Iris

I’ve been so wrapped up in other albums, that I haven’t spent much time listening to it lately, but I really do like the new U2 album.  I know they got a lot of shit for it from certain quarters, especially how it was released, but it is flat out a collection of great songs.  I haven’t been that interested in the work they have put out in the last decade, other than a song here or there.  However, I think that this is their best album since Pop.  I find this song about Bono’s mother particularly moving.  There is a part of the song where he builds the vocal upwards with an ascending melody towards the end and it gets me every time.

Confessions On a Barstool

This is a truly beautiful performance of the song Confessions On a Barstool by singer Annie Ross.  It is from the Robert Altman movie Short Cuts.  I’ve heard the Marianne Faithfull version, which is also wonderful.  It is the kind of song you could get lost in for hours.  This is the original version.  It has left me spellbound and makes me want to check out more of Ross’s singing.

All I Ask For In Music

I absolutely love music.  It is not only my job, but also my hobby and religion.  Anyone that travels with me will tell you that I wear headphones around the clock.  Occasionally this is self preservation, a way to disconnect,  but mostly I just can’t listen to enough albums. 

As long as music seems authentic, I’m a fan.  I don’t care if it is Richard Wagner or Slade.  I love trashy garage rock and sophisticated jazz.  I like Frank Sinatra and Jeff “Stinky” Turner.  I love Motown love songs and Lou Reed’s Edgar Allen Poe influenced album The Raven.  In pop music I am a fan of singers first.   I need to connect in some way with the singer.  I need to feel they are singing with their soul and not just copping someone else’s bit off of the radio. 

Sometimes people think I am a music snob, because I’ll slag off this or that, but I really am open to so many different kinds of music.  I am just passionate about this stuff.  Even if civilization broke down people would still be singing something and banging out rhythms,  even if it was just on a trash can.  You can tell so much about someone just by the way they sing. 

I am reading John Lydon’s new biography, Anger is an Energy, and he is talking about how these TV shows like American Idol and X Factor are ruining singing by making it too much about singing correctly.  He says they are basically making pop stars out of cruise ship singers.  Singing really should be about nothing more than communicating some kind of strong emotion. 

I can’t listen to most of modern radio.  Autotune, unless it is used as an effect to purposely make a voice sound robotic, is killing music.  It takes some of the humanity out of people’s voices.  Life isn’t perfect.  Pain and sadness and even happiness are complicated.  Sometimes a great a singer like Sam Cooke can convey how you are feeling, and sometimes it is James McMurtry with his dry monotone delivery.  Paul Westerberg hits bum notes sometimes, but he always gets the emotion of something dead on.  There are no rules. 

I love intellectual music, but music doesn’t need to be intellectual.  It just needs to be emotional.  So much of what is out there is just vanilla emotions.  There is no pain or sadness or joy.  There is just the imitation of life, sometimes with convenient product placements in tow.  It is the song as lifestyle brand. 

Music should open doors, not close them.  As soon as music becomes too tribal, I am out.  “I am driving my truck and waving the flag because that is what a real American does.”  Fuck you!  “Look at all these things I own that you don’t.”  And fuck you too! 

Tell me how you feel and what you think.  Be complicated.  Don’t parrot someone else’s emotions or thoughts.  Be yourself.  When I plug in my headphones, that is all I ask. 

Anna Calvi Desire Video

Anna Calvi is a singular talent.  I’m still discovering her music and forming an opinion about it, but there is no doubt that she is something special.  Her guitar playing is fantastic and she can go to powerful operatic places with her voice.  I’m always happy to stumble upon someone that is going in their own direction.  

Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence Revisited

I have set several rules for myself for this blog.  One of the things that I have promised to do on this blog is to let my writings stand as they are, whether good or bad.  Sometimes I reread things I have written and cringe and sometimes I am quite proud.  I can always change my mind in writing something new, but I will not reedit anything I have written other than to correct spelling and grammar errors.  This way I can be as true as possible in the moment. 

One of the recent blogs that makes me cringe is my recent review of the Lana Del Rey album.  In order to point out the small faults that I found in it I feel that I was too harsh and did not explain in full what I actually like about it.  It is actually writing music reviews that I often feel the least adequate, despite music being a subject that I know a great deal about.  This is because often first impressions of a record are incorrect.  The best albums are often growers and ones that are great initially often wear out quickly. 

I feel and have always felt that the most essential part of any kind of music with a vocal is the vocal.  I could listen to a brilliant singer singing over a Casio keyboard.  Conversely I can’t stand even the most brilliant musical offerings if the singer is singing in a voice that doesn’t register emotionally with me and whose words are full of clichés.  The human voice in song is the best window into someone’s soul.  And whatever criticism one throws at Lana Del Rey, I believe that in her singing she has found her own unique voice.  It is instantly recognizable and it is filled with beauty and pain.  Singing is not something that can be faked.  Although I feel slightly that she could have been done a better service by her collaborators on her new record, this by no means gets in the way of me enjoying the record overall or feeling that it has value as a piece of art.  In fact it is quite possible that as I continue to listen to it I will grow to like the very things that at first threw me off.  I know that this is a record that I will continue to spin for years to come.  It has a damaged late night feeling that sounds fantastic once the sun has gone down. 

How do you articulate that something is lacking, while at the same time making it clear that even with its faults it far surpasses many of the other things on the airwaves?  This is tricky business.  Are the arrangements as well done as a Dusty Springfield record?  The answer would be no.  Are they better than many other things happening in mainstream pop at the moment?  The answer to that would be yes.  Both questions are both fair and unfair.  You want to judge something in and of itself, but it is hard to not compare it to what has come before it and what is going on around it.  When you talk about a piece of art you must try to find that balance between taking it for what it is and also trying to look at it in it’s place in the greater spectrum of things. 

From making records myself I know how many things are out of one’s hands.  A bad mix can take the air out of a good arrangement.   Even for someone like Lana Del Rey who probably has a large budget, there are still budgetary concerns and time restraints.  You are also in the hands of other musicians, producers, and engineers.  You start with an idea in your imagination and slowly reality chips away at it.  Sometimes this can be to the benefit of something and sometimes not.  That is just part of life and part of the process of creating something that involves other people.  One has to fight for things that one believes in and also learn to let certain things go. 

So when I criticize something that I like all of this is weighing upon me.  I write quickly, another one of my rules, to try to get as close to the emotion that I am feeling as best possible.  Sometimes emotions can lead you astray. 

In trying to point out this particular record’s faults I feel that I did not do its strengths justice.  Whatever the perceived media image of her it is clear that she is not playing by any rules other than her own.  The record is dark and murky and displays uncomfortable emotions at times.  This is not the kind of music that is going to get played on morning radio as people try to forget the day ahead of them, unless somewhere there is someone in power that is a fan that slips it in.  It sounds timeless, but could not have been made at any time other than now.  This is the sound of a real human voice that feels the struggle of being alive.  She sounds older than her years and beaten down by the world, but somehow beautiful and fearless despite this.  Even though I feel there are some things in the production that could be better, she was brave enough to make a record that didn’t kowtow to modern recording trends.  Yes, there are some faults with this record, but maybe it is all the more human because of it.  I am sure that I will keep listening to it and as I change so will my opinion of it.  Whatever it is though, it is not disposable. 

Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence Review

I felt that the following review did not do the album justice so I posted a follow up here:

http://www.windupwire.com/2014/06/20/lana-del-rey-ultraviolence-revisited/

I really like the new Lana Del Rey album, Ultraviolence, in spite of Dan Auerbach’s lazy production.  I know there is a lot of internet noise claiming Lana Del Ray is a fraud, but I actually think she is one of the few originals in pop music right now.  She has a dreamily haunted voice, is great at crafting darkly beautiful melodies, and is great at taking different kinds of American iconography in her lyrics and forging something new with them.  I must admit that I am a sucker for David Lynch and Del Ray’s blending of American pop culture and dark dreams sound like they would be the perfect soundtrack to a Lynch movie. I am predisposed to like the kind of music she makes.

Del Rey had a pretty consistent vision across her albums and singles.  You are not going to mistake her for a different artist.  If you liked what she did before you are going to like what she is doing now, while the opposite is also true.  One of the reasons I believe her first album was a success was that she took several retro elements, infused them with some modern production and lyrical references, and ended up with her own small patch of uncharted territory.

I first want to state that I like her new album.  Any criticism thrown at it is minor and not actually aimed at her.  She still sings fantastically, although I do miss her lower register a bit, which is my favorite part of her range.  If you don’t think she can sing listen to the final track on her new album The Other Woman.  The melodies are still great.  She also still uses the language of pop culture, mixes it with a dark sexuality, and creates something her own.  Some people will claim that she is inauthentic, because she records under a false name, but the pop world is littered with people who built self created myths.  Bob Dylan is not his real name and he never road to New York City in a box car.  Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious are, surprise, not their real names either.  That is not to say that she is as talented as Bob Dylan or as ground breaking as the Sex Pistols, not by a long shot, but in the world of pop music she has created something uniquely hers.  That alone should be applauded.

However, I do have some minor quibbles with her new album.  These I mostly attribute to Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys fame.  For someone that has a strong retro vibe in her work, I can’t imagine that there was very much thought put into the idea of recording her mostly live to old analog tape, dousing her in a shitload of reverb, and having her track with a live band.  I love the sound of analog tape and I also love when people track live to it.  Hell, my band did that on our new album.  But with someone that takes so many influences from the past this seems to make her work even more backward looking than it really is.  It just seems like such an obvious choice that to me it shows the mind of a producer with little imagination.

First he puts so much reverb on her voice that it pushes her voice to the background at times when it is her biggest asset.  Sometimes this ridiculous amount of reverb actually makes it hard to understand what she is singing about.  Also, I think with someone that draws so much influence form the past you have to be careful with how “retro” you make her record sound.  It becomes more of a genre exercise that it ought to be.  I also find the backing band to be lacking in any real personality.  They do serve the songs, but to the point that if she wasn’t singing on them there wouldn’t be much going on musically that was interesting.  Look, I love effects, I like hearing real musicians play, I like these songs and this singer, but I can’t help but feel the arrangements could be more memorable in and of themselves.

Listening to her two albums, and the song that she did with Bobby Womack, I believe Lana Del Rey is a great talent that will probably have a long career of making interesting records.  Hopefully next time she won’t choose a hack like Dan Auerbach to produce it.

Video

Tower of Song

This is one of the all time great songs written by Leonard Cohen. I don’t know how I discovered this version of it by Tom Jones, but I love it. I’ve never really thought much about Tom Jones one way or the other, but he lays it down here. This is an example of a great song being paired with the right singer. That is the most important equation in pop music; having great material, with a singer that has the empathy and understanding to deliver it, whether they wrote it or not. His singing has his usual bravado with a slight bit of over-emoting, but somehow it just works.