Michelle Shocked has the happy ability to sound completely unfettered and at home in a multiplicity of musical styles; you can now add straight-up New Orleans party music to her impressive list of genre performance credentials. And leave it to Shocked, a born activist and good-natured hell-raiser, to serve up this traditional good-time music with an added jigger of social awareness, hot sauce included: “That was one blow job you won’t forget/ I ain’t talkin’ ’bout Katrina yet/ When that brass band starts to play/ Lay back and think of the U.S.A.” Mardi Gras spirit infuses both melody and accompaniment; there is so much movement in the roisterous sound that you’d swear this must have been recorded while everyone was marching down St. Charles Avenue. Shocked plays here with the Newbirth Brass Band, trumpeter Troy Andrews, and a trombone player so authentic his name is simply Trombone Shorty. After flirting with mainstream folk-rock success back in the late ’80s, Shocked has gone on to record an idiosyncratic string of albums, including an ambitious yet free-spirited trilogy (yes, three separate CDs) released last year on her own Mighty Sound record label. Her next CD is due out this summer; another trilogy appears to be in the works. “Hardcore Hornography” is offered up for Mardi Gras and to bring awareness to the ongoing plight of New Orleans, which remains largely abandoned by the federal government. The song is available for via her web site. Thanks to Bruce at Some Velvet Blog for the head’s up.
At once squonky and lithe, the latest effort from the British brother duo the Electric Soft Parade features anthemic chords and resounding beats, scuffed up fetchingly with fuzzy guitars and electronic blips and boops. Add Alex White’s nicely vulnerable, Brit-poppy vocals and the whole manages to trump the sum of its parts—quite an accomplishment, as the parts themselves are pretty darned keen. A casual know-how informs both the song structure and the production; we get a masterly mix of rhythm and melody, guitar and drum, busy-ness and spaciousness, loud and soft. The loud-soft thing is especially cool, since the White boys (Tom’s on drums) aren’t offering a standard sort of “here’s the soft part, here’s the loud part” approach as much as utilizing the dynamic range of sound throughout, much as a first-rate black and white photograph will display the blackest black, the whitest white, and many gradations of grey in between. Another cool thing is the nifty coda: note at 4:02 how the song’s drive shifts gears, the beat moving to swinging triplets, before the drums pretty much disintegrate, electronically. Or something like that. The song will be found on the band’s next CD, No Need to Be Downhearted, their third full-length, scheduled for an April release on Better Looking Records. The MP3 is via Better Propaganda.
“Limbs” – Emma Pollock
A lovely piano refrain, composed of a careful series of arpeggios, runs through this pensive acoustic ballad. The song builds to it slowly—piano is part of the central sound from the outset, but the anchoring refrain is not heard until 1:12, and from there it accompanies the verse as it proceeds, falling away during the understated chorus. Overall, “Limbs” advances with a beguiling sort of relaxed meticulousness: not a guitar string, not a piano key is used without precision, and yet, perhaps because of Pollock’s warm, and warmly recorded, voice, the effort seems easy-flowing, almost impromptu. The song seems to emerge from some mysterious, unflappable inner space; despite the strong melody, the effect is still somewhat trancelike. Emma Pollock, from Glasgow, was one of the founders of the well-regarded ’90s band the Delgados, who were also responsible for founding the important independent record label Chemikal Underground. The band split amicably in 2005; Pollock has been signed to 4AD Records since. Her solo debut is forthcoming at some unspecified date. “Limbs” is so far a free-standing song.
The MP3 is courtesy of SXSW.com, which has just unleashed its latest storehouse of free and legal MP3s, oriented now towards the 2007 festival happening next month in Austin.