cartwheels into your heart

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Some singles reviews this week, plus a couple that didn't make the cut:

Jay-Z, "Show Me What You Got"

The shout-out to James Brown ("Give the drummer some!") near the top is apt: as with Brown's merciless funk workouts, "Show Me What You Got" goes straight for a singular, self-aggrandizing statement, rather than muck about in story, and the dense, celebratory orchestration is meant to underscore the rapper's supposed virtuosity. However, this Vegas-style razzle-dazzle, complete with glamorous brass, show-offy piano glissandos, and snaky Wreckx-N-Effect sax, is intoxicating enough on its own to distract the listener from Jay-Z's laziness on the mic. It's an effective first single in the sense that it raises excitement for Kingdom Come, but its purpose feels limited to promotion (it's also in a new Budweiser ad, with Hova hollering from a convertible), and if its place on the album is as something other than an intro, I'll be worried.

Carrie Underwood, "Before He Cheats"

As someone who disdains the predictable trad-rock trappings that generally characterize the sound of contemporary country, I'm constantly surprised at how the genre routinely wins me over. Most of the time, it comes down to two elements that country has in abundance: strong, charismatic performers and clever, richly detailed lyrics. On "Before He Cheats," Underwood snarls about a "white-trash version of Shania karaoke" and "three-dollar bathroom Polo" in a big, pliant voice that seethes with contempt at the right moments. If the sonic palette is rather conventional, that's fine: it makes the song's real charms all the more apparent.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Funky Funky 7 originated several months ago as an excellent group blog made up mostly of Stylus writers, and so I was pleased when I was recently asked to contribute. My debut post there, which somehow ballooned into 1800 words, considers the evolution of emo, both as a genre and as a personal touchstone, and features some free tunes by American Football and The North Atlantic.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Two stray thoughts about Girl Talk's Night Ripper:

1. When I'm listening to the album, the Ciara/Sonic Youth collision doesn't totally gel -- up against that ringing guitar, her voice is just a little off, pitch-wise. But when the mash-up surfaces in my mind a day later, it's perfect: "rock it, don't stop it, everybody get on the floor" syncs up with the stripped-down chords and it becomes this ideal blend for someone like me who appreciates slick new-school R&B as much as dirty art-school rock, triggering simultaneous memories of bumping Ciara in the car last spring and making out to Sonic Youth in high school -- even if the perfection doesn't quite exist outside of my head.

2. So much of the pleasure of Night Ripper has to do with anticipation, but it's a different kind of anticipation than in a song where you're like, "Oh oh, wait for this awesome drum fill" -- because what you're waiting for (whether it's the intro to "Another Day in Paradise" or the main lick from "Mundian to Bach Ke") a) doesn't seem to have anything to do with what you're currently hearing, and yet b) also feels completely inevitable. This is why I don't really buy the argument that the album doesn't have any replay value. It's only because I've heard it more than once that I can experience this discrete thrill -- and when it happens over and over, in rapid-fire succession over 42 minutes, it's a recipe for delirium.

In a weird way, it reminds me of performing Shakespeare: just as Night Ripper dazzlingly stitches together samples, A Midsummer Night's Dream assembles strings of iambs. And so after you've run through the show enough times, each absurd, archaic line no longer exists on its own: they all spill out in an oddly logical sequence, unbroken in your memory.

List of samples on Night Ripper, from Wikipedia

Monday, October 09, 2006

Junior Boys at the Empty Bottle, 10/8/06:

So This Is Goodbye / The Equalizer / Teach Me How to Fight / Like a Child / First Time / In the Morning / Count Souvenirs / Birthday / FM // Under the Sun

You know that moment at a show where you close your eyes and the sound swells all around you and you get this uplifting rush in the center of your body that's, I dunno, just so blissful? I mean, it doesn't happen all that often, but part of the reason I still see live music is in the hopes of having that experience. When Sonic Youth played the Metro in 2002, and I was closer to them than I'd ever been, and they laid down one bright, gorgeous jam after another, I felt it then. I don't remember when: maybe it was in the thick of a wild, free guitar solo. Last night the moment came during the Junior Boys' encore, "Under the Sun." Its lyrical slightness and uncomplicated rhythm mean it's often overshadowed on Last Exit, but on stage the band uses this minimalism to its advantage, slowly building the beat into a trance, and when Jeremy Greenspan's dreamy, reverbed guitar suddenly bloomed into noise, I closed my eyes and smiled.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

This will probably be the last Stylus contribution from me for a while. (E-mail me if you want details.) It's part of the site's Non-Definitive Guide to Musicians as Actors, a feature ably commandeered by Mr. Alfred Soto, who pitches in with the Five Best Musician-Actors. I start things off with a discussion of four recent pop-star vanity projects: 8 Mile, Get Rich or Die Tryin', Crossroads, and Glitter. (With a deadline looming, Netflix would've been too slow, so I had to visit no fewer than six video stores before locating a copy of the Mariah movie.) And then Brad Shoup rounds out the article with his Top Ten Notable Bit and Supporting Roles. With all the great performances left out for space, I'm surprised we haven't attracted more comments on the piece. I was imagining something on the order of "OMG LYLE LOVETT ROOLZ IN SHORT CUTZ."

(I'm still going to be doing singles reviews, btw. Here's this week's Singles Jukebox Podcast, where I've got an audio review of Love is All's "Make Out, Fall Out, Make Up.")