• The first metallic, tinkling notes of “Queen Bee” strike the ear as something both completely familiar and completely foreign. And of course that is exactly what the album is. Taj Mahal is the artist who has done the most work to keep the acoustic blues tradition alive. His music can sometimes archetypal, beautiful and great in the flawless execution of that which has been done before. Toumani Diabate is the most famous kora player in the world, son, grandson, great-grandson for many generations, heir to a long tradition of griot musicians.
    It is easy to hear why these two musicians decided to work together. In the beginning of “Tunkaranke (The Adventurer),” the guitar and the kora intermingle in a long, slow, loping rhythm, losing each other in the webs of intermingled chords. At times, it is hard to distinguish which instrument is which. The music sways, smoothly, and for a minute, it is like you can feel the revolution and the passing of time and the journey and the spirit that separates and joins the strings together…
    Other tracks, like “Mississippi-Mail Blues” start by grounding themselves in familiar folk rhythms and chords, before going on a bewildering cascade of sharp rhythms and pleasant riffs. Really, beyond the symbolism of the Delta Blues combined with the Malian Griot music, this album is special because of the musicianship behind it. The album would not work, as a symbol or otherwise, were it not for the unbelivable chops of Toumani Diabate or the rich texture of Taj Mahal’s guitar and voice. As much as the album is a celebration of great cultures, it is a celebration of great artists. It then is no surprise that the result is great music.

  • TV On The Radio * Dear Science

    From the opening notes of “Halfway Home” we know that this is a different TVOTR. All of the same elements are there- Tunde Adebimpe’s voice that manages to wail and be soulful at the same time, David Sitek’s noisy production and Jaleel Bunton and Gerard Smith’s tight and ever interesting rhythem section. But they are different, more restrained, more polished.
    Every new record, from Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes to Return to Cookie Mountain has felt like an attempt to keep or increase the intensity of their early songs while editing and polishing. Dear Science has maintained the frenetic restlessness of the other albums while giving them a wonderful cohesion and restraint. On “Dancing Choose,” there is a riff played in the chorus with a completely un-distorted guitar; I never thought that I would hear that on a TVOTR record.
    The range on the record is pretty impressive. The sound of Return tended to be fairly dark and morose with the exception of “Wolf Like Me,” but Dear Science has everything from the pensive, confessional moans of “Stork and Owl” and “Family Tree” to the danceable, energetic “Golden Age.”
    It surprises me how many truly beautiful moments there are on the record: the chorus to “Dancing Choose,” all of “Cryin’,” “DLZ.”
    “Golden Age” was released as a single, but for my money, “Cryin’” is the breakout hit of the record. It is an astonishingly good song, and it, dare I say it, has radio potential. If there is a song which will propel this band into the league of those that I can no longer afford to see live, it will be this song.
    In short, this is a great album. All 11 songs of the regular release are top-quality and more than a few of them have sparks of genius. Buy it. If you don’t want to buy it, just buy “Cryin.’”


    Listening to “Dear Science,” review forthcoming. Early impressions: it’s really, really, really good.

  • Heroes Season Premiere

    I was really happy this past Monday, because for the first time this year, I was going to be able to blog right after seeing a TV show live, something I have not been able to do since starting school.
    I ended up going to bed bitter and disappointed. It was really my own fault; Heroes had been going nowhere fast all last season, but I had heard good things from Comic Con. I really don’t know why it merited a ten minute standing ovation. The group that I watched with stayed in stunned silence for two minutes then shuffled out.
    It seems that I was not the only one dissappointed. The premiere attracted 9.8 million viewers, in stark contrast to Dancing With The Star’s 21 million. To repeat: The Heroes season premiere had less than half the viewers than a regular season episode of DWTS.

  • Mad Men

    I am completely aware that I am the billionth person to say this (and the billionth-and-first person to say so on their blog centered on pop culture and television), but the AMC television show Mad Men is top notch. I am not going to go into too much detail on the show, I’m sure you’ve heard of it -if not, a quick Google search will remedy that- but suffice to say, the writing is top-notch. I am constantly anywhere from a day to a week behind on the show, but every episode that I watch contains at least one line of exceptional power or craftsmanship. If you are into highbrow TV, this is one show that you can’t miss.

  • Back blogging after moving. I will be going to see TV on the Radio at the end of the week at the Roseland Theater, so I thought it would be a great time to revisit their 2006 release Return to Cookie Mountain.
    One of the consequences of the invention of recorded music is the decline of the influence of time on the process of music creation and interpretation. Before recordings, any music that became popular would become either: 1) a piece that fades from popular memory, but then is resurrected later by a different artist, 2) a piece that becomes a ‘standard;’ all artists are expected to know it from memory, or 3) simply forgotten.
    With the advent of recording technology, anyone can listen to sounds of the past, and that kind of musical exploration is no longer restricted to the realm of composition students. The indie movement of the past ten or fifteen years owes a lot to different styles of the (admittedly recent) past, from Garage Rock to Nu Wave. In this climate, the first two things that we pick up on as listeners are: What are their influences? and How are they interpreting them?
    This is exactly why TV on the Radio is one of my favorite bands. More remarkable than their influences is the sheer number of them. The first things one hears are the punk-influenced arrangements and instrumentation and the hip-hop/noise pop production. Other overtones include: glam, doo wop/a capella, electronica, soul, and even carousel polka/waltz. All of these get mixed and reinvented into a glorious, rich sound that can move fast while feeling slow, and move slow while feeling fast. From a musical standpoint, they are constantly recording interesting chord progressions that defy expectation and tickle the ear.
    I am really looking forward to Friday’s concert, and if they come close to reproducing their studio sound, it will be great.

  • Love Will Tear Us Apart

    A couple weeks ago, I had the interesting experience of having a complete, 72 hour immersion in the mythology and history of the British punk/new wave band Joy Division. My introduction to the band is almost completely via their only charting hit, Love Will Tear Us Apart. I was captivated the very first time that I heard the song by its combination of melancholy and low vocals with a pulsing, frenetic excitement in the song itself. The heart and soul of Joy Division, and therefore Love Will Tear Us Apart, was frontman Ian Curtis. Released this year were two related movies, a documentary, Joy Division, and feature film, Control.

Matthew Eilar

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This is my personal blog. I’ve been blogging since 2008, and self-hosting this blog on Linode since 2020.

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