Goldfrapp – Felt Mountain

Goldfrapp - Felt Mountain (2000)

Goldfrapp - Felt Mountain (2000)

It is so tempting to review this just as the “album that sounds like a cabaret soundtrack”, but that would be terribly unfair.  The truth is that this does actually feels like that to some extent, and sadly people tend to dismiss it because of that, and is a shame because once you get past that first impression there’s a deep, powerful and mind-blowing experience.

This experience will probably differ from almost anything that you’ve listened before, and as such there is a chance that you won’t get the most out of it on the first attempt.  There is a certain circus-like feel in the air at moments, but not a cheap and careless sensation, it is more like a theatrical, nearing magical category.  And when it is not being theatrical it feels like a futuristic rendition of some late 19th century, early 20th century glamorous, chic cabaret.

The beauty of this does not lay on how good reminiscent of past eras it is, but for what it is once you stop paying attention to what it sounds like.  What Goldfrapp did here is basically wrap brilliant songs around not so common elements and deliver it in a way that will caught off-guard (in a good way) anyone who is willing to invest a little time discovering new ways to understand music.

Felt Mountain wouldn’t be even half as good as it is without the absolute spot on vocals by Alison Goldfrapp of course, it adapts and feels natural in every situation.  A detail I noticed is that while at first your attention is on the atmosphere that the music creates, once the novelty starts to wear off you begin to fully appreciate how good the combination of the music and her voice is, and then the exact opposite starts to happen: you end up paying attention almost exclusively to her voice.

A common subject I see every now and then is why Goldfrapp keeps morphing with every new release, and listening to Felt Mountain from start to finish once again for the sake of writing this review I suddenly understood why there was never something that could be truly regarded as the follow-up for it: in order to be considered unique, there must be only one.  Years later Goldfrapp would prove us all that she can reinvent herself time after time with no apparent effort, and while I used to be one of those asking for more in the lines of Felt Mountain, is evident that she has moved on to explore different styles and attitudes, and so should we.

Released 11 years ago (as of the time I’m writing this), we’ve already had the chance to listen to 3 more albums by Goldfrapp,  and we already know how diverse and morphing-prone Alison Goldfrapp is.  This however, truly defies time and stays a classic trip hop album for those just starting to explore the genre.

Advertisements

Lisa Papineau – Night Moves

Lisa Papineau - Night Moves (2006)

Lisa Papineau - Night Moves (2006)

There is a moment when you realize that what you are listening to has long passed the conventional category and starts to take into a more interesting experience, and yet you know that no matter how hard you try, it will be near impossible to convince other people about it. Night Moves is my attempt to convince someone else of how brilliant this French-American artist is, and still know that very few will agree with me.

Lisa Papineau apparently had a very prolific era collaborating with other artists, until she decided to launch a career on her own. And while she took a completely different path than the artists she used to collaborate with, is evident that she knew what she wanted to do, as there is no hesitation in anything that she does here. Also I’m being cautious here in order to not label this album as something that it is not, because truth to be told, this is brilliant, but it somehow falls short of being something more beyond that.

For my own experience, this album can be a little misleading. I foolishly assumed that most of the songs would be like Out to you and Power and glory Part 1, and found myself with some more diverse and somewhat vague songs that don’t really relate to the ones I mentioned. Yes, in the end they kind of work together, but I would have hoped for more of the first and less of the later. Also yes, it is quite difficult not to notice the french influence the music has. What would you expect from an artist living in Paris after all?

I for once will declare myself not a fan of Papineau’s voice, but she has proved to be an accomplished songwriter, so listening her sing to this songs makes sense, she makes them work the way they were intended in the first place, and that is so much important than perfect and educated vocals singing uninspired lyrics by someone else in my book.

I do like the reflexive, calm and almost mysterious aura that surrounds the first songs (except for the unfortunate timing of Sucking, Jiving, still to this day I believe it does not belong between the songs that surround it). From the middle and onwards is a different story, it feels completely different and it almost lost me there, and not because it is not worth it, I just don’t fancy those songs that much.

And as with everything that comes from Europe, you can’t help to analyze this as some sort of art. It has some flaws and undoubtedly is not perfect, but you just need to take a few steps back and the flaws start to blurry and blend with the other elements. The result is something completely different, isn’t it?

Bent – Ariels

Bent - Ariels (2004)

Bent - Ariels (2004)

This is for lack of better words, an uncomplicated and easy album, so easy that in fact is one of those rare occasions when you just need two or three full listens and you feel already at home.  And this wouldn’t be a surprise if it weren’t for the vast amount of diverse styles that can actually coexist in the same album.

This variety however does not feel like it is compromising other aspects, this actually manages to feel fresh and cheerful without any apparent effort while at the same time achieving a somewhat more serious approach nearing the end, but being careful of not taking it way too seriously, something we can be grateful for, because the result is a very diverse yet enjoyable experience.

There’s one detail I consider even more important though, and it is how incredibly suitable this album is for those willing to get into electronic music without the need to explore obscure paths or spending countless hours with less accessible materials, and with this I’m not necessarily implying that this is stuff exclusively for newcomers, because it is not, and this is yet another reason to give this a shot.

This English duo certainly did an amazing job blending happy, sensual, mellow and melancholic tunes with just the right amount of electronic influences and the right choice of guest voices for them.

For the happy and uplifting mood you need to explore songs like Comin’ Back, Silent Life or Sunday 29th.  For a more mellow and catchy experience look for As You Fall, Sing Me or On The Lake.  Or if you are looking for songs to use when you’re getting busy, try Now I Must Remember.

And if you discovered that all those different styles are not exactly mixed in a random way, trust me, it was not an accident.  The songs are ordered in such way that the experience is delivered to you the way the creators meant it to be.  You can almost feel this evolving inside you as it makes the transitions through the different moods it offers.

Considering the fact that all the other albums by Bent are nowhere near to be as satisfying as Ariels, this one is by far, in my humble opinion, the best album by Bent so far.

Elsiane – Hybrid

Elsiane - Hybrid (2007)

Elsiane - Hybrid (2007)

For some reason, Elsiane’s music is a two choice option:  either you love it or you hate it.  Some people seem to just not being able to stand Elsianne Capplete’s voice, and I seem to understand why, and not precisely because I can’t stand it too.  It is quite the opposite actually, as once you get the hang of it, you end up loving it, at least I did.

Capplete’s Peruvian origins are certainly the determining factor for the wide experimentation and exquisite world music touch exhibited through most of this album, and it is so unobtrusive that half of the time you forget that it is there, but still enough to sprinkle this with a folkloric element for some brief moments.  Don’t worry, if folkloric music is not your thing, this can hardly be considered as such.

A surprising detail is how solid, musically speaking, this album is.  There is a remarkable consistency from start to finish, and that includes not only the instrumentation, as the vocals and the lyrics are nicely done too and they deliver all the way through.  The mood here fluctuates from trip hop to downtempo back and forth, so basically you can expect a mostly dark album with some scarce moments of clarity spread around.

The songs tend to deal for the most part with struggling and existential doubts, and although some might think that this are the ingredients for a depressive experience, it is not, I for once think that while the themes and general mood leads to some dark areas, the result is an experience that leaves a somewhat bittersweet taste but still for some reason ends up being a bright statement.

My recommended songs from this album are Across the Stream, a simple yet effective demonstration of the band ability.  Morphing on the other hand is a showcase of the amazing vocal range Capplete has and the evident connection with the music, because trust me, you will experience bright and dark moments with this one.  Final Escape has that exquisite world music feeling to it, and although you can feel the anxiety and struggling involved with it, the resolution feels like reaching for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Due to the complex composition of songs and the general mood this album inspires, this will definitely not be an everyday listening album, but that does not make it less brilliant than it is.  As with most of the albums in the trip hop genre, you will need a few full listens before getting into this.

At some point it was suggested that the band would begin recording their next release somewhere in 2009, and not much is known about the current state.  That’s just sad, because this album deserves a follow-up.  I surely need some more songs with Elsianne Capplette’s distinctive voice, and even though there’s not much that we can do to speed up the process (if there’s any process at all), I’m doing the only thing I can think of, and that is bring some attention to them of course, although it feels like shouting in the dark right now.

Sneaker Pimps – Splinter

Sneaker Pimps - Splinter (1999)

Sneaker Pimps - Splinter (1999)

The millennium was around the corner, and things were changing fast.  This was Sneaker Pimp’s first album without Kelli Ali vocals, and switching from a well established formula was a risky move, but in the end this became the start of a new era.  I’m well aware that this was indeed one of their less successful albums, which gives me enough reasons to consider this as one of the truly underrated trip hop greatest albums out there.

The first noticeable change was of course, Chris Corner on the vocals.  I have the opinion that his voice gives this album a complete different attitude than Becoming X with Kelli Ali’s voice.  Corner’s vocals might not seem very confident in this album, as it was his first attempt as a front-man, and still managed to transmit a darker shade of emotions.

What is more interesting though, is not who is leading the vocals but the diverse repertoire of songs.  I like how the alternative rock is blended with just the right amount of acoustic moments, without losing that trip hop vibe all the way through and the result is an album that feels dark and intriguing.

I will not hide the fact that I absolutely love Curl, it was like an epiphany waiting to happen the moment I came across it.  The bad thing about it though, is that it is so good that the rest of the songs pale in comparison.  And although that is not reason enough for not appreciating such a good song, you are left with the feeling that there must be something more than just that one.  Unfortunately no other song in this album is in the same league, I’m afraid.

Speaking of the rest of the songs, Half Life is not bad actually.  It’s a hybrid between the different styles that we can find separate through this album.  It’s like an acoustic ballad with a little twist.  Superbug on the other hand is just perfect when you are in need of some alternative rock, garage band like song.  Destroying Angel and Empathy are however the kind of song that dominate this album.

Splinter as a whole is better suited for whenever you’re feeling like embracing some uncomplicated yet somewhat dark British garage rock album.  The difference is that unlike more mainstream similar acts, this features many similarities with trip hop and some very subtle electronic elements, without losing the alternative rock package.

This album was the beginning of a new era, and while only one more record was released under the Sneaker Pimps name, Chris Corner continues to release new music with all the elements that made Sneaker Pimps so good under the name IAMX.  If you are familiar with one and not the other, you’re missing on half of the fun.

Tutorial: How to scrobble SomaFM using Amarok (Linux)

YET ANOTHER UPDATE:

I noticed that recently none of the methods mentioned here are working anymore. The script method don’t seem to be loading the station info and retrieving the song metadata correctly anymore, so it is safe to assume that Last.FM won’t be scrobbling what Amarok is playing. I’ll try a few other methods to see if something can be done about that, but until that be warned that this method isn’t working for scrobbling (the streaming works great though).

UPDATE:

As of Amarok 2.4.1 the method described originally here is not 100% accurate anymore.  I’m keeping the old method just for the sake of people stuck with an old version.

Ever wanted to scrobble your favorite SomaFM radio stream into your LastFM account?  I have good news for you then.  Well, they are good news only if you use any recent Linux distribution and you fancy the Amarok media player.

Please note that this guide assumes that you already have Amarok installed and running with all the MP3 plugins in place.  There are several guides online that you can use if you need to set up that first.

For version 2.4.1 and up:

Since version 2.4.1 things are certainly a lot easier.  You don’t need to download manually the script anymore.

Step 1:

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Open Amarok and go to Settings > Configure Amarok. On the left pane select Scripts, and locate the Manage Scripts button.

Step 2:

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

In the Search area type SomaFM and wait a few seconds.  It will show you only one result, and it is actually the exact same script we use in the previous method.  The difference is that you don’t have to download it and manually add it to the application.  Click on Install and it should be a matter of a few seconds.

You will need to restart the application before you can continue.  Use the Quit option.

Step 3:

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

After you opened the application again, go again to Settings > Configure Amarok, and locate the Scripts section in the left panel.  You will now see SomaFM among the available scripts.  Check the box next to it and click on the Apply button.

Close the settings and that should be it.  Remember to configure your Last.FM username and password before you start streaming a channel.  Check your profile at Last.FM, you should be scrobbling smoothly by now.

For versions below 2.4.1:

Step 1: Download SomaFM Amarok script

(Clic for enlarge)

(Clic for enlarge)

You need to download the SomaFM Radio Streams script (currently at version 0.3) by Carlos Galisteo at the following link:

Download

It’s a 2KB download, so you shouldn’t have any problem downloading it.

Step 2: Log in to your LastFM account from Amarok

(Clic to enlarge)

(Clic to enlarge)

Open Amarok, and go to Settings > Configure Amarok > LastFM settings (the wrench tool icon next to the LastFM description).

Use your username and password from LastFM and test the login.  If everything is correct, you should get a Success confirmation.

Make sure that the Submit tracks is checked in order to send everything back to your profile when listening to your SomaFM stream.

Step 3: Install the SomaFM plugin

(Clic to enlarge)

(Clic to enlarge)

We’re almost there.  Now you need to access the Script Manager.  Go to Tools > Script Manager, and use the Install script option.  Browse your computer for the file we downloaded earlier, and it should be installed in a second or two.

This will require you to close and open Amarok in order to work.  Note that you need to use the Quit option, since closing just minimizes it.

Step 4: Loading the stream

(Clic to enlarge)

(Clic to enlarge)

If everything went fine, you should now be able to fire up your favorite SomaFM stream.  To do that, on the left panel of your Amarok, locate the Internet source, and you should see SomaFM among the available online sources.

Select SomaFM from the list and you should see the list of available channels.  Pick your favorite one (mine is Lush) and in a second or two you should start receiving the stream.

Step 5: Enjoy!

(Clic to enlarge)

(Clic to enlarge)

You can check your profile to confirm that it is actually scrobbling your SomaFM stream.  And that is pretty much all that there is to it.

Also remember to support the guys at SomaFM, they have a wonderful selection of channels going for free for you to listen.