Cry it Out…Or Don’t: Break-Up Songs to Get Down To

October 22, 2012

Break-Up song playlist from WBER DJ Kelsey…

Breakin’ Up/ Rilo Kiley

If More Adventurous gave the group’s game plan away in its title, so does Under the Blacklight, for if this album is anything, it’s a sleazy crawl through L.A. nightlife, teaming with sex and tattered dreams, all illuminated by a dingy black light. So, it’s a conceptual album — which ain’t the same thing as a concept album, since there is no story here to tie it together — and to signify the sex Jenny Lewis sings about incessantly on this record, Rilo Kiley have decided to ditch most of their indie pretensions and hazy country leanings in favor of layers of ironic new wave disco and spacy flourishes pulled straight out of mid-’80s college rock.-allmusic.com

Foundations/ Kate Nash

On a first listen to Kate Nash’s debut Made of Bricks, it’s easy to hear the similarities to her contemporaries  (Lily Allen, the Streets, Amy Winehouse) and influences (Björk, Robbie Williams). Her most popular songs are both intimate and confrontational, using brief portraits and slang-conversational vocals to illustrate the larger issues going on — the dinner party that exposes a crumbling relationship on “Foundations” or the futility of using “Mouthwash” as a defense against feelings of low self-worth. The music is explosive and sample-driven, but with plenty of ties to contemporary pop, such as the frequent piano runs and occasional chamber brass or woodwinds. Spend time with this album, however, and Nash is revealed as much more than the sum of her parts. She’s an excellent songwriter who illustrates her tales of romantic woe and inadequacies with grace and many subtleties.-allmusic.com

Walk on Me/ Ben Kweller

Enthusiasm is what singer/songwriter Ben Kweller brings to his work. Ramones-like perennial goofy-teenager attitude and lack of antipathy are his golden attributes, and the combination of his keen songwriting sense makes Kweller a pop powerhouse. Following his self-released demo, Freak Out It’s Ben Kweller, and the following EP, Kweller spreads out with more pop songs and sounds on this full-length studio album. Underscoring the songwriting skill he’s been working at since age eight, he plays acoustic, folk-rock, alternative, power pop, and straight-ahead rock of the course of 11 songs. His lyrics are consistently heart-sung, but they aren’t lite — he’s got weight and bite, too. “Walk on Me” and “How It Should Be (Sha Sha),” though power pop through and through, are pure Kweller — bright, witty, fun, sweet diaries of hard-to-grapple-with feelings translated into two-to-three-minute bursts of self-empowered joy.- allmusic.com

Soft Shock/ Yeah Yeahs Yeahs

The album’s first three songs are a blitz of bliss, especially “Zero,” which kicks things off with blatantly fake beats, revved-up synth arpeggios, and O’s command to “get your leather on.” Radiating joy and confidence, she and the rest of the band couldn’t be further from Show Your Bones’ introspection as the song climbs to ecstatic heights. “Heads Will Roll” shows just how ably the Yeah Yeah Yeahs blend their rock firepower with dance surroundings, as Zinner’s prickly guitars get equal time with spooky synth strings and O makes “you are chrome” sound like the coolest compliment ever. Meanwhile, “Soft Shock”‘s dreamy, almost naïve-sounding electronics make O’s vocals — which are much less affected than ever before — feel even more natural and vulnerable. Elsewhere, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and producers David Sitek and Nick Launay find other ways to shake things up, from the disco kiss chase of “Dragon Queen,” which features Sitek’s fellow TV on the Radio member Tunde Adebimpe on backing vocals, to “Shame and Fortune,” which pares down the band’s tough, sexy rock to its most vital essence and provides Chase and  Zinner with a showcase not found anywhere else on the album.- allmusic.com

My man is a mean man/ Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

Following up her excellent 2002 debut, Sharon Jones stays true to the formula she laid down on her early releases and Dap Dippin’ by presenting another session of full-force funk that pays homage to the genre’s glory years without coming off as contrived. The deep funk revival continues with Jones belting out commanding vocal performances that are uncompromisingly forceful yet full of rich, soulful emotion. It’s a session worthy of being found in any beat-miner’s record collection and any funk enthusiast’s basket of obscurities and rarities. Her cover of “This Land Is Your Land” is equally as impressive, as she somehow takes the song from being an American folk standard and turns it into a full-on sonic explosion. Fans of her earlier work will no doubt find great joy in this follow-up, and those seeking Jones out for the first time certainly will not be disappointed in what they find.-allmusic.com

That’s It, I quit, I’m movin’ on/ Sam Cooke

This set is near essential to fans of Sam Cooke, despite the fact that it contains none of his gospel recordings for Specialty Records or any of the work from the final year of his career (owned by ABKCO Records). Scattered every few minutes across this four-disc collection are reminders of just how far ahead of all existing musical forms Cooke was, creating sounds that stretched the definitions of song genres as they were understood and created completely new categories. Indeed, he was so successful that it’s easy to underestimate the impact and importance of many of his early triumphs. “You Send Me,” which opens this set, may seem today like the safest, tamest pop music, but in 1957 it was a genre-bending single, a new kind of R&B/pop music hybrid and one that quietly shook the foundations of the music business when it hit number one.-allmusic.com

There’s no home for you here/ The White Stripes

Chip-on-the-shoulder anthems like the breathtaking opener, “Seven Nation Army,” which is driven by Meg White’s explosively minimal drumming, and “The Hardest Button to Button,” in which Jack White snarls “Now we’re a family!” — one of the best oblique threats since Black Francis sneered “It’s educational!” all those years ago — deliver some of the fiercest blues-punk of the White Stripes’ career. “There’s No Home for You Here” sets a girl’s walking papers to a melody reminiscent of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” (though the result is more sequel than rehash), driving the point home with a wall of layered, Queen-ly harmonies and piercing guitars, while the inspired version of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” goes from plaintive to angry in just over a minute, though the charging guitars at the end sound perversely triumphant. At its bruised heart, Elephant portrays love as a power struggle, with chivalry and innocence usually losing out to the power of seduction.-allmusic.com

In the way/ Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco has earned her rep as the most independent of artists. She records for her own label, and as a result says and does pretty much as she pleases. Di Franco has also shown a willingness to experiment, mixing genres and styles, and Evolve is clearly an important link in her continued evolution. Piano, horns, and guitar mix and merge on “Promised Land,” offering a bluesy blend of progressive folk, while a heavy backbeat informs the funky “In My Way.” The arrangements are much busier than the “girl with an acoustic guitar” sound of her earliest efforts, but they’re never crowded. In fact, DiFranco’s such a dynamic singer, at turns soulful and, when angry, in the listener’s face, that the heavier arrangements serve her well. The arrangements and solid production, however, aren’t enough to save the material. As with 2001’s Revelling: Reckoning, Evolve lacks consistency and finally seems meandering. “Icarus”‘ foreboding melody line drags at a dawdling pace, stopping and starting again, and finally, going nowhere. The worst excess is “Serpentine.” It takes three minutes for the vocal to start, and seven more for Di Franco to catalog everything that isn’t right in the Promised Land. -allmusic.com

Excuse Me, I Think I’ve Got a Heartache/ Cake

There are virtually no liner notes nor any indication of what year the songs were recorded, or in the case of the B-sides, what the A-side was, which is an unforgivable omission for a historical overview of this type. Everything screams quickie, from the haphazard track sequencing, to the lack of information in the pamphlet and the lackluster graphics. If this is indeed made for die-hard Cake fans, and who else would even pick it up? It’s a shoddy, short set that doesn’t show respect for the group’s dedicated followers, of whom there are many. A full ten minutes of the album’s already meager running time is dedicated to two versions of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” with the opening one a studio recording, and the unlisted final cut a live performance. While both are interesting angles on a song that appears to be outside even Cake’s eclectic scope, they are similar enough that the repetition only pads the disc’s slim contents. -allmusic.com

Winter Winds/ Mumford & Sons

English folk outfit Mumford & Sons’ full-length debut owes more than a cursory nod to bands like the Waterboys, the Pogues, and The Men They Couldn’t Hang. The group’s heady blend of biblical imagery, pastoral introspection, and raucous, pub-soaked heartache may be earnest to a fault, but when the wildly imperfect Sigh No More is firing on all cylinders, as is the case with stand-out cuts like “The Cave,” “Winter Winds,” and “Little Lion Man,” it’s hard not to get swept up in the rapture. Like their London underground folk scene contemporaries Noah & the Whale, Johnny Flynn, and Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons’ take on British folk is far from traditional. There’s a deep vein of 21st century Americana that runs through the album, suggesting a healthy diet of Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Blitzen Trapper and Marah.-allmusic.com

Breakin’ the chains of love/ Fitz & the Tantrums

Pickin’ Up the Pieces finds this L.A.-based sextet breaking out big time within the soul revival underground, though for a band that plays heavily on their D.I.Y. cred — as their press materials frequently note, this album was primarily recorded in lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick’s  living room — these songs find them playing to the polished and poppier end of the R&B spectrum. Principle songwriter Fitzpatrick and Tantrums’ arranger James King (who also plays sax) lean to the more refined sounds of classic-era Motown. This is soul from the upscale night spot rather than the juke joint, but it’s a club that’s well worth the cover charge; Fitzpatrick is a significantly better than the average blue-eyed soul crooner, his vocal partner Noelle Scaggs is good enough that one wishes she got more space in the spotlight, and under King’s direction, the band cuts an impressive groove without cluttering up the arrangements or depending too strongly on their influences to convincingly conjure the sound of the classic era of soul.-allmusic.com

The Bad in each other/ Feist

With Metals, Feist responds to the surprise success of 2007’s  The Reminder with a whisper, not a bang. She treads lightly through a series of disjointed torch songs and smoky pop/rock numbers, singing most of the songs in a soft, gauzy alto, as though she’s afraid of waking some sort of slumbering beast. Whenever the tempo picks up, so does Feist’s desire to keep things weird, with songs like “A Commotion” pitting pizzicato strings against a half-chanted, half-shouted refrain performed by an army of male singers. But Metals does its best work at a slower speed, where Feist can stretch her vocals across fingerplucked guitar arpeggios and piano chords like cotton. “Cicadas and Gulls,” with its simple melodies and pastoral ambience, rides the same summer breeze as Iron & Wine, and “Anti-Pioneer” breaks down the blues into its sparsest parts, retaining little more than a sparse drumbeat and guitar until the second half, where strings briefly swoon into the picture like an Ennio Morricone movie soundtrack.-allmusic.com

Tymps (the sick in the head song)/ Fiona Apple

Extraordinary Machine sounds like a brighter, streamlined version of When the Pawn, lacking the idiosyncratic arrangement and instrumentation of that record, yet retaining the artiness of the songs themselves. Like her second record, this album is not immediate; it takes time for the songs to sink in, to let the melodies unfold, and decode her laborious words (she still has the unfortunate tendency to overwrite: “A voice once stentorian is now again/Meek and muffled”). Unlike theBrion-produced sessions, peeling away the layers on Extraordinary Machine is not hard work, since it not only has a welcoming veneer, but there are plenty of things that capture the imagination upon first listen — the pulsating piano on “Get Him Back,” the moodiness of “O’ Sailor,” the coiled bluesy “Better Version of Me,” the quiet intensity of the breakup saga “Window,” the insistent chorus on “Please Please Please” — which gives listeners a reason to return and invest time in the album. -allmusic.com

The Right Type/ Chromeo

Business Casual has the typically synth-suave electro-funk jams, like “Hot Mess” and “Night by Night,” featuring Gemayel’s talkbox mastery over strobe-lit four-on-the-floor beats that are right in step with “Tenderoni” and “Needy Girl.” As the album progresses, though, Macklovitch and Gemayel dig deeper into crates for cheesy inspiration, and you can hear glimmers of Rockwell, Lionel Richie, Oran Juice, and even The Kids from Fame TV series. “The Right Type” seems custom-made for a montage, and the snappy “Grow Up” could be the theme from a sitcom. Elsewhere, Solange Knowles does her best Whitney/ Mariah impression for “When the Night Falls,” and “J’ai Claqué la Porte,” with its Casio fills and fingerpicked acoustic, is sung entirely in French and features Dave One at his most smirkingly romantic. [The Deluxe Edition of  Business Casual features several remixes of “Night by Night” and “Don’t Turn the Lights On.”-allmusic.com

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The Joys and Annoyances of Being in Love-a DJ Kelsey Playlist

October 2, 2012

Into the Mystic/ Van Morrison

“Into the Mystic” was originally released as the last song on side one of Van Morrison’s third album, Moondance, in February 1970. Moondance, issued 15 months after its predecessor, Astral Weeks, was a very different record for Morrison. Astral Weeks had been dominated by meditations on his youth in Belfast, Northern Island, with an unusual musical mélange that combined elements of folk, blues, jazz, and classical music, played by session musicians. By the time of Astral Weeks, Morrison had moved from New York City to rural Woodstock, NY, and organized his own backup band, which played on Moondance. The new album was imbued with the bucolic pleasures he had recently enjoyed, as well as his domestic harmony with wife Janet Planet. The exception was the ethereal “Into the Mystic,” the only song on the album that might have fit on Astral Weeks. The song has an easy groove, beginning with acoustic guitar and including isolated horn and string charts, as Morrison evokes a sailor’s pledge to come home from the sea to his lover and “rock [her] gypsy soul.”- All Music Guide

Be Mine/ Alabama Shakes

Pitched somewhere between the retro-purist vibe of Sharon Jones and the nervy revivalism of Jack White, Alabama Shakes possesses a curious character: they’re rooted in the past but it’s clear they’ve learned their moves musicians removed some three or four generations from the source. Instead of playing like refractions from a hall of mirrors, Alabama Shakes’ 2012 debut Boys & Girls emphasizes how American roots music is now grounded in the ’60s notion of blues & soul, all filtered through the prism of ’70s classic rock. Unlike White or his Great Lakes cousins the Black Keys, Alabama Shakes aren’t entirely enamored with what they can re-create in the studio — they’re too attached to the power of a live performance, making them an ideal candidate for a T-Bone Burnett or Joe Henry production somewhere down the road — but they bear no special allegiance to the didactic needs of retro-rock.- All Music Guide

That’s What’s Up/ Edward Sharpe &The Magnetic Zeros

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros wear the whole communal free-living throwback hippie jamboree persona to the point where they dip into goofy character sketches and threaten to detract completely from some pretty catchy songs. The album opens strongly, with the undeniably catchy pair of tunes “Man on Fire” and “That’s What’s Up,” both rising to hand-clapping summits of old-fashioned Southern revival and jug band jubilation. Lead vocalist Jade Castrinos reprises her role trading verses with Ebert on these songs and later takes center stage on the electrified “Fiya Wata.” Castrinos’ contributions feel spirited and from the gut, whether they’re put on or not. -All Music Guide

Hot Knife/ Fiona Apple

Much of the charm of Apple’s music isn’t decoding what it all means but learning its internal clockwork, letting the songs take root, so the love songs (“Jonathan”) seem sweeter, the braggadocio (“Hot Knife”) funnier, the pathos (“Valentine,” “Regret”) and paranoia (“Werewolf”) feeling fathomless. Once the startling Spartan surfaces of The Idler Wheel become familiar, similarities to her three previous albums are apparent — she takes certain jazzy strides that hark back to Tidal, there’s a rigorous dexterity reminiscent of  When the Pawn — but what’s new is an unwavering determination and cohesion. Nothing is wasted, either in the composition or arrangement, and this lean confidence binds The Idler Wheel. Stripped of all her carnivalesque accouterments, Fiona Apple remains as rich and compelling as she ever was, perhaps even more so.- All Music Guide

In the Colors/ Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals

His lyrics are uplifting, full of determination and hope. This is underscored by the next number, “In the Colors,” which bleeds Southern soul and a killer reggae bass line bubbling underneath. The theme of hope is right there, propping the first track by underscoring in poetic terms the true, just, and beautiful. “Fool for a Lonesome Train,” a backwoods country-rock tune, is maybe the strongest cut on the set; its high lonesome sound is borne out not just in the grain of Harper’s vocal but by the band’s unobtrusive yet utterly engaging support. The lyrics are there; they have the wild and restless in them but it takes a group effort to make restraint an art, underscoring the blood and sinew in Harper’s words. That’s not to say there are no “rockers” on the set. “Needed You Tonight” comes right out of the shouting gospel and electric blues with electric guitars blazing; it alternates its dynamic between that vibe and sweet soul. “Having Wings” is a gorgeous follow-up, with acoustic piano and electric guitars flowing under Harper’s voice.-All Music Guide

Wedding Song/ Anais Mitchell, feat. Justin Vernon

Hadestown retells the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set in an America of hard times economically, socially, and politically. Hadestown’s narrative, like the myth, steeps itself in ambiguities more than dead certainties. It moves past dualities of good and evil, life and death, hope and despair, while examining how commonly held beliefs about class reinforce poverty, how our desire for security is complicit in giving away our freedoms, and what real generosity in love actually is. This 57-minute work goes by in a flash. Artfully conceived, articulated, and produced, Hadestown raises Mitchell’s creative bar exponentially: there isn’t anything else remotely like it.- All Music Guide

Northern Sky/ Nick Drake

Compiled by Nick Drake’s producer, Joe Boyd, Way to Blue features a selection of 16 tracks from all three Drake studio albums and the Time of No Reply collection. Of course the music is excellent, but Drake’s albums stand so well on their own that this collection of piecemeal offerings doesn’t quite work as the best way to experience his distinctively haunting brand of folk-rock. Though a good starting point, ultimately it will only whet your appetite for the highly recommended, four-disc Fruit Tree box, which contains his complete catalog.- All Music Guide

This Orient/ Foals

Total Life Forever is considerably more subdued than its predecessor, lacking much of the uptempo thump found on Antidotes. In its place is a mellower, more spacious sound. While this new sound is still danceable, it’s far more refined than the angular post-punk riffing that fans might be expecting. Right from the beginning, the album-opening, “Blue Blood” makes it clear that Foals are taking a different, more patient approach to songwriting, letting the song build and build on itself as it methodically works itself into a frenzy before leaving the way it came in. Because of the changes here, fans of the early, pre-Antidotes singles may find Total Life Forever to be too restrained, lacking the youthful vigor of their debut. Where some see restraint, others may very well see refinement, and those who appreciated Antidotes’ more spacy passages will find that Foals’ reinvention of their sound is a calculated risk that definitely pays off.- All Music Guide

More of This/ Vetiver

Tight Knit is Vetiver’s slickest, tightest record so far. From the opening ballad “Rolling Sea” onward, Andy Cabic and crew make music that can only be called easy listening. Not the kind you hear in a dentist’s office, but the kind of music that makes no demands on you as a listener and just wraps you in cottony coziness. Apart from the peppy, perfect for a soda pop commercial “Everyday” and the almost rocking in a lazy bar band way “More of This,” the record is perfectly constructed for lazy days and hazy nights. It takes skill to create a record filled with so little energy and drive, and again, that’s not a criticism though it probably sounds like it should be.- All Music Guide

One Match/ Sarah Harmer

Harmer’s winning blend of country, folk, and indie pop is propelled, in part, by her even, expressive tenor, which comes off as a well-maintained bridge between Suzanne Vega and Leslie Feist. Likable and accessible, it would be easy to write her off as just another capable singer/songwriter in an industry stuffed to the rafters with capable singer/songwriters, were it not for her ability to take a simple melody and turn it into something special. Oh Little Fire is filled with those moments, whether it’s the delayed “t” at the end of the word light on the driving single “Captive,” the damp, dirt-road pacing of “Washington,” or the way she and Case wrap their voices around “Silverado” like two sisters on the back of covered wagon. It’s a subtle record to be sure, but one that rewards those who are willing to take the time to let it enter the bloodstream.-All Music Guide

Hold You In My Arms/ Ray LaMontagne

The best songs on Trouble, the debut release from songwriter Ray LaMontagne, draw on deep wells of emotion, and with LaMontagne’s sandpapery voice, which recalls a gruffer, more sedate version of Tim Buckley or an American version of Van Morrison, they seem to belie his years. The title tune, “Trouble,” is an instant classic, sparse and maudlin (in the best sense), and songs like “Narrow Escape,” a ragged, episodic waltz, are equally impressive, with careful, cinematic lyrics that tell believable stories of wounded-hearted refugees on the hard road of life and love. Most of the tracks fall into a midtempo shuffle rhythm, so the words have to carry a lot in order to avert a sort of dull sameness, and when it works, it works big, and when it doesn’t, well, LaMontagne is so serious and sincere about his craft that you tend to forgive him instantly.- All Music Guide

Heartbeats/ José González

Don’t let the name fool you; singer/songwriter José González is a Swedish-born and -raised son of Argentine parents. His debut album, Veneer, is a striking collection of hushed and autumnal indie pop bedroom songs that reside on the hi-fi end of the lo-fi spectrum. González is definitely a member of the “quiet is the new loud” school as founded by Elliott Smith and the Kings of Convenience. Veneer is about as intimate as they come; it sounds like he is sitting right on the end of your bed singing just for you. At times, González is a little more forceful than most of his schoolmates, often working himself into a tightly spinning ball of emotion (as on the driving “Lovestain” and the bluesy “Hints”). At these moments his voice is reminiscent of Mark Kozelek, only without the wild flights of pretension. Mostly though, he is content to cruise along on mellow vocals double-tracked behind gently plucked and strummed acoustic guitars. The beautiful “Heartbeats,” “Deadweight on Velveteen,” and the gently rollicking “Stay in the Shade” are the high watermarks of a remarkably focused and promising debut. González is a welcome addition to the q-school of indie pop.- All Music Guide

I Will Follow You Into the Dark/ Death Cab for Cutie

Thematically, Plans is the Death Cab for Cutie suitable for graduate students, world-weary and wiser from their experiences, realizing they can no longer be love-starved 20-somethings without a clue yet hopelessly cursed to face the same issues. And there’s merit to be had in acknowledging that maturity, for even blink-182 figured out their age and released their “serious” album. The album winds its way from one ballad to the next, with brief stopovers at moderately up-tempo numbers to help break things up a bit. And it’s this sense of resignation that either makes or breaks the album, depending on which Death Cab for Cutie is your favorite: the melancholic, hopeless romantic or the one who wears its heart on its sleeve with unbridled energy and passion.- All Music Guide