!!! / The Arcade Fire / Benoit Pioulard / Windy & Carl / The Early November / Make Believe / Headucation
The Rubber Room column is a weekly look at recent and notable releases that don’t fall into the rubric of traditional reviews or reviewed material—namely 7”’s, 12”’s, 3” CDs, EPs, cassette-only, DVDs and MP3-only releases.
Take Ecstasy With Me
[Touch and Go, 2005]
The A-side is a chop-job, whether you like it or not. I’m still not sure it does justice to the Magnetic Fields’ original, but it’s fun. The cover of recent Nate Dogg single “Get Up,” though, is outstanding. Such a cocky little strut, it’s almost impossible not to dance to, even on the subway: “I’m so cool, way too smooth, girls they know, what to do; Shake it baby, drivin’ me crazy, want that thing, no if’s and’s or maybe’s…You know…that I’m a Baaad man…” Then the zip-gun guitars, jack-hammer drum and Thor’s bass take over. It’s the closest they’ve come to capturing their live energy on disc, especially when they take it back down to stuttery Cramps with unshakeable funk.
The Arcade Fire
The speech-impeded priest of Rob Reiner’s imagining might have you believe otherwise, but marriage (and mawwage) isn’t what brings people together—it’s critical darlings The Arcade Fire, exhumed, post-Funeral, to sing more songs about death for Everything Ends, HBO’s Six Feet Under soundtrack. “Cold Wind” doesn’t blow; Win Butler croons all pained-sounding, more flowery than zombielike: “There’s music on the station, and I’m just listening to cold wind whistling.” If “something ain’t right,” like he suggests, it’s that the Arcade Fire’s tried-and-true tempo-pick-up crashes tweely, trying to salvage what—sans “hey hey hey!”—didn’t need saving anyway.
[Mood Gadget, 2005]
With a name like that, he should really be the French nemesis of Sherlock Holmes. Really. But no, twenty year-old Ann Arborite Thomas Meluch is the man behind the soft plaintive voice of Benoit Pioulard, whose debut Enge EP on Moodgadget whispers through the same dry-husked fields of artists like Khonnor, Fennesz, and Iron and Wine. Scattering his numb voice against static-laced electronic backdrops, sleepy acoustic guitars, and myriad field recordings, Pioulard creates music that evaporates shade and cold, enveloping his surroundings in luminous bells and genuine warmth. “Pinconning” is a whiskered neo-folk song that could silence even the hyena-voiced Devendra Banhart, and “Kids Are Getting Younger” is a charged swoon that sounds like a Simon and Garfunkel master soaked in brine and chlorine. With the close of the dark, windy beauty of “Sparrowfield,” Pioulard stakes his claim as an artist well-worth Googling, if only to follow along until he blesses us with a full-length.
Windy & Carl
Dedications to Flea
[Brainwashed Handmade, 2005]
As time goes on and the MP3 begins to remove the need and impetus for packaging and presentation its nice to see Brainwashed buck the trend with a series of (if this release is anything to go by) striking handset and folded sleeves. This black letter press sleeve with silver print holds a two track EP tribute to Windy & Carl’s recently deceased dog Flea. At nearly twenty minutes long each both “Sketch for Flea” and “Ode to a Dog” follow an intertwining analogue path of lightly processed and pealing guitars. There are definite patterns and returning figures within the atmospheric shifts managing to sound both insubstantially crystalline yet full and warm.
The Early November
[Drive Thru, 2005]
Having never heard the original electric versions of these tracks its difficult to say how they compare to these acoustic takes, but I’d imagine from what I know of the band that they’d be a little more urgent and frenetic. The fact that this release is a collection of only acoustic versions could hurt some of the songs as the EP might be seen as a one dimensional listening experience if taken in one listening session but even so they hold up. Lyrically these are tales from a surprisingly confident and youthful emotional antiquarian, taking the past and studying the mistakes and situations that led to certain paths. Taken in small doses this EP promises much to look forward to.
Make Believe EP
[Flame Shovel, 2005]
Less pretend than black magic, Make Believe present statements against plenty of things (religion and patriotism to name the most directly indicted), but keep their lyrics oblique enough to be interesting for a listen or two ("Will the white noise of words survive a war declared on signs?"). After that, though, they bog down in their own occultic heaviness and impenetrability (and Tim Kinsella's shouting). You know how Led Zep toyed in the occult and then wrote these lyrics that seemed all profound on first listen and then you paid attention and they didn't really mean anything? It's kind of like that, without the technical skill.
[an occasional look into the world of hip-hop]
Boys of Summer: Kanye and company get bizzy
[Kanye West (f. Jay-Z), “Diamonds of Sierra Leone/Diamonds of Sierra Leone Remix,” Roc-a-fella, 2005]
Those who like their Kanye brash and blithe are advised to fuck wit the original version, which features a towering, noirish beat that upstages the usual Kanye blather—y’all haters, come get served. Yes, there’s the too-obvious Shirley Bassey sample and Ye’s usual assortment of high-hats, horns, and devilishly arranged breakdowns. But there’s an undercurrent of immensity that belies Kanye’s cutesy (or grating, depending on who you ask) one-liners; it’s coming from a deep, dark place, one we didn’t know he was capable of inhabiting.
Perhaps spurred by a scathing retort from some guy named Lupe Fiasco—who reminds our FNWABAAB (first n***a with a benz and a backpack) of the REAL implication behind the diamonds of Sierra Leone—West delivers a more conflicted, socially conscious (and therefore less assured) verse for the remix, which isn’t really much of a remix at all, except that it stops dead in its tracks to introduce an absolutely monster performance from Jay-Z. Jigga-man may be no more of a philanthropist than Kanye, but it hardly matters when he refers to himself as “the rock of Gibraltar” and not a “business, man, but a businessman.” Pure genius, from the world’s least convincing retiree.
[Kanye West, “Gold Digger,” Roc-a-fella, 2005]
Hot off the heels of “Diamonds” comes Kanye’s second single for Late Registration, “Gold Digger.” If “Diamonds” is the epochal Kanye, then “Gold Digger” is his summer fling—mostly inconsequential, but still fun while it lasts. The beat is unremarkable—though it playfully tweaks a Jamie Foxx-as-Ray-Charles vocal—and the lyrics a redux of West’s semi-sincere rants against materialistic values on College Dropout, but it’s still a minor triumph, if only because the proselytizing is kept to a minimum.
[John Legend, “Number One,” Sony, 2005]
Some embrace John Legend as the newest savior of neo-soul; others condemn him for perpetuating lounge-pop clichés. No matter: it’s hard to argue with this ode to infidelity, effortlessly commandeered by Kanye, who dips the track in swooshy strings and a hazy, ‘60s R&B; sheen, although by the same token, it’s nearly derailed by his nonsensical cameo, where he gloats about his wanderlust with a little too much glee. And Legend may be smooth to a fault, but here, he captures the track’s grandiosity without threatening to overwhelm it.
[The Game, “Dreams,” Aftermath, 2005]
The Game has been busy as of late (his beef with G-Unit peaking in the form of the virtuosic freestyle “300 Bars and Runnin”) but he may want to milk his latest single off of The Documentary a little while longer—you might pummel Fiddy lyrically, but it’s pretty much commercial suicide: just ask Ja Rule. Kanye’s fared better with this particular type of languorous, sample-heavy gimmick, but The Game isn’t a particularly nimble rapper, and lines like “jheri curl drippin on Ronald Reagan’s shoes” are better served by an equally over-the-top backdrop.
[Common (f. John Mayer), “Go,” Geffen, 2005]
Dear Kanye and Common: For allowing John Mayer into the studio, a plague on both your houses. A woman’s body may be a wonderland, but you would hardly know it by listening to this track, which is at turns, cornball and mind-numbingly repetitious. For barely disguised sexual metaphors, give me “Summer of 69” over this anytime.
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2005-06-30