Best NEWS: Zoe Saldana Has Some Sage Advice for New Mothers: Being Self-Focused Doesn’t Mean You’re ”Being Selfish”

Zoe Saldana Has Some Sage Advice for New Mothers: Being Self-Focused Doesn’t Mean You’re ”Being Selfish”

Zoe Saldana is keeping it real. The actress isn’t sugar coating anything about her mission to shed the baby (ahem, babies!) weight, in fact, she’s been super forthcoming about…

http://ift.tt/1FngYPw April 16, 2015 at 01:15AM
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Best NEWS: Mindy Kaling’s Brother Claims He Posed as a Black Man to Get Into Medical School

Mindy Kaling’s Brother Claims He Posed as a Black Man to Get Into Medical School

Mindy Kaling’s brother was desperate to become a doctor. So desperate, in fact, that Vijay Chokal-Ingam was willing to completely lie about his identity in order to be accepted into…

http://ift.tt/RHNaG6 April 06, 2015 at 09:05PM
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Elephant Micah: Where in Our Woods

Elephant Micah is Joseph O’Connell, a 33-year-old singer-songwriter whose songs betray his day job as an Indiana folklorist. Take “Slow Time Vultures”, the 7-1/2-minute centerpiece of his Western Vinyl debut Where in Our Woods, which describes the time O’Connell’s childhood home in Pekin, Indiana, attracted a giant flock of vultures. The song anthropomorphizes the birds, who use the barn roof as a soapbox to lament Indiana’s conforming to Daylight Savings Time. (Prior to 2006, most of the state disregarded DST, and locals often referred to its singular zone as “slow time.”)

The vultures question and criticize fast-paced progress (“We can’t afford to go forward any more”), and O’Connell sanctifies their words in a sparse, patient arrangement. It takes about 20 seconds for him to sing the first six words—”Vultures on our old barn roof”—and he spends much of the song hypnotically plucking the low E of a nylon-stringed guitar that permeates the album, becoming its signature instrument. The effect is stark and haunting and entirely vulture friendly.

O’Connell has been experimenting with Midwestern Americana for 14 years now, but most of the 11 Elephant Micah releases prior to Where in Our Woods were primitively recorded and distributed on tiny labels or self-released on CD-Rs. Elephant Micah isn’t exactly a secret (you can find most of the releases for pay-what-you-want prices on Bandcamp), but O’Connell has remained on the margins more than friends like M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger (the two covered each other’s songs for a 7” release a few years ago). All that, plus the folklorist thing, has contributed to Elephant Micah’s outsider/not-of-this-time rep. You get the feeling O’Connell doesn’t get worked up about iTunes updates or the appropriate context for leggings.

If 2012’s Louder Than Thou refined the Elephant Micah sound, Where in Our Woods continues the distillation until, after stripping away all but guitar, voice, a pump organ, and some rumbling drums (courtesy of O’Connell’s brother Matthew), the minimalism becomes the album’s calling card (think Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s unadorned but crisply rendered Master and Everyone). The album isn’t so decorous that it doesn’t take chances, though. It’s a risk, in fact, to present O’Connell’s voice so nakedly, since it’s neither a showstopper nor terribly eccentric. He doesn’t whisper, doesn’t yell. It’s smooth, almost to a fault, but the clarity of his tenor fits the pace and spareness of these eight songs. And just when you start yearning for something more, the bonnie prince himself, Will Oldham—an obvious inspiration here—shows up to add some harmonies.

Often, folk singers are either storytellers or read-into-it-what-you-want poets, but some of this generation’s best (Oldham, Jason Molina) fall somewhere in the middle. Elephant Micah stands firmly in that middle ground, not shying away from small details nor lofty, ambiguous ideas. Without some background explanation, it would be impossible to know that “Demise of the Bible Birds” refers to an Indiana man who trained birds to perform Christian-themed tricks. Or that O’Connell ripped the three stories in the gorgeous “Albino Animals”—hunters killing an albino deer, athletes capsizing on a boat, and meth cooks avoiding prosecution for a trailer fire—from the headlines of his hometown newspaper. O’Connell, though, gives us all the details we need to ponder ignorance and the unknowability of life while falling under the spell of a bewitching, repeating guitar line that somehow communicates both the tragedy and mercy in the stories.

The songs on Where in Our Woods were all written in 2006 and 2007, and while the Elephant Micah albums of that period have an experimental, homespun charm to them, O’Connell was wise to set these songs aside until he found the right setting for them, even if that didn’t become clear for several years. As the slow time vultures sing, “Ours are the spoils and the things that we can find on our own time.” Maybe those birds are onto something.

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Ghost Culture: Ghost Culture

Over the past couple of years, Erol Alkan has built up a diverse but cohesive roster for his Phantasy label. Most of his artists have one foot on the dancefloor and one foot elsewhere—the indie scene, the modular synth builders’ club, the clouds—which is a pretty good approximation of the style of DJing that Alkan has practiced since the days of Trash, his fondly remembered club night from back in the days of electroclash.

At one end of the spectrum there’s Tom Rowlands, of the Chemical Brothers, who offered up a pair of noise-besotted throwback acid-house tracks for the label; at the other end, Brazil’s Babe, Terror, whose fuzzy layers of looped vocals sound like doo-wop from a world spun off its axis. Daniel Avery‘s sawtoothed throb swings the pendulum towards techno again, and Connan Mockasin‘s idiosyncratic psychedelic pop draws it back into the singer-songwriter’s realm. Ghost Culture, Phantasy’s latest addition, falls squarely in the middle of that array. The alias belongs to the 24-year-old London studio engineer James Greenwood, and his debut album carefully fuses canny song-craft with clattering machine constructions; it offers an unusual balance between muscular grooves and whispered intimacy, as though erecting a bedsheet fort smack dab in the middle of a throbbing basement party.

The most immediate point of comparison might be Swim-era Caribou and the clubbier music of his alter ego Daphni. Greenwood is similarly fond of loping drum grooves and burbling synthesizers, and his breathy voice is faintly reminiscent of Dan Snaith’s, except that Snaith tends to soar, while Greenwood’s delivery is more downcast—literally, as though he were singing into his jacket lapels. (Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that he apparently recorded his vocals with a microphone salvaged from a tank.) But that muted tone is just what the mood of his songs calls for. In any case, he’s got a way with sing-songy melodies that stick in your head; the bulk of these songs would probably work unplugged, though that’s no reason to wish they were any different than they are, if only because their sound—Factory Floor does bubblegum pop, basically—is so unusual and delightful.

The opening “Mouth” is full of simple pleasures—the satisfying oomph of a well-rounded bass synth; the delicious crispness of a well-tempered machine clap—and supple nuance. The nervous spring reverb that accompanies his keyboard trills is a small detail, but it amps up the music’s quiet, visceral thrill; it adds depth to the song’s ample negative spaces. The principal synth riff rolls like a fistful of agates, and everything sounds as polished as a bauble in a raccoon’s paws.

The bulk of the album offers variations on the same set of elements: the lonely warble of the Korg Mono/Poly synthesizer, snaky drum grooves, and his mopey, husky voice. In “Arms”, detuned synth pads drizzle down like cold rain over snapping electro syncopations as he mutters cryptically about “Moving arms, flashing teeth/ Half-closed, half-open.” “How” is all percolating arpeggios and lullaby repetitions; it sounds a little like the xx if they made their music on broken-down Russian synthesizers and steam-powered gizmos. Many of his melodies carry a whiff of déjà vu: on “Lying”, it’s the Christmas carol “Silent Night”, while on “Glass”, it’s New Order‘s “Your Silent Face”. There’s a lot of New Order here, in fact, from his voice’s faint resemblance, in places, to Bernhard Sumner’s, to the chilly string pads reminiscent of the group’s early albums.

And there are a few wildcards, too: “Glaciers”, with its waltz tempo and wheezing organs, sounds like Phil Spector via Stereolab (on Quaaludes), and the clammy echoes of “Answer” lend a hint of an Elvis-at-Sun-Studios vibe. But the album’s largely uniform palette is both a strength and a weakness. By seven or eight tracks in, the sameness of the production begins to feel faintly claustrophobic. One possible way out of that cul-de-sac might have been a few more straight-up club cuts. We know that he’s got them in him, because he already delivered one in the form of the Border Community homage “Red Smoke”, the B-side to his debut single. And he hasn’t exactly turned a blind eye to the dancefloor here, either. While his voice is foregrounded throughout, most of the album’s tracks tend to break down, halfway through, into skeletal, dubbed-out fantasias. It’s clear that he’s arranged them with an ear for future extended mixes in which the pop songs fall away, leaving only the shuddering metallic chassis underneath. Maybe, in retrospect, it’s his judicious sense of balance that holds him back: a few more extremes, and his next work might really sing.

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Various Artists: Cut Copy Presents: Oceans Apart

The “altered states” of rave music are both psychological and geographical. The former only stands to reason: in Nightmares on Wax’s “Aftermath”, the distressed diva complained of “something going round inside my head,” while the morose narrator of Adonis’ “No Way Back” was clearly “too far gone” into the void of his own mind. But alongside this narrative of interior mutation is a more intermittent counterpoint of disorienting translocation, an idea that reached its commercial zenith in the early 1990s with the new age-inflected “fourth world” tribal-dance of Deep Forest or Enigma. Before that, though, there was Jungle Wonz, a side-project of first wave Chicago house producers Marshall Jefferson and Harry Dennis. On tracks like “The Jungle”, Jefferson and Dennis fused house’s non-stop machinic grooves with a lush, verdant soundscape of eerie strings, spiraling flute solos, and teeming animal noises; a literal jungle for the ears and the body. The paradox: using early house’s stiff modern beats to short-circuit a route back to a pancultural wonderland.

The idea that Cut Copy’s Oceans Apart, a DJ mix homage to the current dance music emerging from the band’s hometown of Melbourne, Australia, should devote itself so firmly to reviving the Jungle Wonz lineage initially seems like an odd fit for the city, which spends so much time fervently wishing that it was London or New York or Berlin. Still, despite (or perhaps because of) Melbourne’s habitual northern hemispheric focus, this stripe of exoticism makes sense for, and of, a city poised on the edge of the “outback”, whose self-identity as a city of light and culture is expressed so uncertainly and felt so precariously.

The archly named Coober Pedy University Band (there’s no university in that isolated mining town) call out the elephant in the room with “Kookaburra”, its restlessly percussive tribal house groove pivoting around muted samples of chanting indigenous Australian women and blasts of didgeridoo where the bassline should be, not to mention the abrasive, high-pitched screech of the titular native bird’s cackle. “Kookaburra” is knowingly vexed, its local flavor offered up both as commentary and druggy, decontextualized sound, less celebration than disoriented haze.

Oceans Apart’s stylistic expanse is broader than these markers, commencing with the familiar, sparkling electro-disco of Knightlife’s “Don’t Stop” and closing on a run of fabulously metallic slow-motion grooves such as Bell Towers’ “After Party at Jackson’s House”. But what surprises and impresses is the dedication with which Cut Copy’s mix plumbs the depths of its “fourth world” preoccupation; the great expansionist house producers of the past such as Jefferson, Mr. Fingers, 808 State, and A Guy Called Gerald are hardly obscure or forgotten, but their more otherworldly tendencies have remained somehow liminal, faintly coloring the edges of other, more urban-centric house revivals. Oceans Apart places these explorations at the dead center of its aesthetic quest, and the result is a mix of great and distinct personality. 

Some of the individual tracks deserve florid description. Tornado Wallace’s “Circadia” is straight out of the Jungle Wonz playbook, all hollowed-out metallic snare hits, scintillating hi-hat patterns, tribal sighs, and shimmering synth-vamps, like a mirage twinkling at the end of a desert highway. Statue’s “Statue Theme” and Fantastic Man’s “Robotic Temptation” are almost impossibly pretty Balearic soundworlds of rippling, flickering percussion, eddying disembodied echoes and beguiling and childlike melodies. Len Leise’s “Call of Kati Thanda” is even more smacked out, setting quietly churning didgeridoo bass against a bereft and operatic moan. Ara Koufax’s “Brenda” takes the entire aesthetic to its pop-minded logical conclusion, offering an unabashed “Voodoo Ray” homage with endlessly percolating acid bass, strobing piano vamps and multi-layered samples from South African singer Brenda Fassie.

After so many waves of early house revivalism, it’s this sense of the naïveté of early rave music and its desire for spiritual plenitude that now sounds retro, rather than the beats that supported it. Oceans Apart recalls the heady optimism (and resulting wild cultural appropriation) of that moment with a fond nostalgia, its dreams of Melbourne dreaming of Chicago dreaming of Melbourne all in service of a bigger dream: the tantalizing possibility that maybe we’re not too far gone; maybe there is, in fact, a way back.

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This Is What Happens When You Secretly Feed McDonald’s to a Bunch of Health Nuts—Watch Now!

McDonald's Resturant, Golden ArchesWhat happens when you tell people they’re eating organic food when, in fact, they’re actually eating from one of the biggest fast food chains in the world? You’d be…

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Sunn O))) / Scott Walker: Soused

You won’t need to pinch yourself awake: As if to ensure listeners that Soused isn’t some fantastic nightmare or haunted daydream, Scott Walker and Sunn O))) begin their five-track, 50-minute collaboration with a brief series of exclamation marks. Walker’s voice sweeps in with extreme operatic gusto, delivering a set of simple, sliding phrases over sparkling synthesizers. Dual classic rock riffs trail those hails, like “Paradise City” abutting a scrap of “Heartbreaker”. And as it all fades toward silence, Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley shatter the creeping calm with their expected amplifier army. To emphasize the madness, the sound of an American bullwhip slaps at the back of the din. Yes, Scott O))) is real, and yes, it is a touch ridiculous.

In the wake of Lulu, the intriguing but errant byproduct of a more famous elder leading a more famous metal act, such a partnership felt like a joke someone might have made on a message board in 2011. Gabriel and Mastodon? Jagger and Down? Walker and Sunn O)))? Sure, line them up, but don’t assume that they will all net Lulu’s Warner Brothers deal. At least there was stylistic precedent for this hypothetical pairing. Though Walker was once a pop star, his work later in life has been experimentally ambitious, adding webs of dissonance to song cycles that explored discontent in dozens of guises. Even now, his 1995 LP, Tilt, seems diabolically heavy and jarring, employing unease as compositional exigency. Released only seven months apart, his 2006 album, The Drift, and Sunn O)))’s Black One, feel now like complementary surveys of the same seismic divide. Walker originally wrote “Lullaby,” Soused’s jarring and arching climax, in 1999. His music doesn’t fear the dark.

As legend has it, Sunn O))) approached Walker a half-decade ago with a blind call for collaboration. He’d never heard them, but they hoped he’d pen something to sing for “Alice”, the orchestra-gilded finale of their 2009 LP, Monoliths & Dimensions. He didn’t, but he did become a convert to the band’s maximum-volume, minimum-movement metal. He began writing new material with Anderson, O’Malley and, it seems, both their instrumental and thematic tones in mind. Together, they recorded those pieces earlier this year in London, with several of Walker’s more customary contributors adding drums, horns, keyboards and electronics.

Soused is billed to “Scott Walker + Sunn O))),” an ostensible meeting of equals. On T-shirts, the project is even playfully dubbed Scott O))), written in the same lower-cased, bold-faced font that the electronics company and drone duo have long used. And as is his wont, O’Malley designed the packaging for Soused, an austere grayscale colossus guided by a system of holistic organization.

But the music itself never tries to sell the conspiracy of equal and reciprocal collaboration. Sure, Sunn O))) made the first move here, but any real work required Walker’s acceptance and effort. This is, then, a Scott Walker album, where Sunn O)))—Anderson, O’Malley and longtime multi-instrumentalist and collaborator TOS Nieuwenhuizen—serve as a very large, potent instrument within Walker’s band, or maybe a set of them, like a rack of guitars pulled from a closet. During “Brando”, they follow him, saturating the background but almost always ceding the spotlight. When he sings “A beating would do me a world of good,” Anderson and O’Malley bend inside his shadow, taking the riff’s next step down.

Anderson and O’Malley even flash back to their high-school days in Thorr’s Hammer, or their subsequent separate bands, for “Fetish”, the album’s singular and brilliant flashpoint. Just before the song’s halfway point, they’ve traced Walker’s voice only with ominous noise and tracked him with mid-range melodies. “He imagines he feels it, tugging and clinching, hears it rustling and rising,” Walker yells, pausing suddenly as if to summon help. Sunn O))) answers, matching the beat of drummer Ian Thomas with loaded guitar and low-lying bass, like they’re an insurgent young doom band again, racing toward a crossover crescendo. Later in the track, they sprawl out beneath him, their amps and instruments harmonizing obediently alongside screeching trumpet, stuttering drums and stabbing static. They are, perhaps for the first time, part of a force greater than their own.

Sunn O)))’s career has been defined by their search for ways to augment their riffs, to make them bigger than simply big; but after 15 years and a half-dozen full-lengths, they’ve yet to take the routes through which Walker pulls them here. The only prototypically Sunn O))) moment arrives during the back half of “Bull,” when they cycle a slow set of notes across occasional percussion and over scrambled field recordings. But it’s mostly a mid-record volume respite, a break in the command of Walker’s stentorian elegance.

Soused documents depravity and wanton desire, or needing something—pain or the absence of it, protection or the illusion of it, privacy or the desecration of it—so bad it’s ripping your worldview into pieces. Walker empties volumes of data into those ideas, pinballing between 17th century painting debates, New Testament infanticide and Iroquois lullabies within the course of the shape-shifting “Herod 2014”. In less than a minute of “Bull”, he moves from a string of screamed Latin imprecations to a recited text message, reprinted in the liner notes as an iChat bubble. During “Brando”, he details successive episodes in which the named actor was beaten, shouting the elliptical list with an urgency that gives the sadomasochism a private power.

Though Walker was once a sort of balladeer icon, his lyrics trend toward the obtuse and ponderous. The words on Soused don’t forsake those qualities, necessarily, but there is a certain relatability and readability here, as if this return to rock ’n’ roll has pulled him back toward earth. Despite the macabre battle between the innocent and the hunter of “Herod 2014,” Walker delights in the language, using alliteration and end-rhyme to fashion what could pass for old-fashioned folklore. “The deer fly, the sand fly, the tsetse can’t find them,” he offers, his voice cold but comforting, like that of a wolf in disguise. “The goon from the Stasi
 is left far behind them.
Their delicate derma 
won’t witness a ray.” In this new relationship, Walker seems to have rediscovered a sometimes-hidden element of his own work—its playfulness and its perversity, the coexistence of the smile and the frown.

Is it selfish, then, to hope that this might be only the start, the unlikely origin of a partnership that extends beyond a one-off album? Walker is, of course, infamously reluctant to talk about his future in making music, and he can be rather chelonian with his output; much the same applies for Sunn O))), at its core a duo of dudes involved in a dozen other things. That’s one reason Soused feels more like an event and an experience than a vital, persevering record for either party. It’s good and, at times, completely absorbing, especially when Walker and the amplifiers seem to be fighting on the same side of a great battle. Soused is compelling, almost inherently so, but it’s not a classic. What if they gave this time to be more than a mere oddity, so as to feel no rush to launch from the gates and exclaim that this is, in fact, real? We’ll probably never find out, but we never thought we’d hear Scott O))), anyway. 

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