Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – ‘Round and Round’ [4AD, 2010]
The recent surge in interest in Ariel Pink’s work, and his subsequent album with Haunted Graffiti, Before Today, have seen the reclusive singer-songwriter and one time apprentice of Animal Collective redefine his musical palette; as is only to be expected. In this revaluation, his response to acclaim that has been slow to arrive (albums over the last ten years have documented closer to two decades of composition), he has retained the fundamental sound he’s been peddling all this time- nostalgic, dreamy pop music hearkening back to the 70s and 80s- whilst altering its delivery. This too is understandable: if AP’s current popularity is the result of his ambient/lo-fi earlier efforts making their influence heard in contemporary chillwave and fuzzed-up indie pop, then his riposte is to strip away that fuzz and haze to reveal the very real songwriting talents that have always supported the sonic ornamentation. It turns out that a cleaned-up Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti track wouldn’t sound out of place in the more stylish corners of the 80s: crisp disco rhythms, a tumbling ‘Billie Jean’-aping bassline, and a chorus of honeysweet harmonies. There is still a ramshackle charm in the deconstructed bridge with its strained refrain, and Ariel clearly enjoys the chorus a little too much, relying too much on it in the second half of the song. But then, that is just a sign of a musician confident in his own abilities, and it’s a confidence well earned.
Eminem – ‘Echo’ (ft. Royce Da 5’9″ & Liz Rodriguez)
After collaborations on his latest album Recovery with more familiar hip hop artists, such as Lil Wayne and Rihanna, it was touch and go as to whether Eminem’s collaboration with former associate Royce da 5’9″ would work. In fact the combination of both artists’ similar rap styles, deep, gritty and rhythmic, over a simple beat and gospel choir vocals, is strangely effective.
Sadly, whilst the verses from both Eminem and Royce are tight, and lyrically incredible, the chorus lets the track down. Vocals from Liz Rodriguez are not up to scratch, and are best described as “shouty” and even worse the transition from verse to chorus fails to flow as it should in a hip hop song. This is most noticeable in the intro of the track, where there is 52 seconds of vocals and gospel, before Royce da 5’9” starts to spit. The song would undoubtedly be better suited to a slightly more urban chorus, although the gospel backing throughout as an undertone is on point.
Eminem’s rap is certainly up to the high standards one is used to from his latest album. Typically, the content is explicit, but the words take a refreshing back seat from drugs, and focus more on music, than usual. However, the real star of the show surprisingly is Royce, for his verse, which he absolutely kills. This could be Royce’s chance to break into the popular charts; his rapping bears similarities to tracks from current hip hop superstars Tyga and J. Cole.
A massive track, with a not-so-great chorus, but definite room for more verses by a new fave of mine: Royce da 5’9”.
Marnie Stern – ‘Risky Biz’ [Kill Rock Stars, 2010]
Marnie Stern’s new single has a childlike quality to it. She opens up singing line by line as if she’s forming the words as she goes along. With this slightly twee and juvenile approach more of Marnie’s own angst come out, as she sings “I’ve got something in my soul/Pushing me to hold onto the pain.” This is all quite a big change compared to her older songs. As you might have noticed, not until now is there a mention of her guitar noodling; the default opening line for any article about her. In fact it only acts as a backing to her voice and is so toned down that at first listen it’s barely noticeable. The new direction is interesting and probably necessary but still there is lingering feeling that you’d rather the excitement than the introspection.
Fujiya and Miyagi – ‘Yoyo’ [Full Time Hobby, 2011]
There is a disconnect in the bowels of this song from the gently hyped Brighton quartet; cringe worthy as it is to say this, the song has its ups and downs. The positives are in the economical instrumental base: softly distorted guitar and synth occasionally peeling away into squeaks and scrapes, a warm blanket of noise with a delicious element of unease. The negatives, unfortunately, are the rhythm and vocals that this blanket cannot hope to cover up: a single, looped jab of organ, thoughtlessly bobbing drums, and a vocal line defined by restraint, with maybe six notes and fewer lyrics. At first it seems strange to draw this line down the middle of the song: after all, minimalist repetition is the hallmark of the Krautrock/ambient music that clearly fuels Fujiya and Miyagi. After a few listens, though, the issue becomes clearer: the faint menace of the overlay is undermined by the politeness and soft delivery of the rest. Groups like Kraftwerk are exhilarating because their repetition is confrontational, daring you to dismiss the very minimal construction behind the music. F&M are comfortable with the sonic vocabulary; in fact, they’re probably too comfortable, and hence so is the listener.