A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Saturday, January 18, 2003

I got a couple of discs in the post this past week--courtesy of my uber-cool UK compatriot..thanks again, F.P.!! They are the new Beth Gibbons (of Portishead) CD, Out Of Season..and the latest Delgados disc, called Hate. The Gibbons disc is quite good, and such a departure from the "Bristol" sound of her Portishead work. She sings in a jazz-vocal style for much of the disc--almost as an English equivalent of Billie Holiday or Nina Simone. Gone also are the electronic elements of Portishead..many songs feature sparse arrangements with piano or acoustic guitar backing, and although the tunes have a noir-ish feel to them..it's not as stylized as her former group. Her vocals are ethereal and wispy in some tracks ("Spider Monkey") and out-front and commanding in others ("Funny Time Of Year"--the most "Portishead"-like track on the record) and nearly folk-y in others ("Resolve"). The understated tone of the music works well with her voice, and she proves she doesn't need to front a band with DJs, drum machines and film noir samples to validate her presence. It's nice to hear her sing in hushed tones, it gives her voice more depth and clarity--on some of the Portishead stuff, it seemed almost as if she were fighting the machines for a place in the mix. I've listened to this record a number of times in the past week, and it should have received a spot on my "Picks of 2002" list--well, since I got a copy in January '03--it just might make a spot on my "Picks of 2003" list.
The Delgados are a band from Scotland who (to my knowledge) have released three albums so far--the first, Peloton, was released in 1998..followed by The Great Eastern in 2000 and Hate in 2002. They make good use of the two singers in the band, one male and one female. They incorporate some electronic elements into the tunes--but not in a clever "hey-look-at-us" way--the drum samples and bleeps always blend well into the arrangements. They can sound a bit Mercury Rev-like, but they shared a producer with the Rev--he being Dave Fridmann, who also produces The Flaming Lips and Mogwai. Their songs have some lush orchestration, like The Lips and Mercury Rev, but Emma Pollock's voice adds that extra touch that makes their songs melt in your mind. The Light Before We Land, the opener to "Hate", is such a track--a heavy drumbeat, a melancholy string section (reminiscent of Led Zep's "Kashmir") and Pollock's beautiful vocal coasting over the whole thing. Their songs have some great twists and turns--as on All You Need Is Hate, itself a pun on The Beatles psych/peace anthem "All You Need Is Love". It starts with a quiet vocal and some high-pitched strings--then kicks in full-force, with muted fuzz guitars and drums--but still with a hummable melody while they are singing "..hate is all you need.." Woke From Dreaming is a quiet piano tune featuring Pollock forming a choir with herself, via overdubbing..and a fierce build-up to a nice piano/strings break in the middle section. The Drowning Years follows "All You Need.."'s quiet opening, followed by loud guitars and drums pattern, but retains the opening section's melody--and also features some great harmony vocals when Pollock joins for the later verses. Coming In From The Cold is an acoustic-guitar centered tune, while Child Killers combines a funereal organ and a stately string quartet and more harmony vocals that work well with the resigning mood of the lyrics ("...eyes of black and lips of grey/when do I get my say..") The rest of the group joins in for the last verse and chorus, but the bleak melody continues through to the end. The rest of the record is much in the same fashion, clear vocals and beautiful melodies, right up until the last track, If This Is A Plan. The Delgados' sound is a blend of Scottish melody and American-infuenced-indie sense, and whomever is arranging the strings is *right on*, because on every tune, they never overwhelm, just pop in at the right spots to enhance the song. Watch out for this band--and I hope they continue to make records as good as "Hate".
Last month, Pixie sent me a copy of Ed Harcourt's Here Be Monsters CD. Harcourt is a new British singer and "Here Be.." is his debut album. It's a fine debut, and pretty impressive, considering Harcourt is all of 23. Think back to what you were doing at 23 (well, I can think back to what *I* was doing..and it wasn't recording a debut album). Harcourt has some excellent arrangements, whether it be on acoustic guitar or piano--and some moments on the record recall Nick Drake or The Beatles--not bad influences to have. The record isn't as strong lyrically as it is musically--but again, I could not have written much better at that age--so I'm cutting him some slack--and he does come up with some clever rhymes ("...well I burned all my traveler's checks/just to show you my respect..") My old buddy Matt Cibula reviewed Harcourt's record over at PopMatters...you can check it out here. I actually agree with Cibula's review--although I didn't find the transition between Harcourt as fawning lover/nice guy and Harcourt as stalker/weirdo as jarring--either way, take a listen to "Here Be Monsters"--it's good, new British singer/songwriter stuff--and everything you look for when aiming for that sound.
Speaking of PopMatters--I forgot to mention their "Best Of Music 2002" lists--so go here and prepare to be hipped to records you probably haven't heard of..and *definitely* check out my man M.A.D.'s list (Mark Desrosiers). He'll set you straight on 2002's most righteous indie stuff, without pandering to anyone's pomo-hipster tendencies. Those tunes he refers to are excellent--how do I know this? Well, M.A.D. sent me a mix tape with a lot of those songs on...thanks again for the tapes!! Check out his blog, Cheek, too--you'll learn somethin'..I know I do all the time when I'm there! That is all, musos!!