Monday, November 10, 2008

Death and pop

Miriam Makeba, the South African singer who did much to raise awareness of apartheid's evils, died last night. She went with her boots on, so to speak, having just performed a benefit concert in London for the author Robert Saviano. Nelson Mandela called her "South Africa's first lady of song." Very she is singing "Pata Pata."

Bill and I went to a memorial service over the weekend for one of the real originals here in town...a very strong, smart, difficult, generous character named Bob Jasse. He apparently voted for Obama from his death bed, the town clerk brought his ballot over. That surprised me, because he'd been driving around with a McCain sticker on his truck for years...but he soured on the man in the last campaign and felt very passionate about the need for change. He died on Wednesday. He voted for the last time on Tuesday. I'm not doing justice to him, but he was a very interesting man, truly self-made, and not just in the economic sense. You get the idea that he had exactly the kind of life he wanted, and he did it through unremitting hard work and optimism. He owned an apple orchard in town, one of the most beautiful places on earth, all sort of a second career for him after some success in business. Hundreds of people came to the memorial -- from all levels of society, farmers, congressmen, retired people, the kids who had picked his apples.

Lot of people dying lately...we just heard that another friend, a guy who used to do sound for Ken Burns named Sean Huff, died of cancer in Madrid a few weeks ago. He was a little younger than I was, ex-professional bass player and passionate about all sorts of politics and movies and sports. he'd come to dinner and always bring some sort of board game for our Sean and, here's the cool part, actually play it with him. Nice man, what a tough hand he got.

And on a more frivolous note, I have a couple of new reviews up...

I mentioned Magnificents last week, the Scottish new wavy, post-punkish band getting a belated US push...It's a good record, this Year of Explorers, though coming too late in the year to probably get much ink. Here's the review.

The Magnificents
Year of Explorers
(KFM Records)

US release date: 4 November 2008
UK release date: 17 September 2007

by Jennifer Kelly

New wave synths and post-punk urgency

The Magnificents' MySpace page helpfully suggests that if you’re too cheap to buy Year of Explorers and too law-abiding to download a torrent, you can try playing Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music in one speaker, Abba’s The Visitors in another. It’s not a bad idea, though you might also hazard a mix of Gang of Four and Human League, PiL and Flock of Seagulls… and still not get it quite right.

The Magnificents, out of Scotland, are as slyly ambitious as their name suggests, hitching glistening synths to straight up post-punk beats, room-shaking soccer chants to jaundiced bouts of pessimism. Huge fist-in-the-air choruses ride flashy, self-mocking flourishes of glam, nonsensical verses get explosive, exclamation-pointed delivery. The band has two synthesizers in play at all times, yet feels nonetheless gritty, live and unpremeditated.

the rest

streams at the myspace

And the Bears are a sort of wonderful, low-key pop band, just the thing if you're into Papercuts, the Botticellis, Donkeys...that kind of supermelodic, breezy, California music. (I am a bit weak for this stuff...I know a lot of you aren't.)

Simple Machinery

US release date: 2 September 2008
UK release date: Available as import

by Jennifer Kelly

Amazon The Bears’ second full-length opens with their best song, the swirling, swooning, indefinitely moody “Please Don’t”. The song is all cloudy harmonies and squiggly 1960s organ, paced in a vaguely chest-vibrating way by the simplest of bass lines and broken by handclaps. Melodically, its sweetness is shadowed somewhat with minor key harmonies and fading vocal flourishes. It’s a half-smile of a song, braced by sighs, about a boy who needs some space, and it could take its place alongside of recent work from the Donkeys, the Botticellis and the Papercuts as quintessential California pop. The irony: The Bears are from Cleveland. Ever hear a song about Ohio dreaming?

Let’s set geography aside, though, because songs like “Wait and See” and closer “Everything I Need” casually nail the jangly, day-dreamy, not-trying-too-hard tunefulness associated with the Golden State. Led by songwriters Charlie McArthur and Craig Ramsey, and supported by a full complement of two-guitars-bass-drums-keyboards, the Bears build dense but filmy textures of musical sound. Love and out-of-love songs predominate, embellished often with enlivening, real-life details. In “Another Tiger Romance”, a lover ponders the nesting panda doll he bought for his girl four happy years ago. In “Subtle Way”, another enamored soul thinks fondly about antiquing and eating maple candy with his beloved. And yet every happy song carries a tinge of sadness, every sad song the subtle ballast of joy. “I’m letting you go and moving on,” sing the Bears, late in the album, as keyboards chime, drums pound and an indefinable ray of sunshine seeps into their sound. Very nice.

You can hear a lot of the tracks at CD Baby .

so that's pretty much everything I have in the pipeline...have to go off and write a few more things.


robp said...

Hey Jen, I ain't givin shit away, but if you need board game recommendations give a general idea, my teen rocker boy runs a game store (by day - at night he fights evil).


jenniferpkelly said...

Oh, I don't know. We've got Monopoly and gin rummy...what else is there?

(My son's sort of graduated to Madden NFL anyway and doesn't need people to play with him anymore.)

jenniferpkelly said...

Oh, and how's he doing on the fighting evil front?