Thursday, April 9, 2009

What Are You Listening to Lately (Part 13)?

Kayne West808s and Heartbreak
This album just gets more and more interesting for me. It's spare and minimal, yes, but it's got hook value - West's too pop-savvy to not have it - and for as little as it's got going on audibly (though more than the title lets on), it's proven to be quite durable, not wearing thin even with just voice and 808 on many tracks. I'm not a big fan of "RoboCop," lyrics are just too silly, but he's basically opening up as much as he can while staying within a pop format. Crafting songs of love and heartbreak is a pop given, there's no reason he shouldn't be doing it too; and there's no reason someone as talented as he is shouldn't do it well, which he does. It's such a break from his norm - though there's nothing in the electro-heavy sound he hadn't tried before - that it's causing some waves. In short, it's an experiment - an experiment within pop form, which doesn't permit you to go too far after all - and only time will tell if it will be considered a grand flop or a new direction, a brave experiment. It's personal, it's catchy, and whether it proves to be a detour or not I like the tunes, the words, and the experiment enough that I expect to dig it for a while.

Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru
Let's forget that word "psychedelic" shall we? Too much baggage associated with it, and most people's interpretations of the word are very personal. I mean, if you want a parallel to this music, this is more Nuggets or 13th Floor Elevators - styled garage band stuff, not heavily processed, acid-drenched shit like Parable of Arable Land or Electric Ladyland. It's raw, rocking, influenced by the "now" (meaning of course "then") sound that breathed life into a million bands about the world, each working their regional variation on the music that was in the air. So from '68 to '78, these Peruvian bands made songs for dancing, devoid of the intellectual or class-conscious aims (or pretensions) of, say, the San Francisco scene or the Brazilian Tropicalistas - closer in spirit to Malaysian Yeh-Yeh or, well, the we-just-wanna-have-some-fun Nuggets stuff. Songs don't catch as well as the best of Nuggets though - partly a function of my mono-lingual limits, partly a function of so many of them taking off from roughly the same rhythmic base and building a Latin dance tune flavored with rock and roll on top of that. I do enjoy listening to this and periodically sounds do jump out - a curious Moog moment, a nice Farfisa riff, a vocal flourish - that make me take a momentary notice, but it all ultimately fades back into the flow. Any tune here would liven up your party, your mixtape, your playlist, but taken 17 in a row for an hour and change, it gets tough to distinguish one from the next, even if you can live in the moment and dig them there. Oh yeah, except for the time when one of the groups adapts "Fur Elise" to Chicha form. Maybe not the best song here, but it sure does stick out.

Kimya DawsonI’m Sorry that Sometimes I’m Mean
It kind of bums me out that Kimya's music being all over Juno is going to encourage those cynics who don't like the film to create a backlash against her when they really don't even understand what the fuck she does, tying in Kimya with some kind of saccharin-sickly-sweet bit of cutesy-pie idea that's not really her metier. I know it's happening because I've heard it here at the record store and it fucking sucks, because to me she's a totally uncompromised musician, making things her way and making her own slow and steady advances. What the haters key in on - and I'll admit here that I'm cynical enough myself to not even have the remotest interest in seeing Juno - is the sense of whimsy, something that's all over this album. Talking Ernest and Talking Pee-Wee dolls, cartoons and cereal - the subject matter is enough to make you think she needs to grow up already. But what she's doing is brilliant - childlike, not childish, and if you don't get the difference, it's something you ought to think about. Childlike to me means approaching a subject with the openness of a child, experiencing things with some kind of wonder and not the sort of jaded hipster-dom that indie music is so rife with. Childish, on the other hand, is regressive, infantile, taking your ball and going home, crying over spilt milk, always raging at a world that might hurt you and not trusting anybody. She's always the former, never the latter. She sees bad shit that goes on but doesn't let it kill her spirit. She sings about it instead. She reaches out to other people who might feel the same. And when she's using Talking Ernest or cartoon references, it's nothing so heady as a metaphor, it's just a way of talking about adult subjects with language kids will understand, or on the flip side, talking to other adults while keying in on touchstones of a youthful idealism that she hasn't lost contact with. If I don't love every song the way I do on other recordings of hers, I love enough of them, and I love the ideas and ideals behind all of them. I hope her success via Juno doesn't spoil her. It would be a tragedy. Based on what I know of her from a couple conversations and from her music, I can't imagine it happening. And if she emerges bigger and stronger (and hopefully wealthier too), it's gonna be the best sign I've seen in the music industry in more than a decade.

No comments: