Monday, March 31, 2008

Tout Seul dans la Forêt en Plein Jour, Avez-Vous Peur? by Woelv

Woelv is multi-instrumentalist Geneviève Castrée. Québécoise by birth, she now lives in the Northwestern United States. Tout Seul dans la Forêt en Plein Jour, Avez-Vous Peur? [All Alone in the Forest in Broad Daylight, Are You Scared?] is her attempt to understand the American mindset, partially by going deep inside herself (as in "Sang Jeune [Young Blood]"), and partially by putting herself in the mind of characters she has no connection with (such as "L'homme qui vient de marcher sur une mine [The man who stepped on a mine]").

Since the entirety of Tout Seul is sung in French — a language I do not speak even passingly, though I occasionally recognize a few words that have similar counterparts in Spanish, another language I know only slightly better — it is even difficult to grasp on the most basic level without help. Luckily, the liner notes have been translated into English.

But I listen to music mostly at work, where reading liner notes would be inconvenient at best. So, I decided to make the leap and take Tout Seul at face value, treating Castree's voice as just another instrument. (Therefore, be warned that any song titles here in English are merely my attempts at translation.)

Castrée (who sometimes appears on others' records under Geneviève Elverum) is the wife of Phil Elverum of the Microphones, Mount Eerie, and D+. He is one of my favorite artists, and his presence is deeply felt throughout Tout Seul. His voice appears on "(réconciliation)" and "Deux Corps [Two Bodies]" and his typically heavy drumming features on "Drapeau Blanc [White Flag]" and "La Petite Cane dans la Nappe de Pétrole." Others are less specific, such as the guitar on "(réconciliation)" sounds like the one he used on "The Moon" (from The Glow, Pt. 2).

Castrée's voice carries similarities to Mirah and The Blow's Khaela Maricich with an occasional belt of Bjork and a bit more soft palate. The most effective track on Tout Seul was "La Mort et le Chien Obèse [Death and the Overweight Dog]," which punctuates a rolling bassline and multi-tracked vocals with Castree's howling — left and right, far and near — until it dominates the soundscape.

On the downside, Tout Seul is only 36 minutes long (including the 12-minute title track, two-thirds of which seems to be a slowed-down recording of an airplane taking off). Each track seems to reside in its own emotional space — which can be a little jarring when three songs of around one minute's duration appear one after the other — but the spare instrumentation (is that a cello on "Sons Mon Manteau"?) is the thread that binds it all together. Repeated listens reveal further depth, but all in all, this kind of subjective musical journey is difficult to critique, as it is by its very nature so intensely personal.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Last Man Standing by Jerry Lee Lewis (duets)

The title of Jerry Lee Lewis's new album refers to his legacy as one of the original founders of rock 'n' roll. The legendary Sam Phillips's Sun Records studio was the launching pad of many of the greats: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison. Of that stellar group, Lewis is the Last Man Standing — that is, he is the only one still alive.

But don't let the morbidity of the album's title put you off, because Last Man Standing showcases "The Killer" at his best. Even at 71, he still knows how to, in the words of Chuck Berry, "keep a-rockin' that pi-a-no."

Despite a guest list that reads like the membership rolls of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Last Man Standing is a "duets" album in name only — this is a Jerry Lee Lewis album through and through. Lewis has an amazing ability to make people like Jimmy Page (on "Rock and Roll"), Bruce Springsteen (on "Pink Cadillac"), John Fogerty (on "Travelin' Band"), and Mick Jagger (on "Evening Gown") look like unwelcome guests on songs that they wrote.

Lewis, who proclaimed himself one of only four great stylists in music history (in company with Al Jolson, Jimmie Rodgers, and Hank Williams), plays them as if he wrote them, and it often seems like he did, with rhythm and melody changes suiting them more to his individual style. It's like he's saying to his fellow legends, "Last Man Standing is my album, and you're lucky to be on it."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Retox by Turbonegro

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2008. Reprinted with permission.

Ever since the release of its widely acclaimed Apocalypse Dudes (the album closest in their discography to a masterpiece), fans of Norwegian "death punk" band Turbonegro have been clamoring for a suitable followup. But the intervening decade had only resulted in a breakup, a subsequent reunion and two albums of subpar material, so there was only disappointment.

Now, though, it appears that Turbonegro is back to its old tricks, and Retox is the result. From the opening track, "We're Gonna Drop the Atom Bomb," the old influences are there. The seasoned listener will detect traces throughout the album of various metal bands from the 1970s and '80s, from classic Judas Priest and Iron Maiden to the relatively modern stylings of Faith No More.

Though the songs by Happy-Tom and Euroboy form the basis of the experience, it is Hank von Helvete's vocals that truly carry the day on Retox, deftly riding the line between parody and tribute. Tongue firmly in cheek, Turbonegro crafts solid hard rock songs with a combination of wit and sincerity.

But fans should never fear: Turbonegro is above all a heavy metal band, and their songs' topics reflect a very male-focused mentality that, surprisingly, resonates genuineness. Covering subjects from the perils of aging ("Hell Toupee") to the benefits of being overweight ("Everybody Loves a Chubby Dude"), the men of Turbonegro are definitely coming to terms with their insecurities.

Oh, who am I kidding? With songs like "Stroke the Shaft" (with the warning "the head's off-limits") and "I Wanna Come" ("I wanna come, to the party at your house. I wanna come, but I can't get off" [the bus]), the fellows of Turbonegro are really just still teenagers at heart (and elsewhere) and are showing on Retox that they're just out to have a good time.

And I have to admit that there's a real sense of freedom in just letting go, popping this CD in the car (alone, of course — no one but another Turbonegro fan would understand), and screaming about assisted masturbation on the way to work. Retox's final track is an eight-minute epic that asks the musical question "What Is Rock?", and I have to admit that the answer for me is, "This album is." Nobody is producing music like Turbonegro, and though that's probably a good thing, I for one am glad that they are.

Children's Music That Adults Can Stand

With two young children, I spend a lot of time in the car listening to XM Kids, channel 116. (There is another children's station called Radio Disney, but they seem to basically play edited pop songs.) A lot of what is broadcast is the usual silliness, but occasionally my ear perks up to a song that seems to have a little more going for it than the rest.

As a sort of public service for other parents looking for music that is appropriate for kids but isn't the same old treacle, below are some album recommendations (often based on hearing only one song) of some children's music that I found myself humming later on in the day, and even admiring.

  • Asylum Street Spankers: "You Only Love Me for My Lunch Box" (from the CD Mommy Says No! — children's music on eclectic instruments, with a lyrical wink to the adults).
  • Barenaked Ladies (aka "BNL"): "Crazy ABCs" (from the CD Snack Time — the alphabet song for the Extraordinarily Literate crowd).
  • Michael Bublé: "Spider-Man Theme" (available as an MP3 download).
  • Steve Goodie: "Harry's Wand" (from the CD Pottered Meat — music from Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom" with lyrics summarizing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban).
  • Jessica Harper: "Stay Three" (from the CD Hey, Picasso* — a great all-around CD; here's my full review).
  • Peter Himmelman: "Feet" (from the CD My Green Kite — the beat is seat-swayingly good, and it's educational, too!).
  • Jack Johnson and Friends: "Upside Down" (from the CD Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George* — another great all-around CD with appearances from Ben Harper and Matt Costa, and a cover of a White Stripes song).
  • Mr. Saxophone: "Welcome to the Jungle Gym" (from the CD Songs from the Treehouse — music from Guns N Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" combined with funny lyrics about the playground).
  • Justin Roberts: "Pop Fly" (from the CD Pop Fly — an infectious chorus, and it really captures what it's like in the outfield).
  • Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: "Luck" (from the CD Easy — brilliant musicianship, thoughtful and intelligent lyrics, and a banjo on a rap song!).
  • The Sippy Cups: "Dear Prudence" (from the CD Give Peas a Chance — with covers from the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Ramones, and others, how can you go wrong?).
Albums with a * are highly recommended because — so far, at least — they stand up to repeated listens.
Related Posts with Thumbnails