This post is a translation of the fourth part in a series of music reviews by my best friend Vũ Lâm Đại (Ki) and his friend Syka Lê Vy (Ka) on their Facebook accounts.
Original review is in Vietnamese, English translation by Mai.
(The reviews keep getting longer, my translation keeps getting looser. I justify it as the preservation of the feelings, not the exact words. My own interpretation of the music is at the end. )
Music for May. Summer time.
Listen to Youtube playlist
Blonde redhead – 23 (23 – 2007): This month’s playlist starts with the American rock band of the sweet Japanese vocalist Kazu Makino and the twins from Italy. Twenty-three is Ka’s new age, and in this song, 23 is the time period where love revives and lives on forever. The song begins the album with the same title as an impressive prelude based on the drums, the bass, and drowned in the mesmerizing piano. Makino’s voice is nothing outstanding, it’s simple, unfocused, but it has a killing charm. This song is also used in the trailer of the British show Skins, 02-2008. (Ah, I find that Skins is so far the first and only show that has good soundtracks, I’ve got all four series of them.)
The Antlers – No Widows (Burst Apart- 2011): The new album of The Antlers shoulders quite some stress as it keeps getting compared with the successful Hospice in 2009. Burst Apart sounds lighter and wider, but obviously still being smooth pieces of emotion, the album shows poetry in the lyrics. The fourth track, No Widows, with flowing rhythms fading out at the start, drops the listener’s self into its depth with grace. The song tells the return to a windowless house, an unclothed, worriless life free of people’s judgment. Isn’t that nice?
Cass McCombs – County line (Wit’s End -2011): a preleased track from the coming album Wit’s End. This song is slow, perhaps it had overcome a long period of time to reach the listener, its lyrics, mood, and sound are light but powerful. In a handwritten note to Stereogum, McCombs wrote: “I know people get lonely because I do, so that’s what I end up writing songs about, how you get lonely sometimes and come up with these big ideas that give you meaning for a second but then leave you like everything else leaves you.” Perhaps that’s why County Line carries a hopeless sadness in Cass’s eyes as his voice gently sings “You never even tried to love me/ Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa/ What did I have to do to make you want me?/ Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa”
The Kills – Future Starts Slow (Blood Pressures-2011): It’s great to see The Kills back in the race. Alison Mosshart has temporarily stopped working with The Weather Dead (a supergroup band with 4 members from 4 different bands), and returned to Jamie Hince, after their final album Midnight Boom (2008). Blood Pressure, the newest album by The Kills, raised all sorts of questions on whether they could do it as well as The Dead Weather, and luckily, it did not disappoint. Proof? The strong drum beats, impressive guitar riffs, and the pre- and post-vocals in the first track Future Starts Slow, a song with a good weight. It’s hard to recognize just from listening that Future Starts Slow is the product of only two brains.
Purity Ring – Lofticries: Purity Ring is a stand-alone project of Corin Roddick (drums, guitar, keys) and Meghan James (vocals), members of the band Gobble Gobble (I have no idea about this band). Lofticries carries the soft tunes of Indie-synthpop, mixed with a little strange rhythm from modern pop, like the love of James Blake for the young girls in Warpaint. The pure vocal connects perfectly every detail of the song, no second is wasted. When it almost reaches the end, the melody fades away then comes back to intensify its mystery and seduce its listeners to a replay. And another, and another. Imagine the song as a glass of cool watermelon juice for a sunlit weekend afternoon to laze on a comfy bed…
EMA – California (Past Life Martyred Saints – 2011): Past Life Martyred Saints is Erika M. Anderson (aka EMA)’s personal project, to be seen as an individual record by an artist who is unafraid of and daring with her music. California is one of the best tracks to showcase EMA’s amazing talent in discovering a comfortable place where huge slogans and private matters can coexist. It contains the headaches, the sadness, the worries, and the longings when one must go home (this I can understand). In some way, EMA’s music reminds me of Patti Smith or Cat Power, but these are EMA’s own nuisances, they’re hard and cracking like a slap on the face, and they leave a bright red mark.
Junior Boys – In the morning (So This Is Goodbye – 2006): I’ve listened to their new album, but I still prefer the old one, a pure electro-dancepop set. So This Is Goodbye gave the name Junior Boys a big spark in 2006 with its unique chaotic mixings by DJ Greenspan. In the Morning is a clear choice for the first track because of its characteristic rhythm leading style. The song seemingly tells the story of a guy with a depressed heart, who gets invited to late night parties, befriends new people, but “in the morning” naturally comes back to loneliness. Does any of us, after a drunken night with friends, painfully realize the next morning that nobody is by our side?
MIA – Born Free (2010): MIA is a talented British artist with numerous awards who has never bored her fans. Born Free has a bit more rock and noise than her usual music, the impressive lyrics seem to affirm femininity with power. I usually listen to this song when I’m stressed out. The song’s short film released in 2010 was a big shock due to its violent and racist content, which was subjected to so much criticism that YouTube had to remove the video. You can watch it here though.
Bon Iver – Calgary [Bon Iver – (June 2011)]: Unlike other falsetto voices that tend to overtraumatize, Bon Iver’s voice is full, emotional, and narrative. Not to mention his excellent creativity that made For Emma, Forever Ago a bit indie hit of 2008 and a subject of the talks even today. Calgary is the first track of the new album to be released in June, a first overhear is enough to realize that more care has gone into this production than for Emma. The simple acoustic style has been replaced by a more colorful instrumental pattern. The first minute brings to mind the sad records of the late 80s and early 90s, which is then patiently connected to the later three cheerful minutes, and leaves us with an aftertaste. Every time I listen to Bon Iver, I can’t help but think of the quiet nights in summer camping sites or the living room where I spent countless gloomy winter evenings. I really look forward to the new album.
The Morning Benders – Oh Annie : Chris Chu, the frontman of the group, once said that one of his biggest regrets last year was not including Oh Annie in Big Echo. The song was written after he watched “Annie Hall” by Woody Allen the 100th time. The drums slowly embrace the tunes, the guitar and the piano oscillate, and Chu sings like whispering on that music background. It’s soft but unforgettable. Listen to Oh Annie, we can picture a perfect ending song for some indie movie with a sweet aftertaste.
13 & God – Armored Scarves [Own Your Ghost (2011)]: is a combination of The Notwist from Germany and the hip-hop Themselves from America. Own Your Ghost is their second album following the first LP in 2005. After 6 years, perhaps it’s difficult for the two groups to find the same voice: many parts in the album have obvious separation of music, or simply put, a lack of harmony. Armored Scarves is a rare highlight where the rap part of Themselves is not isolated. A close inspection reveals the bigger influence of The Notwist over the entire album – a regrettable point, but not necessarily a bad one, especially to the big Notwist fans like myself. Like always, Markus Archer’s baritone voice can easily put someone to sleep at first but will become addictive after several plays.
tUnE -yArDs – My Country [w h o k i l l (2011)]: The music of this chubby sister is just right for the good days when you want to free your body and soul. A smooth mix of Afro-pop, R&B, folk, and electronic here and there, each song is one gorgeous sound feast. She is not one of those excellent vocalists, but her confidence and the rare active energy in her voice make her incredibly interesting. My country begins with a killing drum session, then the vocal explodes and rains all over the song. Its 4-minute length might be too short to miss even one second. I must say that w ho k i l l was so evenly executed that it took me a long time to finally decide to include My Country in this playlist, the other 9 tracks are not at all inferior.
K–Os – Crabbuckit [Joyful Rebellion (2004)]: I accidentally found this song when I read a headphone review that said Crabbuckit is perfect to test out headphones. I don’t know anything about K-Os to comment, but this much I can say: Crabbuckit is a hip-hop piece worth listening to: the crunchy beats, the jazzy covering, the sharp rap. I’ve found Joyful Rebellion and am taking my time savoring it.
Jai Paul – BTSTU (2011): yet another “cross-breed” track. There’s nothing special in each separate tune in BTSTU, but a good cook knows how to combine ordinary ingredients into extraordinary concoctions. The slow 2/4 beat, the vocal „oooh oooh“ to be heard hundreds of times somewhere else, the bombarding synth, the lyrics starting with „don’t fuck with me, don’t fuck with me“ that doesn’t make it too interesting a debut, all of which combine into such an addictive tune.
Alex Turner – It’s Hard To Get Around The Wind [Submarine OST (2011)]: the leader of the well-known post-punk Arctic Monkeys from England has returned with 6 songs for the movie Submarine. Listening to It’s Hard To Get Around The Wind, you’ll be surprised by the ripeness of Alex’s voice, the vibrato at the end of each sentence that was not allowed in Arctic Monkeys’ noisy punk. The lyrics are honest, true-to-life, unburdened by metaphors, partly to be suitable to the coming-of-age characteristic of Submarine, and easily empathized by the ears.
The Vietnamese Original is posted on Sunday Spirit.
Why translate and repost? Because it’s beautiful.
Ki’s Picks and Ka’s Picks are totally disconnected this time, so I’m going to review them separately.
Ka’s Picks generally fit the album cover. The five songs 23, County Line, No Windows, Future Starts Slow, and Born Free make a colorful silent short movie. If 23 is the opening soundtrack with soft repetitious tunes like love stories without fates, County Line is maturity, a smile when love is rejected. With No Windows, I have a different feeling from Ka’s: the rhythms are smooth and the voice is extremely light-hearted, but the lyrics are more sad than happy, carrying a sense of escaping reality, of wishing to hide oneself and to be forgotten. But because one cannot keep on running away, Future Starts Slow is the rebound and the confrontation, as in Born Free we hear one rushing to make up for lost time.
- Lofticries is too synthetic, California is a lost track in this album, where I only agree with the sentence “I don’t mind dying”. Nonetheless, of the young, carefree rhythm of In the Morning, I especially like the notes sharply pulled like pieces of a sour pineapple.
Ki’s Picks: a teenager run wild, no structure whatsoever. Is Ki practicing musical cubism by any chance?
- Crabbukkit: you just have to shake to the tunes of this song, or at least swing your eyes back and forth to the beats and the aged, tar-filled voice of K-Os.
- My Country: so Africa, so colorful, like a clam salad with sesame rice crackers
- BTSTU: listening to this song is like sucking a lollipop, sometimes you get antsy, sometimes the music nicely drips. The listener feels as if his own voice is echoing from the back of his head and not some external sound penetrating the ears.
- Hard to Get around the Wind: appropriate while sitting on the bus looking at the trees run backwards, or while lying on a riverbank waiting for the sunlight to fade. Listen to the singer breathing the notes, emptily and emotionlessly dropping the lyrics, you’d find that everything is meaningless after all.
- Armored Scarves: a lofty beginning, followed by a drum stampede that has nothing to do with it. This is yet another example of the characteristic flamboyance in Ki’s picks this time, the kind of summer downpours that aren’t enough to wet the ground but enough to soak people’s shirts and make them sneeze. Simply put, this song gives an impression.
- Calgary: I like it . Sweet and lingering like a cup of chrysanthemum tea.
- Oh Annie: a song with the fragrance of a black-and-white romance, kind of like Sabrina of 1954.