Music

Various Artists: Released:The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998

The artists tend to work with a grand palette and paint the obvious tropes so that even those in the cheap seats can hear what’s happening. The result is a lack of subtlety and fuzziness.


Various Artists

The Human Rights Concerts 1986-1998

Label: Shout! Factory
US Release Date: 2013-11-05
UK Release Date: 2013-11-04
Amazon
iTunes

Let me make my biases clear. I am not a fan of Amnesty International as an organization. While I may agree with many of their criticisms of human rights violations and their support of groups such as Pussy Riot, I also find their assessments of other political entities specious and duplicitous. This review focuses on the double-disc compilation taken from four Human Rights Concerts held in New Jersey, Buenos Aires, Santiago, and Paris between 1986-1998. While the net proceeds from the CD sales benefit Amnesty International, my concerns solely address the music. My criteria can be summed up in one short sentence: Does it kick butt?

And unfortunately, despite the plethora of talent (e.g., Peter Gabriel, Radiohead, Lou Reed, and the Police), the answer is simply no. That’s not to say there aren't some fine performances. The problem more generally lies in the recording of large outdoor concerts. The artists tend to work with a grand palette and paint the obvious tropes so that even those in the cheap seats can hear what’s happening. The result is a lack of subtlety and a fuzziness to the vocals and instrumentation.

Consider U2’s "MLK/Pride (In the Name of Love)" from the 1986 A Conspiracy of Hope show at Giants Stadium. The song was still fresh (a 1984 release), the crowd pumped and singing along, the lyrical content relevant to political activism, the anthemic nature of the tune infectious, etc. On paper, this seems the perfect moment for U2 to create a transcendent moment. Instead, it turns into a somewhat clichéd back of forth of "oh-oh-ohs" between the crowd and Bono before he blithely tells them to "Sing it for Jimi Hendrix, for John Lennon, for Reverend Martin Luther King." The spiritual meaning of the song gets lost as a simple paean for the dead which dissipates the enthusiasm in which the band was received. The track is forgettable at best.

The best cut from the first ten culled from the Jersey show is Joni Mitchell’s "Hejira". The Canadian singer-songwriter quiets the crowd down and raises the intensity through her thoughtful and literate description of life’s journey to a throbbing bass line. She mixes "hope and hopelessness" into something beautiful, sympathetic and, well, essentially human. She reveals the importance of every being on the planet, the stated cause, by simply expressing herself as an artist. If you are a fan of Mitchell, it’s worth the price of the CD for this cut alone.

The selections from the Argentinian concert in 1988 benefit from Bruce Springsteen’s contributions on three of the six tracks. The Boss's ability to work a crowd is well known, and he gives it his all. That said, there is nothing essential here. Another live version of "Born in the USA" with the E Street Band rocks hard, but a longish take on "Chimes of Freedom" with Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, and Youssou N’Dour starts to drag, and Springsteen’s duet with Sting on "Every Breath You Take" in a country known for its secret police and torture not long in the past seems embarrassingly stupid.

The four tracks from Chile 1990 reveal more variety with the acts Inti-Illimani, Jackson Brown, Sinead O’Connor, and Sting sharing little in common. Again, the performances are simply not that good. This is probably due to the open air acoustics that prevent the musicians from hearing and reacting well to each other.

The French 1998 show’s eight cuts were better produced and recorded. Everything from Tracy Chapman’s "Fast Car" to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant’s "Rock and Roll" come off clear and strong. That said, most performances still come off as more affected than effective. The main exception is Springsteen who turns his own rollicking composition "No Surrender" into an acoustic folk tale that could pass for Dylan circa 1963, complete with harmonica. Like Mitchell on "Hejira", Springsteen's being quiet intensifies the moment. The impression gets a little lost during the sing along at the end, but the Boss's magic still lingers in the air.

So whether or not this two-disc anthology is worth your money remains a somewhat open question. For a Mitchell of Springsteen completest, sure, go for it. Fans of the other acts may prefer to skip this.

5

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta



19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller



18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr


17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr



16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image