Monday, 22 February 2010

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach (***)
album review for the skinny

Last year a couple of L.A. producers gathered an all-star cast of guests for an album about peace, love and understanding: N.A.S.A.'s The Spirit of Apollo was an idealistic dream that proved impossible to execute. Gorillaz' third album Plastic Beach is reminiscent because its impressive and wide-ranging cast list – Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Mos Def, Mark E. Smith and more – has gathered to grumble about consumption and pollution issues, and because the variety of guests has forced Damon Albarn into some dizzyingly eclectic styles.

When Snoop's drawl gives way to bongo rapping and a shimmering synth line is replaced by an ornate flute melody, you have to check you're not set to shuffle. The star of this show is Bobby Womack, whose pained warble adorns Cloud Of Unknowing and brilliant first single Stylo; beyond that, there's a lot of filler. That's the problem with all-star albums: it's hard to cut the lesser tracks when you made them with your heroes.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Joanna Newsom: Have Three On Me

blog for Amazon Chordstrike

Criticizing an album before anyone's ever heard it would be a bizarre thing to do. Bizarrely, I think I'm going do just that.

Y'see, I'm just a little concerned about one of my favorite artists.

Joanna Newsom's Ys was one of my favorite albums of the last ten years, but she's announced her follow up, Have One On Me, is going to be a triple. There's no track listing yet, but whatever it is will be released on 3xCDs, or 3xLPs.

Is there actually such a thing as a great triple album? Serious question, I'd like to know. There must be a few, but even still - wouldn't they be improved by having a few lesser tracks chopped off to make it a more manageable double album? In fact, wouldn't the vast majority of double albums be improved by being edited down to a single?

I tend to feel that 35-50 minutes is the best length for an album, because shorter than that feels a little too short, but longer is kinda tiring. But how tiring a record is depends on what kind of music it is, too.

Aphex Twin's triple LP (or double CD) Selected Ambient Works II is over two-and-a-half hours of featureless ambiance. Even though that's a long time to do anything (a long time to have headphones on, say), it's easy to let it wash through you and only pick up on the broad movements of mood. On the other hand, Tupac's double-disc All Eyez On Me is 132 minutes -- nearly two-and-a-quarter hours -- and it's exhausting, because you have to listen much closer to hip-hop, to follow the lyrics. That kind of concentration is tough to keep up!

Joanna Newsom is not exactly easy to listen to in the first place. Her voice is polarizing, but even for those of us who like it, Ys, at 55 minutes long, was quite long enough, because her lyrics are so densely arranged that you really have to focus to keep up with them. We don't yet know how long Have One On Me will be, but if it's roughly three hours then that's surely too long to digest in one sitting. And if it's not meant for one sitting, why release it at all together under one name?

Joanna Newsom's music always seems very deliberate: every syllable is carefully measured, every flourish and flair under complete control. You can be sure that there's an explanation for the placing of every antique and animal figure on that cover, above, so the length of the album itself is no half-thought or accident. I imagine she must have some complex conceptual justification, I just can't imagine what it is!

Do you agree that triple albums are a bad idea? Or are you happier to get more songs from longer albums?

Have One On Me will be released on February 23rd. A new song, "Good Intentions Paving Company," is already streaming from her label Drag City's website.