Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Goddess

The brilliant Icelandic singer also know as Björk. Let me just start off by saying; I’m a huge and loyal fan. I think she’s one of the great musical geniuses of the last 25 years. At least in the world of rock. Not only is she an amazing songwriter, her voice has the ability to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I could write a ten-page essay on her, however I’ll keep it a bit shorter here. One thing that I find that she’s know around the world as “The chick who wore that swan outfit” by people who’ve never hear a note of her music. I’m also amazed by how popular she is, when I’d categorize her music as ‘challenging listening”. Especially her last couple of cds. This is not your father’s rock. I really admire her for all the chances she takes—every release is different than the one before it. Her music is constantly evolving and turning in new directions. She’s constantly exploring new sounds and pushes the envelope. And her voice is truly a marvel—she has incredible range, and her high-pitched scream is unique. I defy you to show me another singer with a sexier growl.

Björk gained her initial fame with the group Sugarcubes—a semi-punkish band that put out a string of catchy, infectious bunch of songs. Listening to them it was quite obvious that she would become a star and the rest of the band members would fade into obscurity. Her solo career began with the release of Gling-Glo, an album of Icelandic folk tunes performed by Björk with a jazz trio. It’s a refreshing recording with some outstanding music on it. In fact, even though it’s sung in Icelandic, her voice is so expressive, you can almost tell what she’s singing about. Then she released Debut, which is almost a greatest hits cd—every song on it is a gem. If you only buy one Björk cd, I would highly recommend it. My personal favorite is Vespertine. A dreamy, atmospheric recording that features a female choir from Greenland. It’s a heavenly, peaceful album that could have been composed and performed by angels. Listen to the song “Aurora” through headphones—it sounds like you’re standing in the middle of the choir. The engineering is so remarkable that there are a few times where it sound like voiced are coming from above you!

I won’t review all her recordings at this time, but I must say that each one gets more challenging to listen to. It took me three or four listens to “Volta” before I realized what a brilliant work it was. Listening to Björk around my house isn’t easy. I have to wait until I’m alone to put her music on. My wife tolerates her, and my two daughters can’t stand her. My wife’s observation is that all her songs sound like Björk. Is that a problem? I think it’s funny that list a number of “similar artists” under their biography of her when, in my opinion, there isn’t anybody that sounds like her. All I can say is there are two kinds of people in the world: those who get Björk and those who don’t. I sort of feel sorry for those who don’t.

Two examples of her brilliance:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Great Soundtrack to a Great Movie

I’m talking about the soundtrack to Slumdog Millionaire. It always bugs me when some producer’s idea of a soundtrack is to slap a dozen popular pop tunes together and try to fit them into the movie. I suspect it’s done largely to sell CDs. That’s not the case with Slumdog. It features an original score by A. R. Rahman and it really complements the movie perfectly. Actually I was pretty familiar with the music before seeing the movie. So it was interesting to see how the songs would tie in with the movie. The music is an interesting blend of hip-hop, traditional and popular Indian music, and Bollywood. The opening track sets the stage for the rest of the disc/movie. It almost sounds like a call to prayer with an army of percussion in the background. My favorite songs are “Planes” by M.I.A., which is a fun dancy number, and the absolutely gorgeous “Latika’s Theme”—it’s a wordless vocal song that’s heard every time the starring couple meets. It’s one of the most beautiful and moving love themes I’ve ever heard. I also enjoyed the catchy “Aaj Ki Raat”, one of the songs that are really hard to get out of your head. It’s a drum heavy dance tune with the incredible vocals of Alisha Chinoy—someone worth looking into. I’ve heard many other songs by her and they all quite good. The dance routine at the end of the movie also features an excellent up-tempo song, Lai Ho” that has proven to be another earworm for me. I’m not going to do a review of the movie, but lets just say I felt it deserved every Oscar it got. If you’re not familiar with popular Indian music, this CD is a good place to start. Two thumbs up!

Here's the dance routine at the end of the movie:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Montreal Strikes Again!

• These days, unbeknownst to many Americans, Montreal is a hotbed of progressive musical activity. This city is just pumping out great band after great band. Unfortunately, not a lot of them get any airplay here in the States. One more reason to stream CBC on your computers. HELLO! Get with the 00s already! You’re missing out on some great music. Especially Laurie Brown’s show “The Signal” which runs from 10:00 P.M. Eastern Time until 1 A.M. Anyway, I digress. The Montreal Scene was already pretty rich with new groups, and then here comes The High Dials. I really like this band. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the late 60s and early 70s musically. The High Dials are a sort of blend of the Byrds, Beatles, and the whole British Invasion. Plus a small smattering of psychedelic. The glorious 3Bs. If you enjoy pretty (guilty, caught me using that word again) harmonies, well crafted tunes and excellent musicianship, you will definitely like the High Dials. Peace!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Beautiful and free—hard to beat that combination

Some of you may be familiar with the music of Sigur Ros. (Sorry if I can’t figure out how to do the requisite Icelandic accent marks.) If you don’t like them, then you don’t need to read any further. This won’t interest you in the least. But do come back again. I’ve recently found a group that makes music on a similar plane as Sigur Ros—Azeda Booth. I guess the only word to describe their music is just “pretty”. I know, it’s a fairly pedestrian term, but I tend to use it a lot in judging a fair amount of music. This obscure group from Canada has a distinct sound. Layers upon layers of guitar and luscious vocals. The result is almost symphonic at times. And the best part for initiates is that you can hear a bunch of their tunes on their web site. What’s even better is you can download their EP from there as well. What’s to lose—especially for cheapskates like me? Visit:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Earworm of the Week

Lykke Li
“Little Bit”. Okay. I dare you. You listen to this tune and don’t have it stuck in your head for a week. Or two. It’s a totally stupid tune that hasn’t got a lot going for it. A singer, with a childish voice, a little bit of percussion behind it. And it’s become one of the biggest hits in Europe. What’s with those folks? Don’t they know any better? And her whole CD is great. I highly recommend it. It’s quirky, but it works. Have at it. I really like this woman/girl (I think she’s all of 19?) and I think she’s got an incredible career ahead of her. Lykke Li from Sweden. You’re gonna hear from this girl!

Prettiest music ever

Scala. One of the prettiest musical groups I've ever heard. Wow. This is a group of 16 year old female singers who do their versions of American rock tunes. It's amusing, and at times embarrassing, to hear them doing songs with filthy lyrics. However, their voices are incredible. I'm listening to their singing as I type and I must say that their music is some of the prettiest I've ever heard. Their music is breathtakingly beautiful. Just download their version of "Someone New". What an incredible feat. It's twice as emotional as the original by Heather Nova--which is a pretty cool tune.

They have a deal right now if you go to their website, you can download their latest cd for free. Here's the link:

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Delectable Duo

The music of Angus and Julia Stone reminds me a bit of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the stars of the brilliant film about the magic of songwriting, “Once”. Except this duo is a brother and sister team. That’s right…brother and sister. Now I don’t know about you, but I can just barely imagine playing on the same hockey team with my siblings, let alone write and perform songs with them. Yet these two talented musicians from Sydney, Australia create something special when they collaborate. Listening to their music is a languid stroll through a beautiful garden full of nuanced and pretty music. Okay, that’s perhaps laying it on a bit think. Lets just say their music has a quiet elegance to it. Is that better? Julia’s voice goes from twangy drawl to a warbling and child-like while Angus’s is soft and pure and almost Nick Drake-ish, if I may be so bold as to make the comparison. Their music is folky without really being folk music and is rich in storytelling. I dare you to NOT like the sounds of Angus and Julia.