Ratatat – Loud Pipes single: Another smooth creation

ratatat loud pipes

I don’t know how I missed it, but Ratatat quietly released Loud Pipes as the third single from Classics a couple months ago. The record is out on vinyl only and, in addition to the title track, it features three attractive and compelling b-sides:

  • Loud Pipes (Outtakes).
    Bears only the slightest resemblance to its namesake. The beat and instrumentation are there, but otherwise, it’s a whole other song.
  • Kennedy (e-rock remix).
    E-rock is Ratatater Evan Mast’s brother. He turns in a competent re-working of Kennedy (also from Classics). His version sounds a little repetitive, but it has got some big sound behind it. There’s also a nifty breakdown around the 5:20 mark.
  • Goose.
    New track. Rhymes with Noose, the b-side from Germany to Germany. The song is the least-stated in all of Ratatat’s repertoire. In stark contrast to the band’s enormous sound, Goose is barely there. A simple baroque-esque melody over a quiet, high BPM thud-thud-thud. At less than two minutes long, the song is over before it gets started.

All in all, another fine release from Ratatat. Now when can we expect that next album?

Loud Pipes: $7.00 from Turntable Lab

Listen to Loud Pipes (Outtakes):

The Simpsons Movie: Good Film, Good Music

The Simpsons Movie

This past weekend, I saw The Simpsons Movie and must declare that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I know it’s become a bit of pastime to bemoan the show’s decline, but honestly, you won’t find much cynicism coming from me with regards to the movie. The plot is straightforward, but fittingly expansive and engrossing for a motion picture. The jokes are actually rather good, largely avoiding the Homer-is-so-grossly-incompetent-that-its-not-funny-anymore humor that plagued the show for a long time. The film also resists the temptation to recycle material from the past eighteen seasons worth of shows, injecting new ideas and wit into the franchise.

All the family members receive a fair amount of screen time and character development, and that goes a long way toward helping the movie succeed. The Simpsons has always been at its best when it has shown the family being a family. With a running time that’s the equivalent of four episodes, The Simpsons Movie is afforded the opportunity to linger on that familial interaction. Heck, for the first 25% of the film, the audience is treated to extended scenes of the family members being themselves.

Bart and Homer hang out and the father-son camaraderie is endearing. Lisa campaigns to save Lake Springfield from pollution (and gets a love interest in the process). Marge is a domestic goddess who worries about everything while doing her best to keep the family together. And Grandpa is, well, Grandpa.

Everyone’s favorite secondary characters, Moe, Lenny, Carl, Burns, Smithers, Apu, et al, received their own choice moments and lines throughout. Even the show’s cavalcade of tertiary characters make appearances, but not to the point of distraction; for the most part they’re limited to simply being drawn in the background so that long-time fans can look and say “Hey, there’s that kid Gavin from the episode Marge Be Not Proud.” You’ll know this scene when you see it.

simpsons movie soundtrack

Simpsons theme at itunes simpsons movie music

And the music… I was actually surprised to hear how good it is. I was a little wary when I learned that Hans Zimmer was composing. His music is decent enough, though truthfully I’ve never found it that compelling (exceptions being Gladiator and parts of Mission Impossible 2), and in general, he’s just so… corporate. And safe. Whenever a big-budget hypefest needs some backing tracks, Zimmer seems like the man to turn to for music that’ll be inoffensive to the highest number of people.

Fortunately, my trepidation in this case was ill-founded. Zimmer does an excellent job of taking the “Simpsons sound” (developed by Danny Elfman’s theme and Alf Clausen’s eighteen years of television scoring) and expanding it to fit the big screen. The music, like everything associated with the film, remains in character, just embiggened.

The disc starts with a grand orchestral interpretation of Danny Elfman’s main theme, which at first feels a bit off-putting after nearly two decades familiarity with the original version. But that quickly fades as the new orchestra does it justice. Overall, the album tends to borrow a great deal of inspiration from Danny Elfman’s sense of playful quirkiness. The movie’s main motif is built around uptempo mischievousness, like if the Jetsons were playing a prank.

It’s not all fun and games though. Like any dramatic film, The Simpsons Movie requires its share of suspense and seriousness, which the music delivers effectively without being distracting. One of best moments on the entire album comes at the beginning of the track You Doomed Us All… Again, which features a tender, melancholy duet between piano and flute.

Through and through, this album impresses. The only sour spot of note is the album’s closer, a track called Recklessly Impulsive, which is a high-BPM techno remix of some themes from the film. After 40ish minutes of stellar music, it’s a little bit jarring and major let down.

Despite the somewhat disappointing finale, I look with just a little amazement at how well both the film and album turned out. I went in with an open mind, but I didn’t exactly have high hopes. Combined, the movie and the score might just be the best pieces of culture I’ve run across all year.

The Simpsons Theme (Orchestral Version):

John Powell – The Bourne Identity

Released in 2002, John Powell’s music for The Bourne Identity is a smooth contemporary action score that is an exception to the typical generic compositions that accompany such films. It draws upon the standard spy-thriller ethos and echos the work of David Arnold for the James Bond franchise, particularly with its use of lush strings, blending of electronic percussion and sprinkling of jazz and rock elements.

Which is to say I like it a lot. I just saw the film for the first time a week ago good stuff, but I’ve been enjoying this score for years now.

It features pensive action cues that roar to life when needed, but avoids becoming the bombastic cliches that are prevalent in many modern action movies. At the heart of the score, however, are the somber, contemplative, even forlorn moods of a man searching for himself and his place in the world.

With those ideas juxtaposed, the album works on pretty much every level.

Highlighting the score is Treadstone Assassins, a cue used to accent the resolve of CIA’s experimental squad of hit men. It feels more like a dirty rock groove than an orchestral underscore but it doesn’t deviate from the heart of the album. Powered by a gritty determination, this track thumps out an engaging, focused rhythm that screams “let’s do this.”

Do yourself a favor and grab this album.

Treadstone Assassins:

Air – Pocket Symphony: A Little Side Step

For these past couple weeks, tunequest has been counting down to Air’s fifth full-length record, Pocket Symphony, which was finally released a few days ago. I’ve had it long enough to give it a handful of thorough listens and I can tell you that this thing oozes craftsmanship. The numbers don’t lie and after rating all the songs on the album, I’ll confirm that this is good stuff.

Upfront, let me say that I like Pocket Symphony. It is quintessentially Air; there’s no doubt about that. Sensually cool, in that singularly French way, Pocket Symphony lives up to expectations. But… it all feels a little too familiar.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m going out of my way to say that I really enjoy this record and that I don’t think that it’s artistically disappointing in any way. It’s just that there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking at work here. Perhaps after ten years, the band has hit its stride and is confident in its sound. But for a group who has sounded just-so-perceptively different on each album, it’s hard to not have been eager to hear whatever new departure or tangent the duo had decided to explore. Pocket Symphony sounds like it could have been recorded at the same time as Talkie Walkie.

To be sure, the mood is different: more sombre and tense than the “mellow exuberance” that marked Talkie Walkie. Still, its form, if not its function, are similar to its predecessor. Indeed, Pocket Symphony might well be called “Talkie Walkie After Dark,” but don’t go searching for it á Quartier Pigalle. With its precisely crafted, yet restrained sound, this music sounds like it would be more at home at a stiff, upper-crust soiree than in the back room of an after party at a trendy night club.

But if courtly dress up affairs aren’t you’re thing, Pocket Symphony also makes for some perfect wind-down music for a 3AM drive through the city.

The album’s first single, Once upon a Time, features afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen on drums (to great effect). Watch the video:

My Library

Air: Pocket Symphony (2007)
13 tracks (of 13)
Average Rating: 4.25
Median Rating: 4
Mode Rating: 4
Signature Track: Mer du Japon

Air – Talkie Walkie: Mellow Exuberance

After being somewhat let down by 10000 Hz Legend, I’d have thought that my interest in Air would had wained, but when Talkie Walkie was released in 2004 I was surprised by how eager I was to get a hold of it. When I did, my surprising anticipation was validated, in spades.

I’ll just come out and say it: Talkie Walkie is a beautiful record. In direct contrast to its predecessor, the whole thing goes down smooth and is way easy on the ears. For 44 minutes, each song is like a tiny massage for your eardrums.

It’s earnest. It’s serious. It’s playful. It’s compelling. It’s heartfelt.

But Air doesn’t accomplish that by hearkening back to their earlier sound. There’s no attempt here to recapture the feeling of Moon Safari or any sideways glances toward retropop. It’s just an expansively rich aural canvass. While I don’t think it quite surpasses Moon Safari comes damn close though, it does one-up it by having nothing but four and five star song ratings.

Whereas 10000 Hz Legend could be interpreted in a tongue-in-cheer manner, Talkie Walkie exudes earnestness. This thing has soul.

  • Cherry Blossom Girl’s sweet melody infects the brain and its minimalist chorus makes sure it stays there.
  • Surfing on a Rocket is social and political commentary that’s not only a new level of seriousness for the band but is also one of the best songs in the catalogue. I can’t get enough of that simple guitar riff.
  • Alpha Beta Gaga is positively one of the most happy-go-lucky songs I’ve ever heard. It also features one of the most effective uses of a banjo outside of bluegrass.
  • And don’t get me started about Universal Traveler; that thing just blows my mind.

Talkie Walkie, without a doubt, is a masterpiece. If you don’t have this one in your collection, you need to go get it. now. If you need some convincing, here are some videos.


Surfing on a Rocket

Alpha Beta Gaga

Cherry Blossom Girl

Beautiful song. Explicit video. Seriously, don’t watch this one if you have any romantic illusions about the song.
My Library

Air: Talkie Walkie (2004)
10 tracks (of 10)
Average Rating: 4.3
Median Rating: 4
Mode Rating: 4
Signature Track: Universal Traveller

air - universal traveler at itunes

Air – 10000 Hz Legend: Frustrating Brilliance

air promo

Released in 2001, 10,000 Hz Legend is Air’s first proper follow up to their smash Moon Safari. Coming three years after taking the world by storm, the record was much anticipated. Air had carved out a particular niche of upbeat, laid-back retro-electro-lounge and the fans wanted more. MORE!

Sadly, anyone who was expecting that was sorely disappointed. Including myself. I admit, it took me a long time to fully appreciate this album. I didn’t even pick up my own copy of it for months.

Gone is the light, airy feeling that made earlier works so attractive. In their place is a decidedly denser, darker, more down to earth record. It is less electronic though there’s still plenty of it; more organic and human. Yet, it is simultaneously both more conventionally pop and more experimental than the easily digestible tunes of Air past releases. And that is the source of frustration with it.

Yes, there is a certain je ne sais quoi that brands this as distinctly “Air,” but at times it just proves hard to listen to. Don’t Be Light, for example, has its moments, but it is so spastic–just all over the place–that it can’t muster up more than three stars. Wonder Milky Bitch plods along, like the soundtrack to a demented home on range, and is just downright weird. Conversely, Radio #1 exudes pure cheese: an over-the-top, over-produced mélange of sound, but it really isn’t that bad on the ears.

But for all its stubbornness, 10,000 Hz Legend is the kind of album that benefits from repeated listening. Layered and complex, the album reveals new tangents every time. The more I listen to it, the I want to listen to it. This stuff is ponderous; it get stuck in your head.

But it’s not all deep-thinking intellectualism and satire. Radian, the disc’s highlight, is pure pleasure. With a lofty flute melody, sensual strings, and a wonderful accompanying guitar, the song harkens back to the kinder, gentler Air from the past.

In retrospect, 10,000 Hz Legend is probably the best career move the band could have made at the time. It deftly avoided pigeonholing the band as a novelty lounge act and showed that they could use a larger aural canvas and think big. It reminds me of how Nirvana decided to, with In Utero, make a record that would discourage their new-found fans in the wake of Nevermind’s success. But they ended up cementing their reputations as the leaders of rock. Likewise, 10,000 Hz Legend pinned Air with lasting artistic credibility.


A fascinating video for Electronic Performers:

Air – The Virgin Suicides: Downtempo tension

Several degrees of Air. Or, what’s it take to get Air to remix a Beck song?

  1. Air gets Beck to remix Sexy Boy and provide vocals on Don’t Be Light and the Vagabond.
  2. Beck dated and is married to Marissa Ribisi.
  3. Marissa Ribisi has a twin brother: Giovanni.
  4. Giovanni co-stars in Lost in Translation.
  5. Lost In Translation is directed by Sofia Coppola.
  6. Sofia Coppola also directed The Virgin Suicides.
  7. The Virgin Suicides’ score was written by Air.
  8. Air is on the same record label Astralwerks as fellow French band Phoenix and the two groups plan to play a show together this June at Versailles. Phoenix is also the backing band for a remix of Air’s Kelly Watch the Stars.
  9. Phoenix’s vocalist, Thomas Mars has a daughter with Sofia Coppola.
  10. The soundtracks to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette both feature a song by Phoenix and a song by Air.
  11. Air remixed Beck’s Missing for his remix album Guerilito.

Ok, that’s just an elaborate way of introducing the next record on the tunequest countdown the Pocket Symphony: The Virgin Suicides. Released in 2000, The Virgin Suicides is the directorial debut of Sofia Coppola. Driven by the demands of a soundtrack, this album can’t really be considered a proper follow up to Moon Safari, but it is a nice “bonus disc” of smooth downtempo music as only Air can provide.

Playground Love, the film’s theme, starts the album and provides it with a backbone on which to rest. The song is one of Air’s most conventional in terms of structure and its soulful saxophone melodies are pure delight, setting a perfect mood. From there, The Virgin Suicides is mostly appealing atmospherics. Having not seen the film, I can’t comment on its screen effectiveness, but musically, it is stellar. Somehow, it manages to be tense and laid-back at the same time.

However, downside is that, due to the requirements of being a dramatic underscore, there are few jump-out-and-grab-you moments on the disc, as the music must be subtle enough to blend with the film. As a result, not much stands out from the whole, even though that whole is generally gratifying.

Additionally the record is peppered with the complex compositional influences of prog-rock, yet most of the songs are rather short, which doesn’t give them enough time to really work themselves out. At less than three minutes each, most tracks start off enthusiastically, but prove to be somewhat unfulfilling when they end before reaching a satisfactory conclusion.

The exception is Dirty Trip, which clocks in a just more than six minutes. Fueled by a fat, in-your-face bassline, the song is the swagging monster of the disc. It’s easily the highlight of the soundtrack.

Overall, the score to The Virgin Suicides comes highly recommended. I just wish it were a little longer.

Playground Love video:

My Library

Air: The Virgin Suicides (2000)
13 tracks (of 13)
Average Rating: 3.85
Median Rating: 4
Signature Track: Dirty Trip