Check out this week's great New Music Releases! tUnE-yArDs--aka Merrill Garbus--arrives with her sophomore album W H O K I L L
, simply one of the most dynamic and fascinating works of art to emerge in recent memory. The Glee: The Music
albums reach seven now, with the release of an album from the show's fictional a cappella glee club The Warblers. Finally, Aussie singer-songwriter Lenka releases her sophomore album Two, on which she views sadness through a rose-colored sniper scope. See you again next Tuesday for another batch of New Music Releases!
tUnE-yArDs, the adopted name for Oakland-based musician Merrill Garbus, entered the cultural milieu in 2009 with BiRd-BrAiNs
, an album of ukelele, voice and looping drums recorded on recycled cassette with a handheld tape recorder. That should give ample warning for what craziness is to come on her sophomore release W H O K I L L ($11.85)
, and yet trying to describe everything it is would be like trying to describe liquid to a block of granite. The souped-up recording and production are in no way disruptions of her style, but rather just new colors on her pallete--spanky saxophones, hip hop pulses, and electric bass (from collaborator Nate Brenner)--to dash around her looping Afro-pop beat poet rants. "The thing about living a lie is just wondering when they'll find out," she warns at the end of the samurai-kick opener "My Country," assuring that Garbus--a white girl from New England--sounds like a slightly militant black feminist both actually and thematically. Make no mistake, she's steely: her "Gangsta" is a brassballs invitation for tough guys to dare coming to her neighborhood,starting out with her looping her voice to sound like an approaching ambulance siren, interrupted by "bang-bang-bang" drum and sax hits. "Powa" delicately begins like a ukelele lullaby before melting into a sultry, sensual R&B burner that shows off her impressive vocal range that effortlessly rips up the scale from jazz alto to whistle-tone coloratura. "Riotriot" veers into mad sonic territory I thought belonged only to Sufjan Stevens on Age of Adz.
In a sense the two albums are spiritual mates, both unapologetically subversive yet possessing their own peculiar laws. Lead single "Bizness" sums up tUnE-yArDs' amazing ability to take the core of a vibrantly authentic and raw poetry slam/jam session energy and craft it into something crystalline, coherent and radio-friendly. Garbus' pan-racial soul and style make Vampire Weekend look like whiteboy goofs. This is one of the most talented artists--who also happens to be one helluva fearless woman--you'll ever hear. Check her out on KCRW Album Preview until 4/24. Get it Now on Aol Shopping
It's becoming increasingly difficult for me to remain objective about anything regarding Glee
, for two opposing reasons: the presence of Lea Michele clouds my judgment to the extreme positive, while my own career as a professional vocal jazz singer clouds my judgment to the intensely negative. The latter comes into play when considering Glee: The Music presents The Warblers ($9.99)
, and not just because Ms. Michele is nowhere to be found on it. The CD presents 13 covers as performed by the so-called Dalton Academy Warblers, an all-male glee club from a fictional school in Westerville, Ohio, which is actually stars Darren Criss and Chris Colfer backed by the Beezlebubs of Tufts University. Fiction essentially describes much of what's at play here, given that a cappella music by its definition should be minus instrumental aid. I include auto-tune and recording studio adjustments in that definition, which means the "a cappella" songs on this album would be more accurately described as "sans musical instruments." That may seem like a subtle distinction, but having sung and admired a cappella music my whole life, I know groups like The Bobs and The Real Group have been doing things the fictional Warblers could only dream of doing, all without any studio tricks. That bone of contention aside, the album also relies very heavily on vocal percussion to make its choices of pop covers achievable. After the third or fourth song, vocal percussion ceases to be impressive, meaning that the songs should come up with some interesting harmonic and form arrangements to merit existence. They don't. As a result, fairly straightforward covers of Wings' "Silly Love Songs" or Neon Trees' "Animal" wear out their welcome almost immediately. "Blackbird" and "Somewhere Only We Go" aren't a cappella at all, and though like most of the album they are competently sung, they don't do anything all that dynamic. The covers of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream," Train's omnipresent "Soul Sister," Maroon 5's "Misery," and Pink's "Raise Your Glass" are essentially the same: thumping dance-pop songs that aren't that impressive to begin with, and here made only mildly more interesting by adding dreamy male pop harmony. Adding some juicy vocal jazz chords wouldn't have killed the arrangers, would it? But hey, like I said, I'm biased. Listen for Yourself
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There's a small movement--perhaps captained by Taylor Swift--for young, non-Disney female singers to approach emotional dilemmas without the panaceas of promiscuous sex, getting blacked out drunk, and in general grinding against anything warm. Instead, they go the complete other direction to unicorns, lollipops and moonbeams, playing up the cartoonish, fragile twee girl in a dollhouse angle. Add to their loony-tune ranks the Australian singer-songwriter Lenka, who arrives with her sophomore album Two ($7.99)
. You get a pretty good idea of the attitude here when a tune called "Sad Song" is as upbeat as a sitcom anthem, yet endorsing a viewpoint that hearing a happy song would actually remind her that the upside down world sucks. I don't know whether to be glad she's found a way to cope, or be glad that she prefers obliviousness to oblivion. Jaunty lead single "Roll With the Punches" is so obsequious in its chipper, horn-backed good feelings that underneath this girl must be a steaming cauldron of fury. Or maybe I'm just cynical, cause it's a pretty damn sunny and catchy throwback to AM gold, vaguely akin to She & Him. On "Everything at Once" Lenka cavorts like a children's book witch, her sing-songy preschool rhymes hung above 8-bit synth like glo-in-the-dark stars. "End of the World" is predictably gleeful, which just goes to show this whole thing might be a grand ruse, and so long as she gets a sweet kiss she actually would blithely wipe the planet clean of humanity with access to thermonuclear weapons. The fact that Lenka is an attractive grown Australian woman makes enjoying her tweeness seem mildly guilty, like Michael Bluth falling for Charlize Theron's character on Arrested Development
. Hey, who doesn't love a Manic Pixie Dreamgirl? Just don't make her mad. Listen for Yourself
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