“Valley Boy” presents with a sonic depth and acumen that belies its pop-song length.
The well-regarded Montreal quartet Wolf Parade went on an indefinite hiatus in 2010. This fall they returned, and these were the first words from them we heard:
The radio’s been playing all your songs
Talking about the way you slipped away without a care
Did you know that it was all gonna go wrong?
Did you know that it would all be more than you could bear?
The song was written about a year ago, after two profound, near-simultaneous occurrences: the death of Leonard Cohen and the election of the 45th President of the United States. Wolf Parade has ably if enigmatically linked these two adjacent events in the rolling, quirkily anthemic, Bowie-esque rocker “Valley Boy.” With a theatrical quaver, vocalist Spencer Krug sings words that conceal more than they reveal, but the opening verse, repeated once at the end, blazes with clarity and pathos, providing a foundation of meaning for an otherwise inscrutable song. I have certainly yet to figure out the centrality of the “valley boy” reference, but I’m working at it, because it so clearly means something. The best I can surmise is that the song is wondering if, after death, Cohen has finally been able to release himself from the existential angsts he spent his life pondering. It may not be the writer’s intention but it kind of works, for me.
Musically, “Valley Boy” presents with a sonic depth and acumen that belies its pop-song length. There are dissonant motifs and churning textures; there are also moments of clearing, and some attentive, Television-ish guitar interweavings. Krug has been quoted as saying, intriguingly, that “the band itself is almost a fifth member of the band,” as a way of describing and/or explaining the group’s authoritative sound. I like that.
“Valley Boy” is from the new Wolf Parade album Cry Cry Cry, the band’s first since 2010. It was released early last month on Sub Pop. MP3, again, via KEXP.
There’s great precision here, but also a looseness around the edges that speaks of a band delighted to be playing actual instruments in a room full of actual people, as opposed to twiddling knobs in a booth.
Electronic dance music will come and go (might we be ready for the “go” part just about now?), but vigorous, jump-around-the-dance-floor music will always exist. And the beauty is that, compared to the fundamental stylistic monotony of EDM, there are in fact a lot of ways to make dance music, a lot of styles one might employ. I myself am partial to a sound pioneered in the late ’70s by the likes of Talking Heads and David Bowie, a kind of angular white-guy funk I could, as a white guy, relate to. I especially loved this odd type of dance music’s emphasis on the electric guitar; I’m a particular sucker for that squonky metallic tone you hear at its most compelling on an album like Scary Monsters.
Some of that is going on here with the Philadelphia band Minka and I am all for it. Even before we get to full squonk (that would start at 2:14), these guys have brought post-punk dance music, or some such thing, into the 21st century, complete with scratchy rhythm guitars and a lead singer, one Ari Rubin, whose edgy croon and theatrical vibrato give us a sense of what a young David Byrne might have sounded like had he smiled once in a while.
A palpable humanity underpins this kind of sound—there’s great precision here (there has to be, with any kind of dance music) but also a looseness in the air that speaks of a band delighted to be playing actual instruments in a room full of actual people, as opposed to twiddling knobs in a booth. Now then, not every band that hypnotizes you into buying their album at the gig has the songwriting chops required to deliver both in the club and in the iPhone. And Minka is most definitely an in-person phenomenon, renowned for their shall we say uninhibited performances. But “Josephine” transcends the requirement of being in the same room with these guys, and to me, that’s about the best kind of dance music there is.
Minka is a four-man band and officially spell their name in all caps: MINKA. “Josephine” is a track from the band’s forthcoming EP, Born in the Viper Room.
Recorded in an all-analog studio, “Bad For Me” oozes heart, craft, and ’70s goodness.
And speaking of the 1970s, and Mott the Hoople, check this one out. Not really Mott this time, but Bowie-esque, certainly (he wrote “All The Young Dudes,” as some but not all may know). And that’s just the tip of the ’70s iceberg here, as attentive ears are likely to hear a splash of Rundgren, a sprinkle of ELO, and maybe even a touch of Nilsson or Eric Carmen in this one.
And Benson is not just talking the talk here. He went and made his new album, What Kind of World, at Nashville’s all-analog “Welcome to 1979” studio (“Fingers on strings, Hands on faders, Music on tape,” as they like to say). Recording in such an environment will affect not only how the music sounds but also what music one chooses to record in the first place. Sonically, structurally, and attitudinally, “Bad For Me” has little to do with standard ’10s blog-fare; equal parts heart and craft, it takes us on a four-minute adventure that ranges from intimate confessional to operatic melodrama and back again. The song even comes to a complete stop at one point (3:09). I don’t tend to get too caught up in sound-quality considerations but I adore the palpable, spacious warmth here, and how it plays out differently in the quieter versus the more expansive moments. Even something as simple as the bass player entering (0:42) seems to happen with rich, ear-opening lucidity.
Brendan Benson is an American singer/songwriter who at this point is most well-known for his association with Jack White and his membership in The Raconteurs. He does have four previous solo albums to his name. What Kind of World will be released in April on Benson’s new Readymade Records label. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead. MP3 via Better Propaganda.
“Living Is So Easy” is a splendid example of the band’s softer aspect—a confident glider, its muted electro effects and partially mechanized percussion quickly fading into ornamentation thanks to the seductive velvet of the melody, as delivered by Bowiesque lead singer Yan Scott Wilkinson (no longer just Yan, as previously).
For a melodramatic, high-concept, quasi-camp, neo-post-punk band, British Sea Power has managed to develop its tamer, subtler side over the years without however abandoning its crunchier, more angular output. It’s as if Roxy Music recorded “More Than This” on the same album as “Virginia Plain.”
“Living Is So Easy” is a splendid example of the band’s softer aspect—a confident glider, its muted electro effects and partially mechanized percussion quickly fading into ornamentation thanks to the seductive velvet of the melody, as delivered by Bowiesque lead singer Yan Scott Wilkinson (no longer just Yan, as previously). Muted volume does not require muted sentiment, however; Wilkinson may croon voluptuously about the party everyone is going to, but he is taking down the partiers along the way, skewering the hollow victory of shallow consumerism via the repeated image of everyone going to this unnamed party—which is really just life in our celebrity-addled world—and how “easy” everything is. By the end I think we understand that maybe “easy” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; maybe “easy” isn’t the sole value to which we should be aspiring.
Once a quartet, BSP today features six members, including, now, a woman (Abi Fry, who plays viola and sings harmonies). The band has eased up on some of its posturey quirkiness (they’re not in WWI military uniforms in their press photos anymore, and they’ve ditched their one-name names), but the musical power and poise remain, 10 years on. “Living Is So Easy” is a song from the band’s forthcoming album, Valhalla Dancehall, arriving next month on Rough Trade Records. MP3 via Rough Trade. The album is BSP’s fifth full-length release; the band has been featured previously on Fingertips in 2003 and 2005.