Thursday, March 22, 2012

A new Shin

Note, i wrote this almost a month ago and intentionally did not post it (kinda like that angry letter you write and come back to later)...I still listen to the album regularly, but my opinions remain unchanged....just an experiment.......
I've been waiting for this. 5 years in fact; 2007 was The Shins last studio album ("Wincing the Night Away")...I know I know....John Mercer has been "busy" [condisendingly] with side projects....and cleaning house with certain Shin band members that weren't pulling their weight. Not bitter. Just feel neglected.
First impressions: it's The Shins in all their quirky atmospheric indie (rock? Naah) style laced with great lyrics and prominent Mercer vocals....but it's not exactly what my 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 or 2012-self was looking for (especially not my 2008-self; he was just pissed). It is a departure from the old...a maturity... its a full sound that does not leave the impression it was performed in isolation from the world like past work.
Second Impression: Despite not getting exactly what I wanted, it is still a good album that I really like. But if your looking for the inward looking meloncholly tracks of "Oh Inverted World" then you may be setting yourself up for disappointment.  The tracks on "Port of Morrow" are far more upbeat in the beginning (using a relativity scale from past albums) and trending toward more mellow down tempo tracks at the end.  Broken Bells, a side project of Mercer that I enjoyed, is all over this album. If you compare Mercer's style on Broken Bells project (a Danger Mouse adventure), it is not hard to see the evolution of The Shins to "Port of Morrow."  Track 10, also called Port of Morrow, even sounds dangerously close to Broken Bells song The High Road.  All for the good though. I can't put my finger on it exactly but I think it's the chill tempo and vocal cadence (just deeper in Broken Bells).
Each track is fairly distinct, opening with The Rifle's Spiral that weaves a drum and synth based track complete with The Shins signature "surfer" (or Hawaiianesq....your call) guitar.  This is followed by Simple Song which is radio track and....blah blah've heard it, it's catchy and perfectly engineered and mastered to catch both a pop and indie classification (Elise will not be happy).  I think the album picks up from there and gets better, especially with It's Only Life and its references to Alice in Wonderland.  Bait and Switch has a funness (c'mon, it should be a word) and almost a 60s or 70s pop feel with a surfy guitar...then BAM...September hits and the album gets familiar again to older works.  No Way Down brings this bi-polar album back up....not a favorite of mine, but it has a great lyric that balances my dislike for the track: "make me a drink...strong enough to wash away the dish water world they said was lemonade."
The next 4 tracks are my favorites: For a Fool, Fall of '82, 40 Mark Strasse and Port of Morrow (also a song name).  All are on a down tempo, almost lazy feeling, especially For a Fool.  Fall of '82 has a Beatles feel to it (mainly due to guitar scales) at the the chorus. 40 Mark Strasse is one of my favorites with an repeating haunty intro, a great accoustic melody and an interesting German prostitute story line (yes, like hooker...40 Mark Strausse (Street) was apparently where German soldiers picked up the ol' lady friends....also 40 Mark (40 dollars)....."playing in the streef at night"'s not rocket science, but makes for good music.  Hopefully I have not thoroughly discouraged you from the album.  I like it and it is well worth the money despite not getting exactly what I wanted.
Join me next time for something that's bigger than a bread box and is not a body least i think...

Great new video that recently came out too....check it:

Rifle's Spiral Video

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Gotye. Say it with me: "Go-te-yae"

Yes, Gotye; it's not a typo (more on him later). As a back drop to this post, and my slacking in that department, my younger sister, Megan, must be credited in alerting me to Gotye's new release.  She sent me a message telling me to check out his new song "Someone That I Used To Know."  Actually what she said was, 'hey, this guy makes weird music and you like weird music, therefore A + B = You will like this song/artist' (paraphrasing but that was the gist).  She knows me well.  I was not aware of Gotye's new album, but knew of his release from 2006 Like Drawing Blood and its main single "Hearts a Mess" (an incredible song). So thanks Meg for telling me about this new release.

The new album, Making Mirrors, was released in 2011 at various times depending on location (iTunes says December 2011 but I understand it was released in June and July in Europe and Australia/NZ) and it's truly a Great (capital "G") album that is fun to listen to and keeps you guessing.  No, he is not another dup-step DJ (I promised I wouldn't), but this Belgian born Australian does bring to the table a fair share of electronic components to his music...but it's only a small portion of what he does.  Gotye is the stage name of Wouter De Bachner (Walter in Wally really)...plenty more on Google on how he went from Wouter-to-Walter-to-Wally-to-Goyte, but its origin is French-based (so who really cares...back to the music).  If you had to categorized his music, i think indie-alt or progressive rock with electronic aspects (mainly through synthesizers) would cover it generally. But labeling is dangerous and he is the proof.  There are very few tracks that stick to the same format (which is a negative if you only like one of his many formats).  The first 3 tracks tell you right out of the gate that this album is nothing ordinary, from his airy ambient intro track, "Making Mirrors," followed by the almost 70's style (Beck-ish) rock and roll track, "Easy Way Out," to his big single on the album, "Someone That I Used To Know."  This track can best tie his old album to his current work, and is in a similar vein to "Hearts a Mess" from Gotye's first album Like Drawing Blood, in its use of broad varieties of instruments ranging from acoustic guitar, xylophone, cello, brushed snare drums, and electronic/synth effects.  A beautiful (break-up) song only improved by the lovely voice of Kimbra, a New Zealand singer/songwriter. Truly a great track.

Off hand I can't think of a comparable compilation of songs that are each sooo different from each other but fit so well on one album.  He has the obligatory radio ready singles, "Someone That I Used to Know" and "Eyes Wide Open" (not a huge favorite of mine) that are catchy and can stand alone.  Huddled around these tracks; however, are unique and varying, almost dorky but endearing, tracks that honestly took a solid 2 times to listen to to really enjoy and get into.  Maybe that wouldn't make the best marketing pitch, but these "secondary tracks" make the album.  Yes, I would put this album in the category of addictive after a 2 start to finish listens (it's not a long album and trust me, if you found this Blog and you are reading it up to this thinks you have some time on yo' hands, so do it and don't cherry pick off this album for your own musical health) improves with each listen...promise.

There's a Bj√∂rk like quality in "Smoke and Mirrors" that reminds of her track "Human Behavior"...probably from the drums/bongos, use of snares and use of horns (or electronic versions of horns).  Then there's the 60ish-Four Tops styled "I Feel Better".  Wasn't a huge fan of this track at first, but it's catchy.  There is a bit of an 80's revival woven into some of the tracks throughout the album.  The use of synthesizers makes it almost unavoidable (especially the way he does it), but well done.  He's not the only one to have done this recently, Bon Iver did it on its new disc in a track called "Beth/Rest".

A particularly interesting song is the reggae/down tempo ska-ish styled song called "State of the Art".  The voice is on distortion or "auto-tune" to sound almost robotic, but the best part of this song, is how the lyrics play off of the music (or vice-a-versa).  It's almost comical once you figure out what he's talking about.  Here's a quick summary: He purchases a "Lowry Cotillion model D-575" (an 80's organ and synthesizer) and is telling all about its features, from the "genie bass" button to the "banjo repeat" function and how amazing it is....then he invites his neighbors over to dance to the "bossonova beat" and play the "magic swing piano" setting for some truly amazing entertainment (so much so that he throws his TV out).  As he's naming all of the Cotillion's functions, the song then does what he's described musically (i.e. when he says "I put the 'genie bass' on" the song starts to actually play the genie bass from the Cotillion).  I am fairly certain that he actually used a real Lowry Cotillion for all parts of the song (its listed as one of the instruments he played on the CD...actually the only one).  Granted, the whole track is a bit silly, but musically amazing (again, when you consider what he used to play the music...) and a favorite track of mine.  Just for fun, this is a Lowry Catillion model D-575:

I don't dislike a single track, which is something I usually never say.  The album rounds out the end with a more melancholy tone and electronic sounding tracks, some with almost David Gray like rhythms that Gotye has become popular for, like "Don't Worry, We'll Be Watching" and "Bronte" both of which are in my top 5 for this album.

SOOO, if you have a musically adventurous bone in your body, I truly think you will enjoy this album.

Top 5 Songs from Making Mirrors (in no particular order):

  • Someone That I Used to Know
  •  Don't Worry, We'll Be Watching
  •  Bronte
  • Giving Me a Chance
  • State of the Art

"Join me next time when" I plan to talk about an album that I've been waiting to drop for years (I can almost feel your anticipation)....