Back to Black
Amy Winehouse is the new siren of tragedy and Back to Black is her song. The album is inviting—her voice is warm, her songs (which she writes) are soulful but rhythmic enough to be catchy, and her backing band is awesome, with good horn and string lines and that deep, baritone sax that'll pucker your asshole. It's the kind of thing you want to listen to in a car on a summer day, cruising the strip with the windows down. But as you linger in the album, it darkens like a purple stain. The hit single is a battle cry for defiant drunks: "They's tryin' to make me go to rehab but I won't go, go, go... I'd rather be at home with Ray/I ain't got 17 days. There's nothing you can teach me that I can't learn from Mr. Hathaway." ("Ray" being Mr. Charles and "Mr. Hathaway" being Donny.) And it goes down from there: empty bottles, broken hearts.
The opening lines of the title track—"He left no time to regret/Kept his dick wet/With his same-old safe bet"—are sung with a round, luscious soulfulness while her backing band beats out a piano-drum-horn line straight from a '60s girl-group hit. The sweet pop references plus the raw ache of her voice equals an intoxicating cocktail of innocence and experience.
Then she says, "I'm an ugly dickhead drunk, I am." Like Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday before her, Amy Winehouse is our queen of damage du jour. We love her sins and we love that she's not ashamed.
And yes, I've seen the YouTube video of her drunkenly howling out her half of a "Beat It" duet (never missing a note nor a beat, mind you) and it's fucking marvelous—unless you like your soul music from blow-dried bobbleheads like Charlotte Church. BRENDAN KILEY
Boogybytes Vol. 3
Endorsed on Boogybytes' opener by an ornery Henry Rollins as nonmusical, drug-addled "fuckheads," Germany's Modeselektor make shitty rave music threatening again. Just ignore the corny title; it must be one of those three-times-over ironic things (see: white jeans, Cop Rock reruns). Besides, this is one of the few recent mixes that successfully rides that precarious line between boring genre allegiance and spazzy nerd programming.
At 25 songs, the track list is short by today's mix standards, yet genres seamlessly flip from wonky jelly-doughnut bass lines to dubstep to funboy minimal without sounding like a techno variety show. Instead of shuffling through an endless array of big hooks, Modeselektor's mixing capitalizes on the similarities of each style—drums programmed off the grid, big farty bass, and synth arpeggios that bleep out ring-tone melodies. In other words, Boogybytes is music by and for fuckheads. Most of the tracks featured here are hits only in the most relative of terms—Burial's murky monster jam "Southern Comfort" was heard by 11 people outside of music-critic circles. Even the stuff with potential crossover appeal, like Spank Rock's "Rick Rubin," will be remembered as that one song by the Spank Boyz about the bearded guy.
But that fuckhead mentality makes Boogybytes a vital commodity for the nonzealot. Electronic music lost a lot of momentum when it shifted toward microgenres with subtle differences. By moving away from those purist impulses, Modeselektor make the argument that things have changed. Hopefully, people are still listening. BRANDON IVERS
Rock & Roll Machine
In 2005, Slender Means' debut release, Neon & Ruin, put a spark in the city's vibrant indie-rock heart. The band's shining keyboards, luminous and catchy guitars, and crisp, gentle drumming came together in some of the prettiest, most dynamic pop songs heard in a while. The bow on the perfect little package, though, was singer Josh Dawson's voice; with a strong and soaring range, Dawson is a modern-day crooner with the ability to melt hearts in just a few words.
The opening track on the band's new EP, Rock & Roll Machine—their first release since Neon & Ruin—is more bitter than their romantic material of days past. The intro guitar in "Fade Out" boasts a bratty swagger, and the keys, while catchy, are also laced with an eerie attitude—it has a sort of Wilco-meets-'60s-beach-party feel. And instead of hitting us with his heart-stopping vocals, Dawson snaps "Got no job, cause I need to be free/you can't stop this rock and roll machine." Ultimately, the song is about someone who's in this music thing for the long haul—it's as "fuck you, I'm doing what I want" as the band's ever been.
"Ship Wrecked" and "Foreign Legion," the two following tracks, return to more familiar territory. The fluid but familiar songwriting relies on Dawson's vocals to carry it beyond the land of unremarkable. But you know what? It works just fine. MEGAN SELING
Slender Means play with Rocky Votolato at Neumo's Fri April 20, 8 pm, $12 DOS, all ages.
Keigo Oyamada, aka Cornelius, appropriated his alias from Planet of the Apes. But the Japanese recording artist doesn't aspire to live in another world. Instead, he condenses the sensations that constantly bombard us in this one into stunning aural collages on his third U.S. studio release.
The 12-song set dawns with the title track, a delicate mix of bells, wind chimes, and acoustic guitar that blossoms in subtle complexity; the effect recalls accelerated film footage of flowers blooming. At the end of the selection, Cornelius deliberately plays lower and lower on the guitar, and the ear becomes increasingly conscious not of the notes or tones, but the physical sensation of strings being plucked, and wood resonating from vibrations. The sounds become tactile.
Similar flights of synesthesia pop up throughout the program, echoing the influential experiments of Miles Davis, Neu!, and Eno's Music for Films. The delicately layered vocals of "Breezin'" trigger the same olfactory hints of fresh-cut grass and spring flowers manifested in the finest work of the Free Design; choppy guitars and crisp drums toast "Fit Song" into a delicate wafer cookie.
Cornelius also subverts established conventions at a purely musical level. The reptilian funk of "Beep It" incorporates escalating synthesizer stabs that hint at, yet deftly sidestep, techno clichés, while "Sleep Warm" translates a song from Sinatra's 1958 concept LP Only the Lonely into a wafting electrical cloud of harp, xylophone, and processed vocals. By integrating these different approaches, the producer creates a sonic odyssey that stimulates all the senses, without resorting to gimmicks like a fur jewel box or instructing fans to lick the CD face. KURT B. REIGHLEY
Cornelius play with Honeycut at El Corazón Tues April 24, 9 pm,$16 adv/$18 DOS, all ages.