A more or less monthly column in which our eerily intuitive pop-culture snoop predicts the names, records and concepts about to go pop!
R. Kelly “Trapped in the Closet (Chapters 1-5)” (Jive) This five-part song is a radio serial-style cliffhanger about a man who goes home with a strange woman — and is discovered by her husband in the closet. In Part II, we learn that the cuckolded husband is a pastor, and a switch-hitter. (“Trapped in the closet,” get it?) It’s a JerrySpringer-quality drama — hot, stupid, hilarious. Better yet, the music is whacked, dispensing with traditional song structure and, instead, building and building at the service of the story: Synth bubbles burp and pop; a piano tinkles; violins swirl. Is it good enough to excuse R. for peeing on a teenage girl and videotaping it a few years back? Did Thrillerearn MJ the right to give Macaulay Culkin a tug job? I don’t know, but “Trapped In the Closet” is so rad you’ll wish the king of shmoove R&B many years of freedom. The song’s final installment was released on Tuesday.
Sufjan StevensIllinois (Asthmatic Kitty) Stevens’ piercing vocals raise the hair on my neck like Simon & Garfunkel, yet his arrangements for acoustic guitar, oboe, banjo, etc. remind me of classical artists Philip Glass and Steve Reich — ever-shifting, yet compositionally rock-solid. Illinois, the second installment in his ludicrously ambitious 50 States project — one record for each! — includes tunes about Superman and Casimir Polaski Day. His deeply empathetic ballad about clown-cum-serial-killer John Wayne Gacy Jr. always brings a tear to my eye. And get this: Stevens is a Christian with a liberal sociopolitical bent. He’s exactly the kind of songwriter America needs right now, and Illinois is my frontrunner for album of the year.
Konono No. 1: Listen
to my thumbs, and you
will hear my soul.
Konono No. 1Congotronics (Crammed Discs) Konono No. 1 are a group of Congolese street musicians who amplify thumb pianos through mikes and amps cobbled from old auto parts. The sound is distorted, dirty and primitive, and the dudes in the group are old, if not Buena Vista Social Club old. In spirit, though, their oddly hewn rhythms sound like precursors to the glitchy digital instrumentals of mid-’90s artists like Aphex Twin and Tortoise. A superior novelty.
1-866-411-SONG Their Web site explains this musical detective service quite well: “1. You hear a great song 2. Call (866) 411-SONG and hold your mobile phone near the music for 15 seconds 3. You get a text message with the song and artist name, plus a link to get the ring tone, CD and more!” They claim a database of 2.5 million songs; I couldn’t get it to identify Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl.” Still, I’ve heard reports from satisfied customers who’ve ID’d super-obscure stuff (e.g., Cleaners From Venus). Warning: It costs $.99 per successful ID, and may be addictive.
Creepy ’70s Folk The vogue for spaced-out, seriously obscure ’70s folk albums began in the early naughts with Linda Perhacs and Vashti Bunyan reissues of dubious legality. More established labels have since gotten into the act. At best, these can be haunting messages in a bottle; at worst, they sound dated and creepy. Unfortunately, Gary Higgins’ Red Hash (Drag City) frequently falls into the latter category (“I’ve really gone insane/Can’t even spell my name/The cuckoo is in pain/again”). Web resources on these folks are scarce, or touched with a hokey New Age vibe. What to say about Ms. Perhacs’ site besides, “Whoa, trippy Photoshop abuse!”
Brad Paisley “Alcohol” (Arista Nashville) This country star will release his album Time Well Wasted in mid-August, but this twangy single is already a runaway hit. Word is, Paisley wanted to deliver a Serious Message about the dangers of drinking. But the song’s unique POV — it’s sung from the perspective of alcohol — will likely turn it into a Caucasian party anthem: “I got you in trouble in high school/and college, now that was a ball/You had some of the best times/you’ll never remember with me/Alcohol, Alcohol.”
DungenTa Det Lugnt(Kemado) In late 2004, a cadre of influential hipsters (Vice magazine, Pitchfork) fell in love with Dungen’s import-only release — a poppy update on the acid-fried psychedelic rock of the ’60s and ’70s. This month, Dungen (pronounced “doon-YUN,” we think) mounts its first U.S. tour, in advance of a U.S. release. Unfortunately, Dungen’s chosen genre is irredeemable, and since its lyrics are entirely in Swedish, there’s little here to which English-speakers can relate. Dungen appears at the Troubadour on Saturday, July 9.
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