Damon Albarn

Over the Weekend (Aug. 31 Edition)

News, new music, and new videos to help you start the week…

When the Eagles of Death Metal first debuted in 2004 with Peace, Love, Death Metal, it would have been hard to believe that the side project of Josh Homme fronted by Jesse “The Devil” Hughes would still be around over a decade later.  But sure enough, the guys are set to return this fall with the cleverly-named Zipper Down, and last week they released a video for the track “Complexity”.  It is the perfect match of ultra-serious post-punk black-and-white aesthetics and ultra-goofy scuzz rock.

The craziest news of the weekend was an Instagram post that showed a member of the Wu-Tang Clan in the studio with a legendary film composer, as GZA shared a picture of him working with Vangelis.  This unique collaboration is sure to produce some memorable results.

Television audiences will get the chance to see another exceptional team-up in a couple of weeks, as Run the Jewels is scheduled to perform with TV on the Radio on Stephen Colbert’s version of the Late Show on September 16.

There are hundreds of other sites that you could visit to get a rundown of what happened at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, including Kanye’s acceptance of the “Video Vanguard” award, but we would like to share with you a bit of news about Mr. West that probably was not discussed at the VMA’s.  Kanye is set to do a special show at the Hollywood Bowl to perform his album 808s & Heartbreak in full, marking the first time that he would produce a live show from the unique record infamous for its heavy use of autotune.

Lou Barlow has been an integral part of several significant groups that helped shape the alternative music for decades now (Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, Folk Implosion), so it is always worth checking out whatever it is that he records.  NPR has the stream for his newest solo albumBrace the Wave, available for streaming this week in advance of its September 4th release.

Finally, have some fun with this short video of Damon Albarn performing the song “Mr Tembo” in front of its namesake, an adorable baby elephant.  Contrary to the reports of the Stereogum reporter, it seems rather obvious that Mr Tembo appreciates the performance.

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Review: Blur – The Magic Whip

Over on this side of the Atlantic, news of a long-awaited Blur reunion album has been greeted with a collective shrug.  It is a reaction that is indicative of the band’s general reception in the US, but not befitting of the group’s sustained greatness over the course of their career.  Most American listeners remember Blur more-or-less as a one-hit wonder (“oh yeah, those guys that did the ‘Woo-hoo!’ song!“), which is a shame because that particular attempt to taking the piss out of grunge is hardly indicative of the band’s diverse body of work.

Blur’s albums have been eclectic and sprawling affairs, with the band shifting effortlessly between different genres over the course of the record, and The Magic Whip follows that template as well.  Unlike the band’s previous work though, there are no big singles to be found on the new record; it is unlikely that a crowd favorite like “Tender” or “Beetlebum” or “To the End” will emerge from this set of songs.  Fans should not be discouraged however–though Blur does not reach the peaks that they have in the past, overall this is perhaps the band’s strongest group of songs since their self-titled release, and it improves with every listen.

It is rather remarkable how little The Magic Whip resembles the typical comeback album.  The effort compares favorably to the recent Dinosaur Jr. reunion, as Blur sounds like they never broke up in the first place; listening to The Magic Whip in conjunction with the rest of the band’s discography, the novice listener would have no idea that there was a sixteen-year gap between the new album and the previous full-lineup incarnation.  There are no attempts to cash in on any modern trends, nor are there any painful attempts to recapture the glory of their youth; perhaps this is the payoff for all that restlessness and genre-shifting from their previous albums earlier in their career.  Blur never really had a typical sound, so they are free to experiment however they would like.

Contrary to what one may expect, there is only a moderate influence that can be detected from Damon Albarn’s myriad side-projects since the band’s last album; there is a bit of dub that recalls The Good, The Bad & The Queen, a bit of the melancholy that marked his recent solo album Everyday Robots, but little that is reminiscent of Gorillaz.  Instead, it is a much more cohesive affair than what would have been predicted, especially considering the background behind the recording of the album (it was put together during the downtime of a cancelled music festival over the course of a few short days).  In general, The Magic Whip is a laid-back affair, and some of the album’s best moments are when the band takes it down a notch and stretches out a bit, such as in the drifting “Mirrorball” or the appropriately-named “I Thought I Was A Spaceman”.  Of course, Blur is never content to just stick around mining the same groove, so there are a fair number of uptempo numbers, most notably the cheery “Ong Ong”.  It is an effervescent song that is placed perfectly near the end of the album, serving as an excellent capstone to the record, and will have you singing along with its refrain of “I wanna be with you” long after the whole thing is over.

Over the Weekend (Feb. 23 Edition)

New music, new videos, and other fun stuff as you prepare for when the revolution comes

Holy shit guys, we’re actually going to get a new Blur record!  Damon Albarn has apparently found some time in between his three hundred musical projects to record an album with his old mates, as The Magic Whip will be released here in the States on April 28.  As an appetizer, here’s the bizarre lyric video for the weird new song “Go Out”.

Normally, we would have this new video occupy our lead spot–after all, it includes not only a song from one of the best albums of the year so far, but also features some of our favorite television characters as well.  However, it’s not everyday that Blur announces a new album, so the Bob’s Burgers-themed video for Sleater-Kinney’s “A New Wave” gets the second slot, but it should make you happy nonetheless.

NPR has a couple of new albums streaming on their site that are worth sharing: first, Swervedriver returns for their first record in nearly twenty years with I Wasn’t Born To Lose You, and then there’s Of Montreal offering up Aureate Gloom for your pleasure.

Father John Misty stopped by The Strombo Show, and during that appearance he covered the Leonard Cohen classic “Bird on the Wire”.  It’s a bit jarring at first to hear the song without Cohen’s trademark baritone, but Joshua Tillman still makes a fine version.

Death Cab For Cutie have shared another new track from Kintsugi, which will be out by the end of March, called “No Room in Frame”.

Vox takes a look at Eric Malmi’s attempt to determine the Best Rapper Alive by looking at the use of assonant rhyme.  As with most data-intensive looks at creative endeavors, take it with a grain of salt.

And finally, have some fun as the satirical website Clickhole asks the question “How Well Do You Know The Lyrics to Radiohead’s ‘Creep’?” with their ridiculous quiz.

Feats of Strength: The Good, The Bad & The Queen

The supergroup The Good, The Bad & The Queen has largely been forgotten these days, even though it has been less than a decade since their debut album; if they are remembered at all, it is solely as an odd footnote, only to be invoked when listing the wide variety of projects that frontman Damon Albarn has pursued outside of his original work with Blur.  Damon was fresh off his recent work with Gorillaz, and at the time there were plenty of people that were intrigued to hear what the unconventional combination of Albarn with The Verve’s guitarist Simon Tong, The Clash’s bassist Paul Simonon, and Feta Kuli’s drummer Tony Allen would create.  Most listeners probably did not expect the hazy and melancholic depiction of modern London that the album didn’t turn out to be, and as a result the record was left to be a curiosity to be occasionally puzzled over when stumbled upon in a record store’s bargain basement bin.

This album came out during my time working in radio, and I remember being one of those eager fans who feverishly anticipated its release.  I ended up playing the single “Herculean” on our specialty music show for a few weeks, even though I found it to be a strange choice–though it had a nice groove and some pleasant melodic ideas, there was no real hook to draw in the listener.  I borrowed a copy of the album for personal use, and eventually found it to be agreeable study music since it didn’t force me to shift away my attention from my reading.

My opinion of the album radically shifted the first time I listened to it on my iPod.  Before, I only paid attention to the finger-picked acoustic guitar arpeggios of “History Song”, but now with the benefits of headphones I was greeted with a surprise in the first thirty seconds.  Hey, I can finally hear Paul Simonon’s contributions to the album!  When I was listening to the band either through the speakers in the studio or through my laptop, the mix was improperly balanced so that Simonon’s bass was swallowed up and barely noticeable.  The speakers were usually not a problem, but there was a sweet spot where the particular tone and level of the bass didn’t come through on this album as it did on others (or I had been lazy with my listening and only could pay attention when I had speakers jammed into my ears for the first time–either explanation works).  Simonon’s bass was a revelation, because it turned what I had previously perceived to be a gentle acoustic ballad into a dank, reggae song.  Listening closely to his part, I was reminded of his classic Clash contribution “The Guns of Brixton”* and marveled at how his dub influences totally changed the feel of the song.

Now that I was fully alerted to Simonon’s presence, my opinion of the album completely shifted.  His bass provided a captivating counterpoint to the album’s more prominent textures and melodies, and now that I could identify his bass lines, each song became much more compelling.  Simonon is able to accomplish a lot even with relatively simple lines, as in the title track–the bass grounds the song even as everything is falling apart around it, making the overall effort much more effective.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen is proof then of how the bass can subtly affect the perception of an album–or that you need to make sure to listen to a record through several sets of speakers before finalizing your impression.

*Oh hey look, there’s Paul Simonon on one of the greatest album covers of all time!  Remember that for all your future trivia needs.

Over the Weekend (Oct. 20 Edition)

Who knew the middle of October would be filled with tons of new videos and news to report?

Thurston Moore’s new album The Best Day comes out tomorrow, but today he released the Halloween-appropriate video for the track “Speak to the Wild”.  Once you’ve collected yourself after watching it, be sure to check out his introspective interviews with The Guardian and Salon.  Of course, you may want to check out the NPR stream of the album as you do so, which we linked to last week.

However, the biggest news of the day is the confirmation that Sleater-Kinney is reuniting.  Early reports of their new box set that’s being released included a new single with the date “1/20/15”, and today the band confirmed that they will release their new album No Cities To Love on that date.  In the Line of Best Fit link you will also see the lyric video for new single “Bury Our Friends”, a tracklist, and a list of tour dates.  There’s no Portland date listed yet, but considering we witnessed their final show and their first “reunion” onstage with Pearl Jam, we can probably assume one will be added in the future.

Interpol released the video for El Pintor‘s “My Desire” today, and the grimy video also is appropriate for the season, filling the screen with plenty of the band’s trademark red and black.

Damon Albarn announced that he’s getting ready to get Gorillaz going again, with hopefully a 2016 release in the future, sure to please many fans of the side-project.  However, it’s another group of his that I’m personally more excited to hear about, and that’s the fact that apparently The Good, The Bad, & The Queen was not a one-off effort, and that a new album from the band is written and ready to be recorded.

TV on the Radio is getting ready to release their new album Seeds, and last night the band played the previously unreleased “Could You”.

Pond, the side project from a couple of members of Tame Impala, are set to release their second album, and have released a new video.

Foo Fighters were on Letterman all of last week, and Consequence of Sound has done a good job of cataloging not only the various musical performances (many of which include legendary guests), but also the various comedic skits that the band did for the show.  The band premiered their new single “Something From Nothing” last week on the show, and today released a fancy lyric/performance video for the song, featuring guitarist Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick.  The song itself takes a while to build, and I’m not entirely sure the effort was worth it, but its emphatic chorus is sure to impress many fans.

And finally, be sure to check out the comic strip Pearls Before Swine and their musical take on the legendary “Who’s on First?” routine.

Over the Weekend (May 19 Edition)

We’ve got a lot of fun videos and other distractions for your pre-Memorial Day week, so let’s get going.

First, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah released an intense and haunting video for their new single “As Always”.  The song is an interesting change in direction for the band, with spare guitar melodies filtering in and out of a spectral synth track, and propelled by a galloping drum track that stutters a bit with its inventive use of ghost notes.

Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz, The Good, The Bad & The Queen, and even more groups) released his solo debut Everyday Robots a few weeks back, and while we’re still processing the spare and melancholic nature of the album, that hasn’t stopped Damon from releasing a video for one of the more upbeat tracks on the album.  He released a video for “Mr Tembo”, a song about an orphaned baby elephant he met in Tanzania, and the video features clips of the little guy in action.  I think this is one of the few times I would prefer less footage of the musicians, just so we can get more baby elephant scenes.

AllMusic conducted an interview with The Dandy Warhols, where they do the usual thing of talking about influences and songwriting goals, which actually are rather revealing when you consider the trajectory of their career.  In addition, they have the premiere of the lyric video for their classic “Bohemian Like You”.  It’s actually the version from their recent release Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia Live at the Wonder, and features some goofy animation.  So, there’s that.

Last weekend’s Saturday Night Live had one of my favorite sketches of the season, with an Andy Samberg Digital Short that was a vicious parody of the inherent ridiculousness of the current EDM scene.  Radio.com picked up some of the reactions from various famous DJs, and many seemed to enjoy the joke, though who knows how many thought that they were not themselves the target.

SPIN has an article talking about the first public performance of the reunited Slowdive and includes some video footage from the secret gig.  It’s great to see the band together again, though expectations should be tempered a bit considering the (understandably) low quality of the footage.

And finally, we have a little bit more chart fun, as Concert Hotels came up with an interactive chart comparing vocal ranges of various singers from different eras.  Some of the results may surprise you.