Essential New Music: Air’s “Twenty Years” And Cornelius’ “Fantasma”

CorneliusAir

Japan’s Keigo Oyamada and the French duo of Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin may have lived in different parts of the globe, but 20 years ago, Cornelius and Air, respectively, crafted individually quirky, definitively kitschy brands of ambient space pop with a breathy, retro-disco edge. Though there were softly spun elements of bachelor-pad Bacharach-ania in each synth act’s earliest singles, by the time it came to their first albums (Cornelius’ richly silly Fantasma re-released now with additional tunes; Air’s first un-merry album Moon Safari, repeated here as part of a two-CD/four-LP boxed set with wispy, kicking remixes), each act drifted more toward the 21st century, rather than reach back retro-phonically.

Twenty years of distance when it comes to synth-onics and mechanical pulses usually freeze dries a sound in place and lends an air of reminiscence to each endeavor. The weird thing, then, about both Cornelius’ single album and Air’s catalog package (soundtrack bits to The Virgin Suicides and all), is how oddly timeless and freshly moist both artists earliest epics are in retrospect. Blame current remastering techniques or the prescience of its makers, each of these collections sound future-forward (then) and very now (wow).

—A.D. Amorosi

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Normal History Vol. 383: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 32-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

“Attraction Is Ephemeral” gets more laughs than any other Mecca Normal song. We wrote it a few days before we went into the studio to record the album it was on. Dave had the music ready to go, and I picked up a poem I was working on. I hadn’t thought of the poem as song lyrics, because it was long and involved. We recorded it in our rehearsal space as we wrote it—something we’ve done since we began playing together in 1984—and it was perfect! When we write like that, we have to try and replicate arrangements in subsequent versions. On this occasion,, our strategy was to stop working on it for fear of taking it too far away from its initial greatness. I listened to it over and over, and then, by the time we were recording it in the studio, it was only our third or fourth time through it.

Because of the graphic nature of a couple of the scenes, I was pretty nervous about performing it live, but it turned out better than I expected because the audience at most shows laughed in all those spots—albeit, a nervous sort of empathetic laughter. Sometimes I actually had to stop and wait for them to finish laughing before continuing to sing. That people laughed at most shows made the ones where they didn’t easier to do. Those people stood there quite grumpily with their arms folded, not laughing. No, not at all. And yes, I guess there are some circumcisions where it is inappropriate to sing about a man having trouble putting on a condom.

“Attraction Is Ephemeral” from the album The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Posted in DAVID LESTER ART, FREE MP3s | Comments closed

From The Desk Of Frightened Rabbit: Ian Svenonius’ “What Is A Group?”

Frightened Rabbit bandleader Scott Hutchison knew that he was sinking into an abyss—mentally, emotionally, even spiritually—after the 2013 release of Pedestrian Verse, the Scottish group’s breakthrough album. But he couldn’t gauge the true depth of his situation until he began seeing his followers in a dreary new light. But the singer finally got help, from some rather unusual sources. All of which led to the fifth Frightened Rabbit epistle—the aptly dubbed Painting Of A Panic Attack, produced by the National’s Aaron Dessner. Hutchison and his bandmates—Grant Hutchison, Billy Kennedy, Andy Monaghan and Simon Liddell—will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new feature.

YouTube Preview Image

Liddell: We are all lucky to be alive at the same time as Ian Svenonius. He’s been kicking around since Nation Of Ulysees in the late ’80s, through the Make-Up, Weird War and, currently, Chain And The Gang. These are all deserving of your attention, as is his recent short film, What Is A Group?: a retro sci-fi documentary on the mechanisms within contemporary rock ‘n’ roll and its positioning in a planet driven by capitalism, seen through the eyes of two visiting members of a superior alien race.

“Dysfunction is seductive, attractive, glamorous. This rock ‘n’ roll music is based on that very principle.”

An interesting cast here, the “group” features the awesome Mary Timony (check out Ex Hex, who made one of my favourite records two years ago), along with members of Chain And The Gang, the Priests and incredibly, Kid Congo Powers, who is hilarious and trippy as a caricature record producer (“See this button? This is drum viagra!”).

Q. What makes a record successful?
A. Bribery and mass hypnosis.

I met Ian once a few years back, in my previous life as a music promoter. Chain And The Gang was touring the record Music’s Not For Everyone (maybe the best album title ever), and the show stopped by Stereo, Glasgow. He had also just published a collection of essays called The Psychic Soviet. Seek it out, friends; it’ll fit in your back pocket.

Posted in GUEST EDITOR | Comments closed

Live Review: The Cosmic Dead, Noyades, Paris, France, July 18, 2016

CosmicDead

Rockaeologists, their trowels and hand brooms unveiling secrets buried deep within fossilized turntables, have determined that during its mid-’60s origins, psychedelia initially embraced peaceful, colorful expressions of love and mental awakening. Listeners fed their heads, kissed the sky, then broke on through (to the other side).

Today, however, the genre often strives to pummel the senses rather than awaken them. Perhaps the drugs have changed. The times they certainly a-have.

Tonight’s show—held not in a flowery field in sunny California but instead a poorly ventilated coffin on the fringes of Paris—attests to this radical evolution.

Opening act Noyades offers a deliciously violent take on acid rock. One hears Harsh Toke recreating Hüsker Dü’s Land Speed Record and Japanoise merchants reimagining Hawkwind. The band name is French for “drownings”—an apt description of the Lyonnais trio’s sound and its effect on the crowd. All instrumental, the group’s music is a thrilling, white-knuckled ride through thrash-y hardcore and frenzied metal, all awash in feedback, reverb and squalling guitar solos.

While Noyades feels like a mad dash, headliner the Cosmic Dead is a test of endurance. The Glasgow quartet’s free-form space jamming is a warm mush of psych-metal drone. The performance is driving, ferocious and hypnotic. The keyboards lend an experimental krautrock flair, alternately accenting the band’s robust riffing with spacey sound effects and washing it all down with white noise. The payoff is considerable: One is satisfied and spent, deafened and dumbfounded.

Art, at its finest, opens one’s consciousness to new possibilities, broader perspectives. Both bands on tonight’s bill aspired to, and more often than not achieved, this noble goal. Their ancestors from the psychedelic Pleistocene heightened the senses with finesse, while tonight’s performers dulled them with force.

—Eric Bensel

Posted in LIVE REVIEWS | Comments closed

MP3 At 3PM: Cowtown

cowtown

Cowtown can really make the most of 90 seconds. Its new song, “Tweak,” does just that, a quick, catchy jammer that gets you moving and jumping so quickly that it’s surprising. It comes from the band’s latest album, Paranormal Romance, which is out August 16. Stream or download “Tweak” below.

“Tweak” (download):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Posted in FREE MP3s | Comments closed

The Figgs: Somewhere Under The Radar

Figgs

Hiding in plain sight, the Figgs demand your attention

“Gimmicks,” a tune from the Figgs’ new On The Slide (Stomper)—the prolific trio’s 13th album—finds guitarist/songwriter Mike Gentwith rock ‘n’ roll poseurs in his caustic crosshairs: “Looking like a bunch of pricks/Another schmuck with a new shtick/Your tattoos are fading, your eyeliner’s running.”

But if the target is anyone specific, Gent’s not telling.

“Some of it’s probably aimed at myself,” he says from his Boston home. “Who’s not a sucker for a good gimmick?”

While never resorting to ploys or fakery, the Figgs have rightly been angling for greater acclaim since the band’s 1987 formation in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The group began as a trio with Gent, bassist/songwriter Pete Donnelly and drummer Guy Lyons; Lyons left in 1989 and was replaced by Pete Hayes, only to return as a guitarist in 1992 before permanently departing after 1997’s Couldn’t Get High.

Breaking up then was a possibility, but one not seriously entertained. “I think everyone was expecting us to, but I knew our best years were still ahead,” says Gent. Instead, the threesome soldiered on and has continued to craft an outstanding catalog full of pub-rock, power-pop and soul-inflected nuggets blemished only by the occasional sound of crickets greeting it.

“It’s frustrating when we’ve been doing this for almost three decades and certain magazines have completely ignored us from the start, and late-night TV has no interest in having us on,” says Gent. “You see a new band come out and get a ton of hype, then after a couple of years, or even months, they’re kaput. But it really doesn’t matter. We have a great, little fanbase that loves and supports the band. We make records and play shows for them. It would be fun to play on TV again, though.”

On The Slide arrives just more than a year after 2015’s Other Planes Of Here; the original plan was to follow it up even sooner—in six months, à la Elvis Costello’s 1986 Blood And Chocolate and King Of America. Much of Slide was cut during the same sessions, and an early version, dubbed Smartest Of The Dumb Ones, was mixed, but Gent and Donnelly decided to continue shaping the LP with additional tunes.

The duo doesn’t follow a strict “my song then yours” policy when sequencing records, unlike, say, Hüsker Dü (maybe because they don’t hate each other). But even when it turns out that way, the results are seamless thanks to how the pair now works together. (Hayes also writes, but not lately; his “Je T’Adore,” off 2004’s Palais, was featured in a ubiquitous 2013 Lexus commercial.)

“The last few records, there’s been a lot of writing and collaborating while in the studio,” says Gent. “On the earlier records, each member would come in with a group of their songs pretty much finished, and we would pick the ones that we liked the most, rehearse them and play them live for a bit, then record them.”

More new stuff has already been tracked— we did say they’re prolific—and another Figgs album will likely be released in 2017, the band’s 30th anniversary. There’ll be some nostalgic celebrating as well, followed by some well-earned rest.

“It’d be nice to do something special—maybe record and tour a little bit with Guy,” says Gent. “There are some really cool reissues and other archive releases being discussed. After that, I want to take a full year off and recharge. We deserve it.”

—Matt Hickey

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

From The Desk Of Frightened Rabbit: An Analysis Of “Lick It Up” By Kiss

Frightened Rabbit bandleader Scott Hutchison knew that he was sinking into an abyss—mentally, emotionally, even spiritually—after the 2013 release of Pedestrian Verse, the Scottish group’s breakthrough album. But he couldn’t gauge the true depth of his situation until he began seeing his followers in a dreary new light. But the singer finally got help, from some rather unusual sources. All of which led to the fifth Frightened Rabbit epistle—the aptly dubbed Painting Of A Panic Attack, produced by the National’s Aaron Dessner. Hutchison and his bandmates—Grant Hutchison, Billy Kennedy, Andy Monaghan and Simon Liddell—will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new feature.

YouTube Preview Image

Scott Hutchison: I’ve never been much of a lyrics guy. That might sound odd given the importance I’ve often placed on the lyrical content of our own songs, but it has never been the primary reason for my desire to immerse myself in anyone else’s music. Melody, dynamic and delivery are what most often attract me to a song. Thereafter, I will certainly give the words a bit of time, but if you sat me down with any of my most treasured albums, you could watch me fumble my way through the verses and almost get the choruses right.

Like a folk singer’s song I’ll groovin’ uhhhh and I’m not the kind of ehhh who asks to be hummm when the girls are looking emmmmmmm… (“Folk Singer” by Brendan Benson)

Lapalco is one of my favourite albums of all time. I still couldn’t get through the bridge/chorus of the above tune without an autocue. So I thought I’d use this piece to force myself into giving the lyrics some attention for once, and let me tell you, I’ve chosen an absolute belter: “Lick It Up” by Kiss. On the face of it, this is an astonishingly shit song, but I wondered if there might be greater poetic depths there that I had been missing, because I was so distracted by the impeccable melody, dynamic and delivery. So, as Gene has probably said many times, let’s get right into it …

“Don’t wanna wait ’til you know me better”

The first line, as it ought to, immediately sets the scene. Paul Stanley is (perhaps rightly) concerned that if the person in question spends any longer getting to know him, they’ll be off. It might be the case that he simply doesn’t want them to find out that his real name is Stanley Bert Eisen, but I immediately see even greater insecurities pouring from the page. I’m imagining the scenario: Stanley only has five or six stories that he is confident in telling. Beyond those, he’s the social equivalent of a turd floating in a swimming pool. He now finds himself rattling through story number five, and he’s running out of time. If this goes on any longer there’s no way he’s getting a kiss(!) tonight.

“Let’s just be glad for the time together”

Now this is a little curveball. We all thought he was interested in one thing and one thing only: a kiss(!) on the lips. This line reveals that he’s actually happy enough just to stand with someone in absolute silence and simply “be.” There’s a mindful quality to it, and I sense Stanley is trying to say that even though he has long since finished story number six, it’s quite enough to just exist in that moment, solemnly gripping an empty solo cup. These two lines perfectly illustrate the reason why Stanley made it into Kiss in the first place, having answered Peter Criss’ ad in Rolling Stone, which read: “Expd. Rock & Roll drummer looking for orig. grp. doing soft & hard music.” Well, these two lines in themselves impressively show both of the required qualities. Stanley, you got the job!

“Life’s such a treat, and it’s time you taste it/There ain’t a reason on earth to waste it”

I think we could all benefit from murmuring these lines under our breath every single day. Try it now, I don’t care where you are, or say it to the person next to you. Better yet, scream it into the face of the person next to you. From sleazy old kisser(!) to wise soothsayer in the space of 15 seconds.

“It ain’t a crime to be good to yourself/Lick it up, lick it up, woahh, oh yeah, it’s only right now”

Ah … ok. Lick it up. Now we’re getting into problematic territory. However, with our newfound appreciation of the subtleties of the work, we can certainly allow ourselves to approach this central line from a different angle. Far from being a crude command, it’s a call to us all to fully inhale, taste and appreciate every moment that we are alive.  Have you ever looked at a filthy puddle in the street and wondered what it might taste like? Stanley is urging you to find out, and damn the consequences. As you place your tongue in the shitty water, look around you. Is anyone else having as visceral and pungent a moment this? Doubtful. Later, you will have Stanley B. Eisen to thank for the dysentery.

“Don’t need to wait for an invitation/You gotta live like you’re on vacation”

Oftentimes I have been enjoying a quiet vacation soiree with a few close friends and suddenly … in walks Stanley B Eisen. That’s right, if Stanley is on vacation then he doesn’t require an invite because “those are the holiday rules and you know it.” Don’t worry though; he’s brought his own bottle of Captain Morgan and a solo cup, because he’s really worried about getting cold sores. I think at the core of these lines is a sense that Stanley is hiding behind a self-made facade. Not only does he continuously call himself “Paul,” it’s also clear that he’s attempting to entirely lose touch with normality by acting like he’s in south Florida all the time. As Peter so deftly put it, Stanley is “soft & hard.”

So what have we learned? Nothing much. The song is still astonishingly shit, but there is conclusive evidence that if you bring your own mind to any piece of art (yes, Kiss is art), there’s bound to be something in it for you. Now I’m off to listen to “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”—you’ll probably hear my head exploding from where you stand.

Posted in GUEST EDITOR | Comments closed

Images From The Pitchfork Music Festival 2016

Pitchfork

MAGNET contributor Michael Jackson attended this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival and sent us these great photos.

More after the jump.

Read More »

Posted in LIVE REVIEWS | Comments closed

MP3 At 3PM: The Twin Atlas

TheTwinAtlas

The Twin Atlas has just issued its first album in five years, Big Spring. In case you missed the record’s release, we’ve got a little reminder in the form of “Let Go,” a small dose of the Twin Atlas’s breezy pop. Check it out below.

“Let Go” (download):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Posted in FREE MP3s | Comments closed

Essential New Music: Garbage’s “Strange Little Birds”

Garbage

Twenty-something years ago, Garbage arrived into the world a fully formed pop band. It bypassed those unsteady learning-the-ropes years and didn’t have any sloppy, awkward early releases to contend with. Helmed by powerhouse vocalist Shirley Manson and drummer/veteran super-producer Butch Vig, Garbage was an alternative nation star right out the gate.

This has led to an interesting process of deconstruction. After the hit factory of its self-titled 1996 debut and ubiquitous 1998 followup Version 2.0, Garbage has spent its ensuing career flirting with being unconventional. The band’s sixth LP works a moody, textural industrial undercurrent. “Sometimes” ushers us in with a haunting start-and-stop rhythm; “Blackout,” punctuated by processed vocals and angular guitar, recalls Garbage’s more aggressive ’90s cousin, Curve.

While Garbage seems most comfortable with unabashed electro-pop anthems (“Empty,” “We Never Tell”), more than half the album resides in slow-burn territory. Sometimes this falls flat: “Teaching Little Fingers To Play” is a bit hokey and clichéd. But on “If I Lost You,” the vibe connects massively: Serene loops and swift beats recall vintage Portishead, while Manson’s lyrical meditation on insecurity is stark, vulnerable and remarkably honest.

—John Vettese

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed