Staff Picks: Noah’s Pick

Last month, Neko Case released her first single in four years, called “Man.”  It’s a great new song, from her mouthful-titled album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.  This got me thinking about her last album, which came out in 2009: Middle Cyclone.

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I found Middle Cyclone when I was seventeen and a senior in high school.  I was drawn to the crazy cover art: Neko perched on a 1967 Mercury Cougar with a pointed sword.  Since I was a big Tori Amos fan at the time (like, massive—you don’t even understand), I figured a blind buy of a redheaded woman singer’s album with badass cover art couldn’t hurt.

I wasn’t quite prepared for how important this album was going to be in my life.  For the last four years, the poetic, symbolic lyrics of the songs written about animals and mythology have taken on meanings and new meanings in my psyche.  When life throws a curveball, when a relationship falls apart or falls together, the songs feel as if they seamlessly morph into fables tailor-made to my own experience.

“This Tornado Loves You” is, literally, about a tornado falling in love with a boy.  It’s also a great metaphor for every relationship in which you’ve felt like a bull in a china shop. “People Got a Lotta Nerve” is, literally, about a shark eating a man. It also describes that resigned feeling you get when someone is disappointed in the unrealistic expectations they have crafted for you. My personal favorite is “The Pharaohs,” which is written, again literally, about Egyptian pharaohs. The story Case tells of isolation and dissatisfaction is sometimes painfully modern.

The album is built of beautifully simple, yet breathtaking lines. Some of the best include “I miss how you’d sigh yourself to sleep when I’d rake the springtime across your sheets,” “Can’t scrape together quite enough to ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love,” “I lie ‘cross a path waiting just for a chance to be a spiderweb trapped in your lashes; for that, I would trade you my empire for ashes,” and, “You wandered the hall all the nighttime; my body burned, my legs ached, but you never came to bed, you just left me there awake; you kept me wanting like the wanting in the movies and the hymns.”

Right now you can pick up Middle Cyclone on Murfie for $5.  Who knows?  Maybe the songs will blend into your life as essentially as they have into mine.

Staff Picks: Noah’s Pick

While watching the trailer for Joss Whedon’s new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, I found myself really enjoying the song playing in the background. A quick search on Google told me it was “Rose Rouge” by St. Germain. St Germain was a new name to me, but I was really pleased to have another great song on my favorites playlist.

A few weeks later, I was strolling through the legendary Amoeba Music in San Francisco on vacation when I spotted Tourist (the album containing “Rose Rouge”) on their “Favorites” wall. I didn’t buy it that day, but I remembered it when I got back home and decided to give it a listen.

MI0002424707I’ve seriously had this album on repeat for just about all of May. Tourist is one of those magical albums that suits any number of moods. It’s chill enough that I can work while listening to it and not get distracted. It’s energetic enough to wake me up in the morning. It’s rhythmic enough that I can dance around my apartment with it on.

Tourist covers a lot of ground in its nine tracks. While it’s a combination of electronica and jazz, it manages to avoid the pitfalls of many of the albums that have attempted similar couplings.

Part of this has to do with Ludovic Navarre (the man behind St. Germain)’s skill at creating new, cohesive sound from a variety of sources; part of it has to do with a careful balance Navarre strikes between the cocktail party-ready jams and the slow burners that simmer when the party’s boiled down to you and that special someone.

Marlena Shaw’s “Woman of the Ghetto” vocal sample and infectious horn solos make “Rose Rouge” a gorgeous and emphatic opener. “So Flute” is seven minutes of pure ecstasy in the form of a flute solo that should be bowed down to and worshiped. The rest of the album is filled with gems for just about every taste.

My favorite track right now, though, is “Sure Thing,” which samples a deep cut from John Lee Hooker and Miles Davis. The pained, bluesy vocals singing “that ain’t right” over a throbbing beat create a lush atmosphere.  It’s a modern version of the classic, sensual songs that have long provided the soundtracks to our love stories.

It goes without saying that you should give this album a listen. Luckily for you, you can get it on Murfie for (last I checked) a sinful $3!

Noah’s Picks: Goldfrapp – Electronic Experimentation

Bold is the band that fixes what’s not broken.  British electronic duo Goldfrapp does precisely that throughout their discography, developing a polished sound only to discard it on the next album.  While this might make it difficult to culture a consistent fan base, it also provides a rich body of work with something for just about everybody.

MI0001550540Their first album, Felt Mountain, takes most of its cues from the past.  Alison Goldfrapp’s brassy, torch singer vocals take the forefront, set to rich, swelling instrumentals that sound somewhere between acid jazz and a James Bond theme song.  Standout moments from this album are the trippy opener, “Lovely Head,” and the sexy slow burner, “Pilots.”

MI0001982100Their next two albums centered Goldfrapp in a more accessible and club-ready sound.  Their craft is still in top form, though, cranking out danceable hits better than most of their contemporaries.  Highlights “Train” and “Strict Machine” on Black Cherry keep a punky, electroclash current running under the absolutely filthy synths and drum machines.

MI0000655012On Supernature, Goldfrapp’s most successful single and album opener, “Ooh La La,” eases the listener into a diverse landscape of electronic experimentation.  “Ride a White Horse” and “Slide In” keep the electroclash from Black Cherry alive, while “Let It Take You” and “Number 1” harken back to the sensual moments from Felt Mountain, sprinkling a little sweetness along the way.

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With their fourth album, Goldfrapp takes a radical turn by way of chilling out.  After years of singing about heroin and discos, Seventh Tree is Goldfrapp’s “coming down” album.  Slowed down, but never slow, tracks like “A&E” and “Little Bird” provide a lush, full sound, while “Clowns” and “Some People” strip away all the pretense for an electronic folk vibe. 

MI0002912173Their most recent album, Head First, came out in 2010, when 80s music was having a renaissance.  Goldfrapp tackled some of the trickiest territory from that period to navigate: campy, self-indulgent pop that never pretends to be anything else.  Again, Goldfrapp excels at what they set their mind to.  The first three tracks alone, “Rocket,” “Believer,” and “Alive,” are all genius examples of joyous, easy pop that will get stuck in your head for days.

Goldfrapp is prepping their sixth album for a late summer release.  What direction will they take next?  It’s impossible to say, but one can safely assume it will be new territory for the duo, and they’ll master that territory with their trademark flair.