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What’s Playing Now August 21, 2008

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Smile Down Upon Us – Smile Down Upon Us (2008 )
English duo Phelan Sheppard and Japanese singer Moomlooo met each other on Myspace. While sending messages back and forth, it eventually escalated to sound and music clips. Before they knew it, they were creating an album together. I loved Phelan Sheppard’s 2006 “Harp’s Old Master” and actually discovered Moomlooo through their Myspace as well. Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity to hear her debut album, but this is the next best thing. Multi-instrumentalists Phelan Sheppard bring a warm sound to Moomlooo’s vocals — a summery mood brimming with the sounds of nature. Moomlooo sings in both English and Japanese, but on some songs I could’ve sworn she was singing in gibberish, particularly in “No, Dimitri,” but lyrics aren’t that important anyway. This is a vibrant album brimming with so much prettiness, it’s almost too much at first. How can an album be so damn pretty? Definitely one of the better albums of the year.



What’s Playing Now (New and Improved!) July 23, 2008

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This edition now has clips, but I’m using File Den so don’t expect them to be the most reliable.

Leila – Blood, Looms And Blooms (2008 )
Iranian-born Leila Arab is a staple in the electronic music scene, but her presence is not as prolific as the people she works with. Mostly known for collaborating and touring with Bjork, it appears Leila has less time to actually spend on her own music. “Blood, Looms And Blooms” is her first studio album in nearly ten years, and unfortunately, it’ll probably be this year’s most overlooked album. With collborations with singers Martina Topley-Bird and Terry Hall, the album effortlessly wavers between styles without the collaborators hijacking the track and running away with it. Stand out track “Deflect” is a moody, electronic rock-out oozing with Topley-Bird’s droning voice, while “Daises, Cats And Spacemen” is a unique, tango-esque tune drizzling with friend Roya Arab’s voice. Leila might insist on being low profile, but hopefully this album can catch on.

Nalle – The Siren’s Wave (2008 )
This is the second album for the three multi-instrumentalists. The sound is an interesting experimental freak-folk free flow with very little structure. Vocalist Hanna Tuulikki sings with a hint of traditional Japanese influence that creates a haunting energy. But other times (especially when the song clocks in over ten minutes) her voice becomes too overbearing, weakening a few tracks like “Voi Ruusini (O Rose),” a darkly beautiful track that just has way too much going on. Tracks like “Nothing Gold Can Say” and “Alice’s Ladder” are the band’s shining moments and capture their delicate and distinguished sound.

Kissey Asplund – Plethora (2008 )
From Sweden, Kissey Asplund’s debut album is classified as “future/electro soul,” but that label is kind of driving me nuts. “Plethora” is indeed an interesting romp through a fuzzy funktronic gaze, but the spacey-ness still doesn’t account for the overall sound, which frankly, doesn’t know what it wants to be. It doesn’t have enough experimentation or traditional soul flare and instead somewhat wavers in between. Some artists can do the balancing act, but I don’t think the idea was fully executed here, except on “Fuss’n’fight,” an icy cool track that’s laid back yet subtly deadly. Probably its biggest weakness are the tracks sounding too much alike. “Caos” sounds like “6am,” and “You and I” sounds a bit like “Another Glass.” But none of this will hinder Asplund’s rise to fame. Her debut is interesting enough to at least get people to take notice. In fact, I’m predicting the buzz to start soon if it hasn’t already.

What’s Playing Now (Snack size edition) July 3, 2008

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Alla – Es Tiempo (2008 )
Alla are three Mexican-Americans from Chicago. Lead singer Lupe Martinez sings in breathy Spanish over laid-back, yet unremarkable music. I tried really hard to like this album, but I kept forgetting what I was listening to. The songs are light and airy but tend to swoop into areas that don’t take the songs anywhere. “El Moviemento” is one of the few tracks to somewhat have a working formula. The song is like a psychedelic country ride that beautifully builds toward the end, not in a overdone way but just enough to realize the song has ended and another track is about to start (wish I could say the same about the others). Alla has great potential, though. They might be making pretty background music now, but who knows where they’ll be tomorrow.

Olafur Arnalds – Eulogy For Evolution (2007)
From Iceland, Olafur Arnalds has been getting lots of press for this year’s captivating Variation of Static. It’s only logical to see where Arnalds began and have a look at his debut. Eulogy For Evolution is sparser and more delicate. The songs are like icicles in their perfection — as if one touch or sudden move will cause the entire song to collapse. Arnalds reminds me somewhat of my favorite band, World’s End Girlfriend. The difference is Arnalds is less interested in making something frantic and experimental — he’s more of a minimalist. But both musicians have a classical aesthetic to their music that’s refreshing to hear. In fact, I think this album is slightly better than Variation Of Static. But shh, don’t tell anyone.

What’s Playing Now (Volume 100000) June 21, 2008

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Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (2008 )
Much like The Knife became the go-to duo for quirky electronic music in 2007, this new bizarre electronic act from Canada has been growing in popularity since they released their first proper album earlier this year. Unlike The Knife, Crystal Castles’ music is bizarre, structureless and somewhat obnoxious. But occasionally they do pull off an actual song here and there with tracks like “Courtship Date” and “Crimewave.” But the majority of the tracks are an awesome mix of the bleeps and bloops of 8-bit synth video games with a dash of that old school digital hardcore aesthetic poured on top. People will either love it or hate it.

Sigur Ros – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (2008 )
I don’t know why, but Sigur Ros’ last album never grew on me. Maybe it was the endless comparisons to U2 that turned me off, but it seemed like that epic quality Sigur Ros had always possessed since their debut was missing. I was missing that since of euphoric wonder, that cathartic release of tracks like “Ny Batteri.” It was all gone. I think Sigur Ros realized that, too, and for the first time they recorded an album outside of Iceland with a string and a brass band. The sound isn’t entirely different, but it awakens that pure, perfect showmanship they debuted with. The songs don’t just flow, they explode. The songs aren’t just delicate, but almost too fragile to touch. The album has almost an exaggerated sense of themselves, which made me react negatively during the first listen. But gradually I realized I couldn’t resist. It’s definitely showy, but not enough to relapse into self-parody…yet.

Daedelus – Love to Make Music To (2008 )
The first track on Love To Make Music To is almost frightening. Sure Daedulus likes to change his sound for every album, but first track Fair Weather Friends sounds like a second rate rip of The Go! Team. Fortunately, after that track things are back to normal with Daedulus’ trademark sound of hip hop fused with more traditional electronic fare. The difference is the experimentation is gone and has been replaced with standard, more defined hip hop tracks that could easily find a home on the radio. Surprising at first, but with hitters like “Hrs:Mins:Secs” and “Assembly Lines,” Daedelus is able to do an amazing balancing act between the two genres.

Flying Lotus – Los Angeles (2008 )
Hip hop/laptop producer Steven Ellison is mostly known for creating many of the segues on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block. Flying Lotus’ second album Los Angeles is an eclectic mix of instrumental hip hop and cut and rip glitch. It’s the kind of music you would typically hear on Ninja Tune records instead of Warp, which simply proves the rising popularity of music like this. The downside is that music like this easily blends into the background, and thus, also steps on the toes of other similar musicians. Prefuse 73 anyone? Madlib? It’s all here. Flying Lotus does have more of a jazz influence over those other guys, but it’s not enough for him to stand out.

Oh, and others I haven’t gotten around to yet:
Ratatat – LP3 (2008 )
Yasushi Yohida – Little Grace (2008 )
Amon Tobin – Taxidermia EP (2008 )

What’s Playing Now May 27, 2008

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OK, getting back to business with yet another current music post.

Paavoharju – Laulu Laakson Kukista
Already I’ve noticed the reception to Paavoharju’s latest album is not as warm as their past album “Yhä hämärää.” Does no one care about this album besides me and Boomkat? Oh well. I’ll admit “Laulu Laakson Kukista” is not as good as “Yhä hämärää,” but the album is clearly one of the best of the year. The hybrid of sounds that form Paavoharju are probably a music journalist’s worst nightmare. The Finnish band has a subtle Bollywood vibe, particularly in the vocals. The instrumentation itself is like a psychotic trip to the carnival that’s haunting, yet dainty. Stand out track “Kevatrumpu” is like an Indian club track with Nordic roots, while “Kirkonvaki” starts off gentle and then explodes into an orgy of church organs that feels epic. I could go on forever about this album. Just stunning.

Lau Lau – Nukkuu
Fonal Records just keeps cranking them out. Fonal (home to Paavoharju and Islaja) are the best at finding these little bizarre experimental Finnish bands, you know, if you’re in to that sort of thing. What Fonal is to Finland, Noble is to Japan (another favorite label of mine). Lau Lau’s experimental folk sound is nothing new, but the album starts off strong with sweet, moody songs. The album wanders off a bit and doesn’t come back until the end with “Vuoren Iaelle,” a strange tune that could be a church hymn. It’s still a solid debut with songs too gorgeous to ignore. (Correction! This is actually her second album. Oy, I need fact checkers.)

Subtle – Exiting Arm
Somewhat abandoning their trademark alt-hip hop sound, the Anticon band takes a more accessible, pop turn in their latest release. Subtle has always been chronically underrated, mostly by the lack of focus in the presentation of their music. The new sound on this record should definitely catch new listeners. A track as awesome as “Day Dangerous” should definitely do the trick.

Brael and Tokyo Bloodworm – Living Languages
The first album from this duo is an immersive piece full of droning atmospheric music crawling with intricate details. Introductory track “Saturn Shine” is a dreamy escapade, while other tracks like “Blue Fields” are delightfully dark and claustrophobic.

What’s Playing Now May 2, 2008

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Tujiko Noriko – Trust (2008 )
Not wasting a beat, Tujiko Noriko is back again with a new release after last year’s excellent “Solo.” “Trust” is a mixture of both old and new; the album is part remixes and part new songs. The remixes simply sound like re-worked, perfected versions of the originals, while the new songs sound surprisingly over-produced. Noriko’s music has always been sparse, esoteric and unsure of its direction. This Noriko is loud, experimental and content with its weirdness. It’s not as good as “Solo,” but worth a download.

Santogold – Santogold (2008 )
Here comes the next M.I.A! Except she sounds nothing like M.I.A. But hey, they’re both brown! That’s close enough, right? Unlike M.I.A, Santogold takes herself more seriously, and her music is a reflection of that tinge of intellectual maturity. Musically she’s more daring, jumping from punk, to ska, to electronics, to hip hop, she’s definitely not afraid to experiment. Possibly one of the better albums of the year.

Ladytron – Velocifero (2008 )
Sometimes I think Ladytron will never live up to the greatness of “604.” Their last album (I can’t be bothered to look up the name) was an interesting, if not over-produced effort that I enjoyed, but “Velocifero” takes a weird step in the wrong direction. Instead of the clear, super crisp sounds of “The Witching Hour” (Yay, I remember!), the music here sounds muffled and badly rendered. I’m not an audiophile, but this combined with tracks that sound like leftovers from the b-sides of some horrible ’80s band is enough for me to just wash my hands of them. “Black Car” and “Ghosts” are catchy and great, but the rest of the album sounds too rushed.

Tape – Luminarium (2008 )
I’m going to hold my opinion on this one. I’m listing it here to show that I am currently listening to it, but I haven’t let the album sink in fully yet. To be continued.



Aus – Lang (2006)
Aus is quickly becoming one of my favorite musicians. After the release of “Sonorapid,” Aus has become a quiet underground celebrity. Older albums that previously never saw the light of day are tip-toeing to the surface as more and more people discover Aus. I actually think “Lang” is superior to “Sonorapid” in many ways. “Sonorapid” seemed a bit lost in its quiet excellence, preferring its points of brilliance to be more subtle. “Lang,” on the other hand, is cutely in your face with confident beats and a surprising surge of energy. Fyi, he also remixed a track on Tuijko Noriko’s “Trust.”

Animal Collective – Water Curses Ep (2008 )
Although “Strawberry Jam” was just released last year, Animal Collective are charging back with a short EP of four new songs. Very much in the same vein as “Strawberry Jam,” except with less hijinks and more subdued insanity.

What’s Playing Now April 20, 2008

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Bat for Lashes – Fur and Gold
I tend to stumble on the best albums post-hype – that way I can judge the music on its own merits without feeling pressured to succumb to trends. “Fur and Gold” was released last year, and although I remember stumbling on the excellent video for “What’s a Girl to Do,” I didn’t hear the rest of the album until recently. Beautiful moody music that’s unconventional, yet distinctly pop.

Portishead – Third
Portishead’s long-awaited third album (and what an appropriate title) had tons of buzz as fans eagerly waited for the ’90s’ trip-hop act to splash back into the music world. Unfortunately, all the buzz and hype has swallowed this album whole and only left tiny morsels of brilliance to dissect. I actually loved “Third” the first time I heard it, but as my excitement wore down, so did the music. Of course tracks like “Machine Gun” are excellent, but the rest of the album sounds so lost, like they were aimlessly wandering the music sphere looking for their new sound. An interview with the band said it was the hardest album they ever made. Well, it definitely shows.

Lykke Li – Youth Novels
Well this was a surprise. And I like surprises. Lykke Li is a Swedish singer/songwriter and her album is a light-hearted, pop-ish romp with plenty of other styles mixed between. “Little Bit” is the clear stand out, but other tracks like “Time Flies” and “Let it Fall” are just too damn catchy. I’ve noticed a steady string of hype building behind this album, so I think we’ll be seeing more of Lykke Li soon. (more…)