Regina Spektor is hardly a small town girl; she was born in Moscow and grew up in the Bronx. Anyhow, you won’t hear her trying to pander to the kind of people who think that having one stop light is somehow a virtue. For her, the image of that moon is just a jumping-off point to flex her weirdness. The small town, for one thing, is all in your head, it’s a state of mind. A neurosis, if you will. It’s never about the moon, baby, it’s about your existential crisis. Leave it to a Russian to explain to you that the flourishes of Romanticism are just a fluttering lace curtain masking a landscape of nihilistic despair. Or something. Regina Spektor has a sunnier disposition than that, I suppose, and her message is more about getting some living done while you’re still as young as you’re ever going to be.
Nina Hagen was the soundtrack of my entire 9th grade year. Her weirdness did a lot to transport me out of the petty misery of high school. It’s probably for the best that I didn’t have access to the visuals – it might have ruined me for real life even more than it did. Nina looks damn good as a man though, and her face shows the same flexible range as her voice. This kind of aesthetic excess belies Nina’s D.A.R.E.- approved message. “Smack ist Dreck” indeed, but clearly people don’t become like this by prudishly saying no to things. Apparently the song was written by Nina Hagen’s babydaddy, who was himself a heroin addict and eventually died of AIDS, so there’s an element of tragic irony at play. The real message impressionable little minds are likely to absorb is that being a wildly weird and interesting person requires the rejection of conventional mores of behavior aka doing dumb shit that might put you in the ground but at least you died interesting.
I love the plaintiveness of Jake Bugg’s voice. The kid sounds like a sad little angel. In, like, a sexy way. Or course, pretty boys who have the sads for no reason is basically its own genre, and it’s rather a weak basis to build a career on, not that there’s any shortage of people who’ve built careers on just that. Jake Bugg, fortunately, isn’t trying to build his brand on having just one mood. This guy does have some range, although he’s proved that it doesn’t include rapping. And, yes, being all feelsy and sensitive is a strong suit. I like a moderate amount of well-delivered feelsiness, myself. I think this is just the right amount.
“This song is about reincarnation, but most people think it’s about cosmetic surgery” says Lena Lovich. That’s a big leap in meaning and philosophy, but I can see how most people take words at face value. It’s nice to see Lovitch still up there doing it, shaking her crazy old lady bones. She doesn’t seem like one to espouse cosmetic correction of any kind. She seems like more the kind to tell everyone to let their freak flag fly. Weirdo types like Lena Lovich really blossom with age, don’t they? Especially women, who delight in outliving expectations of prettiness and acceptable behavior. It’s admirable to see the creativity of old ladies who’ve embraced the role of the crazy spinster aunt or witch in the hut in the woods. It’s so much less of a battle after you’re through being young and attractive.
In case you didn’t know it, Portugal. The Man is from Alaska. You normally wouldn’t guess that, given their breezy psychedelic vibes. Also, it’s not like there’s any such things as ‘Alaska vibes’. There’s California vibes and New York City vibes, Southern rock and Chicago blues. But Alaska is somewhat underrepresented in pop culture, so ‘frozen wasteland vibes’ hasn’t been a part of the American music scene. (Meanwhile Europe has Scandinavian black metal and Swedish electronica.) I’m not suggesting that American music fans need more songs about shooting moose or whatever, but it could be an interesting aesthetic if someone wanted to develop one. Portugal. The Man aren’t exactly out to make that a thing – their aesthetic is far too eclectic to be shoeboxed as an aesthetic at all. But here they’re leaning into the white frontier culture, and remind us why man-against-nature epics keep being popular.
Dreamlike is absolutely right. Ofra Haza became famous for melding Middle Eastern music with pop, and her best known work is dance floor ready club music with a touch of Aleppo pepper to it, so to speak. However, she didn’t always lean Western, or make herself so accessible. Here she leans the other way. It’s an exploration of a vocal style most Westerners weren’t familiar with, and still aren’t in a lot of places. It’s absolutely mesmerizing, although it won’t fill up very many dance floors. She certainly opened a lot of doors for what Americans and Europeans will dance to, and that’s a hefty legacy. The worlds of pop and of more traditional musical styles are so much more entwined now, and more people get to hear so many more things, which is is beautiful.
The songs in the Great American Standards songbook all have lives of their own by now – and why not, most of them are older than your grandmother. Even fairly obscure songs that your grandmother probably doesn’t remember listening to as a child have entire biographies. Grandma may not remember the 1937 Fred Astaire film Shall We Dance, or the sequence therein where Fred cuts a rug in a gleaming futuristic ‘factory’ with a bunch of black factory workers. But the song has gone on, in the hands of Ella Fitzgerald 20-some years later, and then in the next millennium as a remix.