Thursday, July 1, 2010

Good on paper (new edit/addition 7-02)

There are those certain artists, who in album reviews, feature articles and interviews sound as if they could be your new favorite band. So with unbridled optimism and excitement, you spin the CD (also known as Compact Disk, an antiquated form of music storage that provided hi-fi audio quality when played with an optical drive) ... and ... plop. Nothing. For reasons abstract and absolute, it just doesn't do it for you. Tastes are tricky. Who are some of your "good on paper" acts? The most recent examples for me are as follows:

Janelle Monae
She is a talented performer, no doubt, just check out her fancy footwork at the recent BET awards. Not to mention anyone combining two of my favorite things — her new record is a quasi-concept album mashing Metropolis-era Fritz Lang with classic soul — should be my favorite new singer. It's garnering best of the year reviews from critics I respect. But then I hear the songs ... and ... nothing. I think it might be her voice, when she hits the high notes, something feels strained, thin, flat even. I don't feel like she can capture the saxophone-complex timbre of a real soul shouter, or that her songs really have that much soul in the first place. Perhaps it's the production, as metallic as the art-deco silver city in Metropolis. Speaking of science fiction, how can soul music be about the future? What about the here and now, what about her apartment, her boyfriend and her city?

Perhaps the real problem is the dissonance between the image and the sound — she wears a giant pompadour haircut, and retro threads, writers constantly refer to her in a throw-back fashion — but when it comes down to it, her sound is far more contemporary R 'n' B than classic, a sound that allows for a much smaller voice and colder production.

The Gaslight Anthem
To borrow Holden Caulfield's favorite word, they sound phony. Springsteen comparisons be damned, the guitars sound more like sanitized Warped Tour mallpunk, and the maudlin choruses are more suited to a Brian Adams hit than for anyone convincingly wearing a leather jacket.

The Gaslight Anthem suck in the same way as any band whose distortion isn't nearly as loud as their tattoos suck. Also, it's not 1959, you are not your grandpa and you did not live through the great depression. They suffer from the age old problem of not sounding nearly as hard, alternative or interesting as they look, a disease I would prescribe to just about everyone on the pop charts.

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