Tag Archives: new releases

leonard-cohen

Leonard Cohen: Old ideas for a new audience

By Ben Nance–

Legendary singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen is one of the most highly regarded musicians on the planet, so whenever he dishes out new material, it is considered to be something of an event. Still singing about spirituality, mortality and sexuality at the ripe age of 77, he shows no signs of dulling the teeth of his witty songwriting. While it’s unfortunate that the closest most people will come to hearing his stuff is through covers of “Hallelujah,” the fact that such a unique and poetic voice is still active in the music world is a blessing indeed.

Speaking of blessings, Cohen wastes no time getting his religion on in the opening minutes of his new album “Old Ideas.” In the soulful track “Going Home,” Cohen imagines what the big guy in the sky would say about his songs while simultaneously hinting at his own death: “A cry above the suffering/A sacrifice recovering/But that isn’t what I need him/To complete.” The song is a perfect lead-in to the slow gospel vibe of the album, with Cohen’s trademark female backup singers providing the hooks. It’s his catchiest and most satisfying opener since 1992’s “The Future.”

Things move along quite nicely in the album’s first half as Cohen shuffles through the burlesque tune of “Amen” and the gruff, locomotive “Darkness.” Once you hear the triumphant ballad “Show Me the Place,” you will be moved beyond words at how effortlessly Cohen manages to create a beautiful moment of grace using his humble baritone voice, a hymn-like song structure and angelic background vocals. In the song’s chorus, he expresses the painful burden of virtue with, “Show me the place, where you want your slave to go/Show me the place, I’ve forgotten, I don’t know.” It’s overwhelming power makes it the key track of “Old Ideas.” This kind of bare honesty is rare in modern music, which is all the more reason to treasure it.

It’s more of a mixed bag once the album approaches its halfway point and becomes less focused. The lyrics remain brilliant—“I’m tired of choosing desire/I’ve been saved by a blessed fatigue/The gates of commitment unwired/And nobody trying to leave”—however, the musical arrangements sort of feel shapeless in comparison to what came before. You’ll realize how crucial the backup singers really are when Leonard briefly decides to go solo on “Crazy to Love You.” The few weak songs that show up in the middle feel like B-sides, but the beautiful thing about a Leonard Cohen B-side is that it’s just as good, if not better, than any pop single you’re bound to hear on the radio.

The album quickly gets back on its feet, livening things up with the powerful vocal harmonies of “Come Healing” and the festive New Orleans flavor of “Banjo.” There is even a memorable lullaby track that isn’t quite what you expect it to be. It all ends on a groovy, electric organ-fueled bang with the song “Different Sides.” Despite his spiritual musings, Cohen suggests on this track that he’s not quite done being a clever devil of appetites. “Old Ideas” can feel a little top-heavy in the musical department, but it achieves greatness nonetheless. This is the album to beat in 2012.

features@louisvillecardinal.com
Photos courtesy Columbia Records

Harold & Kumar 3

Harold and Kumar reunite for Christmas

By Baylee Pulliam–

The White Castle slider-seeking duo Harold and Kumar are back in the third installment of the franchise – and this time, they’re taking on Kris Kringle himself.

John Chou (Harold) and Kal Penn (Kumar) star in “A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas,” due in theaters Nov. 4.

Penn sat down with The Louisville Cardinal to discuss the film, Christmas movies and his new friend, Waffle Bot.

“It’s kind of weird, putting Harold and Kumar and Christmas together,” Penn told The Louisville Cardinal. “But it’s great. Not a kid-friendly Christmas movie, but how fun would that be?”

No fun, Mr. Penn. No fun at all. But luckily, the “Harold and Kumar” writers loaded this film with just as much debauchery as the first two.

Six years following their escape from Guantanamo Bay, Harold and Kumar have drifted apart, replacing each other with new friends and teetering on the brink of an uneventful and all-together boring holiday season.

Quite conveniently, a postal mixup lands Kumar at Harold’s door with a mis-delivered package of, well, a certain “high-grade” treat. Show of hands – who saw that coming?
Mr. Penn, put your hand down.

As per usual for the baked buds, this does not end well. The two send Harold’s father in-law’s prized Christmas tree up in smoke and promptly set off on a drug-induced, psychedelic and sometimes clay-mated quest through New York City to find a new one.

The movie is riddled with allusions to Christmas cult-favorites, including “just a ton of movies [the writers and actors] grew up with,” Penn said. Although the references may be slightly raunchier than the kid-friendly films most remember.

“There’s this scene in ‘A Christmas Story’ where a kid sticks his tongue to a pole and can’t get it off,” Penn said. In the film, Harold gets his man parts stuck to a pole.

Before poor Harold can warm his frostbitten nether-region, the script launches the duo into a claymation sequence oddly reminiscent of Christmas specials featuring talking snowmen and misfit toys.

“We did voiceovers once or twice” to sync up with the on-camera clay Harold and Kumar models, Penn said. “It was kind of cool because all the sets had to look like actual places we were filming, so it was like a tiny little version of where we’d been.”

Penn said he didn’t get to keep his clay-mated self, but he proudly shows off a tiny replica of Waffle Bot, one of Kumar’s new stop-motion friends who makes a cameo in the film.

And there are plenty more cameos where that came from, including appearances by big names like Patton Oswalt (“The Informant!”), Tom Lennon (“Reno 911”), David Burkta (“How I Met Your Mother”) and the infamous Neil Patrick Harris.

“The cameos are a part of what makes this film great,” Penn said. “Just a great, really funny group of people.”

But even if Penn didn’t have to say that, it would probably still be true. Every one of the co-stars will likely bring his or her own brand of comedy to the screen, creating an unintentional – yet awesome – blend of satire and insanity.

“It’s been an awesome experience shooting this,” Penn said. “I think the fans are really going to like it.”

Penn said contractually, the third installment of Harold and Kumar is the last, but he thinks “there’s still a lot of ground to cover.”

“I’d like to see Harold and Kumar go to space,” Penn said. “Maybe we can shoot on location.”

Even if the film is the last of the Harold and Kumar brand, fans will at least have the satisfaction of seeing the series take the holiday season to a new high.

bpulliams@louisvillecardinal.com
Photo courtesy Warner Bros.

normal_nappy-roots-1

Nappy Roots’ ‘Nappy Dot Org’ misses the mark

By Aaron Williams–

Bowling Green hip-hop collective Nappy Roots has seen homegrown success since the release of their first album, “Watermelon Chicken,” and “Gritz” in 2002, as well as the popularity of the two singles “Awnaw” and “Po’ Folks” from that LP. The latter of the two songs would earn Nappy Roots a 2003 Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration that they shared with Anthony Hamilton, a featured artist on the track. Their follow-up album, “Wooden Leather,” was also critically acclaimed and featured production from the likes of Kanye West and David Banner.

In addition to professional success, Fish Scales, Skinny DeVille, Big V, B. Stille and Ron Clutch – who together form Nappy Roots – have developed a cult following within the underground of alternative Southern hip-hop, and for good reason. With the success of their Atlantic Records albums and their 2010 effort, “Pursuit of Nappyness,” Nappy Roots has gone from Western Kentucky University’s hip-hop collaborative to major players in the world of Southern rap.

On Oct. 11, Nappy Roots released their latest contribution to hip-hop culture, created with the help of Southern all-star production trio Organized Noize. The result is “Nappy Dot Org.” With Organized Noize’s repertoire consisting of TLC’s “Waterfalls” and OutKast’s “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,” expectations for “Nappy Dot Org” should be quite high going into the first listen, but Nappy Roots doesn’t deliver as fully as you would expect them to.

The first single from “Nappy Dot Org”, Nappy Dot Org’s first single “Hey Love,” is a cathartic rant about a man being fed up with his ex that features soulful hook from Samuel Christian, but it is far from the album’s best track. That title belongs to “Pete Rose,” where the Nappy crew gets a little help from Khujo Goodie to deliver a hard-hitting flow that deals with frustration in the viewpoint of the black male with themes such as hearing about people wanting Barack Obama dead and the unfairness of the criminal justice system. The heavy bass makes for a classic Southern beat and the lyrical content mingles party and drug imagery with rhymes about religion and spirituality.

In the same vein, track No. 7, “Karma,” asserts itself as one of “Nappy Dot Org’s” better raps featuring a slow, mystifying hook with strings laid over the beat to add to the dramatic effect of the song. Outside of these tracks, “Nappy Dot Org” offers little variety and even becomes slightly nauseating at moments with some of the bubblegum, poppy beats the band chose to use their talents on and the repetitive, equally poppy hooks found on tracks like “Y’all Party,” “Good and Evil” and the auto-tuned “Easy Money.”

“Country Boy Return” may bring the listener back to the sound of country-fried hip-hop that they are used to from Nappy Roots, but sonically it is the only moment “Nappy Dot Org” goes in this direction, preferring instead the sappy “Congratulations” at the album’s conclusion.

“Nappy Dot Org” is simply a mediocre effort from an otherwise very talented group. While the group’s lyrics are as biting and relevant as ever, their message often goes unheard because it is drowned in annoying hooks and lighthearted beats that any true hip-hop or bass head will find lacking and less than satisfying. “Nappy Dot Org” earns a two out of five stars.

awilliams@louisvillecardinal.com
Photos courtesy Nappy Roots Entertainment

Beirut+13_3img003

Review: Beirut- The Rip Tide

By Lee Cole–

If one were to hear the sound of a softly strummed ukulele, mingled with a brass band, over which resonated deep, operatic vocals, most people would be understandably baffled by the combination of instruments and sounds. If you were a fan of indie music, however, you would immediately recognize this signature sound as that of Beirut. Beirut recently released their third studio album on Aug. 30, entitled The Rip Tide.

Beirut has become well-known since 2006 for their baroque arrangements and pop sensibility. Their latest album, The Rip Tide, contains many familiar elements from earlier albums, but is breezier and marks an interesting turn in songwriting. Chief lyricist and composer Zach Condon was originally in uenced by jazz, but after traveling through Europe, he became aware of Balkan folk music, and his first album is largely a foray into the traditional sounds of Eastern Europe. Since then, Condon has been increasingly in uenced by world music, and his second albumwas reminiscent of French chanson, with lyrics describing a bygone era of fairs and hot air balloons in 1900s France. Condon’s characteristic, over-the-top arrangements with everything from ukuleles and euphoniums to accordions and tubas are still present in The Rip Tide, but the lyrics tend to focus on the present-day rather than a time and place that Condon has never experienced.

The songs on The Rip Tide often take the form of brief impressions and lyrical fragments. They are less specific and more abstract than on previous albums. “Santa Fe” is an ode to Condon’s hometown, but otherwise, the lyrics seem to paint a winter landscape. The songs call together images of snow shaking loose from trees and the regal New York City winter. He sings in “Vagabond,” “Now the air grows cold/the truth unfolds/and I am lost and not found.” The almost constant, spirited strumming of ukulele can be tiresome at times, but the terriffic horn arrangements throughout more than make up for it. The album sounds as though it were recorded with only the resources one would find in a middle school band room. The horn parts are minimalist, but played with bravado, creating a joyous atmosphere one might expect to hear from a small Balkan brass band at a wedding. The sound is not unlike Sufjan Stevens’ arrangements or the brass melodies on The National’s latest album.

While Condon’s vocals are characteristically resounding throughout, they truly soar on the album’s opening and closing tracks, “A Candle’s Flame” and “Port of Call.” Perhaps the most memorable moment on the album, lyrically at least, is Condon’s repeated chant in “The Peacock” of “He’s the only one who knows the words.” Condon’s songs seem to grasp at something vague and intangible.

They have a certain panache, but it’s difficult to locate any specific narrative within the album. His lines verge on the psychedelic at times, but the arrangements keep the songs grounded firmly in a traditional or classical mindset.

Overall, the album is strong, perhaps their best yet. The only unfortunate aspect is the length, which is only 33 minutes. Somehow though, the album seems appropriate as it is – an impressionistic, albeit brief portrayal of a snowy winter set to the sounds of Condon’s bizarre horn arrangements. Fans of Beirut, and indie music more generally, should not miss it.

features@louisvillecardinal.com
Photo courtesy of Pompeii Records