Kate Havnevik – You

Kate Havnevik - You (2011)

Kate Havnevik – You (2011)

It’s amazing what five years mean in terms of evolution, musically speaking. From Melankton we learned to appreciate Havnevik’s particular way of delivering her songs, however something has changed since that and we have a collection of more pop driven songs, you can almost feel an effort to simplify things and make it more accessible for everyone.

That is of course something good, because instead of making everything more complex, it just proves that evolution isn’t necessarily a process that requires making your art increasingly complex and difficult to digest just for the sake of it. Making it easier for everyone might have been a risky decision considering that Melankton was generally perceived as a breath of fresh air amidst bland and uninspired electronic inspired pop albums at the time

However when I refer to this album as significantly easier, I don’t want to give the impression that the key elements went missing in the lapse of time between one and the other. It certainly feels different, but still retains the key elements that made us fell in love with her voice and her approach to singing. You departs from the general downtempo influenced mood that dominated for the most part in the past, and greets us with a bright new direction, vivid and with a lot more confidence than we could ever notice before.

Perhaps this became way too pop for someone who is used to more electronic influenced music, but it shouldn’t be seen as a turning down point. Something I liked was the fact that this album stands by the strength of it as a whole, it doesn’t depend on a catchy tune as an entry point, and while it does have its share of enjoyable songs, I couldn’t find one that could overpower the rest of the album, or at least it isn’t noticeable at first, which speaks of a good balance between the 12 songs included.

Something that was lost in the translation was the inclusion of some trip hop and downtempo moments here and there. It was without a doubt one of the reasons that made Melankton memorable for me, and while this new attitude seems to be working wonders for Havnevik’s career, I can’t avoid the feeling that something important was left out of this album. It doesn’t diminish the good replay value this album has, just to be clear.

I remember criticizing Melankton of being a somewhat cold overall experience, and although I’m not sure I still consider it that way, truth to be told, You is the complete opposite of that, falling into the warm and happy category in my book, it’s a surprisingly pleasant experience from start to finish. Midway through you realize that you forgot that you are actually listening to a pop album, and that’s not something many albums can brag about.

You might not be a game changer in the usually crowded pop arena, and I certainly don’t think there’s enough arguments here to make this go into all-time favorite lists (I might be wrong, but at this point in time it seems unlikely), but overall it’s a very solid effort and some of the songs here demand to be taken seriously.

Second albums are always tough, specially if you are trying to prove that your first album wasn’t just a lucky shot in the dark. This might have gone in a different direction than most of us were expecting, but it not only serves to prove the first, it also helps to assure us that this Norwegian might have some more tricks under her sleeve. Let’s just hope that we won’t have to wait another five years for it.

 

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Trentemøller – Into The Great Wide Yonder

Trentemøller - Into The Great Wide Yonder (2010)

Trentemøller - Into The Great Wide Yonder (2010)

Mr. Anders Trentemøller blew us out of the water with his 2006 album, The Last Resort, and inevitably the first thing I did when I got the chance to listen to this was to compare it. Huge mistake on my part, I have to admit.

Into The Great Wide Yonder certainly has its share of moments that reminds us of what made The Last Resort such a great album, and even much more than that, a great experience. However, this album isn’t aimed at revisiting the places and emotions created with the first album, and that’s where I’m sure most people will fail to fully understand this for what it is and will consider this a somewhat inferior material.

I won’t pretend that I wasn’t one of them though, I truly believed that this was a disappointment from the very first time I listened to it. I was foolishly trying to understand it under the light of what I learned from The Last Resort, and that made it very difficult for me to actually open my mind to the different experience that lies beneath that huge cloud of whatever it is in the cover art.

Into The Great Wide Yonder isn’t a journey through cold and desolated scenery like the previous album, this actually doesn’t feel like an unified experience all the way through. Instead, we have as usual that almost cinematic approach on many of the tracks, that sensation that we are listening to something huge, it feels like we are being told an epic story only through instrumental means. That is something that has always made Trentemøller albums the kind of music that you can rely on when you need to feed your mind with some music-induced visual imagery. It never fails in that regard, trust me.

One of the biggest additions is the inclusion of guest vocals in many of the tracks. Some of them are welcome, some others just don’t add that much to the equation. I’m perfectly convinced that Trentemøller’s music is usually self-sufficient in terms of the necessary elements to achieve an enjoyable end product, and as such I believe that in most cases the vocal counterpart just creates a distraction. At this point I would like to stress the fact that my personal taste is usually leaning towards the ambient and downtempo instrumental genre, and that creates a bias against a vocal approach to an otherwise brilliant instrumental composer, but that’s just me.

As I said at the beginning, it’s a mistake to judge this album based on what the previous album did, however there’s one detail that I truly believe most of us were expecting: another glimpse of how awesome Trentemøller is when he is fully immersed in a minimalist setting. Miss You was definitely the peak of the previous album, and while a full album dedicated to recreate it would probably be counterproductive, including some of that magic would definitely be like seeing the gates of heaven being opened for a brief moment. There’s a serious lack of mellow/minimalist inspired tracks on this album, and while that’s not a flaw, it definitely was in everyone’s wishlist for this one.

I was surprised when I found out that most of the album feels a lot more energetic and the general mood feels a lot more lively. It is not a non stop flat out run from start to finish though, it allows you some moments to let things calm down, and then things start going up again. It has a lot more variety than I expected to be honest.

A good album overall, for some reason it never feels like it is reaching grandeur heights though. It is a highly enjoyable electronic album, but not the kind of album that will leave a lasting impression.

Boards of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children

Boards of Canada - Music Has The Right To Children (1998)

Boards of Canada - Music Has The Right To Children (1998)

I wasn’t aware that music had rights, and oddly enough, that it had the right to children. This 1998 release from Boards of Canada meant nothing for me for long years, but the past couple of weeks it’s been like an obsession, I’ve been able to keep my listening habits untouched for the most part, but at some point I know I will need to come back to this and get myself lost at this sea of haunting and disturbing memories, distant memories from my childhood that might or might not have been happened, it’s like remembering something through somebody else’s mind.

But just as I start to convince myself that there must be some kind of creepy stuff going in the background, the lights are turned on and the environment suddenly changes to a friendly and warm one. It goes from being a somewhat scary and anxious place to a beautiful, friendly and incredibly vivid one. And all of this happens while I keep telling myself that it is just music, that for some reason this album in particular has the odd ability to trigger all sorts of thoughts and evoke emotions I knew were reserved for other circumstances.

I’m not going to pretend that this took me by surprise though, I know what it feels like to get high to Boards of Canada albums like The Campfire Headphase or Boc Maxima, which are simply spectacular experiences to say the least, if you know what I mean… But this, I’m not sure my mind would be able to keep up, it is simply overwhelming.

Music Has The Right To Children follows the basic rules and structure we’ve been used to in subsequent releases by Boards of Canada. The heavy use of analog synthesizers rather than digital ones, and the intensive use of field recording is as always, a house trademark. I remember thinking about those elements as the culprits for what I used to describe as a cold sound. I couldn’t be more wrong though, it takes some time and the right state of mind to fully understand and appreciate what this kind of music has to offer. I will not fuel the debate about the IDM label this music has (IDM stands for Intelligent Dance Music, a somewhat vague and misleading label), for one simple reason: there’s no such thing as intelligent music (which would imply that there’s also non-intelligent music or that you must achieve some level of intelligence to be able to enjoy it).

Genre and labels aside though, this album blends a mixture of elements that makes you evoke the warm sound of early electronic and ambient music. The analog synthesizers for some reason sound like they fill a lot more space than the use of their digital counterpart, and the use of random bits and pieces of nature and kids tracks, along with a very intensive overlapping of different layers makes for extremely complex tracks. This however isn’t a pretentious experiment filled with whatever was at hand in order to create something that seems complex when there is really none of it, but is rather quite the opposite, you start feeling that everything is simple, and progressively you start to uncover layer after layer, each one more complex than the previous. That’s the point where your mind suddenly explodes in awe.

When I’m in experimentation mode, I like to let the album play from start to finish, it’s certainly the way it was intended in the first place, and the proof is that it just flows effortlessly through your mind, you just need to let go. Considering how complex every track can get, it amazes me that this manages to feel coherent and at the same time as abstract as your mind wants it to be. It’s a different experience every time. And for those times when I’m not feeling like taking the long journey, if I fancy some old school techno, songs like Telephasic Workshop with its powerful beats, or Sixtyten are very good at it. However I’ve found that the more pleasing and puzzling experiences are songs like Olson, Turquoise Hexagon Sun, Aquarius or the incredible Roygbiv. I wish Roygbiv would be a lot longer than its 2 minutes and 30 seconds, it’s the kind of track that you can keep on repeat for days at a time and you can’t seem to be getting enough of it, it’s absolutely ridiculous.

I’ve always wondered about the album title and the general theme the artwork seem to hint. I mean, this album isn’t obviously intended to be enjoyed by children, or is trying to make a statement about them, I’m suspecting it has a lot more to do with evoking memories from childhood, stimulate your subconscious in a way that make you feel the way you used to when you used to visit your favorite playground and stayed there for hours, memories that are so distant now, like some long forgotten dream.

One thing is for sure, this is not just music for your ears, Music Has The Right To Children is also a getaway vehicle for your mind. Use it wisely.

Telefon Tel Aviv – Map Of What Is Effortless

Telefon Tel Aviv - Map Of What Is Effortless (2004)

Telefon Tel Aviv - Map Of What Is Effortless (2004)

Telefon Tel Aviv, just wow, I’m astonished and speechless about this record. This is unbelievably good music, it amazes me it took me this long to discover this album despite the 2004 release date. Labeled as electronic music, for the most part I have to agree with that, but spend some time with this and you will discover that deep inside this is all held together by some other elements, such as blatant downtempo moments here and there, some other smooth and warm mellow moments, and the list could go on.

This album produces a strange feeling in me, because sometimes it tends to calm me down with its downtempo attitude, it makes everything seem to go in slow motion around you, but some other times despite its chill nature it makes me feel like I can’t keep up with the sudden burst of stuff that’s going on through my head while listening to it, it’s insane. But the part that I like is that all of this happens while this manages to remain civilized and never feels like it is trying too hard to produce such emotions, it just let things happen and that is kind of what makes it go almost undetected until it is too late, and all you will have left to do is nod in approval.

Roughly half of the album incorporates guest vocals, and the rest is composed of instrumental tracks, and one very interesting detail is that it was not until a lot, lot later and a handful of full listens that I noticed it, and that I believe it’s because the quality of the tracks doesn’t depend on it. I’m not saying that the vocal tracks are forgettable, it has more to do with the instrumental tracks rising up the bar to keep up with the vocal counterpart, like they were going “ok, we will not have a vocal lead in this song, and never mind that, we will make this instrumental track so darn good that no one will even notice that”, and if they ever said that, let me tell you, mission accomplished.

Maybe the only criticism I would dare to give to this album would be that some of the tracks sound very much alike, and even there I fail at criticizing it, because if a song sounds really good, what would stop you from doing something that sounds that good again? You know, it’s not like you’re repeating yourself, it’s more like you’re trying to do something new starting from something you’ve done before. It’s not a big deal though, you will notice the similarity between songs, but you won’t feel like you’re listening to the same song over and over again.

For some reason, Map Of What Is Effortless feels a lot shorter than its 45 minute length. I’m not sure if this is just me, but whenever I hit the play button, it feels like it were just 20 minutes before the full album is over. I mean, this certainly doesn’t feel like an EP, but something is going on in the background that I haven’t been able to put my finger on. Whatever it is, it works every single time.

A helpless lover of downtempo myself, my favorite tracks from this album were undoubtedly Bubble And Spike, What It Is Without The Hand That Wields It, and At The End Of The World You Will Still Float. Loving those title names by the way, what is a good song anyway if you can’t name it with a good and vague name?

I haven’t been able to listen to some of the more recent stuff that this duo did before the tragic death of one of the members back in 2009 (two days after the release of their latest full length album actually), but I have to tell you, these two guys knew what they were doing.

Infant Sorrow – Get Him To The Greek

Infant Sorrow - Get Him To The Greek (2010)

Infant Sorrow - Get Him To The Greek (2010)

Infant Sorrow is the greatest, the biggest and the craziest rock band that ever walked among us. His front man and leader, Aldous Snow, is one of those rare specimens that seem to act like human laws simply don’t have a jurisdiction on him… How is that called nowadays?  Anarchy? I’m not sure, but it certainly is appealing and entertaining to watch someone break any established rule and act with disdain in almost any situation imaginable.

However, there’s just one little problem: Infant Sorrow is not actually a real band, and Aldous Snow is in fact an actor that goes in real life by the name of Russell Brand. Get Him To The Greek was the result of the movie of the same name, to which this album serves as its soundtrack.

Instead of featuring 20 songs from all sort of artists, someone had the clever idea of having  a full album featuring the band depicted in the movie, and what a surprise, this actually sounds awesome, I could almost say that this sounds a lot better than half of the real bands out there, and is a very entertaining and funny album too.

Russell Brand is fully immersed in his character here, and although he has admittedly said that all he did was lend his voice to the project, the end result does a lot more than just provide a few background songs to a bland film. Soon enough you’ll forget about the film and this album will come alive on his own, and you will almost wish that Infant Sorrow were a real band.

The people behind the music and lyrics of Get Him To The Greek were actually real musicians, which under the persuasion from actor Jason Segel (the film producer and writer) pulled an impressive collection of songs that range from pop/rock catchy tunes to some more elaborate alternative rock inspired songs. There is a catch however, and it is that all of the songs are in some way or another inspired by very explicit and questionable subjects, so don’t be surprised to be caught listening a song about a “love drug dealer” (Gang of Lust), the next minute a song about a gonorrhea infection (The Clap), a self proclamation of being some sort of Jesus / Mahatma / Zoroaster divinity (I Am Jesus), or even a song depicting having sex while under the influence of heroin (Fucking On Heroin).

All of the above however doesn’t diminish the incredible replay value this album has, as the songs are in no way meant to be discarded just because of the questionable lyrics. I consider this to be an exercise of how would it be to have an artist this hardcore, raw and unconcerned about common conventions about music. At the end of the day none of this is real, but it won’t stop you from enjoying this even more than some real bands out there.

Most of the songs are controversial on their own, and that ensures funny moments and some guilty smiles every time you listen to it (hence the replay value). This wouldn’t be possible without the surprisingly good Brand’s singing abilities, which for someone whose career is being an actor, delivers a very decent interpretation all the way through, and manages to stay in character and give this album this rad feeling even in the more “serious” and emotive moments, such as the hilariously comic and still romantic Jackie Q (I am curious about the relation between this song title and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Suzie Q back from the 70s), or during the glam rock inspired Fucking On Heroin (amazing ballad).

It is a little sad to realize that something like this can only be done in the context of a movie, and the only real chance of getting another proper Infant Sorrow album would be another movie featuring Rusell Brand’s character, but that doesn’t seem very likely, so all we have left is enjoy this interesting experiment and learn to not take music way too seriously sometimes.