Pitchfork: The Playlist: Adele - "Someone Like You"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Here's how Adele opens this particular heartbreak adagio: "I heard that you're settled down, that you found a girl and you're married now." It gets worse from there. The slow, mournful piano figure underneath the track never changes or quickens or flattens out, but it's all the company Adele gets here; no other instruments show up on the song. So the piano is the quiet little skeleton that turns out to be all the song needs. With it, we get Adele's furious tornado of a voice, an instrument that here, heard in its undiluted form, absolutely blasts away the Amy Winehouse comparisons that, early in Adele's career, came too often.

And once you get past the insane power of that voice, there's still more meat there. Because as theatrically heartbroken as Adele sounds on this song, the lyrics still offer the sense that we're dealing with mature adult emotions here; it's not a woe-is-me tantrum. Throughout, she also wishes her ex well, calling him "old friend" and never demanding to know what the new girl has that she didn't. She doesn't have to ask; the question hangs there in the air anyway. She's got her face forward, or anyway she puts on a good show of it: "Never mind, I'll find someone like you"-- like she can will a better reality into being just by wailing it. Sometimes, pop music can still break your heart.

Someone Like You

[from 21; out February 22 on XL/Columbia]

— Tom Breihan, February 15, 2011

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The line-up should inspire zero confidence. The Game's persona ("California Nas"??) is off-putting, and his ear for production feels more like the benefit of lottery winnings than artistic vision. Snoop's willingness to throw any oddball pop experiment at the wall is the only thing disguising his inability to say something interesting. And Pharrell's production style has aged about as well as the Beach Boys circa "Kokomo". Tyga's an unproven entity, but aside from Lex Luger collaboration "Like Me", his music has been inconsistent, and his persona feels suspiciously Khalifa-inspired.

But sometimes a beat can do all of the heavy lifting. The first worthwhile Neptunes production in years, "Really Raw" works as a cocktail bar cover of classic RZA, an almost cartoonish Cuban Linx tribute that relies on the outline of "ominous" two-note horn lines and a de-tuned guitar. It provides the MCs with a surprisingly convincing replica of hardcore menace, like street music transmitted from an offshore island paradise where millionaire celebrity rappers greet their fading years.

[from Careless World; due later this year on Cash Money/Young Money/Universal Motown]

— David Drake, February 9, 2011

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hard Mix's original version of "Alright" could already be considered a remix of sorts: The 19-year-old producer lifted the vocals from Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's eternally jubilant 1967 hit "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You" and subtly reinforced the song's rich sentimentality with some coolly viscous and ethereal textures. A refined, pleasurable piece of work, but nothing compared to window-fogging, Florida-based artist Sumsun's take on "Alright". Like Hard Mix, Sumsun invites that sample into his own realm, one teeming with new wave shimmer and tropical trance imprisoned beneath a thick layer of ice. Through this lens, the bright, romantic appeal of "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You" feels both frosted and isolated.

In this bold recontextualization-- one that fittingly resembles the adopted soul of Teengirl Fantasy's standout 2010 single "Cheaters"-- what once felt joyous and electrified by the newness of young love sounds desperate, aged, and deeply pained. But no less beautiful. Gaye and Terrell's lovestruck proclamations bounce off the glassy walls of Sumsun's slowly unfolding backdrop, now reshaped as crisscrossed, heartbroken pleas. The result is even more emotionally disarming because of its familiarity, and elegantly inhabits a space where remixes accomplish more than expected.

MP3: Hard Mix: "Alright (Sumsun Remix)"

— Zach Kelly, February 8, 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

People like to lump Dum Dum Girls in with the bazillion bands of the current lo-fi garage-pop revival, but there's a crucial difference: Like their West Coast buddies Girls, the Dum Dums are absolutely not half-assing it. When you hire Richard Gottehrer to produce, as the Dum Dums did on last year's I Will Be, you're going for a very particular sound, and they got there (Gottehrer was a Brill Building songwriter who later produced Blondie and the Go-Go's). On their new EP, Gottehrer returns, this time sharing production duties with lead Dum Dum Dee Dee and the Raveonettes' Sune Rose Wagner-- three people who know how to make smeary, evocative pop music that still punches you in the gut. And on the title track, their guitar sound expands a bit, jangling and snarling rather than riffing. And the real star of the show is Dee Dee's voice, a controlled deadpan alto that takes off when the chorus hits, soaring over the track like a condor. The result is a haunting piece of fuzz-pop that feels like a blast of spring in the dead of winter. Very few bands can evoke that sort of feeling, but the Dum Dums are pros.

MP3: Dum Dum Girls: "He Gets Me High"

[from the He Gets Me High EP; out 03/01/11 via Sub Pop]

— Tom Breihan, February 4, 2011

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fleet Foxes are one of those bands that arrived so fully formed that it was hard to imagine where they'd take their sound next, and judging by the long gap between their debut LP and the upcoming Helplessness Blues, it seems the group may have struggled with that notion some as well. The eponymous lead single from the record finds them honing their intricate baroque folk while at the same time trying out a more straightforward, lyrical approach. The most notable difference between "Helplessness Blues" and the Sun Giant/Fleet Foxes material is that frontman Robin Pecknold's words and vocals are front and center, high in the mix. Over a surging acoustic instrumental, he sings about existential fear ("What's my name? What's my station? Oh, just tell me what I should do") in a hopeful and earnest way. Some will probably call these lyrics hokey, but they're delivered with such sincerity (and vocal warmth) that I can't help but go along for the ride. The song is essentially two halves, and around the three-minute mark, the whole band appears, and it bursts into a more reverberant, orchestral section that just shimmers. It's here where you remember how great these guys sound when they're firing on all cylinders, and it's easy to think there could be more of this kind of lovely sprawl on the record's other tracks.

MP3: Fleet Foxes: "Helplessness Blues"

[from Helplessness Blues; out 05/02/11 in the UK via Bella Union and 05/03/11 in the U.S. via Sub Pop]

— Joe Colly, February 3, 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Black Night" begins and ends with a heartbeat-- a figurative one, that is, pounded out by Dodos drummer Logan Kroeber like an angry metronome. In between the vital signs, frontman Meric Long croons sweetly sad lines ("Black night/ Blackness/ When I wanted you/ How I haunted you"), so that when he raises his voice it sounds like a lover's plea ("Control yourself"). These are the kind of lyrical concerns that Long keenly articulated on 2009's Time to Die, but on that record they were paired with somewhat less imaginative instrumentation than on 2008's breakout Visiter. The ship is righted here, then, as this song breezes by without losing an ounce of urgency. Sometimes the difference between a "good" band and a "great" one is learning what your strengths are and utilizing them to the greatest extent; on "Black Night", Dodos certainly sound like the latter.

[from No Color; out 03/14/11 in the UK via Wichita and 03/15/11 in the U.S. via Frenchkiss]

— Larry Fitzmaurice, February 1, 2011

When a character called Wilhelm is shot in the thigh with an arrow in the 1953 western The Charge at Feather River, you hear a strangled-yelp sound effect now known as the Wilhelm Scream. Since that film, it's become a Hollywood inside joke, used over and over to soundtrack men getting shot, stabbed, and falling from substantial heights in everything from Star Wars to Toy Story to Howard the Duck. At this point, it's little more than a trivia question.

James Blake's "The Wilhelm Scream" does not contain the Wilhelm Scream. It's not a joke for those in the know. In fact, the song is one of the most universal moments of his brief-yet-impressive career thus far. After hinting at his beacon of a blue-eyed croon over the course of several minimal, eclectic, and-- above all else-- unique electronic EPs, he went full-voice for a recent cover of Feist's "The Limit to Your Love", drawing legitimate comparisons to the likes of Antony and Justin Vernon. But, unlike those contemporaries, Blake isn't a songwriter in the traditional sense. He's a producer, a master at designing sounds. So he uses the song's scaling vocal melody like a loop and leaves it to a slew of encroaching keys and synths to provide the forward motion. "I don't know about my dreamin' anymore/ All that I know is I'm fallin', fallin', fallin', fallin'," he sighs, and it's easy to imagine him slipping off a high-rise in slow-motion.

With "The Wilhelm Scream", Blake shrugs off the novelty of the song's namesake and zeroes in on the desperation of the original cry. Just as his music tries to deconstruct people like Prince and Timbaland-- isolating single drums and suspending them in space-- Blake breaks down the famed scream to its tiny molecules. Nobody's sure exactly who voiced the Wilhelm Scream, but somebody did, and there's hurt in that guttural wail.

[from James Blake; out 02/07/11 via Atlas / A&M]

— Ryan Dombal, February 1, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Photo by Heiko Prigge

A young Patrick Wolf showed up about eight years early for the Zola Jesus/Cold Cave goth-pop revival, kicking lost-operatic Nick Cave-isms way back in the dancepunk era. And now that the world has become a safe place for elemental wails over glacial keyboard tones, Wolf has responded by going bigger and sunnier than he ever has before, diving headfirst into a dizzy, juicy love song with the sort of shamelessness that not even the Drums can muster. Wherever the Huey Lewis sax-squawks and candied piano-bashing of "The City" came from, here they form the basis of what sounds like a prime-era Dexys Midnight Runners tune that fell through a time-tunnel slipstream and into our RSS feeds. But when someone comes through with a pop song that shows this level of verve and craftsmanship, it doesn't really matter if it has nothing to do with the musical landscape around it. "The City" is a song like that, a deliriously fun young-love anthem. And Wolf absolutely sells it, whooping his pledges of eternal love like they're the only things keeping him alive. Wolf can bury his black capes deep in his closet now; he's not going to need them anymore.

[from "The City" single, out 03/14/11 on Hideout; also from Lupercalia, out in May on Hideout]

— Tom Breihan, January 28, 2011

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

There's a sense of release watching a performer who was clearly born to be on stage, whose whole life has been building up to the moment when all their pent-up artistic urges can be turned loose on an audience. Some people make music for fun; others do it because there's a force that's been bearing down on them since birth that positively compels them to flush it all out of their systems. Light Asylum singer Shannon Funchess would seem to be a card-carrying member of the latter group, as demonstrated by "Dark Allies", in which she manages to route her sinewy vocal through the cold-blooded seething of Ian Curtis, the deadpan drawl of Grace Jones and the full-tilt intensity of Henry Rollins circa Damaged.

The juddering electro-goth backing provides a perfect foil for her to break out that extraordinary range, which effortlessly transitions from hoarse rasps to deep-throated contralto brooding and back again. Funchess' lyrical conceits mostly center on drugs and religious imagery, but there's a vitality and conviction to her delivery, a sense that she needs to be up there doing this, that elevates Light Asylum beyond the sizable amount of past and present artists who have explored similar territory. Funchess' partner in the band, Bruno Coviello, also deserves credit for his Moroder-like mastery of simplicity, repetition, and slow-build dynamics, which provides the centrifugal clout that really hammers the point home.

MP3: Light Asylum: "Dark Allies"

[from Light Asylum's In Tension EP]

— Nick Neyland, January 25, 2011

Last year, the Samps, the band lead by Cole M. Greif-Neill, a one-time guitarist for Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, put out a self-titled EP on Mexican Summer. If you checked out and enjoyed that release, you'll be happy to hear that "Trains Coming", the lead track from the group's new 12", is another boogie-dominated mix of styles, samplings, and giddy genre leaps. Once again, grooves are established, tinkered with, and set aside. There's simply too much to explore, too many bizarrely unctuous bass lines and freak-struck atmospheres to tuck into their funked-out assemblages, to stay in one place for long. So we get the snaking, gothed-out breakbeats on the intro and a middle section with its melted-butter soul and assertive horn jabs. All of which leads to a glowing cool-off that locks down into a tidy two-step before working up to a strobe-battered coda that's hypnotic with an undercurrent of anxiety. It's a lot to take in, but the Samps have a knack for finding threads between these styles and making it work as an addictive whole.

Trains Coming

[from a self-titled 12"; out now on Big Love]

— Zach Kelly, January 25, 2011

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