“I just don’t believe in telling someone ‘You’re straight, you’re gay.” You are whatever you are. I’m a child of the ‘80s. I have so many friend that are bi, I believe people can be that if the environment is right. I’m not saying if I am or not. I don’t bother to narrow it down. You fall in love with people.”
On the same day that Penguin Prison releases his debut album, former Fall Out Boy frontman Patrick Stump will introduce a higher-profile debut called Soul Punk — an album that is inexplicably drawing comparisons to Michael Jackson and Kanye West. In reality, Stump took his predictable falsetto and imposed it over a handful of tested R&B tropes. But it's "soulful" largely because he told you it was.
Aside from appearing in a handful of high school plays with his performing arts school classmate Alicia Keys, Chris Glover doesn't have many names to drop or superstar cards to pull, but that's no matter. Penguin Prison succeeds in ways that Stump hasn't quite figured out yet: It's referential without replication. It channels the same '80s R&B that drives Soul Punk without being consumed by it. It tells us more about Glover than what his favorite Prince album is. Outside of the occasional nod to Quincy Jones, we also know this a New York album — equal parts Arthur Russell and early Madonna — and gratefully, it's much harder to cite the references where Glover strays. So while it's possible that he loves Blancmange or that first Badly Drawn Boy album, you'll never put your finger on it.
Which is kind of the point: That Penguin Prison is slippery like that is one of the reasons why tracks like "Don't F*ck With My Money" and "Fair Warning" work in the same way that most great pop singles do. To be faithful without being uncomfortably familiar is the mark of a real soul punk.
Before there was dubstep, there was just plain dub. But somewhere in between there was Massive Attack — a UK collective that brilliantly merged dub characteristics with hip-hop breakbeats and sample-heavy house fundamentals. This week, a two-song collaboration between Massive Attack and dubstep pioneer Burial emerged: "Four Walls" is a dark ambient soundscape that demands patience and rewards accordingly, while "Paradise Circus" is an ethereally reworked version of the track from Massive Attack's recent Heligoland LP. A limited edition 12" of the songs is already sold out.
Robyn isn't quite done with Body Talk just yet: The singer will appear as a musical guest for the Ellen Degeneres Show on October 20, where she'll perform "Call Your Girlfriend."
Sissy bounce ambassador (and undisputed queen) Big Freedia is teaming up with Spank Rock for the Check Yo Ponytail tour, which begins on October 20 in Los Angeles and runs cross-country through November. Also just released: a Flinch remix of Freedia's "Excuse" that somehow manages to add even more bass.
This week's crucial streaming: Lykke Li resurfaces with this haunting new version of the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody." Diplo and Switch have not abandoned their Major Lazer project, and they're leaking demos for their new album to prove it: "Original Don" is one of the tracks up for consideration. And the Cure's Robert Smith makes an appearance on "Come To Me," a new song from UK post-rockers 65DaysOfStatic. Smith's vocal is more filtered and fractured than pushed up front, but the result is sublime.
Death Cab For Cutie have announced the new Keys and Codes: Remix EP — a companion piece to their excellent Codes and Keys album released earlier this year. They're revealing the tracks in succession over at this mini-site, where you can listen to remixes by Cut Copy and The 2 Bears now.
Radiohead are seemingly everywhere these days, but here's a new way to listen to them: Thom Yorke recently stopped by London's Boiling Room for a 30-minute DJ set, and it's available for download now.
SOUND & VISION:
Tayisha Busay — "Nothing's Happening"
Focus/Virus, the debut album by Tayisha Busay out on Amazon and iTunes today, brings the Brooklyn trio out of the queer-pop underground and into a new light: The new record is sophisticated and insanely hooky, while the aesthetic evokes everything from Kylie Minogue to Kraftwerk — without the fragmented quality of a band that's trying too hard. Not that they've lost their sense of humor: "Nothing's Happening" employs Girl Talk visual artist and video director Thu Tran for an unabashedly campy dose of neon graffiti.
M83 — "Midnight City"
One of this week's must-hear new releases, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming — the latest album from M83 — is the kind of 21-song double-album that words like "epic" were created to describe. Lead single "Midnight City" is indicative of the record's grand gestures, and the video is no less absorbing. Because it's always a good idea to let loose a bunch of kids with psychokinetic powers in an abandoned factory with a camera crew.
The Saturdays — "My Heart Takes Over"
You can't fault them for trying, and with "My Heart Takes Over" — the latest from their forthcoming third album On Your Radar — The Saturdays get that much closer to snatching Sugababes' UK girl-pop crown. It's the third single, so, you know, this is the one where they show you they're all sensitive and stuff. But surprisingly, it works.
Fanfarlo — "Deconstruction"
It's only been a couple of weeks since Fanfarlo released the video for "Replicate" — the lead single from their as-yet-untitled second album. In some ways, the follow-up clip, "Deconstruction," is that video's opposite: It's more of an uptempo indie pop song filtered through a tongue-in-cheek highbrow concept — as if Derrida showed up to direct a Joe Jackson video.
Basement JaxxBasement Jaxx vs. Metropole Orkest (Atlantic Jaxx)
Basement Jaxx aren't the first electronic artists to go the orchestral route, but they may very well be the first of their kind. While it's true that Carl Craig performed with the Les Siecles Orchestra in 2008, and that the classical imprint Deutsche Grammophon continues to commission artists like Matthew Herbert, Moritz von Oswald, and Ricardo Villalobos to remix original pieces by Dvorák and Ravel, among others, the perception of these artists' strand of electronic music is one that arbitrarily links them to a grand tradition of European music. In fact, Detroit and Berlin's techno scenes have yielded a kind of critical response that surreptitiously implies some sort of heightened artistic merit, and when bands like Radiohead or Depeche Mode align themselves with the style as they often do, credence is added to the notion that techno is "serious music." London's Basement Jaxx — who draw their influences from disco, R&B, and '90s Chicago underground and acid house — have not enjoyed such allusions in their career, but it's not for a lack of depth: Far from the MPC & 303 style of house that inspired them, Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe have produced countless club-sized epics with complex arrangements that demand a minimum ten-piece band for their live shows, and on Basement Jaxx vs. Metropole Orkest, the duo take it one step further, carving out a career retrospective with the help of a 60-piece orchestra and 20-person choir. Metropole Orkest arranger Jules Buckley, who has worked with everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Antony & the Johnsons, speaks to the compositional value of Basement Jaxx's discography by doing little to alter the original arrangements for developed works like "Good Luck" and "Raindrops" — thereby strengthening the suggestion that this duo's musicality was orchestra-ready from the start. But it's what happens to classic club tracks like "Red Alert" and "Bingo Bango" that reveals an otherwise hidden, or at least sadly under-appreciated truism about Chicago house music: Just because it sounds simple doesn't make it so.
After 20 years as the lead singer for the internationally renown heavy metal act Life Of Agony, Keith Caputo has confirmed that she is currently transitioning and living life as a woman. "I'm a completely different human being," she explained on a recent heavy metal Internet radio program. "I have a very different path in life. I'm not living life as a man anymore." Having recently updated her Twitter handle to "Keith Mina Caputo," the announcement follows a solo album in 2008 that featured images of androgyny, as well as a music video released in December that ostensibly tackles some of the feelings that preceded the transition. Make sure to watch it below.
Following years of speculation, both Rilo Kiley and New Order have made their splits official. Neither one is particularly amicable: According to guitarist Blake Sennett, Rilo Kiley succumbed to "deception, disloyalty, greed, and things I don't really want to submit myself to," while Peter Hook called New Order "a bunch of fat old men arguing." Bernard Sumner, meanwhile, lays the blame on Hook: "We've spent all our life as an outfit with principles and ideals and what Peter has done goes against everything we've stood for."
Austra's Katie Stelmanis is quickly becoming one of the most talked-about out musicians working today: Her band recently performed live in the studio for the Guardian, while new reworks of Austra's music have surfaced from MNDR and Kool Thing. Austra's latest remix collection, Sparkle — which also features work by Mark Pistel, Planningtorock, and Steffi — is released next week.
Punk pioneer and musclebear DJ hero Bob Mould put together a playlist of recent rock and electronic picks for SPIN this week. Among them: Toro Y Moi side project Les Sins, the lo-fi retro pop of Dum Dum Girls, and synthpop revivalist Fear of Tigers.
Here's something disconcerting: In a recent interview, when asked about her future, Lykke Li went suspiciously vague: "Life is different phases, and it's always evolving, so I'll definitely reach another stage in my life and that can bring me to other territories," she said. "Maybe I won't be making the same music, or maybe I won't be making music at all."
This week's Rdio playlist was inspired by Basement Jaxx, and more specifically, by the musical style they both drew from and influenced. It's not a geographical thing — there are artists from Chicago, London, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle here — but more of an aesthetic honed in on by DJs like Derrick Carter and Sneak, both of whom, not coincidentally, make cameos on Basement Jaxx's debut album Remedy. I'd call it a Chicago–influenced house mix, but Derrick Carter might call it "boompty" — a piece of tautological coinage he uses to describe the particular swing of the beat and its unmitigated focus on the bass. I like that word, too.
These tracks span from the last 15 years, with a few coming out of the same time as Basement Jaxx's debut single in the mid-'90s. A few other interesting notes: Solid Groove, who opens the mix, is the proper house pseudonym for future M.I.A. and Beyoncé collaborator Switch. Soul Mekanik are actually acid house vets Danny Spencer and Kelvin Andrews, who were also known as Sure is Pure in the early '90s and went on to write and produce for Robbie Williams. And Derrick Carter himself appears with a much-loved remix of a tweaked out Berlin techno track that became a Chicago house classic under his guidance. The playlist's finale is one of my own personal favorites, and a track I used to play consistently in my past life as a DJ in Chicago and San Francisco: Oil's "The Future" still stands up eleven years after it was first released.
SOUND & VISION:
Keith Caputo — "Got Monsters"
After her coming out as transgender, it seemed only right that we take a belated look at Keith Mina Caputo's "Got Monsters" — an 11-minute clip that examines the internal experience of a conflicted gender identity, and one that we likely didn't realize was so personal when it premiered late last year. In light of Mina's recent announcement, its added resonance is truly powerful.
Teddybears — "Cho-Cha" (feat. Cee-Lo & The B-52s)
Teddybears is the longtime rock project of Swedish producer and songwriter Klas Åhlund, who's work with Robyn, Kylie Minogue, and Ke$ha you are most likely familiar with. On the latest single from Devil's Music, the band teams up with Cee-Lo Green and the B-52s for this summer's stalker anthem — and Fred Schneider never sounded more deliciously sinister.
Big Freedia — "Excuse"
New Orleans bounce queen Big Freedia returns with the second clip from her Scion A/V Presents Big Freedia EP and a super charming video concept that couldn't be more perfect. Basically, it's the best workout ever.
Take That — "When We Were Young"
The synth-based club aesthetic of last year's Progress takes a backseat to the pleasurable return of pop-rock balladry on Take That's latest single, and it could be a sketch for what's to come: Having cleared out the vaults with this month's Progressed EP, the band have already begun writing for a new album. As for "When We Were Young," it's hard to invoke pathos for a group of guys that became one of the world's biggest bands by slathering jelly all over each other's bodies as teenagers, but this song might do the trick.
Introducing your new record by citing later–era Talk Talk as an influence — like Wild Beasts did earlier this year— is a somewhat tenuous set-up: Albums like Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock were nonpareil for their time; it can be safe to assert that Talk Talk was the only band from the 1980s to follow up three well-received synthpop records with two albums of free-jazz inspired orchestral ambient music — and artistically succeed. The parallels in this case, then, are more psychic than anything: Smother is an album that revels in creating environments and moods, and — like Talk Talk — singers Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming find meaning in the space between the notes, their androgynous falsettos becoming as much a part of the tapestry as the band's deliberately sparse and uneasy arrangements. But while Wild Beasts are certainly easy on the ears, Smother is not quite easy listening — and in that sense, the band has adopted the most crucial ethos that ultimately validates the preemptive comparison: Beauty teems from this elegant tension, and you are unlikely to hear anything else like it this year.
The first documentary film about the life of the late Elliott Smith screened in Los Angeles over the weekend, and its coup is the participation of Smith's last girlfriend, Jennifer Chiba, who is speaking about him for the first time since 2003, when the singer-songwriter died of a self-inflicted knife wound. Despite the cries of conspiracists who believe Chiba actually killed Smith — and the objections to her participation by Elliott's family — director Gil Reyes insists her contribution is crucial to the film: "Here you can actually look in her eyes and determine for yourself if she's telling the truth or not."
Following a month where we lost Poly Styrene and TV on the Radio's Gerard Smith to cancer, it has been announced that Decemberists keyboard player Jenny Conlee has been diagnosed with breast cancer. "There are still a few unknowns out there concerning my cancer," she writes in a message posted to the band's site, "but I am thinking positive and hope to be back on the road soon."
Before he was Vin Diesel, he was Mark Sinclair — an aspiring rapper and breakdancer in New York City. In itself, that's not too bizarre! But this week, the story got stranger: In 1986, Captain Beefheart collaborator Gary Lucas discovered the young Sinclair rapping on a West Village street and teamed him up with legendary disco and experimental rock musician Arthur Russell for an aborted recording session bankrolled by Rough Trade Records. Now, thanks to Lucas, there is MP3 evidence.
After 25 years of performing and producing, legendary Chicago house DJ Derrick Carter finally gets his due in the gay press. The Advocate ran a feature interview with Carter this week, where the artist explained his under-the-radar status: "[These days], a lot of gay audiences want to hear pop remixes. That's fine if they want to hear that, but that's not what I do."
Nomi Ruiz made her mark as a featured vocalist with Hercules & Love Affair; today, she is prepping her debut album with Jessica 6 for the esteemed Peacefrog label. Our first taste of See The Light is "Prisoner of Love" — a nu-disco, proto-house duet between Ruiz and Antony Hegarty. The track is currently available as a free download HERE.
Arcade Fire reprised their cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" at this weekend's New Orleans Jazz Fest, but this time, Lauper came out to own it. She also stuck around to add vocals and lapsteel for a gorgeous version of Arcade Fire's "Sprawl II."
In an interview with the New York Times over the weekend The Lonely Island described themselves as "Real Beats, Fake MCs," but that's only half-true — an album like Turtlenecks & Chainssimply would not work if these guys couldn't actually rap. The "real beats" help, too: "Shy Ronnie 2: Ronnie & Clyde," for example, could have been a legitimate radio single if Rihanna wasn't singing about "boner alerts." Unfortunately, the album lands on a flat note with "No Homo" — a well-intentioned skewering of the ridiculous hip-hop disclaimer that devolves into I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry territory. It's not that such a song couldn't be funny; it's more that it just isn't.
The production trio of Magnetic Man — Benga, Skream, and Artwork — are probably best known at this point for introducing Katy B to the world, but their self-titled full-length artist album tells a more varied story: Dubstep may take its centerstage, but notes of drum-n-bass, UK garage, and even commercial pop add a more complex sense of dimension to the record. There's also a payoff at the end: Hearing John Legend's vibrato over a near–industrial dubstep track is more than vaguely pleasurable.
If there's anything disconcerting about Move Like This — the first new studio album from the Cars since 1987 — it's just how short these songs makes the last 24 years feel. Hearing "Keep On Knocking" for the first time is like taking "My Best Friend's Girl" out of cryogenics; "Free" does something similar for "Just What I Needed." Whether or not this reads as a good thing or a regressive misstep probably depends on how hard you've clutched onto your copy of Candy-O all these years.
I originally planned to include Star Slinger in last week's unsigned artists rundown, but I'm glad I held off: Check out the UK producer's euphoric take on Gold Panda's "Marriage" — from last year's excellent Lucky Shiner — and then download more of his hip-hop inspired laptop techno, some of it free, from the official Star Slinger Bandcamp page.
Lykke Li — "Sadness is a Blessing"
The third official single from Lykke Li's Wounded Rhymes finally gets the suitably upsetting video that a song with lyrics like "Sadness is my boyfriend / Oh, sadness I'm your girl" totally deserves! In addition to playing the foil for Li's unbearable sadness in this clip, Stellan Skarsgård is also currently starring in Thor. Which makes very little sense as I write it.
Cold Cave — "Villains of the Moon"
Earlier this year, New York's Cold Cave released Cherish the Light Years, their second album for Matador, to critical acclaim. Lead single "Villains of the Moon" — which gets a video this week — moves further away from the experimental leanings of the band's debut and shifts into a tense, gothic pop that would make a "Cuts You Up"–era Peter Murphy super proud.
Austra — "Lose It"
Immediate comparisons have been made to Florence + the Machine, and I'm not gonna lie: Austra's Katie Stelmanis shares some of Florence's eccentric art-pop tendencies. But stick it out with "Lose It" and you'll find something increasingly unique about the way Stelmanis' opera-trained vocal affectations elegantly float over this track's icy new wave exterior. It's a bona fide grower.
Katy B's 2010 single "Katy On A Mission" was one of dubstep's first real commercial success stories, but it was also a curious testament to the idea that the right chorus could turn even the most minimal of low-slung sub-bass-and-drum machine tracks into a Top 10 hit. For her debut album, On A Mission, Katy B stays loyal to the dubstep production team that introduced her — namely Geeneus, DJ Zinc, and Magnetic Man's Benga — but expands the sonic palette to include confident forays into funky house ("Movement"), UK garage ("Lights On") and big-room breakstep ("Witches Brew") while somehow maintaining a forceful underground aesthetic. The result is a diverse, albeit cohesive dance record befitting of Katy's London pirate radio beginnings — sans the hyperexclusivity. Which is to say that On A Mission is innovative, but not obscure; accessible, but with the door half-open.
Pet Shop Boys release their latest single today: "Together" is backed by new versions of the Dave Clark Five's "Glad All Over" and "I Cried For Us" — a song originally performed by Kate & Anna McGarrigle. Remixes by Grum and Ultrabeat round out the single's digital package, in addition to this remix of "Together" by Pepptalk — available for streaming below.
Back in March, Imogen Heap announced that her forthcoming fourth solo album would be a wide-scale collaborative effort with her fans: Using the SoundCloud platform, contributors sent in almost 800 samples and other source materials; the first result of which was released this week. "Lifeline" features the sonic contributions of 36 fans, and is available now as a free download. A paid digital bundle featuring artwork, instrumentals, and a video is also available from her site.
Mr. Cee is a certifiable hip-hop legend — the DJ for lyrical pioneer Big Daddy Kane, an executive producer and mentor to the Notorious B.I.G. So after last week, when Cee was arrested on public lewdness and indecent exposure charges with another man, the hip-hop community has been forced to deal with the homophobia among its ranks in an unprecedented way: "As Power 105's Charlamagne Tha God noted when he wasn't making light of the situation and turning it into grist for the ratings mill: 'The hip-hop community … is homophobic for no good reason; and this wouldn't even be an issue if he could be who he was, comfortably, without people judging him.'"
Feminist punk icon and X-Ray Spex founder Poly Styrene may be in the hospital fighting breast cancer, but she is determined to promote her first new album since 2004's Flower Aeroplane: "It keeps me going," she told the Guardian in a recent interview. Generation Indigo is out on April 26, but its first taste, "Thrash City," is streaming now.
Partners in life (and former Björk collaborators) Matmos have announced a new collaborative effort with new media artists Christopher Willits and Nate Boyce. The resulting group, called Boyce + Matmos + Willits will release a four-song EP on April 26 called Subconscious Attraction Strategies.
Lykke Li appeared on this week's episode of MTV Unplugged to perform stripped-down versions of a number of tracks from her new album, Wounded Rhymes, as well as a somewhat surprising cover of "Velvet" — the 2009 single by The Big Pink. "I felt there was a power ballad somewhere in there," she explained, "so I decided to bring it out." The entire show is streaming online now.
SOUND & VISION:
Death Cab for Cutie — "You Are A Tourist"
Death Cab for Cutie broke new ground this week when they announced that they'd be filming the video for the lead single to their new album in the form of a live broadcast on UStream. The final product — however it turned out — would be a permanent one, and lucky for them, it's absolutely stunning.
Shine 2009 feat. Paula Abdul — "So Free"
Here's one for the book of bizarre collaborations: Pop star and former American Idol judge Paula Abdul contributes a vocal to this retro-synth single by Finnish duo Shine 2009 and it actually kind of works! Unfortunately, Abdul sits out for the video, which — having been recorded to VHS cassette — boasts total nostalgic authenticity.
Owen Pallett — "The Great Elsewhere"
The latest single from Owen Pallett's third full-length album, Heartland, juxtaposes smartly orchestrated pop with lush, but minimal electronic soundscapes — the result as filmic as its panoramic video will attest. It's no wonder, then, that the Canadian songwriter/arranger will perform the entire album at the London Barbican with the Britten Sinfonia on May 8.
Hunx & His Punx — "Bad Boy"
The first video from their proper debut album, Too Young To Be In Love, is everything you could have hoped for in a Hunx & His Punx video: One-part late night cable access show, one-part episode of Sha Na Na, and one-part bonus scene from a John Waters movie — a zeitgeist trifecta if I've ever heard one.