Album Review: Azealia Banks, Broke With Expensive Taste, 2014

Azealia Banks Performs In Berlin

(Crossposted from Rolling Stone, 11/19/2014)

Three years after breaking out with ’212,’ Banks makes a bold EDM-rap statement

After a two-year standoff with Interscope, Azealia Banks triumphs with her self-released debut. She nods to club kids of all ages by infusing elements of jazz, deep house and U.K. garage into tracks like “Desperado” and “Chasing Time.” Her most impressive fusion, “Gimme a Chance,” starts with the bubblegum of Tom Tom Club and turns into a bilingual hip-hop joint brimming with Afro-Caribbean tumbao rhythms. This just might be the year’s boldest release. (3.5/5)

(NOTE:  I *personally* scored it 5/5 but unfortunately that rating is reserved for The Gods. Soon enough, Miss Banks, soon enough.)

Mitski is an Underdog Worth Rooting For

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(Crossposted from MTV Iggy, 11/17/2014)

Name: Mitski Miyawaki

Where She’s From: Brooklyn, New York

When She Started: 2012

Genre: Indie rock

For Fans Of: Jenny Lewis, Julie Doiron, Swearin’, Angel Olsen

Sounds Like: being devoured by wildflowers

In Season 11, Episode 11 of The Simpsons, the lovably pitiful geek Milhouse Van Houten sets out on an ill-fated journey to meet a date at Makeout Creek, ditching his glasses after having his poor vision “healed” by a spiritually emboldened Bart Simpson. After Milhouse is hit by a truck he mistook for a dog, he faints in Bart’s arms, croaking, “Bury me… At Makeout Creek.”

Titled after this poignant moment in Simpsons history, singer-songwriter Mitski’s latest album Bury Me At Makeout Creek captures both the severe self-loathing and unwavering, childlike aspiration of underdogs everywhere. Adopting the syrupy croon of a young Patsy Cline, supplemented by the lo-fi volatility of Canadian noise pop outfit Eric’s Trip, Mitski rummages through feelings of alienation in college party scenes and barely-reciprocal romances with a devil-may-care, folk-rock abandon. The dull, sunken pain in her voice is as thick as molasses, but buoyant as whipped cream as she wryly describes herself as “a tall child” in the bedraggled dreampop ballad, “First Love/Late Spring.”

She hits a triumphant peak in her lead single, “Townie.” Her gentle croons traipse erratically upwards into ecstatic cries, before she pulls them back down in time for the chorus, trailed by the off-kilter, overdriven howls of her guitar. You can almost feel her tugging on the reins of her potential as she sings cheekily: “I’m not gonna be what my daddy wants me to be / I wanna be what my body wants me to be.”

Bury Me At Makeout Creek is out now on Double Double Whammy Records.

Travel Back to 1979 with Spanish Punks Juanita Y Los Feos

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(Crossposted from MTV Iggy, 9/11/2014)

Name: Juanita Y Los Feos

Where They’re From: Madrid, Spain

When They Started: 2004

Genre: Punk

For Fans Of: Siouxsie and the Banshees, Futuro, Good Throb

Sounds Like: If young Siouxsie Sioux spoke fluent Spanish and took over the Buzzcocks

They say they started in 2004, but Juanita Y Los Feos could arguably be visitors from another decade. Their 2014 LP, Nueva Numancia is one big smorgasbord of punk and new wave nostalgia, a homage to some of the finest sounds from 1979. Spooky synthesizers collide with swift surf punk licks, keeping the album both brooding but catchy enough to bring Bela Lugosi back from the dead. The synth sometimes reeks of cheesy ’80s kitsch, but it’s totally forgivable in the intro to the hair-raising power pop jam that is “Revolución Caníbal” (Cannibal Revolution). “Devour,” warns Juanita, “or you will be eaten.”

Clamoring above the tangled frenzy of guitar and bass, Juanita stays front and center with her brisk yet damning diatribes. Her anger seeps outward in “Escupe en La Tumba” (Spit On The Grave), delivering harsh words for those who undid the good work of revolutionaries past. She descends into nihilism in “Noche Más Negra” (Blackest Night), discarding dreams of a bright future and resigning herself to the sweeping maelstrom of the music as she repeats, “Everything is dark.” Whether you’re looking to sulk in your bedroom or slam dance into your enemies, Los Feos’ latest album provides a soundtrack that’s palatable to just about any weirdo with a dark side.

Selector: Shonen Knife’s Naoko Yamano Shares Her Hard Rock Favorites

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(Crossposted from MTV Iggy, 9/3/2014)

“When I finally got to see them live,” said Kurt Cobain, “I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert.” Over three decades since their very first show in Osaka’s Studio One, the legendary indie pop trio Shonen Knife has shared tours with Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and Redd Kross. Now promoting their latest album, Overdrive on their North American tour, the band is on the verge of playing their 1000th show, which will take place September 16th in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Though they’re most famed for defying the early J-pop craze with their DIY garage rock aesthetics (and more importantly, songs about snacking, cats and boring desk jobs), the band takes a grittier turn in Overdrive. They make a detour down Route 1975 on their new single, “Bad Luck Song.” Vocalist/guitarist Naoko Yamano revs it up with some Joan Jett riffs, but serves up her vocals with the same sugar-coated simplicity she’s maintained for years.

Naoko says her actual Bad Luck Song is “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin. “Every time I hear it something bad happens,” she says, “It’s not so serious, I just have minor bad luck– like missing the train.” She adds, “I went to see Robert Plant last week, at the Summer Sonic Music Festival in Osaka. I was happy he didn’t play ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ But he did play ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ I like that one.”

It may be a little strange to think the lead of a band like Shonen Knife would take an interest in classic rock, but she would beg to differ. “Their melodies are pop,” says Naoko, “It’s just hard.” And it’s a formula that works for her. After all, it was the band’s juxtaposition of twee and toughness that won the West over thirty years ago, when their debut album Burning Farm first charmed the gatekeepers of American indie stronghold, K Records. And despite a couple of lineup changes, including the departure of Naoko’s sister and drummer Atsuko Yamano, the anti-pop pluck of Shonen Knife is the gift that keeps on giving.

“Right now music in Japan is occupied by [J-pop] idols,” says Naoko. “I think there are more interesting bands in the Japanese underground. My favorite is Extruders, they’re very unique. Also Red Sneakers and Papa Lion. But I like the old stuff too, it’s still good.” We asked the iconic frontwoman to share some of her favorite hard rock jams with us below, from “Breaking The Law” to Bad Company.

(Click here to read the full post.)

Album Review: Cymbals Eat Guitars, Lose, 2014

This arty New York band’s previous album, 2011′s Lenses Alien, was delirious indie-rock bedlam. The four-piece crew’s follow-up, reportedly written in response to the death of a friend, is just as anarchic. Handspringing between the rowdy folk-punk antics of “XR” and the sweetly sordid “Child Bride,” it’s a riveting elegy. Producer John Agnello (who has worked with acts including Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.) gives the album a stadiumcaliber sound, which frontman Joseph D’Agostino offsets with his sharp-edged falsetto, hacking violently against the orchestral current. The band hits even keel with the standout track “Chambers,” an Eighties-tinged throwback to both the Cars and the Cure. (3/5 stars)

Reviewed: Diana Fuentes’ Planeta Planetario

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(Crossposted from MTV Iggy, 8/25/2014)

Bright-eyed and heavily decorated, singer-songwriter Diana Fuentes is well on her way to becoming Cuba’s next national treasure. She was practically bred for it, having been classically trained at competitive institutions like the Alejandro Garcia Caturla Conservatory of Music and the National Art School of Cuba. She subsequently spent 6 years singing with the prolific Afro-Cuban jazz fusion group, Síntesis, who scored a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Tropical Album in 2002.  Fuentes later went on to work with Afro-rocker and fellow Síntesis alumni X Alfonso, as well as iconic Cuban chanteuse and occasional Buena Vista Social Club member Omara Portuondo.

It’s plain to see that a young Renaissance woman like Fuentes is much too big of a deal to be contained in the Caribbean. So she struck a deal with Sony Music Latin, and with the help of her hubby and producer, Calle 13’s Visitante, her sophomore LP Planeta Planetario (Planet Planetarium) was born. As the follow up to her award-winning 2008 debut, Amargo Pero Dulce, (Bitter But Sweet), Planeta Planetario is Fuentes’ chance to experiment and truly break out of her bubble in the Tropics.

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It’s Good to Be Imelda May

(Crossposted from MTV Iggy, 8/18/2014)

“Who here in the audience is Irish?”

Decked in a hip-hugging, striped pencil dress and crowned by her signature blond victory roll, Ireland’s most noted rockabilly revivalist Imelda May stands contrapposto under the hot lights of the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. It’s the first night of her band’s four-week-long North American tour. She beams as almost the entire crowd answers her question with resounding cheers.

“All right then,” she says, “Who here is not Irish?” Howls of pride could be heard from every corner of the room, but are modest compared to the previous eruption of applause. At a table nearby a man says, “Booo!” To which his date promptly elbows him in the arm. “Sorry!” he hisses. “Now, how many of you have ever been to Ireland?” Imelda asks. Save a few shy hollers, the room goes silent. “That’s okay,” Imelda says assuredly, “We’re all one big family!”

Family is quite a big deal for Imelda May. Born Imelda Mary Clabby, she grew up the youngest in a family of seven, crammed in a 2-bedroom house in Dublin with just one record player to share. While her parents favored old school staples like Judy Garland and Ray Ellis, her siblings constantly circulated everything from The Carpenters to The Specials and Meat Loaf (who she’s performed and collaborated with).

“I was raised with a big mixture of influences,” she says. “But I went crazy for early Elvis.” Although she appreciated David Bowie and Adam Ant like most teens in the 1980s, it was Elvis that inspired her to start a career in music. As a teen she landed her first paid gig singing a jingle for a local fish stick company, and soon after began slipping into jazz clubs to perform, despite the fact she was underage. Since then, she lays claim to a long list of honors; her second album, the self-produced Love Tattoo hit the#1 spot on Ireland’s album charts in 2009, and she boasts an impressive repertoire of guest performances with Wanda Jackson, Lou Reed, Jools Holland and Jeff Beck.

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