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Charlotte Gainsbourg: IRM
The enigmatic daughter of sixties’ icons Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin has come out with a new album, IRM, in collaboration with her close friend Beck. You wouldn’t think the two have much musically in common, and we’re still not sure they’ve managed to work it out.
In September 2007, Charlotte underwent emergency brain surgery after suffering a cerebral haemorrhage related to a water skiing accident. The album isn’t meant to reflect this, and Gainsbourg has said that the song ‘IRM’ (the French acronym for MRI) isn’t about melancholy; yet listening to the song would make one think otherwise.
’Take a picture, what's inside? / Ghost image in my mind.../ Hold still and press the button.../ Register all my fear.../ Tell me where the trauma lies.' Lyrics like these, combined with a far-from-easing industrial sound, aren’t as pleasantly musical as Gainsbourg might have envisioned; and if melancholy wasn’t the overarching sensibility on this track, one wonders what was.
‘Master’s Hands’ is also less than cheery, and feels like someone is drilling in your brain, perhaps because it’s meant to: ‘Drill my brain all full of holes/ And patch it up before it leaks,’ she sings. ‘Heaven Can Wait’ feels a bit like a sixties’ pop throwback and morbidly declares, ’Heaven can wait/ And Hell’s too far to go.’ ‘Dandelion’ has a lighter, country, honky- tonk beat and is even defiant: ’It’s been a long time since I let my hair hang down/ I’ll take my time before I go under the ground.’ Wrestling with death seems to be the album’s prominent undercurrent.
The songs on IRM are mostly the same– tribal, earthy, primal, electronic. At times quiet or haunting, at times atmospheric and dramatic or reminiscent of Feist, nothing is particularly captivating about the album’s sound. Most of the lyrics are nonsensical, and the overall theme is subversive. Gainsbourg’s voice is throaty, deep and sleepy; and we’re not sure if you should call it singing or droning.
What little French there is on the album (just three songs: ‘Le Chat du Cafés des Artistes’, ‘La Collectionneuse’ and ‘Voyage’) are much more fluid and can even be called pretty. Her voice transforms from monotone to soft, feminine, and a little like Frou Frou. While this wouldn’t necessarily pass for singing outside of France, it’s rather more along the lines of delicate French chanteuse Vanessa Paradis; and a welcome change from the grinding downer of the rest of the album.
Though perhaps the heavy beats throughout the album could be attributed to Beck, whoever is responsible has managed to make IRM sound more like background music for some new-age café or jungle club, and not necessarily listenable for its own merit.
Only ‘In the End’ and ‘Me and Jane Doe’ stand out for their melodic nature, and ‘Trick Pony’ finally gets the whole industrial rock thing right; and is the closest thing to a song on the album. Judging by the super weird video, Gainsbourg and Beck were probably floating on their own little cloud while making this album, and whether it’s meant for consumption is debateable.
Michael Jackson was cruelly taken from this world in 2009, his musical-afterlife
is proving to be very fruitful. In addition to bringing in good money for producers and collaborators, it’s a staunch reminder of the
king of pop’s much loved spirit. That was achieved in Michael, the
first album release after his passing away, but not many would say the same
about new album Immortal.
For one thing, Immortal was originally created as a soundtrack for the Cirque du Soleil tour of the same name, and while Michael featured new songs, this one is made up mainly of remixes of some of his most popular songs which, without the accompanying Cirque du Soleil acts, may sound like a meaningless spoil of some of the greatest pop classics of all time.
Among the songs on the giant twenty-track album, some of the titles grab the attention right away and raise intrigue; how would a ‘Thriller’ remix turn out, for example? And who dares mess with ‘Smooth Criminal’? The latter had a couple of dramatic pauses and smashing sound effects between verses without breaking the original mood of the song.
The same can’t be said of the ‘Speechless/Human Nature’ remix. While it’s hard to notice where the two songs blend, the only change is the absence of ‘Human Nature’s beat and replacing it with a strange clicking sound. Instrumentally speaking, ‘Man in The Mirror’ is the best remix on the record; the basic elements of the song stay the same, while a little shuffling of the chorus arrangements has actually given it a fresh sound that still keep it recognisable.
Immortal is rather confusing at first listen; if it aims to preserve Jackson's legacy, how come none of the new arrangements sound remotely like anything he would have done? Maybe it is a different experience when accompanied by the the Cirque du Soleil performance, but as an album, it lacks a running theme and it is too commercialized for its own good.
Canadian artist, Grimes – real name Claire Boucher – has made a name for herself with her eclectic, haunting production style and unique ethereal vocals. With one of 2012’s best albums, Visions, Grimes firmly placed herself on the art-pop landscape as an incredible producer, placing on several album of the year lists. Now it’s 2015, and she’s back with what is her fourth overall studio album, but is it the second coming everyone expected?
The album opens with the straight-forwardly titled ‘laughing and not being normal’. As a testament to the breadth of the work that she takes inspiration, the track sounds like something from an anime or Japanese video game. The vocals are as haunting and ethereal as ever and as if the production style wasn’t enough to warrant a comparison to Japanese and anime culture, the song ends with the line “When the leaves fall/ I try to catch ‘em all.” Coincidence?
The second track, ‘California’, is where Grimes goes all-out with her mainstream pop influences. Sounding like something released in the early 2000s, the song almost borders on bubblegum, bursting at the seams with sticky satirical bile aimed squarely at a certain music website who’s name may or may not rhyme with Shmitchfork. Grimes puts all her vocal emotions into the repeated verse, ending “Oh lord cause I don't wanna know what they say/ Cause I get carried away, Commodifying all the pain.”
Ouch. But there is more to this track than just satire. The light synth buzz in the background brings the song back down to earth a little bit, and the layered vocals make this a great synthesis between her personal style and a more mainstream aesthetic.
This play between art-pop and more mainstream stylings is an ongoing theme throughout the album. ‘Flesh without Blood’, for example, sounds like a song that you might see Rihanna performing – and funnily enough, Grimes’ last non-album single, ’Go’, produced in collaboration with Blood Diamonds was originally written for RiRi, but was turned down. This is seen once again on ‘Realiti’, which manages to combine elements of house and liquid dubstep, with only a light smattering of pop-iness.
That doesn’t mean that Boucher has lost her touch for experimentation. ‘SCREAM’ combines vocals performed entirely in Mandarin by female Taiwanese rapper, Aristophanes, with guitar and drums that would not be out of place on a Nine Inch Nails album. The minimalist verse periods are full on With Teeth/Year Zero style production, with the chorus section seemingly being pulled straight from Trent Reznor and co’s 1992 EP, Broken.
‘Kill V. Maim’ is further evidence of this, although the experimentation is more lyrically-based. Potentially, the best pop song of the year, the lyrics deal with, in Grimes’ own words, “the perspective of Al Pacino in The Godfather Pt II. Except he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel through space.” Beyond the strange subject matter, the lyrics steer dangerously yet subtly close to philosophical concepts, as seen much more commonly on previous releases. At the end of the bridge, she screams “You gave up being good when you declared a state of war”. This appears to be a reference to John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government where he defines a state of war as being a situation where one can kill in defence of their freedom, in contrast to the state of nature where this is not the case. Pretty deep for a bubblegum pop tune, but that’s just how Grimes rolls.
The most absurd thing about this album –forgetting for one brief second the vampire Al Pacino, the Pokemon references and the Mandarin rapping – is that it is all entirely self-produced and engineered, flying right in the face of critics of DIY styles who will tell you that it’s sloppy and poor quality. This is one of the best produced albums of the year and, despite a couple of stumbles, Grimes shows a maturity beyond her 27 years, bringing all of her influences together into a well-made, danceable and, above all, long-awaited package.