Dig These Discs :: Idjut Boys, Marina And The Diamonds, Hey Boy, Hey Girl, Laetitia Sadler, Eleni Mandell
With the dog days of summer upon us, there's nothing better than some cool tunes to bring down the heat. Surrender to the sultry sounds of singers Eleni Mandell, Laetitia Sadier, and Marina Diamandis. Lose yourself in the musical soundscapes of Idjut Boys, and rock your gay with Astralwerks Pride sampler.
"Electra Heart" (Marina & The Diamonds)
This British songwriter Marina Diamandis drops her second album, featuring 14 keyboard-driven tracks that evoke the fast-paced power-pop of the ’90s. Written and recorded over the past two years while she was touring, the songs tell stories and paint character portraits of female archetypes that, while one-note, are compelling and vengeful. "Aside from love, perception and deception are the central themes...that’s why I changed my hair -- because the archetypal star is always blonde," writes Diamandis in her press notes. The album starts off hard with the robo-pop track, "Bubblegum Bitch," a song about embracing the pink powder-puff girliness and making it work for you. She softens things up in "Primadonna," a sweet song about a girl who simply wants it all, with a Katy Perry feel to it. "You only ever touch me in the dark/ only if we’re drinking can you see my spark," she sings in "Lies." And a whispery, spoken-word soliloquy intros "Homewrecker," with the lyrics, "Every boyfriend is the one until otherwise proven, the good are never easy, the easy never good, and lovin’ never happens like you think it really should."
In "Teen Idle," she celebrates this bottle-blonde persona. And in the "Valley of the Dolls," she is bifurcated, "living with identities that do not belong to me," and "dying like a shooting star in the valley." The project has a visual side; among the many artists that Diamandis cites as inspiration are Cindy Sherman, Dolly Parton, Madonna, Jenny Holzer, Britney Spears and more. For her inspirational pop music visualizations alone, Diamandis gets respect. Among the standouts on the album are "Hypocrates," a slower song that makes the most of harmony. In "How to Be a Heartbreaker," Marina outlines the rules for falling in love with a player -- rule number three, for example, is to never wear your heart on your sleeve. The song evokes Pat Benatar’s pop hits. The songs are fast-moving, with witty, wry lyrics like, "I’ll chew you up and spit you out, because that’s what young love is all about...I’m gonna pop your bubblegum heart." But the wide array of tunes notwithstanding, none really stick with the listener once the track is over. In the end, Diamandis may be more cubic zirconia than diamond -- she shines just as brightly, but lacks the cutting edge and luster of the real thing. (Atlantic)
"Silencio" (Laetitia Sadier)
Laetitia Sadier returns with her first true solo album, a collection of louche tunes that showcase her singular voice, which is calm, cool and direct at the same time. She opens the album with "The Rule of the Game," inspired by Jean Renoir’s 1939 film "La Regle du Jeu," about the ruling classes’ responsibility for the rise of fascism. The song launches smooth, and moves into a white go-go boots mod tune. In "Find Me the Pulse of the Universe," Sadier’s voice rises and falls beautifully, almost hypnotically. And "Silent Spot" is a spare arrangement about choice. Sadier shares a similar Francophile sensibility and musical style as singer Keren Ann does in her album, "Nolita." Sadier’s "Silencio" was recorded in Toulouse, France and Chicago, and features both French and English. In "Auscultation to the Nation," Sadier shares comments on France’s monetary system, as translated from an overheard France Inter phone conversation. The song has the intensity of early Smiths tracks, with less grit. "Moi Sans Zach" is another French language song about a complex breakup. Sadier collaborates with Stereolab’s Tim Gane in "Next Time You See Me," a short, simple rock tune that she pulls off well. And she teams up with James Elkington for "Fragment pour le future del’homme," and "There is a Price to Pay for Freedom (And It Isn’t Security.)" The song has a slow-moving, dark feel, like Pink Floyd’s "The Wall." An upbeat guitar riff singles out "Between Earth & Heaven," a tune redolent of the hippie era, with lyrics like "reaching the line beyond all known contortionists." She closes things up with "Invitation Au Silence," a foreign language, spoken word track taped at a French church, which "coaxes the listener to sample some silence...and listen how resonant with truth silence is." A little esoteric for some, but a fitting end to Sadier’s "Silencio." (Drag City)
"Cellar Door" (Idjut Boys)
Their moniker notwithstanding, when it comes to music making, the duo of Daniel Tyler and Conrad McConnell are whip smart. Their new album, Cellar Door," is a surprising collection of eight songs that transcend the mundane playlists that other DJs get away with. Firmly rooted in dance music but with a deep echo chamber and delay, their songs vacillate between garage band realness and glorious, soaring soundscapes that are, simply put, badass. The two admit that, "What we’ve tried to do is make an LP, four tracks a side on vinyl," said Conrad. "You stick it on your stereo, have a cup of coffee and read the paper. When it’s finished you stick the other side on. So we’ve make an LP in the traditional way." Bugge Wesseltoft plays the Steinway and Grace Jones bassist Malcolm Joseph jump in for the banging instrumental track, "One for Kenny," in honor of the late Kenny Hawkes. In cuts like this, the tradition they have seized on seems to be dramatic action-adventure movie soundtracks. It would best be described as the personal soundtrack that plays in Samuel L. Jackson’s head whenever he walks onto the set of a new blockbuster film. From the intro salvo, "Rabass," which draws you into the listening experience with its catchy acoustic guitar, to "Shine," with the soaring voice of Sally Rodgers from A Man Called Adam, the album is pure cool. She returns to great effect in "Going Down," a song that evokes Erasure remixes, with its sweeping electronic riffs studded with guitar. Rodgers shines again in "The Way I Like It," another lush, electronic soundscape recorded in Cornwall, with Rodgers singing, "Trust in me and I won’t let you down." Tyler notes that this is a great song to, "take your partner by the hand and caress each other via this piece of musicality." They admit they named their quirky track "Love Hunter" after a Japanese cowboy shoe, pointy with buckles, which seems apropos as the song is a messy of disco and progressive rock, with George Double on the drums. They bring a reggae feel to the forefront in "Le Wasuk," a trancey, sometimes frenetic instrumental track with Wesseltoft again on piano and Hammond, and Andy Hopkins on guitar. "It’s an ode to [Jamaican jazz pianist] Monty Alexander if we were dreaming hard," said Taylor, noting that they also recorded a vocal version with a musician called Dollar from the Dominican Republican. With a flourish of electric guitar, they launch into "Jazz Axe," a sad, short tune that only leaves the listener wanting more. You’d have to be an idjut not to pick this CD up. (Smalltown Supersound)
"Hey Boy, Hey Girl!" (Astralwerks Pride Sampler)
It’s always nice to be remembered on your anniversary, and the anniversary of Stonewall is no different. Luckily, Astralwerks dropped their second annual summer Gay Pride sampler, featuring eight tracks from acclaimed artists like David Guetta and The Chemical Brothers, plus songs from newcomers like The Good Natured and Air. This voyage through contemporary electronic dance music starts out with Eric Prydz & Andreas Postl’s "Mighty Love," a bouncy, instrumental dance track that samples from a ’70s disco sound. The Swedish House Mafia vs. Knife Party track "Antidote" is a gritty mash-up that amps up to its break point, after which, as the remixed lyrics repeat, "There’s no antidote." Guetta shows his skills by dropping the clean, precise "Paris," into the mix, with every electronic beat measured out and in line. Not for nothing, but it makes for great marching music, provided you do your marching in a Pride parade. Rivaling Guetta is The Chemical Brothers’ "Don’t Think (Live from Japan), in which a synth distorted track underlines the message to "let it go." It’s simple, but sure to be a big hit in clubs. In "Treehouse," one of the album’s best tracks, Gold Fields sings, she’s gonna writer her name on my arm, she’s gonna wear my coat, she’ll wanna take it off when we get home." Morning Parade provides one of the few vocal dance tracks with "Headlights," a yearning song about promises made with a great electro break. In the frenetic song, "Video Voyeur" The Good Natured sing, "I’m so high, I’m hypnotized," and later, "I can see you follow you wherever you go shining in the dead of night." The female vocal spoken word break makes it come off as a bit of an amateur effort, however. Seven Stars brings up the rear with "Air," a brooding, dark song that doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the electronic dance discordia, but has a catchy countdown sequence, and is strong enough on its own to keep its head above water. Happy Pride, boys and girls, courtesy of Astralwerks.
"I Can See the Future" (Eleni Mandell)
Working with producer Joe Chiccarelli, Eleni Mandell puts together a "dream team" of LA’s finest musicians for a collection of 13 original songs complemented by variety of instrumental flavors that frame her dreamy, understated pop-noir vocals. Mandell’s deep voice pairs well with her guitar-driven, slow, throwback country music sound. In "Now We’re Strangers," Mandell pairs a speeded-up island beat with her deep second soprano for this past-love song, singing, "It’s funny how I have to try to see you in my mind life can be so unkind, now we’re strangers." In "I’m Lucky," a 4/4 beat gives pep to what might pass as an early PJ Harvey tune. "Desert Song" is another slow, guitar-driven song that evokes the Southwest, with pedal steel guitar by Greg Leisz and Mandell singing, "I’ll never forget the way that I smile, the sky went purple and the wind went wild, I believe in miracles sometimes." Her voice gets deeper and more sultry in "Who You Gonna Dance With," a good-time song with a throwback feel. Benji Hughes’ deep vocals root "Never Have to Fall in Love Again," a rollicking song with a country sound. "Don’t make me fall out of love with you baby, I’ll miss you every day until I die/ just curl your arm around me when I’m sleeping soft and soundly and I’ll never have to fall in love again." Mandell gets comic in "Crooked Man," singing about a crooked man with crooked fingers who "is bent on being bent." She slows it down in "Bun in the Oven," a sad song about a woman looking for Mr. Right (or perhaps just the right sperm donor, as Mandell did), with the lyrics, "Is it wrong to imagine that some day I’ll have him?" She follows with "So Easy," a song about being everything wrong, too short, too tall, "always wrong but never right at all." Joey Waronker’s brushed snares bring a lot of jazz to this song. Mandell gets a more modern feel in "Looking to Look For," a sad song about trying to find that connection, about making a date for coffee that you both know will never happen. She slows it down again for "Don’t Say No," with the beat kept by a limping tambourine. Mandell closes things down with "A Possibility," a slow song about thwarted love and holding on to hope. The guitar and strings arrangement is spare and lovely, bringing this modern throwback country album to a nice close. (Yep Roc)