2004, 14-11 Erlend 0ye, Dungen, MIA/Diplo and Sonic Youth

Erlend 0ye
Sonic Youth
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Erlend 0ye: DJ-Kicks

What we have here is a "compilation mix" put out by DJ Erlend 0ye. (I don't know how to write the fancy 0.) It's one album in a long line of DJ-Kicks albums, which have been coming out since 1995. How does one even begin to judge a compilation or mixtape? I don't want to put a whole lot of focus on the quality of the tracks on it, but I will certainly judge his taste. But more important I suppose is the relationships between each tracks and how well they are mixed. So if this is a college application, you lose many points for shitty songs, but gain few for good songs, lose points for mixing poorly, and gain points for a good mix of songs. In addition, there are songs that 0ye performs on personally, so we can judge him for that, too. Judgment!!

The good news is that there's a good amount of decent songs on here. The majority of the better songs are the ones where 0ye provides the lyrics himself. He has a nice, average, neutral voice that sounds a little bit like Stephen from Bis. Not surpsingly, the best one of these is the one that 0ye wrote all by himself as well. He also does an interesting version of the Smiths' "There is a Light That Never Goes Out". Beyond 0ye's vocal's, the Phoenix song "If I Ever Feel Better" provides some classic techno-pop and the opening track, "So Weit Wie Noch Nie" is another great piece with a simple vibrato synth with soft handclaps. The vocals are put through a vinyl effect which gives it that ol' old-timey-techno kind of feeling.

The bad news is there's a large number of mediocre tracks and a few awful ones. "Radio Jolly" shows promise with a quick spoken track but doesn't go very far beyond standard techno-funk. Then they Journey back in time on the next track, steal keyboard patches from the 80s, and return in time to play "Rubicon". The next track, 2d2f, is so terrible I've reserved a paragraph for it later. After that, the terrible voyage continues with "I Need Your Love" by The Rapture, which has the vocalist howling a heartfelt but uninspiring "I need your love." The next non-track, "Lattialla Taas/Venus", apparently a Bananarama cover, is 1:03 of filler before we arrive back at a place with better music.

Along the way we were treated to one of the most horrible things on this Top 50, a song called 2d2f, which may have been included for hilarious "so good it's bad" irony, but is about as ironic as Paris Hilton. 2d2f is short for - you guessed it! - "too drunk to fuck" and starts off with the line "You know the scene / we've been dancin' all night / your dick is hard / and my pussy's tight" which indicates that this song is of the absolute best caliber. The chorus goes something like:
Girl: Don't - get - to drunk to fuck
BG Vox: You got to get it up!!
This is too hilarious for words, my friend.
The Dead Kennedys have already tread this ground and done it with about 10 times more eloquence than this group. Later on, there's the completely off-the-wall line, "Don't pass out goin' down on me / or I'll wake you up with a mouthful of pee." Honestly, CKY has thought of funnier lyrics. If you think this shit is funny, on ANY level, then you are probably the same person who has seen all 4 Scary Movies and every Rob Schnieder film ever made. Or my roommate from grad school.

The other, more important part of the review I don't have as much to say about. It's a mixed bag here: most of the transitions between songs are pretty nice, and similar songs and beats have mostly been placed next to each other. But a few transitions, like the one between "Sheltered Life" and "Drop" is so awkward it sounds like a radio station or a Winamp plugin. I've seen better transitions on cheerleading dance routines. As far as being a mix tape, this one really seems like the sum of its parts. Nothing really jumped out at me while listening to this, and besides the beat matching, nothing about the order really seemed to matter. So, like I said, a mixed bag.

This is a DJ mix tape, was meant to be burnt, so do it.

So in this week's batch we get two albums in that newest, most cutting-edge form: the DJ mix. It's not the same as a mix tape! Stop saying that!

The distinction is that for both of these albums the DJ both collaborates creatively on many tracks and makes the cuts flow into each other without break or pause by beatmatching. It's handy that we got two cause we can see the relative merits of the approaches of the artists involved. One of them I liked very much -- one, not so much. Let the wheat be divided from the chaff.

Erlend Oye has it over Diplo in creativity of selection, which is evident in the high point of the mix, wherein a poignant little ballad called "2d2f" (that's "too drunk to fuck", for those of you paying attention) by Avenue D segues into the Rapture's tit-shaking "I Need Your Love". That first song in particular is just awesome, taking the form of a cautionary tale by two everyday girls who want you to be able to get it up when you bring them home. "Don't take me home just to puke in my toilet / don't sleep in my bed just to soil it", they say. Hear hear!

If only more of the mix were like that. Erlend, being a scandinavian, has put a lot of northern europe in here, and for me the sound of flat-vowelled males crooning over smooth but ultimately forgettable beats gets old after a while. Erlend's own turns on the mic are once again inoffensive but not particularly spectacular, and I sort of wish if he wanted to add vocals to these valiant electronickers' tracks he would have imported someone with a more interesting voice or more interesting things to say. I'm grateful to him for allowing me to hear the Kings of Convenience (northern europe's answer to Simon & Garfunkel, as a general matter) taking on Cornelius' "Drop", and though they don't approach the surreal beauty of the original it's still great. And, if I'm not mistaken, incorporates the hook from Annie's "No Easy Love". But this just isn't solid enough, as a general matter, and the last third drags, with a lot of impressive but samey electronica stacked together. It's a frontloaded mix, which in my opinion isn't how a good DJ should operate. If you're going to construct a symphony out of other people's work you need momentum and dynamic variation, lulls and builds and climaxes. This mix has a lot of cool stuff but it doesn't have that.

My final comment is that my opinion of this album is shaped by the fact that I don't really dig the curator's chosen aesthetic. Track 13 is Royskopp, which is dark, smooth, urban disco. That's already pushing it for me (if you'll remember my rant about the Pet Shop Boys earlier). But then Erlend chooses to sing over it -- and it's a bored-sounding scandinavian man doing a Morrissey impression. Literally. He's singing the words from "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out". You want to kill the ol' double decker bus line dead? This is how.

I say skip. You'd be better served by hunting down the best tracks without the linking beats.

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Dungen: Ta Det Lugnt

Remember how I said Comets on Fire was music that made you want to time travel to the 70s and get high with your loser friends in their conversion van (or something like that)? If that's the case, Dungen will have you hopping in that same time machine to go wash your El Camino with your shirt off in your 70s suburban neighborhood. This is music for the cool hip kids. If some cool hip kid in your time travel adventure brought you into their room and threw a record on the turntable and said, "man you HAVE to hear this," and hit play, this is the sound that would come out of those hi-fi speakers. This, my friends, is music to lose your virginity to - provided you're in a 70s throwback movie about coming of age and the role rock and roll played in that transition. And you're Swedish.

This sounds like the band has the same longing for 70s middle America that a lot of Japanese people have. I recently went to Universal Studios Japan, and if you've ever been to Universal Studios, I guarantee it's the same, except the menus are all bilingual with some funny characters on 'em. If you haven't been, I'll explain the part of it I'm talking about. The park is divided into theme sections, each based off a different movie. The Jaws section, of course, is based off of 1970's New Jersey, complete with old cars, lost dog signs, and of course, classic rock. This sounds exactly like what it feels like to walk through this part of the park: retro, fun - and completely fabricated by people living today. Not that fabricated is a bad thing. It's just that's what Dungen likes.

As for the songs, some of them are really quite good. "Panda" starts off the album with what I feared was a drum solo, and turns into a smooth, fast jazzy verse with a massive harmony-attack chorus complete with a single snotty overdriven guitar playing single notes. "Festival" is a Japanese indie rock-influenced song complete with radically over-compressed drums. There's also prog-rock influenced instrumental pieces on here, like the flute-ensemble/organ "Lejonet & kulan". There's also some really cool stereo tricks, like on the title track, "Ta det Lugnt", which has delayed saxophone that delays from the right to the left, but the right is dry while the left has reverb on it - it sounds like you are on stage listening to a sax player play into a mic in a stadium. The end of "Festival" has a piano panned right to left so slow that if you wear headphones, it feels like those scenes in Tom and Jerry where Jerry and his other mouse friend would play marching band music through Tom's skull.

The album has two and half down sides. First, a few of the tracks are really quite mediocre - "Gjort bot sig" is almost there, but doesn't quite make it, and is a little annoying as a result. The second is that the guitar solos are occasionally about 30 seconds to a minute too long, forcing you to lose attention and drift into 70s Purple Haze Land, which might work for some people, but it causes you to lose focus and interest in the album. The half is that it's all in Swedish, which can be quite off-putting at first, because it sounds funny to American ears. If you've ever heard the foreign Ducktales theme song going around on the Internet, you know what I mean.

But overall, this album won me over the more I listened to it. Once "Panda" got into my head, the rest of the album was difficult to deny. This is what Comets of Fire should have been. Buy this album, or alternatively, create a wormhole into an alternate reality where it is the 70s and the Swedes invented rock and roll.

So every hipster in the world was creaming their pants over this one when it came out -- "it's just like an old dusty record from the seventies!", they said. A lost psychedelic gem, except new-minted. I am unfortunately not terribly familiar with old dusty psychedelic rock from the 70s, so I'm assuming what they meant by that is that everything is mixed annoyingly trebly, in such a way that the distortion guitar is like fingernails down the blackboard of my mind. And the drummer. The drummer will not stay off the cymbals. Which show up high and clear right in the middle of the mix where everything else is supposed to be. This album can only be listened to comfortably turned way down, and even then you're pushing it. Also, absolutely everything is drowned in reverb. And he doesn't seem to care if things distort unintentionally (at least I'm hoping it's unintentional) during solos. All of which. Gets. Old.

This is a shame because there' s some great compositional stuff here. The man behind Dungen is a multi-instrumental autodidact phenom (and like most multi-instrumental autodidact phenoms he can't wrap his head around the idea that it might have been advisable to have someone else sing his words, because his voice lags behind his musicianship a ways. See also Sonic Youth.) There's songs on here which are absolutely fantastic, or would be if they didn't hurt your ears to listen to -- the evil speed jazz of "Om Du Vore En Vakthund" tickles me in all the right places, as evil speed jazz tends to. And for some reason the otherwise incomprehensible production choices treat acoustic instruments very well indeed, and the wailing, reverb-drenched strings that kick off "Du E F?r Fin F?r Mig" are quite b eautiful. That last would be my favorite song on the album if it didn't descend midway through into an entirely unnecessary and incongruous guitar solo/jam session, which is a problem throughout most of the album. Sure, the solo is weird and noisy and it sounds like it could have come from one of the guitar heroes of the seventies. BUT I HATED THEM. And for good reason. One cannot listen to this without the word "wank" flashing on and off in one's dainty head.

That song, like a few others on here, is a very long tune with a lot of stylistic change-ups, which means one can go from lame to impressive to lame in moments. The title track starts out with some painfully annoying chinoiserie, but on the chorus it breaks open into real rock and roll and you find yourself getting swept along. That's too often the story of this album, though. Moments of brilliance and all-round superlative technical competence are overshadowed by self-indulgent structure, production, and, boizhe moi, the solos. There are idylls of woodwind-tinted beauty here, moments of intricate shambling magic, but you have to make your way past the howling guitar beast to get to them, and for me it's not worth the effort.

If you like this sort of thing (i.e. noodly psychedelia) you will love this album to pieces. If you don't, skip it.

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MIA/Diplo: Piracy Funds Terrorism

Another compilation. I wonder when Pitchfork will finally cave in and mix their own "NOW That's What I Call Overrated Indie Music!" series and mark it as the number one album of the year. Really, they should just make it recursive and make their Top 50 a box set and call that the number one album of the year. True, that's not fair to the genre, but my point is really that someone at Pitchfork has a clear agenda to make this kind of DJ mix the next big thing.

According to my research source (the infallible Wikipedia), Piracy Funds Terrorism was initally just given to the press at M.I.A's live shows. But due to increasing popularity, it was offered on the Internet for free, and from there made a huge buzz with the "music and mp3-sharing blogosphere." No description could make me hate this disc more than that.

I don't hate the blogging phenomenon per se (although I puke everytime I type or say "blog"), but it's reported on with a mind-shattering level of pretentiousness. The fact that the word "blogosphere" exists sets off that instict that everyone has where you want to disagree with anything related to something no matter how much good sense it makes. So keep in mind that knowing this CD runs on pure hipster/blog/Pitchfork buzz (Pitchfork is the only major outlet to review it as far as I could see) makes me wary of it to say the least.

Unfortunately the album doesn't give me a whole lot of reason for me to change my mind. I don't know how much of this album is artists collaborating and how much of it is just other music mixed (due to my sheer ignorance of the genre), but it sounds like perverted samples of other artists mixed in. It's mixed together really really well, which seems likea huge technical acheivement, but the result is a dance album of sheer blandness mixed with familiar bits. Some of the parts remind me of a DJ's version of a wanky guitar solo, not in that it's flashy and "look-at-me", but that it's impressive but pointless in the end. And some of the stuff just seems silly: "Fire Fire" is essentially just a remix of "Walk Like an Egyptian." "Sweet Dreams" makes a cameo on "China Girl." I imagine M.I.A. in the studio high as hell mixing in 80s songs and laughing her ass off because, man, the 80s are just so funny!

I don't have much else to say about this album. "Uraqt" (u-r-a-q-t get it?) has an honestly funny Sanford & Son sample, but other than that I just want to stop listening to this. Unless you're a DJ or a big club/dance person (in which case you will be astounded by the sheer level of technical skill), skip this album.

Since this music and Dizzee Rascal's come from the same general aesthetic territory I would like to take this opportunity to point out that Stephen's review of Dizzee last week was wrong. Very, very wrong indeed. Wrong all over the place. I listened to it again yesterday and it just gets better.

Now. The concept here is that Diplo took the tracks that M.I.A. was developing for her album Arular, which at that point had not yet been released, and spread them out a little, remixing some of them, bookending them with variations, different soloists taking on the same beats. In the process of this he samples LL Cool J, Clipse, and a legion of lesser-known MCs and singers from around the world. Diplo understands that the job of the DJ is to keep you moving long after by all rights your limbs should have fallen off, and that's what this collection does... it starts out spare, builds in complexity and then just keeps going, making your head bob and bob and just when you're starting to get bored playing the trump card of club DJs everywhere (sampling the good part from "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics.)

The beats are grime beats, spare and stark, but get more layered as things progress, with the added bonus of varied ethnic percussion swirling through it. M.I.A.'s vocals are mostly all chorus and no flow, but that works for her. She's less a rapper than an urban shaman, chanting shit that's half thug and half tribal. Her mythos -- she's an art student in london, the daughter of a Sri Lankan terrorist, halfway between east and west, between capital and rebellion -- was easier to swallow before "Galang" turned up in a Mazda commercial last year, but what of that? This mix captures a moment of time when she was the hottest thing on wheels, and it smells like excitement. It twists and turns... after the initial barrage of american rap, we're off to london, and then to jamaica, and then abruptly to eastern europe for the final third of the album, where three strong M.I.A. tracks are cushioned by "Baile Funk" one, two, and three, featuring the talents of presumably the best MCs from east of the Ukraine. By the time we get to "Lady Killer", a fantastic track built on a pulsing two-note synth and sampled gasps and crowd noise, you can almost imagine you're in the club where the DJ is spinning, tasting sweat and spiraling sweetly toward dehydration seizures.

The mix tacks on two M.I.A. tracks after that which feel like afterthoughts, but the great thing about this release is that there is no official tracklist, so I can scrape 'em off. This thing is a bootleg and was never sold, which adds to the aura of cool about it, but makes it technically impossible for me to recommend that you buy it. So, burn it but pretend you're buying it. I'd recommend that you go ahead and buy M.I.A.'s legit album to balance the accounts, but she's been on Letterman, she's got the sponsorships, she doesn't need the scratch. And anyway most of it's on here. Might check out Diplo, though. He's got skills.

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Sonic Youth: Sonic Nurse

Sonic Youth probably has the highest quality-to-catchy ratio of any indie band out there. Sonic Nurse consists of 10 near-epics of guitar riffs, unlikely chord progressions, anti-hooks, and guitar wailing. The shortest song is four minutes long, and the longest almost eight. Now, from what I've seen, huge Sonic Youth fans treat the members of the band basically bronzed statues or demi-gods who ooze brilliance from every pore. My roommate my freshmen year of college (Kyle Edwards, do you Google your own name?) was huge into them, and I remember him purchasing with great glee a CD (packaged inside of a vacuum cleaner bag) of Thurston Moore making a bunch of noise. Point is, with all the noise-making unusual-tuning Sonic Youth fun, it's easy to get lost in the praise heaped onto them, making it hard to review the music.

What's more is that Sonic Youth is a tough band to get into. Put in any album for someone who's never heard them, and they will not like it. Guaranteed. Is it worth it? Let's look at Sonic Nurse. The first song, "Pattern Recognition", is a song based off the William Gibson novel. It's a primal, dissonant song - presumably about the novel - its verse features a guitar-harmonic lead, then morphs into a driving, urgent chorus that crashes and burns at its end. This is followed by a jungle-beat section, then a break down, and the song keeps going. As crazy as that seems, the energy rarely lets up, but the listener's attention span might. It requires a lot of attention, and it can be difficult to give it to the album.

"Dripping Dream" is a more laid-back song, with a soft, slightly dirty guitar tone that is straight out of the old indie-rock playbook. The lyrics are sung more like they are being recited - not that it sounds impersonal or forced, but more that it sounds as if he's got a grocery list of hip, far-out lyrics to read to us: "we've been searching for the cream dream wax." The band reaches out to the user every now and then with a more structured chorus, though, and the music is smooth and very pretty to listen to.

Those two songs epitomize the two sides of this record, and underlying it all is how inaccessible this record is. But inaccessible isn't all bad: when you make music, you want to bring a significant emotion across in the music, and Sonic Youth does this. However, the emotion that comes across is one of laze, and feeling like there's some big secret in your life that you're not letting anyone in on. This of course, makes Sonic Youth the kind of thing you'll hear in any independantly owned record store. The other thing is that Sonic Youth, every second of every song, sounds as if they are trying as hard as they possibly can to sound cool. Kim Gordon does this especially, sounding as affected as she can when singing darker songs, and whispering as whispery as she can on softer songs. Some people might like this, but to me, it's just the musical equivalent of the overacting community-theater witch. Still, it's not as bad as say, Bright Eyes.

Burn this record, because I started out disliking it, but it's got some really good moments on there, and that it was willing to win me over as far as it did surprised me.

There are two themes developing this week, it seems -- the rise of the DJ mix and the scourge of talented musicians undercut by laziness or pretense.

Nobody makes the noise that Sonic Youth does. They're stone originals, often copied but never imitated, as the incomprehensible old saying goes. This noise, at times, seems like the sound of pure cool... I don't know if it's in the unmistakable tone of Thurston Moore's guitar or the massively talented but laid back drummer or the sheer lazy finesse of it all, but it's there. It was there twenty-odd years ago, when Daydream Nation came out and rocked the nascent indie world. It's there now. The fact that it's pretty much the same sound is slightly problematic... why buy any Sonic Youth album but the best one, when you know you're going to get the same shimmering noise and the same bizarre changes by the yard whatever you do? But there are always one or two tracks that are special in a new way, somehow. Which is tremendously frustrating, particularly when there're things about the band that drive you up the wall. Searching this album for songs where the things I like about Sonic Youth outweigh the things I don't like about Sonic Youth is like wading hip-deep through a bath of psychedelic vichysoisse, when underneath the roiling surface lurks a labyrinth of broken glass. Am I ready for Pitchfork yet?

Number one on the list of things that bug me about this band (after Kim Gordon's habit of putting at least one breathtakingly awful song on each album, which should be passed over gently) is the vocals. They make these amazing textured jams and then sing over them as if they can be barely bothered to open their mouths, inflecting every line with a little dip and rise that practically screams "Shyeah." Thurston is less guilty of this than Gordon, and he even makes some attempts at vocal melody occasionally, but it's still nothing to write home about. And what I'm wondering is how a band that's been making experimental rock music and refining its technique for the last two decades still doesn't put any effort into its lyrics (on "Peace Attack", obvious free association that was probably scribbled on the back of a crib sheet just before recording) or its vocals.

That being said there is a certain mood (that lead-grey cool) that only Sonic Youth can pull off. "I Love You Golden Blue", despite being a Kim Gordon joint, is quite wonderful in this way -- she stretches her voice above its normal register, puts in an emotion besides anger or disgust, and wham, you're free to be transported by the swirl of guitar effects and the rock-solid rhythm section. This album is worth a burn, if you avoid track four.

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