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Vs. the (Pop) World

By Juan Manuel Freire

When did we stop valuing music? When did we stop considering it as a precious good and started taking it for granted? There probably wasn’t one precise moment (maybe the first click on Napster?), it’s been a long, tense and tough process, but, personally, I never thought that one day anybody would find five pounds too expensive for access to an almost never-ending musical library. Remember, veteran readers, when only a few records a month were released, and we didn’t only think that was enough, it meant the world to us? Now, for many, the world is not enough, like the James Bond film.

Word has it Spotify is on the verge of going bankrupt, and it would be a pity if your money would be spent in vain. Their business model could be discussed endlessly –especially the part about paying the artists– but what is undisputable is that, culturally and intellectually, we’re dealing with a bargain. The young wannabe music journos, if they still exist, have the possibility of easily accessing a music source that those in the past could never have dreamed of. And no, Spotify isn’t paying me to say this, I paid my unlimited account with my own credit card. It simply pains me to see how this possible resource is undervalued. Which is, in a way, undervaluing the music. And I won’t go for that, really.

Washed Out

That’s how I feel these day when I hear young people complain about the Spotify prices. Because, for example, if one wants to find out what this chill-wave sounds like that they speak of on all those blogs, it’s more attractive to look for Mediafire links than check out the Swedish pseudo iTunes. Not everything might be there, but a big part of it is. Of the iconic masters of the genre, Washed Out (maker of the “Portlandia” theme tune: “Feel It All Around”), you can listen to their mini-LP “Life Of Leisure”, although you can’t, unfortunately, gain the same access to the tremendous advance track ( “Eyes Be Closed”) of the upcoming album debut on Sub Pop, “Within and Without”. Though you can find the widget of the track below, if you wish to sway, fall in love and drop down, all at the same time.

The dance band

Just when you think you know them and their tricks, Gang Gang Dance go and give their sound another twist that leaves you knocked out. On their first album for 4AD, “Eye Contact”, their tribal dance-punk achieves unexpected levels of folkloric delirium: “Adult Goth” starts with a melody that could be Las Grecas’, only to wander off towards Blonde Redhead-style shoegaze-pop and a Balkan-style mid-fi Björk. At first, you don’t know what to think, but then you don’t want to hear anything else for a while. Then there is “Mindkilla”, which does what its title says with a sound that’s like Rainbow Arabia on (more) drugs, indie trance, hip-hop and other acid herbs. It’s one of the track of the year. If you don’t dance to this, you should go see a forensic scientist.

Downward

For the posterior comedown, there’s nothing better than “Higher Than The Sun”, remastered by Kevin Shields recently for the essential reissue of “Screamadelica”. But if you want a real downer, check out Stevie Nicks’ new album, the insufferable “In Your Dreams”. Fleetwood Mac’s finest voice had it all to turn her new recording into the great mainstream-hipster comeback of 2011. She could have called one or several of the bands who adore Fleetwood Mac –from Vampire Weekend to Jenny & Johnny or electronic producers like CFCF (check their cover version of “Big Love”)– to make a mature but now-sounding album, like Marianne Faithfull did, only in a Balearic style. She could have done so many things. But instead of doing duets with Ladyhawke –a man can dream, right?–, the diva made something that we could sense coming after her duets with Taylor Swift. Pure AOR splendour inspired by, I kid you not, the books of Stephenie Meyer. “In Your Dreams” is the flop of 2011. Compared to that, the return of The Cars, though discreet, is a masterpiece.

“Bossypants”

How can we smile again after that? If you want to laugh but without feeling guilty, check Tina Fey’s book “Bossypants”: a pleasant, somewhat chaotic tale of the rise to fame –or at least to personal and professional realisation– of an incredible woman, talking about her defects we can’t really see: what defects, Tina? “Bossypants” is self-critical, if not painfully honest. See what she says about “30 Rock”, her (critically) acclaimed comedy series: “Though we are grateful for the affection ‘30 Rock’ has received from critics and hipsters, we were actually trying to make a hit show. We weren’t trying to make a low-rated critical darling that snarled in the face of conventionality. We were trying to make ‘Home Improvement’ and we did it wrong.” Well, let’s leave it at wrong-well. Tina Fey rocks and so does her dad. You’ll know it when you read it.

Ah, I also recommend another read, “I Totally Meant To Do That” by Jane Borden, a collection of stories –without too much order– about the difficulties finding a place to call home, eternal adolescence and, most of all, the human distance between North Carolina and New York. The story about the move alone –a drama– is worth the search for this delicious book. Very serious comic interlude

A record that makes you happy: “Turtleneck & Chain”, the new effort by the satirical rap crew formed by Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer ( The Lonely Island). Like Flight Of The Conchords, it’s all a joke, but it’s no joke. Recent hits from “Saturday Night Live” like “I Threw It On The Ground” and “Motherlover”, and future classics: “Attracted To Us”, “After Party” and, most of all, “Jack Sparrow”, a brilliant joke about “Pirates Of The Caribbean”, funnier for sure in its three minutes than the new gazillion-hour sequel. Collaborating on this fabulous piece is Michael Bolton, who wins salvation and whose power ballads we’ll take less seriously even more from now on.

A good comedy about relationships between beautiful people is possible

“For years the networks have tried to re-create the success of Friends by making pilot after pilot about beautiful twenty-somethings living together in New York”, says Tina Fey in “Bossypants”. And she adds: “This template never works, because executives refuse to realize that Friends was the exception, not the rule. The stars of beloved shows like Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld, Newhart, and the Dick Van Dyke Show had normal human faces”. Another exception that confirms the rule –if there’s another one, we’ll think of a new rule–: “Happy Endings”, something like “Community” turned into a relationship sitcom; Joe and Anthony Russo, creators of the latter, directed the pilot and are the producers, which counts for something. Watch it without prejudice, if you haven’t already. You and your friends will soon be using terms like “chick-sand” and “skeet-cute” and talking about the surprising comic talent of Elisha Cuthbert –there are jokes about “24”– and Damon Wayans, Jr., the star of the inexpressible “Dance Movie”. Another sitcom to vindicate is “Workaholics”, hardly seen but immense.

“True Blue” revisited

Through podcasts, mixtapes and promotional gifts we got used to the fact that many of the best compilations don’t cost a thing. But not even being spoiled would have prepared us for a gift like the one by Paper Bag. To celebrate their first eight years –and a new and splendid website–, the label offers an album tribute to Madonna’s “True Blue”, which in its turn turns 25 years in 2011. Notable artists of the label –Born Ruffians, PS I Love You, The Rural Alberta Advantage, the now defunct You Say Party– assault the album with great imagination and leave their personal stamp. One soft spot: Young Galaxy’s floating, minimalist take on “Open Your Heart”, the track of which the video about romantic-sexual initiation made a whole generation of kids grow faster.

Young Galaxy - Open Your Heart to Me

Alien observer

We’re nearing the end in a melancholic mood, a little bit because we want to rebel a bit: the sun is shining brightly but we’re radical. Are you looking for some clean-cut solipsism? Check out the all stars girl-power record by Prefuse 73, “The Only She Chapters”. Shoegaze, nods to the old girl groups and lo-fi meet on an absorbing effort –definitely the best stuff Guillermo has recorded to date– that furthermore contains Broadcast’s Trish Keenan’s last known recording. When a track moves you enough to leave you without words, it’s big. Something similar happens with the two new albums by Liz Harris, aka Grouper, for which words aren’t enough. The video of “Alien Observer”, directed by Hamish Parkinson, is strange and marvellous.

5x140

Wild Beasts/Smother: Owen Pallett is a fan, enough said. Arty pop with lots of sexual tension, complex and light at the same time.

The Antlers/Burst Apart: They do not disappoint, in other words, they leave you knock out once more. Somewhat more electonic but equally human.

Fleet Foxes/Helplessness Blues: Like the previous one, but with an extra dose of timelessness. Gigantic. Our favourite: “Lorelai”.

Blue Sky Black Death/Noir: The sequel to Slow Burning Lights (2008) is poppy instrumental hip-hop. For the sensitive souls.

Cat’s Eyes/Cat’s Eyes: The leader of The Horrors hooks up with Rachel Zeffira for an album with a whiff of Julee Cruise and Stina Nordenstam.

Next: There are dragons and aliens in Cannes, too, the Fleetwood Mac reunion, Pierce from “Community”’s evilness, Timber Timbre, Cults, the Lady Gaga fiasco, Scorsese + Von Trier = my head explodes… In this episode of Vs., Juan Manuel Freire gives you clues as to how to enjoy music. One, for example, is to pay 5 pounds (which is nothing) for a Spotify account. To know the rest (about books and television, too), read it here.

Washed Out Ernest Greene (Washed Out)

Gang Gang Dance Eye Contact Review : '' Eye Contact''

Stevie NicksStevie Nicks

Tina Fey Tina Fey

Prefuse 73 Guillermo Scott Herren (Prefuse 73) Prefuse 73- “The Only She Chapters” The Only She Chapters

Wild Beasts – “Smother” Review: Wild Beast Smother

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