Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Amateur girlfriends

The short version:
Mike Shinoda and Joe Trapanese—The Raid: Redemption: 5/10
Hans Zimmer—The Dark Knight Rises: 8/10
Russell Brower—Diablo III: 8/10
Vanessa-Mae—Storm: 7/10
Bond—Play: 6/10
Moulin Rouge soundtrack: 6/10
Lifehouse—No Name Face: 4/10
OutKast—Speakerboxx and The Love Below: 3/10
Nappy Roots—Watermelon, Chicken, and Gritz: 4/10
Gramatik—Street Bangerz Volume 1: 4/10
Röyksopp—Junior: 7/10
Katie Herzig—The Waking Sleep: 8/10
Xploding Plastix—Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents: 8/10
Parov Stelar—Seven and Storm: 8/10
Miike Snow—Happy to You: 8/10
Civil Twilight—Civil Twilight: 7/10
Civil Twilight—Holy Weather: 7/10
B.o.B—Strange Clouds: 5/10
Keane—Strangeland: 5/10
Kimbra—Vows: 7/10

The latest in the series of soundtracks I've bought to movies I haven't seen is The Raid: Redemption, by Mike Shinoda with Joe Trapanese.  I adore Mike Shinoda as the rapper in Linkin Park and Fort Minor, but he's just running the computers for this soundtrack.  It sounded better when I previewed it; on subsequent listens it's not incredibly exciting.  There are still some really good tracks though, and a few others that are decent.  The track that I'm guessing plays during the credits, RAZORS.OUT featuring Chino Moreno from deftones, is really great, and We Have Company and Moving Up part 2 is also very good.  I'm not sure I'd recommend it unless you loved the movie's soundtrack and really like that sort of industrial electronic music though.

Hans Zimmer's soundtrack for The Dark Knight Rises was a worthy followup to the first two, and is just as explosive and Zimmer-y as you'd expect.  It fits the themes and emotions of the movie perfectly and it's everything I'd expect from a score to that film.  I love The Fire Rises and Imagine the Fire, and Mind if I Cut In?, and unlike the movie, it doesn't take forever to get to the point either.

Russell Brower's soundtrack for Diablo III is the odd game soundtrack that for some reason sounds better to me as standalone music than in the game.  I'm not sure if it's because in the game you're hearing it along with a thousand different spells and weapon clangs and gory demonsplosions at once, or just if it's mixed particularly well on the CD that came with the collector's edition, but it actually sounds pretty nice, in contrast to feeling sort of disappointed when I heard it in-game.  (Matt Uelmen's soundtrack for Diablo II is either my favorite game soundtrack ever, or at least in my top three or so.)  Anyway, there are a lot of great tracks.  Many of the best are from cinematics and cutscenes, but there's a variety: And the Heavens Shall Tremble, The Eternal Conflict, and Caldeum.

Vanessa-Mae is a talented Asian-lady who plays a stringed-instrument particularly-well on Storm.  It's not a solo CD, though; she has quite a bit of backup of various forms.  So it's probably more fair to characterize it as an album of modern instrumental music in which each piece features her as a soloist.  Anyway, if you can't get enough stringed instruments you will probably like it.  Check out Happy Valley, Summer Haze, and The Blessed Spirits.

Bond is a group of four other talented women who play stringed instruments.  Their music is a lot less traditional and more dance-focused than Vanessa-Mae's.  But their latest album Play is still catchy, even though it still dips into uncomfortably cheesy territory from time to time.  Elysium is great, and so's Midas / West with the NightRoad to Samarkand is pretty good too.  Check it out if you thought Vanessa-Mae could really use a DJ or a producer.

I've had the Moulin Rouge soundtrack for basically forever but never really gave it a proper listen.  (I remember almost nothing from the movie at this point, but I remember that there was a lot of red in it.  And windmills.  And Obi-Wan Kenobi.)  I really like Lady Marmalade (with Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, and P!nk), and Sparkling Diamonds (with the cast) is quite good too.  Diamond Dogs (with Beck) is probably my third favorite.  Musicals aren't normally my thing but Moulin Rouge is a fairly unusual movie, and the soundtrack's pretty... interesting.

Lifehouse's No Name Face is bland rock.  Hanging by a Moment is a great song.  Breathing and Cling and Clatter are good.  The rest is completely skippable and forgettable.  I got this one a long time ago... I hope I got a good deal on it.

OutKast's Speakerboxx and The Love Below is a huge two-CD set practically exploding with tracks, most of which are extremely terrible.  (For reference, on a five-star scale, I gave a whopping 18 tracks one star.  Eighteen.)  But!  It has Hey Ya!, which is of course pretty good, and Bowtie, which is also pretty good, and Dracula's Wedding, which is pretty good, and a couple other pretty good tracks.  The rest is mostly crap.  Pass.

Nappy Roots' Watermelon, Chicken, and Gritz (racism defense note: that is the actual title of the CD) is okay.  It's also rather mediocre.  By far the best track is the bonus track, the rock remix of Awnaw.  But I was aware of that going in.  After that there are several decent tracks, of which Set it Out and Ho Down are probably slightly better than the others.  I recommend passing and just picking up the Awnaw remix if you like it.

Gramatik's Street Bangerz Volume 1 almost sounds like a CD of music to be sold as background music for commercials or TV show montages.  It's missing something.  I'm not sure what, but I think the answer is either "variation" or "weed."  (Or even "rapping.")  In My Hood, Bring It Fast, and Lorena's Butterfly are the best tracks.  Definitely skippable, unless you need background music for a commercial or a TV show montage.

Röyksopp's Junior is definitely better.  Röyksopp Forever is a lot of fun (for whatever definition of fun includes electronic chillout music), and The Girl and the Robot (featuring Robyn) is strangely upbeat and dancey.  Vision One has some crazy glitchy synth sounds that also aren't very relaxing.  Worth checking out.

Katie Herzig sounds like a cross between the lead singer of Dragonette and Vanessa Carlton in The Waking Sleep.  Style-wise, it's a lot closer to Carlton's, in the "soft and pretty" end of the spectrum.  Lost and Found is my favorite track, and Best Day of Your Life and Free My Mind are close behind.  This album ended up being surprisingly excellent, and I'm definitely going to have to pay close attention to what she's up to in the future.

Xploding Plastix' bizarrely-titled album Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents is, like, electronic jazz, I guess.  It's very pleasant.  The opening track Sports Not Heavy Crime is excellent, and the closing track Comatose Luck is also excellent.  The rest is consistently good; check out Behind the Eightball.  It's not easy to find in CD format but it can be easily purchased as MP3s.

Parov Stelar's Seven and Storm is sort of similar in style and is also very pleasant.  It's a bit more overtly electronic.  Faith featuring Odette di Maio and Nowhere featuring Billy Kern are both are beautiful and relaxing, and Spygame is clearly James Bond-influenced and is much more upbeat.  I'd definitely recommend giving this one a try too.

Happy to You by Miike Snow is good electronic music with heavy use of snare drums so it sounds rather military-ish.  Bavarian #1 (Say You Will) is the most recognizable track from the CD, and Devil's Work and Pretender are very good too.  The CD as-is isn't very danceable (though I imagine that any of the tracks could be remixed pretty easily), so if you're looking for electronic music that you can dance to then this probably isn't the disc for you.  But it's quality stuff nonetheless.

Civil Twilight's self-titled debut and their second album Holy Weather are both consistently good.  Their best song overall is from their debut album, the amazing Letters from the Sky, and the opening track from that album Anybody Out There is also great.  They've got a good, solid, standard-rock sort of sound.  I'm not a huge fan of the lead singer's voice, but the songwriting and instrumentals are really well done.  Their second album experiments a bit more and has more overall-good songs but nothing quite as excellent as Letters: Holy Weather, Shape of a Sound, and Sweet Resistance.  Definitely suggested for modern rock fans.

I wasn't a big fan of B.o.B's latest, Strange Clouds.  It's never a great sign when Morgan Freeman is in your first track and that doesn't save it, right?  Both of Us, a duet with Taylor Swift, is the best on the CD, and Chandelier featuring Lauriana Mae is quite good.  Never Let You Go featuring the delightful Ryan Tedder is pretty acceptable too.  Overall the album is just pretty forgettable.

Keane's latest album Strangeland wins the award for most disappointing in the bunch.  It's like a disc full of B-sides.  The weirdest thing to me is that before this album they put out an EP that suggested a change in musical direction with some more electronic influences and some interesting new sounds coming, and then a year or so later they put out a boring album with songs that all sound like rejects from their very first CD.  Sovereign Light Café is pretty good, and then I guess after that would be On the Road and Day Will Come.  Only really worth picking up if you need to fill in your Keane collection.

Finally, Kimbra now has a full-length album out, Vows, and it's lovely.  If you've already heard the Settle Down EP you know what to expect, and in fact you've already heard several of the tracks from this album.  Quality alt-rock.  The best song on here is Warrior, then Settle Down and Good Intent.

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