Monday, 24 January 2011

Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM [2009]

The famous daughter of famous parents, actress, singer-songwriter. Is her success dependent on easy start or a natural consecution of a huge talent passed in this family? Charlotte’s music career started over 26 years ago with supporting her father in Lemon Incest. But in this period she finished only 3 albums, of which the last – IRM is considered to be a major success.

Charlotte never was a composer. Firstly, she sang songs written by her famous father Serge Gainsbourg, later on she was choosing other artists to prepare material for her like the french band Air on 5:55. This time she chose Beck, American multi-instrumentalist working with Flaming Lips and Devendra Banhart. He wrote all music and helped Charlotte with lyrics, shaping them from the pieces she gave him. But as they claim, she was present in the studio all the time, guiding him to help her make a piece of music she carried in her heart.

Charlotte confessed that the most inspiring for her were self-experiences – of her illness caused by ski-accident – cerebral haemorrhage and multiplies MRI scans she had to take, as well as her work on last Lars von Trier film – Antichrist. In fact the MRI machine is essential on the album – firstly appearing in its name – IRM (french word for MRI) and as an... instrument in the title track.

The musical side of the album is very simple, yet rich in interesting ideas and sounds. It’s clear that vocals are the centre point, but music is not just a background, it cuddles Charlotte’s voice and strengthens the atmosphere. It’s never aggressive, but varies a lot in emotions of each song. The two dominating factors are lullabies such as In The End or Vanities and energetic, though not always optimistic possible-hits like Heaven Can Wait (with additional vocals by Beck) or IRM.

It’s almost impossible to avoid comparisons with her famous parents works, especially Serge’s music. He was followed by many artists, but somehow his daughter managed to find her own path, taking relatively little from her father’s. She wanted to learn to sing “naked” as the girls in his bands used to do whereas Beck took his characteristic percussion style. The very humble music consists mainly of piano, guitars, strings or some electronica. As for the genre I’d classify it as pop, although Trick Pony is a bit punkish, and slower songs remind me of chanson fran├žaise.

To be honest Charlotte is not an impressive singer, neither in scale nor in voice emotion, this thing that makes us shiver. Most of her singing is whispering or doing some very simple melodies with calm voice. But that’s the best! It is said that simplicity is most beautiful and she confirms this opinion. Her voice creates beautiful, pure atmosphere, although it is not free of sadness. In Antichrist she presented a full complexity of female nature, with its attacks of joy, anger and despair – and so she did on her album showing how happy and – excuse me – also fucked up we women can be sometimes...

I’m falling in love with this album. It’s short, simple and very complex at the same time. It has great, wise lyrics like my favourite Time of the Assassins. Thanks to its light atmosphere you can listen to it many times in a row and not get tired AND keep discovering more and more in it. Generally I avoid pop and electronica, but IRM enchanted me, caught and apparently doesn’t want to let free.

Recommended for mornings as a waking and optimistic music-day-starter or for calm evenings with a cup of cocoa or a glass of wine.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - F♯ A♯ ∞ [1997]

I’m not really into Godspeed You! Black Emperor, although I know it’s post rock classic. In fact I only listened to two of their albums, but I want to share my few thoughts over F♯ A♯ ∞.

I guess that many people give up on trying this band because of their veeery long songs. And how many of us do have time to focus on a song that is over 16 minutes long? This album has only three tracks, but the longest is over 29minutes...

Yet this album is one of the few that make me stop and listen carefully to all long, complicated parts. It begins with a song The Dead Flag Blues and an intro-recitation of a text which pretty much shows a vision of destructive, falling society. Still in this horrible atmosphere there is something beautiful  -
the skyline was beautiful on fire
all twisted metal stretching upwards
everything washed in a thin orange haze

I said: "kiss me, you're beautiful -
these are truly the last days"

you grabbed my hand and we fell into it
like a daydream or a fever

I must say I really like this lyric and its background, simple string band, reminding me a lot of my favourite Crippled Black Phoenix songs (I know it’s CBP who could inspire after GY!BE, since F♯ A♯∞ is a record from ’97). Around sixth minute the sound of train brings a change (this part is called Slow Moving Trains), from here our Blues becomes like sci-fi movies ‘pressure’ music. That takes us to 10th minute where we’re introduced to – what I’d call – Hawaiian western (and it’s really called The Cowboy...) The outro is a very nice minimalistic bell-solo.

The second to come – East Hastings – starts with a windy talk and some pipes to develop into The Sad Mafioso – slowly growing song with beautiful Knopfler-like guitars and again strings – I confess that rising melody&pace (10-12min) with low cello “sawing” sound is absolutely eargasmic to me! When it calms down in a part Drugs in Tokyo, I seriously need resuscitation – it simply makes me think “hm, so drugs in Tokyo makes you feel like space western? cool, let’s try it!” And the finishing Black Helicopter – hey, stop fooling us with the names GY!BE, it’s a bee or fly, but I still want to play with it!

Providence gives us a surprise – a part of the interview-song of Iron Maiden – Virus. The second part – Dead Metheny is a nice, calm instrumental with lovely cello and bells parts. Kicking Horse on Brokenhill starts with distorted vocals but develops into epic – indeed feeling like riding – instrumental. The conclusion of it is String Loop Manufactured During Downpour... with psychedelic whispering „where are you going” and spacey wandering broken by 3 minutes of silence. The hidden outro is a nice balance of growing drums and simple, out tuned – I guess – guitars.

The number and variety of motives on F♯ A♯ ∞ could easily occupate a writer who would analyse them, not to mention the rows of musicians getting inspired. I don’t feel strong enough to go through all the details, so I only gave you a major impression of this stunning album.

Recommended for long, lazy evenings. To be listened on the headphones while letting yourself float away into apocalyptic dreamland.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Swallow the Sun - New Moon [2009]

I must complain first: It was supposed to be a review of something totally different, when I suddenly became a victim of mass-Finnish-lovely-metal-drunkards attack! I managed to refuse being blackmailed “we’re not gonna record till you write about us J.” but when Juha came to “One call to Mikael and you’ll NEVER get new Opeth”...

New Moon was released in autumn 2009 and pretty much made my winter turning me into doomy, shadowy bang-your-damn-head monster. Swallow the Sun showed a new drummer and a bit over 50 minutes of metal masterpiece.

We get introduced by melancholic Aleksi’s solo on keys rapidly broken by  powerful guitars building the walls around you (they are obviously aiming to shut you in a music box). Through those walls only one thing will break – highly emotional, almost desperate Mikko’s screaming. All combined, These Woods Breathe Evil is a great start – both to album and concert.

The following Falling World takes us to doomy hallways with heavy, slow riffs and tremendous clean vocals, broken by growl only once. The chorus is pretty epic and I bet all fans know it by heart and sing along during shows. Its lyrics were written by Mikko-the vocalist  and together with ...And Heavens Cried Blood they stand next to other six being Juha Raivio’s (generally most of StS lyrics are his) To me it's one of the best texts and songs in their career.

Sleepless Swans gets even more atmospheric with acoustic guitars, key-background and soft vocals... only until chorus, then StS shows scary side again, really heavy guitars and mix of growls&screams /We are sleepless swans, frozen on the lake/. Around 5th minute Mikko shows another use for his voice – he recites a part of text – doing it in a incredibly sensual way (ok, I know I should obsessing about it;))

...And Heavens Cried Blood starts with driven guitar intro subtly suggesting they must also enjoy sludge works whenever they don’t DOOM DOOM (dam). It’s not a song that gets easily remembered due to its heaviness and a little monotonic slow riffs, but it carries a hidden pearl – beautiful keys once again, especially when they get uncovered in the end.

And piano turned to guitar and there was created  a woman... Lights On The Lake (Horror pt.III) opens with my favourite guitar harmonic technique joined by ethereal female voice. If you ever wondered what does a ghost of murdered woman sounds like – please, check Aleah. The concept of the song is a dialogue between a man and a ghost of a his daughter, whom he killed soon after his beloved died giving birth to her. It’s perfectly hearable in music and artists’ voices. A note of depressed madness facing fading innocence. Wow. One of your highlights dear Finns.

Seems like we can’t get much higher, but New Moon. Title track, accidentally sharing name with creepy book&film. I can’t really put in words what feelings it carries, but even though I’ve been loving Cult of Luna for ages, only after New Moon I started to actually praise to the moon. This song is simply 5 minutes of perfection, of feelings cumulating in you, making you bow your head down and cry with Mikko...

After that, Servant of Sorrow can’t be more than very good, although it has really beautiful guitar passages just like ending Weight Of The Dead – both more traditional, in doomy atmosphere, with a lot of charm, but less surprise.

That became a really long review, so I’ll just praise all members for doing a great job altogether (but I can’t help noticing again that Mikko’s voice gives me thrills every time he opens his mouth) also when it comes to artwork designed by Aleksi helped by Juha – I have the luck to own it, and it’s truly one of my favourite booklets. I see only one failure here - the album ends with spoken /Forgive me all, no more hope/ - if Swallow the Sun wanted to depress me, they failed. The beauty of this album makes me ecstatically happy.
Ok, now I’m waiting for your next word(s) guys!