Lana Del Rey’s debut Born to Die suffered from a crisis-of-authenticity, the outrage and barrage of think-pieces as manufactured as the singer’s found-footage videos and pouting sexuality. But beyond all the hipster handwringing, Born to Die simply didn’t have many great songs, and even standouts like “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans” were marred by a limping production style.
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Vanessa Daou assumed her place on the dance music throne during the height of the cresting electronica scene in the 90’s rather reluctantly. The New Yorker’s music was never destined to be a staple of radio and, moreover, it required listeners to do two things at once: dance and think—two functions that don’t necessarily jibe well on a dance floor. Her heady brew of electronic beats and poetic implorations have both fascinated and mystified listeners alike; aiming at both the head and the feet, Daou’s music has never sought to be accepted as a genre defined by a playlist or the same marketing ploys used to sell lingerie.
Instead, the singer spent her time and resources wisely, mining the library for books to feed and supplement her musical diet. Take Zipless (1995), her first solo outing into lounge-hopping culture, where she would spark the curiosity and desire of both the literati and club-goers. Zipless, her proper debut, was the congealed lava of still heated emotions, cooling slowly over the bedrock of smooth, percolating beats. The sonic dressing, courtesy of producer and then-husband Peter Daou, furnished the music with the sweaty, carnal atmosphere of two lovers locked in an overheated sauna and deliriously happy about it. At the core was Daou’s voice, a haunting, diaphanous whisper that divulged only the most clandestine secrets in the listener’s ear. Zipless was so over-the-top in its impassioned femininity and, yet, so understated in its approach and intent that you might have missed what was the album’s most sensual cue: Erica Jong’s erotic poetry, of which Daou’s lyrics were based upon. Her association with Jong alone made Daou the talk of feminist circles amidst the album’s release; meanwhile, her tracks were doing time in the swankiest of underground cells, giving DJs a run for their wax and honey.
Four years after the self release of the Head and the Heart’s self titled debut, the Seattle sextet returns with their greatly anticipated sophomore release, Let’s Be Still. Two years of relentless touring after the release combined with 10,000 units moved directly from the back of the van and industry chatter to influence regional powerhouse Sub Pop to take on the group as clients and release The Head and The Heart under their own brand label.
Success met success with this venture. The Sub Pop exposure led to high visibility touring slots, and the album continued to render healthy sales figures. There is very little reason to wonder why. Four years of touring covering roughly 40 minutes of music meant H&H were an act not to be missed at any regional summer mega-festival. Their self-titled album could be considered a bit lopsided in that its strong suits more than make up for tracks that shouldn’t be described as filler so much as middle of the road. The Head and the Heart might have been better labeled the Hot and the Cold. Where they work, they kill, but they aren’t without faults.
Having been sentenced to musical purgatory has done wonders for Anna Domino’s mystique. A curio of ‘80s avant-pop, Domino forged ahead with her own special brand of slightly skewed pop, borrowing thoughtfully from various musical strains with jazz, rock, dance and folk being the primary influences she would use to bring form to her nearly amorphous art.
Domino’s songs were chronicles of lives at once contentious and enamoured, hanging in a curious balance of ambition and insecurity. Often, her dreamy passages recalled the amorously conflicted characters of Tama Janowitz novels; her songs were about women of the ‘80s who had found a new stretch of freedom to play around with as well as the growing awareness of not knowing what to do with all that newfound space. Much like the singer herself, who once made a living from making furniture out of found objects, her characters were victims of happenstance, often lost in the quirky, unusual situations afforded to them by city life.
It’s not hard to spot a band on the brink of a breakout at Warped Tour. The signs usually consist of a relatively large crowd on one of the side stages, an amped up atmosphere during the band’s set, and usually, newly released material that eclipses the group’s past work and gives you the sense that it has finally come into its own. One of the most logical candidates for a breakout this year has to be Hands Like Houses.
The Internet buzz has been building for the Aussie six-piece for a while now. Last year’s Ground Dweller proved to be a stellar debut, packed with experimental post-hardcore that challenged pre-conceived notions about what the genre should sound like. Certainly heavy, but captivatingly melodic, Ground Dweller set the stage for Hands Like Houses to shake up the scene.