Björk. I shouldn't have to say much more than
that. Not only is she arguably one of the most fascinating
artists of the past 10 years, with a voice that's quite
simply leagues beyond most, but she has a strong work
ethic to back her up. So if you're a Björk fan,
you don't even need to read reviews really. You know
you're getting a solid effort each time out that's
impeccably produced and yet never a retread of her
Especially with Medulla. For
her latest release, Björk
has enlisted some of the top beatbox artists in the
world to create an album that is almost entirely true
to its title—an album whose every sound is created
by the human voice. Granted, someone like Chris Carrabba
(Dashboard Confessional) couldn't get away with that.
No, if anyone was meant to make such an album, it simply
had to be Björk. But the question is, did such
an album need to be made? And does it rise above its
Well, to be honest, Medulla
doesn't completely succeed. Though expertly executed,
the album is an experimental one at heart, and about
a third of these tracks come off sounding like just
that while often fascinating, fail to invoke obsessive
listenability like her best experimental albums, Homogenic
When both qualities are working
together, we have songs like “The Pleasure Is All Mine,” “Who
Is It?,” “Oceania,” or “Triumph
of a Heart,” which easily rank as some of her
best work, and don't sound gimmicky at all.
Unfortunately, the brilliance
of these songs only leaves one wanting more on some
of the spare tracks. And then there's “Ancestors,” which, while
I respect the sincerity of it, is just kind of gross,
and even worse, it cheats—it features the sound
of what is quite obviously a piano.
So to answer the question, Medulla may have been better
trimmed down as an EP (with tracks chosen at my discretion,
of course), but it is still one of the most daring
and interesting listens that's come out this year.
Your Voice Repeating
Maybe I'm letting the name of this band get to me,
but I can't help but feel lost in this music. Genre
mixing is nothing new, but usually when a band does
so, you still have a pretty good grasp of what's going
on. Like this is the song where they mix jazz and electronic,
or rap and metal, or some other (no longer) unlikely
But with Namelessnumberheadman
(named after a character in Steven Soderbergh's “Schizopolis”),
it’s not that simple. Often a song will start
off as the ambient folk song, or the skittering electronic
song, or the pummeling disco song, but then not a minute
later the poles have completely reversed, and I don't
remember who I am or what I'm listening to. I don't
remember the transition, and I don't remember the destination.
I've listened to this album at least 10 times by now,
and I'm still as lost as I ever was.
This is a very good thing. Most albums nowadays are
content for the only surprise in a song to be how many
times the chorus will be repeated. Every so often you'll
find an album that manages to surprise you in the first
few listens, but soon most of the secrets are revealed
and you still enjoy the album but it's never quite
the same the first few listens.
And then you have Your Voice Repeating, which, perhaps
in some inspired glitch in the copy-protection process,
actually manages to erase your memory of it as it goes
along, to the point that by the album's finish, you
have no concept of the album, you cannot describe it
to others, and you certainly cannot write a coherent
synopsis of it. And so you stumble into some sort of
lazy meta-review with weak allusions to much more competent
storytellers than yourself. You become me, and you
are writing the review, and meanwhile I am lost somewhere
in the Record Machine.
And then, without warning, the album ends. Wait. Already?
But it just started. Have 40 minutes passed already?
I still have nothing to say. I still have nothing to
say. I still have nothing to say.
This is your voice repeating.
Garden State: Music From
the Motion Picture
story goes that when Zach Braff (writer, director,
and star of Garden State) went to pitch his movie to
the studios, he took his homemade compilation of chosen
songs with him. One
studio after another turned him down but kept the CD. Later
a few of those studio reps mentioned to Braff that
they really liked the songs on the CD.
The Garden State soundtrack contains thirteen tracks
by twelve artists. The Shins have two songs because,
as Braff states, “...they are the greatest band
in the world.” [Note: RED
knew this even before
Zach told us.] Other featured artists
include Coldplay, Zero 7, Colin Hay, Cary Brothers,
Remy Zero, Nick Drake, Thievery Corporation, Simon & Garfunkel,
Iron and Wine, Bonnie Somerville, and playing that
great song during the trailer teaser: Frou Frou.
Now that the film is playing, some people who will remain nameless are saying
that the movie doesn’t live up to its own soundtrack. Indeed,
this soundtrack sets a really high standard. This
collection of songs is the most coherent compilation
yet encountered (which I haven't made myself). With
no mood interruptions, each song leads
seamlessly to the next allowing a
calmly joyful mood to grow for the entire 53 minutes
(and one second). The songs I knew I already
loved, and the songs I didn't know are becoming loved
now. I may even have discovered some new favorite
bands. Thank you, Zach!
My only complaint is that the album
ends. There's room for 80 minutes on a standard
compact disc. Until Braff makes a second
Garden State soundtrack album, I'll just
have to keep this one on 'repeat.' —JP
It must feel pretty good for a band to make a classic
album on your first try. The band in question—The
Muggabears, one of the indiest of indie bands from
Norman, Oklahoma—makes this task seem easy.
Kim Berlin, the album in question, is laced with
a breezy confidence that I haven’t heard in
a debut since Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted.
The Pavement comparisons might as well start now,
I suppose. The Muggabears members sound like their
inspiration (one song even name drops such indie
rock deities as Stephen Malkmus, Thurston Moore,
and Billy Callahan), and band’s dynamic frontman,
Travis Johnson, is also a history major, like Malkmus.
And, like Pavement, the source of the band’s
confidence feels like it’s coming from its
singer. The Muggabears sound like Pavement Jr. There’s
nothing wrong with this, of course. In fact, your
humble critic would definitely count it as a plus.
Music that is meant to sound like great music can’t
do anything less than impress.
For a band that uses the word “noise” in
three different ways to describe their music, the
songs on Kim Berlin are surprisingly catchy. Once
you hear “Milky and Free” and “Wait
Loss,” it’s almost a given you’ll
here them again and again in your head. And I challenge
anyone out there not to hum or sing “One Last
Fuck” while they’re in the shower.
And, oh, the lyrics! The lyrics that make you laugh
(“Wonder how/ how many kids/ Neil Diamond/
Has had sex with”) and lyrics that make you
cry (“In your green and white wedding/ My brother
drank so much/ He drank all he touched/ Sister, now”).
Would great lyrics count as another Pavement similarity?
The “crying” song, “Sister Now,” is
arguably the best song on the album. The Muggabears’ sonic
chops are on full display in the last few minutes,
and we see that the band has a very real chance to
become the perfect indie rock band. The controlled
chaos of the music is brilliant. “Blues For
Chairs,” for example, sounds like it’s
about to stumble and fall at any moment. It reminds
me of the circus, and that act where a drunken clown
walks on the tightrope. He’s all herky jerky,
but his balance is stellar. Audience gasps and applauds
If I have one criticism about Kim Berlin, it’s
that the ending is a bit anti-climactic. An album
this sexy needs to have a finale that is matching
in its sexiness. Endings of albums can go one of
two ways. Either they can go all out at the end,
or they can be subdued. Either two can work for completely
different reasons. Kim Berlin’s ending feels
subdued in a bad way. An album this good needs to
have an ending that let’s you know it’s
an ending. The album’s final track, “No
No Waspy Wasp,” doesn’t.
After Kim Berlin, the Muggabears don’t have
anywhere to go but up. If you would like more information
about how ass-kicking and hard-rocking this band
really is, please visit their website at www.themuggabears.com.—JS
23rd Street Lullaby
If you ask your parents who Patti Scialfa is, they
will most likely respond by exclaiming, “She
is Bruce Springteen’s wife! She was the female
vocalist in his E-Street Band!” That will probably
be the only response you receive as they close their
eyes and travel back to a time where everyone knew
who “The Boss” was and denim jackets
and tight, cuffed jeans were the definition of cool.
Truth be told, Patti Scialfa is Bruce Springsteen’s
wife and was the female vocalist in his band. But
her success as a vocalist does not end there.
At the ripe age of 50, Scialfa has released her
second solo album in ten years. 23rd Street Lullaby
is a beautiful album that tells the story of Scialfa’s
wild youth through her mature and aged voice. Each
track paints a picture from a scene in Scialfa’s
life at a time when she was a struggling musician,
playing her guitar and singing on the street to make
money. Hers is a story that we have all heard. Certainly
she is not the only famous singer who experienced
hardship on the road to musical success. The difference
between Scialfa and the many other musicians who
try to depict their hardships through their lyrics
is that Scialfa does it right.
The album is beautifully produced by Sciafla and
Steve Jordan. Each song is clear and concise with
nice instrumentations with guitar and keyboards.
She successfully steps out of Springsteen’s
shadow and proves that her vocal talents are enough
to sustain her as a wonderful singer and lyricist.
Though the album may be more appealing to the older
generations, it works for everyone. The songs allow
the listener to imagine New York City as portrayed
through Scialfa’s smoky voice. It works as
a cohesive whole and welcomes both young and old
to take a trip down memory lane with Scialfa by entering
New York through the eyes of an uncertain young woman
as she arrived over 20 years ago.—AT
The Beautiful Letdown
Switchfoot has gained much success in various genres
of music. Initially recognized as a Christian Rock
band, the group has subtly made the crossover into
the rock/pop scene without too many people realizing
that Christianity is at the root of nearly all its
songs. The band’s efforts have not gone unnoticed.
The Beautiful Letdown is the band’s fourth
studio release, and the first release on a major
That Columbia Records picked up the band, and radio
fans hungrily devour its singles are not enough to
sustain the album. The Beautiful Letdown is a bit
chaotic as a whole. It’s impossible to really
grasp what the band is trying to capture. Even the
recent addition of guitarist/keyboardist, Jerome
Zahn has not enabled the band to truly find its sound.
Boppy songs with weird techno incorporations nearly
guarantee a sense of embarrassment over owning the
CD. Just when you think that you have made up your
mind to toss the album out of your car window as
you’re speeding down I-15, a ballad such as “On
Fire” comes on and you think, “Maybe
However, that thought really only lasts through
that song, and maybe through “Dare You to Move.” Most
of the other songs on the album possess lyrics that
are positively juvenile and show no sign of depth
or creativity. The eighth track on the album, “Gone” includes
lyrics such as, “Gone, like yesterday is gone/like
history is gone/…like a summer break is gone/like
Saturday is gone.” The album’s last track, “Twenty-Four” is
even worse, as it seems that lead singer Jon Foreman
is on a quest to see how many times he can say the
words “twenty-four” in one song. The
current count is 14 times.
The Beautiful Letdown is inconsistent in sound and
style. Most of the tunes are rather lame and arouse
no feelings of excitement or curiosity, while Foreman’s
voice tends to be monotonous. Perhaps the album’s
saving grace is the hit single, “Meant to Live”,
but even that can only last so long.—AT