Sun, Apr 11, 2010 - Page 14 News List

CD Reviews



Erykah Badu

New Amerykah Part Two

(Return of the Ankh)

Universal Motown

According to Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) was a left brain record, dealing primarily with themes affecting society at large, such as drug addiction, racism and urban decay, while New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), her newest release, represents the right side of her brain, the loving, emotional side.

That split extends deeper than lyrical content. The production on Part One was all digital slickness, cold and calculating. Part Two is all analog warmth, blanketed with funky bass lines, angelic harps and the crackle and pop of sampled vinyl. Even the theremins add to the sense of intimacy, here sounding like bubbles of soothing noise.

The video for Window Seat sees Badu stripping off her clothes piece by piece while walking in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas, site of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, before herself being gunned down by an unknown assassin. It is a visual representation of the record’s greatest strength and the reason why it succeeds: Badu’s swagger. Throughout Part Two, her voice oozes confidence, even as she bares all to the listener with lines such as, “I’m a recovering undercover over-lover/Recovering from a love I can’t get over.”

The Dallas police took notice of Badu’s stunt, with kids among the witnesses, and she has been charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to US$500. But after listening to the record, you get the feeling that this was all a part of the plan and that somewhere, she is smirking.

Beach House

Teen Dream

Sub Pop

Beach House’s music is often described as “dream pop,” a genre that began in the 1980s as an intermingling of ambient post-rock sound textures and bittersweet pop-hooks, but any genre label falls short of fully capturing the forces at work on the band’s third album Teen Dream.

It’s easy to get lost in the meandering chord progression of the opening track Zebra, which trots along for a full two minutes with only a metronomic kick-drum and shaker before the snap of the drum machine’s snare propels it into a second round of verse and chorus, this time digging its heels in, with vocalist Victoria Legrand proclaiming, “Anywhere you run, you run before us” atop triumphant, crashing cymbals.

Nine more songs follow, each gushing emotion without ever sounding affected. Crystalline chord arpeggios and soaring synths drive 10 Mile Stereo to a stunning climax on what is Legrand’s most impressive vocal performance, stretching all the right notes as she announces with absolute certainty that “The heart is a stone and this is a stone that we throw.” Yet just as a teenager’s poetry can only take wings in the heart of its acne’d author, the lyrics here are often impenetrable on paper. “Seven figures leap the hungry maws/The beast he comes to you” she croons atop a bed of eerie watery guitar on Norway.

Considering the emotional breadth of the record, which runs the gamut from detuned psychedelia to unbridled pop (sometimes within the space of a single track), the elements of each song remain remarkably consistent: reverb-drenched vocals, relatively clean guitars, haunting synths and simple drum machine beats. Whereas many other bands have to rely on studio innovation to sound fresh, the magic of Teen Dream, what imbues it with such a grandiose feel, is the songwriting itself. Even though it’s only April, Teen Dream is without a doubt one of this year’s gems.

This story has been viewed 3049 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top