Archive for August, 2011

The Rip Tide

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Beirut’s Zach Condon can best be described as an international daydreamer.  His sentimental reveries carry him across political and temporal borders.  He has sipped egg creams in Brighton Beach while reminiscing about his lost love in the old country, and he has holed himself in a Pigalle loft with a carton of Gauloises and a photo-album of his last affair.  He has tried to vacation in Oaxaca, drinking mezcal and playing with the locals in a dingy cantina, only to be haunted by the timeless specter of romantic loss.  Each album allowed Condon to imagine and reinterpret a regional folk style to tell heartbreaking stories of loss and remembrance.  The musical idioms—Baltic waltzes, Gallic crooning, Zapotec brass—were selected and deployed for their exotic melancholy.  Despite the indisputable very-goodness of Gulag Orkestar, Condon has painted Beirut into a corner by the end of March of the Zapotec experiment.  Interesting as his career had been up to that point, it had the curious effect of pigeonholing him as an aesthetic imperialist with few ideas of his own.  But his latest album The Rip Tide doesn’t find Condon daydreaming in another folk idiom; instead, he fully unveils the pop sense that his world music appropriation has scaffolded for much of his career.

The Rip Tide is the most listener-friendly Beirut album because it feels instantly recognizable.  It isn’t so much a growth in Condon’s songwriting; it’s more of a refinement.  Everything that he’s done well—stirring instrumental passages, plaintively sad lyrics—is present in shorter, more focused bursts.  From the aching “East Harlem” to the  rousing “Payne’s Bay,” The Rip Tide uses Beirut’s familiar aesthetic to illustrate a slightly more contemporary sound.  Even with overly precious plodders like “The Rip Tide” and “The Peacock,” the album manages to pull together enough singularly great songs to prevent it from sounding like a retread.  The spritely “Santa Fe” represents a maturation of his vaguely electronic Realpeople moniker, and the warm melancholy of “East Harlem” is a full flowering of the pop sensibility hiding beneath his best songs to date.  And the tender “Goshen” is exactly what Condon wanted initially from Flying Club Cup but failed to successfully create.

Though he still sounds a little like Jonathan Safran Foer’s favorite band (how that boy wrote Everything is Illuminated without Gulag Orkestar is beyond me!), Condon has taken the best lessons from his previous albums to create this singular declaration as a band.  Everything that Beirut has been moving toward finds its clearest expression on The Rip Tide.  Which I guess means that this is Beirut’s best album, though I’m still partial to the hip anachronisms of Gulag Orkestar.  I loved the drunken brass veering from one melody to another without pausing long enough to constitute any kind of definitive statement, but I’m more than happy to have Condon focus his energies on crafting these exquisitely sad little marches on The Rip Tide.

Rating: 7.5 / 10

07

08 2011

It Feels Good to be Around You

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Not kidding at all, I was listening to Air France last night as I walked to the bar to meet up with some friends.  And the thought that crossed my mind is the thought that has crossed a thousand minds since “Collapsing Outside Your Doorstep” charmed everyone with its Baeleric whimsy:  I wish Air France still made music.  And here we are, less than 24 hours after my vague plea to the heavens, a fantastic new Air France track sitting on our collective hard drive.  ”It Feels Good to be Around You” is much what you would expect from the duo: relentlessly sunny romance equipped with rich tapestry of vocal samples and a bouncy beat.  For all the claim that chillwavers make on sunglasses and flip-flops and all the accouterments of a day at the beach, nothing even comes close to Air France’s ability to actually embody what it feels like to stand on a beach with someone’s hand in yours.

05

08 2011

Locked

Like most of you stumbling across this website for the first time or the hundredth time, my favorite moment of obsessive music fandom is the moment when I fall in love.  Beyond appreciating invention and subversion, exploration and recitation, I listen to music to fall in love.  Obviously, I end up appreciating and admiring and simply liking a lot more music than I actually love.  But I cherish those moments when I fall sleepless-night-butterfly-stomach-in-honest-to-God-love with an artist.  Sometimes it’s love at first sight: your first flirtations with an artist produce an ardor bordering on obsession.  And sometimes you only develop a crush on an artist: an intense affection that passes but remains curiously sacrosanct.  Sometimes, though, you admire and appreciate an artist long before you realize that you are, in fact, in love.

Listening to Four Tet’s newest track from his upcoming DJ-Kicks mix, “Locked,” I realized that I am in love with Four Tet.  Even after the astounding There is Love In You, I would have told that I really really liked Four Tet.  But there’s something about “Locked” that instantly intensified my affection for Kieran Hebden.  I love Four Tet.  I love Four Tet from jazzy goodness of Pause to the bubbling ebulliance of Everything Ecstatic.  And what’s more, Four Tet appears to be operating on a golden age kind of level of consistency.  Everything that Hebden has touched for the past two years has been dangerously approaching perfection:  the stunning collaboration with Burial, the confidently accomplished new album, the recent remix of Radiohead’s “Separator.”  And now “Locked,” a smooth joint with a percolating backbeat and solid foundation of throbbing sub-bass.  Maybe a golden age isn’t realized after the fact: after the fruitless experimental record, after the ill-conceived collaboration, after the half-baked side projects, after disingenuous accolades doled out for sticktoitiveness.  Maybe golden ages actually just reside in listeners themselves.  Maybe a golden age is the moment when you start to think that an artist can do no wrong.  Maybe a golden age is the moment when you realize it’s love.

Locked (TEXT011) by Four Tet

03

08 2011

Michael Jackson

I think I could be forgiven for neglecting to ever followup on Das Racist after “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.”  But when I finally got around to actually listening to Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man, I found a rap crew whose postmodern deconstruction of hip hop was one part manic Baudrillard and one part gonzo Weezy.  Who else but these slacker geniuses could casually drop references to Mable Dodge Luhan and Peggy Noonan and Mantan Moreland all within a single track?  Now, armed with a Bollywood beat crafted by Chairlift’s Patrick Wimbley and a breathtakingly offensive cover art (above), Das Racist have returned with the lead single off their forthcoming debut.  ”Michael Jackson” is as shameless of a banger as the trio has ever dropped, and it’s as lackadaisically intelligent as anything else they’ve done.  After all, Heems brags that his “Medulla creates the moola” and then forges a verse build almost entirely of oohs and aahs.  And then . . . and then! . . . the trio closes out the song by literally talking about how good at rapping they are.  Not employing clever metaphors or even showing through example.  Like, saying shit like “I’m fucking good a rapping.”  By all the universal law of culture, no artist should have ever survived “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” and no artist should have emerged from that shitshow with this kind of effortlessly brilliant po-mo cultural politicking and verbal virtuosity.  But here we are.

Das Racist – Michael Jackson by Transdreamer

02

08 2011