Showing posts with label chamber pop. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chamber pop. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

video review: 'divers' by joanna newsom

Man, this album took a lot to untangle, but it was definitely worth it. Highly recommended.

Next up... you know, that M.E.D., Blu, and Madlib record looks interesting, but I still have a bit of old business I want to handle... well, we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'divers' by joanna newsom

I've been hesitant to cover this record.

Hell, I've been hesitant to cover Joanna Newsom in general, who I knew more by reputation than anything else before I started doing my research for this review. I knew she had one of the most idiosyncratic voices in folk music - a bit like a cross between Bjork and Sia but more rounded and warm - and I knew she had amassed a lot of critical acclaim for her vibrantly detailed, excellently witty songwriting that probably runs as close to twee as I'd ever tolerate... except for the fact that she also happens to be an incredibly gifted composer utilizing her harp and a lot of gorgeously rich instrumentation to compose layered, gorgeously polyrhythmic songs drenched in English and Celtic folk.

Now the majority of this is right up my alley, and thus when I finally started listening through The Milk-Eyed Mender, I did find a lot to like, even despite a few minor missteps when it came to instrumental tones that clashes Newsom's unique vocals. Then came Ys... and on the one hand, I liked the more opulent orchestration for how well it could match the dramatic swell of the writing and Newsom's more strident tones, but there was a part of me that missed the quieter, funnier witticisms that ran through her more stripped back material. The album started to pick up the feel of meandering pastoral indulgence, focusing more on intricate detail instead of the overall whole, which seemed to reach critical mass on the triple album Have One On Me that she released in 2010. And here's the thing: yes, over two hours of music can be long, but it's one of those releases that really works better considering each disc as an individual release with its own musical motifs and underlying themes, and really, they don't feel as long as you'd think, especially if you're poring through the lyrics at the same time. That said, I do understand why some think the quieter second disc can drag a bit, especially compared to the more elaborate instrumentation of the first and the slightly brighter tones of the third. And when I heard that Joanna Newsom was pursuing even more elaborate, layered instrumentation on her newest album this year... well, I was interested. At the very least, it'd probably sound beautiful and be a rewarding exercise in poetry, so I dove into Divers - what did I find?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

video review: 'stages' by josh groban

And that nearly takes care of my backlog. One more album that I might tackle this weekend, but first Billboard BREAKDOWN. But before then... zzz...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

album review: 'stages' by josh groban

It seems like I've been breaking a number of 'rules' that I've traditionally held for myself, and today it looks like we're going to be tackling one of the biggest examples of that. Because everyone who begged me to cover Lady Gaga & Tony Bennett's Cheek To Cheek last year and who were put off that I really didn't have any interest are probably going to be exasperated I'm covering this - because hey, wasn't his rule that he didn't cover albums of covers?

But in the lead-up to this record, I began wondering why that is. After all, I'll talk about covers when they appear on an album, and there are plenty of examples where a well-positioned cover is just as thematically appropriate. Not really the case when you have a selection of Broadway covers put together by a classically trained operatic pop artist who is more well-known for his jawdropping vocal talents than his songwriting, but it could work. And let's be honest here: I knew Lady Gaga would do a fine job with Tony Bennett - Gaga's done that sort of material before, she's got classical training - but it didn't interest me in the same way, and after listening to the album a few times, I realized I had nothing I could really say about it, outside of it sounding exactly what I expected it would.

This is slightly different for two reasons, the first being Josh Groban himself. I'll admit that I like the guy: his material has never had stunning depth, but the man has the pipes, charisma, and power to elevate less-than-stellar writing, and I hold that his more complex 2010 record Illuminations - that had a Nick Cave cover of all things - is actually pretty damn excellent. My issue with him is that I've always wanted to see his material with a little less polish, see him get a little more visceral, challenge that incredible voice of his and test his emotional range. Now some of you might think that doing an album of Broadway covers might be flying in the exact opposite direction of that, but look at the shows he chose: Phantom of the Opera? Les Miserables? Into The Woods and Sweeney Todd? And - of course - a track from my favourite musical Chess? Sure, we're not crossing that many boundaries, but there's enough material to push Groban, and I honestly wasn't sure what to expect. That said, I didn't exactly have high expectations, and I'll admit the theater geek in me comes down hard on musical adaptations, so what did Josh Groban deliver with Stages?

Monday, February 16, 2015

video review: 'vulnicura' by björk

And that's me catching up. Whew, that feels nice.

Okay, Imagine Dragons and Father John Misty time, stay tuned!

album review: 'vulnicura' by björk

And now we come to an artist to which I have a complicated relationship, the sort I can definitely respect but not quite love, one that I understand but struggle to like. An artist that has received critical acclaim throughout her career, but a career that I'd ultimately brand as pretty uneven.

Yep, it's time that I finally talk about Bjork, Icelandic singer-songwriter and one of the most distinctive and unique performers of her time. Breaking the mid-90s, Bjork immediately established herself through her uniquely expressive voice and half-playful, half-tragic approach to her delivery and songwriting. And for the longest time for me, that voice put me off really getting into her, unearthly and surprisingly visceral but just never really gripping me. And one of the reasons this review is late is because I went back and listened through Bjork's entire discography before covering this record, which leaked months ahead of schedule. So now with the benefit of added context, what do I think of her?

Well, while I've come to appreciate her and found some of her material very powerful and evocative, she can be very hit-and-miss for me. Like most critics, I tend to like her 90s material a lot more than her releases in the 2000s, mostly because those newer records have some great ideas that don't quite materialize as well as I'd hope. Part of this comes in a change in focus, in that most of Bjork's early work had a more intimate, almost primal thematic focus, which allowed her off-kilter vocals and abstract lyrics to really shine. But starting around Medulla, her material got a lot more fragmented, with experimentation that felt half-realized and really did not pay the same dividends as they did on previous records. The a capella of Medulla, the horns on Volta, and especially the attempted blend of delicate melodies with the half-formed, spasmodic grooves of Biophilia, they never resonated in the same way as her earlier material did, and with her lyrics becoming more politically-themed and outwardly focused which didn't fit nearly as well, I just couldn't connect with Bjork's material in the same way. I'm not saying it didn't have an audience, but these were records that felt thin conceptually and almost unfinished, lacking the melodic presence and foundation to support the flights of experimentation.

But rumour has it her newest album was coming back to earth, back to the potent emotions that drove Homogenic and Vespertine. And while Post is probably my favourite Bjork album, Vespertine is a close second, so I planned to revisit her entire discography to prepare - and then the album dropped two months early. So much for that, but I figured I wanted to be fair and thus went through the back catalog regardless - better late and right than early and uninformed. So finally I dug into Vulnicura - is it the return to form for which we've been hoping?