The Cruelest Month Mix and a Norah Jones Reboot

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

– T.S. Eliot from The Waste Land

Hopefully, your April bore less resemblance to the despondent imagery of Eliot’s lauded masterpiece, written 90 years ago (for the record, I’m a Prufrock” man myself). Whether the budding of Spring or the end of Winter brought you sunshine or rain, there was no dearth of fabulous tracks pouring through the airwaves. Mine is a passion for collecting and spreading these little treasures for you listening pleasure, so click here to listen to “The Cruelest Monthmix (via YouTube). Perhaps you’ll recognize some ditties from previous posts, but let me just highlight some of the more recent numbers that have caught my attention.

  • Japandroids’ “The House That Heaven Built” – A fist-pumping anthemic, rallying cry from this Vancouver duo. Reminds me a lot of the high adrenaline moments from The Get Up Kids and The Hold Steady.
  • Peter Broderick’s “Colin”Slow haunting dreamscape with a brilliant explosion at song’s end. This has the sort of aural tapestry feel of Bon Iver’s Bon Iver.
  • Yuck’ “Chew” – One of my favorite discoveries in 2011 returns with another trip down early 90s nostalgia. The opening totally reminds me of the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Rocket”.
  • M.Ward’s “Primitive Girl”Perhaps She is getting to Him and turning those dour days a little brighter? Either way M’s voice on here seems a perfect complement to the old-time feel of the song. (Robin Hilton of NPR totally has me hearing the Bangles “Manic Monday” riff in the chorus.)
  • Kuhrye—oo’s “Give In (For the Fame)” – Hidden at the end off one of my recent posts was this gorgeous song that is on repeat in my head: a loop-intensive trance-dance song. I think there is a lot of latter day Four Tet (i.e., Angel Echoes) and James Blake in this.
  • Eternal Summers’ “Millions” – Opening with a guitar riff that feels lifted from Dire Straits or Don Henley, this song turns into a really poppy and peppy New Wave/Indie Rock gem with hints of Heavenly and Velocity Girl, two thoroughly under appreciated bands.
  • Mynabirds’ “Generals” – Oh boy, this is a gun shot of a song with hints of the Knack, lo-fi garage rock a la The White Stripes, and Sleigh Bells and just a barnburner!
  • Cassie’s “King of Hearts” – In the words of Lady Gaga, “Just Dance.” (If this song isn’t already on the late-nite dance floors across the country, it will be very soon. Sooo good.)
  • Purity Ring’s “Obedear” – If you are enjoying the new material from Grimes (and perhaps it’s her singing here, a vocal doppelganger?), you will love this track. A little more down-beat and rambling (like my writing), but it’s an intoxicating listen.
  • Fenster’s “Oh Canyon” – A muzzled lo-fi version of a folk song in the vein of The Head and the Heart.
  • Maps and Atlas’ “Old and Gray” – If you were saddened by the Fleet Foxes’ recent break-up, these Chicago folk-rockers will be a welcome antidote.
  • Exitmusic’s “The Night” – This duo released a phenomenal four song EP last year and here is their latest offering.
  • Also new material from The Walkmen, Beach House, Hot Chip and concluding with Norah Jones and Danger Mouse see below…

Norah Jones and Danger Mouse: A Perfect Marriage of rhythm and (lyrical) blues

If you don’t know Norah Jones, you have probably been living under a rock. The young chanteuse of Come Away with Me fame was a staple of your local cozy coffee shop or chain-coffee a la Starbucks or Caribou for the better part of 2002 to 2005. And, if you know her work you are probably thinking, why are you writing about Norah Jones? Well, throw out everything you think or know about her music and focus on the simple, undeniable “fact” that Norah has a phenomenal voice. The sort of voice that nearly every composer, songwriter, producer wants to incorporate or collaborate with. And, she’s been quite busy in that realm. Perhaps you noticed that she appeared on, of all records, Belle and Sebastian’s Write About Love?!? (I didn’t know that Starbucks had made it to Glasgow.)

Enter Danger Mouse. No, not the 80s cartoon mouse moonlighting as a British Spy.  The brilliant creator and producer of The Grey Album, Gnarls Barkley‘s St. Elsewhere, and, most recently, Broken Bells’ Broken Bells. Odd pairing right? Nope, an almost perfect experimental yin to Norah’s “traditional” yang. You would never think that one of music’s most creative, off-beat, quirky, outsider musician and/or producer would mesh so well with Norah Jones’ adult alternative sounding voice. I would argue that Danger Mouse’s aesthetic works better with Jones than either of his other famous collaborations with Cee-Lo or James Mercer (of the Shins). The new album entitled Little Broken Hearts is yet another break-up album – more sweet music out of heartache, one might as well be productive with their despondency and/or anger.

Give the whole record a listen if you like here, but I want to draw your attention to two tracks in particular (click on song title to listen):

Say Goodbye – The first single from the album has the feeling of the indie-baroque pop that Danger Mouse used on the Broken Bells record, but Norah’s soulful voice feels more at home in this aural landscape than James Mercer’s did.  The vocal performance on this track is coy and playfully sensual evoking the spectre of Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot* or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes** (or her (in)famous rendition of “Happy Birthday to JFK).  You can almost imagine Norah singing this song to the ex and saying through her inflections “look at what you threw away.” (Also, it’s curious the (unintentional?) allusion to Madonna’sTake a Bow” (for the MTV viewer’s of yore this video featured Madonna with a Spanish bullfighter, see here) another song about the end of a love affair with the wonderfully opening reproach: “take a bow, the night is over, this masquerade is getting older…”.)

She’s 22 — What is perfect about this song is that it is all about Norah’s vocal performance and its subtle nuances. About the only instrumentation in the piece is a repetitive, plaintive guitar chord that underscores the narrative of contemplative curiosity. The air of disaffected and disinterested restraint in Norah’s voice makes this song even more powerful. At the song’s end she intones “Does she make you happy? I’d like to see you happy” and you know there is no truth to those words other than the fact that she’s uttered them.

…and with that I bid you adieu,

a.a.

* and ** — Run, don’t walk to the video store to see these two classic films.

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