“Check Your Heart”
Despite often being pigeonholed and labeled as “twee,” it’s been clear throughout The Pastels’ career that there’s a lot more going on than cursory listening may suggest. Looking at frontman Stephen McRobbie’s list of favorite records clearly confirms this. Additionally, when you consider the band’s decisions to collaborate with Japanese experimental pop artists such as Tenniscoats and Maher Shalal Hash Baz, it becomes especially apparent that even the sweetest moments of The Pastels' records are full of subtle complexity/experimentation in their arrangements, lyrics, and production.
The band's latest album Slow Summits is in many ways one of the group's most complete statements in terms of their dedication to merging loftier aesthetic decisions with pop simplicity. The band chose to work with the like-minded John McEntire (Tortoise) as a producer, and as a result, the whole album has the wonderful feel of many of the iconic 90s-00s chamber pop records that McEntire helmed. Particularly remarkable is the band's use of space throughout the album. Slow Summits is filled with the same kind of room sound that Maher Shalal Hash Baz and Arthur Russell's First Thought, Best Thought album strive to capture.
"Check Your Heart" is one of the most immediately infectious tracks off of Slow Summits. It initially comes off as a simple paean to young love, but when McRobbie's vocals enter, it becomes obvious that this is a subtle song about the passage of time and regret/nostalgia experienced from schoolboy infatuations. Like the track's underlying message and The Pastels' work in general, "Check Your Heart's" music video may initially seem like a cutesy montage of the band, a dance party, and children running, but when taken together, these images reflect the same wistful sentiments about time passing and love that the song's lyrics project.
You can watch the video for “Check Your Heart” above. Slow Summits is out now via Domino.
“Original (Explicit)” [feat. Birdman & Lil Wayne]
Okay. “Original (Explicit)” by Mystikal and featuring Birdman and Lil Wayne has been out since the end of March, but it’s my birthday this week, so fuck it! “I a political refugee. That’s how I felt?” Okay, Mystikal. Good thing Birdman looks to older rappers (@Busta too) for money-making schemes in music, as well. I do like how Mystikal is spittin’ shit that’s confusing Lil Wayne, though. Talk about BEFORE HIS TIME, amirite? “If I was you I would be…”
This mystery is also something that makes me tense: “His new album Original is scheduled to be released sometime this year (2013).” Wikipedia said that just a few minutes ago and probably will by the time you scope Mystikal in their system too. What if that were it, like Mystikal was Wikipedia. As if it were his second job. Like, systems and website engineering is his main squeeze, and being Mystikal has become more of his hobby. Being in jail wouldn’t stop that either: the internet is everywhere! Anyhow, keep an eye out for Mystikal’s Original on YMCMB, and in the meantime, enjoy his website Wikipedia and the title track above.
“Through the looking glass Robert Mugabe watches Bob Marley perform ‘Zimbabwe’
Feelin’ out of body, fresh out the bush still see the bodies
Pompeii, History Will Absolve Me prolly
Botched robbery, Tupac in the lobby
True believers, Ian Smith on my left
Dying breath cursing these niggers
African chess in the beds of dry rivers
A stick traces plans in the silt
Angolan land but the links Cuban built
Neat trick, now China owns the dam your blood still gets spilt
Game sewed like an AIDS quilt
Daniel Day crazy straw up in your milk
There Will Be Oil, Dragonteeth sown in the soil
Planes overhead day and night
Les Misérables, he did it for a crust of bread and paid the price
I rep my era, bridge the gap between Marachera and Sweatshirt
Paperback Secret Sharer, admittedly it aint his best work
Network Haqqani, ISI let them boys cook
Deplorable but truth be told we all love to see the white man shook”
Dour Candy is out today.
Identity Picks [full-album stream] / “Sweetheart” [video]
Ryan Power’s Identity Picks is out this week via NNA Tapes. Check out the new video for the song “Sweetheart” below, as well as a stream of the album in its entirety, with some analysis throw in for good measure. And if you want to watch Power play the jams from Identity Picks, be sure to check out his July dates here!
There are many things to consider when discussing Ryan Power’s newest album Identity Picks. I’ve already discussed the musical/structural material of the album to some extent, but it’s definitely something that’s worth briefly mentioning again. Power writes the kind of songs that beautifully marry his lyrical sentiments to chord changes and arrangement developments that complement each other in a manner similar to song cycles from the Romantic era. It’s exactly the kind of thing that other musicians freak out over. For example, on a recent road trip with a group of fellow MFA music students, I threw on Identity Picks and proceeded to watch all of my friends collectively lose their shit over the dude’s ability to work such theoretical/experimental ideas into a pop context. However, while I’d love to nerd out and give you a complete harmonic analysis of mode-mixing songs like “The Prize” or “Earth to Fuckface,” it’s important to look at exactly how Power’s text fits with his infectious music, a combination that makes Power a true songwriting talent.
Whether intentionally or not, Identity Picks is a concept album of sorts that reveals its themes slowly and subtly over repeat listens. Now, obviously the title has something to do with what Power seems to be going for here, but the meaning is not as readily apparent as it may seem. Throughout the record, Power is trying to make sense of what direction his life is taking, and whatever path he chooses forces him to pick out a certain identity of sorts. However, there is lyrical imagery throughout the album that suggests that Power is looking at picking his identity the same way one would pick teammates for a sport or competition of sorts, and as the album progresses, it becomes apparent these songs are about Power competing and fighting for a number of various goals.
This theme is apparent from the first track onward. On the excellent “Sample Lives,” Power sings “You can’t forfeit the game or choose a new side,” as he desperately tries to live his life and socialize. By the end of the track, Power realizes that its too late to placate the blame of his own neuroses on his significant others “need[ing] to go to therapy.” On the next track, “The Prize,” Power presents the most competition-based metaphors, as he proclaims “Shame on you you crazy fool! I am the prize!” The song works on a couple of levels: (1) Power could be singing directly to a lover about lowering their standards in an attempt for them to realize the absurdity of their demands, or (2) Power could be addressing himself and attempting to self-motivate in the same manner as “Sample Lives.” Reading the record’s title somewhat favors the second meaning, but the ambiguity of Power’s use of “you” and “we” allows a wonderful openness to interpretation.
This theme of competition, however inconspicuous, continues throughout the album. On the smooth R&B-referencing numbers like “New Attitude” and the album’s title track, Power expounds on his competition and his feelings towards the game. On “New Attitude,” he proclaims that he “can’t control it when they strut their stuff,” while on the title cut he sings “I’m not having fun” like a kid realizing that they just can’t beat their school’s rival soccer team. Power realizes the ability of his rivals and can’t quite convince himself that he’s able to overcome them. However, he gets feisty and defensive on tracks like “Earth to Fuckface” and “Well on Your Way,” where he essentially realizes that he doesn’t want to join the same club as stuff-strutting foes who wear “80s sunglasses, flannel shirts, and jeans that hurt.” By the time the album nears completion, Power seems comfortably defeatist, but only because he realizes that his rivals are worse off than himself.
Amazingly, the sentiment of each one of Power’s tracks is mirrored musically in some way. The defeatist songs are more down tempo and R&B-based, while his defensive songs are generally more uptempo and Rundgren-esque. Chords change and arrangements shift with the lyrics in subtle ways. It makes for a sort of psuedo-song cycle that becomes clearer with each listen.
In many ways, Identity Picks is similar to From Langely Park to Memphis by Power’s beloved Prefab Sprout. Like that album, Identity Picks is an immediately likable, sophisticated pop record that reveals hidden layers of meaning with each listen. Where Prefab Sprout’s record gives way to reveal simultaneously ironic mocking and sincere reverence for the landscape of 80s American pop, Power’s album functions as a similar portrait of 2013’s personal/musical landscape. And also like Prefab’s album, Identity Picks is in no way overt about this, inviting open interpretation even when the material is there for those who want to dig deeper.
If this is what “Sun City” sounds like, minus the Girls it seems, take me there. We’ll drive into town to the sound of one quavering organ tone as the sun over Sun City sinks into a sunset over Sun City. In the five minutes left of the day, that one tone will coast down the highway with us, growing louder along with the engine, until… yeahhhhhh, three more tones punch in to join it: right channel, left channel, center. It’s as simple as this. If we had more time, “Sun City” could probably scrub the sand off our boots like the wind does, erosion style. We pull over and we raise a monument of cactus and clay up to the sky and we stare at it immobile for hours after the sun sets, waiting for it to rise again.
The Bitchin B’s boys can do no wrong in 2013. Across a series of solid gold physical releases, Cooper Crain’s “side-project” alongside CAVE has evolved into the Chicago drone / neo-kraut scene’s finest full-time ambassadors of the 1970s. The Krausened EP shrunk us down to microscopic size and led us down an artery into the beating heart of Kraftwerk’s past earlier this year. On the upcoming Bitchitronics LP, due July 16th via Drag City (!), Crain and collaborators Dan Quinlivan and Rob Frye harness tape looping and delay systems in four sessions of beatless, gorgeous, hi-fi drone that channel the likes of Fripp & Eno, Tangerine Dream, and Alice Coltrane more faithfully than anything these ears have heard in a long while. While the album’s other sessions take their sweet, sweet time to develop, “Sun City” crams its full arc into five minutes of sublime oscillation.
Ensemble Economique is all at once mellow and wasted and refreshing. Sort of like drinking wine for dinner, only to wake up eating grapes for breakfast. Thus, the title for Brian Pyle (Ensemble Economique)’s new LP Fever Logic on Not Not Fun is almost the perfect literal representation of his sound to date. Having dawned audiences/listeners this year (so far) with a tour CD-R, a split LP with Heroin In Tahiti, and a Shelter Press LP, Pyle is an unstoppable mad-man, driving that same blend of vigor and lax into anyone craving adventure.
In full premiere presentation, Fever Logic by Ensemble Economique is below and streaming in full, just to make your Tuesday a little more of a journey into the knowingly unknown. As well, the “LPs [are] in reptile lodge artwork designed in-house. 240 on opaque maroon vinyl, 210 on black. Edition of 450” (thanks Britt), out officially July 9 on Not Not Fun. Enjoy!
[Photo: Clementine Nixon]