Ani DiFranco/Bhi Bhiman
Two Albums That Begin With Excellent Songs About Homelessness, and There Will Be More
Ani DiFranco: ¿Which Side Are You On? (Righteous Babe)
After a decade of futzing around, of music so overthought that even her best-of couldn't make a case for it, this one's like re-encountering a friend who drifted away after she took a bad job or married a jerk. Both of which might have happened‑-nobody she signed to Righteous Babe did much for her bottom line, and the nuptials that ruffled her feminist faithful in 1998 ended badly in 2003. Now, finally, her first album since she married her five-year-old's father is as fresh as Lisa Lee at the top of the key. With Uncle Pete signing on via banjogram, the title song announces a political renewal so focused on the three-syllable F-word that it includes an E.R.A. anthem. But for DiFranco the political has always been personal, which doesn't mean private and can mean intellectualized, as in "Promiscuity." The singing on the homelessness tale that opens is as emotionally accomplished as its assumed first-person is formally atypical. The one that reads "If yr not getting happier as you get older/then yr fucking up" is her true credo. A MINUS
Bhi Bhiman: Bhiman (Redeye)
In an unruffled show of assimilative will, this Sri Lankan American 29-year-old channels John Hurt and the Staple Singers into sweet, firm folksongs about injustice's cruelty and love's confusions‑-and is funnier about both than, as a random instance, Van Morrison. The stolid beats define the limits of his Americanization. But from the first strums of "The Guttersnipe," the melodies are universal language at its most outgoing. A MINUS
Reasons I like LDR so far:
1. The first 5 songs are nuts catchy, and some of the later songs are really catchy too ("Summertime Sadness," "Million Dollar Man," still undecided on "National Anthem").
2. I've changed my mind about my previous analysis of "Video Games." I still think that dismal reading stands, but I also feel like there's an aspect of sincerity in it that's really interesting.
3. In fact, through the whole album Lana seems simultaneously ironic/play-acting/distanced and sincere/vulnerable/troubled. I really like the idea of pure shallow materialistic pop with a really visible complicated human underpinning. The ridiculous indulgent poppiness allows me to forgive the oft-whack lyrics.
4. Charges of despondency across the entire oeuvre are warranted, but I feel like her youth and vulnerability lighten it considerably. At her most most lugubrious and morose, her fresh face and lack of experience save it from being over the top because she can't completely back up the songs with the world-wise blues woman thing she's going for. Watching her perform "Video Games" live is pretty illustrative: even the performances that aren't SNL-level flops, she is a scared baby faun girl playing dress-up, as Ioannis suggested. Sometimes she's more direct with the vulnerability ("The Lucky Ones" is an example.)
5. This hyper-indulgent but mournfully unfulfilled pop is so representative of the zeitgeist for a swathe of youth culture in this political and economic climate. I get that a lot of people probably don't have patience for first world rich white girl problems, BUT I for one can identify with it. The temptation is to pour yourself into pleasure, decadence, irresponsible relationships because your prospects as even an upper middle class young person are kind of sh!tty right now. That's a dead-end, temporary route, though, so the live-fast ideals take on a sense of foreboding, giving the shallow images more gravity. "The dark side of the American Dream," ("Without You"). "Sometimes love is not enough/and the road gets tough I don't know why/Keep making me laugh/let's go get high//The road is long we carry on/try to have fun in the meantime" ("Born to Die"). I don't think the obsession with money, fame, etc., should be read completely straight.
6. The same romantic relationship seems to be a thread through the whole album, at least you can think of the love-object as the same person easily. That reading suggests a maybe-frivolous affair that she's poured herself into and become desperately dependent on. (Jesus, I am probably projecting all over the place, oh well.) Kind of supported by other refrains: "queen of Coney Island," "take your body downtown.")
7. I hear so many different pop stars in her, which doesn't come off so much as copy-catting, but as an interesting mix for a young break-through artist. I hear unapologetic party-girl Ke$ha for sure, upfront sex-object eternal child Britney, dark romantic-sexual Fiona Apple at times, thoughtful self-referential Lily Allen a little bit, sometimes Fergie but I can't say exactly why--maybe just the voice sometimes. Man on "Radio" she even sounds like ultimate good girl Taylor Swift. Except she says "f^ckin.'"
OK, sober listen indicated that I still do like it. Definitely drops off at the end compared to the super-singley barrage of the first five tracks, but there are still good songs among the other ten. This is something that will not work without repeated listening and probably a good sampling of live performances.
Feeling like a huge dweeb that I did this.
By the way, the Nicki mix I constructed is a pretty illustration as to why the voice that begins My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is currently on top or at least ought to be. For those of you who didn’t click on the goo.gl the first time around, here’s the playlist, which kicks off with the two Nothing But the Beat disco anthems she pwns, then proceeds through the one we all love her for, a mission statement from Pink Friday (which I still can’t believe anybody hated), Take Care‘s tender Xgau pick, the flagship single from her delayed (dammit) new record, a spirited Sean Kingston poptune, a ****ing staggering remix of 2011’s most ubiquitous single, “Super Bass”, her brand new one, a titular moment of humility from Friday, a real fun one from last year’s radio, the Rihanna track that earned her returned favor, an ultramega OK one from Rebirth which she brings to the limit, more Drake **** but with some intriguing contributions, a song about 2012, a Willow Smith song, a song by the Cash Money guy, a song by the Lonely Island, and one of her earliest breaks:
I Wish That I Could Have This Moment For Life: Nicki 2012
1. Where Them Girls At – David Guetta
2. Turn Me On – David Guetta
3. Monster – Kanye West
4. Fly – Nicki Minaj
5. Make Me Proud – Drake
6. Roman in Moscow – Nicki Minaj
7. Letting Go (Dutty Love) – Sean Kingston
8. Till the World Ends Remix – Britney Spears
9. Super Bass – Nicki Minaj
10. Stupid Hoe – Nicki Minaj
11. Moment 4 Life – Nicki Minaj
12. Bottoms Up – Trey Songz
13. Raining Men – Rihanna
14. Knockout – Lil Wayne
15. Up All Night – Drake
16. 2012 (It Ain’t the End) – Jay Sean
17. Fireball – Willow
18. Y.U. MAD – Birdman
19. The Creep – The Lonely Island
20. My Chick Bad – Ludacris
And here it is… again: http://goo.gl/nlzAD. She sets fire to every track.
Alternate titles: I Ain’t Got No Mother****in’ Time to Spare; 50K For a Verse, New Album Out!!
For some reason I was thinking a lot about women as like a concept tonight. Not sure how that seed got planted, but I constructed a little five-song playlist to try and help contextualize (and maybe illuminate) my feelings about our lady Lana. “Saratoga Summer Song”, a song I swear I paid much better attention to the other time I heard it, registered as overtones of maternity and sagacity over a song that rang as true and progressed with as much elegance as any great literature or poetry, and then “Stranger Me” caught my devoted attention for the same reason it always does: it sounds like the Magnetic Fields. Then old favorite (was it just yesterday?) “Powa”, a maybe-too-quiet storm I overrated, but which still signifies a major-er soul achievement (in my totally unqualified opinion) than anything Joss Stone has ever “laid to tape”, as I’ve seen some people say sometimes. Her vocal is still incredible, and makes me furious over the idea that anybody smart could dislike her voice (I’m lookin’ L7 at you Faraj). Joey claims he can hit that high note and I will never believe him. Then “Fine Tune” (oh **** I forgot my beloved dead horse “Mountain of Tires”). This is an amazingly sexual song, and really really cute in that impossible-to-buy affectation-of-sultry* way (cf. Meow, post-’03 Liz Phair, Nancy Sinatra who I was also thinking about for some reason today). So much better than “Super Bass”, not to mention any awful Teenage Dream track. Release date wise and possibly quality-wise Teenage Dream is like last year’s Band On the Run.
Then Lana comes on. Here’s the big thing I wanna kick myself for forgetting to observe out loud earlier: THIS SONG SOUNDS EXACTLY THE **** LIKE THE BEE GEES’ “HOLIDAY”. Like, to a tee.
And oddly enough, it shares a quality with said high school favorite-o-mine I’m only now really noticing, which is that the whole thing is kind of… deeply unsettling. Not just in its affectation of a perfection unbridled by layers, but the strings, with those little mondo bizarro synth punctuations, the totally not-clear-enough narrative, the whole idea of this whole ****ing concept that’s been getting everybody uppity. This girl is way better than Björk because she suggests, without ever committedly tapping into, a realm of the odd even Beefheart never cottoned to – the John Waters part, the Texas Chainsaw ’74 part, the real elegant twisted stuff, that old weird American whatever run rampant in the not-quite-modern 70s suburbs, those weird houses that Arcade Fire sang about and in which the cover photo of Contra was taken. Both AF and VW are allowed to make precocious-as-**** art that relies on overbearing emotionalism and arcane euro**** arrangement decisions, and as a guy who at 18 claimed his favorite song was “Paris 1919”, who am I to judge this lady so long as she’s weird as she seems†? Maybe she’ll manage to outweird Gaga, Garbus and St. Annie all at once, though my money’s on that never happening. But I’m serious about finally coming clean about what’s only now becoming clear to me – this song creeps the living holy hell out of me.
So for the moment I’m sayin yea to Del Ray. Welcome to the WALKBACK, bitch. #Swizz Beatz
P.S. Her "honey -- is that true?" reminds me a lot lot lot of "Wuthering Heights" (the song, obviously).
time to put Nicki back on
* hi Jon
† I'm still disappointed about Joanna Newsom.
The live stuff persuaded me that the SNL was an aberration - she can sing, and as I become more familiar with the songs even the SNL doesn't sound so bad anymore. The interviews show a kind of wide-eyed yet knowing sincerity. She speaks of trying to stay 'hopeful and soft', which I can relate to in these times of lock and load. She characterizes her songs as "art projects", sonic/visual landscapes that emphasize beauty in place of narrative - and by the way I do think watching the videos is important because she clearly goes to some trouble to assemble visuals as an important component of the songs.
In short, this is some seductive sh*t. But I can't help notice a pervasive theme in which romance is idealized as a kind of doomy passivity. And I can't get into that, beauty notwithstanding. I can see the atmospherics working - and maybe even providing solace and catharsis - on sleepless dark-nights-of-the-soul. But me I'd rather be sleeping. And holding my honey tight.
I think it says a great deal for him that he's hung in there. I'm flattered. You should be impressed. He is not in the majority here. That's hard.
That is true. I'm sorry for being so rude, Jon. You're a brave little toaster. I meant most of what I said, but I shouldn't have rallied a huge ganging-up. And you're not an -ist, at least probably not one of the awful kinds. I hope you stick around. Maybe someday you'll be a part of the majority! And we'll all have me to thank!!!! And even if not, it'll be entertaining! Next time I will be more judicious with the scorn.
How's that for a horrible apology? Sorry about that, too.
P.S. When I say "rallied," I don't mean I did it on purpose...though I have to admit it was a pleasant surprise of sorts.
These kids comprise about 30% of my school's student population.
Thanks. Can't say I'm familiar with the type.
How about the weak ankles?
I have no idea what this means.
Her bio is classic hard drug New England weak ankles high art ironic boarding school stuff
I have no idea what this means.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.