Sunday, 31 August 2008

Album review: The Gabe Dixon Band

The Gabe Dixon Band - Till You're Gone

That picture pretty much sums up how I feel about the Gabe Dixon Band. Like Jeff Giles on I got about 20 emails from a promoter and then received an unasked for review copy of the CD in the post. Via airmail. These guys are keen. Like the puppy, these guys really want to be loved. And listening to them is a bit like looking at the puppy: pleasant, inoffensive, even quite charming at times. There's nothing wrong with labrador puppies in themselves. But to me they're dogs for people who plump for the easy option. Why would you have a labrador when you could have an powerful and beautiful german shepherd? Or a super intelligent collie?

The Gabe Dixon Band are the labrador of the music world. They make perfectly pleasant - accomplished, even - piano driven music. This would be completely fine if I'd not heard Ben Folds' finest moments. Let's do a comparison. Lyrics first. The best word to describe Gabe Dixon's lyrics is "earnest". Here's some taken from track 3, "Further The Sky":

When you don't know when you're going and you don't know why
It feels like another day is bleeding into the night
Lay your head on my chest while my beating heart pounds out the secret of this life
The higher you reach, the further the sky
The more miles you walk, the longer the road [etc etc]

Ben Folds does earnest at times but when he does it there's a serious purpose. "Brick" springs to mind: a moving and at times inspired recalling of his teenage girlfriend getting an abortion. Or "Losing Lisa": the story of a girl who commits suicide, writen with complex, allusive lyrics to an ironically upbeat accompaniment. Gabe Dixon's lyrics aren't bad by any means but they are never more than middle of the road retellings of loves lost and gained that use the same old metaphors ("new day dawns" or "highway as metaphor for earning love" - that last one is used twice) that are so generalised as to lose all real emotional connection. The ones I quoted above are fairly typical. There's nothing wrong with them, it's just that we've heard it all before.

The same goes for the music. It's fine. Just fine. Gabe is a very good pianist and the piano sounds lovely throughout but none of the writing is that exciting. The opening track is early Keane through and through, and god knows that's been done enough. Later tracks are better (particularly Till You're Gone, which you can listen to above) but it's a bit like listening to someone driving exactly at the middle of the road - safe and just a little bit boring.* Till You're Gone is as close as Gabe gets to cutting loose and going wild. What really gets me is that Gabe purports to play prepared piano at some point on this album. This has the potential to make things very interesting as prepared piano can sound completely nuts - John Cage wrote a series of pieces called Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano which sounds quite a lot like a Indonesian gamelan - but having listened through the album a few times on various different speakers I still have no idea where the prepared piano comes in. If you're going to use a prepared piano, actually use it. Not making it audible is like taking your hands off the steering wheel to scare your passenger before revealing that you've got a car that can drive itself in the middle of the road just as well.

I feel bad about being mean to Gabe and the labrador puppy. There's nothing wrong with either of them. It's just that as I listen I find myself wanting to be challenged and I never am. The lyrics aren't going to make you reevaluate your life or see something completely differently for the first time and you're never going to get that wonderful thing with challenging music where you initially go "what the fuck?", then suddenly get it, and then it becomes the most exciting thing in your life up 'til now.** Or the thing where you're so dazzled by how well someone plays or how complex a chord sequence is that you're literally mesmerised. Gabe Dixon Band is none of these things.

I wish Gabe well. I'm just puzzled as to why his promotion guys are working the blogs so hard. Most mp3 bloggers are serious to the point of being fanatical about music. They want to be challenged. They want to be inspired. The Gabe Dixon Band is the kind of music they play as the token bit of contemporary on BBC Radio 2 in the daytime. Mp3 bloggers want BBC 6 Music, or at least late night BBC Radio 1. This is the only time I'm ever going to give advice to promotional people - BBC Radio 2 is where it's at for the Gabe Dixon Band. It's not that there aren't people out there who aren't going to love this music, it's just not the bloggers.

To be honest, it's my mum.

*Actually, that middle of the road metaphor doesn't really work, does it? I mean if you're right in the middle of the road, half of your vehicle is in the wrong lane causing havok.
** That's 'til, Gabe, not till. A till is something you put cash in. EDIT: Turns out I'm wrong about that. Apologies.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Jesse Dee - Alright

This is the opening track to Boston based soul man Jesse Dee's wonderful debut album, Bittersweet Batch. It's like a contemporary summing up of everything that was great about soul music. Funky bass lines, throbbing hammond organs, great big band writing, good lyrics sung with feeling. And boy, Jesse sure can sing. His voice can be delicate or powerful, soft or harsh, and he can jump an octave apparently without thinking. Highly recommended.

Jesse Dee - Alright

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Monsters are Waiting - I Wanna Be Adored

Los Angeles based Monsters Are Waiting have a new EP out called "Ones And Zeros". I haven't yet heard the whole thing but the title track is currently spinning through my head like a catherine wheel in a gale (you can check out the video at the bottom of the post) and if that's any indication it should pretty awesome. Here's a preview of the EP, track 5 of 6, a mental cover of The Stone Roses' "I Wanna Be Adored". You can preorder it on their website (I never understand why bands don't do this more often).

Monsters Are Waiting - I Wanna Be Adored (alt)

Monsters Are Waiting - Ones and Zeros

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

The Bamboos - King of the Rodeo (Kings of Leon cover, feat. Megan Washington)

Oh my good god this is funky. Since listening to that documentary about Brian Wilson's production methods yesterday and hearing the hammond close up I'm thinking there should be more funky organs. I might just have to purchase one. Anyway.

The Bamboos are "Australia's premier Deep Funk outfit", or so gushes I'll be honest, I've never heard of them before today but I caught this track on Gary Crowley's show on 6 music just now and fell just a little bit in love. I shall find out more and report back.

The Bamboos - King of the Rodeo (feat Megan Washington) (alt)

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The Beach Boys - I Know There's An Answer

I was originally going to post this track because I think the bass harmonica solo is fucking awesome, but I was just reading the lyrics and noticed how rich they are. Could Brian Wilson's words be addressed to himself? Either way, he's a very talented lyricist.

EDIT (30/08/08): Embarrassingly, Brian Wilson didn't write the words, Mike Love and Terry Sachen did. Noone told me this, I just happened to wonder about it about a week after writing the post. Goddamn. Still, bloody good lyrics!

I know so many people who think they can do it alone
They isolate their heads and stay in their saftey zones

Now what can you tell them
And what can you say that won't make them defensive

I know there's an answer
I know now but I have to find it by myself

They come on like they're peaceful
But inside they're so uptight
They trip through their day
And waste all their thoughts at night

Now how can I come on
And tell them the way that they live could be better

I know there's an answer
I know now but I have to find it by myself

Now how can I come on
And tell them the way that they live could be better

I know there's an answer
I know now but I have to find it by myself
The Beach Boys - I Know There's An Answer (or here)

EDIT: There's a fascinating and in depth documentary available on the BBC iplayer from a couple of days ago about Brian Wilson's record producing technique - clicky here.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Radiohead - Idioteque

Who's in bunker?
Who's in bunker?
Women and children first
And the children first
And the children
I'll laugh until my head comes off
I'll swallow till I burst
Until I burst
Until I

Who's in bunker?
Who's in bunker?
I have seen too much
You haven't seen enough
You haven't seen it
I'll laugh until my head comes off
Women and children first
And children first
And children

Here I'm allowed
Everything all of the time
Here I'm allowed
Everything all of the time

Ice age coming
Ice age coming
Let me hear both sides
Let me hear both sides
Let me hear both
Ice age coming
Ice age coming
Throw them in the fire
Throw them in the fire
Throw them in the

We're not scaremongering
This is really happening
We're not scaremongering
This is really happening
Mobiles quirking
Mobiles chirping
Take the money and run
Take the money and run
Take the money
Radiohead - Idioteque (alt)

Friday, 22 August 2008

Eels - P.S. You Rock My World

I confess, I've barely listened to anything but Frank Bango since I got his album, so I'm finding it hard to think about any other music. HOWEVER. I'm posting this track because some of his lyrics remind me of the Eels. You'll need to read yesterdays post if you're not sure what I'm on about - Frank Bango is very highly recommended.

E of the Eels has had a very dark life and is very capable of dwelling on it - there have been a couple of times when I confess to having found him a bit self-indulgent - but can be brilliant and he's at his best where he works through all the shit to get to some kind of optimism. That's the basic narrative of two of his albums, most obviously the most recent one, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, but also 1998's Electro-shock Blues, which opens with the destitute "Elizabeth on the bathroom floor", the lyrics of which were assembled from the diary of E's late sister Elizabeth - she had committed suicide. Choice lyric: 'My name's Elizabeth / My life is shit and piss'.

I'd argue that Electro-shock Blues is the best album E has ever produced, partly because the lyrics and music are great all the way through, but due in large part to fact that there's a really coherent narrative in which you can follow E's reaction to his sister's suicide (and other horrid happenings). It literally goes from dark to light - via mental. "P.S. You Rock My World" is the final track and what a way to go out.

Eels - P.S You Rock My World (alternative download location)

I was at a funeral the day I realised
I wanted to spend my life with you
sitting down on the steps at the old post office
the flag was flying at half mast
and I was thinkin' 'bout how everyone was dying
and maybe it is time to live

I don't know where we're going
I don't know what we'll do

walked into the thrif-tee
saw the man with the hollow eyes
who didn't give me all my change
but it didn't bother me this time
'cause I know I only got this moment
and it's good

I went to the gas station
old woman honked her horn
waiting for me to fix her car
I don't know where we're going
I don't know what we'll do

laying in bed tonight I was thinking
and listening to all the dogs
and the sirens and the shots
and how the careful man tries to dodge the bullets
while a happy man takes a walk
and maybe it is time to live

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Album review: Frank Bango - The Sweet Songs of Decay

Frank Bango - I Saw The Size Of The World (alt source)

It's 14 years since Frank Bango released his first record - The Sweet Songs Of Decay is his fourth. It's also one of the best records released this year and this is no small praise considering there's been Radiohead's In Rainbows, Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid, and Los Campesinos' Hold On Now, Youngster!, all of which are utterly fantastic. The Sweet Songs of Decay is complex but simple, emotional but funny, capable of being childish but adult in meaning, easily accessible but containing great depth, happy but sad. It is perhaps the ultimate bittersweet album.

Bango sets out his stall in an ironically titled opening track "You Always Begin By Saying Goodbye". The message is clear: savour how beautiful life is because your time is short. And in the ultimate of unfunny ironies, Frank Bango was diagnosed with cancer the day after he put the final touches to the mastering.

Well the moment is here, but the moment is fleeting
You walk in a room and it feels like you're leaving
I can't slow you down so I won't even try
You always begin by saying goodbye

Well the clock has two faces so it isn't surprising
That for each setting sun there's one that is rising
You can capture time but it's your hands that are tied
Because you always begin by saying goodbye

Before you drive to the ends of the earth you should just sit in the car
Before you go where you think you should be, allow yourself to be where you are
Becase the moment is here but without it's only a minute
It'll settle on somebody else unless you put youself in it
I would have been happy to meet you but you never even said hi
Because you always begin by saying goodbye

The music is pure and perfect power pop with beautifully constructed vocal harmonies. There's just something very special about Frank Bango's sound. It is at once familiar - you can hear echoes of the Beach Boys, the Kinks, Elvis Costello - and something new. Each time a track begins it's like you've just rediscovered a long lost but much loved song from your youth: hairs rise on the back of your neck with nostalgia; you kind of know where each song is going but you've forgotten some of the beautiful details and as the track sweeps past you experience the joy of uncovering something that you've been missing for years without being aware of it.

In each track Bango finds something new and wonderful (in the true sense of the word) to appreciate. In "She'll Miss The Spider" the female protagonist becomes fascinated by 'a graveyard without circumstance or saint, behind the mousetrap and the empy cans of paint', realising that 'there's something beautiful in everything that crawls'. She listens to 'the buzz of the captured flies, the sweet songs of decay' and realises that 'she'll miss the spider when the web is wiped away'. My favourite track has a slightly more conventional theme (though the same underlying message): it's the spine-tingle-inducing ode to love and the girl who 'could outshine the sun', "Summerdress". It's the music that gets me here: beautiful string countermelodies and bursts of vocal harmony sweep you away. It's maybe a bit early to say, but this could be one of my favourite tracks of all time.

But the message isn't quite as simple as 'everything is beautiful if you only took the time to appreciate it'. Life isn't perfect. In "I Saw The Size Of The World", Bango imagines the excitement that a worm - the ultimate agent of decay - feels when it crawls out of the ground . At one point the worm realises it will never be able to fly - but it throws itself into the wind. But as "If A Plane Goes Down" shows Bango believes that life's sadnesses and tragedies serve to make the good times all the more beautiful, giving more meaning to love:
I haven't seen you for so many years
But I still remember your face.
Still as each passing year brings more danger and fear
I only hope that you'll always be safe
And Bango is able to find beauty even in death. The last track with vocals on the album is "What This Place Needs", in which Bango suggests that the world will be even more beautiful once there are no humans around to fuck things up. And this is realised in the very final track, "Gardenvariety", which is nothing more than a three minute recording of birds singing. It's a striking way to end a wonderful album and what it says (I think) is: even when death - the ultimate Bad Thing - happens, beauty will still continue.

There is an enormous amount to be said about this album; I haven't written anywhere near as much as I could. Dear reader, there's still loads left for you to enjoy discovering - buy it now and enrich your life. The Sweet Songs Of Decay was released on July 22nd, and is available from iTunes (download only) and CDBaby (download and physical copy). And if you're in New York on August 26th (that's Tuesday night people!), get down to the Bowery Ballroom to enjoy the Frank Bango Bone-Marrow-Thon-Stem-Cell-A-Bration which features music from Simone White, Scott Matthew, Victoria Williams, Richard Buckner, Dean & Britta, Nada Surf (acoustic), Sam Champion and other special guests. Tickets are $20 and all money goes towards helping Frank through his treatment and to worthwhile volunteer organisations.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Lily Allen - Guess Who Batman (Fuck You Very Much)

This track is ironic pop at its finest. In an ordinary song I can't help but get a cheap childish laugh when a singer uses expletives; in such a happy sounding song as this I literally laughed out loud. Thank you Lily Allen: you make me lol. This is basically a rant at small minded racists and homophobes. Again, thank you Lily Allen.

Lily's second album, the fantastically titled Stuck On The Naughty Step is forthcoming. She explains here: "In England, when kids are naughty, they get sent to sit on the naughty step. Like a timeout, you know? I feel like I'm stuck in a hole where people say, 'Lily, you're bad. Go think about what you've done." What excites me muchly is that she co-wrote the album with Greg Kurstin of the brilliant band The Bird And The Bee. The first single off the new album will be "Everyone's At It" and will be released next month.

Lily Allen - Guess Who Batman (Fuck You Very Much) (alternative download location)

Thanks to Alors, Vraiment?

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Cara Beth Satalino - Can Kicker

I HEART Cara Beth Satalino. She writes songs that are witty and wise and just plain beautiful. Here's another gem - Can Kicker.

Cara Beth Satalino - Can Kicker (or here if that doesn't work).

Monday, 18 August 2008

Leerone - Care For Some Whisky (video)

Isn't that just the juciest jumble of joy you've seen all July? Damn, it's August.

It might as well be J for January here in Wales - the rain has been continuous for about a week and it doesn't seem to be about to end any time soon. I'm sorry for not having posted for a while. I got a new computer and installed Oblivion onto it to see how well it would run. Well, let's just say it's been running pretty well constantly for the last four days. What can I say - I'm a geek.

Leerone is a nice Jewish lady from the US who pays an enormous amount of attention to her music (which, to be fair to her, she's fully aware of - her label is called "Fussy Music"). She also conceives and designs her cover art, snaps some of the photographs featured on her recordings, and designs her own stage attire - I think there maybe something a little OCD about it. If she was involved in creating that wonderful video then kudos to her.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Ace Bushy Striptease - Mervyn and Isaac Find A CD

The idea that "Wednesday is mental day" started off as a bit of a joke but for some reason every Wednesday for the last few weeks I've been grabbed by a song which I can legitimately describe as mental. This week is no exception.

Ace Bushy Striptease
- Mervyn and Isaac find a CD

Alternating thrashy eukele driven shoutalongs with an utterly random spoken argument, "Mervyn and Isaac find a CD" is as much pure unadulterated fun as putting pop-rocks in coke.

Ace Bushy Striptease are from Birmingham, have been playing together for about a year, and they have a beautiful website on which you can download some trackz and read a fairly lengthy and wonderfully rambling self-penned biography.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Ben Folds Five - Underground (live)

Though you wouldn't necessarily be aware of it when listening to some of Ben Folds' recent solo efforts, he has a deserved reputation for being a great showman. Going to see him live is fun, pure and simple. His banter is witty, he makes songs up on the spot, he gets you singing the brass parts for "Army", he plays pretty much all of his back catalogue but best of all, he's a phenomenal pianist to watch - incredibly fast and incredibly accurate.

This'll give you some idea. Underground is a track on Ben Folds Five's exuberant self-titled debut album; this live version is taken from a b-sides and live album titled Naked Baby Photos. There are some other great live tracks I could have posted (Ultimate Sacrifice and Satan Is My Master are particular favourites) but I just love what the guy in the audience shouts out.

Ben Folds Five
- Underground (live) (alternative download location HERE)

Ben Folds has a new album called Way To Normal out on 30 September in the US and on 29 September here in the UK. Tracklisting below:

1. Hiroshima (B B B Benny Hit His Head)
2. Dr. Yang
3. The Frown Song
4. You Don't Know Me (featuring Regina Spektor)
5. Before Cologne
6. Cologne
7. Errant Dog
8. Free Coffee
9. Bitch Went Nuts
10. Brainwascht
11. Effington
12. Kylie from Connecticut

Monday, 11 August 2008

Jens Lekman - I'm Leaving You Because I Don't Love You

Romantic Swede Jens Lekman makes sample heavy pop with witty, knowing lyrics. Here jangly jazzy piano chords bounce around in the background as Jens narrates the end of a relationship. The music is far too happy for the lyrics, it's all the wrong way round, but that's why it works.

Jens Lekman - I'm Leaving You Because I Don't Love You

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Gwilym Simcock - Sneaky

I don't often watch the Proms but last night Prom 31 was on the TV and it caught my ear so much that I stopped everything I was doing and just watched as the dinner went cold and the family went hungry. There was a premiere of a piece by a young British composer and jazz pianist called Gwilym Simcock which just blew me away. The piece married Gwilym's jazz trio with a full on orchestra, and flipped between beautiful, colourfully orchestrated modern classical music and fantastically creative jazz. Some of the piano solos were just mind boggling. I wish I could post it here right now. You can listen to it on the BBC iPlayer here but only for a week (it starts at about 9 minutes and 30 secs).

What I can post is a track from the jazz trio's debut album, Perception. As you can tell by how much jazz I've written about in previous posts, I haven't been listening to jazz very frequently for quite a while (the Wynton Marsalis post earlier this week is only an exception to the indie-rock/pop rule), but this really gets me going. Imagine this kind of fascinating jazz combined with an orchestra and you'll have some idea of what last night's piece sounded like. It's basically a wide-eyed OH MY GOD moment.

Gwilym Simcock - Sneaky
(still having issues with, if that link doesn't work, try here).

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Justice - The Party

Hypem isn't short of Justice related posts, partly because they're prolific remixers, partly because their music is great to mashup, and partly just because they're awesome. I don't think it's hyperbole to say that their Cross album is the best indie dance album of last year; if they keep on putting out remixes of a similar quality they're slowly going to take over the world. Cross really deserves to be heard in full but here's a sample if you haven't heard it yet. It's track 8 and it features Parisian rapper Uffie.

(feat Uffie) - The Party

(If that doesn't work, try here)

Friday, 8 August 2008

ZibraZibra - Arcade Catastrophe

Sometimes the most pressing thing to say is "listen to this track now". That's certainly the case right now. Without further ado...

ZibraZibra - Arcade Catastrophe

Does that make you smile and shake your body? Then you are my kind of person. Well done. This is utter TUNAGE. I'd love to hear this out while clubbing, I think I might just do a little wee due to excitement. ZibraZibra are from Minneapolis and stuff, they make excellent music - what more can I say?

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Wynton Marsalis - My Funny Valentine

I'm in the mood for jazz today. Been bashing some out on the piano with a singer friend of mine. This track starts out perfect for a wet day, then transforms into something that will transport you entirely away to a dark jazz club in some dirty city where you're dancing like a nutter, oblivious to all around you. It's wonderful.

Wynton Marsalis - My Funny Valentine

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Born Ruffians - Barnacle Goose

So it's Tuesday. What fun. This'll cheer you up. Exuberant Canadian youngsters Born Ruffians released their debut album back in May, and have already featured here because they were played in a Skins episode which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Born Ruffians - Barnacle Goose

Sunday, 3 August 2008

The Dresden Dolls - Dear Jenny

For my dear friend Jenny, post wrathful rant about shitty ex boyfriends:

The Dresden Dolls - Dear Jenny

Here's another track from the Dresden Dolls' most recent album, No, Virginia..., a collection of b-sides and rarities, and a companion to 2006's Yes, Virginia. As usual, the lyrics are worth paying attention to, though there's certainly enough in the music to keep you more than entertained.

Boys wear overcoats in heat like this to keep themselves from showing
Girls fill out prescriptions for the tricks that keep their hearts from growing
Specialists review the year in tears and call for drastic measures
Send them to resorts for boys and girl to get their wits together

Sad but true the facts of life are bound to get you down
So whats the use dear jenny anyway the world is pretty...

Ashley talks to astronauts back home by way of fax transmission
Andy gets a new tattoo each time his pastor comes to visit
Weary o so drealiy we wave our flags into the camera
Amber goes the hotlines are friends but no-one ever answers

Sad but true the truth can turn your smile to a frown
So whats the use dear jenny anyway the world is pretty

The rates are better in the summer
Looks like dear jenny's doing better...

Back at home the broadcast warning bounces off of an empty table
Jenny asks the astronauts to sleep with her behind the stable
Christmas hasn't been the same since dad put in the central heating
Checks you before bedtime with a battery to keep your new heart beating

And the world might turn a million times around before
They tell you jenny anyway the world is pretty world is pretty happy world is pretty happy

Sometimes they let strangers in and other times they check their records
When they check out in the morning dad puts out the lie detectors
Jenny prays to gods she've never heard of for a special hurting
All the walls stay dead as jennys head is
But shes still observing

Sad but true the two of us might really make it through
But whats the use dear jenny anyway
The world is happy
World is happy
World is happy without you...

The rates are better in the summer....
Looks like old jennys doing better...

Friday, 1 August 2008

Muke - Hamburger Waltz

"If you buy seven burgers
You get the eighth free!"
Muke are Maddy and Luke who studied together at Eugene, Oregon. They have 18 listeners on which should be a crime and if I ever carry out my plan to establish my own 10 acre republic you can be damn sure every single citizen is going to be listening or they'll face a 10 minute stretch in the pig pen with a sexually frustrated boar.

This charming little song starts off as wonky waltz about hamburgers and then someone adds an almost Brian May style guitar solo before someone closes the whole thing off with a flute solo. It shouldn't really work but it really really does, mainly because there's such a sense of enjoyment underlying the whole thing. It's really wonderful! I love listening to people enjoying themselves.

Please don't quote that last sentence out of context.

Muke are mixing their debut album Shutterspeed Lullabies right now so keep your eyes peeled and your ears trained.

Muke - Hamburger Waltz