Jenny Hval Blood Bitch’ – high highs amongst known territory

I admit, I am not one of the early admirers of Jenny Hval, in fact, I got into the game only last year, at the behest of my boyfriend who loves quirky female singer/songwriters with high, frail voices, and I was thoroughly impressed with “Apocalypse, girl“, I bought it, even.

Her new album is now and then a lot more courageous when it dares to delves into pop. She previously taunted listeners more with the beginnings of a pop melody, only to destroy it within seconds, a beauty lost to her message (which was – lyrically – often as much in your face as your own nose). However, this time around, there’s a few songs that Jenny allows to grow melodically.

“Female Vampire” as well as “Period Piece” are absolutely endearing because whereas a lot of the other songs are new interpretations of the same old same old of sound experiments, heavy breathing and spoken word with strong 80s feminist notions, these tempestuous pop tunes are like mutations within the rest of the music (just as “Don’t hurt yourself” is a mutation within the sleek pop production of Beyonce’s “Lemonade”).

Truth to be told, I didn’t listen to “Apocalypse, girl” as much as I could have, because the album is quite exhausting. It’s brilliant but it’s exhausting. The same can be said for “Blood Bitch”. Those somehow trodden experimental songs (sound collages, q’uelle surprise) act like a maze you wander through whereas the pop sparks act like those small patches of open space within, a little bench, a pretty hedge with pretty flowers. There you sit and wonder about the intimidating walls, those dark, ugly corners (geez, “The Plague” is as much cliché as it is amazing in its horror movie screams) and these weird noises beyond the hedge.

In this way, “Blood Bitch” is yet again highly impressive in its concept and effect it has on the listener. I might not listen to it that often (again), but it will stick with me and probably more so than “Apocalypse, girl” because it feels like wandering through an art installation and even if you might raise your eyebrow at the lack of subtlety pretty much everywhere, there’s a real art in its execution.

Haley Bonar ‘Impossible Dream’ – Can we change? Can we stay who we are?

I first heard Haley Bonar’s impossibly powerful song “Last War” which really blew me out of the water. I recently read that she got this kick in the butt-sound after she had her child and I have to admit, I was like ‘whaa?’ because I always think of all those former aggressive rappers who became fathers and suddenly release one shmonzy song after the other. But then I thought of Shara Worden who is a mother and whose recent album features some of the most powerful today, so I guess it’s just dudes that get all soft and all the ladies are like: I MOTHERFLIPPIN’ PUSHED A HUMAN BEING OUT OF MY UTERUS, FEAR ME NOW!

Anyways, “Impossible Dream” is a masterwork. I talked about Bat for Lashes’ concept album last week and although Bonar’s album is more of a short story collection than a novel, there are definitely themes interwoven that create a certain nostalgic atmosphere that is very endearing. In the middle of it is Bonar, telling stories about her youth, her parents and the kind of stories you hear, experience and mingle until they are universal stories of everyone of us.

Her themes revolve a lot around change. How much we change when we look back. How we don’t change enough when we’re faced with something tremendous such as parenthood. How much we want to change to become better people and how much we change into the lesser versions of these ideals. How much our faces change and even how much the past changes the more we look at it through the present lens.

Yes, I am getting a little melancholic and cheesy here, but fortunately for you (and me), the music itself is not nearly as drippy as my ramblings.

In fact, songs like “Your mom is right” are the kind of country-infused rock songs that give a new meaning to this music genre with a bad reputation. In a way, this song sounds like the rebellious, dark cousin of Blake Lively’s country. The one that sneers, that knows more and tells more. Oh, it’s so mean but also true, it’s what you need, even if it makes you uncomfortable. And yes, your opinion on what your mother knows has changed as well over the years. That’s why you watch “The Wonder Years” now and side with the parents.

The nostalgia is strong with this album. It’s a timeless piece and it even plays with that notion, because again, this album talks about change. Remember how you dreamed as a teenager what you will become, how rich and famous and smart and popular and amazing you would become? This impossible Dream is now sometimes flitting through your head. But was it ever something that actually would have worked? Is it even that bad that it didn’t work out like that? The redeeming part of Bonar’s stories is the fact that no one really knows whether the past really was that better and whether it is only our own insecurities that make us feel as if we should have done differently. But in the end, the dreams were not only impossible to reach but also impossible to be as fulfilling as back then in our bedrooms at night.

Songs like “Stupid Face” nicely juxtapose the sadness and aggression that all these changes can bring. “How did I get so mean”, the narrator asks, “I miss the heart that does a cannonball into a frosted lake”, the trust and openness that lie in raw teenage emotions. The realization that these are not immune from flaws. “Our future tastes to bright that our teeth are dentyne white”, Bonar sings in “Blue Diamonds Fall”.

It is this humor and the love for the past and present selfs of all the protagonists she creates in her songs that renders this album special. The music is amazing and especially works whenever Bonar goes for the bigger sounds (one heartbeat of silence in “Jealous Girls” right after the line “they burn the sheets while you rest your head”, oh, remember the 80s) and it all gets tied together with these beautiful stories that are full of real people, real emotions, real dreams and real regrets. All of them impossibly possible for the listener.

Bat for Lashes ‘The Bride’: finally, the concept album with a story

With Natasha Khan’s talents for creating atmospheric themes throughout her albums, it was only a matter of time until she released an entire novel of an album. Alas, in the end it took 10 years since the release of her début “Fur and Gold” and even 4 years after the last album.

Now, “The Bride” is here and it is quite beautiful.

The album tells the story of a young bride left at the altar by fate, as her lover died in a car crash on the way to the church they were gonna be married in. Oh, the humanity! The bride then goes on a road trip full of emotions, withdrawal from life, a yearning for her lost love on the very streets she lost him on and finally a step back towards life.

Khan herself describes the story as a metaphor for relationships in general. And yes, it is quite taunting, this tragic romance of losing your partner before your life together actually starts. With this, though, the ideal of a partner who never got to reveal his real everyday, banal self, weighs more, or rather differently on the bride than the loss of someone she already spent her whole life with.

On her fantastic literary blog, Maria Popova quotes Virginia Woolf’s view on love in relationships: “life – say 4 days out of 7 – becomes automatic; but on the 5th day a bead of sensation (between husband and wife) forms which is all the fuller and more sensitive because of the automatic customary unconscious days on either side.”

However, Khan’s protagonist can never enjoy this fulfilling love but is caught in the first love storm of emotions. Maybe that’s why she flees from her emotions, her thoughts of what could have been and traces the steps of her lover. At one point (“Land’s End”) she even seems to consider following him completely, “Past the motorways and city lights, let my soul be free and spirit fly”, the tragic heroine sings.

But in the end she decides to trace back, back into life (“I will love again”) and the last song may or may not be the happy end, considering whether you think that she found someone new to “lay on your bed and dream together” or whether she went back to the ghost in black.

The music is as much Zeitgeist as it can be. Khan uses a lot of synths and her music videos reference 70s, 80s road movies, shlock horrors (I am thinking of 80s vampire movie “Near Dark”) and according to her “Wild at Heart” and “Bambi” (I guess, the loss in this movie is quite haunting for millions of kids). But the music itself is not a reference to the 80s. By now, Khan has cemented her eerily, light and dramatic sound deep into the here and now and “The Bride” is one of those albums that are symbols of their time (like Peter Gabriel’s “So”, like The Smiths “The Smiths”).

Soap Box: News, things and stuff that bugged me in July 2016

Urgh, July. I was at a family wedding (not my family) and other people’s families are so stressful when you can’t really get away. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lovely wedding and everyone was really nice but it also was so much that I thought that weddings are really overrated. So now I watch this show where four brides visit each other’s weddings and criticize them and I laugh with glee at how awful everything and everyone is.

US-elections: tl;dr

I can not fathom how America can stretch out something as simple as an election into a one year procedure where everything is said and done and shouted BEFORE the actual candidates are decided upon. I admit, the first months of every pre-round are kind of amusing as especially the Republicans slay it with the absurdity of their candidates. But with Trump and the media going hogwild around him, it has been amusing at first, then concerning and now it’s just so annoying because even though Trump always says something stupid/horrible, the media treat it as if it’s the first time he did something like that and everyone is supposed to be like “OMG, he did not say that!”. YES HE DID, just as he did the last 10 months or so, what the hell is wrong with you that you can’t remember that? Please, stop it, vote for Hilary, complain about her when all is said and done and let Trump slowly fade into obscurity.

Terrorism: let’s talk about it, even if we shouldn’t

As you might have heard, Germany had a few rough weeks, especially with the horrible mass murder in Munich. Before the police confirmed anything, the media were already doing two quite bad, no good things:

  1. They repeated the police who advised not to show any pictures of the police work, so the murderer wouldn’t know where they were and what their strategy was, only to show pictures of the police work right after that announcement. They did that repeatedly. They really did that. Like that kid you told not to eat the candy and whilst still looking straight into your eyes, it grabs the candy and jams it into his face.
  2. They talked about the possibility of a terrorist attack before anyone who actually knew the facts confirmed it (spoiler alert: it wasn’t a terrorist attack, it was a mass murder committed by an asshole who didn’t like immigrants), therefore fueling the rumors, the right-wing speculations and any possible fear viewers might have seeing an already scary and gruesome thing. I know, the media always do this, against all experts who continuously say that this kind of shit is the worst thing you can do. It’s frustrating.

American Idol: Sometimes, white men are just the worst, sometimes, though, they really aren’t

It’s nothing new for anyone who reads this blog regularly, I have an unhealthy (and as of now cold turkeyed) obsession with American Idol. This year, the last season ran its course with a solid winner and an amazing runner up. Now, the season is long finished but I recently watched a few of her performances again as I do regularly and I remembered this thing and it still angers me so much.

La’Porsha Renae is going to release her probably fantastic motown album in November. This woman did her dramatic reveal in the middle of the season when she talked about her past. La’Porsha Renae is a survivor of domestic abuse and therefore sang all those powerhouse songs that are about strength and love (for her daughter) and perseverance. When one week, the producers suggested a suck-up song of a wifey to her horrible horrible dude, she politely refused, saying that she couldn’t sing songs like that with heart because it’s not in her.

And I think that everyone who has a heart and a mind and a soul would agree with that and never mention that song again. Well, unless it’s Scott Borchetta who could force a song on the contestants in one of the later weeks and decided that yeah, maybe domestic abuse is bad and a survivor should have the chance to not sing a song that caters to a men after she decided that no man ever will make her beg ever again in her life, but hey, “Stay with me”by Lorraine Ellison is a nice song and welp, he was just curious how she would perform it, right. Borchetta, you dick. What a dick.

So, here’s another powersong for La’Porsha. Her album is supposed to drop in November and I am down for it. Down! I am so down like Harry Connick Jr. is down.

By the way, I gained a lot of respect for Keith Urban on the show. That dude cried like no one cried on this show after Kelly Clarkson’s guest performance and he was not ashamed to show his ugly crying face in front of the whole audience and all the tv-viewers at home. I mean, sure, we’re in 2016 and this should be a non-issue but how many famous musicians do you know that would ever cry like that on national tv without even thinking about turning away? You do you, Keith, you do you.

Soap Box: Things that bugged me in June 2016

Yeah, the Soap Box is back! I gotta say, I kind of missed it, I recently stumbled over a few blackface-fails in German entertainment and was reminded of my old text on it and thought: hey, I am pretty angry at stuff now, why not do this again?

Oh, and don’t worry. I am still happy with a cat and a dude – all the more reasons to vent on this blog instead of at home (well, technically, I am venting at home when I write this but…pish posh, you know?).

So let’s start.

  1. Blackface in Germany – a never ending story

I can’t believe that it’s 2016 and there’s still idiotic people in Germany that do blackface. Admitted, it’s the kind of people who seem like they totally would do stupid stuff like that but it’s still weird that there’s no one around them who told them that it’s hella racist and hella dumb to do. We had a bad comedian who thought that it would be fun to do blackface to portray famous German football player Jerome Boateng in a „fun“ way (by now, it should be clear, that „fun“ means racist for way too many German entertainers). In a way he added insult to injury as Boateng had already had his fair share of open racism (the kind that is not even “fun”) when one of those empty-headed nazis from the right-wing party Afd, Alexander Gauland, said that he wouldn’t want him as a neighbour. Dude, Boateng makes more money with one game than you in a year and probably has his own island. You couldn’t be his neighbour if you wanted to.

Oh, but this isn’t even all of it. Only this week, one of our charming D-celebrities, Micaela Schäfer, made a nude-fashion-shot (I mean, is it a fashion shot without the clothes?) all in blackface. Like, she didn’t even just do blackface, she did blackeverything. Which was just as bad as it sounds, especially if I tell you right now that she did this with “tribal” jewelry and a freaking spear in her hand. If Ben Stiller’s blackface in “Tropic Thunder” pales in comparison than you’re really, no REALLY, doing it wrong.

  1. No means no – but not really, am I right?

In case you haven’t heard, Germany is currently discussing how to save its men and women from being raped. Despite the myth that we are all super liberal and progressive around here, our law still doesn’t accept a „no“ as an adequate warning against rapists. If you haven’t punched that motherfucker till he bled his own teeth, you have no chance in front of the law. That sucks, right? Well, the law is in the midst of being changed. But guess what…people are super worried that women will now flood the system with false rape accusations. It scares people so much that a pretty prominent female journalist wrote a whole article about it in one of the biggest newspapers out there (Die Zeit) – even in the print version which means that it’s legit!

It’s like, how can we make sure that we women will not suddenly willy nilly accuse everyone just to get dragged through the system, be treated like dirty whores, cursed at and be filmed by strangers during the court hearing (and they will not be fined) and even be witness as the perpetrators will be let off, so they can file a lawsuit against us for suggesting that they were rapists in the first place. I mean, model Gina-Lisa Lohfink went through this only recently and I guess it sounds so much fun that we all are really hellbent on experiencing the same.

  1. Orange is the new Black gut-punched me so bad

Possible spoilers ahead.

It’s just…man.

  1. Kill your idols

There’s a lot of people, mainly women, who I really respect and like a lot, whose work I love and who I push as much as is possible with a measly blog and about 160 followers on Twitter. However, I don’t have idols or icons or whatever. Even back when I studied philosophy, I didn’t get people who were totally behind one philosopher without one shred of disagreement. I mean, I didn’t read that much during that time but each and every philosopher I read at some point said or wrote something that I strongly disagreed with.

So, this week I had to strongly disagree with a feminist writer who I actually respect a lot and whose German column I love. But her recent text simply felt lazy, unstructured and riddled with logical fallacies (don’t say you won’t partake in a discussion and then partake in the discussion by saying that you don’t partake in the discussion – unless it’s Monty Python kind of absurd, that stuff is lame). I felt bad because I don’t have a single fan who is not a close friend or related to me, I don’t have many followers or readers and therefore I am one of those weird, annoying people from the sidelines, who suddenly clear their throat and interrupt the idol to tell them that their fly is wide open. No one likes those people and I was those people right then and there because even if I myself am guilty of it, I don’t like lazy texts. I still like Margarete Stockowski, though. I really do.

  1. I really think that football/soccer is boring

I hate it because I can’t even play video games because we only have one monitor at home and the only game on our laptop is a lame strategy game and those are boooooring. Fuck that. I am Moss from the “IT Crowd” at a football match and I am just as excited about it. I am even just as aggressive and angry at it because there’s one hour of football talk then 45 minutes of football, then there’s the news WITH FOOTBALL IN IT and then there’s another 45 minutes and then another hour with football talk. IT NEVER ENDS!

I just realized how much I love this scene.

That’s it for now. A girl has other things to do (yes, I watch GOT and I somehow had to slip that in here to let you know that I have, in fact, not lived in a cave in the last two years.

The Kills and Savages: one has punch, the other a brand

For some reason I felt like comparing the albums by these two bands today and I acknowledge that their music is not 1:1 the same but the use of heavy bass lines, strong female vocals and an air of danger that is at its best sensual, made me link them together quite easily.

Let’s start with The Kills whose 5th studio album „Ash & Ice“ has been just released and…well. I gotta admit, I never was the biggest The Kills-fan to begin with. I think they write amazing singles but their albums never fully excite me. Their new record is most successful when it puts Alison Mosshart’s vocals front and center with a steady bassline and it falls absolutely flat, whenever Jamie Hince takes the mic. It’s not even Hince’s fault, he has a nice enough voice but Alison is such a force that it’s just a bad comparison. Who would go to a Michelle Williams show if Beyoncè played next door?

„Ash & Ice“ starts incredibly strong with „Doing it to Death“. It’s one hell of a sensual and sinister song, a mood that suits the duo. But after the third and fourth variation of a song like this, it becomes hard to stay interested. The Kills are not the biggest melody-makers and it wouldn’t be too bad with their kind of music if it would simply pack more punch. It doesn’t, though. 

As it is, the songs start to meander and smoother, more melancholic tracks like „Days of Why and How“ simply drown instead of being a standout. It might be unfair to assume but I feel like they can’t get out of their brand and comfort zone and seem to be caught in an endless repetition of their „sound“.

It’s a damn shame, to be honest. If you look at a band like The White Stripes – who had their brand down to a ‚T‘ – it’s not impossible. They kept their sound tight as hell but still managed to vary every single song on every single album.

And only to give a more recent example – albeit with a few more band members – Savages just released their sophomore and kind of managed just that with „Adore Life“. Now, the Savages’ sound is more frantic, more dangerous. Where The Kills are charming but sinister, Savages are full-on terrifying, their smile already betraying their intentions. Whereas „Ash & Ice“ starts smooth, cool and catchy, „The Answer“ dives deep into confusion and nearly psychedelic hectic and Jenny Beth’s vocals tell a whole story (oh, and that voice is equally haunting live).

Savages have the punch. The tension is there for the whole length of their album and songs like „Evil“ might give you, dear reader, an idea of why I thought it would be a good idea to compare these two bands. The heartbeat is there, the movement that The Kills have when they’re good is omnipresent on „Adore Life“ and can put you in a trance if you let it. Now, Savages are more ambitious, „Evil“ could have just as well be a lost and forgotten Danzig-song when it comes to the vocal line.  

I would be mad if I wouldn’t mention the words „Post Punk“ and „80s“. Maybe it is the punk that doesn’t even try to be subtle on this album, maybe it’s the fact that Savages have released two, The Kills have already released five albums but personally, one band has released an album that is exciting, fun and dangerous and the other has added a few new (and fewer great) songs to their discography but nothing more.

Kiran Leonard ‚Pink Lemonade‘ – Looks like there’s a new Connor Oberst in town

Look, I get it. Nothings sucks more than being compared to a gigantic hero of indie music and smiling through your teeth when people approach you about it. But here’s the thing: if people like your music, then this comparison doesn’t mean that you sound like that other person but rather evoke the same excitement.

This goes for Kiran Leonard who is 20, hella prolific as an artist (look at his bandcamp, it nearly looks like Guided by Voice’s discography) and has just released this artfully, wonderful, aggressive, tender, stylish and outright brilliant album „Grapefruit“. Yes, it sounds as sweet, fresh and bitter at the same time as the fruit tastes.

Kiran uses dirty garage rock, singer songwriter sentiments and even implements a whole orchestra (because orchestras always make everything better). His whole album has the faint smell of angsty 90s alt-indie and that is a delight. As much as I hate the comeback of plateau-shoes and unflattering proportions in clothing, I love the 90s that have really the current music scene.

Now, given the Connor Oberst-reference, there’s also one hell of a genre mix, so if you like your lovely songwriter-calm but also enjoy the occasional fit of rage, you’re in the right place.