year after releasing the achingly beautiful Raven in the Grave, but then they’ve never gone more than two years without an album. I don’t know how they do it, but they so deserve the Great Ballers status I accorded them with earlier.  Observator keeps the ball rolling.

Bonus: listen to Observator in its entirety streaming at Rolling Stone

Bonus part 2: The Raveonettes are coming to DC on October 6, playing the Black Cat as they always do. If you live in the area, go!


Little Boots’s New Album Headphones Getting Closer!

talented AND beautiful!

I’ve already briefly addressed it, but Little Boots’s new album, Headphonesis getting the finishing touches for release!  By now a few songs have been released and a couple videos have been made:

 

 

Little Boots aka Victoria Hesketh is immensely talented, and by far the best of the crop of recent electronically-influenced pop singer-songwriters (such as La Roux, Lady Gaga, Adele, etc).  If her upcoming album is as good as her debut, she’ll be a serious contender for a Great Ballers of Music honor. She has a fantastic voice,her songs are intelligent, immensely catchy, and usually quite danceable.  If anything the new album seems even more dancefloor oriented.  Favorites from the previous, debut album, Hands after the jump

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LITTLE BOOTS’S NEW ALBUM DUE THIS YEAR!!  Best news of the day by far!

The Magnificent Something

Open eyes; stretch toes; deep inhale; and you are awake.

I landed on the sofa with a chocolate croissant and an accai berry tea on my hands. The living room was flooded with light, so I decided that the TV screen would remain black today. I took Mrs Dalloway out of my bag, turned on the radio on it’s lowest volume, and started reading about Clarissa’s day around London.

At some point, the song on the background woke me up from my literary hibernation; it sounded awfully familiar. It took me a couple of seconds, and then a smile formed on my face as I put the book down and turned the volume up, going on a rather cringable singing/dancing frenzy.

l first saw Victoria Christina Hesketh in her living room, camera positioned in an awkward angle, comfortable clothing, brown hair, sparkly eyes, apologetic introduction to her small YouTube crowd…

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Great Danes of Music: The Raveonettes

Sune and Sharin.  Also available in colour.

In a slight stylistic deviation from much of the in-your-face music I love so much, we arrive today at the Raveonettes, one of my absolute favorite currently active and touring bands.  They’re somewhat well-known, but not too much.  Misdemeanor-ly unappreciated if not criminally unappreciated, I suppose.  In any case, they are very, very dear to my heart, and here’s why:

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Mindblowing: Madeon – Pop Culture

I just saw this and am in awe.  Madeon, a 17 year old digital DJ on Youtube, is now officially God of Sampling Brilliance.  He calls it a mash-up, I say that’s an injustice.  This is rather THIRTY NINE songs with random snatches of each thrown in at one second and taken out at another, all creating a whole new and truly epic bouncy electro pop track.  Like Girl Talk, if Girl Talk didn’t suck.  Kudos to Madeon!

It also seems he’s done a pretty good remix of Yelle: