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It’s not an obvious idea to remix Nick Cave. His status as a musical icon seems to discourage the thought that his manic tales of depravity can be improved or successfully altered. But Grinderman’s 2 RMX — damn, does it work well. From A Place to Bury Strangers’ post-punk rendition of “Worm Tamer” to the spooky, shamanistic vibe of “Evil” by Silver Alert (Grinderman’s Jim Sclavunos) and The National’s Matt Berninger, it’s a surprise to find a style so distinct that’s also so versatile. Grinderman is ripe for experimentation.
French composer Yann Tiersen always has taken darker paths — even the Amelie soundtrack maintained a certain melancholy. His solo albums are more overt. On 2010 album Dust Lane, he appropriated a stark passage from Henry Miller’s The Rosy Crucifixion. On his latest, Skyline (finally released in the United States), he takes the tropes of horror films and makes music out of it — at least on “Exit 5 Block 20,” a track that begins with brutal howls that only subside for a short portion of the song.
In just one more trip around the sun, another swarm of immensely talented but under-recognized musicians has harnessed its collective talents and discharged its creations into the void. This list is but one fraction of those dedicated individuals who caught our ears with some serious jams.
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Tom Waits is legend, larger than life. Few musicians are as cloaked in mythology. Yet his music has always been what music should be: comforting in places, jarring in others, pushing boundaries while always honoring the legacy of American songwriting. Bad as Me, Waits’ first studio album in seven years, is all of these things, continuing the direction that he established with Closing Time in 1973 and hammered into the ground with Swordfishtrombones a decade later.
At the time, Swordfishtrombones signified a new Waits, a man unafraid to be confronted. The confidence came in large part from his marriage to Kathleen Brennan. They’re still married, and Waits credits Brennan as his support, collaborator, and muse. Here, every track was written and produced by Brennan and Waits together. Those tracks oscillate between manic and maudlin, flip-flopping throughout the entire album. Where a Depression-era blues tune ends, a ballad begins. Waits’ voice is a freight train and then a frail leaf.
That voice, of course, is a wonder. Waits can sound like a woman down on her luck, a Mississippi blues man, a possessed mule, and an army of brokenhearted ogres. Every harsh word has been employed to make sense of the ragged clatter that emerges from Waits’ throat. It’s as if his voice has always been 60 years old and his body only now caught up.
Achieving public familiarity through featured songs in Little Miss Sunshine, DeVotchKa has worked hard to make a name for itself. Its Gypsy-influenced sound employs a wide variety of styles and instrumentation, celebrating a genre that has been around for hundreds of years.
Malian blues band Tinariwenkicked off its North American tour last night at Lincoln Hall in Chicago, playing tunes from its forthcoming album, Tassili (Anti-, 8/30/11). To record the new album, the band took to the Algerian desert with only acoustic guitars and percussion. Joining in the recording process were TV on the Radio members Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone and Nels Cline of Wilco and the Nels Cline Singers.
Though the band’s numbers can swell to upwards of 10 musicians, a more-than-capable quintet took to the stage in Chicago. Clad in traditional Malian tunics and turbans, the band worked the crowd into a fervor with equal parts uptempo, guitar-driven rock and plaintive African blues.
Folk songwriter William Elliott Whitmore graced the cover of ALARM 35 back in 2009, right after he had made the jump to Anti- (read story here). At the time, he was promoting his new album, Animals in the Dark, which saw his blues-infused creations bolstered by additions of pedal steel, organs, strings, and drums. Now, he’s set to release a new full-length, Field Songs, which speaks to a uniquely American experience. Never one to hide his political beliefs, Whitmore was kind enough to share with us 10 of his favorite anti-war songs.
10 Anti-War Songs by William Elliott Whitmore
1. Operation Ivy: “Unity”
A bit of protest from the Bay Area’s premier ska outfit.
Oddball rock band Man Man has crafted its best album yet in Life Fantastic, a record that showcases the band’s finest songs with its strongest production to date. For the group, it was a significant and symbolic new direction, recording with producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Rock) in Omaha, Nebraska. We got a chance to talk to frontman Ryan Kettner from the road and ask him about the sneaky shape that Life Fantastic took and the experience of working in a “real-deal, bona-fide studio.”
Let’s start with an easy one. What would you say to describe Man Man?
That’s the easy one? (Laughs) Exorcism.
That’s it. Exorcism.
What are you most excited for people to hear on Life Fantastic?
Just to hear the record. I’m real proud of this record. I think it’s our most deceptive record we’ve ever made. I think it’s our best record we’ve made, but I think it’s our most deceptive because the initial impression is, “Whoa, it sounds polished and different.” It’s sneaky because the production’s so good that you can lose sight that there’s a dark, dark center to this tasty treat.
What do you mean by that?
Our new album, it’s a grower. People who like our older stuff, but maybe are turned off by the production, really got to dig in, ’cause like I said, it’s a lot sneakier than any record we’ve done. It gives the impression that it’s tame, but it’s about as tame as sending your dog to obedience school because it bit off somebody’s face. It still might be in that dog to bite off someone else’s face. I wouldn’t keep it in a room with my infant daughter. Which, for the record, I don’t have.
How did working with producer Mike Mogis help shape this album?
Well, the band’s always been a balance of extremes: control and chaos, beautiful and ugly. I feel like Mogis really captured that. There are some songs on the record that are outright beautiful, but then when you realize the content of the song, it’s different. It kind of throws you off. And that’s a good thing.