Welcome to Check Your Mode

The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Kylie Minogue - Aphrodite: A-

Earlier this year, Goldfrapp released an album of heavily '80's-influenced dance music, entitled Head First. Fake drums echoed, synths squealed, and Goldfrapp winked at the listener as hard as she could, all while making a pretty good album in the process. Although many cited Olivia Newton-John as a clear influence, one could argue that Goldfrapp entrenched herself on Head First into an exaggeration of a sound pioneered by Kylie Minogue, and, ultimately, perfected by Cascada's "Everytime We Touch". Essentially, Goldfrapp was making a Kylie Minogue parody with Head First, but little did she know that Kylie Minogue was going to do a better Kylie Minogue parody in the same year.

Currently, I write my reviews in the living room of a house in the suburbs, so one can imagine how ridiculous it looks when I try to resist putting my hands up at Kylie Minogue's command in "Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)". It's a cliched demand for anyone who's set foot in a school dance, but, inexplicably, Mingue makes it sound fresh. Absurdly unselfconscious lines like "All we need is love in this life, it's true" are forgiven amidst infectious production. On Aphrodite, Kylie makes it clear she knows what she's good at and delivers to the best of her ability; no guests, no experimentation. There's a song to strut to ("Everything Is Beautiful"), kiss to ("Cupid Boy"), kiss off to ("Get Outta My Way") and dance to (All of them). It's one of those dance albums that covers all of the bases within its provincial purpose and is oddly versatile for it. You could just put Aphrodite on and never have to skip a track.

And dance's most reliable songstress has saved the summer, again.


Big Boi - Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty: A+

Usually, when it comes to hip-hop albums, it is the beat that initially garners my interest. The lyrical content can either elevate or diminish my impression of a song or album, but, undoubtedly, this is almost always a secondary judgement. Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, Big Boi's first solo outing from his mainstay, Outkast, worked, for me, in the exact opposite way. Don't get me wrong: The beats of "Shutterbug" and "General Patton" are some of the most inventive I have ever heard. But, from a purely melodic standpoint, most of the songs of Sir Luscious Left Foot do not break much new ground. Instead, the vocal performances of Big Boi and his compatriots captured my interest; the music, itself, revealing its greatness with repeated listens.

EVERY voice here sounds perfectly positioned to compliment the music. Big Boi, himself, is always rapping on some level of profundity; not once does he show flaw or blunder. His role as the center of the show is unquestioned, throughout, so I want to take some time to give some much-deserved respect to the proverbial stage hands and dressing-room consultants who allow the man to perform at his most spry. T.I.'s elastic drawl fits wonderfully on the DIRTY (feel free to add "r"'s to your leisure) "Tangerine". Yelawolf's verses on "You Ain't No DJ" are both aurally pleasing and lyrically splendid, his hilariously manic annunciation one of the many highlights of the album ("And God said 'Look to the burning bush'/Now turned to weed/So I jumped on my shit when I saw my mamma burning trees"). Although the performance, itself, is nothing spectacular, Janelle Monae's maturely subdued tone compliments the neo-soul romp of "Be Still", perfectly. The post-chorus of "Hustle Blood" is pure comedic gold. The skit at the end of "You Ain't No DJ" is so brilliant, it should be featured in the lyrics booklet. And, of course, the David Blaine, which I will probably never forget, whether I want to or not.

A moment to list a few notable words and phrases on Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (pronunciations included when appropriate):

  • Anything ending in "er"
  • With [weeth]
  • Kodak You ("Kodak" being a verb in this case)
  • Pretty Bitties
  • Outdoors [out-douz]
  • Alligator Souffle
  • Patton [pateyn] [patuhn]
  • Semi Up To This Tow Truck
  • Ayalabiameyayagains [Good fucking luck]
  • Chicken Chow Mein
  • The entire chorus of "Fo Yo Sorrows"
  • Must Be Teatime
  • Perimeter
  • Obsolete [ob-suh-leyt]
  • Feel Me
If reviewers are reluctant to award Sir Luscious Left Foot the classic status it deserves due to the hype machine that still hums in the distance, allow me to speak for them by saying it is the greatest rap album released in at least four years. This is one of those albums that comes around every once in a while that perfectly exemplifies an hour of pure good times. Not a moment of Sir Luscious Left Foot is wasted, so the least anyone can do is waste no time in listening to it.


The Magnetic Fields - Realism: A-

  • Stephen Merritt has said this is The Magnetic Fields' "folk album"
  • The band's still satirical after all these years, and is still obsessed with undermining the "pop" formula, a word whose definition seems to change with every Magnetic Fields album
If you've heard anything about this album, you already know the above two points; points that are absolutely right. After more than a decade of having his tongue firmly in his cheek, one would think that Stephen Merritt's muscles would weaken before our ears. But here we are in 2010, and The Magnetic Fields haven't really changed, and, which is probably a bigger accomplishment, they are still funny.

First track, "You Must Be Out of Your Mind" is straightforward wry humor ("You can't go around just saying stuff / Because it's pretty / And I no longer drink enough / To think you're witty") and "The Doll's Tea Party" is your standard critique of upper-middle class ennui ("We won't have it said / We're fashion obsessed / We're just prettier ladies / Than most of the rest"). And, though the subject matter isn't revelatory, the band's parodies of them are still quite enjoyable. I giggled when I heard Merritt murmur "I could throw you off the nearest cliff" at the end of "I Don't Know What to Say" and I smiled at the seemingly random reference to Ho Chi Minh in the German-speaking "Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree". The banjo-dominated production, bereft of all distortion and most amplification, sounds great as well, and is never at odds with the, at times, scathing lyrical content.

If you're looking for more than just a facade of sincerity, I would direct you away from Realism and the rest of the Magnetic Fields discography for that matter. However, everyone's inner cynic will love this album, because it is (arguably) healthy to get bogged down in the lovesick every once in a while.


School of Seven Bells - Disconnect From Desire: B+

I wouldn't expect more than just an enjoyable listening experience with Disconnect From Desire. School of Seven Bells play a kind of ethereal pop that can either keep you smiling or get you really annoyed. Thankfully, they never get very close to the latter, as there is always something to keep your interest amidst all of the fuzz and cooing. "Windstorm" is a clear highlight, its choir-like chorus making an immediate case for the album. And the rest either plays off a catchy riff ("Camarilla", "Dust Devil") or just plays off a confidence you are actually convinced of (Spoon take heed).

For an album so musically winsome, singer Alejandra Deheza's lyrics are surprisingly bleak and lovelorn. "You don't have to be cruel," she sings among perfect harmonies on "Dust Devil". "But time has a heart for cruelty". In "I L U", Alejandra states her emotions most explicitly. Its unique phrasing allows her say "Looking into your eyes for a sign that maybe you feel the same," without any obvious feeling of caesura in addition to this key detail: "But you don't". It's moments like those that give Disconnect From Desire more depth than one who just listens to the music would give them credit for.

I wouldn't take my rating for Disconnect From Desire too seriously, because, over the time I listened to it, my rating increased significantly, so it may be greater as the year goes on. I would suggest giving this album a listen, simply because it may grow on you as it did for me. The first half of 2010 has yielded some pretty amazing music, so calling this one slightly above average in comparison is more of a compliment than you'd think.


RJD2 - The Colossus: A-

Most of those who have problems with RJD2's most recent material don't like Ramble Jon Krohn's increased vocal role in the songs he creates, arguing that his range isn't flexible enough to be employed for all of the genres he likes to experiment with. With the Colossus, I would not tend to agree with this assessment; Krohn's reedy tone is nothing if not adequate to fit the material on here. However, I will say that the best moments on The Colossus are when nobody sings. The jazzy pulp of "Let There Be Horns" is absolute fun, and more hip hop-oriented instrumentals like "Small Plans" and "Tin Flower" are clear highlights on an album full of them. It is here where Krohn's songwriting ability truly shines, unafraid to indulge in a creepy choir-led interlude in "The Stranger" or break out a harpsichord solo in "Giant Squid".

The songs with vocals are also excellent, but clearly show Krohn playing within definite parameters. The Phonte Coleman-helmed "The Shining Path" is a great slice of soul with its plunking piano keys and relaxed percussion and "Games You Can Win" features a good vocal performance from an artist I thought had dropped off the face of the Earth (Kenna in case you were wondering). The only weak track present is "A Son's Cycle", which features rappers The Catalyst, Illogic and NP performing over three revolving beats, and, although it is an interesting premise, it does not translate into a song that flows particularly well.

Many RJD2 fans fault Krohn for branching off into other genres (mainly soul and R&B) as opposed to making the more traditional hop hop featured on his earlier albums, but I honestly wouldn't mind if Krohn kept coming out with albums like The Colossus for a while. Sure, innovation is key to any artist, but, with The Colossus, RjD2 shows that he continues to be a versatile force to be reckoned with.


Four Tet - There Is Love in You: C+

For an album that has been so critically reveled, I am surprised at how little of a reaction I got from Four Tet's newest album. In my M.I.A. review, I spoke of songs that just wash over me with little fanfare in any particular direction, but when There Is Love In You finished the first time I heard it, I almost immediately forgot what I had just listened to. It's not so much that the album is boring, but the quintessence of forgettable. I would suggest just listening to There Is Love In You only if you were desperate for some sort of musical accompaniment, but, you could probably get more revelations if you kept your window open. At least then there's a sliver of a chance something interesting will happen, whereas, on There Is Love In You, that chance is all but obliterated. The concept of why people find so much to like in this record is almost as difficult to me as trying to remember the title of this album AS I REVIEW IT. I would say that There Is Love In You is a snooze, but it doesn't even help you sleep, either. So you tell me: What the hell is the point of this album?


Los Campesinos! - Romance Is Boring: A-

William Falkner would be proud. That's right. An indie-rock band from The UK has come out with an album with enough confusing time signatures to rival a Mastodon album and enough run-on sentences to melt your frontal cortex. Gareth and the rest of the Campesinos pack Romance Is Boring with enough references and easter eggs to keep you finding new material for years and years (or at least until the next Los Campesinos! album comes out). For some, it will be a clever and engaging endeavor, for others life-changing. At the moment, I'm somewhere in between, but I promise you, on some level, Romance Is Boring will engage your thirst for nostalgia, melancholy, and catharsis.


Citay - Dream Get Together: B+

The first band that came to mind while listening to Dream Get Together was Boston. Now, Citay's brand of rock and roll is a little bit farther up the Appalachian trail if you know what I mean. Riffs like that of "Careful With That Hat" are far too immediately jovial to be featured on any of that band's records, but those twin guitar leads and that feathered production make it hard to think of any other reference point short of just citing all of the rock of the 1970's.

Dream Get Together is its own album, mind you. Song lengths are vast and group vocals are employed, often, creating a sound that is nothing if not rich; something to, at the very least, marvel at when the guitar solos get a little long-winded. On that note, sometimes you wish that Citay would just write a regular pop-song, because you know, with all the elements they employ on Dream Get Together, they would do it masterfully. But I guess that dedication to the purity of their craft is another reason to enjoy Dream Get Together, even if, at times, you may find it difficult to do so.


Infinite Body - Carve Out the Face of My God: F

The only way to gauge how truly awful Carve Out the Face of My God is is to see how long it takes for Infinite Body to release a new album, because if it isn't longer than 8 months, this album is going on my list of worst albums I have ever had the displeasure of hearing.

Every song on the album is literally comprised of these five steps:

1. Turn on recording device
2. Turn on amp
3. Wait 2-3 minutes
4. Turn off amp
5. Turn off recording device.

The only difference between songs is that the guy (Kyle Parker) uses a different amp or a different guitar, but the process is frustratingly unchanged. If I wanted to hear this kind of music, I would just show up early to hear the soundcheck at a Sonic Youth concert. The idea that Parker is trying to pass this off as good art is both laughable and insulting.

If you gave me a guitar, an amp, and a mic, I could make thousands of Infinite Body albums in a month. Imagine this guy touring off this crock? Ha! I'd just as soon swallow a tuning fork than pay to see this guy flick a switch and walk offstage.


Ihsahn - Ihsahn: B+

If you listen to only one song on former Emperor front-man, Ihsahn's third album (which I would strongly advise against), make it the album's final song, "On the Shores". Jorgan Munkeby's saxophone performance is one for the history books, as he is given full stretches of the ten minute song to just go into all-out free-form jazz mode. It's a gloriously hectic performance of which few others I have ever heard. The simple contrast of saxophone and Emperor-style metal is staunch, but the musicianship is so mind-blowing, I would rather just direct you to the link than try to articulate its majesty for much longer.

And the rest of Ihsahn is cool, too. Ihsahn, aside from the saxophone, recorded all of the parts, himself, which is incredible once you hear the fantastic musicianship on all fronts. The harmonies of "After" are executed, wonderfully and prove to be the poppiest moment on the album, and there are enough blast beats and guitar solos abound for any metal fan to celebrate.

Is it metal album of the year? No, but for anyone who craves music on the onset of innovation, Ihsahn is a pretty demonstrative of where 2010's metal may be headed. Every other genre melded in the 2000's, so I welcome this sound. Metal's a genre I don't hear enough about, so Ihsahn is proof that the genre is still going into new and exciting places.


Carolina Chocolate Drops - Genuine Negro Jig: B+

Short of Manowar coming out with an album of Viking sea shanties, Carolina Chocolate Drops are about as retro a sound as you're bound to get. The trio play Reconstruction-era bluegrass; stand-up bass and all. And, though some may think that style would be campy or entertaining in novelty value, only, Genuine Negro Jig is a surprisingly varied listen. Although songs like "Cindy Gal" and "Cornbread and Butterbeans" can sound almost laughably dated, Carolina Chocolate Drops do a pretty good job, overall, of maintaining your interest despite their limited playing field.

All three Drops have their own distinct voices, so at times, Genuine Negro Jig can sound like an ensemble piece. At the center of this, no doubt, is Rhiannon Giddens, whose nimble violin playing makes the instrumentals colorful and whose voice can either sound deliciously vindictive, as on the Blu Cantrell cover, "Hit 'Em Up Style", or plaintively delicate ("Reynadine").

At times it can sound profound, but it is clear that, with Genuine Negro Jig, Carolina Chocolate Drops were just making to write a hootenanny of a record, albeit a low-key one. For that they have succeeded, as Genuine Negro Jig is the sound of a band that knows what they do well and acts upon it as such.