Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Allergic" / Placebo / Without You I'm Nothing

Placebo is a nice mix of two or three of my favorite bands : the mysterious androgyny and Anglicanism of Suede, tight grooves and vocals reminiscent of Rush , and a little of Muse's progressive musicianship.

Like most in the States, I caught onto them with the single "Pure Morning", one of the best releases of the 90's.

Yeah, I'm not gonna lie - they sounded a lot like a new and improved Rush to me, and this was when Rush was in the lowest point of their career: they had just released the disappointing Test for Echo, Neil Peart lost his daughter in a car crash and his wife to cancer within a year, and it looked like the band was finished (but that's neither here nor there). Placebo looked like a good candidate to fill that void.

Despite my fondness for this album, it's the only release of theirs I have. They are a band I never kept up with like I thought I would. Maybe I should check back in on them and see if they have done anything interesting latey. They've all but dropped off the face of the earth in the States, but still have a nice following in the UK. They also recently had a hit with this Kate Bush cover, which I think's a pretty good remake.

"Allergic" is one of the more uptempo songs on WIthout You I'm Nothing. It's got a great crunchy bass sound to open the song, and the simple two chord structure of the song moves it right along. The vocals complement the simplicity of the tune nicely, as Molko quickly crams his words in the space created.

The end of each verse is cool too, one line - "You take a beating" followed by the guitar echoing the chord progression. Nothing fancy , no bridge, no musical masturbation, just keeping that groove intact throughout the whole song. (Oddly enough, when I first listened to this, I misheard that as "You take a BM", and now I can't get that out of my head).

The chorus is as basic as the rest of the song, with its repeated couplets of "The light divining / The light defining", and listen to the bass and drum combo, as they never stop the two chord groove they established back in the first few seconds.

The only variation to the song comes in its coda, as from the 3:00 mark on they add some discordant guitar sounds and drop the bass a little. It's cool how they hold that last note for a good twenty seconds or so too. It's a solid, no nonsense straightforward rock song. The video below is fan-made, as they never released this song as a single, but it's not bad as far as those go.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"Mahgeeta" / My Morning Jacket / It Still Moves

Despite having one of the stupider band names in music history (and despite their Furthur / jam band / hippie following), My Morning Jacket has quickly become one of my very favorite bands of the 'oughts.

At their best, their songs are just hypnotic, entrancing and lovely, with singer Jim James' soft voice lulling you into contemplation. Let it be known that thy can bust out a rock tune as well, but thats not my favorite mode of theirs. As in the song here, they often have a classic 1950's era rock sound, but adapt it for a modern audience. The beginning melody of "Mahgeeta" sounds as if it could have been from a Bill Haley and the Comets track back in the day, but they add enough contemporary styling to make it fresh. This produces a comforting mix of something new sounding but innately familiar as well.

It's a hard conept for me to explain, so, if you wish, read this essay by WIlliam Bowers from The DeCapo Best Music Writing 1994 compilation (start on page 34). I had heard of MMJ before reading this, but just in album reviews in music magazines (which always referenced their similarity to Neil Young). It was after this article that I decided to seek them out.

I started with Z, their fourth album and still my favorite., then moved to this one (It Still Moves), and then finished off by, um, "borrowing" a couple more from a somewhat loyal blog reader. I love having the whole catalogue of these guys, and putting their tunes on a long playlist while grading essays or just lounging around reading. Hell, they say it best themselves in the first lyrics of this song:

Sittin here with me and mine.
All wrapped up in a bottle of wine

For a real treat, if you're not familiar with them. start with Okonokos, a double live album recorded at the Filmore in San Francisco.

Wordless Chorus, one of my MMJ favorites

As with many of their tunes, one secret to "Mahgeeta"s sound is reverb - lots of it. The echoing, looping vocals and impeccable harmonies have everything to do with the mood these guys create. The song is deceptively simple, with a steady, staccato groove underneath, but the vocals really make it pop.

At 4:30, the vocals drop out, and you can hear how MMJ gets the Bonaroo-crowd following - they up the tempo and finish with a bang of a coda, complete with a flourish on the final chord. You can imagine this song would be drawn out and rocked pretty hard live, can't you?