An Introduction to Music Reviews

I know I said this would strictly be a film blog, but I can’t handle two blogs (I had a music blog for some time last year but I couldn’t keep up with both it and this. So I’ll try to do a music review a week (I listen to just about as many new albums per year as I do watch new films) so there’s a lot to talk about – at least for me. I’ve recently listened to about 14 new albums (this week alone) so I’ll do two quick reviews. Hopefully you enjoy these – I know I will, they’re a break from the “seriousness” of film reviews.

A NOTE: the grading vs. color system will go as such
Gold = 10/10
Purple = 8-9/10
Blue = 6-7/10
Red = 1-5/10

BASEMENT JAXX – “SCARS” [**/**** or 4/10]
After an auspicious start with their career – two very mediocre, but fun albums being how they decided to open their work in a tough industry. Marketable, but hardly qualitative. Then came Kish Kash; an album in 2003 that received plentiful applause from big music reviewing publications like Pitchfork. “Brilliant” as said by many. Sadly, this is the only album of theirs I haven’t heard and their latest prior to this (Scars) being another danceable album with more consistency than the two they began with (that shared a common element in having one huge track that had me hitting repeat for months on end). So I went into their latest, Scars with hope – even if the reviews weren’t as hopeful as I’d wished.

Alright, so the album starts off very well. Scars (the lead-in track) is mostly instrumental (like plenty of their other songs) but it doesn’t feel like a Jaxx single. Rather, it feels like the track Singularities by Filastine, but hackneyed to appease the masses. With messy vocals midway through the track, but maintaining the beat that remains durable throughout the entirety of the song, the first song off of Scars defines the album perfectly: inconsistent, a few highpoints, but ultimately brought down by the unnecessary vocals that Basement Jaxx don’t skimp on.

There are, of course, highlights as aforementioned. The second song entitled Raindrops is high up on my extensive list for “Best Dance Song of the Year”. The beat isn’t too detailed, the vocals work beautifully with the musical composition behind it and their lyrics are cheesy, but generally what you’d get from a good dance song. Sexy and groovy – the definition of dance in this era. Feelings Gone is another song that is similar in structure and perhaps the only other piece of greatness Jaxx have given heed to this year.

The rest of the album jumps from mediocrity to decent to average – there isn’t much room for growth or depth, or so one would think given their approach to this, their 5th album. Primarily every other track on the CD is average, but there are some tracks that will leave a rotten taste in your mouth and ones that you’ll want to uncheck from your iPod playlist. Songs like Twerk that contain loops of 4 different bars of beat throughout the entirety. The voice doesn’t change pitch either (digitally altered to do so, I’m sure, but a terrible decision) which makes the track both dreary and annoying… without any real purpose to boot.

An album that has as many bad songs as it does great; the rest being heard as primarily filler and not of anything truly abject or interesting. Ultimately average, but Raindrops will remain on repeat for the time being.

DUM DUM GIRLS – “SELF-TITLED [EP]” [***/**** or 8/10]
Last year, one of the most impacting voices I’d heard blare through my speakers was that of Kristen Gundred (who then was apart of the new defunct Grand Ole Party). Her voice – particularly on the track “Look Out Young Son” – is a mixture of that bombastic, sort of barritone sound you’d hear in singers like Alicia Keys but also carries like ’70s ostentation that Janis Joplin was so famous for. Since then she’s departed from the band and released a four-track EP to showcase her solo talent in a way that couldn’t be further than the traditional methods of Justin Timberlake or Beyonce; brash, innovative and bleak.

On this EP – might I add, one of the finest of the year – you’re subject to a variety of reverb, distorted guitars and looped drum sounds; garish to a large extent, but lo-fi is a sound I love. They sound a lot like Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, so if you’re a fan of his, expect to adore this girl who has broken out of the restraints of convention and into the grungy sound this generation has come to recover. If you don’t get my Ariel Pink reference, just imagine Joy Division as recorded through a tin can.

The four tracks – accumulating about eleven and a half minutes of play time – never get old. I’m listening to my fourth repeat of this album and I cannot get enough. She kicks off the EP with a song entitled “Catholicked”. The lyrics are difficult to distinguish beneath the brash guitar strings and quieted bass, but the words that you do catch speak of the despondency that comes with being born into a Catholic family. Telling the tale of not wanting to be her father’s daughter, that Jesus didn’t die for her sins (that her sins are her own) and getting an abortion. It’s no wonder Kristen (being referred by the name of Dee Dee in this one-woman band) and her new sound are lunatic, applying the thought that lyrics can be secondary to sound and still convey one’s pain, if not in a more effective light.

The rest of the tracks follow suit – if in a less connected way as she’s only finding her sound now – with the second “Hey Sis” sounding like a weakened “Catholicked” but speaking not inside her mind but to a trouble sibling. She immediately bounces back with “Put a Sock In It” which has the most dreary rhythm on the album and evokes the sounds of a solitary soul. It isn’t something you’d like to repeat like the first or last track (which I’m about to get to), but if you want a song that feels like cutting yourself, go with that one, even though with a title like “Put a Sock In It” you might feel slighted. And, of course, the finale: “Yours Alone”. This lightens up the album with a more contented sound – think The Organ if you’re familiar with the Canadian band that broke up after a mere single LP – but once more distorted. Her voice is chippier and finds rapport with the sound in front of it; primarily sounding like something you’d find a large group of people dancing to in a musky basement somewhere in New York.

The album is truculent, filthy and a far cry from frothy. If this is the path that Kristen Gundred wants to take from here on out she has my blessing — although she probably wouldn’t want it.

Next up I may review R+B’s latest in Lady GaGa, Rihanna and Shakira. Two of whom I love, one of whom got old quick. Bet you can’t guess which is which.

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