“6’1””, the rollicking first chapter in the Exile in Guyville odyssey, thrums with cutting wit and palpable angst—the perfect introduction to Liz Phair’s unique brand of musical storytelling.
Liz Phair’s seminal Exile in Guyville opens with “6’1”,” arguably the record’s hardest, grungiest early ‘90s rock moment. It is an act of sheer bravada on Phair’s part—the musical equivalent of a freshly incarcerated inmate slugging the largest, meanest mother in the shower stalls—as she encounters a former flame (“All the bridges blown away / Keep floating up”) and spends three fabulously caustic minutes assuring him that while she’s only gotten better with time (“I kept standing 6’1” / Instead of 5’2”), he’s visibly shrunken in stature (“I loved my life / And I hated you”). It’s an ultimate act of sizing up—and cutting down—set to music, one of many subtly humorous moments constructed by Phair’s perverse intellect (though, compared to the album’s subsequent tracks, it is by far one of the tamest).
In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Exile in Guyville, Sound Affects inaugurates a new Between the Grooves series that examines the indie rock landmark musically, as well as its author's own changing relationship with the album over the years.
“Your record collection don’t exist / You don’t even know who Liz Phair is”. This playful admonishing of a much younger lover is, in many ways, the most telling moment on Liz Phair’s controversial eponymous 2003 album. The once reigning (blowjob) queen of the indie rock scene, Phair celebrated the 10th anniversary of her near-universally praised debut album Exile in Guyville by highlighting her hair and shortening her skirts; enlisting the services of production team The Matrix (responsible for the likes of Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8r Boi” and Hillary Duff’s “So Yesterday”); and, on the album’s cover art, wielding her guitar to strategically obscure her topless torso in lieu of actually playing it on the record. That Phair had made such an abrupt, transparent grab for mainstream success left diehard fans confused and heart-hurt, while the very music critics who had canonized Guyville as an inimitable masterpiece scratched their heads; that Phair was so unapologetic about her infectious but inconsequential “Why Can’t I?” becoming a summer radio hit (and later anthologized on Now That’s What I Call Music! 14, respectively) and relished the derisive debate it sparked surprised no one.
Phair’s songs and persona have always been brimming with rebellion, sometimes subtly, sometimes screamingly so. The more critics and fans tried to pick apart and figure out if Liz Phair was all some colossal joke orchestrated by a cunning feminist artist, or simply a frustrated, recent divorcee who had spent the previous decade in dowdy clothes on the Lilith Fair realizing she’d best do something drastic to keep herself relevant, the more Phair fired back. She most notably penned a retelling of the fable Chicken Little in response to Meghan O’Rourke’s assertion in the New York Times that Phair had committed “career suicide”. Phair was once again eliciting shock and awe among listeners, but for seemingly all the wrong reasons.
The infrastructure will collapse from voltage spikes. Throw your keys in the bowl, kiss your husband good night, and give a listen to the 127th most acclaimed album of all time.
Mendelsohn: After a couple of years wandering around in the digital hinterlands, Radiohead came back home to their guitars and put together a record with everything they had learned over their nearly 20-year-old career. If you are looking for the quintessence of Radiohead, look no further than In Rainbows. Everything the band ever was (and may ever be) was distilled into an odd, genre spanning collection of songs that hits everything between straightforward rock to stark piano ballads to the waltz.
I think it’s all here, Klinger. Everything that Radiohead had been seemingly pushing toward—the sad-sackery, the avant-rock, the lyrical focus on isolation and digital fear—can be found somewhere in the ten songs that make up In Rainbows. On top of that, we get to see, dare I say, love and hope creeping in at the corners like the sun trying to break through on a cloudy day.
On the eve of his next major project release, Alison Moyet's the minutes, here's a countdown of this UK songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer's best productions.
He’s been producing music for over 20 years. He’s worked with everyone from Björk, Madonna, Britney Spears, to Alanis Morissette, to name a few. Without a doubt, UK songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Guy Sigsworth is one of the most accomplished and well-respected people working in the music industry today.
His production trajectory can be broadly described as going from experimental to mainstream, though he recently got the chance to indulge in freakier sounds with Chinese artist SingerSen. Early Sigsworth productions, from the dawn of the ‘90s, are usually danceable; cloaked in thick, hazy atmosphere; featuring synth pads that pulse and recede like waves; laced with busy high-frequency percussion; and contain the harpsichord. He also liked to throw in some Indian flavor from time to time, featuring tabla, sitar, and Indian music scales; this habit continues today. It was clear from the beginning that Guy pays little regard for staying within genre boundaries.
From the late ‘90s on, Guy began to incorporate samples, reversed keys, scratchy distortion, pitch-bent basslines and glitchy sound effects into his pieces. He also has a propensity for working with female vocalists with distinctive tones, beginning with Imogen Heap in the mid-‘90s, then Björk, Kate Havnevik, and Diana Vickers.
By the time he was working with Madonna, Britney, and his duo Frou Frou in the 2000s, he had shifted much of his focus towards shiny, polished pop, tracks that sometimes seem to overflow with instruments. His sonic palette since the start has been heavily electronic, with repeated attempts at electric guitar parts usually sounding flat. This is compensated by his impressive skill at arranging string parts, whether they need to sound threatening, kinetic, or just plain pretty.
Capable of playing off-kilter or straight down the middle, Sigsworth can flip from aggression to beauty in his work without breaking a sweat. On the eve of his next major project release, Alison Moyet’s the minutes, here’s a countdown of Guy’s best productions based on creativity, complexity, and emotional connection.
10. “It’s Better to Have Loved” by Temposhark (2008)
Here’s a typical example of Sigsworth’s signature sound in the 2000s: pitch-bending electro bass squelches that spew sinister smoke in the verse, before cinematic strings bring sweeping sentimentality in the chorus.
9. “Unravel” by Björk (1997)
Was there any way that this guy’s work on Björk’s best album wouldn’t come up? Guy’s production contribution for Homogenic—he also worked on the classic “All Is Full of Love” as an instrumentalist—is minimal compared to his regular tendencies, but effective an remarkable all the same. The airy organ, tumbling backwards keys and moaning percussion aurally approximate human breaths and heartbeats, as if we hear her bodily sensations along with her voice.
8. “Should Have Known” by Robyn (2002)
Before the Swedish DIY pop artist reminded everyone how awesome she was in 2005 (and rerecorded this track in a simpler style), Guy worked with Robyn on two tracks, both examples of edgy electronic pop. “Should Have Known” stands slightly above “Blow My Mind” thanks to its breathing, pumping sonics via a rubbery bassline and drifting synth pads.
7. “Must Be Dreaming” by Frou Frou (2002)
Sigsworth’s duo with Imogen Heap only lasted for one album, but what an album it is. Concocting a heady mix from his favorite shades of pop, electronica, symphonic, Indian and jazz trumpet, and positively overflowing with instruments, you get the sense that the producer found a perfect match in Heap and together, they did whatever the heck they wanted. Impossible to pick just one representative from the album, “Must Be Dreaming” gets the spotlight for its varied instrumentation and shifting moods.
6. “What It Feels Like for a Girl” by Madonna (2000)
An excellently placed spoken word sample (delivered by Charlotte Gainsbourg) and a keening synth line immediately set the tone for Madge’s track as fashionably lonely. The producer then builds the song from a groovy verse section, driven by a cool beat and filtered bass licks, towards a dreamy chorus washed over by tidal keys and pads.
For its fourth studio album and first without founding members Josh and Zac Farro, Paramore have made its most ambitious album to date. The self-titled album is more eclectic and more pop-centric than the first three, and it also might be the group's best.
Paramore’s new, self-titled, album is its highest charting to date, debuting at number one on both the UK and US album charts. It is also one of the band’s more critically appreciated albums to date. This all comes in spite of the fact that this album, the fourth studio album of its career, is the first since the departure of founding members Josh and Zac Farro.
With the Brothers Farro gone, the band’s remaining members, Hayley Williams, Jeremy Davis, and Taylor York, are left to pick up the songwriting load that had typically been carried by Josh Farro. And the three have seemed to fare pretty well, crafting an album of 17 (!) pretty stellar tracks. Though it’s certainly the group’s poppiest effort to date, incorporating more pop production techniques and varied approaches to songwriting, Paramore still holds onto its pop-punk roots. Williams sounds as good as ever and amongst the softer pop tracks, the band shows they still know how to rock on songs like “Be Alone”, “Anklebiters”, and “Daydreaming”.