I remember, vaguely, the talk in Hanover High School when it became known that Ben Ruttner, a couple years younger than I, had found success as a DJ. Christened in the music world “B-Roc,” there was talk of opening for DJ Shadow and Beyonce. But these were the days of punk rock and Biggie and I turned my attention to more saccharine diversions. Flash forward to now: you can imagine my happy surprise when I discovered that Mr. Ruttner, along with James “JPatt” Patterson, was one of the two core members of the DJ duo the Knocks. He’s also the CEO of HeavyRoc music, which produced, among other successes, College’s “A Real Hero” from Drive. Between gold medalist Hannah Kearney and B-Roc, it should be clear that Hanover, NH has something good in the water.
Quebecois singer Coeur De Pirate, aka Beatrice Martin, just came out with a quality acoustic cover of The Weeknd’s song “Wicked Games.” It’s a refreshing contrast to the more rock-heavy sound we typically asosciate with The Weeknd – Martin gives it a rawer, bare-bones feel. It’s engaging enough that you end up surprised she only uses a piano as her entire accompaniment – honestly, it sounds like a Casio or, at best, a tinny standup. The track also represents one of her few English language songs; for the most part she sings in French. “Brutal Hearts,” a collaboration with Bedouin Soundclash released last year, was her first venture in English.
Marc Ronson & The Business International’s 2010 LP, Record Collection, largely flew under the mainstream music biz’s radar. This is a shame and a surprise – to begin with, Ronson was the mastermind behind Amy Winehouse’s success with Back To Black. He’s also an objectively top-notch producer. You can see his influence on Winehouse when you compare her raw, unrefined footage to what came out of the studio: she wrote the music and the lyrics, but many argue that he was just as responsible for the retro-soul Amy Winehouse “sound” so many people fell in love with.
damon2 Damon Albarn Collaborating With Congolese Musicians In New Project Musician and producer Damon Albern has had a varied past couple years. He’s seen the end of the Gorillaz franchise, he’s recorded, mixed, and produced an impromptu album – The Fall – entirely on the fly while touring the US, all using an iPad. The result was uneven, but compelling – certainly a worthwhile experiment in narrative LP form. He’s just completed, with director Rufus Norris, an English language opera entitled Doctor Dee about John Dee, Elizabeth I’s adviser, scientist, and purported magician. His orchestrations betray what seems to be an emerging career arc – the use of instrumentation from several continents. Its main players include the kora, a Malian string instrument most notably played by Toumani Diabate, harmonium, viol, theorbo, organ, drum set, and acoustic guitar. The Guardian called it ”elegant and full of a sense of warmth and intimacy.”
The luxurious folks over at Nowness were kind enough to host the video for Tom Vek’s single “Aroused.” The clip, which features hip twenty-somethings dancing and going to third base with cigarettes, was directed and conceived of by Saam Farahmand. In Vek’s words:
Marking yet another step in their slow but steady decline into conventional alt rock, the Red Hot Chili Peppers released the first single of their upcoming album I’m With You, “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie.” This is their first album without the contributions of longtime guitarist John Frusciante; Josh Klinghoffer acts as his replacement.
Swedish group Little Dragon’s sound has been described, in typical reductionist fashion, as “dream pop.” I can see where this term comes from – the combination of soul-punk harmonies and rhythms with the timbres of electronica and synth-pop do conjure a Bjork-like dreamscape in the mind’s eye. But the band is more than just another Scandinavian knock off of the Icelandic Pop Queen. In my view, their crisp, pure take on what is already an original fusion of R&B melodies and rock-punk rhythms is a welcome change from the indie pop scene. The production, suffice to say, is top notch, and singer Yukimi Negano’s soulful delivery cuts a refreshing contrast.
I admit – the first time I listened to Feist was when I saw this commercial for the ipod Nano. Her complicity in Apple brainwashing notwithstanding (it worked), “1234″ is really a good song. It would have been easy to dismiss her music as the work of yet another twee-voiced indie pixie, but she knew how to command a beat and “1234″ was the first example of many. So despite the fact that every other coffeehouse in Williamsburg seemed to have The Reminder on repeat, I grit my teeth and admitted she was for real. (More evidence of this: she had the good taste to cover Nina Simone’s “See Line Woman,” as she did in her blues guitar(!) infused “Sealion.”)
Pheonix is one of those many European alt rock bands that had the good business sense (and poor cultural sense) to write their lyrics in the world’s lingua franca rather than that of their own country. The Académie française would surely disapprove that this French group is not singing in la belle langue, but the rest of us who have become comfortable with worldwide English language hegemony are breathing a sigh of relief – it permits us, for example, to easily recognize Pheonix’s newest hit, “Lisztomania.”