There was a piece on Sunday in the NYT about Russian chanson, which is sort of like the Russian version of gangsta rap, mostly for its realistic portrayals of street life and its ability to piss off music snobs and politicians, for starters. Russian chanson, not to be confused with the French kind, natch, has a long history as the vehicle for political songwriting in Russia; it's been banned off and on since the Revolution, through the Soviet era, and in current times as well.
Aficionados say it has become the ultimate crossover genre, with Johnny Cash-type singing about sin and redemption, a Spice Girls-style girl-group singing about girlish antics, and a remarkable number of very tough-looking, thick-necked middle-aged men in gold chains singing about a mother’s love. (The genre’s popularity has even spurred an indie backlash, including “Gulag Tunes,” a version of Stalin-era prison songs set to surf music and produced by a music critic who derides Russian chanson as the déclassé music of “drivers and security guards.”)
I've enjoyed some of the stuff I've heard on the Losopoval website -- there's gobs of mp3s on this page.
To me, Russian chanson sounds -- literally and figuratively -- a whole lot like Mexican narcocorrido, which also usually immediately draws comparisons to gangsta rap as well. There's some great .wma format samples up at Chalino Sanchez' website, they're definitely worth checking out. Sanchez was pretty much the trailblazer of narcocorrido; gunned down at the prime of his career, he's the genre's Tupac Shakur, if you will.
Occasionally you encounter a blogger who makes you feel wholly inadequate: Locust St.'s sole-initialed author C. does just that. If only my thoughts were that organized. Seriously. Relatedly, Chromewaves has a much more well thought-out response to that horrible alt.country article from yesterday's NYT; he also posts some tracks from the new Sadies live album, which I'm really looking forward to. The Sadies put on one of the best live shows around, and Frank reports that the recording is a very faithful document of that experience, which pleases me greatly.
Catch them now before the buzz becomes deafening: Bound Stems. Didn't know who they were until the PR landed in the inbox the other day, the endorsement yesterday of TRGAW informant Paul Cox sealed the deal. To me, they sort of sound like Sufjan Stevens meets the Arcade Fire meets The Wrens, if the Wrens had come up listening to Saddle Creek stars instead of inspiring them. There's detatched, didactic lyrics (trés Sufjan), synths and chick backing vocals (from none other than Apple 'Switch' ad starlet Janie Porche, who has a rather nice singing voice) -- very Arcade Fire, but the Wrens comparison comes mostly because of the wall of guitar effects, a massively propulsive rhythm section and a propensity for insane and possibly superflous time changes. Which is to say, they kind of sound like Shapes and Sizes (or, as some have noted, Wolf Parade, perhaps?). My only complaint is the slight tendency to slip into seriously emo bridges and codas that teeter on jam band territory. Those might need to go.
Bound Stems -- Refuse the Refuse
Bound Stems -- This Is Grand
(There's more tracks to sample at the Flameshovel Records website...)
You know, it kind of looks like Chicago's apparently where it's at these days -- the buzz raked up by the sunny, spazzy pop of Office since SXSW is also impressive. Which leads me to ask -- what's going on with Maniszhevitz lately?
Speaking of The Wrens -- remember when we were promised that They Might Be Giants cover about a bajillion years ago?
The Wrens -- They'll Need A Crane
Very, very Wrens, que no? You'd never know it was a TMBG song, save the lyrics. From Hello Radio: The Songs of They Might Be Giants, out on Bar/None, which features TMBG covers from The Long Winters, Self, OK GO, Frank Black, and Jason Trachtenburg, among others.
I may have gotten stuck on this before, but what song does Band of Horses' "The Funeral" sound like? It's on the tip of my brain, it sounds exactly like something ... else ... Is it, like, country-fied Pixies?
Finally -- proof that my mom is indeed cooler than me: She hung out with a member of The Mars Volta at my cousin's wedding this weekend. Oh and, now we know where to find Voxtrot's Ramesh if he's not out DJ'ing or shopping for records at Waterloo...