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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lana Del Rey -- Ultraviolence

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After the critical and commercial success of the song "Video Games," Lana Del Rey seemed poised for a breakout. However, these things happened:
1. Some strange contingent of the Internet accused her of being a fraud. For some reason, the fact that "Lana Del Rey" is not Lizzie Grant's name is shocking to people. Not everyone gets to be born with a stage-ready name like "Madonna" or "Prince." Lana Del Rey sounds cool. Lizzie Grant as a performer's name doesn't really stand out. People also speculated about and complained that Del Rey came from a wealthy background, was a record-label creation, and on, and on, and on. If her songs are good, who cares. I meant to end that sentence with a period.  
2. Something really weird happened to her lips. Like she found the hive Winnie the Pooh gets all his honey from, and stuck her face in it. Or maybe botched botox. Again, does this have anything to do with her actual music? No.
3. She appeared on SNL, sounded differently from most people, and for some reason, the same contingent of Internet haters jumped all over her for being weird. The backlash was so ridiculous, Kristin Wiig had to perform a skit the next week lampooning the fact that people are mean to people who are different. Again, if Lana Del Rey is weird, but her songs are good, who cares? In fact, if she is weird, and she isn't forcing you to interact with her at gunpoint, who cares?
4. After all this fuss and drama, her major label debut, Born to Die, was finally released in 2012, and it is...lackluster. Unfortunately, Born to Die lacks cohesion, focus, and just doesn't work as a whole. Del Rey is still an engaging vocalist, but that album just doesn't seem to suit her. It sounds too new. I write all this, but Born to Die still ending up being the number five best-selling album in the world in 2012. Artistically, though, it falls short.
Hey, the list is done, let's drop the large font.
In regard to #4, Del Rey either realized this and strove to create something better, or has simply gotten better with time. Her latest album, Ultraviolence, suits her perfectly. With that said, what suits Del Rey certainly ain't a lot of people's cup of tea.
Where Born to Die was all over the place, Ultraviolence's twelve tracks are remarkably cohesive in sound and theme. That cohesion may be what turns off some listeners. Opener, "Cruel World," introduces Ultraviolence's sonic palette. Woozy strings (often synthesized), spy-guitar, thick atmosphere, and a slow, heavy, rolling molasses river of rhythm. This is the ideal background for Del Rey's seventy-five years too late vocals. She sounds at home alternately belting out notes, cooing like a dove, and playing husky-voiced lounge singer. Del Rey has a thing, and if you like that thing, Ultraviolence gives it to you in its prime. Lyrically, each song revolves around a particular woman (and perhaps particular versions of Del Rey) in relation to a man. The men in the songs are generally powerful, charismatic, and deeply flawed. Generally, the female character tries to fix the man, but can't. Sometimes, as in "Money Power Glory," the female has more sinister designs. At times, there's a certain vulgarity about things, and in small doses, that fits Del Rey, as well.
Del Rey closes everything out with a cover of Nina Simone's "The Other Woman," putting a nice period on everything with a sad saxophone solo, and the lyrics:

The other woman has time to manicure her nails
The other woman is perfect where her rival fails
And she's never seen with pin curls in her hair anywhere

The other woman enchants her clothes with French perfume
The other woman keeps fresh cut flowers in each room
There are never toys that scatter everywhere

And when her old man comes to call
He finds her waiting like a lonesome queen
'Cause to be by her side is such a change from old routine

But the other woman will always cry herself to sleep
The other woman will never have his love to keep
And as the years go by the other woman will spend her life alone, alone

After all the glamor of the previous ten songs, "The Other Woman" lets the air out nicely.
Del Rey worked with Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) on this album, and rumor has it they butted heads often, and pushed each other hard. They should work together again.

2014 Interscope
1. Cruel World 6:39
2. Ultraviolence 4:11
3. Shades of Cool 5:42
4. Brooklyn Baby 5:51
5. West Coast 4:16
6. Sad Girl 5:17
7. Pretty When You Cry 3:54
8. Money Power Glory 4:30
9. Fucked My Way Up to the Top 3:32
10. Old Money 4:31
11. The Other Woman 3:01

Monday, October 20, 2014

Lana Del Rey -- Video Games (Digital EP)

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Twitter is a strange beast I barely understand, and rarely visit. In October of 2011, I visited Josh Scogin's twitter and noticed he was giving a lot of props to some person named Lana Del Rey, for her new song, "Video Games." I checked out the song, and it is great. 2011 was a great year for me and for my family, and a string-dominated, sentimental-yet-honest song like "Video Games" was a lovely way to begin the end of it. The song sounds huge and ancient, Del Rey's alternatingly silky and husky voice fresh, and yet a ghost from the past. "Blue Jeans" is the perfect way to follow up such a song, as it is more upbeat and forward-thinking, giving an impression that a ball has begun rolling. That's it. Two songs. Two songs perfectly joined. I can't grant a two song EP higher than an "8," unless those two songs are both longer than eight minutes. Of course, there are the requisite remixes that play when the party is over, but I'm not counting those here. Still, this Del Rey kid has a future.

2011 Stranger/Polydor/Interscope

1. Video Games 4:46
2. Blue Jeans 3:34
3. Video Games (Mr Fingers Remix) 9:00
4. Video Games (Omid 16B Remix) 5:14

Friday, October 17, 2014

Re-purposed Destiny

Recently, I was spellbound by this video by Russian instrumental band, Sleep Dealer, for their song, "Nozomi."

However, I soon found out that the video was not in fact created for Sleep Dealer's "Nozomi," but The Audreys' lovely, if unremarkable, "Sometimes the Stars."

Someone took the video, cut out the audio, and replaced it with Sleep Dealer's song. However, the video's destiny and connection-seeking themes and mysterious, dreamy atmosphere fit "Nozomi" far better, in fact, miraculously so. To reiterate, as I watched the "Nozomi" version first, I was stunned at how well someone had translated the exact aural feeling of the song into a visual one. Watching the same video with "Sometimes the Stars" in the background is not nearly as serendipitous an experience. All of the backbreaking work by the animators, putting purpose to imagination, ended up better fitting a song they most likely never heard. How is that even possible? Why do I identify so much with this entire idea? Why do I feel like this describes my life? What is happening to me? Am I dead? Is my life flashing before my eyes! Am I dreaming someone else's life!? I need to get out of this study-library and pour myself a bowl of Frankenberry just in case it's my last! Is Frankenberry even real, or is it something I only dreamed, and that will cease to exist when I wake up, just like how I dreamed I had every Transformer I ever made sometime in 1987, then woke up to find I actually only owned three. WAS DREAMING THAT DREAM ONLY A DREAM?!?!
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Isn't this new, DC-Comics designed box, gorgeous? Was that too many commas? Are commas even real?
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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lali Puna -- Faking the Books

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I picked up Lali Puna's Faking the Books shortly after its release because Radiohead told me to, and also because, at the time, I agreed with Lali Puna's politics. Lali Puna are based out of Munich, Germany, one of my favorite cities in the world (all the German-ribbing I do on The Nicsperiment is good-natured...I'm quite fond of that place), and I'm not usually one for loving cities.. Lali Puna are a rock band that employ a lot of keyboard, generally in place of the guitar (but not exclusively...there is still a bit of guitar in the mix). Wikipedia says Lali Puna is "electro-pop," and back when this came out, "hip" people were calling them IDM or EDM or something with three letters, but they have a bassist and a backbeat played by a live drummer, and their vocal hooks aren't very poppy, so whatever, cool people, Lali Puna are a rock band. Puna's songs...Lali Puna is a weird name...anyway, Puna's songs are about what living in a George W Bush-era America is like...for completely unaffected arty people living in a large German city. Politics aside, the band also explore the mechanization and dehumanization of life. This leads to their greatest musical flaw. Despite the fact that Faking the Books balances out its slower, tripper songs with some faster-paced jams, the album often feels like it lacks energy. After a decade, I think I've pinpointed the reason: their vocalist, Valerie Trebljahr, sings with a whispery monotone that sucks the life out of a lot of their songs. Don't get me wrong, dead-eyed female vocals can sound incredibly cool, but over the course of 11 songs, they can start to drain. Case in point, album centerpiece, "Grin and Bear."

Instrumentally, "Grin and Bear" hits on all cylinders, creating a sleek, building atmosphere that  is primed to explode during the song's extended outro. As Trabljahr repeats the song's final line, "We won't return here," all she has to do is emote. She doesn't, though. She sounds like she is leaving a fast-food restaurant who's service she is mildly dissatisfied with, and whispering the line into her mother's ear. She should be belting out these lyrics. The band loaded the gun, and she is disinterestedly taking out the bullets, hiding them in the sock drawer. However, it's not really until that moment that Trebjahr's vocals wear out their welcome.
Up until that point, they are, as stated earlier, quite cool. "Micronomic," the album's single, received a fittingly cool video. It's a highpoint on an album that's just a little too cool for its own good.
Meaning, her voice makes the songs a little too cold and distant. You got that from that sentence, right? Wasting all my good metaphors...grumble...grumble...

2004 Morr Music
1. Faking the Books 4:00
2. Call 1-800-Fear 3:24
3. Micronomic 3:23
4. Small Things 3:40
5. B-Movie 3:13
6. People I Know 3:05
7. Grin and Bear 4:41
8. Geography-5 2:27
9. Left Handed 3:44
10. Alienation 4:01
11. Crawling by Numbers 2:52

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

Friday, October 10, 2014

10/10/2014--LSU Student Union--8:50 PM

So here I am at ten minutes to nine on a Friday night, 32 years old, on the third floor of the LSU Student Union, listening to a bunch of extremely dorky college students badly sing karaoke through the floor as I attempt to learn 300 pages of organic chemistry. Kids, do what you love, but make sure you also set plans into motion so that you can support the family you may one day have. If not, they will stay home without you on a Friday night, eating popcorn and watching a movie while you listen to this girl singing so damn flat her voice might as well be a pancake while you curse out your organic chemistry teacher for assuming that all her students are 19 years old and boundless, full of energy, with three lifetimes worth of time to dedicate to her stupid class. There is only one option here, and that is to listen to Billy Idol at full blast to see if I can throw off the pitch on what is already the worst rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody I have ever heard.