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Kate Richardson's Posts

An Idolator Enthusiastic Endorsement: Why You Should Drop Everything And Listen To Wye Oak’s “The Knot” Right Now

Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak are either two of the most talented musicians currently out there right now, or they’re aliens from a distant planet where all beings are born with the inherent ability to produce songs that are equal parts intelligent, emotional, challenging, and fun. Quite frankly I’m starting to think the latter, because they do it just a little too well.


The Knot, the duo’s follow-up to Wye Oak’s 2007 debut If Children, shows that the band has set its Crock-Pot to slow simmer and added some key ingredients while maintaining the stew’s, uh, original flavor, if I may follow through with that metaphor.


This time around they’re a little moodier; brooding tracks like “For Prayer” and “That I Do” alternate between melancholy, foreboding guitar riffs laid over menacing keyboards and crashing, cacophonous interludes that stretch and bend, adding incredible texture to the songs. Their music, by extension, captures—by way of magic, or the aformentioned alien powers, or I don’t know what—the very essence of emotion. Wasner’s small, bittersweet voice is pitch-perfect and anxious as she sings “Cross your fingers, say a prayer / You don’t believe, but I don’t care.” In fact, anxiety hovers edgily above the entire album, which is fraught with lyrics like “We are both the same: unwell”; “Better isn’t always doing well / I know because I’m better now myself”; and “It’s true, you love me too / But not the way that I do.” Wasner has a gift for nailing a particular feelingin a few simple words, and her delivery is often devastating. But it’s not all doom and gloom. One of the album’s most sparkling moments is “Siamese,” which has a lovely wilting string part and kicky drum beat with a brilliantly-placed tambourine.


The shiniest jewel in the crown is “I Want for Nothing,” of which I’ve been a big fan since first hearing it live. The album version is vastly reworked and downright stunning; a heartswelling violin part has been laid over the spruced-up guitar riff, which itself no longer wobbles, but rather wafts in perfect harmony with the new addition. And to top it off Wasner opens the song with some of the best lyrics I’ve heard in the past few years: “Say no to me, and I will love you more / Play me for keeps.”


The only song on the album that I don’t love inside out is the sprawling, seven-minute “Mary Is Mary.” It’s a little too depressing and aimless, even for me. Other than that, The Knot is air-tight, hovering expertly between anxious noise and intricate melodies, imbued with intelligence but almost never marred by self-indulgence.


The Knot [Merge Records; full-album stream available]


Wild Moccasins Break In Their Touring Shoes

Houston band Wild Moccasins will be playing two shows in Brooklyn this weekend: Friday at Death By Audio and Saturday at Union Hall. I wrote a feature about them last summer in relation to local music scenes, and it seems that a year later they’ve shed the cocoon and are flying like beautiful butterflies across the East Coast and Midwest. A few samplings of what the show might be like after the jump.








When I last saw them (in December) they’d improved their live show considerably, so I’m guessing they’re even better by now. I’m a connoisseur of all things that are pleasant to do while drinking a beer, and I can assure you that seeing Wild Moccasins is near the top of the list. They’ve got a ragtag, toe-tapping sound and and an infectious ebullience that makes you wonder why all things in life can’t be so genuinely cheerful.


Wild Moccasins [MySpace]


La Búsqueda De La Música Mexicana: Part 2

Amigos, it’s been two months since our first expedition south of the border in search of Mexican music. Now that we’ve shaken off the mezcal hangover, it’s time to return to Mexico lindo y querido to have a look-see at two smart alt-rock bands that defy the multiple Mexican stereotypes I (impressively, no?) have managed to disseminate in this very brief introduction.


Café Tacuba have been around since 1989, and their self-titled debut came out in 1992. It included “Pinche Juan”:





This is a handy introduction to the band, as it shows off their hyperactive musical style and sense of irreverence. “Pinche” is a term in Mexican Spanish which means, more or less, “fucking” (as an adjective, not a gerund-participle), or “goddamn,” but it is much more fun to use than either of its English equivalents. Try it sometime! For instance, when your computer crashes: “Pinche hard drive!” When your cat pees on the rug: “Pinch gato!” Anyway, pinche is a fun word and “Pinche Juan” is a fun song, if a bit too full-throttle for my delicate sensibilities.


“La ingrata”–off their second album, Re–retains the aggressive vibe, but not without a knowing smirk and considerable intelligence:



Lead singer Rubén Albarrán’s bright red hair and confrontational gestures may suggest run-of-the-mill alt-rock angry dude, but the jacked up polka beat in the background belies this first impression and suggests an inspired reinterpretation of the conjunto norteño genre. And while Albarrán’s snarling vocals certainly give the band a distinctive–some might say grating?–edge, he also knows how to bring it down a notch, as in this cover of Leo Dan’s “Cómo te extraño mi amor”:



And “Mediodía,” from 2003′s Grammy-winning Cuatro Caminos:



And the ’60s-tinged “Quiero ver.” from 2007′s Sino:



And, going back to their high-energy snarly sound, “Eo” from Cuatro Caminos is bouncy and endearing:



What makes Café Tacuba so interesting–aside from their crafty musicianship–is that they incorporate uniquely Mexican sounds and lyrics into the broader alt-rock template. Albarrán’s nasaly approach may not be for everyone, but any band with a song called “Pinche Juan” is OK in my book.


As for the newer wave of Mexican alt-rockers, Austin TV is the kind of band that inspires use of the “post-” prefix in descriptions. They’re instrumental, fairly earnest, and into costumes. And really, they’re not bad.


“Marduk” from their latest album, Fontana Bella, sums them up pretty well:



Gloomy and ominous, then loud and thrashy, but not without the kind of smart nuances which are crucial to staying afloat inprecarious genre; get too noodly and self-indulgent and you risk losing your audience. Luckily Austin TV, though still obviously a young band with rough edges, seems to know how to walk that line just right, and their music is a real find for those with the temperament for instrumental post-rock.


“Shiva” from Fonta Bella:



I was so-so on this song until the handclaps came in. Touché!


“Roy Rogers,” from their debut La última noche del mundo:



While I think Austin TV certainly has a lot up its sleeve, they seem a bit immature at this point. They should be looking over their shoulders at Ponytail to see what exactly they’re up against in the rookie post-rock instrumental band league. Then again, did Ponytail ever inventively cover “Tonight, Tonight” while wearing sinister bunny masks?



Not that I know of.


La Búsqueda De La Música Mexicana: Part 1

Recently the New York Times ran a feature about working-class Mexican immigrants using their cell phones rather than iTunes to buy and listen to music, which, as you can imagine, has sent both music and telecommunications types into a tizzy. The poster children of this new era of regional Mexican cell phone music are the members of Los Pikadientes de Caborca, a ragtag group of musicians from rural Sonora whose song “La Cumbia del Río” went viral via cell phones and eventually landed them a record deal with Sony. The song is fun and bouncy and exactly the kind of thing that one should play through a cell phone, but Mexico is a huge country of almost 110 million people and it’s, you know, right next door. So I figured it was high time that coverage of Mexican music delved a little deeper than business models built on novelty songs.



First a note about my methodology: as the consistently least professional member of the Idolator team I did not turn to charts and statistics for my information; instead, I asked a Mexican friend of mine to give me a list of bands that she likes from her homeland. I invite any knowledgeable readers to please add to the discussion, because obviously I will have missed a lot of great bands.

Let’s begin with the past. Caifanes were huge in the late-’80s Mexican Rock en Español scene. According to Wikipedia they made their debut in 1987 at a club called—and if only all venues could all be named so awesomely—Rockotitlan. Their first album came out in 1988, and had the following singles:

“Mátenme porque me muero” (“Kill Me Because I’m Dying”)

Even if you don’t like the song you can at least learn from the title how to be really melodramatic in Spanish.

“Viento” (“Wind”)

So by this point let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room: They’re a little bit like The Cure. But they at least have the decency to write good Cure-like songs, and to tell you the truth the more or less blatant ripoff doesn’t really bother me.

“La negra Tomasa”

This is probably the most interesting of theirs that I’ve heard. Basically what they did here was pout all over a cumbia, and that’s certainly an interesting approach if nothing else.

The band lasted until 1995 and their latter-day sound took a turn towards that territory of gauzy mid-’90s radio rock where the Gin Blossoms and Blues Traveler live.

“No dejes que…”

So ineffectual, and yet so pleasing.

The lead singer eventually went on to form the massively popular band Jaguares.

Now turning to present-day Mexico: Natalia Lafourcade, who, according to my friend, is “un poco pija pero es buena” (“a bit of a spoiled rich kid but she’s good”). In this way and many others she is much like Lily Allen: kind of a small cute girl with a good enough voice, “quirky” fashion sense, and really excellent producers. “Azul,” from her most recent album Hu Hu Hu, is exemplary (embedding has been disabled by request, but the trip all the way over to YouTube is worth it).

The other single off her new album, “Ella es bonita,” is also quite winning:

What Lafourcade and her producers seem to have smartly learned from Gwen Stefani is that you really can’t go wrong with a marching band in the background. Both “Azul” and “Ella es bonita” have that super-satisfying cacophonous horn/drum stomp, plus nice little glockenspiel riffs, and the one-two punch totally works on suckers like me.

Comparing her to Lily Allen is perhaps a bit harsh, since it appears from various live videos I’ve seen that she has decent guitar chops. Two singles from her 2005 album Casa stand out in particular:

Casa” (embedding disabled)
This is a great mixture of bossa nova and pop, and hey… is that a portrait of Salvador Allende on the mantle? Right on.

Un pato
More or less straight up bossa nova. This song was used in the opening credits of the excellent Mexican film Temporada de patos, which makes it even better. Here’s a live performance:

And, finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that she and her band also recorded a cover of “Piel canela” for a Tin Tan tribute album. Here’s the original:

And for those of you who are not so easily sucked in by evil pop producers there’s Control Machete, a rap group out of Monterrey with an early-’90s West Coast sound.

“Así son mis días”

“Humanos mexicanos”

If ever there was a subject for socially conscious rap it’s immigration and cultural hegemony, so I’m glad to see these tíos doing it.

You may remember this song from the movie Amores perros and/or a Levi’s ad from a while back:

“Sí señor”

So that concludes the first installment of our musical journey south of the Río Bravo (that’s what they call the Rio Grande in Mexico!). Future installments of this feature to come, but, again, feel free to make suggestions in the comments section.

Control Machete [MySpace}
Natalia Lafourcade [Myspace]


The Clique Girlz’ Sugary Sisterhood Might Be Turning A Bit Sour

It seems that the understandably pallid career trajectory of nobody’s favorite tweensploitation group, the Clique Girlz, is maybe, finally going to pick up with a promotion deal for Baby Bottle Pop, aka “nipple-shaped candy.” But one fan site is disseminating the rumor that Ariel Moore (the blonde one (haha!)) plans on leaving the group before she can shill Michael Eisner’s sugary anatomically correct wares. At this point it’s just a rumor, but were it to come true (heaven forbid!), what would this mean for the Girlz? A giant purple nurple on their promotion deal? Resetting the Autotune to “two-part harmony” and forging ahead? Crassly casting a replacement? The Internet has a few ideas.



First we go to the original source of the rumor, Tommy2.net:

T2 Exclusive: We’ve learned that after a four year run with the Clique Girlz, Ariel Moore has decided to leave the group and their management. Over the next few weeks more details are bound to come out, although initially it looks as if she’s looking to do something new. So what does the future hold? From what we’ve heard, Ariel will be pursuing a solo career, writing and recording with some of the best in the business as well as experimenting with her sound. As for the Clique Girlz debut release Incredible, we’ll just have to wait and see?

Right, so, Ariel is definitely leaving and she’s contracting the oldest, whitest, most desperate producer she can find in L.A. to write a crappy dance track for her (at least that’s how I decode that paragraph). But the Clique Girlz Media comments section offers other opinions:

lol doubt it. I was just with my singing teacher on Sunday who taught them for years….things are going great.

Last sunday they started to film a pilot staring all three of them.

So she’s not leaving, and there’s a specific individual in New Jersey who taught these girls to sing like boozed-up cruise ship cabaret performers.

Personally I think Ariel sings an equal amount.

The problem is really with our own ears. Ariel sings more of the richer, deeper harmonies while Paris takes the melody or the top harmony. Paris has a very distinctive voice so you tend to hear/listen to her above the other voices blending more

.

We’re the problem.

I’ve been following the girls for a long time now and let’s be real. Things were not great. Anyone with half a brain could see she wasn’t being given the same opportunities as the other two girls, who happen to be the daughters of the groups manager and the groups sound person. Why is it that every time I went to a show Ariel’s microphone was turned way down, much lower than Destinee’s or Paris’s? Why is it that Ariel rarely got a chance to speak in the videos and when she did, they cut her off typically? Why is it that she got very little parts in most of the songs? Take a look at the music video for their song incredible. In at least two places in the video you can see Ariel just NOT happy. I have a friend who is close to the situation and she’s told me that there have been big issues for many months. That she hasn’t been happy for a long time and that there has been a lot of hatred, dishonesty, pain, suffering and emotional and physical and mental abuse from the manager of the group Lenore. Everyone I know knows its true cuz we keep hearing the same things from all sorts of kids that know the situation from closer up. what a shame that it had to come to this. i really hope ariel does decide to go solo because she deserves the chance to be successful in music. im not saying i dont wish the best for paris and destinee cuz they are really talented too but i think they have lost track of who they really are and their parents have let them down in a way no parent should ever let their kids down. what a shame its come to this

The most absurd thing about this paragraph is that she can only pinpoint two instances of unhappiness in that video.

Meanwhile, Daniel Radosh sheepishly asserts that this is perhaps a strategic move on the group’s part to “shed their, um, least conventionally attractive member… at the precise moment when their career most needs a jump start.” Considering the kind of people we’re dealing with here, this theory is not so far-fetched; however, I see it mainly as an insult to the group’s homogeneity. Perhaps Ariel is slightly goofier-looking than the other two (though I even fail to make that distinction, really), but in general terms they’re fairly indistinct.

But let’s dispense with the rumormongering and theorizing. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and in this case the pudding, as it were, is on Craigslist:

CASTING
13 to 15 year old GIRLS for the hit Teen Pop/Rock Group

Up and coming Interscope Records Pop/Rock Recording Group Clique Girlz have several upcoming live performances, tours and a pilot in the works. We are seeking one more girl to complete the group.

MUST be strong POP/ROCK VOCALISTS,
who can HARMONIZE & MOVE WELL
No taller than 5’3” please

AUDITIONS
Saturday, 1/31/09
2:00pm (Open Call)

LOCATION:
Center Staging – Studio 3
3407 Winona Ave.
Burbank, CA 91504

Please bring head shot and resume. Be prepared to sing the National Anthem (acapella), 1 pop song and 1 ballad to track.
Please bring a CD with BOTH music tracks only.
One parent per child at the audition please.
*MUST BE AVAILABLE TO TRAVEL*

Visit our website: http://www.cliquegirlz.com/

For further inquiries, please contact Susan Salgado at tripletcasting@earthlink.net

IMPORTANT NOTICE:
If the Talent is from out of town, please make sure they make arrangements to be available for callbacks in the event they make it to the next level.

Most importantly, they must be willing to relocate to Los Angeles, CA at their own expense. This group is going to blow up and just came back from a successful tour with CHEETAH GIRLS.

Please visit their website (http://www.cliquegirlz.com) and get familiar with their music and submit accordingly. The vocals must fit a Pop/Rock vibe; NOT Pop/R&B. We don’t want to waste the Talent’s time.

Thanks for understanding!

“Pop/Rock vibe; NOT Pop/R&B! We want white girls? You hear?! White!” But really my favorite part of the ad is the breezy “Thanks for understanding!” at the end there, as if to say, “We want to take your short, blond tween daughter, interrupt her education, dress her in hyper-sexualized clothes, tour her around mall parking lots, use her image to sell nipple-shaped candy, then dump her back on you in a couple of years with low self-esteem and a penchant for party drugs. Thanks for understanding!”

Ariel Moore leaving the Clique Girlz? [Clique Girlz Media]
Breaking: Clique Girlz are breaking [Radosh.net]


No. 12: Alphabeat Gets “Wonky”

Let’s face it: Wonky Pop has not exactly moved mountains in the past year. America has not yet gone down to its collective river to pray to the shiny Nordic purveyors of high quality throwback pop, and at this point it appears as if this country likely never will be saved by scary-good Scandinavian music. (No, not even Annie.) But that certainly doesn’t detract from Alphabeat’s aggressive charm.






“Fascination” still glistens every bit as much as it did this summer, and yet is no more popular here than the day it was born into this world in a sunburst of fresh laundry and morning dew. And it’s not for lack of spunk or style. Behold this video for their song “10,000 Nights”:




Singer Anders SG (one of three Anders in the band) is—dare I say—way cuter than any of the Jonas Brothers, and he could beat them all at basketball. Just saying. But regardless of my own heartthrob proclivities, 2008 will go down as the year of the Jonas, and not, unfortunately for Alphabeat, the year we embraced a Hall & Oates revival.

Fascination [YouTube]
10,000 Nights [YouTube]
Alphabeat [MySpace]
80 ’08 (and heartbreak)


No. 23: Santogold, “Lights Out”

“L.E.S. Artistes” may be the punchy, widely hyped lead track on Santogold’s self-titled debut, but the real gem of the album is “Lights Out.” There’s an effortless appeal about the song that both enhances and downplays its greatness. Singer Santi White’s breezy vocals drift over the hefty bass line, while other hooky background elements—a fuzzy guitar riff, some floating backup harmonies—weave in and out of the track, creating an irresistible, almost maddening pop song.

But for all its strictly sonic goodies, perhaps the most appealing thing about “Lights Out” is its lack of grating Brooklyn-ness. The band’s home borough certainly shows through in the album’s numerous art-rock moments, but “Lights Out” is a safe zone—it’s tinged by the innate smartness that spans Kings County, but not spoiled by its pretension.

Ed. note: We’d be remiss not to mention the Bud Lime commercial:

Santogold [MySpace]
“Lights Out” [YouTube]
80 ’08 (and heartbreak)


No. 43: The Curious Rise Of Jobromance

2008 will go down as the year that fan fiction and tribute videos finally realized their inevitable, terrifying synthesis. “Jobromance” is a generic term for a mashup of sorts, one made of a video consisting of Jonas Brothers content (which could consist of a picture, several pictures, or a video clip) and a corresponding narrative featuring the Jonas Brothers and other various teen stars, which is pasted into the clip’s “about” field.

For the month of April I followed emogurl810′s Jobromance saga. It was both entertaining and harrowing, and by the end I was only just barely staving off raging insanity. Depending on how you look at it, this new phenomenon is either a charming way for bored teens to exorcise their crazed hormonal obsessions and hone their creative writing skills, or it’s a gaping black hole of vapid, celebrity-obsessed idiocy and terrible grammar. I’m still not sure which, but it’s an interesting facet of culture either way, and if there’s anything that defines 2008 it’s the mass proliferation of YouTube and bewildering JoBro fandom.

Earlier: Crucial Recapping
80 ’08 (and Heartbreak)


No. 74: Jenny Lewis, “Acid Tongue”

In the era of Autotune, Jenny Lewis went analog. Acid Tongue is a testament to the sheer power of true musicianship. An organic, forceful album that feels like the upswing of a good beer buzz, it hops from folk to country to blues with impressive ease and effortless charm, and the title track is its triumphant centerpiece.

Unlike the sprawling, ambitious show-stopper “The Next Messiah,” “Acid Tongue” is a sweet, simple and utterly heartbreaking campfire singalong. With nothing but her acoustic guitar and a couple of backup singers, Lewis strips music to its core and proves that the singer-songwriter format can still pack a mighty punch.

Above all, “Acid Tongue” is timeless. So much of the music we consume now is either explicitly (in the lyrical content) or implicitly (the digital recording process) influenced by modern technology, but “Acid Tongue” exists outside of chronology. Before there was Pro Tools and the Internet and after both are obliterated in whatever futuristic technology apocalypse that awaits us, people were and always will be “a little drunk and lookin’ for company.” It’s a profoundly human song, and by far one of the most honest-feeling tracks I heard all year.

80 ’08 (and Heartbreak)


Heartbreak No. 1: “Mamma Mia” Misses The Essence Of ABBA

In addition to choosing our 80 favorite musical recordings, people, places, movements, and events of the year, Idolator has also chosen eight of its least favorites of 2008. In the first Heartbreak, Kate Richardson looks at a movie that misses an opportunity to immortalize Sweden’s greatest pop group—and its greatest ’70s fashion plates—on the big screen.

I saw Mamma Mia three times in theaters this summer. On the one hand it’s a garish, uncomfortable, oftentimes embarrassing, poorly directed spectacle that somehow makes even Meryl Streep look like an amateur, but on the other hand… there’s a sort of feel-good vibe infused throughout the entire mess that made it strangely irresistible to me. I was fascinated by this movie, how something could be so outrageously awful and yet still somehow genuinely appealing.

Still, Mamma Mia remains a missed opportunity. I’ve never seen the Broadway show, but I’ve heard that it’s more or less awful. The movie was a chance to reverse that—to do justice to the brilliant concept of an ABBA musical and all the campiness it implies. The music is so tightly constructed and richly produced; it deserves a strong visual treatment, something along the lines of the band’s distinctive music videos, which were edited and choreographed with perfect symmetry. But instead of an homage to the order and geometry of ABBA’s music and aesthetic, the movie is a visual free-for-all of meandering dance numbers (“Dancing Queen,” for instance, ends with Meryl jumping off of a pier for no apparent reason), and indistinct cinematography. (What is an ABBA-themed visual experience without soft focus and four-way split screens?)

Perhaps none of that has a place in a mainstream film that’s not actually about ABBA, but a more ambitious movie could have conveyed the narrative while at the same time capturing the band’s glitzy, excessive essence. Instead, Mamma Mia is a fluffy mess. This clip just about sums it up: Meryl Streep’s face superimposed over a roulette wheel, Christine Baranski sitting on a jet ski on the deck of a boat:

80 ’08 (and Heartbreak)


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