Tag Archives: Alex Blum

The Tunics

the tunics
Courtesy of The Tunics

“If it cuts like a knife I will kill you where you stand,” snarls Joe Costello, lead singer and guitarist of The Tunics in the chorus of “A Winter’s Tale,” a torrid tale of a love triangle that meets a violent end. Violent lyrically as well as stylistically, the fiery Britpop trio roars through the anthemic rock songs of its 2007 debut release Somewhere in Somebody’s Heart. Though the band has been relentlessly compared to the genre’s vaunted quartet, The Arctic Monkeys, it is more sophisticated, darker and scarier than even its chilly contemporary’s Favourite Worst Nightmare.

Rather than lamenting the failed love of fluorescent adolescents, The Tunics’ lyrics center on members’ experiences growing up amidst the rise of knife and gang culture in the dodgy underbelly of London. “But I know where I can came from, the land of weapons and fists / I understand the power of song, and that dreams are made of this,” croons Costello on the track “Shine On,” imparting his faith that music can overcome circumstance.

But the thematic frustration with gang violence comes to a furious head on the following track “In The City.” Costello takes out his exasperation on his guitar as he whips and thrashes through the opening power chords. As Costello’s voice cuts in, he describes the plight of a kid who goes out to the club on a Friday night only to be violently mugged at knifepoint. “What can you do when you know he carries a knife?” Costello asks in the chorus, and quips sarcastically, “But that’s the price you pay for having fun.”

Instead of the adolescent laments of unrequited love and growing pains that provide the fodder for the ditties of other Britpop bands, The Tunics conquer a more serious subject matter with feverish passion, sophistication and devilish wit.

—By Blog Editor Alex Blum

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The Bird and the Bee

birdbee
Courtesy of The Bird and the Bee

In The Bird and the Bee’s “Polite Dance Song,” the opening track of its 2007 EP, Please Clap Your Hands, Inara George sings “I try to be as coy as I can / But I wanna see your naughty bit / Would you be nasty with me?” Though most of the synth-pop duo’s songs are not quite so risqué, they do share a playful mischievousness that is invigorating.

Indeed, the band started as a playful experiment when, as members Inara George and Greg Kurstin describe on their MySpace page, they “met a few years ago, discovered a common love of jazz standards … nerded out for a couple hours playing every song they knew … and then wrote a record together.”

Kurstin brings a tremendous amount of musical nerdiness and skill to the table. Having written or produced tracks for the likes of Sia, Lilly Allen, Beck and even Britney Spears’ recent come-back effort, Circus, he has a wealth of musical experience that he employs in the masterful musical arrangements of The Bird and the Bee.

On “Polite Dance Song” Kurstin drops a funky, laconically sliding hip-hop beat that introduces George who sings with a with a slow rhythmic flow. The soprano’s upper-register rapping feels both ironic and refreshing.

They do this again in the track “F–king Boyfriend,” where Kurstin mixes frenetic electronic beeps and chimes with jaunty dance beats and synths that glissando kaleidoscopically through the song. In this song about an impatient lover, it sounds as if George stifles a laugh as she sings, “Would you ever be my, would you be my f–king boyfriend”

The key to the success of Kurstin and George is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, experimenting with different musical styles while still keeping their music consistently light and lively. They pepper mischievous humor onto every track, creating music that is perfect for celebrating the closing hours of a week dedicated to Dooley, the Lord of Misrule.

—By Blog Editor Alex Blum

Róisín Murphy

roisin
Courtesy of Jose Goulao

Róisín Murphy’s Myspace

When Róisín Murphy, formerly of the popular European electronic duo Moloko, produced her first solo album, Ruby Blue, it was a titanic flop. It unraveled into an ugly mess of glitches, beeps and strange noises. Her misguided attempt to create an “experimental” album produced one that was serious, cerebral and drab — not exactly the qualities that you look for in a electro-pop album.

But Murphy rebounded on a grand scale in her most recent release, Overpowered, by adding the most essential element of electro-pop : fun. While Ruby Blue evoked a sense of suffering in robot purgatory, the bright synths and funk-inspired beats of Overpowered are sure to invoke uncontrolled bouts of excited dancing.

On the track “Checkin’ on Me,” Murphy departs from the uniform four-to-the-floor beat, a standard of dance music, favoring a doo-wop swung beat that sets the lively tone of the song. Above the beat, she layers bright, brassy horns, sweetly swelling violins and frenetically oscillating guitars. Despite the number of diverse instruments doing drastically different things, her expert musical arrangement makes the song sound textured and full rather than cluttered. In fact, the song is mixed so well that Murphy is easily heard as she delivers her lyrics softly, coolly and with a pinch of attitude.

Even the more subdued and serious songs are tinged with an air of playfulness absent from Ruby Blue. On “Primitive,” Murphy sings with somber determination over spectral humming synths but brightly dinging electronic bells lighten the gloomy tone of the song. Similarly, the standout track “Dear Miami” lambasts the extreme decadence of Vice City. The guitar distortion, synth blasts, violin string picking and intermittent beeping infuse the song with a strong rhythmic energy.

By pumping even her softer and more solemn songs with a manic energy, Róisín Murphy created an album that is powerful and engaging from the first track to last. Taking herself less seriously and having more fun with her music she has risen from the ashes of her failed debut a funky, dancing electro-pop phoenix.

—By Entertainment Blog Editor Alex Blum

Bearsuit

bearsuit
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Bearsuit’s Myspace

At first listen, the British indie sextet Bearsuit sounds like a cacophonous mess. There are electronic beeps, synthesizers, guitars, trumpets, accordions, strings, flutes and clips of spoken word all jumbled into the songs on its 2007 release oh:io. But engaging in a more careful listen of the album sheds light on the fact that the electronic beats seem to line up with the guitars and percussion and the flutes, strings and accordions complement the vocals. Even the spoken word samples seem to fit in the right place.

The track “Foxy Boxer” relies heavily on electronic sounds for percussion but avoids the migraine-inducing thumping beat of a techno song. Functionally, the electronic beeps hit the notes that the guitar in the song wavers between, accenting the high and low notes. The lo-fi distant quality of the male and female singer’s voices on the track create a unique ethereal quality that gives the song an otherworldly and almost spooky sound.

On the single “Steven F—king Spielberg” orchestral strings and cymbal crashes cue in the drums and flute that set the lightning-fast pace of the song. During the first verse the strings thrash violently as the flute glissandos above and below competing for attention. The soft ghostly voices of the singers are pushed almost to the background. In one verse the flute moves with such speed and vigor to rival Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble-bee.”

Throughout their third album, oh:io:, Bearsuit creates a pleasant and interesting organized mess. Listening to the album is kind of like being in an actual Bearsuit. It’s a little uncomfortable, but you can have a lot of fun with it.

—By Entertainment Blog Editor Alex Blum

Angus and Julia Stone

angus
Courtesy of Angus and Julia Stone

Sometimes a whisper is far more effective than a shout. Angus and Julia Stone, a brother-sister troubadour duo from Sydney, Australia, embrace this idea as they address themes of disillusionment and disappointment in their debut album, A Book Like This. The album plays like a lullaby, soft and soothing but swelling with emotion.

The title track opens with partially muted guitar plucking that soon contends with deep, growling strings. Julia saunters into the first verse, singing with sad determination. She has a voice that’s high and thin, but very gravelly, like a young child smoker. Guitar and strings crescendo in the chorus and, joined by steady piano glissandos, they build to forceful volume. Throughout the track Angus and Julia toy with volume, reeling the listener in with soft sonorous melody and then infusing the song with loud and vigorous emotion.

On the opening track, “The Beast,” Angus languidly describes the monotony of working life with cool resignation. “Pack up your bags / your work here is done / a slave to the beast / no mercy with time,” he sings, his soft and smoky voice sliding over steady strumming guitar chords. Piano accompaniment brightens the catchy chorus, giving the song a bittersweet feel.

The Stone siblings attack themes of dissatisfaction and disillusionment with this same attitude, pairing dour lyrics with richly pleasant tunes. On “Hollywood,” Julia cleverly addresses the false expectations instilled in her by the movies she watched as a child. In the real world, “Cinderella would have scrubbed those floors till her hands grew old and tired / And nobody would have looked her way,” she speculates jocularly to an ironically peppy melody.

The duo weaves pitch-perfect vocal harmonies, guitar chords, piano melodies and even harmonica and trumpet accompaniment into a story that is warm and vivid despite its simplicity. The bright quality of their music is comforting even though their lyrics speak of disappointment and dissatisfaction. Like a great novel, A Book Like This is vibrant, imaginative, complex and full of unassuming candor.

—By Entertainment Blog Editor Alex Blum

Born Ruffians

born ruffian
Courtesy of Dale Harvey

Born Ruffian’s Myspace

Experimental rock is sometimes hard to digest because it defies our expectations. Listening to something like the avant-garde prog-rock band The Mars Volta for the first time is a bit like returning to your bedroom, expecting it to be in order, only to find your furniture tipped over and your clothes strewn about the room. However, Born Ruffians’s music is brilliant due to a subtle defiance of musical convention. It’s more like walking into your room to find all of your furniture moved one inch to the left. It’s not immediately jarring but after some investigation, it’s a little curious.

Throughout their debut album, Red, Yellow and Blue, The Canadian trio seems to subtly manipulate every facet of its music to create a unique sound. On the track “Barnacle Goose,” lead singer Luke Lalonde plays with the flow of the lyrics, transitioning seamlessly from melodic singing to a sort of rhythmic rapping. At one point in the song his words become almost indistinguishable as his syllables fall fast and hard, creating a vocal percussion or beat-boxing effect.

On “Hummingbird,” a song about fearing loneliness, there’s a remarkable interplay between vocals and instrumentation. As Lalonde sings nervously, trying to allay his fears about living a solitary life, the drummer smacks the snare rim anxiously and unevenly. Between lyrical lines, the bass echoes Lalonde’s vocal melody, creating a call-and-answer effect. Near the end of the song Lalonde sings “Fly away little hummingbird,” and the guitarist responds by moving erratically around the high-pitched strings, evoking the image of a hummingbird weaving and darting away.

Sometimes bands go too far in the name of innovation. Experimental bands sometimes lose their music in discordant cacophony. But Born Ruffians keep their music fun and accessible. Red, Yellow and Blue is easy to take in on the first listen and is still full of enough nuance and subtle manipulation to make subsequent plays interesting. Sometimes it’s the small things that count.

—By Entertainment Blog Editor Alex Blum

Ida Maria

Ida maria
Courtesy of Ida Maria

Ida Maria – “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked”

“I need some whiskey please / to bring me consciousness / and kill my innocence,” pleads native Norwegian singer Ida Maria in the opening lines of her single “Queen of the Night.” In this and most of the songs on her debut album, Fortress Round My Heart, it’s easy to picture her yelping the lyrics with a whiskey bottle in hand, its contents sloshing wildly around the bottle.

The album contains all of the raw and genuine feeling of an emotionally charged drunk dial to an ex. “Drive away my heart tonight / because it’s no longer mine” she implores in a throaty howl on the track “Drive Away My Heart.” On “Forgive Me,” which attacks a similar subject, she shouts ferociously to the point when, overcome by emotion, her voice cracks ever so slightly.

But it’s not all boozey tears for Ida Maria. She leaps through upbeat songs with the same unabashed vitality. She perfectly captures the nervous excitement of a new love affair on the peppy track “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked.” She admits to an anxious desire to impress her date on a romantic rendezvous that ends between the sheets.

On a similarly upbeat track titled “Louie,” the bouncing piano keys make the song sound utterly gleeful even though the song is a desperate plea to a friend to accept her reckless drinking and wild behavior.

Her music certainly reflects this lifestyle. On her current tour, she was forced to take two weeks off after some ill-advised onstage acrobatics left her bloodied, and unrestrained drinking put her on the verge of collapse. But Ida Maria refuses to be held back by injuries, fatigue or anything else. Her music is forceful, and her lyrics are unrepentant. Her zest for life, overwhelmingly apparent throughout the album, is remarkable. Like her whiskey, she drinks life up by the bottle, not the glass.

—By Entertainment Blog Editor Alex Blum