Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

A perfect time to make sure your shoelaces are tied

Or "Birds Over Barges," the first track off the latest Isan album, Meet Next Life

This probably sounds awful, but I'm really having to search deep down to find words to describe this song that don't come off as negative. See! It's difficult; difficult not because this song is so bad that I have to follow the principle of "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." No, more because this song is so passive, so incredibly laid back that you have to search every nuance of the track to find something to talk about. For six and a half minutes, the British duo sequence carefully thumbed guitar, twinkling chimes, some percussive instrument that might as well be plumbing tubes (Blue Man Group-stylee) and deep synths that go aaaaaahhhhhhh -- all on top of some very Air-like drum programming. The finished product is very chilled out and non-descript, like Four Tet stripped of his zest or Boards of Canada without their IDM moments. This song would be excellent for zoning out, reading, or perhaps catching up on homework, but I wouldn't suggest it for active listening.

Wheee!! Money!!

Or "Screwed (Alex G remix)," the debut single from Paris Hilton's as of yet untitled LP

If Ashlee Simpson and Hilary Duff didn't have you convinced that computers do all the pop singing these days, this song might put you over the edge. In some fucked up way it makes sense that today's leading accidental porno star/socialite has an album coming out (Lindsay Lohan and the aforementioned Duffster, you're in this luxury yacht too). Every album not done by a famous face is a wasted opportunity, people! We have empires to maintain!

I suppose it'd be sort of like shooting goldfish in a highball to write criticism of Hilton and co.'s musical output, if not for one thing: With how much money these ladies (and I use the term loosely) are worth, you'd think they would only hire the best talent and put out the slickest content since the boyband era. In Hilton's case, it seems more like she's content to put out just any schlock, knowing the celeb-obsessed will want a piece. "Screwed" is exemplary of that point; it's a non-descript voice miming along with backing that sounds like a dodgy Chumbawamba making nice with the Spice Girls producers. Whoever this Alex G fellow probably feels foolish for his output (unless he's as brainless as his employer), 'cuz word on the street is that Paris has petitioned the Black Eyed Peas to rework the track for a more rock vibe. Right -- Black Eyed Peas to make it rock -- OK. I'd say fuck it, just rewrite the song to be about being done doggy-style; that's a certified way to get attention (as if she didn't know).

Codebreaker will be taking a break from regular content until next week. Enjoy your holiday.

Bleep bloop gwish doot doot beeeeeeeeep!

Or "Vietcaterpillar," from Black Moth Super Rainbow's debut LP, Start a People

There are few bands I can think of that have as bad a name as Black Moth Super Rainbow. The word black is used in one of every five bands' names. Rainbow is a total buzzword. Moth... ok, moth I have nothing on. Last but not least, super means nothing these days unless we're talking Super Mario Brothers. Fortunately for BMSR (I can't bring myself to write it out again), there is some correlation. The first few notes that open "Vietcaterpillar" are ripped from a long forgotten grey cartridge, and amusingly deceptive. No, the whole song isn't based on video game sounds (thank god, 'cuz there are enough bands that do that). It's a buzzy synth number with groovy bass licks and heavily affected vocals. The lyrics are unintelligible, but the vocals are more of another instrument than the guiding force of the group. The song's bridge, paved by faux high-hats and guarded by plumes of synth swirl not unlike those found in a Tangerine Dream song. By the time the song ends -- and it's only two minutes and 15 seconds long -- it's almost like you've come away with a calming buzz yourself. Regardless how awful this band's name is, they've got music to justify their existence, and I kinda like that.

You can find more of BMSR's music here.

This is a song that I adore (a series)

"We Might as Well Be Strangers," from Keane's debut album, Hopes & Fears

There's a little part in me that says I probably shouldn't like this song nearly as much as I do. It's because Keane, like countless other groups of songwriters, take very general topic and writes about it in such a way that nearly any person can apply it to themselves. "Well, couldn't that be a positive trait?" Yeah, it could. Making something that everyone can relate to is hardly easy. Hell, my friend and I can hardly rally around a restaurant we all want to eat at. At the same time, writing so generally doesn't speak highly of the depth of the songwriting. But I didn't choose to write about this song to tear it to bits. I'm here to give this song massive props for playing such a huge role in my music-listening catalog.

In the case that you haven't heard "We Might as Well Be Strangers," it's a ballad about moving on from someone, whether it be with a friend, family member, or significant other. The lyrics talk about missing that person's touch, their appearance. They talk about not understanding the person's thoughts -- the way that they make decisions. The chorus, as predictable as it seems, is "We might as well be strangers in... (and then singer Tom Champlin lists off the places where they could be strangers)," for whatever goddamn reason, it works. His vocals during the chorus start off slow and carefully punctuated, almost like he's staring at the ground as he's singing, pushing around a few errant leaves. The lines continue, his voice gaining thickness and stepping up in octave; he's walking faster now, his hands jammed into his pockets, his eyes gazing around lazily at those near him. When the climax hits, it's almost as if he's struck with a blast of emotion that sends him reeling, the words being fired into a slate-grey sky.

At this point if you're singing along, you might be inclined to do the same and pretend that you're part of a very thoughtful music video or a musical that doesn't suck. It's so easy to put yourself into Champlin's shoes that it's scary. You don't have to be fresh out of a long relationship, bitter from a fight with a friend, or pissed at a family member to connect with this song on some level. Everyone's had some sort of relationship dry up and crumble away. And that's how this song has made its way into my playlist so many times. It always manages to strike a chord with me and I find that plainly impressive.

Eminem -- Encore
Aftermath; 2004

Marshall Mathers appears to be a very conflicted man. Not like over whether to get Skittles or gummi worms (gummi worms, all the way), more like whether or not he wants to keep his day job as a rapper. After entertaining and offending the American public for five years, putting out four critically acclaimed records, and starring in a blockbuster movie about himself, it's almost like Mathers has accomplished everything he wanted in hip-hop. Now his priorities have shifted to taking care of his kids, and the consequences of the rap game are looking less and less appealing. Encore, his fifth major label LP, is a strange documentation of this inner struggle.

When considering Eminem's massive success, it could be a little hard for people to believe that he truly wants out of rap; but all it takes is a few cursory listens through Encore to hear him try and sabotage a number of his own songs. With farts and other bodily functions punctuating the chorus and pointlessly offensive lyrics throughout, it's no surprise that the chorus of "My First Single" is "And this was supposed to be my first single / I just fucked that up." The album's actual first single, "Just Lose It" is as disappointing: a hardly scathing social commentary that doesn't hold a candle to "The Real Slim Shady" or "Without Me." Mathers further wastes his talents on "Ass Like That," choosing to take on Triumph the Comic Insult Dog in a ridiculously lopsided battle.

On other songs, Mathers takes a more blunt approach to voicing his distaste for his role in today's hip-hop. On the album's proper opener, "Evil Deeds," he sounds sick of being popular, with lyrics like "But the curtain just don't close for me / This ain't how fame is supposed to be / Where's the switch I can just turn off and on? / This ain't what I chose to be." During the chorus of "Rain Main" he spits "My name was not to become what I became with this level of fame." The Martika-sampling "Like Toy Soldiers" chronicles his beef with Benzino, the lines "This ain't what I'm in hip-hop for / it's not why I got in it" and "Cause frankly I'm sick of talking" sticking out like sore thumbs. The fast track of fame that took Eminem from nobody to point of reference for modern hip-hop has left him feeling burnt out and ready to head for the exit sign.

But throughout the course of Encore there are a number of tracks that find Mathers still at the top of his game and with something worthwhile to say. Eminem takes a cautionary approach to familiar subjects like family and childhood on the ominous Dr. Dre composition "Evil Deeds," using lines like "Woe is me / There goes poor Marshall again / whining about his millions and his fortune and /his sorrow he's always drowning in," to bite back at critics that tire of his topics. "Puke" and "Crazy in Love" address the oft-talked about ex, swinging from disgust to wary love (respectively) in a way that only makes sense coming from Em. When collaborating with 50 Cent, Obie Trice, and Stat Quo, Eminem shines lyrically, putting his "funny" tracks to shame. He even gets political on the controversial "Mosh," presenting a side of him that was previously unseen, even if the effort had little effect on the outcome.

Encore closes out with a skit in which Eminem screams "You're coming with me!" then opens fire on the audience. As the screams flood the speakers it's easy to think this is just another of his shock tactics used to keep him notorious; but then the gun cocks once more and he turns the gun on himself. Say what you want about the man, but that's a pretty brilliant metaphor. Mathers knows that hip-hop has changed his life for the better, and even though he's tired of all the stupid shit that comes with it, he's not yet ready to give up his listeners. That's what kept him from making Encore 20 tracks of pure potty humor and instead giving us at least a few tracks that properly utilize his talents. This is probably the end of Eminem as we know him, and if he can bring himself to make a final album, we'd all be damn lucky.

All this pepper spray has left me without feeling in my face

Or "Numb/Encore" off the Collision Course EP, a collaboration between Jay-Z and Linkin Park

Off the bat, I'm pretty tired of hearing mash-ups involving The Black Album. I've just had enough. What further irks me is that "Numb/Encore," a tripped up collaboration between the best and the worst, is endorsed by Hova himself (and I'm damn sure he heard The Grey Album.) This track stinks of greed and a desire for further crossover potential. This song is more about marketing than it is about music, and that's gross. I suppose that it should come as no surprise that it comes from two of the biggest sellers of the last 10 years; that doesn't make it any less disappointing. The tune is carries as little weight as it does credibility: it's a simple mash-up of Jay's vocals with a few chips scraped off the Linkin Park backing. While it's not a kick in the face to fans, it doesn't seem to place much stock in fans ability to be discerning. I know that Jay-Z loves money (he didn't stay retired, did he?) and that Linkin Park love adding collabs to their resumes (Robert Smith is next!), but guys, fucking cut it out, or I'll sic R.Kelly on you.

Jimmy gets full of adult emotions, cries a little bit

Or "Pain," the first single from Jimmy Eat World's newest LP, Futures

I remember it like it was yesterday. For two consecutive summers I would bop along I-55 in my convertible Cavalier, my long blond hair flowing in the wind, singing at the top of my lungs, "IT JUST TAKES SOME TIME, LITTLE MUMBLE MUMBLE MUMBLE THE RHYME, EVERYTHING EVERYTHING WILL BE JUST FINE!!" What's that? That wasn't me? Shocker. Well ok, I guess I heard that it happened a lot, and it didn't surprise me. "The Middle" was easily the most popular song off Bleed American (and every teen movie made those two years) and gave the band a certain reputation. Jimmy Eat World was a band about going out there and achieving your dreams, and maybe about dancing around in your underwear if you're good looking.

Three whole years after Jimmy ate the world, the group has come back with a new, angst-y album. "Pain," the first single, is fairly indicative of the rest of the record: the topic is kind of serious, the sound more beefed up (Gil Norton in the house!), and musically, nothing much has changed. If you were to change the key a bit and swap in some lyrics from an inspirational/guidance counselor poster, you'd have something like "Sweetness" or "The Middle." In some respects this demands kudos. Scrapping their melodic rock aesthetic for shitloads of synthesizers or laptop beats could have been disastrous and capable of turning off an entire audience. At the same time, the band gets a finger-wagging for sticking so closely to the game-plan. Jimmy Eat World has evolved a great deal since its inception, so to plateau at pop rock is bit of a let down. Some might point out that they've added an added element of "more mature" subject matter; but has everyone forgotten Static Prevails and Clarity, or even darker moments of Bleed American? "Pain" is far from disaster or classic, but as the flagship song it's nothing to marvel at. Let's all just go back to our happy places where we're blond and own convertibles, eh?

Death From Above 1979 -- You're A Woman, I'm a Machine
Vice; 2004

You're A Woman, I'm a Machine, the new LP from Death From Above 1979, provides an excellent case against pigeon-holing. Many press outlets have been lazy in covering the duo, opting to slap the "noise-rock" label on their aesthetic. Yeah, their sound is rather skuzzy and yeah, it's pretty noisy; but to get caught in their grimy surface layer is to miss the boat. These boys craft superb hooks like the finest blacksmiths or uh, songwriters and play them like their asses are on fire. It's surprising just how good "noise" can sound.

The wide array of sounds and blistering yet catchy melodies that Death From Above 1979 make using only drums, bass guitar, vocals is incredible. Bassist Jesse F. Keeler's aggressive style throws out traditional notions of what a bass guitar can do. With tone as fuzzy as a long forgotten muffin, Keeler concentrates on the bass's upper octaves, playing it like a guitar with twice the bludgeoning power. He even manages to free his fingers long enough to pull some quirky noise from a synth every now and again. Sebastien Grainger's raw drumming locks each tune into a dizzying groove, but his greatest strength is his vocals. Sorry, Eagles fans -- Grainger's no Don Henley. Ranging from the howling of The Blood Brothers to the eyes-closed croon of Spoon singer Britt Daniel, Grainger is often the duo's biggest asset.

What Grainger sings is as essential to DFA1979's racket as air or electricity. As the album's title hints at, a great portion of the lyrics are centered around girls and his strange/estranged relationships with them. His inner struggle to stay or go from "Romantic Rights" is best embodied by the chorus of "I don't need you / I want you." "Blood on Our Hands" and lyrics like "There is blood on all the shoes you've worn / from the people you've been stepping on. / There is blood in all the things you say / I won't hate you if you go away," narrate the battle damage of a nasty conflict. But the group touches on the lustier side of things as well, as evinced on the self-evident "Pull Out" and the flirty "Sexy Results."

These thoughtful lyrics shouldn't come as a surprise to those that can look past the shaggy exterior. Creating blazing and concise tunes takes more than just the ability to thrash around, particularly if they're to have any sort of depth. Death From Above 1979's carefully pair and pit the vocals and bass with one another until they come out in easy to swallow segments of about three minutes. Only a few of the songs from You're A Woman, I'm a Machine break form, but do so in a fine way. "Black History Month" accepts its doomed fate in a blissfully slow fashion; "Little Girl" dirty-bird boogies its way off the dance floor; and the infectious rhythm of "Sexy Results" is a huge aural middle finger to the other DFA (who made the group add the silly 1979 to their name by suing them).

With an album so brief (clocking in under 35 minutes) and so intense, Death From Above 1979 leave no room for error. Even that their songs sort of blur together isn't a strike against them; sticking to their areas of expertise (see: rocking out) as opposed to overreaching their bounds (like rapping) is nothing if not wise. You're A Woman, I'm a Machine is more of a pop record than a noise record, even if not conventionally so, and that speaks volumes about the duo. Ashlee Simpson featuring Death From Above 1979? Probably not; but more than a few bands these days could stand to use the group as exemplars.

Her ass is a spaceship that I want to program to boogie constantly

Or the DFA remix of N.E.R.D.'s "She Wants to Move"

The mere thought of the Neptunes and the DFA sitting around in a recording studio fucking around is probably enough to get a few hipsters to soil themselves. The music they would make would surely be sent from the hand of god or the dancing ass of satan. While it's highly unlikely that these two brain trusts have actually met, listening to the DFA's remix of "She Wants to Move" might raise some doubts. Simply put, this remix is everything the Neptunes would do if rock were not the focus of N.E.R.D.

The term remix is a bit misleading in this song's case, as the DFA do away with the entire instrumental track in favor of their homegrown shit. The massive drum beat that propelled the original is replaced by handclaps (what the DFA do best), clenching hi-hats, and some played-down drum programming. When Pharrell calls for bass a twanging bass screaming of tenacity jumps in, totally obscuring thoughts of the lumbering thump that was its predecessor. The best part of the restructuring, hands down, is the removal of the corny piano/guitar-wank prechorus and the addition of an entirely appropriate and purposeful keyboard line. Of course the DFA are not ones to skimp with the goodies, so they also drop in digi-bloops, breathy synths, and some clinking percussion that's got me sweating. The only complaint the track leaves me with is that it's a tad bit drawn out. However, the overall white-hotness of this track totally overshadows its girth. I'll start the petition for collaboration as soon as the song's over, alright?

Oophf!! Power outtages hinder posting but-good. Hot hot hot content returns tomorrow.

How many brothers does this guy have?

Or "Dreams to Spend," the first single from The Holy Fire

Here's what I know of The Holy Fire: a) they're being produced by Flaming Lips bassist Michael Ivins b) major labels had been sniffing around and c) they've been given a ringing endorsement from Uncle Grambo. So I dove in. "Dreams to Spend" is a guitar rock song, plain and simple; and the guitars, they are nice. In fact, they're the best part about this song. They've got a very interesting tone about them -- chiming yet full -- and very much like something off of Jimmy Eat World-s Clarity. The guitars (did I mention my affection for them yet?) start off the song with a very triumphant air about them and then the vocals come in and make things a bit more somber. Oh, they shout like Jimmy Eat World too, how neat. Finally singer/guitarist takes a deep breath and really lets the listener have it. But wouldn't you know it he sounds 384,759 other guys in the music biz. Que horror! I try to ignore the guy, tune my ears to just hear those godamn pretty guitars but he just keeps--bleeding--through. These guys would make fabulous session musicians, but otherwise they're just too plain Jane to keep my interest.

[I know the e in "Que" is supposed to have an accent, but Blogger hates my template and won't let me put one. Sorry!]

Wake me when it's over, dear

Or "I Believe In You," Kylie Minogue's new single featuring the Scissor Sisters

The Scissor Sisters, much like Fischerspooner before them, seem like a good fit for Kylie. They both love electro, shoes, and pushing the envelope just a wee bit. But either they spent more time shopping for stage costumes or they clashed over which keyboard sounded more 80s; either way, "I Believe In You" is a snooze. The Sisters, who provide the musical backing, offer up b-side material to sing over. And though an exceptional singer can turn their lackluster accompaniment into something more palatable, what Minogue does on "I Believe In You" doesn't have enough oomph to accomplish such a thing.

It's not that the music is all that bad: the bass line pulsates in all the right places, keyboards shimmer like the Human League after a tune up, and the drums, well, they certainly keep the beat. But the whole thing sounds uninspired. You would think that the chance to collaborate with a pop princess would put some color in the Scissor Sisters' cheeks. But maybe they've had they're comfortable enough with their own celebrity to keep their thrill to a low buzz of amusement. It almost makes you wonder who proposed such a meeting. No matter though, the end result speaks for itself. The two camps are compelling on their own, and "I Believe In You" suggests that they should stay that way.

Writing today? Not feeling it.

Now where did I leave that lube...

The Sex Pistols aren't gonna like this one bit

Or "God Killed the Queen," the first single from Louis XIV and the first release from Ultragrrrl's Stolen Transmission label

Because I haven't taken World History in quite some time, I looked up Louis XIV and found him to be a bloated, pompous wind-bag that did his part to ruin France during the 17th and 18th centuries. (See kids, music blogs can be educational too!) I wouldn't go so far as to call this group pompous or full of wind, their aesthetic reminds me of a group that is fronted by one -- that being Mark E. Smith of The Fall.

The guitars swish back and forth across the speakers like The Fall winding up to loose a hurricane of noise. The vocals snarl in a fashion pioneered (not so shockingly) by Johnny Rotten and taken to disaffected heights by Smith. While not riotously paced, the song keeps a marching beat suitable for dancing that requires some sort of head banging. What are lacking on "God Killed the Queen" are lyrics that have the same pissed off vibe. Instead we get conflicting and played out themes of "god killed the queen" and "if you want my body," which sounds like cliche punk-sloganeering to me. I suspect we'll be hearing more of Louis XIV since they were recently namedropped by Brody Dalle in NME. Pray that the UK buzz machine leaves them alone so they don't end up bloated and demanding to be called the Sun King.

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