Porcelain Raft | Strange Weekend
2012 has been a very strong year for music, but not a single album has come close to duplicating the craftsmanship and pure beauty of Porcelain Raft’s “Strange Weekend.” Some could say this record itself is a duplicate of the many dream-pop records released over the last few years, but there’s a whole lot more going on here than a bunch of retreaded ideas. And while mastermind Mauro Remiddi might seem a bit old (40 years young) to be releasing his first record, his age seems to pay off, as he’s clearly taken notes from the best in his genre and incorporated them into his own work.
Throughout “Strange Weekend,” two elements stand out above the rest: the textures and melodies. When these components come together, the results are nothing short of outstanding: “Shapeless and Gone” blends its airy guitars with a soaring falsetto chorus, “Put Me To Sleep” maintains a wonderful urgency amidst its sonic beauty and “Unless You Speak From Your Heart” alternates between bouncy and warbling synths to create the record’s catchiest track. If this isn’t enough, Remiddi proves his worth as a songwriter on the album’s centerpiece ballad, “Backwords,” with heartbreaking sentiments such as “I hope you are in a nice hotel/Playing cards in your room/With someone who cares over you.”
The pure grandiosity and heartfelt nature of this track are enough to prove that Porcelain Raft is not a copycat project but rather a musical force to be reckoned with in its own right.
by Cameron Meindl
Lana Del Rey | Born to Die
Poor pop. Once pop meant Paul Simon or the Beach Boys or Jeff Buckley. Now it means either cookie-cutter Top 40 pop, replete with technicolor divas, strident synths and cliché club chord progressions; or indie pop, what music writers deem the flaccid, uninspiring stuff too soft to even qualify as indie rock. While “pop” used to mean records as opportunities for brilliant songwriters (e.g. Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton and Michael Jackson on “Thriller”) to collaborate and push music forward in its standards and aspirations, it has become another word for conformist garbage both in the mainstream and alternative music worlds.
Lana Del Rey is not at the level of Buckley or Wilson, but she may be all that is left in the modern music world of pop music as a force of creativity and musical progression. So what if her music is written by a team and her lyrics and story are contrived? So what if it’s shallow? Have you ever heard anything else like it? “Born To Die” is an original work of art from beginning to end, in all its ridiculous, over-the-top glory. The team behind the album created a piece of pop-as-art-as-pop, which in the depth of its shallowness reeks of Warhol but stirs like Sinatra.
There’s no fighting the beauty of the music here. A combination of dramatically chorded songwriting with murky trip-hop beats and the strings which have graced pop greats since the beginning of the genre, the sound of this record is in a class of its own and the songs are almost all pristinely assembled. “Born To Die” is a barren joust with existence, and “Off To The Races” captures all the urban human depravity of the past and the future in one psychotic episode. “Carmen,” “Radio” and especially “Blue Jeans” are all melodic masterstrokes. And of course, there’s the unassailable “Video Games,” which may have fooled everyone, for a blissful second, into thinking it cared about them.
The singer, Lana Del Rey, contrary to the opinion of rabid bloggers, is not an amateur wannabe starlet foisting herself onto the Internet’s mind. She’s just another instrument in this collaborative symphony of pop, just another arranged part, albeit a part of languid sexiness and striking versatility. While she’s the center of attention, her voice is really just another layer in this album which holds true to the disappearing value of pop music, a gorgeous, swooning work that will stay golden long after Lana disappears into the Hollywood Hills.
by Jesse Paller
The Men | Open Your Heart
There is no scene here, no genre-defying, post-whatever wave of trends to follow when it comes to The Men. On their most recent LP, “Open Your Heart,” The Men display nothing less than true mastery of pure, simple, messy guitar rock. It’s a style that’s been around forever and, despite what you may hear, is at no risk of dying or even fading away.
From the opening riff of “Turn It Around” to the final smashes of feedback on the excellent closer “Ex-Dreams,” the band displays a knack for dynamic songwriting that is simultaneously aggressive, thoughtful and entirely fun. It’s a style that is reminiscent of everything from the earliest Foo Fighters recordings to Hüsker Dü in their prime to Neil Young at his most classic. The songs here move clearly and deliberately, many times flowing directly into one another, but they always allow for time to simply let loose and jam in the noisiest, most entertaining and catchy way possible. Save for a few spots, there is distortion across the board, but always in a way that compliments what is happening, never hiding behind it.
“Open Your Heart” is a strong and muscular rock record that knows its strength and, far from bludgeoning you with its aggression, just uses it to have more fun than you thought you’d ever be able to with just a few guitars. Play it loud, sing along and listen to the best damn thing you’ve heard in a while.
By Richard Murphy
Perfume Genius | Put Ur Back In 2 It
Mike Hadreas’ (Perfume Genius) recent release “Put Your Back N 2 It” is one of the most emotionally raw albums of the year so far. A deep breath begins the 32-minute adventure through desperation, with his cathartic anguish resonating far after the album’s conclusion. With most tracks clocking in around two and a half minutes, each cut is like a brief peek into the enthralling thought process of this brilliant songwriter.
The mood on this album can be described simply as hypnotic misery. The lyrics are oddly liberating and the instrumentals are sluiced with heartbreak. Songs like “Water” and “Hood” have a painful simplicity that builds and later erupts, spilling passion and tear-jerking splendor all over the place, like a spiteful toddler throwing a temper tantrum and emptying his sippy cup contents out in an unexplainable fury. The standout track, “Take Me Home,” is a genuine lament dripping with utter defeat. The beauty on this album will leave you delightfully confounded, broken and wishing that you had an inkling of purpose or worth that could measure up to the passion of Perfume Genius.
by Brendan Principato