The sweep of support for Occupy Wall Street seems to grow by the day. While we at PLANET certainly commend the force of the movement, from a relatively apolitical vantage the demonstrations have also proven to be a music lover’s dream. Certainly, music’s connection to protest is long established, and OWS is no different, with the hypnotic rhythms of drum circles and impromptu performances by protesters beaming out from Zuccotti Park at all hours. Meanwhile, high-profile artists, such as Talib Kweli (left) and Tom Morello, have graced the park with their presence, expressing their allegiance to the cause and, moreover, rallying the troops with some stellar sets. On that account, we have compiled our favorite performances during the past few weeks of Wall Street’s occupation. After the jump, check out music by Morello, Amanda Palmer, Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, and Michael Franti. Given the nature of the events, the recording quality can be inconsistent but the experience is no less inspiring.
These New York experimentalists have followed up their much loved debut Mirrored without de facto front-man Tyondai Braxton. And while Braxton’s absence certainly makes for a different experience on Gloss Drop, the trio confidently marches onward with the aid of electro-rock pioneer Gary Numan, Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, Boredoms’ Yamantaka Eye, and Chilean producer Matias Aguayo providing vocals. On “Ice Cream”, stilted guitars adorned with cartoon-y blips and beeps present a poppy revision of the group’s gonzo instrumentals from their earliest EPs. Meanwhile, Yamantaka Eye’s singing on “Sundome” marks perhaps the most surreal moment on the album — which is saying a lot, given Gloss Drop’s nonstop teeter toward chaos. Amid twinkling electronics, Eye’s almighty voice is digitally distorted to evoke a feeling that seems both deific and dystopian. On instrumental tracks, such as “Futura”, slick riffs befitting some spy film meet foreboding organs before giving way to tropical accents. The effect is both confusing and mesmerizing — a constant clash of sleek, sinister, and sunny moods that pervades the entire record.
Buy this at Other Music or iTunes. After the jump, check out the video for “Ice Cream”, featuring Matias Aguayo.
It’s a fitting name, Bing Ji Ling. Translating from Mandarin to “ice cream”, Quinn Luke’s stage-identity encapsulates everything about the treat: cool, sweet, the perfect finish to sunny days, and a romantic symbol of Americana. Led by opener, “Move On”, Bing Ji Ling’s third album stands out as one of the better Motown-soul revivals in an increasingly saturated field. Best known for his work in the Phenomenal Handclap Band, Luke brings together members of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Scissor Sisters, Antibalas, and, of course, PHB for Shadow to Shine. Glimmers of PHB’s funk aesthetics certainly show themselves here. But the overarching mood is more romantic than raucous, as soft acoustics and pacific horns accent the yacht-rock balladry and smooth blue-eyed soul on songs, such as “Sunshine Love” and “Hypnotized”. These days, Mother Nature’s bipolar ways may not be able to tell us, but with the breezy, breathtaking Shadow to Shine, Bing Ji Ling is ready to announce that summer is indeed here.
Buy this at Other Music.
“Sometimes I’ve got the jungle under my skin”, Merrill Garbus sings on “Es-so”, from the follow-up to her 2009 debut, BiRd-BrAiNs. There indeed seems to be a wildness within Garbus and her experimental music. Stylizing her stage-name as tUnE-yArDs and album title as W h o k i l l, Garbus’ disregard for standard syntax befits the haphazard approach to her songwriting; for a joyous madness certainly pervades the hodgepodge of raucous harmonies, spiking horns, rumbling rhythms, and jazzy bass (courtesy of Nate Brenner). The Afro-pop aesthetic and her swooning vocals can, at times, evoke Vampire Weekend — but only if the polished sheen of Ezra Koenig’s compositions had been cut up and obliterated in the midst of some spastic frenzy. On the single “Bizness”, Garbus yelps, “I’m a victim, yeah/Don’t take my life away/Don’t take my life away” — an urgent, desperate plea that is countered by its hypnotic, almost childlike harmonies and video. On W h o k i l l, Garbus serves up ten tracks that are defiantly bizarre yet still irresistible — a rare balancing act that heralds a truly original talent.
“I’m your prostitute/You gonna get some”, sings Lykke Li on the provocative single, “Get Some”. Gone are the fractured rhythms and coy coo that pervaded Li’s 2008 debut Youth Novels. In their place, we encounter more confident, almost brazen, vocals, tribal beats, and a Spector-esque wall of sound, courtesy of Bjorn Yttling (of Peter, Bjorn, and John), who serves as producer on Wounded Rhymes. The meek singing on earlier hits, such as “Little Bit”, has given way to anthemic girl-group harmonies of “Sadness Is a Blessing” and opener “Youth Knows No Pain” — whose title could even be construed as a rebuff of Youth Novels. Add in the grinding guitars and eerie organs of “Rich Kids Blues” and we may have found a successor to PJ Harvey as the next generation’s resident siren, serving up an irresistible mix of sultry and scary sounds. With Wounded Rhymes, the Swedish singer sheds the nymph-like aura of her debut with a sophomore set that showcases a maturing artist with an ever-developing style that may only get better with age.
On February 26, A.R. Rahman could make history. On that night, he could be the first Indian-born composer to win four Oscars, having been nominated for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (”If I Rise”, featuring Dido) for the film 127 Hours. Then again, such boundary-breaking does not seem to faze this veteran, who’s worked on over 110 films and who already made history with his two Academy Awards for Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. Also directed by Boyle, 127 Hours depicts the harrowing fight for survival of mountain-climber Aron Ralston (played by James Franco). The film follows Ralston for the titular five days, after his arm was trapped by a boulder and he resorts to unthinkable measures to free himself. Dialogue is minimal in 127 Hours, meaning music holds a more significant role in driving this otherwise one-man show. Rahman spoke to us from his home in Chennai about such challenges, not to mention his charitable work, for which he recently earned the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum.
Having none other than Kyp Malone as a “mentor” as well as plans to put out an album with Aaron Dessner of the National, it would be easy to discuss Sharon Van Etten preponderantly in terms of her famous (by indie-rock standards) friends. But with the Brooklyn folk songstress having just hit the Bowery Ballroom, where she was joined by another notable ally, the Antlers’ Peter Silberman, Van Etten’s time to shine under the spotlight has arrived. The Bowery show kicked off her first headlining tour across the nation, in support of her second album, Epic, which was released late last year and marked one of our favorite records of 2010. Largely unadorned with nothing more than some guitar strums and piano plunks, Van Etten’s singing marks the doubtless focal point of Epic. Even the pedal-steel-guitar twangs on “Save Yourself” and the atmospheric noise swirling in the background of “Don’t Do It” — as alternately delightful and haunting as they are — cannot compete with the aching yet assured voice that permeates this sadly brief seven-song set.
What started out as a solo project of bare bedroom recordings by Ryan Lynch has garnered immediate blog buzz due to Lynch’s previous guitar work with Girls — the Bay Area band whose Elvis-Costello-channeling Album ranked among last year’s most acclaimed records. For this official debut EP, Lynch has been joined by vocalist/keyboardist Hannah Hunt. On “Run Like Hell for Leather”, the street-busker strumming that marked the earlier works is now augmented by both programmed and hand drums of a tropical flavor as well as boy-girl harmonies that call to mind the Vaselines. The title track further bolsters the otherwise stripped-down sound with buoyant synths, while “About My Girls” (stream below) boasts a whirling hook behind Hunt’s dreamy coos and Lynch’s wistful croon: “I just can’t seem to forget/About my girls”. After the jump, check out an acoustic performance of “Clawing Out at the Walls”, filmed in some idyllic yet subtly industrial hideaway — a setting that perfectly befits this band’s evolving aesthetic.
“We were already, already bored/Sometimes I can’t believe it/I’m moving past the feeling”, sings Win Butler on “The Suburbs”. With its simple pianos and otherwise stripped-down sound, the opening track from Arcade Fire’s third album immediately announces the Montreal band’s attempts at (and, perhaps, anxieties over) departing from the baroque bombast that has become its hallmark. Given the name of the album, much focus has centered on how Arcade Fire might be moving from the political provocations of Neon Bible to critiquing the impact and ennui of residential sprawl in modern society. And while that theme appears throughout the album, just as salient is the corresponding unease with passing time and the inevitability of change as Butler croons that “the clock keeps ticking” over unadorned guitars on “Modern Man”. Yet, The Suburbs’ standout tracks are those that indeed dwell in the past, reminding the listener of the grand theatrics of Funeral and Neon Bible, such as “We Used to Wait” and “Suburban War”, which features the lyrics: “You said the past won’t rest/Until we jump the fence and leave it behind”.
The Bazombo trance troupe from Congo have released their eagerly anticipated follow-up to 2005’s Congotronics 1, not to mention collaborations with Björk and Herbie Hancock. On tracks, like “Mama Na Bana” and the epic “Makembe”, effervescent blips — produced organically by steel rods resonating against hollowed wood — and the polyrhythmic patter of drums forged from scrap metal, car parts, pots, and pans resound with hypnotic chants, whistles, and soukous guitars. The subsequent effect fuses the futuristic with the old-fashioned, invoking the glitchy electronics of Aphex Twin and dense tapestries of Can matched with more traditional touchstones, like Fela Kuti. At times, the songs’ relentless jubilation can be a tad overwhelming; but just when you think you cannot take much more, Konono softens and slows it down with “Nakobala Lisusu Te”, Crash Position’s stripped-down finale, featuring only septuagenarian patriarch, Mawangu Mingiedi, and his thumb piano — and then they are gone. It’s the act of master craftsmen wholly confident in the power they wield over their audience — giving and taking away as they deem fit, always leaving them wanting, demanding more.
Buy this at Other Music or iTunes. After the jump, check out a live performance of “Makembe”.