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Disco Inferno

David Byrne and Fatboy Slim

Here Lies Love

 

And by popular demand, David Byrne teams up with Fatboy Slim for a concept double album about Imelda Marcos. Is there anyone who didn’t see that coming?

But seriously, for a project as improbable as this, with such potential for esoteric flights of fancy, this is eminently accessible stuff. Mostly, it’s gently updated disco, reflecting Marcos’ taste for the Studio 54 lifestyle. A heady roster of guest vocalists (including Cyndi Lauper, Tori Amos and Sharon Jones) belt out a series of first- person observations in the voices of Marcos and the obscure figure Estrella Cumpas, a woman Marcos’ family employed during her childhood.

The music here may not be visionary, but much of it is still delicious. Fatboy Slim’s hand weighs heavily on the addictive electro-stomper “Eleven Days.” With its needling, township guitar riff, high-strung Byrne vocals and references to 50 Cent and reality television, the great “American Troglodyte” sounds the most like what you might expect from “the new David Byrne album.”

The snaking tropical rhythms of “Every Drop of Rain” and “How Are You” are totally danceable, but sound like genre experiments that Fatboy Slim, author of era-defining Big Beat ear candy like “The Rockafeller Skank” and “Praise You,” could program in his sleep.

This really is a partially finished project. Byrne states in the liner notes he envisioned it as a theatrical presentation to happen in dance clubs; as he told NPR, “that never happened.” (New York City’s Public Theater reportedly is considering turning it into a musical.) The narrative, such as it is, fizzles out once Marcos becomes a globetrotting disco-monarch; the two-disc cycle features exactly one song specifically about the crimes of the Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos regime. And we never actually find out what happens to Cum pas. In light of the shortcomings of its conceptual framework, the fun-but-safe music—all 90 minutes of it—seems of less moment.

The glorious disco of “Don’t You Agree?” depicts Marcos in campaign mode for her husband. “Sometimes you need a strongman/When things are out of control,” Róisín Murphy sings, sailing over an irresistible groove buffeted by sun-baked electric piano riffs and a touch of horns. Dictatorship never sounded so good.

—Jeremy D. Goodwin

 

The Red Krayola with Art & Language

Five American Portraits

Mayo Thompson, with his Red Krayola and its various extended ensemble formats, has managed to remain an artist creating music over the course of four decades. Never a part of the robust business side of the music industry, Red Krayola has recorded intermittently, and for a small but fervent audience. Whether or not by design, this has left Thompson and his cohorts free to explore. Five American Portraits offers up musical tributes to Wile E. Coyote, George W. Bush,

Jimmy Carter, John Wayne and Ad Reinhardt. There’s a simple, sing-song quality to the melodies, all of which support lyrics that are straightforwardly precise descriptions of each of the five subjects (“A crease from the right corner of the mouth,” “Light reflected in the iris of the left eye,” “Some loose skin below the right eyelid,” “The left side of the nose immediately above the nostril”). The portraits are further defined with musical passages from folk, 20th Century idioms and the classical canon braided into each.

In a gentle way, Five American Portraits makes its idiosyncratic identity unshakably present. Erasing everything but descriptions of their common physical characteristics makes for a compelling sociopolitical statement. Bravo, Art! Bravo, Language! Bravo, Red Krayola!

—David Greenberger

 

Xiu Xiu

Dear God, I Hate Myself

The cool kids like Xiu Xiu because of their experimental tendencies—mixing synthpop, alternative percussion, odd instrumentation, dissonance and deviant sexual themes. The rest of us like them because of their big nasty percussion and irresistibly dark, yet uplifting, choruses. If you aren’t sure which category you fit in to here, just answer these two simple questions: 1. Have you put Morrissey’s “Bigmouth Strikes Again” on more than one mix tape or iPod mix? 2. Do you ever get teary-eyed imagining a world where Ian Curtis didn’t turn Joy Division into New Order with a rope?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you should do yourself a favor and acquire a copy of Dear God, I Hate Myself.

This isn’t some cheap, embarrassing ’80s goth fix along the lines of She Wants Revenge or (shudder) the Bravery—this is a quirky, art-damaged mess of an album punctuated by chirping samples, broken keyboards and cheeky, self-deprecating choruses that sound and feel a lot like “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want.” There are nasty noise mistakes mashed into lyrics about sadomasochism and eating chocolate.

Jamie Stewart—the man who has functioned as Xiu Xiu, along with a rotating cast of characters, since the mid-’90s—has that kind of jubilant self-loathing that will put a smile on the face of any neurotic goth-leaning music snob. But it will also likely work on those state-working soccer moms looking for a dark trip back to their days haunting QE2.

Stewart’s voice might be the only thing here that trips anyone up—it’s the goth rasping, I’m-trying-super-hard-to-be- dramatic twinge that could drive away those not versed in proper synthpop frontman stylings. It probably won’t help the squeamish that Stewart dumps the hamper of all the sordid details of his bisexual relationships into the laps of listeners—broken hearts, nasty sex and abuse like he’s just doing his laundry.

But don’t let that scare you. The title track makes you ache in glee as Stewart admits, “Despair will hold a place in my heart/A bigger one that you do/And I will always be nicer to the cat/Than I am to you,” before making the titular declaration over trumpeting, glorious synths. It’s a misanthrope’s anthem, the kind that has never been delivered in such triumphant fashion.

Even the sleeper tracks on the album (like “House Sparrow”) creep up on you with lush ambient tones, lulling you into happy complacency until Stewart slowly ramps up into full-on anxious, paranoid pleading about fucked-up relationships, “Christian schools,” and “a serial will to kill.” It almost makes you feel a little bit violated, but it’s better not to think about it—just let it happen. Dear God, I Hate Myself is the good kind of bad touch.

—David King


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