Echo Movis ‘Beautiful Glitch’ – no word about Ralph

Oh, deceitful pop, those sweet sweet melodies and lovely vocals, those relaxed vocals like summer-warm waves lapping up at the beach. Echo Movis will cradle you and then suddenly edge out into experimental dissonance or slowly descend into a truly psychedelic route. The true wonder of these day’s music is the fact that a genre is not a room you get settled in but rather a loose, wobbly frame that you can use to tame the beast of your own creativity. Echo Movis do just that with their album „Beautiful Glitch“ (I am thinking of this animated movie about a glitch, “Wreck-It Ralph” right here). You will dreamily slip into a zen-like state and suddenly get roused up with a sweet-sour shock like „Rodriguez Bike“, only to fall back to that warm beach with the following title song of the album.

SOAK ‚Before we forget how to dream‘ – yay for debuts

Bridie Monds-Watson does not only have the name to become a musician by day, crime fighter by night but also is one of the chosen musicians who release a debut that should sound ambitious-but-trying but instead gives off the vibe that she’s doing this since decades now and is already fully settled in her abilities and style.

I am usually a sucker for very strong, dark female vocals but Bridie’s voice has a softness and a hint of youthfulness (partly because she is youthful partly because she just has a very lovely voice) that is quite mesmerizing. Add to that some folk-notes of her Irish heritage (there’s a violin and also a 60’s vibe in the kind of melodies she plays with) and I am sold.

There’s this song by Royksop featuring Karin Dreijer Andersson from The Knife „What else is there“ which sounds like the evil sister of some of SOAK’s music because there’s a depth in most of her compositions, luscious space and a calm that is unusual for this kind of music. Given that there are songs that are great but what you would expect from a debut, the other songs, those wild beasts roaming near the seaside, truly stand out and make this album a great listen and this artist one to watch.

Jenny Hval ‚Apocalypse, girl‘ – substance over lyrics

I do write a lot about female artists but hardly ever use the word ‚feminist‘. Not because they aren’t but simply because there’s no overt agenda in their music (consider this a judgement-free comment). Jenny Hval, though, plays with ideas, slam poetic lyrics and a certain 80s bluntness in imagery that she (along with artists like Peaches, for example) can be considered a very feminist musician.

On first glance, this bluntness and the alienation she works through her music, was hard to swallow for me (feminist symbolism not intended). As some of her more „catchy“ songs and bits of songs reminded me of Susanne Sundfor who has – despite her experimental compositions – a very melodic pop-appeal, Hval was too fragmented for me, the full story of her songs on “Apocalypse, girl” never really unravelled. Instead, I had a patchwork of impressions, styles and vocal stunts in front of me that was annoying as soon as it got endearing and was overpowered by lyrics that were close to a parody.

But (oh, you had to expect the but) with the second and third listen, the underlying musical concept got more and more visible. Hval is being compared with artists like Björk or Kate Bush. But both Björk and Bush understand the amazing and magical mixture of beautiful pop melodies wrapped up in musical experimentalism. Hval does not go for the pop melodies to carry the art but instead uses the art to defragment the pop melodies. Does that make sense? Imagine a Daily Soap episode cut into pieces  and rearranged into a different narrative, an off-putting story with hints of the normal and cheesy story-telling hidden deep within the new structure. With „Apocalypse, girl“, we do have a basic material that is obviously superior to a mundane daily soap. But it still is a nearly meta approach to art pop. Initially, I wanted to fight against that term in combination with Hval as much as possible. This is no pop, I thought, this is too shattered, too expressionist. But take a few steps back and you discover the soft shapes and warm melodies that make pop. They’re only rearranged to a point where – as soon as you get lost in a song – you’ll get hurled back outside to watch everything shift and change in front of you.

Let’s not put that much weight on those lyrics, those clits and shavings and bananas and ironic capitalist critics that cry for an aggressive collage by an 80s teenager with only one earring. Let’s focus on the insane fragility of beauty and unease that this album presents which is far more impressive as a statement of feminism nowadays than those lyrics.

Nadine Shah ‚Fast Food‘ – if only Fast Food were like this

There’s a very sensual feeling of unease with Nadine Shah’s new album „Fast Food“, the kind that feels endearing despite that voice in your head that you shouldn’t venture out too far. From the dark vocals to the deliberately subtle yet heavy-weight compositions, the whole album feels like a Kubrick-movie – you know about all the details that went into the making, all the unseen cutlery in the kitchen, the functioning machines that are turned off in the background, the unspoken backstory (and the stressed out close to a breakdown actors) but you don’t feel them as oppressive because there’s just the feeling that they add another layer to the art.

The British singer with Pakistani and Norwegian roots apparently gets compared to Nick Cave and PJ Harvey a lot, the latter probably because of that full and dark voice but both comparisons only go so far because with Shah you have a certain live aspect in her music, that one diva in the foreground of a bar in a Lynch-movie (I am thinking here of the scene in „Mulholland Drive“, that singing lady on the stage, the reveal of the tape recorder and this intense sadness and beauty of it all). You listen to the digitalized record but it feels as if you’re there in the studio, half lit, somewhere in a corner, trying not to breathe too loud.

And because Shah was careful to add traces of her cultural identity as Pakistani in her music, this smooth, dangerously sensual and strong scent is as haunting as it is. You would have to look quite hard to find anything like it right now.

Sorry, there’s no recent official music videos of Shah. But here’s that “Mulholland Drive”-scene I was writing about, to get a little creeped out (and feel moved to tears)

FYI: FFS ‚FFS‘ – ftw or wtf?

Here’s a difficult supergroup: I don’t really like Franz Ferdinand because personally, their music doesn’t interest me one bit and it’s the epitome of the Britpop revival in the early 2000s resulting in a bunch of great bands that mostly developed into generic drivel (sorry, this is really harsh but as I had my musical blossoming during this time, it still stings that most of the bands back then turned out to be One, maybe two hit wonders).

On the other hand, Sparks are f***ing genious. There is nothing like a constantly hyper and manic pop outfit that creates music that is ironic but seriously professional and perfectionist at once. How does that work? And can Sparks save FF from the fate of their Britpop-Brethren? (well, save them from that fate to repeat because they already messed up the chance to be interesting on their own)

The answer is: well…not really. The Franz Ferdinand-ish ‚let’s do a song that is so repetitive in its building blocks that you are kinda annoyed by it even before you’ve listened through it once’ is still a big thing and therefore a big problem with quite a few of the new songs. But here’s the good news: there are hints of this over the top excitement that Sparks developed into an art and those hints are the saving grace for songs like „Save me from myself“, “Police Encounters” and „Dicator’s Son“. 

To be fair, they’re much better on record. Live – man, that’s close to a trainwreck. No wait, it is a trainwreck. 

However, thinking of the amazing soundtrack for the movie „Frank“ which played with the mixture of theatrical melodies paired with noise experiments and absolutely nailed art pop in reference to – amongst others – Sparks, the overall result of the real deal featuring the not really real deal is a little lackluster and weirdly…normal.

One might have expected a little more excitement and weirdness with a mixture like this but hardly any song got my full attention (for better or worse). Maybe, I am overly critical and maybe the comparison to „Frank“ is unfair (a single person doesn’t need to compromise with a bunch of others when writing odd songs) but this is amusing and interesting in theory but hardly revolutionary. To be fair, though – at least it’s not Metallica ft. Lou Reed-ghastly.

And to send you off with something charming, lovely, artsy and fascinating, let’s just revel once more in “Frank” – man, I love the music and the movie.

Hop Along ‘Painted Shut’ – why not hop along?

Female vocals that have a punch but also feel raspy in a quite overabundant way are rare – there’s a childish joy in Hop Along’s recent album „Painted Shut“ with its lovely 90s vibe and yes, these vocals that grind and soar and sometimes show in glimpses that Frances Quinlan could also easily sing Regina Spektor songs without stumbling (meaning that her technical skills are impressive) but decided to get a little down and dirty. And given that power pop with dirty vocals are as fantastic as a sticky sweet cold drink on a hot summer night, this is just the right thing to feel rejuvenated, giddy and yes, a little younger than before the album. 

Chastity Belt ‘Time to go home': you get the angst AND the humor!

Here’s a weird thing: I haven’t written much in the last 6 months but since roughly 3 – 4 months, I listen to more music than I did last year before the wells of blog postings started to dry out. I do blame a new routine in my life which mainly involves the happy life of happy couples, including watching the always kinda disappointing German hit crime show „Tatort“ and arguing about feminism.

But the music is there, so here we go:

Chastity Belt are the kind of band that immediately triggers all the right spots in my brain, they have the melancholy of a British band from the 80s, they have the bored aggressiveness (or the aggressive boredness) of female punk and the slightly surreal atmosphere of a Daniel Clowes-Graphic Novel. Their album „Time to go Home“ does not only have an amazing cover (a bedspread-ghost on a strikingly ugly couch), it also has all the songs you need for this year’s autumn when you feel like wearing black and muted colours again.

The band started as a partyband with jokey lyrics and even though the humor stays (especially the lyrics in contrast to lead singer Julia Shapiro’s dry vocal delivery), the party only stays in the place of early morning tiredness, complete with the headaches of too much alcohol and a slight disappointment you can’t put your finger on.

With a style as reminiscent as Chastity Belt’s (it is so very 80s), it’s only fitting that the musicians don’t try to put a modern edge to it but instead delve into it and add their twists rather in smart songwriting and the kind of melodies you won’t get rid off (and don’t want to) than overly aggressive production details. The result is an album that works equally well in a state of utter despair and utter delight – one of the many advantages of music that is skillfully angsty but not necessarily devoid of irony.