Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Eraser – Thom Yorke

I’m sure you know who Thom Yorke is. No? He’s the guy with the fragile, tenor voice singing in all of those Radiohead albums you love. Now, did you know that he has a solo album out? Yes, it’s called The Eraser. And I’ll say it right now. It’s not a Radiohead album. Although, from time to time, you couldn’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if Yorke took all of it to the band. On the other hand, I’m glad he didn’t. Cause The Eraser is a hell of a record.
If I had to use just one word to describe the album, it would be “grey”. I guess that’s not all that surprising knowing that it’s Thom Yorke. The 9-track record relies mostly on “beats and electronics”, as Yorke puts it. And, I have to point this out, The Eraser is a complete album rather than just a compilation of songs – a tactic which, unfortunately is used widely in the industry nowadays. The record freely explores the vertical while always maintaining the same plane, never losing sight of the broad message. The Eraser, as a whole is a ghostly voice singing the melancholic songs of a man living alone in a dimly lit room. Unearthly sounds rising straight from the core of this earth.  Some tracks like The Clock has a lack of symmetry that makes perfect sense. Others, like Analyze, Black Swan and Harrowdown Hill (named after the woods where Dr David Kelly committed suicide) reverberates the existentialist and absurd thoughts that have been floating around in the universe. Then you have And It Rained All Night, which looks on as New York is submerged in a post-Katrina wreckage: there's a compelling tension between the ambivalence of the lyrics - "how come it looks so beautiful?" - and the music's repeating misery. Or the minimalist beauty of Atoms For Peace posing a contrast to the sweetened motif in the chorus. Or the beautiful synth swell at the beginning of Cymbal Rush where you can almost see the majestic volcano eruptingin slow motion; the bright lave lighting up this otherwise dull, overcast day. And even the sad realization of the truth hidden behind the title track. The Eraser is, without a doubt, a specialist album. But within its limited scope of structure is a sad beauty that will take you to a parallel universe, where the music will envelope you until you realize that you’re the only one there. You’re all alone.
Standout songs: Atoms For Peace, Harrowdown Hill, Black Swan.

The Empyrean – A Beautiful Album By A Beautiful Soul

Don’t ever confuse between John Frusciante, the ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist and John Frusciante, the solo artist. They are two completely different entities. Beyond the reach of pop charts and radio formats, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante has carved out a parallel world as a solo artist over a series of intensely personal and brilliantly realised albums. The title takes its cue from a term used by Dante, Milton and Keats to describe the highest point in heaven. Frusciante describes it as a concept album (about two characters that exist in the mind of one person over the course of a lifetime) but esoteric knowledge is not a prerequisite to understanding it. On repeated listens, the record reveals itself as a veiled narrative about the struggle to create, the desire for achievement and validation, the temptation to exist. Much like the rest of his solo work, The Empyrean serves as a snapshot of philosophical and spiritual outpourings from the man’s own head. He calls it a concept album (about two characters that exist in the mind of one person over the course of a lifetime), but it essentially boils down to a narrative about the struggle for validation through creation, of facing loss and death amidst a celebration of spirituality. 
The opening song - well instrumental piece actually – Before The Beginning, is Frusciante’s rendition of Eddie Hazel’s epic masterpiece, Maggot Brain.  Every song that follows, however, is a testament to John’s significant growth as a composer and singer since his blizzard of releases in 2004. His guitar virtuosity has never been in question, but John also seems to have grown leaps and bounds as a vocalist as well as a studio artist. John’s cover of Tim Buckley’s Song To The Siren is a gorgeous, sad understatement that’s entirely free of guitar, relying on the sparse, delicate narrative. The minimalistic use of analog synths make this gut-wrenchingly melancholic and desperately lonely.  “I’m as troubled as the tide” doesn’t sound as pretentious as it should, coming from a spirit such as John’s. Given the context, it’s actually heart-breaking. Track 3, Unreachable, builds up like the most intense orgasm you’ve ever had. A beautiful voice, powerful bass riffs, ending with emotionally charged layers of guitar solos – it’s almost the perfect song, like Stairway To Heaven.
Talking about the album, Frusciante said, "The Empyrean is a story that has no action in the physical world. It all takes place in one person’s mind throughout his life. The only other character is someone who does not live in the physical world but is inside it, in the sense that he exists in people’s minds. The mind is the only place that anything can be truly said to exist. The outside world is only known to us as it appears within us by the testament of our senses. The imagination is the most real world that we know because we each know it first-hand. Seeing our ideas take form is like being able to see the sun come into being. We have no equivalent to the purity of that in our account of the outside world. The outer world appears to each of us as one thing and it is always also a multitude of others. Inside to outside and outside to inside are never-ending. Trying and giving up are a form of breathing.”

Notable Songs: Before The Beginning, Song To The Siren, Unreacheable and Central

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Four Singer-Songwriters You’d Not Heard Of

(Elliott Smith, circa 1997)

1.       Elliott Smith – Born in Nebraska, Elliott Smith was one of those special musicians who burn so bright that they burn out quickly. Many believe that true art comes from misery and if that’s anything to go by, Smith was probably one of the saddest men on earth. Haunted by the ghosts of drug addiction, alcoholism and paranoia, he died at a young age of 34. But not before leaving behind a body of work filled with angelic falsettos and piercing lyrics.
Notable tracks: Between The Lines, Waltz #2
2.       Ben Howard – Benjamin John Howard is an English singer-songwriter, born in West London. A big fan of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, Howard has so far had only one record release but if its anything to go by, there’s a lot of promise from this 24-year-old.
Notable tracks: Promise, Old Pine
3.       Devendra Banhart – The interesting thing about Devendra Banhart (apart from his completely non-American name) is the sheer volume of work he’s put out. In only 11 years of active recording, he’s put out 8 albums and countless singles. The New York Times described his songs as “free associative work” and I must admit that’s a rather nice way to describe it. His songs, although very lo-fi are always psychedelic and with pull you into a tunnel of hallucinations.
Notable tracks: Autumn’s Child, A Sight To Behold
4.       Tom Waits – Born in 1949, is an American singer-songwriter who is one of those musicans who is hard to get. You may not always know where he is coming from. Waits has a distinctive voice, described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding "like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car." With this trademark growl, his incorporation of pre-rock music styles such as blues, jazz, and vaudeville, and experimental tendencies verging on industrial music, Waits has built up a distinctive musical persona.
Notable tracks: Ol’ 55, Diamonds On My Windshield