Cat Power – Jukebox

Jukebox is the second record in Cat Power’s career that mostly features her renditions of songs written by “noted elder statesmen” of the rock/pop music pantheon, including Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and James Brown, among others. Not being all that familiar with large portions of the source material, I can’t say how well it compares to the originals, but as a stand-alone work, Jukebox is largely a sultry success.

The Good
Roughly an hour’s worth of inventive reinterpretations and intriguing recastings that stand on their own. Cat Power is smooth and confident, presenting and album full of class and soul. Her soft, rough-textured voice, ever wispy, commands a presence, despite sounding conjured from the ether. New York, New York, perhaps the most well-known song on Jukebox opens the album with forged bombastic drums that never let up before ending as abruptly as they began. From there, her take on Ramblin’ (Wo)Man one-ups Hank Williams, reaching like a spectre from the ghost town in your brain.

Also of note, Metal Heart, a piano-powered Cat Power original continues the space-filled and resonant balladry found on 2006’s The Greatest. And the somber, bittersweet guitar strains of Silver Stallion provide the album’s highlight.

The not-as-good
Front-loading. The first four tracks are delightfully splendid, attention-grabbing standouts. Beyond that, while pleasant, Cat Power’s style is so singular that the album struggles to make a lasting impression. Which is all the more excuse to spend more time with it.

Ramblin’ (Wo)Man AOL Session performance. The sound isn’t synced for some reason, but the song works.

Further Reading:

Booka Shade – Movements: Decent Dark Ambient

I don’t know much about Booka Shade, other than that the duo hails from Frankfurt and that they create electronic music. But I do know that their electronic music is pretty good electronic music. I’m going to be honest though and say that while, overall, it’s good, it just can’t quite hit the spot.

Movements, the group’s second full-length album, was generally well received in electronic circles in 2006, appearing on a number of top lists. It’s easy to see why. The electro-meets-dark-ambient-beats here is cleanly produced and presented well, with a knack for precision and detail. I’m reminded a lot of Esem’s grinding gloominess, but less sinister and more relaxing. However, after listening to the record a handful of times, I just can’t get satisfied. I can’t help but feel there’s something missing.

The main point of contention I have is that it tries to walk a line between stripped-down minimalism and foot-tapping house beats. While Movements walks that line with reasonable success, the music feels like its trying to pull itself in opposite directions, toward more abstractness or more danceability. The effect is to leave a gaping hole in the center that makes you wish would Booka Shade to fill it with something, anything.

Movements does succeed on a handful of tracks where one end of the dichotomy is clearly favored. In White Rooms is almost typical club music, but with the volume turned down. The song possesses a subtle forcefulness and scale that would have been nice to hear on more of the album. By contrast, the closer, Lost High, is almost depressing in its sparseness.

All in all an enjoyable record that reaches toward greatness, but just doesn’t pull it off.

Rating: ★★★★★★★½☆☆
7.25 / 10 Stars

Further Reading:
The Music Re-View

Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts: First Fruits of the Label-less Era

nine inch Nails ghosts i-iv

Jump to Review

Halo 26, Ghosts I-IV has just been announced at the nine inch nails website. It’s a collection of 36 instrumental tracks created with no clear agenda, with the entire process being driven by impulse and improvisation.

Of it, Trent says:

We began improvising and let the music decide the direction. Eyes were closed, hands played instruments and it began. Within a matter of days it became clear we were on to something, and a lot of material began appearing. What we thought could be a five song EP became much more. I invited some friends over to join in and we all enjoyed the process of collaborating on this.

Nine Inch Nails takes the Radiohead gambit a step further with this release, offering multiple formats and ordering options. All songs are available immediately for download from Amazon MP3 and

  1. Ghosts volume I (9 tracks) is a completely free download.
  2. All 36 tracks can be downloaded for $5. Provided formats: 320kbps mp3, FLAC lossless and Apple Lossless. Also comes with a 40-page pdf. Paypal is an option for payment, if you want to avoid using credit/debit cards.
  3. For $10, you can get 2 physical cds shipped on April 8 as well as immediate access to the downloads.
  4. $75 gets you the 2 audio cds, a data dvd with multi-track files for remixing, 2 Blu-Ray disc with high-definition 96/24 stereo tracks and visual slide show all bound in a hard-bound slipcase. Also comes with 48-page photographic accompaniment book. You also get access to all the downloadable materials. Ships May 1.
  5. And for the true nin spendthrift, there’s the $300 Limited Edition (limited to 2500 numbered copies). You get everything in the $75 package, plus four vinyl LPs, Glicee prints, and Trent Reznor’s signature. Ships May1, but of course, you get the downloads now.

Ghosts I-IV limited edition
Ghosts I-IV Limited Edition

I’m actively reducing the amount of physical clutter in my house. So as a devotee of digital formats, I’ll probably opt for the $5 version. Apple Lossless is a pretty nice format. Though I expect the NIN online store to be crushed by the demand for the next day or so. If mp3s are your thing, Amazon might be the way to go. You still get all 36 tracks for $5.

UPDATE: is pretty much DOA right now. I’ve actually managed to make a transaction, but the download failed after 100kB. So I’ll have to talk to customer service, since the store is providing “one-time download links.”

UPDATE II: Trent writes at from Hong Kong:

The response to this album has been overwhelming, causing our website to slow to a crawl. We THOUGHT we were ready, but… We’ve been adding more servers to accommodate the unexpected demand and we expect to be running smoothly in the next few hours. In the meantime, if you’ve had any problems with downloads from the Ghosts site, don’t worry – you’ll be able to use your download link again when the site is more stable.

Good to know the early adopters won’t be left in the proverbial cold.

UPDATE III: 24 hours later and the site is humming along nicely. Either the added servers are handling the crush well or demand has slowed or both. I had no trouble using my original download link to retreive the Apple Lossless + bonus files (more than 600 MB), which transfered without any hang ups.


The 36 songs range in length from 1:53 to 5:52 and total a running time of 1 hour 50 minutes. For comparison’s sake, both discs from The Fragile run 1 hour 46 minutes.

My initial impression after a couple listens is that Ghosts I-IV is a series of tone poems that don’t necessarily have any connection to each other. Nine Inch Nails records tend to have a certain “flow” to them that’s largely missing here. Instead, we have, as the album name would suggest, is borderless apparitions of sound and space. Many tracks stop suddenly, like a figment seen in the corner of one’s view that disappears when looked at directly, while others fade away or into the next track.

Stylistically the sound is unmistakeably Nine Inch Nails and the overall feel has more in common with the dark ambient tendrils of Trent’s soundtrack for the Quake computer game and The Fragile (think The Frail) than the apocalyptic paranoia of Year Zero. There is, however, some new ground here. I Ghosts 6 is borderline playful in its demeanor, a quality not usually associated with Nine Inch Nails’ music.

Ghosts has all the qualities of great instrumental music. It works well as background, as white noise with which to block out the world or drift away, but upon close inspection reveals remarkable textures and attention to detail.

But in typical fashion, Ghosts is more than just a listening experience. Each of the 36 songs has its own unique album art, snapshots to accompany the music.

Ghosts is Nine Inch Nails’ first release since the band was freed from its recording contract with Universal last October and its good to see that it is wasting very little time taking advantage of the new-found freedom and utilizing new media and techologies to promote, sell and circulate the music. There’s absolutely no way a record company would have released a double-disc set of what is a essentially musical diversions. And certainly not for a $5 download.

But Trent’s free agent status allows him to do whatever he wants. He can give this thing away, which he actually did: All 36 tracks are released under a Creative Commons license: Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike, meaning that anyone can give away the albums or use the songs as part of any non-commercial project so long as they credit NIN.

Trent says that there will likely be further editions in the Ghosts series. I, for one, will be looking forward to the music and future releases using the model.

Tosca – J.A.C. (2005): Warmest of the cool

Richard Dorfmeister of iconic Austrian mix-up outfit Kruder and Dorfmeister, and his partner-in-crime Rupert Huber form a duo they call Tosca, and together they work some of the meanest grooves in my collection. Their 2003 album, Delhi 9, ranks as one of my favorite releases this decade, based on its enslaving basslines and percolated rhythms. It’s some of the most forceful downtempo music I’ve run across, the type of stuff that almost makes one want to dance, but the music is so relaxing and alluring, all you can manage is a laid-back head swagger.

Tosca makes some of the warmest cool music you’ll ever hear.

With the high regard I hold toward the duo’s catalogue, I found myself surprised the other day when I discovered that since Delhi 9, Tosca had released a new album (“new” being two years ago). I’m not sure how or why, but news of the record never managed to reach me until I just happened upon his page at emusic. Of course, with plentiful credits remaining in this month’s allotment, I snapped both of them up without a moment’s hesitation.

The duo of Dorfmeister and Huber clearly know what they’re doing, and oh yes, they do it quite well. J.A.C. feels like an organic outgrowth of the slip-sliding dubby funk that got me hooked on their tunes, which is to say it’s a good album, a very good record. Ninety percent of the appeal in Tosca’s music comes from their unerring, velvety smooth basslines, layered over sophisticated, erudite beats whose catchiness belies their complexity. The other ten percent is brilliant composition.

J.A.C. has plenty of that, but it also shows some evolution of the outfit’s sound. Tosca’s tracks have never been strictly instrumental compositions, but where they have used vocals, it’s generally for their timbre or as interjections to accentuate the melody. In fact, off the top of my head, I can only think of one example that use lyrics as an integral part of the song’s construction. J.A.C. is a bit of a departure in that regard. A full six of the album’s twelve tracks feature actual sung words, and they all work.

Heidi Brühl is an enchanting jazz lounge piece sung in French that evokes a swanky underground Parisian nightclub. John Lee Huber is a soaring, energetic romp, while Superrob, a highlight of the album, is discotheque supremacy.

I can assure you, this disc will be rotation around here for a while. In fact, I think I’ve just found my next party soundtrack.

Here’s a YouTube find of Superrob, set to someone’s vacation photos. Enjoy:

Final Destination: Egypt

Bjork: I Go Humble

i go humble

B-side from the single Isobel (1995)

I’ve never been in love with Bjork’s music. To be sure, Bjork is a consummate artist and I do enjoy and have much respect for the majority of her work; I’ve just never been part of the “Bjork-is-untouchable” group. But if I were to become part of that club, it would be because of this song.

I Go Humble never fails to send me into a state of trance-like bliss.

There’s something in the earnest subjugation of her voice, the spacey electronic melodies and the disjointed-but-smooth percussion that just captivate me for its entire five minute length every time I listen to it. It has done that for the past ten years.

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What I Love: Everything about it dammit.

isobel at amazon

Spirtualized: Ladies and Gentlemen we are floating through space

From the album Ladies and Gentlemen we are floating through space (1997).

Composed in “round” format, where each sung line overlaps another in a recursive way, Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen we are floating through space is a science and technology-era mantra, a chant to the lords of pharmaceutically-inspired altered states and a wistful, strung-out love song.

This is seriously space out, and transcendental, trance-inducing music, but it trades in new-age ethereality for the cold science (exemplified by the interspersion of NASA beeps) of modern progress. In steep contrast though, the lyrics reveal a tenderness and longing for love.

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What I Love: The song’s out-of-focus dreaminess.

Gomez: Whippin’ Piccadilly

From the album Bring it On (1998)

The highly regarded and Mercury Prize-winning debut album by Gomez mixes a down-home sensibility with slick production values. With three husky vocalists interchanging on the lyrics, these guys can blend together some mind-bending harmonies. Put those on top of some smooth bluesy-roots-rock-with-an-English-twist and you’ve got some pretty compelling music.

Whippin’ Piccadilly is a standout track on an album of standout tracks. With carefree abandon, Gomez stitches a picture of fun-loving guys have a fun-loving day in Manchester. The title of the song, I believe, is a reference to Manchester Piccadilly station, the busiest rail station in England. It is alluded to in the lyrics as the departure point for the guys’ next destination of Sheffield.

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What I Love: The simple strumming of the guitar and, of course, those harmonies.

whippin piccadilly at itunes store


And for something completely different, check Petty Booka’s polynesian-style cover of Whippin’ Piccadilly.

Sarah Shannon: I’ll Run Away

sarah shannon

From the album Sarah Shannon (2002)

It’s been more than a decade since the rock band Velocity Girl broke up, putting an end to one of my favorite high school-era ensembles and effectively ending my exposure to the group’s vocalist, Sarah Shannon. Her post-VG work, a band called Starry Eyes, was short-lived and VG’s online fan base wasn’t large or cohesive enough to adequately maintain updates of band members’ whereabouts. From my perspective, Shannon had disappeared from the music scene completely and over time, my teenage indie-rock crush faded.

And while Velocity Girl’s particular mix of noise pop received and still receives a fair amount of play around here, by and large I stopped trying to follow her career, having figured she was just done with music in general. So it came as quite a surprise to me when I learned that she had released a solo album. But it was even more of a surprise to actually hear what it sounded like.

Exemplified most by I’ll Run Away, this song and album is the anti-Velocity Girl. A far cry from the sunny, jangly pop-rock of a decade ago, this song is soulful and somber, bordering on jazz-lounge pianist balladry. Sarah says the song is about being down, out and lonely in the dead of winter in Seattle, and yeah, I believe that. But for some reason the song doesn’t make me feel sad.

That’s just Sarah’s charm at work I guess.

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What I love: As always, Sarah’s voice; the song’s steady mid-tempo rhythm.

i'll run away at amazon

Bonobo: Flutter

From the album Dial M for Monkey (2003)

Bonobo, the simian pseudonym of UK producer Simon Green has been a downtempo-lounge favorite for a while around these parts. In addition to his excellent production values, he’s notable for his distinctive infusion (though not pervasively) of eastern (mostly Indian) influences into what could be called “intelligent chill-out music.”

With a danceably faster tempo usual, Flutter is actually a bit of a departure for Bonobo. But as seems to be the case with me, it’s an artist’s digressions that attract the most attention.

If upbeat downtempo isn’t a style of music, I nominate Flutter as its charter document.

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What I Love: Those chimes, that kickin beat and the melancholy trumpet.

flutter at itunes bonobo drm-free mp3