Sunday, March 15, 2009

Reviews: The Prodigy, Bon Iver, Say Hi, Dan Deacon

You'd think that getting paid (um, very little, but still...) to listen to music would be the best job ever. But I sure have to sift through a lot of junk to get the good stuff. This week was a crazy exception. Not only was everything I listened to good, but it was all stuff I'll actually put into regular iPod rotation and highly recommend.

The Prodigy
Invaders Must Die 

In 1997, The Prodigy’s “Fat of the Land” was hailed as the album that would finally bring techno to the U.S. masses. With the band’s rock feel and reverse-mohawked dancer Keith Flint, they had all the pieces in place for the takeover. But despite the album’s sheer awesomeness, The Prodigy hype didn’t last long. 

“Invaders Must Die” brings the band back from the dead. Producer/mastermind Liam Howlett goes straight for the jugular with this one, dishing up huge backbeats and piercing synths. Even without the whistles and glow sticks, this is a quintessential rave record. 

Absent from The Prodigy’s last release, Flint and emcee Maxim return to shout punky phrases throughout. Though their delivery on the hokey “Colours” is lacking, their performance on “Omen” and “Take Me to the Hospital” give the group the rebellious spirit it’s been missing lately. The album’s title track is its best and just gets better the louder you play it—the true sign of a great rock song.   

For fans of: Chemical Brothers, Does It Offend You, Yeah?
Rating: 3.5 of 4

Bon Iver
Blood Bank

Though it is just four tracks, the follow up to Bon Iver’s magnificent debut “For Emma, Forever Ago” is plenty hefty. The EP begins softly with Justin Vernon’s heavenly humming and acoustic strumming.  The lyrics are instantly haunting, grabbing on and never letting go. (“Well, I met you at the blood bank/We were looking at the bags/Wondering if any of the colors/Matched any of the names we knew on the tags.”)

“Blood Bank” never moves much above a whisper. On “Babys,” Vernon’s falsetto quietly rises above the repeating piano chords and backing strings. The lyrics make little sense on their own (“Summer comes to multiply, to multiply”), but as the overdubbed also vocals multiply and multiply, the song manages to find plenty of meaning.

The closing track, “Woods,” is the only song on the EP that would have seemed out of place on “For Emma.” Filled with layers AutoTuned vocals (which is a bit strange, what with every hip hop artist on the planet using the trick right now), the song sounds like Beach Boys being overtaken by indie music-loving robots. Which, in case you were wondering, is very cool.

For fans of: David Bazan, Iron & Wine
Rating: 3.5 of 4

Say Hi
Oohs & Aahs

Eric Elbogen, the one man band who is Say Hi, writes and records all of his music at home in his Seattle apartment. This is noteworthy because the greatest thing about listening to Say Hi (or Say Hi to Your Mom, as the band was previously named) is that it instantly makes you want to go home and record your own album.

“Oohs & Aahs,” Say Hi’s sixth album, is yet another collection of simple, heartfelt tunes driven by Elbogen’s sleepy vocals and ridiculously great lyrics. The album begins a picture of late night public radio (“On the dial somewhere between the high 80’s and low 90’s FM/Eloise plays the first Violent Femmes for those awake from twelve to 2 a.m.”) and ends with waiting for kiss that never comes.

The instrumentation on the record is a bit broader than on previous releases. The guitar chord melodies find companionship with timpani drums and keyboard horn lines (“Ooh ooh ooh” and “Dramatic Irony”) and there’s even a little dancing to be had (One, Two…One”). The sullen numbers are still the best, however, with “November Was White, December Was Grey” at the top of the list. I want to write an album right now. 

For fans of: Postal Service, Mobius Band
Rating: 3.5 of 4

Dan Deacon

Dan Deacon creates his ultra-spastic robo-music by harvesting the organs of old Commodore 64s and Ataris. The 8-bit bleeps and bloops, combined with vocals sped up to dog whistle pitch, don’t really lend themselves to radio play or mainstream attention. However, on “Bromst,” Deacon somehow finds a way not only to make these sounds palatable, but downright inviting.

Sure, if you’re not a big fan of repeated noises, there are plenty of tracks here that will likely throw you into a seizing fit. But if you can hang on until track four, you’ll be treated to Deacon’s masterpiece. “Snookered” is eight minutes of awesome. What begins with gentle taps on a xylophone eventually morphs into a chaos of keyboards, vocal samples, and drums, all swirling together in a beautifully choreographed slam dance.

Not every track is quite as rewarding, but the album certainly doesn’t lack for imagination. “Wet Wings” takes a tribal chant and turns it into a hypnotic drone, “Red F” is a straight forward synth dancer, and “Slow with Horns” illustrates what happens when a piano ingests speed. Congrats, Mr. Deacon on reigning in your craziness and making a great record.

For fans of: Colon Open Bracket, Girl Talk
Rating: 3 of 4


Cheeseboy said...

I liked Bon Iver's For Emily, but I was not blown away by it like most. I love Say Hi (thanks to your suggestion) and I wish our library would get the new one already! I will check out the other two for sure as well -

Have you heard Electric President? I am really digging them right now and they remind me a lot of Say Hi.

su-tang 3000 said...

I'll have to check out Electric President. Say Hi is coming to town in a couple weeks. You should go with me.

Cheeseboy said...

Where, when and at what cost?

su-tang 3000 said...

April 7, Kilby, $8-10, 7:30.

Cheeseboy said...

Hey Spencer, I am in the process of working this out. Hopefully I can go. Would you care if I brought another Say Hi fan with me?

su-tang 3000 said...

Yeah, no prob. One of my friends is coming as well.