Monday, September 28, 2009

Break Up... if only they had.

Not so long ago I had the opportunity to see a screening of Julie and Julia before it was released... it made me wish I was Superman. If I were the "man of steel" I could fly around the earth fast enough to turn back time, find Nora Ephron in her editing bay, and use my ex-ray vision to destroy the Julie half of the movie. Listening to Break Up, the new release from Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson, made me want to don that cape again.

The changes that need to be made on Break Up aren't as black and white as those necessary on Julie and Julia... but something needed to be done. The songs, for the most part, are engaging enough but the vocals and the production are... well... uneven. Here's the surprising part, it's Scarlett Johansson's work that shines. That's something I never thought I'd say after hearing her 2008 album, Anywhere I Lay My Head. On that earlier work she sounded distant and disengaged. On Break Up she sounds very present, very innocent and very sexy all at the same time. Pete Yorn, on the other hand, sounds like he settled for scratch vocals. My guess is that he would defend the approach as a purposeful juxtaposition of male and female... hard and soft... rough and smooth. Unfortunately, the end result is simply sweet and sour.

The production is understated, which fits the material, but on almost every track there is a sound or a riff or a lyric that takes you out of the moment. It could be the line from the song Relator (lifted from The Beatles', All My Lovin')... or the just a bit too loud and distorted guitar that pops up repeatedly throughout the album... or Yorn's ragged vocals that break the spell... but the magic always seems to get marginalized.

Here's the real tragedy... this album could have been a great one. Instead, it's a mildly engaging record that makes you wonder what Scarlett Johansson might have done with similar material... and no Pete Yorn.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Diamond Born of Pearls

I spend a lot of my time online searching through the trash heap of user generated content for something remarkable. Most of what I find is... well... awful. On the rare occasion when I do stumble upon something captivating, it's usually easy to categorize. By that I mean, it falls into a standard art format such as music or video... but every so often... I uncover a wonderful surprise.

Pogo is a young lad from Australia. I don't know how young exactly, but judging from his MySpace pics I'd say somewhere around 20. He likes to create new music and video from pieces of his favorite movies. The end product is much more than your standard mash-up. Somehow he manages to combine the borrowed bits with original electronic tracks to create amazing new works of "mediart". What is even more amazing is that his creations not only capture the magic and spirit of the movies he mines... they enhance them.

I'm not going to try to analyze what he does or justify the ethics of using other artists work as components in new, albeit derivative, pieces. What Pogo does is fresh and inspiring, and I hope that the filmmakers whose movies he dissects will grant him the freedom, and the rights, to continue to use what he harvests to create new artistic life.

Here are a couple of links to Pogo's projects:

Imogen Heap... Connected?

I'm one of those fans Imogen Heap made her new record for... I loved her maiden effort! I was impressed at how she found a way of fusing electronic music with emotion... she gave the Tin Man a heart.

I also enjoyed her tweets as she moved down the road towards the completion of her sophomore effort. I felt connected... but something happened on the way to the Emerald City. Somewhere along the path the scarecrow lost some straw. Sure, the new album has her iconic electronic tracks and her lyrical stories sound as though they were taken from different pages of the same journal... but something is missing. The music still has a heart... but the pulse is weaker.

Maybe being connected to her fans clouded the creative process instead of giving it clarity. What if that lonely feeling she felt the first time around actually strengthened her heart and enhanced her creative vision. Would Van Gogh have been a better painter had he felt connected?

Still, I count myself as an Imogen Heap fan and look forward to a long and prolific career from her. Most artists suffer a bit of a sophomore slump and, fingers crossed, that may be all this is. I only hope that the next time out her music will do the lion's share of the connecting and that Imogen will remain just enough of a loner to allow a few more tears to hit the keys.