Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Human Again, Indeed

February 29, 2012 - 5:22 pm No Comments

I’ve got my Ingrid Michaelson back.

I was not first on the Ingrid Michaelson boat. I was probably towards the very end, coming just before the people who recognized her as the singer on the apple juice commercial. But from the very moment I heard her music, her voice, her quirky piano riffs, I fell in love.

Ingrid Michaelson writes music which, at first, seems like it’s going to be piano-pop nonsense. It’s about love, it’s silly, it’s fun and upbeat. At first. But Ingrid doesn’t shy away from the gritty, shitty parts of life. Some of her songs, or even snatches of lyrics in otherwise typical songs, are totally out of the realm of traditional, flighty, girly piano-rock. A song from her self-released debut album Slow the Rain comes to mind. The song is called Porcelain Fists, and not only are the piano melodies incredibly dark, the lyrics are painful to hear:

“Locked in the bathroom stall/Your back against the wall/Cold tiles beneath your knees/Your body broke your fall/Spitting into your own reflection gazing back/Inside your porcelain fists, your palms begin to crack.”

The first time I heard that, I was won over. Everything I’d heard of Michaelson’s music up to that point was whatever Pandora had selected for me, and until I sought out her earlier music on my own, I would never have expected a lyric like that from what had initially seemed like songs that I would listen to, shall we say, in good fun.

So with tears in my eyes and my hands folded together, each hugging the other tightly, I declared myself an Ingrid fan and dove into her music head first.

Things were really good between Ingrid and I. I got to see one of her shows, for free, at that, when she performed at the Pittsburgh Arts Festival, and Be OK had some real gems on it.

Then, just a few days after my birthday in 2009, Ingrid released Everybody.

I’m gonna be really harsh here for a moment, okay?

I felt betrayed. I’d never heard a more wishy-washy, boring, flat album in my life. I didn’t know what had happened. We’d been through good times and bad, Ingrid and me, we’d talked about everything, no matter how embarrassing or pointless. We were going to buy everybody nice sweaters and teach them how to dance.

When I got to “The Chain,” I knew I’d found an album I really, really didn’t like. “The Chain,” when it was live on Be OK, was so blisteringly powerful I would put it on repeat and sob. It was that beautiful, that painful, that absolutely touching. But this new studio version on Everybody… It was limp. There was nothing to it. It wasn’t hand-crafted, it was machined. There are about four songs on Everybody I’ll even deign to listen to at this point (“Everybody,” “Soldier,” “Locked Up,” and “Maybe,” if you must know, which are incidentally the first two and last two songs on the album, which means, yes, I don’t listen to the entire middle of the album).

So when I heard Ingrid was in the studio again, I have to admit, I was… tentative. I followed her faithfully on Twitter and Tumblr, keeping up with the progress of the album, and reading her mailing list to see if she was playing any shows near me. But I held my breath.

On January 24th, 2012, Human Again was released.

I rejoiced.

The album is funny and smart, the 17 songs (the last four from the deluxe edition) borrow from just about as many genres, and there are those familiar touches of darkness that anyone who really wants to talk about life can’t shy away from. But it was that same, familiar, girly piano-pop, that same heavy lightness Ingrid had brought to me years before.

“Keep Warm” has got to be my favorite song from this album. It’s happy. It’s relateable. It’s the kind of song that makes you feel safe. Other notable tracks, at least to me, are the peppy “Blood Brothers,” and the heart-wrenching, bittersweet “I’m Through,” which was the first track I’d heard from the album, and the first time I knew everything would, pardon the expression, be okay.

Human Again screams Ingrid Michaelson. Though it’s got touches of rock, country, jazz, folk, it couldn’t be more original, more true to the woman that I slowly became familiar with through three albums three years ago. I wonder if the title speaks to that, a sort of coming back to herself, or if it’s just happy coincidence.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. What matters is I’ve got my Ingrid Michaelson back.

The Art of the Mixtape

January 3, 2012 - 9:36 pm 2 Comments

Let me tell you.

There is a hell of a lot more to making a mixtape then just throwing some songs together.

I talk about music a lot on this blog, because it’s always been a major part of my life. From the time I was born, it was more to me than just melodies and lyrics. My dad is a guitarist; my mom played the piano. Both of them are very, shall we say, musically active; they keep up with new stuff, they take an active interest in knowing what’s out there, they still go to shows. Hell, I take them to shows. They even named me after a song. They played music for me in the cradle, everything from Black Sabbath to The Beatles to Bach. I knew how to work a record player before I knew how to work a microwave. (I’m still not entirely sure why a microwave has so many options. If it’s that difficult, put it on the stove.)

Now that I’m older, to repay them, for my parents I make mixtapes.

As gifts for my nearest and dearest friends, I make mixtapes.

When I’m feeling bored or sad or lonely I make mixtapes.

But there is so much more than just throwing a bunch of tracks together.

Mixtapes are something that should be crafted with purpose: an idea pops into your head and you think you could show someone exactly what you mean with music; you hear a song that doesn’t just remind you of another song, it speaks to you about another song; a time in your life is defined by a series of tracks you can’t ever hear again without thinking about that moment, and you can’t ever think about that moment without hearing those songs. Mixtapes are like chapters in books that make up our lives; they’re the narration, not the soundtrack, and all we do is following along. Giving someone a mixtape, a well thought-out mixtape, is a gift that speaks to thoughtfulness and concern and shared emotions and memories.

When you make a mixtape, every song has to say something. It could be musically or lyrically, but it has to be part of a consistent flow. One off song can ruin the entire mix. A truly successful mixtape should go so smoothly from song to song you hardly realised the track changed, but should hold you so captive you wait and watch for each song to pass to the next.

When you make a mixtape, you have to think like you’re writing a paper. You need an introduction, and then you need a thesis statement. You need supporting information but you can’t be redundant. You need a conclusion supported by the information you’ve just given, and more than that, you need each paragraph to be in the right order. And then, if you’re feeling really, very confident, you can say something clever in closing that’ll stick with the reader – or in this case, the listener – even after they’ve reviewed the paper and moved on. Even after they’ve taken their headphones off and walked away.

A mixtape, all on its own, all by itself, with no additional media, should convey a message.

It should create an environment, or a moment, or a relationship, inside your head.

It should be one, whole, complete entity.

A mixtape is not just a collection of similar tracks thrown together.

A mixtape is a collaboration on the part of artists and one independent adjudicator, working together without ever speaking.

A mixtape is powerful and meaningful and beautiful.

A mixtape, when properly constructed, is a work of art.


Someone whose mixtape-creating ability I have always respected is William the Bloody, formerly of William’s Bloody Hell. You can now find him on his Twitter, still making awesome mixes. He sent me two for Christmas. Don’t let me forget, I owe him.

Lately I’ve been exchanging a lot of mixtapes with MannequinneHands. You can see a little of her work on her 8tracks account. Her mixtapes are so carefully crafted. They’re utterly magical.

If you want to see some of my own mixtapes, you’re more than welcome to check out my 8tracks, where I am Paperclippe as per usual. I’ve been adding about one a week, on average, and I always update old mixes when I hear something new that belongs.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received was a mixtape from @wackfiend. I put it on on New Year’s Eve and I’m pretty sure it made my year.

If you’re asking yourself what an 8tracks is, you should really go to http://8tracks.com and check it out. It’s the rebirth of mixtapes as we know it, especially for people who are a) too broke to buy blank CDs or b) make mixtapes too long to fit on CDs or c) want to share a mix with someone instantly. I am all three of those things. Even if you don’t make your own mixes, it’s worth a look just to see what other people create. It’s also an amazing way to discover new music in a more personal way than something like Pandora or last.fm, and I’ve found it’s also a hell of a lot more accurate. You can never substitute the human touch entirely.

So go on. Get mixing. Make some art.

And I’m Damned if I Do and I’m Damned if I Don’t

December 29, 2011 - 10:30 pm 2 Comments

I got on the Florence + The Machine boat a little late; in fact, I only listened to Lungs in anything more than passing this year.

In something like two weeks, last.fm informed me I’d racked up over 200 plays.

It would be an understatement to say I liked it. In fact, I love Lungs. I can put that album on and just listen over and over again, singing into a hair brush. But what’s more than that, I can listen over and over again quietly, appreciating every little nuance. There are only two songs I ever skip past, and if you must know which, they’re I’m Not Calling You a Liar, simply because I hear it every time I beat Dragon Age II (it’s a lot of times, just trust me on this one), and You’ve Got the Love, because I think it was a horrible choice to end the album on (strictly speaking, I don’t skip this one, I just stop the album at the end of Blinding because the end of Blinding would have been a perfect freaking ending, okay?).

I’m not feeling the same way about Ceremonials.

Let me, at first, dissect this album from a vocalist’s point of view, since there are two things I went to school for: one of them was writing, and one of them was singing. Bear with me here.

There are more than a few places in Ceremonials where Flo sounds utterly flat. Don’t get me wrong: it happens, especially with such an ambitious style of music. But I can’t ignore it. There’s a point in Hurricane on Lungs, toward the very end, where the note she’s holding goes totally sour and I cringe every time but the song is so good I just go along with it. Like I said. It happens. But it happens a lot in Ceremonials. There’s an off note or two in Shake it Out. There’s one in Breaking Down. There are a few in Only if for a Night. Cringe cringe cringe cringe cringe. I’m not criticizing Flo’s vocal abilities; I have no place to do that. What I’m saying is that the production of the album feels rushed, or sloppy somehow. It feels a lot less careful than Lungs felt.

Perhaps I shouldn’t compare the two albums, strictly, but I’m going to again when I say that Ceremonials doesn’t feel as clever as Lungs. Ceremonials has some great moments, some great lyrics, some great melodies, and there are plenty of hooks and choruses that have gotten lodged firmly in my head since I first heard the album. But over-all, that’s all it seems to be composed of: moments. Lungs was a piece. Ceremonials is a series of moments. It’s missing some of the power Lungs had. Which brings me to my next point.

I have the deluxe edition of Ceremonials (I know, I’m so fancy). At the end of the album, or I suppose, making up the majority of the deluxe content, are acoustic versions of Heartline, Shake it Out, and Breaking Down. And they kick the shit out of the original versions. The first time I heard Shake it Out, I liked it. I liked it a lot. But I wouldn’t say I was moved. The first time I heard the acoustic version, I cried. I shed tears. On the bus. On the way to work. Same song. Same Flo. Entirely different reaction. Maybe I’m biased; I do love me some acoustic guitar. But I don’t think it’s overreaching to say that on Ceremonials, some of the power of Flo’s brilliance is dulled by all of the processing, the electronics. As far as Lungs went, I don’t think there was another way to do it, especially with the jazz/electro blends, a perfect example of which was Girl with One Eye. That sounds made Lungs. On Ceremonials, it feels forced.

I’ve also noticed that Ceremonials feels less like Florence. I know she’s only got the two albums, but on my first listen of the album, I went through and basically said to every song, “Oh this sounds like such and such band, and this one sounds like this!” Most notably, Breaking Down sounds like it should be on a Beach House album. It’s not a bad thing – I love Beach House. But I didn’t buy a Beach House album. I’m aware artists borrow and evolve. I’m not naive. But Lungs was unmistakable. Unmistakably F+TM.

My final gripe is one song: Landscape. If you don’t have the deluxe version, you’ll never have heard this song.

Which is a fucking shame.

Landscape is listed as a demo. It’s not actually a part of Ceremonials. It is, in my humble opinion, the best song on the album. And it is unmistakably Flo.

Strangeness and Charm is another deluxe edition-only release, and I have to say, I was taken by it from the time I read the title. Strangeness and Charm are properties of sub-atomic particles known as quarks. If you’re familiar with this blog, you’re familiar with quarks. Yes, Flo. Please sing more science to me.

Reading this review, you must think I hate Ceremonials. You would be wrong. I only just got it and I’ve listened to it probably about twenty times so far and I’ll probably listen to it once a day for the next couple of months. I love it. I really do. It’s a great album. But there are so many small, small things that could have made a great album a masterpiece.

A brief review:

Paperclippe’s Favorite Songs from Ceremonials (Deluxe): Only if for a Night, Heartlines (Acoustic), Breaking Down (Acoustic), Shake it Out (Acoustic), Landscape (Demo), Strangeness and Charm (Deluxe Only).

Least Favorites: What the Water Gave Me (Demo), Remain Nameless (Deluxe Only), Heartlines.

First they built the road, then they built the town.

April 1, 2011 - 12:56 pm No Comments

By now you’ve probably heard of Arcade Fire.

I mean, they won Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards which is apparently still a thing that people watch.

Which brings me to my point.

Arcade Fire won the 2011 Grammy for Album of the Year.  I’m not going to downplay this because I have to say, that’s awesome.  Allow me to be completely selfish when I say that this means the music I listen to is now popular and that means I’m cool again and I didn’t even have to do anything.  (I am cool, right?  Then again, if you have to ask…).  But the album that won the Grammy was (obviously) their new album, The Suburbs.  If you haven’t heard it yet, go open your Grooveshark, play it, and come back.  Back?  Okay, now go listen to their first album, Funeral.  I’ll wait.

Funeral was Arcade Fire’s first real album (disregarding the “Us Kids Know” EP from 2003), which was released in 2004.  And it was magical.  MTV2 named it their Album of the Year way back then, and it won a lot of stuff and broke a lot of ground and was generally very well respected.

And no one heard about it.

Hell, I didn’t even hear about it until right around 2007, and the when the opening strains of “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” hit me, I was sucked in.  My heart was ripped out of my chest.  I listened to it dozens of times in a row.  That was right before their second album, Neon Bible, was released, and the timing was perfect.  Soon enough, I was an Arcade Fire addict.  There was something so raw and powerful about those albums, more so with Funeral, but it wasn’t lost in the more polished Neon Bible.  They both meant something.  They didn’t have to grow on you, they were you.

The Suburbs is not that kind of album.

In fact, let me fess up right here: the first time I heard the album in its entirety, I was entirely unmoved and entirely disappointed.  In fact, I listened to it twice in a row, but for the exact opposite reason I put Funeral on repeat for the entire summer of 2007: I had completely zoned out and missed half the album.  It took me several minutes to even notice there was no music playing in my headphones anymore.  But the second time, the same thing happened.  Could this be the case, I thought?  I’d heard the single “We Used to Wait” on The Daily Show and had messed around with the totally engrossing interactive video for it and I’d loved it; how was it that the rest of the album could be so lacking?

And then I listened to it in the car.

This is not the kind of album you can listen to sitting still, staring out the window.  This is the kind of album you put on and turn up and roll down the windows and go for a long drive.  The lyrics reflect this, they’re almost about this, but that’s not even the point.  You have to be moving.  Get on a bus, ride your bike, go for a drive.  This album is too huge to listen to sitting still.  If you’re not moving, it won’t move you.  It’s like an experiment, or it feels like it to me.  It’s also completely back-loaded with the good stuff.  Sure, the first seven or so songs are by no means bad; they’re catchy, toe-tappy.  I’d go so far to say that “Rococco” is infectious and that the extra beats inserted into “Modern Man,” after it’s finished giving you a head trip, will make you want to take up the drums.  But it’s the second half of the album that has that magical, gut-twisting, tear-jerking Arcade Fire feel.  It’s hard to say where it starts, since all the songs are derived from three or four central themes and bleed into each other, but you’ll know it when you feel it.

That is why The Suburbs won Album of the Year.  Because unlike the longing, lonely, and yet somehow upbeat strains of melody in Funeral’s “Wake Up” or the crushing, solitary pipe-organ opening of Neon Bible’s “Intervention”, The Suburbs is not something you can put your finger on.  You almost can’t find a place to say, “This is my favorite part,” because there are no parts.  It’s just one massive creation.

It’s still not Funeral, it’s still not my favorite.  But I get it now.  It’s part of a story, a story that Arcade Fire started to tell us in 2001, that they’re still telling ten years later, of primal humanity and modernization, of finding light in dark places, of corruption and a salvation that we cannot find in things or institutions, but that we can only find in each other.

New to Arcade Fire?  Paperclippe recommends: “Crown of Love” from Funeral; “Intervention” from Neon Bible; “Sprawl II (Mountains beyond Mountains)” from The Suburbs.

Think you’ve maybe heard this band before?  You might have heard the re-recorded version of “Wake Up” in the movie adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are or heard Peter Gabriel’s cover of “My Body is a Cage” on a recent episode of House.  BBC’s Top Gear used “No Cars Go” as the montage for their introduction of the show’s tenth series, and oh yeah, they played at the 2011 Grammy Awards.

A Larum

September 16, 2010 - 8:13 am No Comments

is not a book.  It’s an album.

That’s right; having not been in the right mindset to talk about books (but reading so much letters might start flowing out of my ears), I’ve decided to finally introduce a new type of post I’ve been considering for a very long time: album reviews.  And we’re off.

If you put The Beatles, Glenn Miller, and 1900s bluegrass in a bag and shook it up really hard, you would probably a) be in possession of the world’s largest metaphorical bag and b) get Johnny Flynn.  A Larum is Johnny Flynn’s first full-length album, released in 2008 on Vertigo Records.  It’s a strange yet cohesive mix of UK folk, lively horns, and both naughty and elegant lyrics.

As previously mentioned, The Beatles influence is very heavy but not so much so that Flynn is a Beatles revival or wannabe.  Johnny’s voice is extremely Paul McCartney, but because so much of the album is heavy on the folk and easy on the pop, it’s not distracting (though at points, especially on the track “Tickle Me Pink,” you have to think that Flynn grew up listening to nothing but Yesterday and Today).

“Hong Cong Cemeteries” has an entirely different feel to it, much more bluesy with a sloppy drunken-sailoresque bridge and a much grittier sound.  If you’re a fan of Beirut, this smacks of “Nantes” and “Mount Wroclai.”  Indeed, the album swings from organ- and guitar-heavy ballads to string and banjo ditties, but does so tastefully and with good timing.  The only flaw seems to be that five or so of the songs sound very similar, sharing keys or time signatures, while one or two stand out entirely and make you stand up and notice them, which is not necessarily a bad thing but it can disrupt the flow of the album as a whole piece of work, making it sound more like a collection of songs thrown together.

Overall, this album has been competing with Mumford & Sons Sigh No More for my Most Played Album of the Summer.  Coincidentally, if you like that album, you’ll probably dig A Larum as well.

LISTEN! (Courtesy of Grooveshark; no this is not a paid advert.)

If you like The Beatles, Brit-pop, or absurd rhyming, try:  Tickle Me Pink (my favorite)

If you like more traditional folk/bluegrass, muted horns, or ballads, lend your ear to:  Brown Trout Blues

If you dig fiddles and innuendo, listen to:  Sally

.  .  .

I’m not going to use this space to apologise for being a crappy blogger the past month and a half (because I Am Getting Married and You Can Kiss My Butt) but I will say that if you have a) an album you would like me to review or b) a review of a book, album, or video game that you would like me to post, do go ahead and email me and I’ll see what I can do.