The hottest music from Chicago & beyond

Tag: 70s

Album Review: Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost [True Panther]

We’ve learned so much about the band Girls in the past two years since their debut “Album” was released. The headlines almost always started by noting that frontman Christopher Owens grew up in a cult. The next attention grabber was the extremely NSFW music video for the song “Lust for Life”, featuring persons of various genders and sexual orientations lip syncing to the song while naked. And yes, one guy did use another guy’s penis as a “microphone”. In spite of these apparent distractions, the music itself was the ultimate selling point, a retro-fitted pastiche of 60s and 70s pop that was extremely earnest and often heartbreaking, equal parts familiar and catchy. It’d be easy to level criticism at the band for staying so firmly rooted in the past, but Girls have done great work trying to make the sound their own while also mixing it up just a bit to avoid getting too trapped in a certain style. One moment they’re channeling 3 minutes of Beach Boys pop, and the next they’re on a 7 minute psychedelic journey that’s a closer cousin to Pink Floyd. Somehow they’ve managed to make it all work, with Owens’ nasally voice playing the anchor and even proving that they can progress to bigger and better things with last year’s “Broken Dreams Club” EP. The hope with their new record “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” was to continue that forward march. By all accounts, they very much appear to have succeeded.

The record opens with the galloping “Honey Bunny”, taking a few cues from surf rock in the way the drums roll along and the guitar riffs tumble over one another like waves washing up on the shore. There are moments where it sounds like a team-up between Dick Dale and the Beach Boys, and the best part is it’s nearly as great. Pop culture aficionados should hopefully also associate the song title with the classic film “Pulp Fiction” and may note the sonic similarities to the first track of that movie’s soundtrack, the Dick Dale-riffed “Pumpkin and Honey Bunny/Misirlou”. In the case of Girls though, this is just a delightful pop song with cool origins. As a matter of contrast, “Alex” feels born straight out of the 90s, taking a much more shoegaze-like approach with some fuzz-inflected chords and some noodling electric guitar solos. The band does it without blinking an eye, and for whatever reason it works beautifully. The fuzzy guitars get a hefty burst of energy and a touch of prog rock ethos on “Die”, a track that rages for 3 minutes that are reminiscent of classic Badfinger or Deep Purple. Things get a bit more spaced out and trippy towards the end though, as a gently strummed acoustic guitar and a flute show up for the final two minutes of subdued instrumental that brings an unexpected grace to something that was so sharp at the start.

If you’re looking for the truly psychedelic though, look no further than the middle of “Father, Son, Holy Ghost”. Starting with “My Ma” and progressing through the two epic 6+ minute cuts “Vomit” and “Just A Song”, let’s just say that it would appear the band has been taking crib notes from some of Pink Floyd’s finest moments. The canyon-splitting guitar work and organ ring out very nicely on “My Ma”, though that’s relatively standard compared to what follows it. Everything hits harder and feels even bigger on “Vomit”, with the organ slamming in the chorus and the gospel choir backing up Owens’ intensely mellow vocals. There’s every chance that things could have gone completely overblown in the 6.5 minutes the song goes on for, but it’s Owens that keeps it grounded and within reason by being more Elliott Smith than Roger Waters. A nice solo acoustic guitar instrumental break for the first 90 seconds of “Just A Song” provides a welcome, intimate respite and introduction to the ballad. By the halfway point, Owens is chanting, “Love, love, love/it’s just a song” as violins, flutes and harps are woven between the acoustic guitar and drums. The song itself is gorgeous and drifting, very much akin to what you’d hear on a Spiritualized record.

Waking you up from the proverbial nap the middle of the record provides is “Magic”, a jangly guitar, AM pop number that operates with a certain Elvis Costello-ish aire about it. It feels very specifically placed in that position on the album so as to serve as a buffer between the nearly 7 minutes of “Just A Song” and the 8 minutes that make up “Forgiveness”. You don’t want two ballads of such length (let alone 3 if you count “Vomit”) piled on top of one another. Unlike some of the other massive songs on “Father, Son, Holy Ghost”, “Forgiveness” doesn’t pull any punches or play around with a whole lot of sonic textures. It is first and foremost a relatively sparse acoustic ballad, pushing us to pay close attention to exactly what Owens is singing about, something most succinctly summed up in the song’s title. For the final 2.5 minutes though, Owens takes a vocal break and thrashes out an electric guitar solo that sounds like pure catharsis. Here he is, begging to be forgiven, and that guitar ringing out into the somber melody is like the burden of all his problems being lifted from his shoulders. It is the album’s true highlight, to the point where it makes the final two songs left feel nearly unnecessary additions. Still, the organ and choir on “Love Like A River” makes it very much classically inspired by gospel/soul music, bringing yet another fascinating twist to what’s already a highly engaging record. Things close out with the somber “Jamie Marie”, in which Owens spends almost the entire track on his own, just a gently picked electric guitar and his voice. In the final minute of the song, an organ and the drums break through, but Owens has said his piece already, and they’ve simply shown up to play him off the stage. It’s an underwhelming way to close, but in light of all that came before it, it feels almost fitting.

There’s so much about “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” that you deserve to find out about yourself. Spending time with the lyrics, which are more often than not musings about relationships be they romantic or familial, only enhance the depth and character of the record. There are small, transitional moments too that you’ll uncover and hopefully find delightful the more times you listen to this album. It rewards your time and commitment to it, a quality that only the best of the best seem to have about them. For a band that apes a lot of classic sounds, Girls sure do an awfully great job with them – to the point where you almost think these guys would be huge were they around in the 60s and 70s. Imitating your idols is one thing, but to cut out your own piece of land among them, that’s impressive. Impressive to the point where “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” appears ready to be annointed as one of the finest records of 2011.

Girls – Vomit

Buy “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” from Amazon

Album Review: Eleanor Friedberger – Last Summer [Merge]

For years now, we’ve stood by and simply watched (or listened) as Matthew Friedberger unleashed solo record after solo record during brief breaks from his main band The Fiery Furnaces, of which he is a main part of along with his sister Eleanor. Well, technically speaking, Matthew has only released a couple solo albums, the double discer that was “Winter Women and Holy Ghost Language School” back in 2006. This year though he’s freaking out and unleashing 8 albums of original material as part of a project called “Solos”, where he spends an entire record with just a single instrument and his own voice. If you separate out all of those various LPs in addition to the ones still forthcoming in 2011, he’ll have put out more solo full lengths than he has with The Fiery Furnaces. All the while, Eleanor Friedberger has done nothing on her own, leaving many curious as to what she might come up with were she to pursue such a path. Well, wonder no more, because last summer she recorded her first solo album. Now here we are, one year later, and that record is finally out, and very naturally titled “Last Summer”.

Anyone that’s ever heard a Fiery Furnaces album before knows what Eleanor is like behind the microphone. Her vocals are done in an almost sing-speak fashion, and that’s primarily due to the extensive amount of lyrics she’s got to spit out within the confines of a typical song. She writes the stuff too, and tells stories both real and fictional concerning her own life or the lives of others. On “Last Summer”, those hallmarks remain, though the stories she tells across this album are 100% true things that have happened to her. Not that it makes much of a difference in the end, except in making close analysis of the lyrics that much more poignant. She talks about a failed attempt to rekindle an old relationship on opening track and first single “My Mistakes”, even though the song itself is such a delightful slice of synth pop pie that you’d imagine it’d have to be about something more upbeat and fun. On the funky “Roosevelt Island” she details a trip she made to the New York neighborhood, leading off with an anecdote about encountering a doppelganger. “We saw a picture of a girl with the same hair and I posed next to her/Made a great photo but I never thought I’d see her again/Didn’t really ever want to see her again,” she sings with the most rapid-fire delivery possible. Dealing with the specific time frame of when the album was recorded, “Glitter Gold Year” mentions 2010 many a time, to the point where Eleanor begins to play around with just HOW she sings it. But she’s also apparently not happy with said “glitter gold year”, beacuse she also often repeats, “you said it wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s worse”. Seeing as how “Last Summer” is a recording of tales from 2010, there most definitely is no way that’s getting erased anymore, not that we’d want it to anyways. Even the most experienced New Yorker can sometimes get lost in such a large city, and “Owl’s Head Park” is an amusing tale about how going to pick up a custom-made bicycle left her at the titular park and unsure of how to get home. “The boys on the F train said that frame was fresh/it was the color blue/but I didn’t know my way/so I couldn’t get home to you,” are a few lines that emphasize just how Friedberger is able to keep a plot moving along while also providing miniscule details that enhance what’s already there. It’s a big part of what makes The Fiery Furnaces so unique and exciting, and it plays the same role on her solo effort, though with slightly different sonic results.

The two separate Friedberger halves of The Fiery Furnaces work so well together because of how their individual dynamics come into play. Matthew is the guy who puts together all the weird sonic experiments, while Eleanor writes and sings behind those avant-pop sounds. Rare is the Fiery Furnaces track that is straightforward and simply structured. The closest moments you’ll get to pure pop from the band comes through in tracks like “Single Again,” “Here Comes the Summer”, “Benton Harbor Blues” and “Tropical Iceland”. If you loved those moments, or if they’re some of the only songs you actually like from the band because the rest is too strange, then “Last Summer” is the record you’ve been waiting for. The songs almost always hold a typical verse-chorus-verse structure, and the oddest instrument used is either the saxophone or harmonica. Actually, the saxophone solo that closes out “Owl’s Head Park” is one of the most fascinating moments on an album that’s by no means lacking in them. The vibe is very much 70s pop throughout, and various aspects of it show up on certain tracks. “Roosevelt Island” mines the territory of past greats like Stevie Wonder or The Commodores. There’s a nice bit of psychedelia on “Inn of the Seventh Ray”, particularly when Eleanor’s vocals are hit with the echo effect and the synths are bleeping about like they’re floating within that same ether. “I Won’t Fall Apart On You Tonight” has some more fun with the vocals, creating some splendid backing harmonies that essentially make it a girl group song. And a pair of beautiful acoustic guitar-based folk ballads turn up as well courtesy of “Scenes from Bensonhurst” and “One-Month Marathon”. Though there are obviously some personal instrumental touches in there, at their core they recall some of the amazing folk records from artists like Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez. There may be a mixture of diverse styles across these 10 tracks, but Eleanor’s own quirks along with a serious knack for crafting memorable hooks makes everything work, even if she never pushes too far in one direction or the other.

Weighing “Last Summer” against all the other music with a Friedberger name stamped on it is a tough thing to do. Matthew’s influence has undoubtedly been a good on for the sake of originality and experimentation, but there’s something to be said for exceptionally strong writing and powerfully addictive pop songs. “My Mistakes” factors in pretty well to be one of the best, catchiest things you’ll hear this calendar year, and there’s a secret sort of delight to be had from condensing the weirdness of The Fiery Furnaces into something wholly pure and easily digestible. The mood of the album too, given its summer release date, makes for a perfect soundtrack to one of those lazy days hanging out at home with the sunshine streaming in through the windows. Yeah it works best in summer, but even in the winter it can probably be used to warm you up a little bit and bring out that innate longing to travel to the Inn of the Seventh Ray or ride the Cyclone on Coney Island. These may be Eleanor’s memories of things that have happened to her, but the way that she spins those tales tend to put us there with her. Honestly, there are far worse ways to spend your money and 40 minutes of your life. While the album likely lacks the staying power of a “Blueberry Boat”, the immediacy and lack of a learning curve make it special in its own way. Matthew may be releasing 8 albums this year, but it’s doubtful that any one of them will be as lovely and wonderful as “Last Summer” is.

Eleanor Friedberger – My Mistakes

Eleanor Friedberger – Scenes from Bensonhurst

Buy “Last Summer” from Amazon

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén