MIKE PESCA, host:
It's time for New Music Tuesday on the big show. And today, we're answering some big questions. For example...
MARTIN: Can disco make a comeback?
PESCA: What happened to Ry Cooder out on the Salt Flats?
MARTIN: What's the best way to let all the ladies know you've got an Academy Award?
PESCA: Can Sigur Ros fans handle a little bit of change from their Icelandic demigods?
MARTIN: Julianne Shepherd, senior editor of the music magazine, the FADER, is in our studio to help us with the heavy lifting and to answer these big questions. Hey, Julianne.
Ms. JULIANNE SHEPHERD (Senior Editor, The FADER): Hey. How are you doing?
MARTIN: We are doing well. Thanks for coming in.
Ms. SHEPHERD: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: So we're going to start with the BPP's favorite band, Sigur Ros.
Ms. SHEPHERD: Yes.
MARTIN: Icelandic band, whose fifth album is, I understand, a little bit of a departure.
Ms. SHEPHERD: Yes. It is actually a lot of a departure, which for me, I'm kind of glad about it. I feel like they were kind of getting into a rut where they were doing the, you know, epic, sprawling, glockenspiel whatever, whatever, so well that, you know, they were kind of like flat lining. So they've teamed up with the music producer Flood, who, you know, is known for doing like Nine Inch Nails and Jesus and Mary Chain and kind of, you know, erasure a little bit on the Goth-y end of things. And he's sort of given them this - I mean, I would say it's almost like a little bit like Prague. I feel like some of the songs are kind of Prague influenced. They're very more intricate in their structure.
MARTIN: OK. Well, before we get a sense of the album, I need to inform you about the title of the album, which, unfortunately, I am incapable of doing even as a literate person. I'm not even going to attempt this. Icelandic, good thing we have a little help from Sigur Ros' own MySpace page.
(Soundbite of Sigur Ros' MySpace Page)
Unidentified Man: (Icelandic spoken) Meedh suedh i eyrum viedh spilum endalaust.
MARTIN: Yeah. Just like that. OK, let's move from there to the music. Let's hear a little bit of what's happening on the song called something I can't pronounce.
Unidentified Man: (Icelandic Spoken)
MARTIN: That's this.
PESCA: That's the one.
(Soundbite of Sigur Ros song)
SIGUR ROS: (Singing) How soon that I - he said I climb and came in. Always when I go, scared or scared me in the end. Here was the mirror we'll get away with it. And Lord I just - I was made.
MARTIN: So the name of that song translates in English roughly to "With a buzz in our ears, we play endlessly." Oh, I'm sorry, that's the album title.
PESCA: I was going to say. You mistranslated that song.
PESCA: Your rudimentary Icelandic is just embarrassing.
MARTIN: I know. It's embarrassing. So, Julianne, I understand, with a couple of exceptions, the songs on this record hover around the four minute mark, which is far shorter than the average.
Ms. SHEPHERD: Yes. It's almost like pop. It's crazy.
MARTIN: Is that - does that suit them?
Ms. SHEPHERD: I think it does. You know, like I said, I feel like they were kind of in a rut, and they were doing like these sprawling eight minute like sort of zone outs. And I think that, you know, it's kind of nice for them to like experiment around with a pop song structure if you can call it that. You know, the glockenspiel is much nicer in condensed format, I feel.
PESCA: A little spiel goes a long way.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Sigur Ros fans are, let's just say notoriously protective of their band and its sound. How do you think people are going to respond to this?
Ms. SHEPHERD: Well, I mean, I do think that this actually might garner them more fans. The one thing that I keep coming back to when I listen to all of them - not all of them, but most of the music on this album, is that they kind of are starting to sound a little bit like Animal Collective to me.
Ms. SHEPHERD: Yeah. And I think that's actually kind of a good thing, you know. You can only have so much, you know, long song things, but I do think that whatever they do, their fans will still ride with them.
PESCA: How do you say panda bear in Icelandic?
Ms. SHEPHERD: Ooh, good question. Yeah. We don't know.
PESCA: All right. Let's move on. Three 6 Mafia, the new CD is "Last 2 Walk." I'd like to point out that the middle word in all those phrases is a number. So if you could do your review in that same format, that would be good.
Ms. SHEPHERD: Shout 2 Prince.
PESCA: Right, what is good 4 you?
Ms. SHEPHERD: Yes.
PESCA: I 8 it up.
Ms. SHEPHERD: Oh. Good one.
PESCA: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So let's - so let's do a little backstory. So if people do know the Three 6 Mafia, it's probably because they saw them on, like, the biggest telecast of the year, the Oscars, a few years back. They won for their song "Hard Out There for a Pimp" from "Hustle & Flow." But before they even showed up on the TV screens and before that in the cinemas, there was a lot to this group, right?
Ms. SHEPHERD: Yes. They have been long time - they have been around since 1991. They've been not toiling in Memphis, where they're from, but definitely, you know, they started out as an underground group and then just, you know, as southern rap became bigger, kind of, you know, spread out a lot, but they have been around forever.
PESCA: And in the past, you know, they have had different members of the group, but now it's kind of just a core of two. They got the producer Juicy J and DJ Paul. So what do they do? Do they produce and rap? Do they hire other guys to do instrumentation? How's the breakdown of labor going these days?
Ms. SHEPHERD: Yes. This is classic Three 6 Mafia. It's all them and, you know, it's a little bit different because on their last album, "Most Known Unknown" which produced a couple big hits in 2005, "Stay Fly," which was really fast, and "Poppin' My Collar," which is known for the long sort of end collar, which, you know...
MARTIN: That looks really good, Mike.
Ms. SHEPHERD: Made it into the lexicon.
PESCA: Luckily I wore a pop-able collar.
Ms. SHEPHERD: Yeah. Do it. Pop it.
PESCA: If I had my Nehru jacket, that wouldn't have worked.
Ms. SHEPHERD: But it's early in the morning. So, yeah, so, you know, this is like, there's a lot of sampling and a lot of, like, fast southern sort of like, you know, jeep beats.
PESCA: Yeah. Because I think a lot of the southern rap I'm used to, like the Houston sounds a little slower sometimes.
Ms. SHEPHERD: Right. No. Definitely it does. But this is all like super fast...
Ms. SHEPHERD: There's a Tchaikovsky sample on one of the songs, "Sugar Plum Fairies."
PESCA: The cannon part of "1812"? Oh no.
Ms. SHEPHERD: Oh no, no, no, "Sugar Plum Fairies," but you know, this is a sort of classic thing where they will sample, you know, like, pretty well known sort of epic...
PESCA: Right. Everyone knows "Sugar Plum." I can't sing, but we know. Anyway, so they also get not only Tchaikovsky, but they got Chamillionaire on this song that we're going to hear now, "Doe Boy Fresh." Let's hear a little Three 6 Mafia.
(Soundbite of song "Doe Boy Fresh")
THREE 6 MAFIA: (Singing) Yeah! Hypnotize man! Three 6 Mafia, academy award! What! Chamillionaire. We stronger than ever! Real. Real. The last 2 walk.
Doe boy. Doe, Doe boy. Fresh. Doe boy, doe, doe, boy fresh. Fresh, fresh, fresh. Know what I hear boy. Doe boy, doe, doe boy fresh. Fresh. Yeah. Know what I hear you, boy. Doe boy, doe boy, doe boy fresh, fresh, fresh. Another day another dollar another night to make a holler...
MARTIN: Wow! You guys, I wish everyone could have seen that. Julianne and Mike were really getting a groove on.
Ms. SHEPHERD: Get a little bounce in there.
PESCA: We should point out we didn't edit that because they were cursing. It just sounds that staccato-y. There weren't a bunch of edits in the middle of it. Yeah. So it turns out they won an Oscar. Who knew?
Ms. SHEPHERD: The intro is so amazing. Academy and what, what!
PESCA: I love them. They had a lot of energy, a lot more energy than everyone else this year. But overall, I mean what do you think of the album? Does it work for you?
Ms. SHEPHERD: I do like it, but I don't think that this is going to be, you know, people who got put onto them with "Most Known Unknown" and their Oscar are probably not really going to get into it. It gets into the, like, sort of, you know - like I said, this is classic Three 6 Mafia, but there's not really a hit. They do have a single out called "Lolli Lolli (Pop That Body)," but it's not, you know, some fans are kind of accusing them of selling out because it has T-pain on it, which is obviously like, you know, the key to getting a song on the radio.
PESCA: Yeah. Or making a lollipop reference, which seems to be something that the rap world is not lacking for these days. You got your 50, you got your Lil' Wayne. It's all lollipops, and candy stores and candy land.
Ms. SHEPHERD: Everyone wants sugar.
PESCA: And the sugar plum fairies, and gum drop falls, and...
Ms. SHEPHERD: Oh. Someone is going to sample that.
PESCA: Oh my.
Ms. SHEPHERD: You know it.
PESCA: Yeah. So "Hercules & Love Affair" is our next stop. This is a self-titled debut, New York dance group, Hercules & Love Affair. Critics are loving this. It's not just a good disco album. People who have listened to it are kind of taking this thing to the next level. They're calling Hercules leader Andrew Butler a compelling new voice in American dance music. What is this American dance music they speak of? Might we call it disco?
Ms. SHEPHERD: Oh yes. I believe so.
PESCA: And it's kind of a very New York disco sound, which - what are the words to define that?
Ms. SHEPHERD: I mean it - I feel like that what they're doing is sort of a resurgence of like the '90s downtown disco, like gay vanguard thing, except for instead of downtown, it's Brooklyn now. But I really feel like them and the, you know, the people surrounding, DFA, and especially Hercules & Love Affair are kind of like bringing it back. There's a lot of like throwback '90s disco, and freestyle sounds like a lot of cowbell.
PESCA: All right. That' s a lot of talking about the song. Let's listen to "Blind," features the singer Antony of Antony and the Johnsons.
(Soundbite of song "Blind")
Mr. ANTONY HEGARTY: (Singing) As a child, I knew that the stars could only get brighter. That we could get closer leaving this darkness behind. Now that I'm older, the stars should lie upon my face, but when I find myself alone...
MARTIN: That man has a very unique voice.
PESCA: I would like - yeah, we have to mention that he's Antony of Antony and the Johnsons. I feel like this is the kind of guy that if I mispronounce his name might come down to the studio and possibly bitch slap me. So what do we think of "Blind"? What do we think of Antony and his pals Hercules & Love Affair?
Ms. SHEPHERD: I mean, I think of it as a very solid album. I think that, like I said, it is sort of a resurgence of this old disco sound, but it's got a lot of new influences to it. And Antony, I mean, you know, his voice is unmistakable, obviously. They also have a couple other singers. There' s a really wonderful woman named Kim Ann Foxman, who has a lower voice and kind of takes it down a little bit more.
PESCA: Lower than Antony? Interesting.
Ms. SHEPHERD: Yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
PESCA: Look, I don't know how to phrase this without being insulting so I won't - I won't use the phrase I was going to say, but is there an element of whimsy or - what I mean is - Antony, is that sort of a joke?
MARTIN: What? That's a name.
PESCA: No. No. No. The way he's singing, it seems almost like we're supposed to be laughing with him - maybe with him? Am I reading it wrong?
Ms. SHEPHERD: I mean, I don't - you know, he sings every song like this. He's got that sort of warble thing. I don't think it's meant to be funny. I think it's just sort of dramatic, but I do think he's rooted in like cabaret a little.
PESCA: Yeah. It seems like - with every phrase, throwing his scarf dramatically across his shoulder.
Ms. SHEPHERD: You basically summed it up.
PESCA: OK. So that's it. So that's not the joke, but it's the persona.
MARTIN: With our last minute or so, we're going to take a turn to Ry Cooder. The latest album is called "I, Flathead." This is kind of a major opus. He's written a book to go along with this thing that tells the story of his alter ego who he's apparently going by the name of Cash Buck. This is an elaborate way to say, what? What's he trying to say with this big opus?
Ms. SHEPHERD: Well, this is actually the third in a trilogy. It's sort of this Joan Didion-esque California trilogy, and I think what he's trying to say with this one is kind of to talk about, you know, how the idea of, like, the American dream, and California, and western expansion has actually failed in country form - country music form.
MARTIN: OK. Let's get a sense of what's going on here with Mr. Cooder. This song...
PESCA: Or Mr. Buck.
MARTIN: Mr. Buck, as the case may be, depends. This song is called "Ridin' With the Blues."
(Soundbite of song "Ridin' With the Blues")
Mr. RY COODER: (Singing) Old Blues like to ride in my Cadillac, likes to get up in front and ease down back. Slide over here baby, this ain't what you think. Old Blues going to drive while I get us a drink. Now baby you can ride with me. Well, I hope you don't mind...
MARTIN: So, real quick, Julianne, thumbs up or down for Ry Cooder fans? Are they going to like this?
Ms. SHEPHERD: Yes. This is classic. I'm feeling it.
MARTIN: Classic Cooder, you heard it here from Julianne Shepherd, senior editor of the FADER, helping us navigate today's New Music Tuesday. Thank you, ma'am, for coming in. We appreciate it.
Ms. SHEPHERD: Thank you very much for having me.
MARTIN: That does it for this hour of the Bryant Park Project. You know that we don't go away online. We're there all the time at npr.org/bryantpark. I'm Rachel Martin.
PESCA: And I'm Mike Pesca. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.
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