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 Jerry Springer-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 Thriller earn
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 Stevens Illinois (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.
Indie Yuppies Adam Shore, general manager of the hipper-than-thou, faux-indie
Vice Recordings, recently observed: “There has been created, in the past two to
three years, an indie-yuppie establishment. Bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Iron
and Wine, the Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, they are great bands, with great
albums, great songs, high quality. And to me, it’s just so fucking boring. It’s
like fancy-coffee-drinking, Volvo-riding music for kids. And kids should be
listening to music that shakes them up more, makes them uncomfortable.” Now
yuppies, buppies, bobos and guppies have yindies to contend with. If KCRW’s Nic
Harcourt desires yet another sideline, may we recommend him as charter member
of the Yindie Chamber of Commerce.
Konono No. 1 Congotronics (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
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.”
Synth-Free Ambient Music The usually prescient Brian Eno recently explained
why his new album, Another Day on Earth, returns to song-based material:
“I started to notice that you could buy keyboards of such complexity that you
basically press one note and you’ve got a career as an ambient artist. I thought,
there doesn’t seem much challenge in that any longer.” He’s obviously missed The
Golden Morning Breaks (The Leaf Label), the latest by French artist Colleen (a.k.a. Cécile Schott), and Belladona (Anti), by his one-time collaborator
Daniel Lanois. The latter’s emotive pedal-steel playing hints at Americana; Colleen
is more Baroque and continental. Both records make for memorable, synth-free and
Missy Elliott “Lose Control” (Atlantic) Miss Misdemeanor extends her reign
as the most consistently on-point artist in the world of dance/hip-hop. This self-produced
single from her new album, Cook Book, features a cameo by Lil Jon’s crunk
protégé Ciara and samples a cascading electronic pulse from early techno group
Cybotron. The track polishes the dirty South to a high-modernist sheen.
Dungen Ta 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.