Posts Tagged ‘Music’

Have You Heard Of: Florence + the Machine

In Great Britain on November 25, 2009 at 11:05 pm

I must confess… I have fallen in love with a certain Florence and her Machine. I tried to resist, but it turns out the British press and listening public were correct in their crowning the act (essentially a moniker for Florence Welch) the Next…Big…Thing. Her unique brand of art-pop, equal parts soulful, theatrical, and ethereal, hit the indie world by storm and her debut album Lungs became a bona fide hit overseas (it reached #2 in her native UK and eventually went Platinum). She solidified her success by garnering an impressive number of award recognition, including a Mercury Prize nomination, a BRIT Award, and three Q Award nominations amongst others. It really is no surprise, though, that the album found such a rapturous reception with both professional critics and the average music fan; her songs are swelling gale forces of musical emotion, while simultaneously being extremely catchy and listenable. And her preoccupation with death and pain, her liberal use of Gothic imagery, and willingness to take risks set her apart from both the mainstream pop world and indie community.

Florence herself as said she draws inspiration from artists like Kate Bush, Bjork, and Tom Waits, while also incorporating influences from her childhood like jazz vocalists and opera. According to her official website, “the common thread [amongst her influences] is always the emotion” and it’s not hard to see that reflected in her own music; songs such as “Dog Days are Over”, “Kiss With a Fist”, and “Hurricane Drunk” are bursting at the seams with her passionate vocals and full-blown instrumentation.

Of course, when one is responsible for such a distinct and self-assured first album as Lungs a follow-up that at least matches the quality of its predecessor can often be a tall order. I really don’t think fans should be worried, though.


Have You Heard Of: Disco Drive

In Italy on November 15, 2009 at 8:08 pm

It is no mystery that Italy has never been at the forefront of the modern indie rock scene; while they may be the peoples responsible for the Mona Lisa, gelato, the works of Fellini, and the discovery of the New World, they have yet to produce their own Arctic Monkeys. I know, ‘tis a tragedy of epic proportions. And yet, there may be hope on the horizon in the form of dance rock trio Disco Drive. The band has often been described as the Italian answer to the Klaxons, and their brand of punk funk fusion often brings that British foursome to mind. Disco Drive does have the ability to experiment now-and-again, with songs like the noise-drone “The Giant” (currently streaming on their MySpace) veering away from the majority of their tracks (which have the purpose of getting even the shyest of people on the dance floor).

With just two albums under their belt they’ve already played hundreds of shows throughout Europe (including the UK and Scandinavia) and have a strong fan base in their native country (they were nominated as one of the best live bands of 2005 by MTV Italy for example). Their tourmates include bands like Liars, !!!, Deerhoof, The Long Blondes, Hot Club de Paris, and the aformentioned Klaxons. They are definitely worth a listen, and are hopefully indicative of a growing indie rock force in the long-dormant Italy.

Baaria, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore

In Italy on November 10, 2009 at 8:34 pm

Italy’s latest Oscar submission is Baaria, a film by acclaimed director Giuseppe Tornatore (of Cinema Paradiso fame). It is a dramedy that examines Tornatore’s own hometown of Bagheria in Sicily by following a couple (played by Francesco Scianna and Margareth Made) from the 1920s until the present day. The film also stars Raoul Bova and Monica Bellucci (two names that should be more familiar to American audiences) and includes Tornatore’s trademark blend of wit, nostalgia, and sentimentality. In addition to being chosen as the national submission to next year’s Academy Awards, the film opened the 66th Venice Film Festival, where also won the Pasinetti Award and was nominated for the Golden Lion (the highest honor the festival bestows).

Here’s the full trailer, which actually shows a real cow being killed. It’s a split-second image, but it has apparently caused quite a stir in Italy over the unethical treatment of animals. Tornatore has made a statement saying that what was filmed was just an typical occurrence at the slaughterhouse in which they were shooting.

Have You Heard Of: La Melodia

In Netherlands on October 27, 2009 at 10:05 am

I know I just recently covered the Netherlands, but I’ve decided to make a return visit to highlight up-and-coming rap duo La Melodia. I saw them live at a global hip-hop showcase this past week at CMJ in New York City and loved their blend of old-school hip-hop, bossa nova, and soul. It was especially nice to see such a self-assured and spunky rapper in the form of MC Melodee since there seems to be a dearth of female rappers in the mainstream American rap scene.

Melodee and DJ/producer INT met and first started collaborating in the Dutch city of Eindhoven; they began by opening their own record store and taking a DIY approach to their musical career (this included making their own sound systems). After landing a European tour with Oh No, Wildchild and Percee P, they released their debut album Vibing High, first in Japan and eventually across Europe and the United States. Today they reside in the capital of Amsterdam and are currently working on completing their sophomore album which they hope to release by the end of the year.

After their performance at 92Y in TriBeCa, in which their setlist included both older songs and new, as-of-yet unreleased material, I decided to purchase Vibing High. I was definitely not disappointed; featuring 20 songs of warm, retro hip-hop it offers up a refreshing change of pace from the generic ringtone rap that tends to dominate stateside. Sonically it is far closer to Little Jackie than, say, Soulja Boy or DMX. With their laid-back rhymes and soulful beats, this is music for cruising through a city on a hot summer afternoon. I can’t recommend it enough, especially to fans of retro hip-hop.

Have You Heard Of: The Mondrians

In Switzerland on October 13, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Incorporating elements of garage rock, psychedelia, power pop, and good ol’ fashioned rock’n’roll, Swiss indie band The Mondrians first hit the music scene back in 2005 with the release of a set of homemade demo recordings called Pearl of the Lake. They followed this up with several more demos throughout the next couple of years and began their assault on mainland Europe, playing shows in Switzerland and France, before trekking across the English Channel to attempt to impress the notoriously tough British music press and audience. After doing just that the band journeyed to Spain in 2008 to begin work on their debut album with producer Gordon Raphael (The Strokes, Regina Spektor, Skin). After a little over a year of working on it, self-titled album was finally released to iTunes on September 30, 2009 and will be physically released in Europe on November 5.

Quirky album opener “Jesse James (the Gentle Borial of a Hero)” sounds like The Beatles circa The White Album, though with a modern twist. Other songs, such as “Reason to Live”, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”, “So What for Candide”, are sonic soulmates to The Strokes. Still, they aren’t afraid to slow things down and go introspective; look to “Out of Bananas” and the eight-minute long album closer “Christmas On Your Windows” as evidence. Their debut clearly marks them as a band who knows exactly what sound they want and exactly what they’re doing. It’ll be interesting to see them evolve in the coming years, especially if they are able to find a fair amount of critical or commercial success either stateside of overseas.

Have You Heard: Bonne Aparte

In Netherlands on October 6, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Dutch noise-rock outfit Bonne Aparte hit the music scene back in 2006 and released their self-titled debut album in Spring 2008. Occupying a musical land somewhere between Jesus & the Mary Chain and Nine Inch Nails, the six-person group throws together a mish-mash of instrumentation (clashing drums, guitar, keyboard, and synth) with intense vocals (courtesy of Gerrit van der Scheer) and a wall of dissonance. Tracks like “Taste of Snow” and “Come to Rest” typify this post-punk style, while the minute-long instrumental “….” shows off their flair for the experimental with little more than ambient noise and light instrumentation. With a running time of a little over 20 minutes for 11 tracks, the album moves along at a brisk pace and the songs never overstay their welcome. The band sings primarily in English, so its easily accessible to an American audience (especially fans of experimental noise rock).

Have You Heard Of: Camille

In France on September 29, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Quirky French pop chanteuse (and occasional Nouvelle Vague vocalist) Camille has often drawn comparisons to Iceland’s Björk due to her idiosyncratic, and oftentimes outlandish, singing style and the vast range of genres her music draws inspiration from (traditional chanson, electropop, and even opera are all represented). Since her 2002 debut album, Le Sac des Filles, Camille has been a musical superstar in her native country, with nearly half a million albums sold and counting. She has also won numerous awards, including the Prix Constantin (the French answer to the Mercury Prize) for her second album, Le Fil, and multiple prizes at the Victoires de la Musique.

She has also found a surprisingly large amount of commercial success for an artist so experimental in nature. For example, Le Fil was recorded with a low drone in the background throughout the entire record (it’s a B note, in case you were wondering), and substitutes Camille’s avant-garde vocal explorations for traditional instrumentation. And yet, amazingly, this record went Gold in France. Her latest album, 2008’s Music Hole, proves to be no less innovative. Her voice ranges from quiet and almost childlike, to primal screeching, to bombastic diva stylings worthy of Mariah Carey herself. And though she has included more songs in English than in her previous two albums, she still brings a distinctly French flair for the theatrical to the proceedings (witness the nearly wordless, and 7-minute long, “The Monk” or “Cats and Dogs”, which begins with Camille making animal noises). But just when you think you have her pigeon-holed as the second-coming of Björk, Camille surprises with the enchanting “Le Festin” for the soundtrack to Disney’s Ratatouille. If only more American pop stars would be so bold..

Have You Heard: Kings of Convenience

In Norway on September 22, 2009 at 5:07 pm

We’re going to stay in Scandinavia this week, with the charming indie pop duo Kings of Convenience. Childhood friends Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe have been creating music together since their teenage years in the band Skog, though they didn’t find success until their debut album as the Kings of Convenience, 2001’s Quiet Is the New Loud. They are set to release their third studio album, Declaration of Dependence, on October 20; it is their first album in five years. The lead single is titled “Boat Behind”, and several songs on the new record feature Canadian indie songstress Leslie Feist on back-up vocals.

The band emphasizes subdued vocals, lush instrumentation, and hyper-literate lyrics. Often described as Norway’s answer to Simon & Garfunkel, the duo blends the aesthetics of early Belle & Sebastian with their own bossa nova influenced folk. Songs range from quiet and introspective (“Homesick”, “Parallel Lines”) to more poppy and upbeat (“I’d Rather Dance With You”, “Love is No Big Truth”). If “Boat Behind” is indicative of the rest of their latest album, they’re not planning on making any new or radical changes to their tried-and-true formula. The acoustic guitars are once again in the foreground, and the elegant harmonies and orchestral flourishes remain firmly intact.

Have You Heard of: Frida Hyvönen

In Sweden on September 13, 2009 at 2:52 pm

There must be something in the icy Scandinavian air of Sweden; over the past decade the country has produced a staggering amount of both commercially and critically successful indie artists, including Lykke Li, Jens Lekman, and Peter Bjorn & John. Well add songstress Frida Hyvönen to that list. The blonde pixie has already put out two well-regarded albums in her relatively short career, and has toured across Europe, the United States and even China. Her music is based in the confessional singer-songwriter culture of the 70s (she lists Carole King as an influence), though she adds her own distinctly European style to the mix. Debut album Until Death Comes is an intimate set of songs in which Hyvönen’s piano playing takes center stage. The sparse, atmospheric production contributes to the album’s quiet loneliness, making it the perfect soundtrack for dark winter nights. Her follow-up, Silence is Wild, expands upon Until Death Comes by heightening both the sound and the melodrama inherent in her songwriting, and adding swirling strings, synthesizers and percussion.

But don’t mistake her elegant compositions and vocals for timidity; Hyvönen writes with both a wit and raw emotion that many listeners might miss. Her mix of the fictional and realistic, combined with her surprisingly sexual frankness, create a striking dichotomy of “naughty” and “nice”. And though she hasn’t hit as big stateside as some Scandinavian contemporaries, like Iceland’s Bjork, she is infinitely more accessible. She could easily strike a chord with the Regina Spektor/A Fine Frenzy set, especially those in the mood for something a little more avant-garde.

Jamie T to Release Sophomore Album

In Great Britain on September 7, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Jamie T (born Jamie Alexander Treays) is on the verge. The singer-songwriter, who has drawn comparisons to the Arctic Monkeys, the Streets, and Lily Allen for his blistering observations on modern British youth culture, released his sophomore album Kings & Queens in the UK on September 7th to critical acclaim (The Guardian called it a “43-minute, all-killer, no-filler set of stunners”).  His debut album, 2007’s Panic Prevention, was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize, spawned three top 20 hits in the UK, and was ultimately certified Gold. Yet he has found nowhere near the level of cross-over success in the United States that contemporaries, such as the aforementioned Allen and Arctic Monkeys have.  Could 2009 be his break-out year?

With a collection of songs as varied and multi-layered as those found on Kings & Queens, the Wimbledon-native couldn’t be more deserving. He goes from Dylanesque folk musings to aggressive hip-hop stylings to “pull-out-your-lighter” sing-along rock with the flick of a switch. For many artists, such genre-hopping comes across as disingenuous and desperate. For Jamie T it is nothing less than a natural expression of his various musical influences.  In addition to dabbling in a wide range of musical styles, his 11-track set covers a number of political and social issues of concern to urban 20-somethings. Government surveillance, binge drinking, alienation, and adulterous affairs are all represented in ways both melancholy and visceral; what Jamie T does so well though is to wrap these deep issues in walls of sound and deliriously catchy beats so that it never comes across as plodding or overtly socially conscious. If there is any justice, Mr. T. will make significantly more than just a splash on this side of the pond.