Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Metropolis: Annual Android Auction

One of the most aesthetically compelling music videos I've seen in a long time. It's less a video than a reflection on profoundly black themes: people as commodities, music as individual expression and collective longing, and dance as liberation. Worth your time.

Monday, March 29, 2010


An incredible Erykah Badu video, where she takes off her clothes while walking around downtown Dallas. The captivating thing about the video isn't Badu's body, but the interplay between her need to project cool confidence and the evident discomfort and vulnerability on her face.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Meet the Mets?

The New York Mets apparently failed to check this Wikipedia article before doing irreparable, if hilariously ironic, damage to the phrase "written in stone."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

I Wish That I Could See You Soon

Herman Dune is trying SO HARD to be cute... and it's working, I kind of want to snuggle with him.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

She & Him: Volume Two

She is Zooey Deschanel, the indie-film dream-girl of ice-blue eyes and sardonic manner. Him is M. Ward, the singer-songwriter with the sepia-toned voice whose old-timey tunes sound like they ought to be broadcast through a phonograph cylinder. Together they created one the most delightfully unexpected musical treats of 2008, a relic of mellow 70s AM gold, blending rich girl group harmonies with fragile Laurel Canyon folk-pop. What looked like yet another movie star vanity record sounded instead like a lost classic by Carly Simon or Carol King. Deschanel’s untrained voice was pretty and blithe, straightforward and unpretentious yet little distant and mysterious. The songs on Volume One didn’t carry a lot of emotional charge -- they sort of added up to a long, breezy sigh -- but there was so much hazy prettiness in Ward’s Spector-like arrangements and so much warmth in Deschanel’s performance that it didn’t matter. The record was the soft summer wind that always carries traces of nostalgia and regret.

Now they’re releasing Volume Two, and I can’t help but wonder whether we really need another one of these things. It’s certainly not a bad record -- to the contrary, it’s bright and tender and catchy. But Volume Two is the right name -- it plays like the second half of a double album that ought to have been squeezed onto one disc. I'm okay with a little more of the same -- played in sequence on a blurry Sunday morning these albums give you time to make breakfast, do the dishes and half-heartedly fill out a crossword puzzle while you let your hangover fade. But enough already -- once the vintage charm wears off, it starts to feel repetetive and a little bit thin.

Ward has an unmatched ear for abandoned 20th century musical forms, and the ease with which he refurbishes late sixties/early seventies girl-pop is almost eerie. It’s certainly impressive, but after a few listens you start to wonder whether he might not be doing Deschanel’s songs a disservice; She & Him sometimes feels less like a band than an idea for a band, executed with astonishing precision. All the rough edges have been filed away. How about an angry song, or at least a fast one? Or a big weepy ballad? The She & Him aesthetic is a little too tasteful for such messy emotions -- everything has to be so understated and pleasant. It’s a weird thing to say about a record that sounds so organic and warmly textured, but I’ll be damned if there aren’t moments when it starts to feel a little processed and formulaic, particularly when viewed in its context as a second record of the exact same stuff.

Don’t get the wrong idea -- I like the way the record sounds. But two albums of this material is plenty. Deschanel has a voice of rare self-possession and grace and an easy way with a wry lyric -- Ward is one of the most talented producers, songwriters and musicians in the indie rock today. Their vision is charming and lovely and idiosyncratic, but their seemingly slavish devotion to their mission statement is starting to feel like an anchor on their talent. When you get this good at something, when you make it look this easy, that usually means it’s time to try something new.

Miley Cyrus and B.I.G.

There's a doctoral thesis in there somewhere.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Friday, March 5, 2010

Phantogram: Eyelid Movies

Apparently the atmospheric indie duo Phantogram hails from Saratoga Springs and records in a barn. I'll take their word for it, but few albums sound as California as their debut, Eyelid Movies. Stealing equally from Portishead, Massive Attack and Sonic Youth, the record evokes an inviting big-sky sunscape laced with underlying menace, like the state that counts Brian Wilson and Charles Manson as equal icons. The title fits -- these tracks are daydreams that trend uncomfortably towards the nightmarish. They're rich, lovely and alienating.

A lot of Phantogram's power lies in Sarah Barthel's ravishing vocals, which blend equal measures of syrup and cyanide into a wraith-like Beth Gibbons lilt. Despite a certain icy detachment in tone, her vocals can inhabit a wide variety of moods, from paranoid agitation to sensuous rapture. At her best she's siren-like: appealing, vulnerable and dangerous -- Little Red Riding Hood with sharp teeth all her own. She baits her hooks against a loosely trippy atmospheric background, and powers the songs with an almost off-handed melodic momentum.

I'd be tempted to call Eyelid Movies a trip-hop album, if it weren't for the fact that trip-hop is now a decade out of fashion and Phantogram sounds so unassailably hip. Josh Carter's immaculate production strips back the adornments and fuzzes things up. The dryly echoing three-note phrase that underpins “When I'm Small” – which so far has my vote for the greatest guitar riff of 2010 – is downtuned so low the pitch wobbles, ominously thunking out the rough-hewn foundation for their danceably dangerous single.

That guitar line exemplifies Carter's M.O. Instrumentally, Phantogram tends to favor thudding, monotonal drones that jerk themselves repeatedly upwards before being sucked immediately back down to the bass line (think the guitar line in the Velvet's "Waiting For My Man") played over repetetive breakbeat drum machine rhythms that pulse, double, drop in and out of the track. On paper it sounds dull, but in practice it's pretty hypnotic, thanks to the easy precision of the arrangements and Barthel's breathy lost-girl vocals. Eyelid Movies is trapped a constant push-and-pull between indulgence and minimalism, between the lush and the hushed. The record is dreamy and immersive, but Carter resists the urge to allow his arrangements to get too zonky or druggy or baroque and the result is an intriguingly spartan psychedelia.

The album starts to show its seams around the edges. Things slow down when Carter sings on his own -- his voice is nothing special, a sort of generically androgynous indie-rock mumble. "You Are the Ocean" has a haunting melody and a neurotic synth howling through the background like a car alarm -- it could have been a great track if Barthel were singing. At eleven songs, the record starts to blend together (though for an atmospheric album like this that may not be a bad thing). They tend to find a slicky eerie groove and run it into the ground, which is sometimes hypnotic and sometimes a little bit dull.

But all told, Eyelid Movies does what good albums ought to do: it fabricates a little musical universe, complete with its own weather (cold fog, blistering sun), settings (seedy clubs in the San Fernando Valley, the backseats of black cars), and moods (paranoia, sexual ecstacy, hungover ennui). And by the time you reach the final track, the surprisingly traditional piano ballad “10,000 Claps,” you'll be torn between the desire to linger there and the urge to see what new and uncomfortable places Phantogram might be able to take you.