November 30, 2009

Is This The End For Basement Jaxx?

BAND NAME: Basement Jaxx


LABEL: XL Recordings


RATING: 5/10

Basement Jaxx, the cross-genre-fusing South Londoners, have been making bona fide party music since the beginning of the millennium. Yet as 2009 comes to an end, and we bid adieu to this decade, it seems rather probable that in turn we are also farewelling Basement Jaxx from the dance and techno scene. In 1999 with Remedy, 2001 with Rooty, and then followed up by the titanic success of Kish Kash, which won the duo a Grammy and is still considered one of the best modern electronica albums ever, Basement Jaxx have produced hit after ubiquitous hit, and infected the world with their eclectic buzz. So it’s impossible to deny the fact that these boys know how to party. Yet on Scars, their 5th musical endeavour, they are making music for a party that is well and truly over. This time around, the music is best suited for the post-party stage. Everyone has gone home; your house resembles the aftermath of an earthquake; the alcohol has worn off and as you frantically clean up dried stomach waste from your white suede sofa, you hear a collection of songs that truly encapsulate your frenzied, sick and slightly delirious mood. Welcome to Scars – messy and disarrayed, yet without question party, or rather, post-party music.

Basement Jaxx appear to be well past their prime, though this comes as no revelation. They seem to have been making their way to this point for a while. After the underwhelming Crazy Itch Radio and then the band’s three-year lull, where no new material was recorded, the general public were becoming slightly sceptical at the longevity of the once dominant party machine. Scars was either going to resurrect the duo, and vault them back to their place of worship, or it would confirm many predictions that Basement Jaxx no longer possesses that x-factor, and is merely a shadow of its once holy self. In short, the band has run out of steam, and is the farthest away they have ever been from the apex of their successful career.

Once a dynamic duo eager to break free from the archetypes of the dance genre in favour of creating something distinct and exciting; the duo has opted for the generic and predictable. The overall lack of variety makes for a consistent albeit dull album, which leaves a bland after-taste in the listener’s aural palette. This tastelessness is exacerbated by tracks that segue and dissolve into each other, repeating former themes until they are indistinguishable and monotonous.

Though you’ve got to give the boys some credit for assembling one of the most diverse group of collaborators imaginable. Yet what can we expect from a duo whose limitless energy and hedonistic abandon is a form of catharsis in itself. Electronica poster-girl Santigold, radio-favourite Sam Sparro and the one-and-only Yoko Ono, all feature on Scars. But these guest stars make it impossible for Basement Jaxx to stamp their iconic club-meets-house trademark on the songs. The duo step back, and allow the “featurers” to do all the work. Are the boys really that lazy? Or perhaps they are timid and uncertain regarding their precarious position in the current music scene.

So as we near the end of the decade, and reminisce about the definitive musical moments, we should fondly remember Basement Jaxx as they were in their prime – and not dwell on the inadequacy of their latest release. We should recognise the past successes of the duo - and not feel totally dissatisfied with Scars. But all good parties come to an end, no matter how long you attempt to delay and postpone the inevitable. Scars represents the end of an era - after a decade of partying, its time for the boys to take a break.

November 13, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

ARTIST NAME: Karen O and the Kids

LP TITLE: Where The Wild Things Are Soundtrack

LABEL: Interscope Records


RATING: 8/10

Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are was an unprecedented achievement. Here was a book that was written for children, yet equally enjoyed by the adults reading it to them. This was a book that completely transcended all age levels and possessed different meanings to those reading it. Young children were swept up in Max’s adventures and would forever more don a wolf suit and make mischief of one kind, and another. Yet to the older eye, the world Sendak had created was compelling and provocative and would need hours of psychological analysis to fully appreciate and understand.

This is a book that has sold over 19 million copies worldwide, has been translated into 15 different languages, has won numerous awards, and is arguably the most celebrated, cherished and respected children’s book ever written. So a movie version of this literary juggernaut was inevitable. Disney allegedly tried to secure the rights for a film, never expecting to be declined by the author. We have Maurice Sendak to thank for saving this beloved classic from turning into an animated, over-sweetened, commercialised monstrosity. For years the idea of a movie drifted around in the backwaters of Hollywood, until Spike Jonze, with Sendak’s blessing, began the process of making the 10-sentence book into a feature length film.

Now for me, good music is integral to the overall feeling and aesthetic of a film. How can one think of Ghostbusters without humming its eponymous theme? And would Jaws really have been as scary without its ominous two-note composition? Yet the concept of a true film score is becoming more and more a dated concept, giving way to the modern soundtrack – which is essentially a collection of previously recorded singles that supplement the movie. And so it's been a genuine pleasure, amidst the clichéd and generic soundtracks of today, to experience the return of original film music — more score than soundtrack.

This album commences with a whispered request for a story; and so begins the daring and mesmerising harmonic accompaniment to a timeless tale. Karen O, of Yeah Yeah Yeah’s fame, put together an ensemble cast of indie superstars performing together under the moniker: Karen O and The Kids. The Kids include, members of: The Dead Weather, Deerhunter, The Raconteurs, The Bird and the Bee and Queens of the Stone Age. Also featured, is a children’s choir that helped contribute to the youthful soundscapes.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this album is its versatility and wide spectrum of material. The polarities of children’s emotions are explored - from roars and shrieks of utter pre-adolescent abandon, to morose pleas of belonging and betrayal. The nostalgia and naïveté of Sendak’s tale is beautifully encapsulated on the record, and even the most cynical listener has to be impressed with Karen O’s aptitude for relating to her inner youngster. Karen captures the exuberance and bewilderment of youth, along with the joy and sorrows. She manages to create music that reminds us of a time when the world was a limitless place, and impossible was simply an unidentifiable word in the dictionary. And she does it in a way that doesn’t patronise or seem condescending to the children watching the movie - whilst satisfying the adult and hipster audience. It was a very difficult and precarious endeavour, and Karen O pulled it off with flying colours.

Though the album plays smoothly and almost chronologically as a whole, the most notable and popular track is, without question, “All Is Love.” Karen O’s vocals mix and intertwine with yelps from children, against a backdrop of ebullient guitar lines. “All Is Love” is a rambunctious, playground chant, as much as it is a majestic display of unadulterated optimism. “All Is Love” is a song that revels in purity and innocence without recourse to self-righteousness.

Though indeed this record is a companion to the film, and will complement and enhance the moviegoer’s experience, it holds its own as an album, and is completely listenable without visual stimulus. The real accomplishment of this album is not simply its ability and deftness to capture the raw emotions of Maurice Sendak’s beloved tale, but its skill at bringing those exact emotions to a different medium, without losing effect – and adding some newfound passion and joy along the way.