Gotye – Making Mirrors

Gotye - Making MirrorsRapidly gaining notice outside of his native Australia, Gotye is yet another one of these artists who plays and sings nearly everything himself, and produces his own material as well. Originally starting out with a heavy reliance on sampling, Gotye has managed to emerge as an musician with originality and a style not unlike something I’ve been missing for a while: it certainly doesn’t hurt that, when the man lets rip vocally, he sounds like Peter Gabriel at the height of his powers, or late-Police-era/Dream Of The Blue Turtles-era Sting. Put that voice together with a quirky approach to instrumentation and you’ve got a pretty potent brew that’s hit the top of the charts in Australia and New Zealand, and might well do some damage elsewhere in the world.

The single that brought Gotye to everyone’s notice (mine included) was “Somebody That I Used To Know”, a song that’s uncompromisingly Gabriel-esque in its execution (and the striking-but-not-flashy video’s not a million miles away from the groundbreaking stuff that a younger Pete used to do, either). Featuring a guest vocal from New Zealand jazz singer Kimbra, it’s a handy jumping-on point for those unfamiliar with Gotye. The rest of the album isn’t necessarily just like it, but with songs that walk deftly between such well-defined genres as techno and reggae, we shouldn’t be expecting any two Gotye songs to be alike: this guy clearly loves to kick down the barriers that common sense and received wisdom tell us should exist between these styles of music, and the result is startlingly original cutting-edge rock.

Much of the album is sunnier than the somewhat angsty “Somebody That I Used To Know”, but it’s no less listenable. “State Of The Art” is as close as Making Mirrors gets to revisiting “Somebody”‘s dark feel, relying on samples, spoken word, and instrumentation that doesn’t normally get paired together. It’s a stranger specimen than “Somebody”, but it’s still listenable and re-listenable. The echoing “Smoke And Mirrors” and the low-key, atmospheric “Giving Me A Chance” Gotye has some fairly daring ideas on what kind of percussion and 4 out of 4instrumentation to use – it’s innovative and unconventional, but not alienating. Which really sums up the album as a whole.

Go ahead and give Gotye a listen. I think this one’s going to wind up being on a lot of people’s “new discoveries” lists for 2012, and I for one plan to also put him on the “track down his older stuff and watch closely for what he does in the future” list.

Order this CD

  1. Making Mirrors (1:01)
  2. Easy Way Out (1:57)
  3. Somebody That I Used To Know featuring Kimbra (4:04)
  4. Smoke And Mirrors (5:13)
  5. I Feel Better (3:18)
  6. In Your Light (4:39)
  7. State Of The Art (5:15)
  8. Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You (3:18)
  9. Giving Me A Chance (2:56)
  10. Save Me (3:53)
  11. Bronte (3:18)

Released by: Eleven
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 38:52

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Tim Finn – The View Is Worth The Climb

The View Is Worth The ClimbA new solo album that put the lie to Split Enz co-founder Tim Finn’s claims that he was done with his solo career, The View Is Worth The Climb is a welcome, if slightly subdued, new chapter of that career.

A little over ten years ago, Tim Finn was railing against turning 50 by turning out throat-thrashing, experimental albums that dipped their toes into electronica and yet were still a great listen. Now staring down the barrel of 60, he’s mining his material from the almost-normal home life that eluded him for so long, and it’s translating into pleasant listening that’s solidly in middle-of-the-road rock territory rather than actively looking for barriers to break down; it’s no accident that the album’s first track is “The Everyday.”

The lead single “Going Going Gone” is an apt opening act for The View Is Worth The Climb, demonstrating the album’s acoustic-leaning sound and hopeful lyrics. The only tracks that even threaten to break the album’s mid-tempo groove are “Wild Sweet Children” and “Can’t Be Found”, and those are really only a faster flavor of mid-tempo. My two favorite tracks, “Certain Way” and “Keep Talking”, dispense a bit with the carefree tone of the rest of the album, and the latter of the two almost has a ’70s AM radio groove going on.

3 out of 4Overall, The View Is Worth The Climb is a very pleasant listen, if not necessarily one that’ll get everyone out of their seats to dance. Laid-back and relaxing, it’s a nice bonus round of new music from someone who – as of his career-spanning retrospective just a couple of years ago – said he was ducking out of the studio for a while.

Order this CD

  1. The Everyday (3:13)
  2. The View Is Worth The Climb (3:57)
  3. Going Going Gone (3:49)
  4. All This And More (3:59)
  5. Wild Sweet Children (4:13)
  6. Everybody’s Wrong (3:16)
  7. Can’t Be Found (3:40)
  8. Opposite Sign (4:07)
  9. People Like Us (4:06)
  10. Certain Way (3:39)
  11. Keep Talking (3:49)

Released by: ABC Music
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 41:38

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8 Bit Weapon – Bits With Byte

Bits With ByteLogging in with the first full-album-length effort since the remixed Confidential 2.0, chiptune duo 8 Bit Weapon proves why it’s still practically the dictionary definition of this genre of music (i.e. “Chiptune music – you know, like 8 Bit Weapon”). It’s not enough to just slam the sounds (or samples) of old game machines together; there’s got to be a memorable tune under it. The earliest era of video game music turned out several hummable earworms despite the limitations of the day, and 8 Bit Weapon “gets” that. There’s always a tune behind the tech, and one often suspects the songs are strong enough to survive being transferred to more “traditional” instrumentation. (Now there’s an idea for a tribute album.)

The sound is so old-school that, halfway through Bits With Bytes’ 18 tracks, one can imagine a “side one/side two” break (for those of you old enough to remember turning over the record or tape). The first nine songs are brand-new numbers, all instrumentals, with “The Art Of Video Games Anthem” (accompanying an upcoming exhibit at the Smithsonian), “We Fight For The Users”, “Escape From Xenon” and “Galactic Invasion” emerging as highlights. The title track is no slouch either (check out the official video below the jump at the bottom of the review). I got a kick out of the actual recording of a typically noisy, disk-drive-rattling Apple II boot-up (oh, the memories…) at the beginning of “Apple Core II”. There are enough melodic hooks here – or, at the very least, interestingly unconventional musical ideas – to keep you going for a while.

Starting with the tenth track, some of 8 Bit Weapon’s older material is revisited, with a positively hyperkinetic remix of “Closer” from the Electric High EP. Appropriately titled “Closer 2.0”, it’s definitely an upgrade. A revised “Micro Boogie” (one of my all-time favorites by this group) follows, though the differences may take a couple of listens to spot. The 8 Bit Bandit remix of “Closer” and the Sanxion7 remix of “Chip On Your Shoulder” (another revised Electric High number) substantially rearrange the DNA of the originals to make completely unique versions of each – again, this version of “Chip” may be superior to the original.

Demo versions of “Bits With Byte”, “The Art Of Video Games Anthem” and “Galactic Invasion” round things off; some artists demos show a striking difference in sound and production quality, but these instead offer a snapshot of the arrangements of each song in flux, not quite having landed on their final versions. Another new tune, “Vic XX”, closes things out nicely.

4 out of 4I’m normally the first person to call shenanigans when almost half of a purportedly new album consists of older material, but here at least the material has been polished to an even higher shine than the originals – sort of like they’re in HD now. All of it’s worth a listen, especially if you don’t partake of 8 Bit Weapon’s shorter EPs (note: if you’re actually doing that, you’re depriving yourself of even more good stuff).

Order

  1. Bits with Byte (3:01)
  2. Galactic Invasion (3:03)
  3. Apple Core II (1:57)
  4. The Art of Video Games Anthem (3:12)
  5. Miami Dub Bounce (2:39)
  6. We Fight for the Users (3:05)
  7. Drive Grinder (3:11)
  8. Escape from Xenon (3:08)
  9. Goodbye Cochise (1:36)
  10. Closer 2.0 (2:45)
  11. Micro Boogie 2.0 (3:45)
  12. Chip On Your Shoulder (Electric High Mix) (3:20)
  13. Closer (8 Bit Bandit Remix) (6:02)
  14. Chip On Your Shoulder (Sanxion7 Remix) (3:30)
  15. Bits with Byte Demo (2:54)
  16. The Art Of Video Games Anthem Demo (3:16)
  17. Galactic Invasion Demo (2:54)
  18. Vic XX (3:18)

Released by: 8 Bit Weapon
Release date: 2012
Total running time: 56:36

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Peter Gabriel – New Blood

Peter Gabriel - New BloodPicking up conceptually where the too-tame orchrstral cover album Scratch My Back left off, Peter Gabriel’s follow-up is another orchestral cover album, this time drawing from Gabriel’s own back catalog. I was so unimpressed with Scratch My Back that I elected not to review it here (in a nutshell: Gabriel’s cover of Paul Simon’s “Boy In Then Bubble” was the only track I bother to revisit since the first listen), so the thought of Gabriel giving his own material the same treatment didn’t excite me: would he pick the right songs? Would he saddle them with uninspired, Scratch My Back-style arrangements?

And yet some of Gabriel’s music just oozes widescreen majesty. Surely translation into a symphonic idiom could only expand on that… right?

Well… yes and no. Gabriel is working with the same arranger with whom he collaborated on Scratch My Back here, so it’s hit or miss. “Rhythm Of The Heat” is pretty typical of the album as a whole”: for the most part it’s a competent enough translation of the original version of the song, but adds nothing new except a swap-out of rock instruments for orchestral instruments. It’s unadventurous. That description applies to many of the album’s covers. Very few songs break the mold and make me go “wow” – “Intruder” is a good example of this, taking the (already disturbing) original song and reshaping it into an unnerving piece of horror movie music – but most fall into the spineless category. Worse yet, Gabriel’s voice isn’t capable of the acrobatics he could pull off in his younger years, stripping even more of the “oomph” from the songs as he tones the vocals down along with the instruments.

If you’re detecting a recurring theme here, aside from “this could have been so much better,” you’re not imagining things. Peter Gabriel is a maker of mind-expanding, widescreen music. It’s not for nothing that he’s scored movies before (Birdy, The Last Temptation Of Christ), and it’s not for nothing that he was selected to assemble the world-music-rock-opera for London’s Millennium Dome (OVO). And yet New Blood seems to sap the blood from the same songs that made me a Peter Gabriel fan in the first place.

Maybe what this album needed was some TLC from someone who actually does soundtracks, rather than the same numbingly dull approach as Scratch My Back. Bear McCreary of Battlestar Galactica soundtrack fame, who is credited by a lot of that show’s fans for exposing them to new and different styles of music, would have knocked this out of the park and (excuse the pun) straight into orbit, fusing orchestral and ethnic music with ease.

2 out of 4I hope Peter Gabriel resumes his more traditional style of music for whatever he releases next. The songs selected for New Blood were enthralling in their original versions because they were so unconventional. New Blood squandered the opportunity to expand on those songs by make them not just convention, but watered-down shadows of their former selves.

Order this CD

    Disc One – Vocals

  1. The Rhythm Of The Heat (5:41)
  2. Downside Up (3:52)
  3. San Jacinto (6:58)
  4. Intruder (5:07)
  5. Wallflower (6:25)
  6. In Your Eyes (7:13)
  7. Mercy Street (5:59)
  8. Red Rain (5:15)
  9. Darkness (6:10)
  10. Don’t Give Up (6:40)
  11. Digging In The Dirt (4:57)
  12. The Nest That Sailed The Sky (3:54)
  13. A Quiet Moment (4:48)
  14. Solsbury Hill (4:35)
    Disc Two – Instrumentals

  1. The Rhythm Of The Heat (instrumental) (5:41)
  2. Downside Up (instrumental) (3:52)
  3. San Jacinto (instrumental) (7:12)
  4. Intruder (instrumental) (5:06)
  5. Wallflower (instrumental) (6:24)
  6. In Your Eyes (instrumental) (7:13)
  7. Mercy Street (instrumental) (6:00)
  8. Red Rain (instrumental) (5:15)
  9. Darkness (instrumental) (6:10)
  10. Don’t Give Up (instrumental) (6:40)
  11. Digging In The Dirt (instrumental) (4:58)
  12. The Nest That Sailed The Sky (instrumental) (3:54)
  13. The Blood Of Eden (instrumental) (6:05)

Released by: RealWorld
Release date: 2011
Disc one total running time: 77:34
Disc two total running time: 74:30

Ben Folds / Nick Hornby: Lonely Avenue

Ben Folds / Nick Hornby: Lonely AvenueEver since this album was first announced as a project where Folds would be putting Hornby’s words to music, one question kept running through my head: since when does Ben Folds need help coming up with lyrics for story songs? I mean, the man has practically assumed the story-song-writer throne abdicated by Billy Joel, and almost all of his output is a story song of one kind or another. I mean, if you’re going to have help, you might as well have help from an award-winning novelist, but… Ben Folds needs an assist writing story songs? Really?

As it so happens, it’s not such a bad deal. Folds and Hornby have a mutual admiration society going on, so they’re on each other’s wavelength. And there are some great results from that collaboration, even though at its heart, Lonely Avenue lives up to its name – it’s a bit of a bummer of an album. At the very least, a lot of the songs deal with relationships fraught with mistakes; zoom in a little bit further, and quite a few of them concern themselves with infidelity of one kind or another. Lonely Avenue isn’t the sunniest album to arrive in the past year.

Not that this means there isn’t some great music on there. The highlight of the album is “Password”, which starts out painting its protagonist in a slightly creepy, stalker-ish light as he guesses his way through his significant other’s passwords. His confidence that he knows everything about her vanishes as soon as he gets far enough to figure out that – surprise, surprise – there’s another man. The dramatic payoff is nicely handled musically, and the rest of it is just a gorgeous song with some of the best vocal harmonies anyone recorded in 2010.

A close runner-up for the great harmonizing award goes to “Claire’s Ninth”, which deals with a child of divorced parents wishing she could have “two birthdays” like all of her friends, as opposed to the awkward event that she’s putting up with where various family members are barely maintaining civility.

Somewhat more raucous are songs like “Your Dogs” (a litany of complaints sung to a white-trash neighbor) and the other highlight of the album, “Levi Johnston’s Blues”, chronicling what was likely going through the mind of Bristol Palin’s boyfriend at about the time her mother was announced as a vice-presidential candidate. Its hilarious, not-safe-for-work lyrics are surprisingly apolitical – by the end of the song, no one mentioned in the lyrics really comes across as an angel, not even Johnston himself. And in places, despite the hard-driving chorus, the song is surprisingly pretty.

4 starsOverall, the music is great, and the lyrics are unusually dark – and yes, I do know that I’m talking about someone who once spun a radio hit out of a story about taking his then-girlfriend to get an abortion. Folds has never shied away from heavier lyrical material (and I love him for it), but Hornby’s words seem to lack the deft wit that Folds has used in crafting lyrics before – ironic, since the author of books such as “High Fidelity” isn’t without a sense of humor himself. Lonely Avenue is a lovely ride into some not-so-uplifting territory – music to go along with a rainy day.

Order this CD

  1. A Working Day (1:50)
  2. Picture Window (3:42)
  3. Levi Johnston’s Blues (5:15)
  4. Doc Pomus (4:13)
  5. Your Dogs (3:23)
  6. Practical Amanda (3:52)
  7. Claire’s Ninth (3:49)
  8. Password (5:21)
  9. From Above (4:04)
  10. Saskia Hamilton (3:09)
  11. Belinda (6:13)

Released by: Nonesuch
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 44:51

Malibu – Robo Sapiens

Malibu - Robo SapiensEver since I heard the TV Eyes album a few years ago, I’ve been pining for more from that particular side project. Given that it’s a side project for Jellyfish alumni Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Jason Falkner, and Manning’s occasional collaborator Brian Reitzell, it’s a given that it might be a while before we hear these busy musicians reform TV Eyes. Little did I know that Manning and his cohorts basically followed up on that album under a different name, only a year later!

Malibu is a pseudonym for Manning, and Robo Sapiens is Malibu’s debut album of heavily-’80s-influenced dance pop. This isn’t normally a genre I’d spend too much time with, but as with TV Eyes, Manning’s own leanings make sure that the ’80s influence is worn on Malibu’s sleeve for all to see. The opening track, “Yesteryear”, kicks in with arpeggiating keyboards and echoplexed guitar licks courtesy of Jason Falkner, and the retro synths are the real deal, restored for these sessions. It sounds like it should be the background music for a kick-ass TV sports montage.

Other highlights include “Rubber Tubes”, “German Oil” and “Parisian Nights”, latter of which takes a very circa-1980 sound and then flirts with chiptunes in the same track; there are quite a few songs with lyrics here, but almost all of the lyrics are processed through a vocoder or some other means of creating a robotic sound. The best example of this is “Please Don’t Go”, though there are plenty of others. For those looking for a solid TV Eyes connection, there’s an extended version of “She Gets Around” here, which fits in perfectly with the sound of the rest of the album.

3 out of 4Now that we know that these boys aren’t averse to revisiting the ’80s just for the pure musical fun of it, I all but demand a repeat engagement – whether as TV Eyes or as Malibu. Manning and friends have managed to distill all that was cool about ’80s music into two very cool projects. Let’s go for the trifecta.

Order this CD

  1. Yesterday (5:34)
  2. The Bounce (6:19)
  3. German Oil (6:18)
  4. Sidekicks (7:12)
  5. She Gets Around (6:21)
  6. Rubber Tubes (5:33)
  7. Parisian Nights (5:09)
  8. Animal Lovin’ Ken (6:11)
  9. Time To Time (5:05)
  10. D.I.E.T. (6:31)
  11. Please Don’t Go (4:20)

Released by: Expansion Team
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 64:33

He Will Have His Way: The Songs Of Tim and Neil Finn

He Will Have His WayRight around the time the last Finn Brothers album came out (which has been too long ago, Tim and Neil), a tribute album appeared, recasting several Split Enz, Finn Brothers, Crowded House and Finn solo numbers with all-female (or mostly-female-with-female-vocalists) acts. It was an interesting exercise in how some of these songs could take on a completely different meaning depending on who was singing them to whom. (Some of the artists involved gender-switched the lyrics, and some performed the songs as written.) Now, several years later, we get to find out how the other half’s been living with an all-male tribute album.

Given that all of the source material was originally performed by all-male groups of one kind or another, it seems like there’s something a little less challenging about the concept behind He Will Have His Way, but it’s at least interesting to hear what’s happened to the chosen songs in translation.

The most interesting reinterpretations are Boy & Bear’s version of “Fall At Your Feet”, which starts out sounding a bit ominous before gradually turning into a more traditional (but still oddly foreboding) band jam, and the very dialed-back, one-man-and-an-electric-guitar rendition of “Distant Sun” by Chris Cheney. “Better Be Home Soon” is heard in two very different forms here, a reading fairly close to the original (but decidedly country-fried) by Busby Marou and a glam dance floor groove by The Sleepy Jackson (an interesting style choice that seems to fly in the face of the song’s lyrics) with actually seems to ditch the tune of the original.

The Split Enz songs in the mix get some interesting twists, from the epic-jokey read of “Shark Attack” to Jimmy Barnes’ throat-ripping but pitch-perfect rendition of “Message To My Girl”. Perry Keyes’ stripped-down, rootsy version of the sci-fi-themed “Poor Boy” is surprisingly effective. Art vs. Science’s take on “I See Red” is slightly modernized, but not by much. Strangely, the Philadelphia Grand Jury cover of “I Got You” strips some of the catchiness out of the tune that finally propelled the Enz toward the top of the charts. The solo careers of the Finns wind up low on the priority list: Neil’s “Addicted” and Tim’s “Not Even Close” are the only solo songs covered here, with both cover versions staying close to home. The only Finn Brothers song proper is a raucous cover of “Kiss The Road Of Rarotonga”.

3 out of 4As disconcerting as The Sleepy Jackson’s cover of “Better Be Home Soon” is, it’s a glimpse into something I would’ve appreciated hearing a bit more of here: some serious stylistic diversion from the original songs. She Will Have Her Way seemed to have a little more freedom here just because there was already enough of a culture shock with the all-female concept; He Will Have His Way hews too close to the originals in many cases. But everything is nicely done, and some of these acts have jumped toward the top of my “check out their other stuff” list.

Order this CD

  1. I Feel Possessed performed by Oh Mercy (3:15)
  2. Distant Sun performed by Chris Cheney (3:29)
  3. Fall At Your Feet performed by Boy & Bear (4:31)
  4. Four Seasons In One Day performed by Paul Kelly & Angus Stone (4:18)
  5. She Got Body, She Got Soul performed by Glenn Richards (3:02)
  6. Addicted performed by Paul Dempsey (4:09)
  7. Message To My Girl performed by Jimmy Barnes (4:34)
  8. I See Red performed by Art vs. Science (4:01)
  9. I Got You performed by Philadelphia Grand Jury (3:12)
  10. Better Be Home Soon performed by The Sleepy Jackson (4:35)
  11. Private Universe performed by Artisan Guns (4:15)
  12. Not Even Close performed by Darren Hayes (4:06)
  13. Shark Attack performed by The Break with Dan Sultan (4:32)
  14. Poor Boy performed by Perry Keyes (3:49)
  15. Better Be Home Soon performed by Busby Marou (3:49)
  16. Kiss The Road Of Rarotonga performed by Kody Nelson (3:11)

Released by: EMI
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 62:48