Words commonly inhabit songs; but amongst today’s sterile, dance-centric popular music, words are more of an afterthought than a necessity. That’s probably why Stephen Malkmus remains an icon of the indie rock persuasion, where his frequent travels into lyrical absurdity can be appreciated. Malkmus and current band formation, The Jicks, return with their fifth studio album, “Mirror Traffic.” In Stephen’s sizable, double-decade repertoire, the Beck-produced “Mirror Traffic” is one of the most melodically mainstream albums, but still quite far off with its flexible chord progressions and unpredictable declarations.
If thoughtfulness is a quality becoming all too rare in mainstream music, rejoice in knowing that it still thrives in the fringe realm of bands like Fleet Foxes. The Seattle-based folk group returns with “Helplessness Blues,” their second full-length album and the first release since 2008. Echoing previous efforts, “Fleet Foxes” and “Sun Giant,” with its multi-instrumental baroque folk sound and faultlessly blended choral harmonies, “Helplessness Blues” nonetheless bares traces of greater maturity and emotional exploration.
Ears are meant to be stimulated, and Tune-Yards begs to be the weapon of choice for flexible music listeners eager to be perplexed, enticed and bombarded all at once. Helmed by New England native, Merrill Garbus, Tune-Yards is an explosion of worldly influences, ranging from traditional Swahili music and eerie indie melodies to modern soul and R&B. Following the 2009 experimental album “Bird-Brains”, Garbus returns with “w h o k i l l”, an instruction manual on how to bewilder an audience before proceeding to reel them in.
10. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul
I remember seeing posters all around town in Austin at SXSW in March and being very intrigued by the premise of this project (David Lynch working with Danger Mouse and Mark Linkous with a roster of vocalists including Nina Persson, Julian Casablancas, the Flaming Lips, Suzanne Vega and Iggy Pop), so i was very disappointed when the record label basically shelved this project [though the book of Lynch’s photos is still being sold, cleverly packaged with a blank CD]. The production is top-notch, layered and more upbeat than you might expect from a Lynch project. you can still hear the whole album on NPR’s site.
my top 20 songs of the year list is coming soon along with commentary, but until then here are 5 of my favorite covers from the past year. All 5 of these are tracks that work as more than just a one-off novelty, worthy of repeated listens:
In theory, she was an artist you want to root for— all these ideas about art and celebrity and a flair for the dramatic. But the first few singles made the Lady Gaga project feel so presumptuous, her artsy entitlement overwhelming her songs’ occasional strengths. “Bad Romance” was the moment where the music didn’t just live up to the (self-inflated) hype, but surpassed it. The track is epic in construction— by the time she gets to the bridge, more than three minutes in, the realization that there are hooks yet to come is thrilling. It helps that RedOne’s production matches the songwriting’s torrential drama; the churning, earth-shifting low-frequency synths are a programmatic reflection of the singer’s unsteady, perhaps unwise, infatuation. But it’s Gaga’s performance, the wholly unapologetic fools-rush-in carnal energy, that commitment to emotional bravery in a context of increasingly twee chart pop, that makes “Bad Romance” feel so necessary. —David Drake
Nothing tops the original, but no one needs help tracking that one down. here’s a pretty good remix (of which there are also many):
Lady Gaga – “Bad Romance” (Skrillex Radio)
(Photo by Brandon Wu – plenty of more incredible shots where that came from)