In The Age of Lyric Videos

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It’s late at night and you’re either drunk with your friends or drunk alone with yourself and you’re in the mood for some music. Thankfully, most of us are fortunate enough to have access to YouTube, where you can listen to almost every song ever made AND listen to it while watching cat videos on mute. For a more visceral, engaging experience you can put on a lyric video and have the words of your favorite pop song spelled out for you as you listen.

Or maybe it’s early morning, and the crushing weight of the day ahead, like most days, is too much for you to bear on your own, so you pull your laptop out from under your bed and throw on some lyrical inspiration via Katy Perry. No matter your reasons for adding “lyric video” at the end of your YouTube search, most can agree that lyric videos have become one of the most valuable services that YouTube provides.

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Album Review: David Bowie's The Next Day

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David Bowie - The Next Day

His first album in ten years, David Bowie’s The Next Day is mysterious, often dark, and probably the best thing he’s put out in a long time. At 66 years old, Bowie is long past his Berlin years of the ’70s, and the blunt album art almost humorously acknowledges that by pasting a white square over the cover for 1977’s Heroes.

The title track sets the tone for a sonically diverse album that may draw some to the conclusion that Bowie has become a bit of a pessimist. The guitar and drums are upbeat and he sings the words strongly with an inflection that almost sounds optimistic, but the lines are gloomy and possibly self-referential: “Here I am / Not quite dead / My body left to rot in a hollow tree.” The threat of death and being hanged also lie in the lyrics alongside religious allusions to the misconduct of priests. These disparate themes would be confusing even if they weren’t set to a dance-rock tune. The Next Day is a complex and mysterious album, and the title track simply commands you to “Listen,” as the rest of the album unfolds.

Following the example of the title track, the rest offers more odd juxtapositions. “Valentine’s Day” never directly mentions a school shooting, but it’s implied as Bowie mentions a list of “who’s to go,” which includes “Teddy,” “Judy,” “the teachers and the football stars.” And the ominous line “He’s got something to say / It’s Valentine’s day,” is made all the more unsettling by backup vocals that cheer, “Hey, hey, yeah, woo, woo.”  “If You Can See Me” also features some lines that allude to violence, but the swirling synths, driving drum beat, and distorted multi-tracked vocals are just as disorienting as the puzzling lyrics.

Offering a respite from the anger, the contemplative, mid-album, down-tempo rock poetry of “Where Are We Now?” transitions the album into melancholy, but it’s lined with a slight tinge of hope. It’s the most clearly self-referential song, recalling memories of his years in Berlin. At moments like this, The Next Day seems to be a self-reflective album, but then moments like “I’d Rather Be High” show that these potential self-reflections might have less to do with an aging Bowie and more to do with impersonal institutions. The song may seem like a stoner anthem, but it’s closer to an anti-war protest as Bowie takes on the persona of a youth who would rather be high “than training these guns on those men in the sand.”

The next to last song on the album, “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die,” features reflections on a degraded world paired with gospel backup vocals. Bowie sings, “Oblivion shall own you / Death alone shall love you / I hope you feel so lonely you could die.” The “you” he refers to isn’t clear. And considering the grandness and ambiguity of the twelve preceding tracks, pointing the listener toward an object that all this swirling anger, melancholy, and occasional glimmer of hope is directed at would be reductive. The Next Day’s obscurities make this a haunting and challenging return to form for Bowie.

Follow the jump to watch the music video for “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”…

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Interview: Xiu Xiu

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Jamie Stewart

Jamie Stewart, frontman of experimental group Xiu Xiu, called in to the WRGW studios to talk about the new album “Always” ahead of their North American Tour, which kicks off tonight in Raleigh, N.C. Xiu Xiu plays D.C. tomorrow night, May 2, at the Rock and Roll Hotel with Dirty Beaches and Father Murphy. Doors are at 8, tickets $15.

WRGW: So you’re starting your tour off tonight in Raleigh, and you guys just recently released at midnight your music video for “Honeysuckle.” Do you want to talk about the music video, what you guys were going for with that?

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SBTRKT @ 9:30 Club (3/30/12)

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Photo Credit: Tim Dalferro

Tribal-masked British electro/pop/R&B duo SBTRKT played to a sold out crowd Friday night at the 9:30 Club. The project of musician Aaron Jerome, SBTRKT is on tour as a duo with collaborator Sampha, who produced and provided much of the vocals for SBTRKT’s 2011 self-titled debut album. While some elements of Friday night’s set consisted of pre-recorded beats and samples, Jerome took to keyboards and live percussion on drum set, while Sampha covered vocals. As for tracks such as Wildfire and Pharaohs, which feature guest vocalists on the album (Little Dragon and Roses Gabor respectively), the vocals were sampled for the live show (although interestingly the duo sampled from the Drake version of Wildfire. Drake has performed live with SBTRKT on this track in the past, but alas he appears to be absent on this tour). The duo’s set lasted a little over an hour, disappointingly short, but not unusual for a venue like the 9:30 Club. There was some nice jamming Friday night between the well-known singles, but even more would’ve been extremely welcomed. Nevertheless for the quality they packed into their set, it’s hard to complain.

-Jim Walls

Hunx – Hairdresser Blues (Album Review)

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With Hairdresser Blues Seth Bogart goes solo, dropping the Punx and much of the humor that made Hunx And His Punx so appealing. Hunx’s swing from an album of pre-love yearning to an album of post-break up angst is definitely new. But for the most part, the album is disappointingly pedestrian, especially coming from an artist capable of some infectious garage rock. The sound hasn’t changed much for being a solo album, but Bogart’s formerly charming nasally vocals can be grating without the Punx backing him. The most noticeable change is the album’s generally serious tone, which doesn’t always work. The album gets off to a slow start with songs ranging from annoyingly repetitive (“Your Love Is Here To Stay”) to repetitive yet catchy (“Let Me In”). But the album gets better with the high energy “Always Forever” and the goofy title track “Hairdresser Blues.”

The album works best when Hunx sticks to the infectious camp queerness that he built his career on (although one good serious track is “Say Goodbye Before You Leave,” a tribute to fellow garage-rocker and departed friend, Jay Reatard). Hairdresser Blues isn’t bad. The campy midway songs of the album (“Let Me In,” “Always Forever,” “Hairdresser Blues,” “Do You Remember Being a Roller?”) are great, but Hunx just isn’t quite as fun without his Punx.

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