Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Witchcraft Tips (2002) – Dame Darcy

Perhaps in a secret cove nestled somewhere between Disneyland’s New Orleans Square and Frontierland is an attraction which finds Dame Darcy propagating her predilection for gothic neo-Victorian aesthetics in the guise of a witch. “Witchcraft Tips” could be a lo-fi field recording of Darcy preparing the soundtrack for said attraction, spontaneously culling together audio snippets in the nature of an impromptu performance art piece. Tossed into her cauldron: suspenseful dissonance straight out of Elvira’s Movie Macabre; blustery wind effects followed by Gold Rush Era gaiety one might hear in the Haunted Mansion and on Mark Twain’s Riverboat, respectively; simulated pseudo-echoes (you know, like when you pretended you were a baseball announcer as a kid); patent cassette tape manipulation qua crude sampler; tortured banshee wailing; the chorus from Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch”; the whir of a spacecraft preparing to lift off. Her manner of phrasing deliberately affected, Darcy touts her soothsaying powers and comprehensive sorcery courtesy of the E.Z. Bake Coven (which, in cyberspace, is Darcy’s informal association of like-minded artisans of the female persuasion). With the inventiveness of imaginative role-playing in which children engage, this intriguing concoction casts a spell both droll and . . . wait for it . . . bewitching.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also "Grieve America" (2002).
  • Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    Crop Circles (2006) – Visionaries

    When I was a junior high student in the ‘80s, there were two eminent trendsetters who were: (a) taller than the rest of us; (b) better-looking than most of us; and (c) breakdancers—a combination that netted them ├╝berpopularity. One of them was John Baker, of whom I have written about elsewhere; the other was Kikuo Nishi. While John went on to play bass in indie rock bands, Kikuo focused his efforts on hip-hop.

    Now known as KeyKool, Nishi is currently a member of Visionaries, a multi-cultural rap collective. While lyrically “Crop Circles” is not mind-blowing or soul-stirring, it is bounce-inducing, boasting a pretty persuasive beat and dexterous scratching courtesy of Rhettmatic. Overall, it’s one of the more amusingly entertaining jointz I’ve heard—especially because their earnest tone is a bit inapposite to the lyrical upshot. From 2Mex’s nearly unintelligible babble to the refrain that proposes the ridiculously awesome concept of leaving crop circles on the dance floor, the net effect is one of comedic ingenuity, leaving its imprint ingrained in the crop fields of your consciousness.

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  • A Little Kiss Is A Kiss Is A Kiss (1960) – Connie Stevens

    “A Little Kiss Is A Kiss Is A Kiss” is Connie Stevens exulting in the physiological manifestations and inexplicable flightiness of a teenage crush. Her voice lilts with a perky flirtatiousness that rivals Shelley Fabares and Ann-Margret in their unsullied juvenescence. The chirpy vocal vivacity; the pollyannaish orchestration; the giddy la la las that ring out in a realm of copious reverb—it all amounts to the vintage prototype for modern-day twee pop.

    Listen to "A Little Kiss Is A Kiss Is A Kiss" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.

    Tuesday, October 23, 2007

    June 18, 1976 (2000) – Pedro The Lion

    Had Lux Lisbon of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides not ended her own life with her sisters, it’s almost inevitable she would have done so eventually. Promiscuous beauty that she was, though, she would likely have gotten pregnant first. Given that The Virgin Suicides was set in the mid-1970s, “June 18, 1976” could conceivably be about Lux and the moments preceding her death, as David Bazan breaks the news in bard-like fashion to Lux’s child.

    In an egregious case of post-partum depression, a girl who just gave birth bids a final farewell to her newborn before leaping from the top of the hospital rooftop. While her suicide could be viewed as an allegory for young women who sacrifice the suppleness of their nubile bodies for the sake of bearing children, the narrative’s crux is reflected in the impact upon the bystanders who discern the calm gracefulness of her plunge, conveying her belief that she is plummeting toward peace, which enables them to reconcile the violent fate of one so lovely and yet so inextricably sad. In this regard, the song channels the essence of American Beauty, as where Wes Bentley’s character, Ricky, takes in the horrific poignancy reflected in Kevin Spacey’s expression as the blood oozes from his skull, as if Ricky understands Spacey’s character is, at that moment, reliving the most beautiful moments of his life as his soul passes to its state of permanence.

    Sometimes tragedy and beauty are necessary counterparts.

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  • Biggest Part of Me (1980) – Ambrosia

    Lead singer David Pack includes enough variety in his vocal tones, and the Doobie Brothersesque multi-part harmonies add enough warmth, to make this otherwise saccharine avowal of adoration appealing. But Joe Puerta makes this song exceptional with perhaps the most meaningful bass line to be found in soft-rock, reminiscent of Verdine White’s masterpiece on “That’s The Way Of The World.”

  • Listen to "Biggest Part Of Me" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Friday, October 19, 2007

    Crisis King (1997) – Helmet

    After the inconsistency of the at-times mundane offerings on 1994’s Betty, Helmet’s 1997 release, Aftertaste, was a desirable return, at least in part, to the menacing disembowelment of dentigerous dropped-D riffs and Page Hamilton’s raspy gnarl that raged rampant on 1990’s Strap It On. Befitting the lyrical personification of tribulation as a fiendish despot who overwhelms with sadistic tyranny, Hamilton’s guitars alternate between metal riffs, slight dissonance and ominous chromatic scales, all emanating with Mesa/Boogie crunch in double-tracked amplitude over John Stanier’s moshable drum gallop to render album-closer “Crisis King” a brouhaha between sovereign and subject. The abrupt metric sleight of hand that tweaks the momentum at 1:34 sends the band careening roughshod through the kingdom with reckless disregard for the welfare of bystanders, who recoil from the anathema of crisis come calling.

  • Listen to "Crisis King" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • See also "FBLA" (1990) – Helmet
  • Saturday, October 06, 2007

    Nothin’ Like The Summer (2007) – Carmen Rasmusen

    Carmen Rasmusen is the only American Idol contestant I have ever voted for. (That is, until Season 7 when Kristy Lee Cook and Kady Malloy made the Top 24.) My selectiveness proved to be well-founded: not only will “Nothin’ Like The Summer” stand as a timeless summer song, but also as the best single by an Idol contestant to date.

    “Nothin’” finds Carmen’s fresh-faced persona smack dab in the dog days of small-town America, idle and innocent. Romance is on the agenda, as she ruminates over the hallmarks of the season where recreation and pastime are preludes to canoodling at the county fair. The song doesn’t rely on a catchy hook so much as it does an umbrella of well-crafted lyrics, an easy-going melody, and a relaxed pace. What impresses even more is that Rasmusen co-wrote this song, whereas other Idol contestants have launched songs assembled by producers from a team of songwriters.

    A budding artistry is evident in her lyrics. While the “flip-flops”/”tic-toc” rhyme could have been corny, in context it smartly evokes the seasonal laze where the golden rules hammered into the brain during school are stashed away in favor of life’s leisurely pursuits and love’s geometry. Contemporary country music too often abuses descriptive literal narratives without regard for the listener’s ability to interpolate a lyric’s meaning. While Rasmusen constructs her estival ode with picturesque descriptions, she affords the listener sufficient leeway to import their own experience: the enterprise of the lemonade stand; the dizzying swoon of flirtation on the Ferris wheel; the dusk-‘till-dawn adventures by the lake; the stardust lounge of the backyard barbeque.

    Perhaps the four-year layover between the height of her Idol fame and eventual album release allowed Rasmusen to address the vocal tendencies which so many had criticized while she was a contestant; they are barely discernable now, if at all. Carmen’s vocals unfurl with controlled dynamics and expressive warmth, a picnic blanket on which to recline as she basks in the festival of her senses. And, as evidenced here and elsewhere on her debut album, Rasmusen’s voice charms most endearingly when it sails into its falsetto.

    As far as the most celebrated Idol alumnae go, Kelly Clarkson’s biggest hits were moderately catchy, but largely a product of pre-packaged songwriting that never rose above the One Tree Hill demographic at which they were aimed. Carrie Underwood, with her pop-tinged voice, is miscast as a country artist, which makes her success in that industry mind-boggling. Carmen Rasmusen will probably never reach the commercial milestones Clarkson and Underwood have enjoyed, but her success lies in making a memorable splash long after the ship of Season 2 Idol hoopla left the harbor. With the strength of “Nothin’ Like The Summer” as her lead-off single, if “Stranded” and “Keep Me Forever Falling” are released as follow-ups, she may yet score a ride on a luxury liner.

  • Listen to "Nothin' Like The Summer" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse (2007) – Of Montreal

    Before boarding the loopy carnival ride of medication, Kevin Barnes exhorts his chemical imbalance to achieve equilibrium without the crutch of antidepressants. Atop a blithe synthpop arrangement at odds with the helplessness he feels, Barnes’ quirky vocals rue the psychological morass that has time and again sapped him of creativity, incapacitated him, and strained his marriage. Hopefully, the inevitable infusion he administers to his cerebral synapses will benignly effectuate a synthetic synergism upon his reservoir of neurotransmitters—a pharmacological panacea, the Heracles to his Promethean punishment.

  • Listen to "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.
  • Channel One Suite (1997) – Buddy Rich and the Buddy Rich Big Band (produced by Neil Peart)

    Although one could focus on the technical wizardry evident in the legendary Buddy Rich’s actual drumming incorporated into this re-working of Rich’s “Channel 1 Suite,” what proves to be just as entertaining is the parade of euphemisms the string of big band singers concoct in the second movement to acknowledge that Buddy Rich was a grade-A asshole. The sincerity with which they pay tribute while simultaneously maligning him is artful.

  • Not available from iTunes Music Store.
  • Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’ (1993) – Wu Tang Clan

    Under the auspices of Wu-Tang, RZA enters the combat chamber, throwing down kung-fu cinema snippets and his trademark dynamically flat rudimentary beats, as guttural grunts plod in the background. Armed with raspy voice and audacity, U-God calls out the pretenders in unadorned fashion. Citing ghetto origins as the foundation for his incorrigibility, Inspectah Deck ups the ante with a more accomplished flow, a more captivating voice. Momentarily altering the lyrical rhythm, Raekwon takes the verbal baton to wax philosophical about the virtues of middle-tier materialism via street economics, denigrating chumps caught up in conspicuous consumption. Method Man dishes the call-out hook, inciting support from the spectator degenerates. Exiled from his precinct, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s inebriated bluster is overheard from a neighboring village before his 25½ bars proper arrive, whereupon he stumbles in to bewilder with his beloved buffoonery. Wielding the formidable dual weapons of hyperactive rhyme and overbearing whine, Ghostface Killah slices through the rice paper walls with erumpent energy to recount his vanquishment of lesser foes before exiting to victorious Wu-Tang chants. Masta Killa wraps up the tourney by detailing the insidious demise unsuccessful challengers will suffer at his hands.

    Step off, bow out, and go cry to your McDojo, son.

  • Listen to "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" and purchase from iTunes Music Store.