New Music Saturday

Apparently, some cabal of record industry execs decided to release tons of good albums in late April this year. Which is awesome, though it means I might be spending my yearly music budget in one very intense spurt. I haven’t heard the Roots’ latest, Rising Down, yet, though Ned loves it, and their last release, Game Theory, was fantastic. But I have bought Flight of the Conchords’ self-titled debut, Robyn’s self-titled fourth and Portishead’s Third, and they’ll all fantastic (if not very creative in their naming).
Anyone who’s watched the FotC TV show, which should be everyone, knows the songs on the album, though the band’s best track, “Sello Tape“, is conspicuously absent. But even if you’ve seen every episode, it’s worth buying the album; just watching the show, one misses a lot of the jokes and pastiches here. Take “Inner City Pressure”, which wasn’t that great on the show, but which a listen on the album reveals to be an excellent take-off on “West End Girls”. Or “Think About It”, which I hadn’t even realized was a “What’s Goin’ On” parody, full of great social commentary like “A man is lying on the street, some punk has chopped off his head / And I’m the only one who stops to see if he’s dead, aaoohhh / Turns out he’s dead” and “They’re turning kids into slaves just to make cheaper sneakers / But what’s the real cost, ’cause the sneakers don’t seem that much cheaper / Why are we still paying so much for sneakers when you got little kid slaves making them / What are your overheads?”

I didn’t know who it was at the time, but I’m guessing I first heard Robyn when I was eight or so and “Show Me Love” was absurdly popular, so listening to Robyn (released in 2005 in Sweden, but only last Tuesday in the states) makes me pretty nostalgic for the good ‘ol days where Eurotrash boy bands, girl groups, and teen idols ruled the airwaves. But unlike the music of those days, Robyn is actually, you know, good. It’s still pop; not indie-pop, not electronica with hooks, but actual pop. But it’s interesting pop, with weird song structure and synth lines that you haven’t heard 50,000 times already. What’s more, it’s the first album I’ve heard in a long time wherein I’ve liked every single track. That’s got to count for something.

I actually bought Portishead’s debut, Dummy, in March, having no idea they’d be releasing their first album in eleven years a month later. I absolutely loved it (“Sour Times” was my fracking jam for the entirety of that trip to England), and the prospect of something like it coming out shortly had me anxious for Third all through April. Of course, as every review of it points out, Third is not much like Dummy. It keeps the moody atmospherics, but discards sampling entirety, and uses none of the instruments from Dummy. I’m not even sure it counts as a trip-hop album; it defies even the most dorky, overly-specific genre labels. And while it lacks a standout like “Sour Times” or “Glory Box” (the jarring “Machine Gun” comes closest), it’s, song-for-song, a better album than Dummy. It’s the kind of record that I feel like I’ll get more out of every time I listen to it; Portishead took eleven years to make it, and I’m guessing I’ll still have more to learn from it eleven years from now.

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