Category Archives: sound bites
(i’ll be smushed at the front with a bag o’ loot and pearls for eyes….”and the world spins round and i don’t care anymore…”)
these free album downloads are ridiculously addictive. i listened to house of balloons on repeat for god knows how long. and now, was walking to the tune of d.d. all damn day. made me grin. so trashy and silly and awesome. love montreal and xo and this one:
i ain’t scared of the fall…i’ve felt the ground before
“As radical reinventions go, Third is surprisingly natural. You can credit Gibbons as the familiarizing factor: She possesses a voice that seems impossible to shackle to just one musical setting, even if it already sounds perfectly at home in brooding downtempo ambience. As the most recognizable component of the group, she has the most established stylistic tendencies– subtle quivers, an ability to go from hushed to piercing without laboring over the transition, an aching timbre that expresses anxious vulnerability better than nearly any other singer– and she slips back into them comfortably when she needs to.
But it’s also a style that works in more contexts than we’ve previously heard, something she hinted at with Rustin Man on 2002’s folk and jazz-influenced Out of Season, and Third is the culmination of this. Pitted against the jarring mechanical stop-starts of first single “Machine Gun” or the chase-scene-paced opener “Silence”, Gibbons sounds like both a defiant accuser and someone clinging on for dear life. Quieter numbers, like the slow-build electronic ballad “The Rip” or the softer moments of the cabaret highwire act “Hunter”, highlight the fragility in her voice. And since almost every song on Third addresses some sort of emotional or mental helplessness– typically a deep and profound sense of loss and isolation– it’s almost as though this shift in sonic identity is there to mask the fact that this is an incredibly bleak record lyrically. Gibbons’ wounded tone can take commonplace-on-paper sentiments (“I’d like to laugh at what you said but I just can’t find a smile”; “I can’t deny what I’ve become/ I’m just emotionally undone”) and give them a kind of pathos that’s almost uncomfortably voyeuristic to listen to.
As for how the music itself has changed, long story short: Third is a psychedelic rock album. It opens with a rhythm that’s nearly twice as fast as almost everything else Portishead have done, the percussion on most of the songs is frequently muffled or buried under layers of noise and sometimes just stops short of being non-existent (though it’s heavy and propulsive when it does make itself known), and their keyboards and strings have graduated from relaxed tension into dissonant rumbles and shrieks. There’s a brief acoustic folk song (“Deep Water”), an abrasive and jittery electro-industrial number (“Machine Gun”), free jazz horns (“Magic Doors”), analog freakouts from the United States of America-fueled early days of electronic psych (“The Rip”), and a song that sounds a bit like Clinic’s droning, rhythmically dense garage-kraut, except somehow spookier (“We Carry On”). Portishead as you previously knew them are represented, barely, by the last song on the album– the sleepwalk-paced, David Axelrod-esque “Threads”– and even then, its intermittently fuzzed-out tension-and-release dynamic would’ve made it one of the harshest-sounding songs on Dummy or Portishead.
You could say that this would be unrecognizable as a Portishead album without Gibbons’ voice, and you’d be sort of right; guitarist and contributing songwriter Adrian Utley mentioned in a recent New York Times article that one of the rules they set for Third was that they couldn’t fall back on any instruments– or even any trademark sounds– that they’d used on previous albums. But their style here isn’t particularly out of character, comparatively experimental as it is; Utley’s guitar still twangs sharply when it’s not doing things like interjecting “Iron Man” growls in “Hunter” or splintering into Syd Barrett-isms at the coda of “Small”, and the melodic identity that he and Geoff Barrow built on a foundation of minor keys and sinister grandeur still holds sway. In the terms of a group that was frequently lumped in with film composers as much as Bristol axis peers, Portishead’s Euro-cool John Barry intrigue has been pushed into the disquieting territory of John Carpenter’s compositions and Bernard Herrmann’s Alfred Hitchcock scores.” from nate patrin’s review for pitchfork
“Normalcy can feel awfully precarious, like a comforting dream blotting out a nightmarish reality…”–a.o. scott
take shelter, the new jeff nichols written/directed film, opened in limited release friday and is already garnering high praise both for the story and the acting. michael shannon, the reigning madman across the water, continues to solidify his place as one of today’s best working actors with roles characterized by fury and lunacy (as exemplified in revolutionary road and his current turn in hbo’s boardwalk empire), jessica chastain is fresh off her triumph with malick’s tree of life, and nothing says the advent of winter like a stellar apocalyptic film, ruminating over and warning of lives of quiet desperation, the struggle against impermanence, and the fraught beauty of survival. the added layer for me is that my old high school chum dave wingo (fellow plano survivor and leader of the band ola podrida, who also has done beautiful work for david gordon green’s amazing films) did the score. hi dave wingo. come visit again before too long. and see you guys at the angelika.
blame it on the weather, all i want to hear is the blues; i have visions of dancing at 3 am in dark, desolate bars to howling lullabies. like the song, ” the flame,” off of this older album by the keys: “greater men have made it here only to turn back, so cut me loose if you want or tighten up the slack…”
For reasons I won’t get into here, my little brother spent the first couple weeks of ninth grade in a Baltimore psych ward. While he was in there, he desperately wanted one of his tapes, and that tape was Pretty Hate Machine, an album already a few years old at that point. Rather than bringing it to him, my dad decided to listen to it, making it about 90 seconds in– to the first “Bow down before the one you serve/ You’re going to get what you deserve” bit on “Head Like a Hole”– before deciding the album was Satanic and throwing it in the trash. I tried arguing the point with him (“No, dad, he’s talking about money! Listen to it!”), but he didn’t budge. For much of the 1990s, Pretty Hate Machine was that type of album: One that could inspire fervent, devotional need and absolute revulsion, largely depending on the age of the person hearing it. And that’s even more impressive when you consider that it’s basically a synth-pop album.
The greatest trick Trent Reznor ever pulled was convincing the world he was the devil. With his biblical-phallic band name, his reportedly furious early live shows, his fishnets worn as sleeves, Reznor staked out a position for himself on the Alice Cooper shock-rock continuum. Reznor certainly talked a big game about his industrial influences, even taking part in the Wax Trax! collective Pigface, but it wasn’t the punishing megaphone-addled arm of industrial that most informed Reznor’s debut album; it was the genre’s nascent new-wave period. Scene kings Ministry, after all, started out as floppy-haired New Romantics. And so, for that matter, did Reznor himself; Google Exotic Birds sometime.
Reznor would progress further into scraping roar not long later; 1992’s “Wish” was certainly no Depeche Mode song. But Pretty Hate Machine is haunted, synthetic dance-pop through and through. The beats have muscle, but it’s not metal muscle or pigfuck muscle or even post-punk muscle. “Head Like a Hole”, the big hit, is probably the most rock thing on the whole album, but even that song opens with “Heart of Glass”-esque percussion ripples before the drum machine thunder and weird hooting noises come in. “Terrible Lie” is built on synth-scrapes that, in less distorted form, could’ve shown up on a New Order single, and “Sin” likewise has a whole lot of “Blue Monday” in its DNA. Whenever a verse ends during “Kinda I Want To”, we get a quick little reptilian disco synth-fight. Glacial new-age keyboard tones abound, and big nasty guitars really don’t. And Reznor knew how to mine this form for all the emotional catharsis it was worth, which was a lot.
But Reznor still stood out as a rock star, maybe the rock star of the time. Largely, that’s a credit to his absolutely magnificent rock-star voice, one of the finest of his generation. On Pretty Hate Machine, Reznor sounds tough but also strained and vulnerable. There’s a huge, frustrated mall-kid aspect to his voice, to the way it goes from defeated mutter to impotent yowl in no time flat. It’s like he knows how petty he can sound, but he can’t help himself. There’s plenty of rancor on Pretty Hate Machine, too, much of it directed at some unspecific “you” that made his frustration all the more relatable: “I gave you my purity, and my purity you stole.” On “Terrible Lie”, he never bothers to specify what the lie in question is; does it matter? “Why am I seething with this animosity?” he asks, like even he doesn’t know and can’t justify it.
Much of Pretty Hate Machine concerns a simple scenario: Being young but feeling that your life is already over, that your best days are already behind you. On “Down in It”: “I used to be somebody.” On “That’s What I Get”: “How can you turn me into this/ After you just taught me how to kiss… you?” (On that extended pause, Reznor sounds like he’s 12, like that “you” will never arrive and he’s just admitted that he never made out with anyone before.) And on the time-stopping album centerpiece “Something I Can Never Have”: “Everywhere I look, you’re all I see/ Just a fading fucking reminder of who I used to be.” “Something I Can Never Have” is where Reznor’s vulnerability really becomes his greatest asset. His scream gone, his voice turns to pure bottomless dejection. He’s carefully considered every aspect of his life, and nothing looks good. In the words of decade-later imitators Linkin Park, he sounds like he’s about to break. Or like he’s already broken.
“Something I Can Never Have” also shows an absolute mastery which would blossom soon after into something like genius, and which was already pretty far along in 1989. Starting with nothing but a haunted, minimal piano figure and a few hushed synth tones, the track slowly lets in sputtering static, faraway door-slam drums, and quiet little counter-melodies. Guitar never shows up; it’d break the spell. When NIN would do this track live, you could practically hear the collective intake of breath at those first piano notes. As far as I’m concerned, it’s probably the single finest song Reznor ever wrote.
In later years, Reznor would push all the ideas on Pretty Hate Machine even further– into a sputtering maelstrom, depressive stillness, zoned-out trance-states, and terrible beauty. But the ideas are all there already, contained in a 10-song capsule that ends quickly enough that everything lingers. Most of the songs on Pretty Hate Machine are fairly long, but no time is wasted. This new reissue doesn’t much alter that original experience. The remaster job doesn’t sound much different from the original article, and the sole bonus track, a sexed-up B-side cover of Queen’s “Get Down Make Love”, sort of misses the point; this was, in a lot of ways, an album about not getting laid. So the real reason to revisit the album is the album itself, nothing else. Now that Reznor has retired the NIN touring institution and become a sort of Internet-friendly cool-uncle figure, it’s pretty striking to go back to that seismic first strike and re-feel all the stuff we first felt hearing this thing.
— Tom Breihan, November 24, 2010