Category: Reviews

The Arcade Fire: Funeral

In the documentary Fearless Freaks, Jack White of the White Stripes attests to the influence of the Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne by saying recent bands are ripping off his singing style.

White didn’t name any names, but Win Butler of The Arcade Fire could certainly be a candidate. Personally, the first name I thought of when I heard Butler sing was David Byrne of Talking Heads.

That immediate recognition at first didn’t warm me up to Funeral, the band’s debut album. But the sheer ferocity of the performance on this album is enough to shut anyone up.

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Death Cab for Cutie: Plans

Death Cab for Cutie reminds me of Eurythmics.

Back when I was a pre-teen, I followed Eurythmics closely, buying just about every album the duo made. But as the years passed, I realized I didn’t love any one of those albums in particular. Eurythmics produced some great music on the whole, but a lot of its individual songs were filler.

Death Cab for Cutie, similarly, strikes me as a band with a great overall sound. But listen too closely, and you have to get through some dead weight.

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Kronos Quartet with Asha Bholse: You’ve Stolen My Heart

Kronos Quartet deserves a lot of credit for You’ve Stolen My Heart.

In dealing with the music of prolific Indian film composer R.D. Burnam, Kronos eschewed the usual process of comissioning string quartet arrangements and tackled recording of the album itself.

The ensemble complemented its line-up with Wu Man on pipa and Zakir Hussain on percussion. And, of course, Asha Bholse, Burman’s wife and go-to singer for his work, contributed vocals.

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Tommy heavenly6: Tommy heavenly6

This album is commercial genius.

OK. Maybe not genius, but certainly … inspired.

As frontwoman for lightweight alternative pop band the brilliant green, Kawase Tomoko cultivated a stage persona often described as coquettish. Her quiver of a voice and demure presence made her an appealing, fashion-conscious figure.

So when she launched a solo project as Tommy february6, she revamped that image to become the nerdy babe — all bright colors, big glasses, and happy music. Even more unexpected was a further spin-off … Tommy heavenly6, the dark, Goth-punk alter ego.

Three years after introducing Tommy heavenly6, Kawase unveiled that persona’s debut album. And a strange debut it is.

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The White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan

I wasn’t convinced that the White Stripes’ Elephant was as good as other pundits believed it to be.

The state of music in 2001 — dominated by nü metal, with teen pop well into its decline — fostered the kind of desperation that made said pundits cling for dear life onto something that sounded genuine.

So when the White Stripes released the follow-up to the surprise 2002 hit, White Blood Cells, critics made sure to shower the album with praise, perhaps unconsciously hoping the good press would mean never having to listen to another fucking Linkin Park album ever again.

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Missy Elliott: The Cookbook

It’s probably not a good sign when the track that stays with me the most is a skit.

The opening of “Joy” finds Missy Elliott donning the persona of a Jamaican cook, expounding to some “boy scouts” the “perfect recipie for a delicious meal”. Her ingredients include (but aren’t limited to) a “half a teaspoon of Mary J and Ciara”, a “tablespoon of Timbaland”, a “dash of Slick Rick” and “half a Neptune”.

Thus starts The Cookbook, Elliott’s follow-up to 2003’s tight but relatively unsuccessful This is Not a Test!. It’s a clever introduction for an album with a clever creative direction.

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Yaida Hitomi: Here today-gone tomorrow

Five years ago when I began exploring Japan’s music scene, I got behind Yaida Hitomi as fervently as I did Cocco and Shiina Ringo.

Yaida started out quite maniacally — her exuberent debut daiya-monde burst out with a confidence that was infectous as it was exhilirating. And the listening public in Japan agreed — Yaida catapulted to the top of the charts.

As she released subsequent albums, it seemed like she catered more and more to pop tastes, toning down the exuberence and smoothing out the rough edges. She worked with the same backing band and producers — a unit named Diamond Head, after the signature volcanic landmark in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi — for four albums, and she got into rut.

The two years she took to write and record Here today-gone tomorrow perhaps indicates she recognized it too.

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Onitsuka Chihiro: Singles, 2000-2003

Japanese pop releases follow a pretty predictable schedule — three or four singles, then an album. Back in 2003, Onitsuka Chihiro looked like she was following that path, with four single releases after her hastily recorded third album, Sugar High.

Not being a total fan, I was waiting for the album that would collect those four singles. It never came.

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Bonnie Pink: Reminiscence

Cover albums are tricky balancing acts. How much does a performer preserve in a song, and how much can be reinterpreted? How far do artists impose their own style on material vastly different from their own?

Bonnie Pink’s cover album, Reminiscence, certainly attempts to set itself apart by including material both familiar (the Bangles’ “Manic Monday”, Fairground Attraction’s “Perfect”) and unfamiliar (the Sundays’ “Through the Dark”, Misty Oldland’s “Got Me a Feeling”).

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Clannad: Macalla

It’s hard to forget the first impression.

There was a time in my life when I was a Clannad fiend. A friend of mine from high school was enthusiastic about them, and it rubbed off on me. I had just about every album, including a number of permutations of their greatest hits.

But the album that was my entry point into the group’s work was Macalla.

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