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Vs. The (Pop) World

By Juan Manuel Freire

Physical pain is the worst. If there is a god, the man (or woman, whatever) is probably having a great time playing voodoo with small models of some of us, sticking needles in some veins here, twisting limbs there, throwing us in the bin when he or she gets bored. Physical pain, the kind that you don’t go to the hospital for but still stays with you, can be so intrusive that even your favourite things become terrible. In the end, the solution to all small pains is the same: distraction, passing time, dragging on.

Music plays a particular role in that trance. Its therapeutic power is known, its ability to modify biological answers. Listening to Enya –not the syncopated remixes by Dntel, the originals–reduces anxiety, pain, tension and stress levels; that’s what they say, anyway. And playing Phoenix records should give you enough energy to immediately recover strength in the knees. But what really helps in this kind of situations is playing music about people who are going through a rough patch, or better yet, Joy Division, adagios, “The Isle Of The Dead” by Rachmaninov. It’s either that or playing something by Shonda Rhimes: it’s hard to be in worse shape than the patients of “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Off The Map”. Let’s see if I can get distracted –and distract you– writing the pills below.

It’s Britney, bitch

Memorable distraction record of 2011: “Femme Fatale” by Britney Spears. Said without irony, without double meaning, without the aim to provoke. Said in all sincerity. If one overcomes the first two tracks and the doubts they generate –on the first one, there’s the trace of Ke$ha and on the second one the only thing that saves it is the dubstep bridge–, one will find it’s an album as easy to enjoy as it is hard to abandon. Without ballads, without dead time, without (hardly any) filler material. I would leave out “Trouble For Me” and “Gasoline”, but I can’t get “I Wanna Go”, the ultimate power song, out of my head, nor “Big Fat Bass”, with the unpredictable Will.i.am lucubrating, maybe better than ever, over a conceptual and meta-artistic mainstream. “I could be your treble, baby, you could be my bass.” Romance via equalisation. Brilliant. He’ll be single. The world will be a better place.

Britney Spears - Big Fat Bass feat wil.I.Am

The importance of a good story

In an attack of naïveté, guitarist Nick Valensi thought it would be a good idea to reveal that the recording of The Strokes’s new album was a “horrible” experience. Of course, the better part of the media immediately started to say that if the band had suffered recording, it would be more than likely the listeners would, too. Which was silly: if that were the math, “Apocalypse Now” (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) would be “Hot Milk” (Ricardo Bofill, 2005); and the sacred records of Big Star (the second and third) and Fleetwood Mac ( “Rumours”), forgotten records. Granted, “Metabolism” isn’t for me, either, but to dismiss the infectiousness of “You’re So Right”, “Taken For A Fool” and the synthetic “Games” –listen below– is staying deaf for reality. Even though it’s only for this once, print the fact.

Ark(gh)

Apart from the big bad company in “The Cape”, Ark is also a dodgy corporation in the real world. “Friday” isn’t all that bad, but Ark Music Factory is guilty of crimes against (super) pop and everything around it smells scorched, of broken toys thrown into the fire. Below you’ll find an interview with Patrice Wilson, “the face of Ark Music Factory”, 50% of the creative team behind “Friday” and limo driver slash rapper in the video. The company threatens to “keep on working with people, [...] holding massive auditions, [...] looking for the next viral star.” It’s funny, seriously. Is he really Patrice Wilson or is he actually Kenan Thompson? And when does the “What uuuuuup” begin? (PS: Check out the inspirational message at the end.)

In love with The Weeknd

Out of nowhere come, shaking unsuspecting hearts, The Weeknd, something like the Junior Boys of R&B, or something very similar to what the songs of Drake (who launched them via Twitter) with Jamie xx will probably sound like. Abel Tesfaye sings seductively about sex and drugs over subtle and sensitive productions, sober and sombre beats and samples stolen from Beach House; a new inference by the Baltimore duo in Hamsterdam after that seizure of G-Side. “The Party And The After Party” is, seemingly, the stellar track of “House of Balloons”, but “Glass Table Girls” shines as well.

The Weeknd - Glass Table Girls

Season’s beef

Pooping the Portmaniacs’ party, Natalie Portman’s ballet stand-in accused the actress of only having done 5% of the actual dancing in “Black Swan”. Darren Aronofsky, a director whom you’d better not piss off –as I have had the honour to verify myself when I interviewed/bashed him about “Requiem For A Dream” and got out alive only because I was lucky–, made his editor check every shot of Natalie dancing to certify in how many scenes the actress appears. “111 are Natalie Portman untouched. 28 are her dance double Sarah Lane” –said Aronofksy in a press release sent out by Fox Searchlight. “If you do the math that’s 80% Natalie Portman. What about duration? The shots that feature the double are wide shots and rarely play for longer than one second. There are two complicated longer dance sequences that we used face replacement. Even so, if we were judging by time over 90% would be Natalie Portman.” The numbers don’t lie. Lane looks bad now, and it’s more than likely she will not dance in any film ever again, not even in the sequel of “Dance Flick” .

Becky Stark is alive

For those who are still waiting (in vain) for the follow-up to the brilliant debut of Lavender Diamond, The Living Sisters’ album –their Becky Stark with Inara George (The Bird And The Bee) and Eleni Mandell– could only be excellent news. Or maybe we should leave it at “good news”: “Love To Live” is no “Imagine Our Love”. But it’s always a pleasure to hear her voice, or their voices, and there are some good tunes, like “How Are You Doing?”, which gets better in the vision of director Michel Gondry, with those three interweaved stories of misfortune. How to embrace chaos in an adorable way. The humour in pain expressed in the best way possible.

SXSW

They say that music journalism no longer has any value, but I thank people with certain standards who can tell me, for example, what has been worth seeing at festivals I couldn’t get to. I’ve never been to SXSW and this year, apparently, there have been some surprises: yes, apart from beer, there is music at this festival, all over the place, in fact. Reading the reviews, summarising the summaries, we get a short list of bands we should keep an eye out for. Like Brazilians Holger and their ecstatic and Africanist rock: imagine Vampire Weekend taking off their Ralph Lauren polo shirts and deck shoes and start screaming. Or the virtuoso and precise but intense Hands, whom we will hear from in the future. Or a band with no album but plenty credentials: Wild Flag, the union of Carrie Brownstein (don’t miss here in “Portlandia”) and Janet Weiss (both ex-Sleater Kinney); Mary Timony from Helium and Rebecca Cole from The Minders. From Portland come Ghost Animal, rock with extra reverb and influences from both sides of the Atlantic. Below is their “Summertime In Heaven”.

Ghost Animal - Summertime In Heaven

“The Killing”

The series of the moment is a, let’s call it legal, thriller, but steers clear of the cheap sensationalism of the productions of this kind that usually come from the US. Maybe that’s because it’s a remake of a Danish series, “Forbrydelsen”, which stays very close to the original. The series could get rid of some of the music –after all, it does come from AMC, who have given us such quiet and sober series as “Mad Men” and “Rubicon”–, but we can’t stop celebrating its spectral climate and delicate detail. The plot is somewhat stereotypical, but that doesn’t matter. Be rocked by the clouds, the landscape, the subtle suggestion of looks and gestures.

Donald Glover

More great news for television and pop culture in general: the renewal of “Community”, a sitcom like no other, referential in a creative way, sentimental without being tacky. The epilogues with Abed (Danny Pudi) and Troy (Donald Glover) alone are worthy of having as many seasons as “Law and Order”. In one of them, the one from the episode called “Spanish 101”, we saw the duo rapping in hilarious Spanish, and that anthropology rap with a nudge to Toto’s “Africa”, wasn’t half bad, either. Now, Donald Glover –no relation of Danny– has started a career as a rapper under the name of Childish Gambino; and that’s no joke, at least, not intentionally. His latest EP is amazing: a flow like Lil Wayne, ingenious and unusual rhymes about personal neurosis or his work with Tina Fey – “Anything I put my mind to, I accomplish it / From writing scripts with Tina Fey to laying down the hardest shit”– and great production, and for free, too; download here. Between this and the return of The Lonely Days, bad times are over. Or almost. Pass me the ibuprofen, please.

5x140

1) Dirty Beaches/Badlands: His cover of Madonna’s “True Blue” alone is reason enough for buying this weird noise-pop gem.

2) The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart/Belong: Between The Joy Formidable and this, it’s clear that the nineties are the new black. When will Lush return?

3) Rainbow Arabia/Boys And Diamonds: On “Blind”, they lucubrated about how Fever Ray would sound while on a spree in South Africa. One of many landmarks.

4) Vessels/Helioscope: Although it’s no longer fashionable among (most) indie fans, post-rock can still deliver great pieces: this is one.

5) Yelle/Safari Disco Club: Does the perfect super pop record, with all killer no filler, accessible and sharp, exist? Yelle has done it.

Next: The allstar girl-power album by Prefuse 73, hagiography of James Franco (Dave’s brother), the TV On The Radio film, “Game Of Thrones”, some season’s beef and other stuff I still don’t know about. Music has healing powers, No, we’re not talking about new age trash: it’s a real cure for the boredom of daily life and the vulgarity of mass pop culture. Dr. Freire will prescribe you a balsam to make you feel better, happier and more active.

britney_femmefataleBritney Spears

the strokesThe Strokes

ARKArk Music Factory

the weekndThe Weeknd

black swanCisne Negro

Lavender DiamondLavender Diamond

sxsw SXSW

the killingThe Killing

the communityCommunity

lushLush

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