Category: Margaret Wappler

Album review: The Shins' 'Port of Morrow'

Album review: The Shins' 'Port of Morrow'

In the five years since the Shins released “Wincing the Night Away,” frontman James Mercer has ventured away with Broken Bells, his elegant space-warped project with producer Danger Mouse. On the new “Port of Morrow,” with multi-instrumentalist and co-producer Greg Kurstin, Mercer lets in more electronica than ever — an invigorating shift. But the changes show that the Shins, once the poster act of sing-along-and-cry indie rock, is an identity that Mercer, the only original member left, may have outgrown.

At times, “Port of Morrow” greatly benefits from the filmy pop-electronica details that Kurstin drapes over the productions, much like he has for Beck, Lily Allen and his own band, the Bird and the Bee. “Bait and Switch” starts with smeary, disembodied effects and opens up to bubbling keys and a revved-up two-step that propels Mercer’s distinctive note-bending vocals. On a few other songs, the weak melodies can’t bear out the flourishes and they meander exhaustively.

For the closing title track, Mercer tries a falsetto that sounds like Thom Yorke crooning in drowsy moonlight. It’s intriguing but the song never seems to come totally to form. Contrasted with the exhilarating force of “Simple Song,” you wonder what the album could’ve been if every melody hit its sticking point but still experimented outside the traditional guitar anthem. “Port of Morrow” feels like an announcement — exciting but unresolved — of what’s still yet to come.

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— Margaret Wappler

“Port of Morrow”
The Shins
Aural Apothecary/Columbia
Two and a half stars (out of four)

Doobie Brothers drummer Michael Hossack dead at 65

Doobie

Michael Hossack, longtime drummer for the classic rock band the Doobie Brothers, has died of cancer at age 65 in his home in Dubois, Wyo. According to the band's manager, Bruce Cohn, his family was by his side when he passed away on Monday.

"Big Mike," as he was affectionately known to fans, is remembered fondly by band co-founder Tom Johnston. "Mike has always been a part of my musical life and the life of the Doobie Brothers," Johnston wrote in a statement. "He was an incredible musician, a studio quality drummer. The last few years, he was brave and determined to keep on playing in the face of ill health, and I will always admire him for that."

Hossack, a New Jersey native who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, started drumming at the early age of 12 with various drum corps. He joined the Doobie Brothers in 1971 and stayed till 1973, providing percussion on many of the band's biggest hits, including "Listen to the Music," "Long Train Runnin' " and "Black Water." He rejoined in 1987 to play in a series of benefit concerts for Vietnam vets, and continued to tour with the band until 2010, when he took a medical leave. He still managed to rejoin his bandmates that year for their first album in a decade, "World Gone Crazy."

An avid hunter, fisherman and Harley rider, according to his biography posted on the band's website, Hossack is survived by a son and a daughter.

Here's the video for the single, "Nobody," from "World Gone Crazy," with retro and more recent footage of the band:

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-- Margaret Wappler

Photo: The Doobie Brothers, from left, John McFee, Tom Johnston, Pat Simmons and Michael Hossack. Credit: Richard McLaren

 

Album review: Shooter Jennings' 'Family Man'

Shooter

After the psychedelic dystopia of 2010’s “Black Ribbons,” Shooter Jennings returns to his dust-kicker roots on “Family Man.” Or, more specifically, as he blows out in one breath on “The Real Me”: “I’m a double-talkin’, chicken-lickin’, meaner-than-the-dickens, sick and wicked, hole-diggin’ son of a gun!” Forgive us; we thought you were just the progeny of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter.

Jennings is a Rust Belt Renaissance man on this collection of 10 songs that roams from Southern rock to melodic ballads that sound like Harry Nilsson hopping a train with a steel guitar. Whatever tack Jennings takes, it’s with gusto and pride. On “Southern Family Anthem,” which sounds like Tom Petty in a rough mood, the chorus is “We may be trash but we’re a family.”

When Jennings combines styles in one song, he expands the edges of contemporary country. “Manifesto No. 4” marries swamp gospel with the chug of barroom rock. On the last track, “Born Again,” the song builds to a layered, rhythmic climax that closes with fuzzy textures, reversed vocals and other touches from his experimental side.

Those other textures are so skillfully woven in that it’s not till the record’s last moment that we see all that could’ve been. Next album, Jennings should give as much head-tripping as foot-stomping.


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— Margaret Wappler

“Family Man”
Shooter Jennings
Entertainment One
Three stars (out of four)

Rush, Peter Gabriel, Fab Thunderbirds want off Limbaugh's show

Rush, Peter Gabriel, Fab Thunderbirds want off Rush Limbaugh's show

In the wake of Rush Limbaugh's attacks on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke last week, nearly 50 advertisers have fled his show, including Netflix and AOL, undeterred by the fiery announcer's subsequent apology in which he regretted his choice of words but little else.

First the money walks, now it's the music. Rush, Peter Gabriel and the Fabulous Thunderbirds have all demanded that their music immediately stop appearing on Limbaugh's program. (And lest you think it's confined to rockist quarters, the Philadelphia Orchestra, which bought a package of ads through CBS Philly, has also "taken steps to ensure that our ads no longer run on the Rush Limbaugh show," according to its Twitter feed.)

If you watch Limbaugh's now-infamous remarks, he uses Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" to introduce his labeling of Fluke as a "slut" and a "prostitute." As for the others, Rush's prog epics and the T-Birds' "Tuff Enuff" have been used on Limbaugh's show as bumper music for years now. For the record, Pop & Hiss would like to point out that these songs aren't exactly fresh. Are Wayne and Garth working as Limbaugh's music programmers?

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Album review: Nite Jewel's 'One Second of Love'

Nitejewel

Coming up through the Los Angeles experimental music scene, Nite Jewel, a.k.a. Ramona Gonzalez, is a musical scavenger. She's fascinated by certain sounds for both nostalgic and cerebral reasons, and throughout her new album, “One Second of Love,” those two forces duke it out.

Gonzalez kicks off the record by singing, “I'm a broken record; you have heard this before,” which is pretty cheeky coming from an unapologetic retroist. Over the course of 10 minimalist collages, Nite Jewel combines Italian disco, the electro-thump of '90s R&B and '80s radio pop with the froth served frozen. She obsesses over the details, isolating them in synth atmospheres so akin to Muzak that our ears are almost trained to treat them as silence. In her artfully arranged pastiches, those details pop — whether it's the clacking of typewriter keys in “Autograph” or the jarring syncopation in “She's Always Watching You.”

In addition to being a scavenger, Nite Jewel is a bit of a trickster. She employs just enough traditional structure to get her weird songs labeled as pop. It's smart, like everything on “One Second of Love.” But sometimes Nite Jewel's music feels so controlled, you can't help but wonder what would happen if she'd lose her head for not just one second, but one minute or more.

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Critic's Notebook: Nite Jewel, Julia Holter and a new sound of L.A.

— Margaret Wappler

“One Second of Love”
Nite Jewel
Secretly Canadian
Three stars (out of four)

New music for the disbelievers: Mrs. Magician's 'There Is No God'

New music for the disbelievers: Mrs. Magician's 'There Is No God'

What if Brian Wilson had never made a teenage symphony to God and instead was a happy-go-lucky atheist? The result might sound like Mrs. Magician's new single, "There Is No God," an evil surf ditty that's barely as long as the Lord's Prayer.

Not taking it easy on us for a second, the song kicks off with the line, "You're all gonna die." Then the band goes on to spoil our day even further by singing, like the heathens they are, "There's no God." After rejecting the big guy in the sky, they cement the ridicule by merrily singing "la la la la," like a bunch of choirboys who've lost their minds.

Hailing from our sister city to the south, San Diego, Mrs. Magician is one of those bands made of members who have toiled in many other bands. For instance, drummer Cory Stier also plays for the Cults, a similarly religion-obsessed act, and will be doing double-duty when the two groups tour the country this spring. Mrs. Magician's album, produced by San Diego rock mayor John "Swami" Reis of Hot Snakes and Rocket From the Crypt, will drop digitally on March 6.

By the way, like San Francisco's Girls, there's not a lady in this band -- but we're thinking of the name as a hat-tip to all those thankless beauties who have been sawed in half onstage. Come March 22 at the Music Box, the Mrs. will be making her confessions live. Bring your holy water for dousing.

 

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--Margaret Wappler

Photo: Cory Stier, Tommy Garcia, Jacob Turnbloom and Evan Ehrich in Mrs. Magician. Credit: Big Hassle

PYYRAMIDS' 'Don't Go' video: Dragons, monkeys, oh my!

Music videos built around highly coordinated stunts involving cars, dogs or a Rube Goldberg contraption are certainly fantastic. But sometimes all you need for a catchy video is multicolored curtains, paper dragons, sparkly clouds and a cute little girl to work with all the props. Oh, and it helps if there's pizza too, a well-known motivator of humans young and old.

A video like the one here for Timothy Nordwind's side band PYYRAMIDS must be a walk in the park for the bassist whose day job is playing with video magicians OK Go. That band's complicated and fun videos are legend. (Nordwind typically takes a big role in OK Go's videos; in "Here It Goes Again," for instance, its Nordwind mouthing the lyrics, not lead singer Damian Kulash. And dare we say he's the best dancer of the group?) With PYYRAMIDS, he and singer Drea Smith have taken a decidedly more low-key approach but the results are winsome all the same. And how could they not be when a monkey hand puppet is involved?

Shot in a day on a stage built in director Ericka Clevenger's garage, "Don't Go" is an acid trip, but one built around a kid's world. The video's star, the 8-year-old Emillia (Millie) Sterkel, vamps, dances, lip-synchs and well, kind of spaces out in front of several imaginary landscapes that were created by Nordwind, art director Javier Mesa and a bunch of Echo Park friends.

Millie, lucky girl, got to take home any prop she wanted. A PYYRAMIDS rep tells us the band will be working with its young star again -- but they're still hammering out the details of her difficult pizza rider.

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--Margaret Wappler

PYYRAMIDS will play the Echo (with No, Future Ghost, Ivan and Alyosha) on Monday. The Echo is at 1822 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. 8:30 p.m. Free.

 

The no-fun professionalism of Madonna's new single, 'Girl Gone Wild'

You know how Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox are re-releasing "Titanic" in April but in magical 3-D? Hearing Madonna's latest single, "Girl Gone Wild," released on Monday, makes me wish we could do something similar with her 2000 single, "Music." It was the last time Madonna really sounded like the queen of the dance floor, tapping into the hedonistic rebellion of the club, gettin' loose.

"Girl Gone Wild," on the other hand, the second track to be released off the winkishly named "MDNA" due March 26, sounds grimly serious about the business of getting down. You can almost see Madonna narrowing her eyes, pointing at people at the Eurodisco and saying, "You. Writhe. NOW. Thank you." This is a woman, after all, who publicly took an audience member to task for spilling water on her stage when she performed at Coachella. You know, the festival in the middle of the broiling hot desert.

Recorded in London with dance music superstar Benny Benassi and his production partner/cousin, Ale Benassi, "Girl Gone Wild" is trim and taut, almost like it was once a fluffy disco tune now dieted down to a hard body of dance effiency. There's something very attractive about a song this militaristic and precise, but in Madge's too-capable hands it's also suffocatingly professional.

Continue reading »

Album review: Estelle's 'All of Me'

Estelle's 'All of Me'

British native Estelle used her West End lilt for flirting with Kanye West in their 2009 Grammy-winning collaboration, “American Boy,” but on her third album she seeks to break away from the coquettish spirit of that song. Leaning hard on some tough Kingston rhythms, she kicks off “All of Me” with a couple of rap-heavy tracks, demanding room to be herself. The songs are a bit cluttered with cameos from Chris Brown and Trey Songz but they win her independence.

By the fourth track, Estelle sounds like Lily Allen at her most docile. But the real model for “All of Me” isn’t her fellow Londoner; it’s Lauryn Hill, who married soul, dance hall-laced hip-hop and the most doo-wop strains of R&B on her landmark 1998 album. Estelle can trade in any of these formats too but she’s not as rawly charismatic as Hill.

The Akon-penned single “Thank You” showcases Estelle’s ability to sound pushed to her limits but never broken. In a further testament to her skills, she somehow manages to make king pimp Rick Ross sound like a romantic on “Break My Heart.” Once a flirt, always a flirt — the girl can’t help it.

— Margaret Wappler

“All of Me”
Estelle
(Atlantic)
3 stars (out of four)

Too $hort apologizes for XXL video, says, 'My eyes are opening'

Earlier this month a controversial video was posted on the website XXL, with rapper Too $hort offering "advice" to young boys. The video was quickly taken down, but not before it ignited a furor in the hip-hop world, spurring several bloggers to fume about how Too $hort's video essentially recommended that boys sexually harass girls
Earlier this month a controversial video was posted on the website XXL, which promises to cover "hip-hop on a higher level," with rapper Too $hort offering "advice" to young boys.

In the video, which was posted as "Fatherly Advice," Too $hort, a.k.a. Todd Anthony Shaw, recommends that when boys "get to late middle school, early high school" and they "start feeling a certain way about girls," they should skip the kisses and get straight into riskier action -- whether or not either party is ready. In attempting to touch a girl "down there," he tells them do things like "push her against a wall" and, if the mission can be accomplished, he should "watch what happens," implying she'll be in a state of ecstacy.

There's no mention, however, as to whether the woman is consenting to this treatment.

The video was quickly taken down, but not before it ignited a furor in the hip-hop world, spurring several bloggers to fume about how Too $hort's video essentially recommended that boys sexually harass girls, thereby traumatizing young women. Bloggers also pointed out that he's putting young men at risk by opening them up to possible assault charges if their sexual advances are unwanted. All around, not the "fatherly advice" Too $hort promised.

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