Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ballad of a Deadman

Best-known as the drummer and percussionist extraordinaire for defunct early-1980s synth-pop Orientalists Japan, the reclusive but indomitable Steve Jansen has gone on to carve a rather successful solo career as a session musician and producer of note, even if this is the sort of success that can’t be measured by any commercial considerations. Jansen’s musical aesthetic is very similar to that of erstwhile Japan frontman David Sylvian (who, incidentally, has been firmly established as a veteran luminary of leftfield, experimental pop): his works are quietly compelling, substantially eclectic pieces that reveal new subtleties and inventive textures with each listen. This approach has placed him squarely along the outer firmaments of contemporary art-rock (along with Sylvian), and has also won him no small amount of respect and acclaim from more discerning listening quarters. For a sample of Jansen’s unique artistry, check out this persuasive live performance of 'Ballad of a Deadman’, an outrageously mutated country and western ditty that mixes in liberal doses of folktronica and Fourth World music, with slightly spooky duet vocals provided by Sylvian and folktronica icon Joan Wasser.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Careless Memories

Like it or not, New Romantic veterans and 1980s survivors Duran Duran excelled at making stonking radio-friendly and chart-ready singles, a highly addictive mixture of funky Chic-informed dance rhythms, arty David Bowie and Roxy Music-shaped glam-rock, edgy post-punk melodies and a bright, shiny new-wave pop slant. However, the one crucial factor that really stencilled these now-ageing Birmingham lads' names in the annals of pop-music history is their groundbreaking, often provocative (in more ways than one) music videos, which introduced and defined the idea of the video clip-as-viable-promotional tool, and arguably single-handedly elevated the nascent MTV to iconic status. Check out 'Careless Memories', one of their latter-day videos, released during the original quintet's reunion tour in 2003, a unique, fun-filled anime-informed short film that features striking visual elements like faceless assassins, giant mutant monsters, rampaging robots and an ending sequence that has a giant animated Simon Le Bon tearing down the corporate headquarters of a certain EMI Records.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Star Guitar

Drum and bass never had a more prominent representative than veteran big-beat proponents Chemical Brothers. Through the course of nearly two decades in the business, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons have pioneered a musically revolutionary yet commercially viable brand of electronica that has resulted in a handful of high-charting singles and a string of number one albums. Kinetic, forceful singles like ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’, ‘Setting Sun’ and the appropriately titled ‘Loops of Fury’ became staples on mainstream dance radio and underground clubs alike, with their eardrum-shattering combination of pavement-cracking bass lines, ecstatically forceful breakbeats and raging synth patterns. Check out one of the Chemicals' more underrated singles, the ferociously percolating, insistently poppish ‘Star Guitar’, backed by an innovative, meticulously assembled, rail travelogue-themed video directed by maverick auteur Michel Gondry.