Thursday, October 13, 2011

Biophilia: Bjork Album Review

Originally Posted by jeffort23 at

Bjork has made a career out of breaking barriers. She's one of only a handful of artists in the last two decades who have truly innovated in popular music, combining elements of dance, jazz, folk, drum `n' bass, synth pop, electro pop, even pop that's made up of nothing but the sound of her own voice (Bjork pop?) into a style that's essentially unclassifiable. She's made a living out of making music that, for all its sheer elegance and beauty, is obtuse, tantalizingly complex, and often difficult to listen to.

Biophilia doesn't change any of this. In Bjork's much-hyped album/multimedia project, each of the songs are thematically related to an accompanying iPad app, allowing listeners to interactively explore the theme of the instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. "Virus" explores the "love story between virus and cell" with a video game app that invites players to attack a virus then let it run its course to hear the entire song. "Moon" is composed of repeating melodic cycles, and "Solstice" features overlapping polyphonic chords. It's a clever, pioneering, and intriguing way to approach music — not just a concept album, but a concept app as well.

So the question becomes, how do you fairly critique an artist who, despite her pioneering brilliance, has a style that just doesn't appeal to the masses and has so few creative peers that her work can only be compared to her own past successes? You focus on what matters most — the music. As a project, Biophilia is a marvelous idea, one that will open doors to creative forms of expression for many other artists, and Bjork is to be admired for that. But taken simply as a collection of ten songs, Biophilia, for all its wondrous sources of inspiration, falls oddly flat.

The album's production feels precise but remarkably subdued and delicate, especially when compared to the Timbaland beats and raucous brass horns on 2007's Volta. Songs like "Moon, "Cosmogony" and "Solstice" are the sort of uneasy lullabies that usually precede nightmares. While built on only a couple of musical elements, "Hollow" is eerily evocative, recalling less a feeling of emptiness and more that of a cavernous space inside the earth, with its spooky, muffled organs crashing down like footsteps on the soil above. Lead single "Crystalline" is a sure highlight, its gentle circular chimes building to a surprise climax that features the legendary Amen Break sample, digitally mutated and macerated into sonic shrapnel.

But a large portion of the album leaves you scratching your head. On "Dark Matter," Bjork's choice to use nonsensical lyrics to illustrate the unexplainable nature of the song title's phenomena feels far-fetched and almost lackadaisical, a bit like a kid turning in a drawing of an invisible castle as her art homework. The elliptical harp melody of "Solstice" aims for wonder and sparse simplicity but ends up feeling downright boring. "Sacrifice" and "Mutual Core" have unexpected tempo changes, but much of the rest of Biophilia moves along at a sleepy, almost monotonous pace. Given the grandiosity and richness of Biophilia's multimedia layers, many of the songs feel somewhat undersized and undercooked.

Then there's the eclectic instrumentation. An actual Tesla Coil was used as a musical instrument in the creation of the ominous "Thunderbolt," providing a a gorgeous rumble as the Icelandic pixie mysteriously coos: "May I/ Should I/Or have I too often now craving miracles?" But it feels almost gimmicky when it's the only element in the song; Bjork could (and has) done better with a couple of keyboards. The "Crystalline" melody is created by a gameleste (a hybrid of a celesta and gamelan controlled remotely by an iPad), but you wouldn't know it unless I told you. Given the endless possibilities of synthesizer-based music in which almost any frequency and timbre can be recreated, the exotic sources of these sounds feels less like a revelation than a novelty.

The focal point of the Biophilia (and every Bjork album) remains her amazingly powerful and elastic voice, but that's not going to win you over if it hasn't done so already. The songs have unconventional time signatures, often lack choruses, and manage to fall into the ever-narrowing, yet awkward blind spot between alternative rock and electronica. That would be fine, if they weren't so devoid of hooks and similar to the point of being tiresome. Bjork's best work was always unapologetically experimental, but tracks like "Birthday," "Hyper-Ballad," and "Unravel" stuck with you because they were weird, gloriou pop songs. Call it TV on the Radio syndrome — Biophilia remains music that I'd rather admire than listen to.

It's obvious that Bjork put great care into this project. Biophilia is pristinely recorded and thematically woven together down to the smallest detail. But the songs have fewer hooks, are compositionally less daring and lack the staying power of Bjork's best work. A project that hopes to deliver on the promise of Biophilia's impressive presentation and grand conceptual scope quite frankly warrants better songs. In her 90′s heyday, on Debut, Post and Homogenic, Bjork painted a picture of gorgeous sonic surrealism, absolutely destroying musical boundaries in the process. On Biophilia, she sounds like she's staying inside the lines.

Bjork "Crystalline" mp3

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

PUNK MAG: The Clash, The Damned, The Buzzcocks

In this issue of gathered articles, read interviews of the Clash before Joe, Mick and their sexy ass bass player Paul had released their album debut, and Pete Shelley talks about "boredom" in the Buzzcocks. Who released the first punk record? The Damned - DAMN IT! All going back to the early days of the British punk scene in 1977.

1. Download and print PDF.
2. Trim 1/4" (7mm) off right side of paper printout before folding.
3. Then, collate pages by placing cover face down, page 2 face up, page 3 face down, page 4 face up, etc... and then fold in half.
PDF Download Link

PUNK MAG: Sex Pistols, Siouxsie Sioux, The Clash

Read gathered articles about the punk rock explosion of 1976 when Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren invited four of the Bromley Contingent - Sioux, Severin, Simone Thomas and Simon Barker - to form a decorative backdrop for a live Pistols Q&A session.

"It backfired on him terribly," smiles Siouxsie. "He couldn't handle it. Which serves him right. If you bring all these elements in and you think you can control them, then you're the biggest fool."

The swearing had already begun before Siouxsie, in a white clown-face, coyly told the drunken host, "I've always wanted to meet you." When Grundy lecherously proposed, "We'll meet afterwards, shall we?" the Pistols' guitarist Steve Jones let rip. "You dirty bastard. You dirty fucker. What a fuckin' rotter!"

1. Download and print PDF.
2. Trim 1/4" (7mm) off right side of paper printout before folding.
3. Then, collate pages by placing cover face down, page 2 face up,
page 3 face down, page 4 face up, etc... and then fold in half.
PDF Download Link

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Catching Up With Andy Rourke of The Smiths

When it comes to icons of the indie world, none are bigger and get more credit than The Smiths. During their time together from 1982-1987, the band transformed the decade's musical scene with their swagger, style and sound. Today, decades later, their music continues to do the same. The band has not played together since their famous split, and fans have waited for them to reunite through famous feuds and fights, though it looks as if it may never happen.

However, since the fall of The Smiths, the members of the band have had very successful solo careers, as singer Morrissey has had a string of hits as a solo artist; guitarist Johnny Marr has released many solo projects, as well as playing with bands such as Oasis, Modest Mouse and The Cribs; drummer Mike Joyce has played with many bands and artists such as Morrissey himself, Sinead O'Connor, Suede, Public Image LTD and Buzzcocks. While bassist Andy Rourke has also played in various bands and projects such as Sinead O'Connor, Morrissey, The Pretenders and Badly Drawn Boy, these days he can be heard DJing on East Village Radio and at various nightclubs, doing remixes for artists and enjoying his life to the max.

In our interview, Mr. Rourke opens up about his time in Manchester's iconic band, the 80's music scene, music today and his current endeavors -- but do not expect a Smiths reunion anytime soon.

What was the Manchester music scene like when you were coming of age?

AR: It was virtually nonexistent! Apart from Sad Cafe and 10cc, Thin Lizzy... luckily I liked all of these bands. I was learning guitar and bass, so I took all the good things I liked from these musicians; that is what makes music go round and around. Everybody takes their influences from their peers. It is perpetual.

Did you ever imagine you would have such an impact to the city you grew up in? Ever imagine that your legacy would be as big as it is?

AR: It was strange; I never had an interest in school, because from an early age I knew the only thing I wanted to do was to play music! So I didn't feel so bad not going into school when I was supposed to be there -- why do I need Latin, geography, physical education, etc., and to get beaten on a daily basis ? When I went into school they beat me for not being there. My classmates would congratulate me for being the most beaten boy in the school without crying. I quit age 15 to concentrate on my music; Johnny Marr was not far behind me! We continued to work on our music... eventually The Smiths arrived, we knew we had something special. The rest is history.

While in The Smiths, each of you were instantly put at the center of attention for your individual playing styles and formula. Was it hard fighting the egos in the room?

AR: Luckily there was no fighting in the room, just positivity. We were very united and focused and excited about the sound we were creating, from its creation to the performance, always solidarity.

How do you feel about the bands that are coming out of Manchester today? Have you heard of Heartbreaks, Everything Everything, The Whip?

AR: I like all the bands above. I have been out of town for a couple of years you have to remember. I really liked The Whip; I hope they do well... It's really hard for me to keep up with local MCR bands when I'm not there, but they can send me stuff to my radio show, If I like it, trust me, I will play it!! There is a band from the UK called Riff Raff that I am doing a remix for right now -- check them out.

You played in a slew of bands post-The Smiths. From The Pretenders to Sinead O'Connor, Killing Joke, Badly Drawn Boy to even some of Morrissey's solo material. Who was the most impressive to 
play with?
AR: It's an impossible question... it has been a pleasure to play with all these artists, Pretenders was a real highlight, but also Damon, aka Badly Drawn Boy, Sinead... Ian Brown... all of these people I learn from and love to work with.

Playing with these other acts, did you have to change your style of playing since it is someone else's music?

AR: Thankfully NO! They employed me to make my bass sound! Why else?

Is there anybody you would love to play with?

Sadly a lot are dead!! But there are a couple on my wish list... but I can't tell!

Johnny has been playing with The Cribs and Modest Mouse; what do you think about his collaborations? Would you ever do something of that kind?

AR: I think It's great what Johnny is doing. I saw him playing with The Cribs in NYC in the last 3 months, being a musician, if you find something you like you grab it!!!

You seem to be and have always been the closest with Johnny. Would you two ever do another musical project together?

AR: I can say 100% me and Johnny don't have a problem working together; when it will happen it will happen.

Shifting gears for a second, you left England and moved to New York in 2009. Has the city influenced you? What do you think of New York's music scene?

AR: You can take whatever you want from any city. I've seen good bands... bad bands!

You DJ now in New York at clubs and for online radio station How much fun are you having playing your favorite music?

AR: Hmmmmm? On a scale from one to 10?... 10!!!!!

Remixing has always been a big thing in the DJ world; would you ever remix a band's track and make it your own? Any one band or song you would love to remix?

AR: Doing a few remixes right now, and got a few under my belt. Did Tokyo Police Club remix with my music partner Ole Koretsky under the name of JETLAG doing one now for a great London band called Riff Raff .