Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

Interpol -- Antics
Matador Records; 2004

After releasing their debut album, Turn on the Bright Lights to astounding critical approval, Interpol knew they had set a precedent for themselves. They would be allowed no flubs on their follow up or they would be dismissed as simply lucky instead of extremely talented. In addition, they had the mammoth task of presenting evidence of a singular style that could dig them out of being pigeonholed as derivative of Joy Division or Echo and the Bunnymen. Antics, their second full-length album is a million dollar bet on black (and, uh, red) that seems to pay off.

Antics is the sound of a band that's loosened up a bit, one that's seen the wonders of the world and come back wiser. While Turn on... teemed with tightly wound nerves, Antics feels calm and collected, all without losing a bit of the urgency that makes Interpol so vital. For much of the album guitarists Daniel Kessler and Paul Banks stick to their patent razor sharp guitar-picking that originally brought them acclaim. On occasion though, the guys take the liberty of rocking out or to switch to a fancier strumming pattern, like on "Evil" and "C'mere" respectively.

Singer Paul Banks, whose voice sounds disturbingly similar to the late Ian Curtis, does an admirable job at distinguishing himself. Sounding stronger and more pained, Banks' huge voice perfectly compliments the band without sounding too reminiscent. Carlos D's basswork anchors each song with a steady throbbing akin to the sweetest hangover you could get. Providing the band's backbone once again is Sam Fogarino's limber drumming, aided most by an uncanny sense of when to sit out and let the song breathe.

And there's plenty of breathing room in Antics. Songs like "Public Pervert" and "Next Exit" are deliberately paced to show off their melodies and provide songs with a sense of reverence. With the claustrophobic tension of Turn on... dissipated, Interpol rounds out their sound with hazy feedback on "Take You On A Cruise," and organ ("Narc," "Next Exit").

Another startling change in Interpol's work is their tone. Turn on... was cold and calculating, with despair being the leading emotion. Antics is altogether a warmer album, one that expresses its sadness in a melancholic way. Where "Evil" could have been the loneliest song in the universe, it ends up providing a hopeful tone. "Next Exit" sounds like it could have been sung through a smug smile. Even the lyrics show a more personal side of Interpol. Banks sings about why a girl should love him back on "Narc," makes plans for the difficult future on "Not Even Jail," and warns his girl about detractors on "Length of Love." It's a bit of a departure from his previous lyrics, but an interesting one nonetheless.

If there is one point on the album that shines less than the rest, it's certainly "A Time to Be So Small." Lacking a memorable chorus or any real hook, the song sounds like a B-side that was tacked on as an afterthought. It's surprising that Interpol would include such a weak link -- particularly at the end of the album when would have been less noticeable lumped in the middle somewhere. Not a huge fault by any means -- it just seems unnecessary on such an otherwise outstanding album.

Antics is proof that Interpol has some serious staying power. They've made an album strikingly different from their first effort, showing real growth through changes in style, tone and topic. While I'm undecided which of their two albums is better, I'm not sure that need be decided, since they're both fantastic for different reasons. With the way Interpol has progressed, I'd wager that we can expect many more good things from these fellows before their time is through.

Just comin' out the closet (huhh huhh huhh huhh!!)

or "Just Lose It," the first single from Eminem's forthcoming album, Encore

Eminem is fucking sneaky -- predictable but sneaky. Mathers drops some zany as it gets single as a sort of smokescreen to throw critics into a tizzy, and then knocks them on their asses when the rest of his album is dope as hell. "My Name Is," "The Real Slim Shady," and "Without Me" ("My Band," too, if we're counting D12) have all followed this to the T and the world loves it. Each of the pop culture commentaries that are his singles are more offensive and off the wall than the last, with "Just Lose It" taking the cake by a long shot.

This is Eminem at his most reckless and least thought provoking -- one long string of jaw-droppingly stupid humor. There's a fart, a Michael Jackson joke that goes on longer far too long, and to top it off, the chorus features guffaw not unlike Pee Wee Herman's. The beat is simple and plastic and follows the exact same rhythm as every other "funny" single. Sure, there's something to be said for the hilarity of Em pretending to be singing his boy band chorus to dudes (and the requisite apology that follows), but shit like "dubba dubba dubba dubba, I don't have any lines to go here, so dubba dubba," is just below him. (Remember "Renegade"? Wasn't that track awesome?) Instead of sitting around tickling his own funny bone, Mathers should take a baby step out of the box and release something serious and challenge the audience to get it. Cheap laughs are great once in awhile, but choosing to cater to the lowest common denominator every time says little for an Eminem's confidence in his real material.

It's my wedding and I'll eat Cheetos if I want to

or "My Prerogative," the Bobby Brown cover from Britney Spears' upcoming "best of" collection

There's no doubt in my mind that this was the perfect choice for Britney Spears to cover. I mean, who better to cover than the Whitney-beating, cocaine-lovin' Bobby Brown and his "back the fuck up; you don't know me!!" hit, "My Prerogative." The girl's clearly let her self go. Long gone are the days of being squeaky clean and adorable. Hell, even the days of being sexy and vixen-like (which wasn't all that long ago, if you think about it) have gone the way of the boyband. This is kind like an acceptance speech for her, a chance to admit that she's rich white trash and she fucking loves it. Having two step-children, eating junk food non-stop, dating a skazzy rat of a dude -- it's exactly what she wants, and she's finally willing to cop to it. Good for you, Britney. Bad for everyone else. The music is not particularly true to the song, Brit Brit sounds haggard, and the song itself is nearly a minute shorter than the original. She's so irreverent that she doesn't even hold true to a cover! Teen pop is officially dead. Long live teen pop.

High steppin' all over yer face!

or "Lose My Breath," the new single from Destiny's Child (from forthcoming album Destiny Fulfilled)

Although it's of little consequence to anyone to know this, I will share with you all that I was in marching band for three years. And while those three years had plenty of low point (prick directors, the freezing cold, girls), my love for the music has stayed with me. It's of little surprise to me, then, that a single featuring a marching band beat gets my pulse jumping and my feet marching in time. It was the case with Lil' Kim's "The Jumpoff" and now with "Lose My Breath," the "comeback" single from Destiny's Child.

Since none of the members of Destiny's Child actually quit singing during their three year hiatus, everyone still sounds on top of their game. Beyonce, of course, takes center stage (Daddy's little girl gets whatever she wants) and plays drum major, her voice swooping up and down the scales. The beat is outrageous and simple: a soulful drum line cadence and stabs of strings so bold they're like jet planes dive-bombing the field. The lyrics are pretty typical DC fare -- a proverbial "wiping dirt off one's shoulder" of men that don't put up and need to shut up. And if the hook isn't enough to get you hyperventilating, the bridge and all its vocal prowess certainly will. Time to get the oxygen tanks out for the clubs.

An interview with Sons and Daughters

[originally for]

After seeing Sons and Daughters, a veritable tidal wave of furiously dark folk music, open for Franz Ferdiand, I knew I had to get to know more about the foursome. The group recently saw their full-length album, Love the Cup, re-released on Domino records and are readying themselves for another round of touring. Guitarist Scott Patterson took a few minutes to speak with me while walking around New York.

Codebreaker: Since the group is called Sons and Daughters, who is your favorite celebrity family?

Scott Patternson: Oh, that's a good question. [to drummer David Gow] Dave, who's your favorite celebrity family? [pauses] It's got to be the [June] Carter family.
Codebreaker: On a similar note, how important is family to all of you?
SP: We all come from good, close families. See, the thing is though -- we're all really close friends in the group, so friends are more important in the actual band. We've all known each other since before the band as well. It's a special thing -- you're not afraid to tell each other when stuff's not right or whatever. It's lovely to go on tour with your friends. In the broader sense of the word, I consider my best friends to be family unlike some aunts and uncles you never see. So in that way it's just as important.
Codebreaker: For the uninitiated how did Sons and Daughters come into being?
SP: It was Adele's idea. Adele was on tour with the Arab Strap with Dave [for whom he played drums for as well] and she wanted to have her own band and she wanted to call it Sons and Daughters. So she talked to Dave about this and Dave said 'If you get this group going, I'd love to play drums.' When she got back home her friend Ailidh, who she's known since her teens, they started to write some songs in Ailidh's flat. I used to go to a record shop that Adele used to work in and I used to buy a lot of records that she really loved and we got talking from that. She came to see me play a small acoustic show one night in Glasgow and she asked me to join the group. After a couple of months we had some practices at Ken 19 and wrote some songs. It wasn't too easy for us to get gigs since we all had jobs and conflicting schedules but after a year we started gigging more often.
Codebreaker: Musically, what is it like to grow up in Scotland?
SP: If you're talking about the mainstream, on the radio in the UK you don't get a lot of alternative anymore. It's about the same things on the radio [in America], you know, Jay-Z and R&B. Glasgow especially is a very vibrant music scene. Just like any other city in the world -- London, New York -- there are loads of record shops and there's a real community of people with an eclectic taste in music. But since Glasgow is such a small place you get to know everybody in the bands, so it's a very close-knit community. I can't put my finger on it, but it seems there are more great bands coming out of Glasgow right now than there are in the rest of the UK, in my opinion. Everybody helps out and plays together; even though none of the bands sound like each other it doesn't really matter. You have to help each other out, really.
Codebreaker: Do you find much traditional Scottish influence in your music?
SP: We were talking about this yesterday. Ailidh especially, she grew up with a lot of UK folk music like the Incredible String Band. My parents weren't so much into that, but living in Scotland you hear that in the media so it kind of seeps into you. For me, I wouldn't say Scottish folk music, but more American roots folk music that had an influence on me. There's this box set that you can buy called The Anthology of American Folk which was released in the 50s that was a massive influence on people like Bob Dylan. I bought that and it really struck a chord with me. It's all this folk music from the 20s and 30s. It's taken Scottish and Irish folk music but played by Americans in the early days. It's really sinister; lots of songs about death and murder, all kind of horrifying... and I loved that.
Codebreaker: Besides folk I'd almost say there's a dance influence as well. It's not outright dancey, but when I saw you all live I found myself dancing.
SP: That's important to us as well. When you go to a show you want people to enjoy it and-- I always feel that when I see a band and you feel your blood pumping and you can't stop tapping your feet, that's some of the most enjoyable kind of music. There're a lot of different influences in the band -- we all love different kinds of music. Some like dance music, I love country, folk and post-punk. It's a big melting pot of every kind of music that we love. It's important to us that it's got a beat to it that gets you moving and I suppose dance music is very similar to that.
Codebreaker: I keep on hearing your band's name tossed around in conjunction with Johnny Cash...
SP: Well, the song "Johnny Cash" was around for two years before we recorded the album. It was only ever a working title but we ended up calling it that. It is and it isn-t about him -- it-s more of homage to him. The theme of the album isn't really about him, but most of themes are about relationships and the violence within them. You can read it many different ways...
Codebreaker: One thing I love about your music is the doubled vocals -- the high/low combinations you do. Does that come from how you all write your songs?
SP: It's a call and response thing. It goes back to the old folk thing as well, especially people like the Carter family. We liked the idea of having boy-girl duets on the album. It kind of lends itself to the themes of relationships, where you've got the male voice and the female voice. Some of the songs where Adele sings one thing and I repeat it, you can be read as a sarcastic response to her.
Codebreaker: How long ago did you all get off tour with Franz Ferdinand?
SP: We did the UK tour with them in April and May and we did the U.S. tour the whole of June.
Codebreaker: How was that?
SP: It was amazing. It was the biggest tour we've done so far. We're obviously good friends with the guys so it was great to be able go on tour with your friends. Because they're doing so well, you don't really get to see them back in Glasgow at all. The crowds were so receptive to us, which is always a worry if you go over with a band if they're gonna... like you.
Codebreaker: I was going to ask if it was difficult to woo over people looking to see Franz Ferdinand.
SP: Every city we played it was great. It really bowled me over -- a lot of the kids coming to the Franz Ferdinand shows were really young, so this might have been the first bands they'd ever seen. They were really lovely and really seemed to get it right away and give us great applause.
Codebreaker: Like Franz Ferdinand, you've all had some pretty good buzz yourselves. Have you felt any pressure to be the next big think like them?
SP: I don't think even Franz themselves expected to get as big as they did, so I think it's come as a shock. The media in the band likes to hype bands up in the very early stage and it can sometimes have a detrimental effect. We've got our heads screwed on -- we know that the kind of music we're making is maybe not the kind of thing that is loved by everyone. It's not that we don't want to -- we'd love to do well. But we don't want to change what we're doing to try and fit in and make it. We're taking it as it comes; we're not trying to put ourselves under any pressure to make music the media likes. That can really destroy a lot of bands, but we're just enjoying it at the moment.
Codebreaker: Your album originally came out on Ba Da Bing!, but now it's being re-released on Domino, obviously a much larger label. What was that like getting that deal?
SP: Oh, it was unbelievable. Domino has always been my favorite label anyway. I was looking through my collection and so many of them are from Domino records: Smog and Bonnie Prince Billy and so many more. When you start a band you've always got a list in your head of dream labels. For me, my dream label was Domino. When I found out they were interested in us I was really excited and when they offered us a deal, it was like a dream come true. They're lovely people -- the U.S. and UK offices -- they only seem to employ nice people. And they're music lovers, unlike maybe some other kind of labels.
Codebreaker: What's coming up next for Sons and Daughters?
SP: We're doing a lot of touring. We'll be back in the U.S. in October 'cause we're touring with Clinic. Back in the UK, we're doing some festivals when we get back. We're going to bring out a single with a video and just more touring. In December we're hoping to be in the studio to record an album that will be out next spring.
Codebreaker: One last question: what's on your turntable these days?
SP: Me personally, I've been going through a phase -- I kind of get very obsessive about music -- I've always loved The Smiths but I've just got back into them again. The Smiths and Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen, Serge Gainsborg, kind of singer/songwriter stuff. There's also a local band in Glasgow called Uncle Joe and Whitewalk who/re absolutely fantastic. I don't think they've made it over here yet, not brought any records out in the U.S. They're really creative and I've listened to them a lot -- they're kind of like The Birthday Party.

Dry your sloppy tears, skinny rapper boy

or "You and Me," the second single of J-Kwon's debut, Hood Hop

I'd bet that if you've listened to pop radio at all in the last year that you've come across J-Kwon's pre-summer hit. You know -- the one that had drunken frat boys and hipsters alike tripping all over parties slurring, "Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrbody in tha club gettin' tiiiippsy." And with good reason! "Tipsy" took the best part of Clipse's "Grindin'" (the mammoth, garbage can-esque drums) and recast it as an ode to something loosely related to underage drinking. With such a party-hearty attitude, you'd think dude would follow that up something just as infectious or at least stompable. Not the case, as it turns out. Instead we get a relatively wimpy rap/R&B duet with unknown vocalist, Sadiyyah. The background music is boringly elementary -- four bars of electric guitar strumming, looped to high heaven. Sadiyyah's voice is pretty but unremarkable and her chorus about not needing cash or cars is so goddamn recycled. What made me back up when I first heard the song was J-Kwon's voice. Instead of the calm and collected rapping we got when he was counting numbers, J-Kwon comes off squeaky and nervous -- like some boy straight outta' puberty. It's so irritating and all-consuming that I totally tune out what the song is about and pray for reprieve in the form of a harmless chorus. If this is the best single they could choose to follow up "Tipsy," the rest of his album must be a real earsore best listened to while under the influence.

Keane -- Hopes and Dreams
Interscope; 2004

Originally Keane was slated to be a group not too far off the beaten path, using drums, guitars, piano, and vocals to do their thing. When the guitar player one day up and quit the band, the remaining members decided to soldier on as a three piece. But don't think of these English boys as victimized by circumstance. As it turns out, people like them without guitars and all the rocking out nonsense; so much so that they've blown up the charts in the UK and started to make waves in the U.S. Their debut full-length album, Hopes and Fears, is their vehicle to being either the next Coldplay or, god forbid, the next Ash.

Keane waste no time in proving that their untraditionally small line up is no hindrance and start off the album with the strong "Somewhere Only We Know." After 20 seconds of stately piano and drums, singer Tom Champlin makes a quiet entrance, only to open the proverbial flood gates and belt out his lyrics shortly after. His voice is not unlike the mighty pipes of Queen vocalist Freddy Mercury, with the notable exclusion of tights and Mercury's flair for the dramatic. Champlin possesses an incredibly strong falsetto, one capable of dancing lightly over the notes (like on "Sunshine") or firing them out as if from a canon (see "This Is the Last Time"). For the majority of the album his voice takes center stage, majestically soaring over the group's Britpop instrumentals.

This isn't to say, though, that Champlin overwhelms the rest of the group. One of the beneficial things of having such a spare arrangement is that all members have room to present their wares. Pianist Tim Rice-Oxley tickles the ivory with an aggressive intensity, supported by the steady beat-keeping of drummer Richard Hughes. A few songs are touched by small flourishes of electronics or bass guitar, further fleshing out the tunes.

Champlin's lyrics seem to be the plain whipped cream topping on this sweet desert. They're not particularly ambitious in rhyme or topic, preferring to be ambiguous enough that they can fit nearly any listener's story. On "Bend and Break," Champlin sings "If only I don't bend and break / I'll meet you on the other side / I'll meet you in the light," an uplifting take on life's difficulties. His gentle jibes at an ex on "We Might As Well Be Strangers" are comforting in the occasion of a break up or fight among friends. None of the lyrics come off particularly personal, but their openness to interpretation could easily allow listeners to latch on to them like life-preservers.

Another of Keane's downfalls is their incredibly by-the-books songwriting. Each song is relatively basic, providing few twists and turns from their otherwise straight-forward course. Many of the songs have the exact same sort of ending, finishing up with a big chord and twinkling a little bit, like something out of a piano bar. Keane also end up repeating one of their big melodies and some of the lyrics of "Bend and Break" on "Untitled 1," which seems fairly unnecessary of a band able to write such good hooks.

Do Keane have the potential to succeed in America? Certainly; they've got decent chops musically and a singer with the throat of a British angel, not to mention that Hopes and Dreams packs enough hooks to out do a bait and tackle shop. Their sound is soft enough to provide torch songs for your average coffee drinker at Borders, but with enough heft for that sensitive emo girl in your literature class to dig them too. It's also to their credit that their weaknesses are relatively small and harmless enough that most listeners won't even notice. I guess all that's left to do is see how keen America is on accepting another British band into their hearts and CD binders.

Gay disco bitch-slap

or "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend," from the newest Magnetic Fields album, i

Finally! FINALLY Stephin Merritt has made a song for the queerest among us -- a true danceable anthem for all the un/pretty boys out there that have had their man act the fool. Certainly not what the average fan of Magnetic Fields would have associated with the group, but come on, he had to do it at least once. And who better to create this homopiece than someone that likely never sees the dance floor! I kid.

"I Thought You Were My Boyfriend" is what the Bloodhound Gang would have made if they were a) more into pianos and b) able to tear themselves away from talking about tits. Merritt laments his dude's unboyfriend-like conduct in his usual droopy baritone over a rollicking piano line surrounded slightly menacingly by humming synths and some weak drum programming. It's enough to get the listener rocking back and forth, but you won't see any limp wrists pumping in the air or screams of "SING IT SISTER!!!!" "I Thought You Were..." is a harmless if pleasant distraction from the la-de-da quality of the rest of i and my secret weapon in the case of any infidelity. WATCH OUT!

I Got Love For

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