John Grant’s Snug Slacks

John Grant's new album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, comes out Oct. 9.

It was a pleasant surprise when I scanned through the new album releases last week to find a brand new one from John Grant. 2013’s Pale Green Ghosts became a favorite of mine soon after seeing John perform “GMF” and “Black Belt” on Jools Holland. Melodic, electronic, and orchestral pop/rock with an edge. I was taken in..

So in listening to his new release, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, John delivers another album full of his unique twists and turns, electro-sounds, and, shall we say, wholly unique lyrics. Have you ever heard anything near the line:

“And let’s be clear, Joan Baez makes GG Allin look like Charlene Tilton.”   ?

Many of you may be familiar with all three personalities listed off in that lyric. But I couldn’t place GG Allin. 40’s movie star? Uhh. No. Not even close. And let me just warn you. If you also don’t know who GG Allin is, think twice before Googling him. And for God’s sake – don’t enter a GG Allin Youtube rabbit hole. You will be sick to your stomach (I was). I’ll say no more.

The line comes from “Snug Slacks”, which veers into Zappa-esque territory with a cool electrofunk twist. Another favorite is “Black Blizzard,” which confirms John’s appreciation for Gary Numan with those synth riffs.

I’m only a few listens in to this record, but suffice it to say it’s a fun, fresh trip worthy of many spins.. Do check it out.

Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (Amazon)

John’s got some select US dates starting up in a couple of days…


LIGHTS… new from M.I.A.


I’ve said it before – a large part of the allure of M.I.A.‘s music for me lies in the physical realm. If she resembled a Sri Lankan Mugsy Bogues, I may not have become enamored with her back in the Arular days. But indeed she does not resemble Mugsy Bogues. She’s an exotic, caramel-skinned south Asian beauty with a fuck you attitude, who puts together some of the most unique beats and sounds around.

On Tuesday, she released Matangi, only her fourth studio release in the last 8 years. Her last album, Maya (2010) didn’t do too much for me, but after a couple of listens to Matangi, she’s got me back the same way Arular and Kala had me.

It’s the creativity I love – having no idea what she’s going to bring you from song to song. The layered tracks are exotic, odd, surprising, sexy, disturbing, and completely original. A couple of tunes from Matangi have already risen to the top (for now – that’s sure to change). “Y.A.L.A.”, and this one: “Lights”… The booming bass, the tribal percussion, and the way her vocals fluctuate throughout the song – high to low, raps morphing into melodies, all winding its way through the changing rhythms.

I know if I approached 10 of my friends with this album (or any M.I.A. album, for that matter), 9 and a half of them would turn and look me in the eyes with a confused look. That’s okay. I’m not seeking validation. I gravitate to some artists just for the odd, the creative, and the adventurous. M.I.A.’s got her own thing going, and I love it.

Check out Matangi on Amazon.

John Grant on Later…With Jools Holland


Best television discovery of late? Without a doubt, it’s Later…with Jools Holland, a BBC2 music show that showcases 4-5 artists per show in a unique way: all bands & artists are set up in studio at the same time in a circle, with each performing a song at a time (with Jools as emcee, introducing the acts). It’s really a neat dynamic, as it’s pretty easy to tell that it raises the game for the musicians, who are not only performing for a live studio audience, but to their musician peers standing feet away.

The first Jools show I watched straight through a few weeks back featured the Stereophonics, Low, the Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra, Melt Yourself Down, Yasmine Hamdan, and John Grant. Two of the artists stuck out for me – the Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra and John Grant. If you want a great summer album to accompany a BBQ or poolside relaxation, definitely spin Lee Thompson’s latest album, The Benevolence of Sister Mary Ignatius. Lee is the sax player and one of the founding members of Madness, so that’s an instant indicator of its ska-cool quality…

But I was really blown away by John Grant. It’s music that’s hard to describe – electronic folk, maybe? Very melodic, great harmonies and sounds, both acoustic and synthetic. It just really caught on with me.  One  of the standout tunes on his new album, Pale Green Ghosts, is “GMF”, a tune whose tender and sensitive opening instrumentation unleashes into some eye opening and interesting lyrics – especially the chorus:

But I am the greatest motherfucker
That you’re ever gonna meet
From the top of my head
Down to the tips of the toes on my feet.

So go ahead and love me while it’s still a crime,
And don’t forget you could be laughing
65 percent more of the time.
You could be laughing
65 percent more of the time.

And it’s hooky enough that you’ll be singing along by the time the chorus rolls around for the second time. There’s a lot of analysis yet to be done on this record, but it’s clear that Grant, who is openly gay, does not shy away from the subject. But it’s only one dimension of this unique album and artist. The strange opening sounds of the opener “Pale Green Ghosts” pull you right in (headphones recommended) and don’t let go until the end.

For those of you in the U.S., you can catch Jools Holland on Palladia HD network.

Check out John Grant’s Pale Green Ghosts on Amazon.

The Modfather’s Mid-Life Renaissance

For me, music begins with John Lennon. The very first step after that is Paul Weller.

And it’s always been that way.

Ever since I heard Sound Affects by The Jam back in 1981, Paul Weller has taken me on where no other artist (save John, of course) has really taken me. A few come close…Todd Rundgren…Joe Jackson…U2…Oasis…but none really compare to Weller simply because his mark on the music world has been so exciting and diverse. The Jam were punk, soul, and absolutely fun pop with a few ballads thrown in for seasoning. The Style Council were smooth jazz, cafe chic, solid R&B, symphonic pastorals, and house music before there was such a thing.

His solo career began with acid jazz and then segued into hippie soul, power trio bombast, and psychedelia. His last record, Wake Up The Nation, charted even newer (and older) territory that completely took the UK music scene by storm. Bruce Foxton, former bass player for The Jam, even played on the punked up track, “Fast Car-Slow Traffic.” Praises were showered over him and the word was that he was moving beyond his moniker, The Modfather, and into God Like Genius mode.

With his latest release, Sonik Kicks, there is no doubt that he has arrived to lord over us from musical heaven. This 14 track album (16 if you spring for the Deluxe Edition) is simply magnificent. I’d use the phrase “tour de force” but that would be paltry in illustrating how truly amazing this fucking record is by the man who has been the soundtrack to my life of for the last 30 years.

With a nod to Kraut Rock, the album opens with “Green,” an explosion of aural delight that sends one’s heart racing directly into the matrix. “The Attic” is next with its wistful nostalgia. “Kling I Klang” could easily be on All Mod Cons or Setting Sons. “Sleep of the Serene,” a trippy instrumental, dovetails nicely with the acoustic beauty of “By The Waters.” On these last two tracks, Weller seems to be going back to the VERY under-appreciated Style Council record, Confessions of a Pop Group. “That Dangerous Age,” is the first single from the album, is next and laments the trials of being a parent to teenagers.

At this point I was already in love with the record and wasn’t fully prepared when the next track took it up another notch. “Study in Blue” completely blew me away. It could easily be on any Style Council album with its smooth cafe sound. And me, being the hopeless romantic, was completely sucked in to the abundance of amore that spills out on this track.  Having his wife Hannah sing on the track was simply brilliant as her voice adds to the perfect and never changing mood.

“Dragonfly” and “Around the Lake” are more tracks that sounds Jam-ish (The Gift era, towards the end), each with a dash of macabre thrown in. “When You’re Garden’s Overgrown” brings us back to Kraut Rock but with that signature Weller melody and refrain. This is my second favorite track on the album as Weller takes a page lyrically from the biting commentary of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. The link track “Twilight” steams ahead nicely into “Drifters” sonic and aural panorama. Listening to the latter track, one is simply stunned at how fresh Weller sounds. “Paperchase” reminds me of Berlin era Bowie.

The album proper closes with a loving message to his ever growing brood of kids, “Be Happy Children.” An upbeat message for all of us, really, Weller indeed sounds happier than he ever has and why not? His music is more relevant, wonderful, and, indeed, more innovative than ever!

The Deluxe Edition contains the single from last year, “Starlite,” which is devastatingly gorgeous and “Devotion,” an acoustic rock jaunt that will put a smile on your face. I highly recommend plunking down the extra greenbacks and getting it.

Here’s my favorite track from the album, “Study in Blue.”

Radiohead’s ‘The King of Limbs’ [My 2 Cents]

Like a lot of you, I dropped the $9.00 for Radiohead‘s new album The King of Limbs, when it was offered up a day earlier than expected on Friday. What was it, last Monday when it was announced out of the blue that Radiohead would release a new album in the coming weekend? It’s quite a phenomenon the way this band can command the attention of the entire music industry at will. Their ‘pay what you want’ model for their last record, In Rainbows, generated all the buzz the last time around (can you believe that was more than three years ago? October 2007).

This time around, it was 0 to 60 in minutes last week as the word spread across Twitter and Facebook faster than it took for Lady Gaga to emerge from her Grammy egg. On Friday, the digital album made itself available, along with a video for track 5 on the album, “Lotus Flower” – featuring Thom Yorke’s avant-garde gyrations.

So I’ve listened a few times now, most recently during a run this overcast, dreary morning in Arizona. I think the album “hit me” most profoundly during this outing. Thing is, the band’s music – electronic, experimental, atmospheric – has a way of transforming your environment as you listen. It’s one thing to take in The King of Limbs sitting at your computer or in your living room. But it’s an entirely different experience listening to it out on the town, or running around the neighborhood. It makes you take in your surroundings differently – the cars that pass, the blowing trees, the faces of people walking by – with the filter of this album providing your soundtrack. It transforms reality… drug-like almost.

I enjoy the creativity in Radiohead’s music. It’s always an interesting listen – and it got decidedly more interesting post OK Computer, wouldn’t you say? When the 1-2 punch of Kid A and Amnesiac were released in 2000 and 2001, we knew the game had changed… or rather that Radiohead had changed up their game. We were free to come along for the ride, but don’t expect a smooth, orderly trip.

Gone are the sing along, epic, almost anthem-like songs like “Creep”, “Fake Plastic Trees”, “Let Down” and the like. Well, maybe some of you sing along to “Everything In Its Right Place”, “Like Spinning Plates”, and now “Morning Mr. Magpie”… but to my ears, the melodic stuff went adios with OK Computer.

So as someone whose musical taste spans across many many genres of music, I enjoy The King of Limbs because I enjoy bands that think outside of the box, who create completely unpredictable pieces of music that are hard to categorize.

The King of Limbs is another work of art by a band that plays by their own rules.

→ Visit Radiohead’s site to purchase The King of Limbs:

Review: Desktop, “Desktop EP”

If you hadn’t guessed already I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for the blips and bleeps of the current generation of electronic indie pop. Detroit duo Desktop bring blips, bleeps, swooshing synths, atmospheric guitars and enough pop sensibility to make this all too brief EP an easy sell. Think of it as dance music at a time when we could all could use a reason to ignore our concerns and just dance. “Liberty” leads off the set with its quirky ‘80s techno leanings. “Fired Up” is the funkiest of the bunch with a driving beat a la Prince with shades of Cutting Crew. “Too Much” brings it all home with some over the top, make your ass wiggle goodness. What makes this an even easier sell is the fact that the group is offering it up for free.

Download Desktop EP Here

Links: Official Site | on | on MySpace

Discovering Discovery

As side-projects go, the pairing of Rostam Batmanglij (keyboardist for Vampire Weekend) and Wes Miles (vocalist for Ra Ra Riot) makes perfect sense. The results however, are as far as you can imagine from the twee indie pop of the pair’s respective bands. Trading in guitars, violins and afro-beat for synths and 808 drum machines, Discovery is an unabashed love letter to the days of electro-pop past.

The record opens with the one / two punch of the jubilant summertime “Orange Shirt” followed by the equally brilliant (and insanely catchy) “Osaka Loop Line”. “Can You Discover?” is a chopped and screwed re-imagining of Ra Ra Riot‘s “Can You Tell”.  Angel Deradoorian of Dirty Projectors lends her vocal shine to the hook of “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”. The dynamic “So Insane” is easily my favorite track of the bunch and is shaping up to be a contender for my summertime jam. The record covers the hipster spectrum from reggae-tinged (“Swing Tree”) to R&B through twee-tinted glasses (“Carby” (featuring Batmanglij‘s bandmate Ezra Koenig)) to a timely (albeit, ironic) cover of The Jackson 5 hit “I Want You Back”. The record wraps just shy of 30 minutes and almost begs an immediate second (and third) listen straight away.

It’s not ground-breaking but Discovery‘s LP could very well be the indie-pop record of the summer.

You can stream the entirety of LP at Discovery‘s  Official Site.

Discovery – “Osaka Loop Line” (mp3)

Buy LP: Amazon (available for only $3.99!)

Links: Official Site | on | on MySpace

Review: Alan Wilkis, “Pink and Purple”

Brooklyn-based electrofunk wizard Alan Wilkis recently gave me an early peek at his latest release Pink and Purple. For those of you not familiar with Alan, let me bring you up to speed the self-described “musician, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and general musical mover-and-shaker” first came to my attention last year with his self-released debut Babies Dream Big (Review). Earlier this year he dropped a brilliant remix of Pheonix‘s hit “1901” which only served to build the anticipation for his new material which has been in constant rotation since it landed in my inbox.

The six tunes that make up the Pink and Purple are clearly derived from the synth-laden funk rock of the early 80’s but it’s never derivative. There is something immediate and familiar about the tunes and where where his previous release Babies Dream Big may have lacked focus, Pink and Purple is concentrated and intense. The auto-tuned double entendre’s flow with the lead track “Snuggle Up to Nail Down” and erupt with 4 bars of pure shred bliss. The juxtaposition of the electronic and analog meshes perfectly. “N.I.C.E.” could bring a tear to George Clinton‘s eye it’s so funky and “Gotta Get You Back” makes me long for the days of my youth and is an rollerskating rink classic and is an early contender for the track that I will wear a spot on the hard drive with. The closer “Time Machine” builds to an completely unexpected epic guitar driven finale that absolutely begs for a continuation.

With all the great (and not-so-great) music coming out of Brooklyn these days it’s hard to know what’s worth the precious listening time, but if you still own a Swatch, love Hyper-Color, Rubik’s Cube and Brat Pack movies look no further because it’s Mr. Wilkis’ world and he’s here to make you dance.

Alan Wilkis – “Gotta Get You Back” (from Pink and Purple)

Buy Pink and Purple: Official Site | iTunes

Links: Official Site | on | on MySpace | on Twitter