This afternoon, it’s time for Penny to tickle our musical tastebuds with the month’s new and noteworthy musical releases. There’s two big hitters this time around as well as two I hadn’t heard of, so please do share your thoughts as usual if we’re inspiring you to take a chance and listen to something new, or you rate Penny’s choices.
The first sunny days of the year have arrived, and with them the students covering our local parks like a travelling circus, brandishing acoustic guitars, disposable barbecues and juggling paraphernalia. Every year I become more convinced that these are not actually undergraduates, but undercover sixth formers. “Surely that girl can’t be more than 15!” I shriek. Then I realise that I am simply getting old. That’s why their outfits look ill-conceived, or like they’re going to a Reality Bites themed fancy dress party.
I’d like to think that there are some benefits to ageing, however uncool it might feel. As the years go by we get wiser (or at least more willing to laugh at our mistakes). We get more relaxed about music, too. More open to listening to new things that might not necessarily fit into our “tribe” or what we think is cool or safe. And I think we have much more fun doing it, too. So how about trying something new this spring? Go to a gig, if that‘s something different for you. Catch some jazz, go to a cheesy pop concert, whatever, just do something unexpected. For me, it was enjoying the Michael Kiwanuka album. What will it be for you?
Michael Kiwanuka: Home Again
Unlike some of his old-school soul heroes (Sam Cooke, Otis Redding), Michael Kiwanuka doesn’t have a great deal to say. There’s no burning political or emotional point to bash home here, nor is his a fresh, hip sound that we ought to deceive ourselves we are hip for listening to. This soft, easy, crooning style has been done and done to the point where you slip into it like a nicely worn pair of shoes. You know, the ones your friends think are a bit tacky, but you wear them anyway. Because you’re getting old, and you can’t always be bothered about being fashionable, and who wants to limp home with blisters anyway? Michael Kiwanuka’s voice is honey for you to dip your ears in. Sunday morning perfect.
Talking of getting old, here’s one lady who could almost be a granny to some of you young pups. Crazy! How would you feel about your Nan making a record that references class A drugs and includes songs with titles such as “Gang Bang” and “Girl Gone Wild” (which I believe is something to do with a wet t-shirt competition)? YOU WOULD LOVE IT. The critics have been a bit mean about this album, and it’s certainly no return to the pop genius of her early years, but she seems to be getting most of her stick for being past it and trying too hard to be cool. I am not going to stand for this, and neither should you – Madge is doing it for all us ladies growing old disgracefully. The album itself is fine. It’s a Madonna album. It has clearly been pointed at the nightclubs, it’s big and upbeat and it’s no worse than anything else she’s put out in the last 20 years. Sadly the MIA and Nicki Minaj collaborations are a bit tame, but why let your rivals steal your thunder? I just hope I’m singing about group sex and getting off my tits when I’m 53.
The Shins: Port Of Morrow
For some reason, I have always lumped the Shins into the mental dustbin where I put all bands that sound like they should be on the Juno soundtrack. You know, cute but mildly irritating indie rock. This new album is bound to get oodles of airplay on Radios 2 and 6, because it is both eagerly anticipated by music fans, and also a maturing of their jaunty, folky sound into something that sounds a bit more like Noah and the Whale. I’m not sure any of this is good news, least of all for Shins fans. However. The lead single, Simple Song, is quite brilliant and you will definitely be tripping over it for the rest of the year and wondering to yourself “what on earth is that?” Somebody on the desk next to you at work will start singing it, and it will be lodged in your head for weeks. The rest of the album is really good, but with the bouncy twee-ness of their old sound polished away, I can’t help thinking how much they sound slightly weak version of Crowded House now. Maybe I it was a tiny better when they were irritating. No pleasing some people though, eh?
Julia Holter: Ekstasis
This record pleases me though. It pleases me greatly. It’s not as instant as the previous three – far from it. This is an album you need to put on for weeks, and let it seep into your pores until suddenly you realise it has become a part of you. Julia Holter is an up and coming experimental pop musician from L.A, and she makes beautiful, weird and woozy electronic lullabies to listen to on those nights where you just can’t sleep. It’s abstract music, that somehow still manages to soothe as it challenges. The more traditionally structured songs are textured and complex, but still as sugary-soft and whispery as French pop. Meanwhile, the ambient “serious music” moments are like a soundtrack to snow falling. Delicate, beautiful and seriously impressive. If you want to take a chance this month, this should probably be it.
Seriously, I can’t believe Madonna is still going. All credit to her…! (Anybody remember this?)
PS Find Penny on her blog Bad Penny Says, or @TokaiPenny.