Friday, April 28, 2006

Beck - Midnite Vultures

I shall periodically use this space to gush over my favorite albums. Gush forth!

Choosing your favorite Beck album, to use the ripe cliché, is like choosing your favorite child. And just like many firstborn children, early efforts Mellow Gold and Stereopathic Soul Manure were inconsistent and didn't turn out quite right. So those are out. Beck's folkier efforts (One Foot In the Grave, Sea Change) are great records in their own right, but I believe his most recognizable work is the bricolage of genres found in Odelay and Guero. It is unusual to assert that Beck's hodgepodge of lo-fi rock, folk, hip-hop, jazz, noise, and what-have-you has become a single genre that is Beck's trademark sound, but few fans would argue against this.

Midnite Vultures
falls in the timeline between two similar sounding albums, Mutations and Sea Change. Bookended by two dreamy folk albums, Midnite Vultures is instead another one of Beck's genre-bending works, but not in the same vein as Odelay and Guero. Instead, it is a blend of the worlds of R&B, funk, and rap. Beck approaches Prince's domain with a playfulness that teeters on the edge of parody, but this album is no "Weird Al" shit. The songwriting is among Beck's strongest.

Midnite Vultures is all about sex and money (two things I admittedly don't have a lot of). The songs celebrate the world of sleaze with tongue firmly in cheek, yet retain a seriousness that is hard to explain. I think the pastiche works here beause of the absurdity of the theme, not the songs themselves. A couple songs stand out as straight-up parody: gangsta-rap "Hollywood Freaks" and feel-good anthem "Debra." One listen to "Freaks" is all it takes to see how ridiculously terrible gansta-rap is, as Beck expertly slams rappers on their own turf. It also features some 'brilliant' rhymes: marvel at how seamlessly he rhymes 'automatic bazooty' with 'tutti frutti,' and the line 'Hot dogs, No Doz/Hot sex in back rows.' "Debra" begins like every awful funk ballad should: shimmering wah-wah guitar, bouncing bass, smooth horn line. When he starts the verse, Beck shows off his amazing vocal range (think Chris Martin, but heterosexual) as he declares his love for a girl he met at J.C. Penney. Seems like a standard set-up, but then comes the unexpected chorus that becomes the anthem of every horny male in America: 'I want to get with you, only you/And your sister, I think her name is Debra.' Such honesty. It would be a crime not to mention another album highlight, 'Milk & Honey.' As the title suggests, this track exemplifies the dirty ecstacy the album is all about, with glorious chainsaw guitars and a completely hypnotic pulse.

Every track on the album is solid. The music goes down easy and is easily comparable to the best of R&B past and present. There are plenty of catchy horn riffs, funky bass lines, and jangly guitars to make it stand as the best album Prince never made. The production is top-notch. There is so much going on in every track, which helps add to the attitude. Much of the auxilliary percussion is made up of chiming cash registers and sexual thrusts. It's every bit as impressive as Nigel Godrich's work with, ahem, other bands (whose work in Mutations and Sea Change fails in comparison, production-wise, with The Dust Brothers' work here).

My favorite Beck album is also his sexiest. Check out the video for the first track, Sexx Laws (featuring Jack Black, because what isn't these days).

Friday, April 21, 2006

Thank you, Duh Moines, good night

Des Moines sucks. I figure I am probably not the first person to say it.

I don't mean to sound elitist. Not on my own music blog, I can do better than that. Is there such a thing as "ultra-elitist?" If not, well that's a term I just coined for being better than music elitists. Ultra-hoo, I refuse to believe that I am one of less than a dozen people in the greater Des Moines area keeping track of the national indie music scene. Earlier this week I was one of about twelve people treated to the musical stylings of Austin, Texas band Voxtrot at one of Des Moines' premiere venues (wooo) Vaudeville Mews. Just one week earlier they played two sold-out nights in a row in New York City, followed later by a sold-out show in Toronto. These guys are getting a lot of press from their great live shows and two EPs, but apparently I was one of the few in the area to know about this. Indeed, the boys of Voxtrot and their tourmates Irving (check out their video here) put on a hell of a show, but it was no secret they were surprised to play to such a small crowd.

This only couples with my disappointment with a similar turnout to Minneapolis rockers The Plastic Constellations last month. There was a sizeable crowd to begin with, but twenty or so people left after the opener: local S***knot side project To My Surprise. I am ecstatic that support for local music here is so high. The Envy Corps have, to my knowledge, sold out every show in the state so far this tour. But if the people of Des Moines don't get off their duffs and see bands featuring musicians they did not go to high school with, the local music scene will be all that Des Moines has to offer. We are lucky to get acts in the first place due to stereotyping, it would be no surprise to learn how many bands pass us over after a bad experience on the first tour.

I'm disappointed in you, Des Moines. In fact, I'm going to start referring to you as Duh Moines from here on out. Catchy, no?

Smells like Pavement

I was thinking today that there is absolutely no reason that Pavement could not have been as popular as other widely loved early 90's bands such as Pearl Jam or Nirvana.

Except that Stephen Malkmus is still alive and making music, because he's not a jerk and he cares about his fans.

Thursday, April 20, 2006