Aug 142008

Intro: Greetings all and welcome to the Olympics edition of the Tuesday Playlist. I say that, like it’s going to be all about the olympics, but really, they just get passing mention in one paragraph. Well, two paragraphs if you count this one.

Right, well, in this issue of the playlist, I talk about the new Conor Oberst album, admit to an irrational dislike for terminal punctuation in song titles, and poke fun at the music media in an oblivious and possibly ironic fashion. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Listening: It’s been interesting to hear the way music gets used in the Olympics. It’s been used to soundtrack several events (notably the floor gymnastics events), and while it’s been interesting to hear some of the songs chosen, it’s even more interesting to see how little the athletes seem to respond to it. One gets the impression that the floor routine, for instance, would look the same whether or not there was a peculiarly national folk song or cover of an American pop tune sound-tracking the proceedings.

On a more domestic note, I’m really digging the new Conor Oberst album. If Cassadega was Conor Oberst discovering Country music, then his new self-titled is Conor discovering Mexico. Spanish lyrics and references to Mexico and hispanic themes abound. And while the references are occasionally awkward or forced (“El cielo es azul”, no, really Conor?), they’re typically the sort of well-crafted lyrics that Oberst fans have come to expect. Particularly strong tracks include the classic Oberst purgative “Moab” and the rowdy, noisily fun “Souled Out!!!”.

And while the album is mostly Conor in top form, there are a few disappointments. One random short track of bellowing noise (“Valle Mistico (Ruben Song)”) seems to exist only to give the listener’s “Skip Track” button a workout. One track, “NYC-Gone,Gone”, is the first minute of a raucous, energetic Alt-Country tune which I, for one, would really like to hear. All things considered, however, despite the two short, frustrating tracks and a few moments of earnest Oberst pretention, the album is a solid 9.

Also in new(-ish) music, I recently grabbed The Soho Dolls’ Ribbed Music for the Numb Generation and Washington Social Club’s Catching Looks. Of the two, I’ve mostly been listening to Catching Looks. By which, of course, I mean that I’m in the habit of putting “Modern Trance” on repeat and dancing my arse off.

Upcoming: Brian Eno and David Byrne have apparently collaborated on an album that’s due out next Monday. With two fevered music imaginations like that, the odds are that whatever it is, it won’t be boring. It’s called Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, which says to me that David ByDrne won the naming rights for the album (knowing those two, likely by being the victor in a drug-fueled pillow fight.)

Also coming up next week is the physical release of the new Dandy Warhols album, Earth to the Dandy Warhols. I’ve only a few of the tracks off the album, but they’ve been all kinds of funky goodness. It turns out, however, that all the tracks on the album are available for streaming (scroll down a bit and you should see the track listing with a play button by each tune) from the Dandy Warhols website.

The next couple of weeks also promise releases by The Stills, Loudon Wainwright III, and, if you swing that way, Fiery Furnaces. Of special note is the 26th of this month which might as well be called Official Music Industry “They’re Still Alive?” Day with releases by Blues Traveler, Slipknot, The Verve, and BB King.

The King album actually should be pretty cool. It’s called One Kind Favor and it’s King doing covers of songs by his early influences.

News: I’ve had my head buried in the sand (read: work) for the past couple of weeks, so I’m a bit out of touch with industry news. Fortunately a quick glance at the front page of Music-News.com tells me that it’s been a slow news week. For those too lazy to click links: Paul McCartney goes camping! Bono the Pretentious snorts salt water! Victoria Beckham is rich and spoiled! Also, in music news, sound is carried by vibrations in the air!

Thinking: Random personal annoyance – I dislike song titles that include terminal punctuation. I got to thinking about this when listening to “Souled Out!!!”, one of the tracks off the new Conor Oberst album. First of all, as any good Middle School graduate should know, exclamation marks are “one or none” affairs. Secondly, putting terminal punctuation in your song titles just strikes me as somehow tacky. Not quite sure why, but it seems to say “your sentence ends with this song title!” It always looks awkward to me to put titles like “Fit, But You Know It.” in the middle of sentences. The period just screws the whole thing up.

Is anyone else bugged by this, or is it just me being finicky?

Song of the Week: Well, the song of the week WAS going to be Washington Social Club’s “Modern Trance”, which is catchy as hell and been stuck in my head for days, but I can’t find an easily shareable version of it on the intarwebs. It’s on Last.fm, but I can’t get it to play. So here’s “Souled Out!!!”, off of Conor Oberst’s new self-titled which, despite its redundant exclamation marks, is an awesomely groovy tune:

Aug 202007

Paul van Dyk, In Between

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Artist: Paul van Dyk
Album: In Between
Label: Mute Records
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.8.14
Score: 9/10

This past week I’ve been kind of hammered with work. Not entirely from my job, but from all the various irons I tend to keep roasting away in the fire. Fortunately, I had the excellent luck of managing to get exactly the right album to soundtrack my furious slog through the week. So while my review may somewhat be colored by the fact that In Between was the right disc at the right time, the fact remains that Paul van Dyk has once again clearly demonstrated that he’s the best Trance artist in the world today.

But PvD is not the only top talent with a hand in the album. While he produced all the music, he enlisted a number of talented artists in helping him realizing the final product. Jessica Sutta (most notably of the Pussycat Dolls) lends her vocal talents to “White Lies” and Talking Heads alum David Byrne is heard on album closer “Fall With Me”. Other vocalists featured on the album include Ryan Merchant, Wayne Jackson, and Ashley Tomberlin.

This plethora of vocalists is worth noting because In Between is an unusually vocally-oriented album. Not only do most of the songs make heavy use of vocals, but the vocals take a fairly central role. And while Trance is a little less voice-shy than other EDM genres, it’s hardly on par with any of the pop-rock genres in terms of placing emphasis on vocal work. But many of the tracks off of In Between use vocals more like one would expect of a synth-pop tune than a banging Trance dance track. That the CD insert includes several pages of lyrics (alongside numerous glamor shots of the undeniably attractive van Dyk) is kind of unusual.

But not at all unwelcome. PvD displays extreme comfort and competence with lyrics, and his lines are far from the cringe-worthy melodrama one would expect from an artist just getting the feel for lyric writing. Some of the lines are, in fact, down right inspired. (“I watch the sky turn black to blush”; “when everything is soundin’ like a battle cry / no promise is good enough to take”).

PvD’s effective use of lyrics is, throughout the album, underscored by some truly excellent Trance beats. The energy is excellent across the album and the mixing is impeccable. When I first got the CD, I wasn’t aware that it was a mixed album. It wasn’t until I was 10 minutes in and thinking “man, this is a long, disjoint song” that I realized I was on track three and just hadn’t been paying close enough attention. The disc is a whole cloth of high-energy, well-produced trance.

Aside from its vocal emphasis, there isn’t too much, stylistically, that sets In Between apart in PvD’s discography. He doesn’t stray out of the Trance / Progressive trance territory but that’s not really a problem since it’s turf with which he is well familiar. This experience leads to an album that delivers an extremely solid Trance experience with the added interest of getting to hear what happens when Paul van Dyk decides to really apply himself to the world of lyrics. The result is definitely an album worth having for any Trance fan and well worth considering for anyone who likes high-quality, energetic dance music.