Vs. The (Pop) World

By Juan Manuel Freire

Juan Manuel FreirePlease excuse me if I resort to a trending topic to start this column, but for the last few weeks, the only thing people talk about on the street and in my house is: how hot it is. Right now, my most anxiously-awaited visit isn’t the postman with a package from Amazon (or Barnes & Noble), but the man who is going to fix my air-conditioning and take me back to being a person with other subjects for conversation besides asthenia, beads of sweat, or dizziness. But we can spread all of this inevitable chatting about the dog days of summer towards musical discussion. To what extent do our tastes change during July, August, and part of September? And can drone fans also be drone fans during the summer?

Frankly, I can’t think of a worst prospect under these conditions than facing an album by Sunn O))), even though I have to resort to them at times to counteract the AOR pollution from my neighbours, as those who read my column last month will know all about. The hot coals of sound don’t feel as good during these months. And the same way that in the winter we like to talk about heater-songs to speak affectionately of the work of—I don’t know, say Sun Kil Moon—the mere mention of the word “heater” on the 20th July turns me into Shattered Man. I don’t feel much like hearing the names Canned Heat, Hot Hot Heat, Warm Jets, etc. either. In the summer, nothing sounds better, even if it’s only because of the name, than Vanilla Ice. My neighbours might like that. Is that an Armistice in sight?


This sweaty hell is only saved by the idea of holidays in a cold country or a mental move –in the purest “Inception” fashion– to the middle of the month of September. To the 14th, to be exact, because it will be a great day for those of us who still buy records. That is when the new records by Interpol ( “Interpol”), The Walkmen ( “Lisbon”), Of Montreal ( “False Priest”), Brandon Flowers ( “Flamingo,” which I doubt I’ll get) and Blonde Redhead ( “Penny Sparkle”) come out. We’ll have to see how Interpol does after the loss of their bassist, Carlos D, who has decided to switch music for film. His first experience in this area, the short “My Friends Told Me About You,” which he co-wrote and starred in, can be found in volume 8 of the cult DVD magazine “Wholphin”. Here’s the trailer.

Justin Bieber ReduxAccording to “Hollywood Life” , Bieber is also jumping into film, in his case starring in a biopic about his life which will be a feature-length, but could clearly be a short, and whose immediate model will be “8 Mile.” But even with Curtis Hanson directing, it will be hard to beat something like the “SGIN” of his video “Never Let Me Go” created by Jorge Elbrecht de Violens and Caroline Polachek of Chairlift. “SGIN” isn’t a group, as you may have read, but rather a (great) idea that consists of creating original songs from other people’s videos. Elbrecht and Polachek have practised the concept with one of Bieber’s, and the result is captivating and emotive, as well as provocative: it’s pretty cool to hear words like “You stupid slut/Corrupted” coming from Bieber. Some of the best I’ve seen lately, no offence to the trailers for “Inception.” That’s right, I’m obsessed with Nolan’s film. You’ll have to excuse me: obsession isn’t a choice.

Beck vs. INXS

More post-modern reconstruction: Beck’s Record Club , a project that sounded like a curious diversion and is simply on its way to becoming a legend. As you surely know, the idea is that the author of “Odelay” (1996) covers an entire album by an artist in a single day, with the aid of a flowing, changing group of musicians, to later give away the songs periodically on the Internet. His personal takes of “The Velvet Underground and Nico” (The Velvet Underground), “Songs of Leonard Cohen” (Leonard Cohen) and “Oar”(Skip Spence) rated applause, but it wasn’t hard to do something noteworthy with such respectable repertoires. When things really got interesting was not long ago, with the jump to less sacred albums like “Kick”, by INXS (with a wonderful cover of “Never Tear Us Apart” , with the sax solo replaced by a violin solo, which will have surely made Gayngs uneasy), and now “Live At the Acropolis”, by the god of new age, Yanni. An album that came out the same day as “Mellow Gold” (1994); for that revision, Beck has Tortoise or Thurston Moore. Take a look at this “Santorini”.

From Yanni to Yannis

New age –like that, spelled out clearly, forgetting about hypnagogic pop– is back in full force. Yannis (Philippakis, of Foals) is in a fighting mood, as his beef with Lostprophets over Twitter shows. Lee Gaze, guitarist for the latter group, warbled out the following: “I’ve got some news. Foals are fucking shit.” Yannis answered “Lostprophets. LOL!” before finishing them off with: “being insulted by the Lostprophets is a bit like watching a yapping, boney old chihuahua piss on its own leg.” While “New Musical Express” tries not to cultivate beefs like this so that it can get back to being a respectable magazine, some British groups seem to be dying to return to the days of Blur versus Oasis. By the way, Yannis, Lee, don’t stop. Do us a favour.

Backlash against M.I.A

Diplo ’s not holding back on Twitter either, and his description of M.I.A.’s new album, the controversial “// / Y /,” as a “turd” (except for his songs: “It Takes a Muscle” and “Tell Me Why”) is well-known. I wouldn’t go so far as to use a word like that, but I’m afraid that my feelings tend to run towards disappointment. After “Born Free” and “XXXO” , it was easy to expect Maya’s latest work to be either a philo-punk radicalisation or an exaltation of her mainstream streak. The former has won, and the latter has lost, and with it, I fear, the listener has also gone. And don’t think that I’m speaking from melodic fanaticism. One can be experimental and head in some direction, or not go anywhere, but make the listener enjoy the trip; I don’t think that Maya, on this uncomfortable album, does either of these things. For the first time in her career, she sounds confused and aimless, unless her direction is towards tiring industrial chaos. Maybe she’ll record another album quickly, like Bloc Party did, for nothing, after the disappointment of “A Weekend in the City” (2007).

The other indie rap

Soothing us, after “// / Y /”, comes the new album from The Roots that looks like a conciliating milestone of hip hop and indie. I don’t know whether David Broc will give me a hug or hard time for talking about The Roots in this column, but I just had to do it. “How I Got Over” is a hipster dream come true: the house band of Jimmy Fallon’s programme is paired with Dirty Projectors, Joanna Newsom and Monsters Of Folk on songs that won’t be but should be great hits because they are so refined, powerful, and vital. There are absolute truths: if you don’t enjoy this videoclip, there’s something wrong. This is good shit.

Orca, the killer whale Another notorious collaboration recently is that between Dirty Projectors (them again) and Björk. Not long ago, their EP “Mount Wittenberg Orca”, a benefit for the creation of protected marine reserves, got an official release. It’s a cycle of songs about whales that they performed for the first time in May of 2009 and recorded almost a year later without too much preparation, almost live. An unknown, more spontaneous side of a group and an artist known for fitting their creative urges into complex, but always intense formal frameworks. Listening to Björk singing, “Come into my home / Murder my family,” from the perspective of the mother whale, takes me back to a misunderstood film: “Orca”, an exploit of “Jaws” by the producer Dino de Laurentiis which nevertheless has some ties to “Moby Dick”, and if you press me, to the Old Testament. Revenge and obsession take the floor with an almost biblical seriousness in a film whose monster is, in reality, mankind. Better than “Tentacles” and “Blood Beach”, although I wouldn’t turn my nose up at either of them.

Series, a summer passion

Killer whales are good, beaches don’t seem so good to me. And while some think of summer as the opportunity to get toasted under the sun, others dream of the possibility of finally breaking out those packs of series that you haven’t had time to watch the rest of the year. It sounds a little like voluntary ostracism, but I’ll say it again: obsession isn’t a choice. I say packs and not so much last-minute downloads or files accumulated on DVR because, in reality, TV fiction hasn’t really raised its head since the end of “Lost.” “Mad Men” will be back soon (on 25th July, take note), but of what’s on the air, I only dare to recommend “Louie”, a Louis C.K. comedy in the line of “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm”,although with its own personality and a lovely photograph. You don’t need to worry about “Rookie Blue” (worse than “Grey’s Anatomy”, but with police); “The Gates”, a Gothic soap opera without substance; or “Haven”, another “Twin Peaks” with less weirdness. I leave the police show “The Glades” in the air— although it has nothing new, at least it has characters and actors that are addictive to watch. The man, though, is “Louie”. The poker scene in the second episode is TV history.

Bloggers upset

EIt is strange that the rap of The Situation has created less indignation in the musical blogosphere than Pitchfork having launched Altered Zones, a site with a psychedelic-futuristic look –I’m lovin’ it– that will bring together finds from a team of 14 blogs, among them classics like Weekly Tape Deck, Gorilla vs. Bear or Raven Sings the Blues. It’s like the Google Reader of an adept of indie folk, chillwave and/or doom metal made into a website. A great idea, especially for the owners of those blogs –who will receive P4K cheques– or for people who don’t have time to dive into tons of blogs every day. A bad idea for blogs like Impose, whose hate mail led Sian Rowe of The Guardian to ask a necessary question: but whatever happened to just discovering new music for fun?

“Showgirls,” 15 th anniversary

My space is starting to run out, and I still have a couple of promises to keep: the Blu-ray 15th anniversary edition of “Showgirls” and talking about the comeback of Sofia Coppola, with “Somewhere”, the meeting of “Lost in Translation” and “Kramer vs. Kramer, according to the trailer. Between bad taste and good taste, today I’m sticking with the bad, because “Showgirls” needs more love than Sofia Coppola. It’s an absolute cult title that, with its 15th anniversary edition, grows and grows, not only because of the quality of the image and sound, but also because of a handful of extensions that are a trip. The fantastic V.I.P. edition from 2004 had more gifts –the poster of Berkeley, the card game, even a couple of tassels to put you know where – but how can you reject those tutorials about pole and lap dancing? Somewhere, Verhoeven is cracking up. Obligatory purchase today, along with “By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volume Two”. If you buy them together on Amazon they DON’T give you a discount.

Canadian supergroup vs. Canadian supergroup (part II)

Do you remember the (non-existent) face-off between Broken Social Scene and The New Pornographers because of the coinciding of the release dates of their last albums? Well, now it might be that they have coincided in the pre-selection for the famous Polaris Music Prize: BSS appears there –along with The Besnard Lakes, Caribou, Karkwa, Dan Mangan, Owen Pallett, Radio Radio, The Sadies, Shad and my beloved Tegan and Sara– but there is no trace of poor NP. Come on Pornographers, cheer up. Look at Lostprophets. Make those who think that today’s indie is too prissy eat their words. Come on, fight for what you have.


Five albums worthy of mention, and even celebrating, that should have come up somewhere in the column, but were lost among beefs, tassels, and so on. I could have stuck in five more; the streets are made of fire.

1) Julian Lynch/Mare: Pop and rock feverishly fused with drone, African music, and genres yet to be defined. Easy to visit, hard to leave.2) Mountain Man/Made the Harbor: The best indie folk album in eons. Fragile, quiet, delicate, strange, but comforting.3) The Books/The Way Out: Spoken word, a (sort of) summarised history of hip hop, interior pop, and all of the magic in the world.4) Wavves/King of the Beach: With the bad year that the guy had, and look at him, turned into the king of sunscreen and volleyball. A sun of an album.5) Electric Sunset/Electric Sunset: The former guitarist from Desolation Wilderness blinded by emotion, with this electronic-biographical project. Next time: New hordes of Russian R&B, wave of drop-outs from Facebook after “The Social Network”, Mel Gibson’s cassettes, “The Suburbs”, and life post- “Inception”

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