25 April 2008

Pop Quiz: KT Tunstall

Aidin Vaziri | There's a good reason KT Tunstall has been inescapable since releasing her 4 million-selling debut album, 2004's "Eye to the Telescope." Not only is the Grammy-nominated Scottish singer-songwriter capable of knocking out brilliant pop tunes such as "Suddenly I See" and "Black Horse & the Cherry Tree," she's also like the Sheryl Crow you actually want to party with. Her latest release, "Drastic Fantastic," includes the hit, "Hold On."

KT Tunstall
Q: Have you ever considered cutting out the middleman and writing your own romantic comedy?
A: What, so I can just do the soundtrack? I haven't, but that's a really good idea. I much prefer the music gets used on a TV program (rather) than selling tampons or something.
Q: Actually, I think I heard "Hold On" in a tampon commercial today.
A: Oh, come on. That was Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love."
Q: You wrote "Suddenly I See" about Patti Smith. Did she like it?
A: I don't know. I haven't had any connection with her. In some ways, I'm absolutely terrified to do so. It would be pretty heart-wrenching for her to say, "Nice to meet you, KT. That song is really lame. Can you stop saying it's about me?" Continue reading.

Reviews: Estelle, Portishead

Estelle 'Shine': Aidin Vaziri | The story goes that Estelle Swaray met her future record-label boss, John Legend, outside of a Roscoe's House of Chicken 'n' Waffles restaurant in Los Angeles. Seven years later, the 28-year-old West London singer delivers her staggering American debut, an impassioned collision of old-school soul, top-shelf hip-hop and major pop sparks. Kanye West, Mark Ronson and Gnarls Barkley's Cee-Lo Green all join in, but they keep a respectful distance as the singer tears it up on tracks such as the George Michael-quoting "No Substitute Love" and the astounding iTunes chart-topper "American Boy." Not since "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" has there been a more surefooted, adventurous or exciting soundtrack for block parties. Rihanna can officially step aside.

Portishead 'Third': Aidin Vaziri | It's hard to imagine anything darker and more turbulent than Portishead's first two albums, genre-busting missives that spun evocative songs out of cracked film scores, loping hip-hop beats and the haunted voice of Beth Gibbons, left. Eleven years later, the British group returns with the conveniently titled "Third," a set that is significantly more inspired than its title and static cover art suggest. The blueprint has been put through the shredder, with only Gibbons coming out the other side in recognizable shape. Nausea-inducing strings now dominate the score, which also employs primitive rhythms and spaghetti-Western guitars in songs such as "Silence" and "We Carry On." While it's impossible to penetrate on the first two dozen listens, you get the feeling it's the kind of album people will be hailing as a classic after the next 11 years pass. So why not jump ahead of the line and do it now?

Tina Fey: To Surrogate, With Love

Tina Fey takes on pregnancy in 'Baby Mama': Aidin Vaziri | Tina Fey knows you don't think of her as a leading lady. "When we made 'Mean Girls,' I was very aware that my part should be small and you need movie stars to make movies, so we got all these beautiful young girls to do it," the "Saturday Night Live" alum said by phone recently about the 2004 big-screen comedy she scripted. But after scoring a hit with the Emmy-winning NBC sitcom "30 Rock," the 37-year-old writer, producer and actor is making the jump with her new PG-13 film, "Baby Mama," which opens Friday nationwide. Written by Michael McCullers and co-starring Amy Poehler, both of whom worked with her at "SNL," Fey plays Kate Holbrook, a career-minded single woman with fertility issues who hires a seriously mismatched surrogate to carry her child. It's a bit like "The Odd Couple" meets "The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy." It's also a lot funnier than you might expect. Fey talked to us about taking the lead.

Q: How much of Tina Fey is in Kate Holbrook?
A: Well, it's sort of a more conservative version of myself. She's a little better educated and classier and more preppy.
Q: And her taste in home decor?
A: Much earthier, greener, nicer.
Q: How about men, do you find your character's interest, Greg Kinnear, attractive in real life?
A: That's kind of a loaded question. I think empirically he is very handsome.
Q: Did you get to pick your leading man?
A: A little bit, yeah. When we found out we could get a super legit actor like Greg, we were very excited.
Q: Who else was in the running?
A: Let's see, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Christian from "Project Runway."
Q: I can't believe you settled on Greg.
A: I know. He got really lucky. But I believe he was the studio's first choice. Continue reading.

Glen Hansard: Love, Actually

It's a 'Swell Season' for Hansard, Irglova: Glen Hansard clearly remembers the moment John Travolta tore open the envelope at this year's Academy Awards and called out his name. The only problem is he doesn't remember anything after that.

"Everything goes blank for two hours," Hansard says. "The whole thing is a blur." Taking the stage to accept the best original song trophy with his "Once" co-star Marketa Irglova for "Falling Slowly," the 37-year-old Irish musician doesn't recall telling the audience how the independent film was shot in 17 days on two Handycams on a budget of a hundred grand. He doesn't remember Irglova getting cut off by the producers for a commercial break before she could speak, only to be brought back out by host Jon Stewart to make the evening's most impassioned speech. He doesn't even remember handing over the Oscar statue to his mother, who took it home and won't give it back.

All Hansard, who also starred in "The Commitments," knows is that after 18 years of playing music with the rock band the Frames, he's now headlining bigger rooms, selling more records and getting recognized in more random places. "Government officials suddenly know who I am," he says. Continue reading.

Duran Again: A Video History

Duran Duran: A Video History: Aidin Vaziri | Thanks to a bunch of videos that prominently featured models icing their nipples, wild tiger ladies stalking through the jungle and singer Simon Le Bon accidentally blowing up the Eiffel Tower, Duran Duran became the most popular group of the early MTV era. But what about all the other promo clips the band shot as it stubbornly persevered through its 30-year career? Here are the ones that reveal the most about the saga leading to the band's 12th studio album, "Red Carpet Massacre."

PLANET EARTH (1981) The pirate shirts and flowing genie pants unfortunately didn't stick, but this oddly futuristic clip from the group's first self-titled album captured the perfect post-apocalyptic vibe for the early '80s. Continue reading.

It's Mark Kozelek's Month

Songwriter's return: Aidin Vaziri | The new Sun Kil Moon album, "April," heralds San Francisco singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek's return to, well, writing songs Five years after releasing the group's first album, "Ghosts of the Great Highway," and following it up with an idiosyncratic disc of Modest Mouse covers, the 41-year-old musician says he had more than enough new material when it came time to record the 76-minute disc, which is highlighted by extended guitar solos and meditations on mortality. "There was just a buildup of experiences, getting older, the loss of a friend, many things," Kozelek says. "I could feel the songs building and the dam broke." The album, which features appearances by Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Bonnie "Prince" Billy, is out on Kozelek's own Caldo Verde label.

Pop Quiz: Goldfrapp

Aidin Vaziri | People who know Alison Goldfrapp as the gold lame-adorned electro kink-pop siren have been thrown for a loop with her fourth album, "Seventh Tree," a trawl through lush English folk lullabies and soothing psychedelia. What brought on the change in the risk-taking woman (and her lesser-known musical partner Will Gregory) often credited with leading the way for Madonna's most recent spate of stylistic reinventions? We got her on the horn to find out.

Alison Goldfrapp
Q: Do you ever regret saying bad things about Madonna, even though she loves you so much she's started dressing like you?
A: I've never said anything bad about Madonna. I think people have decided I must have said something bad.
Q: You said, "She has made a career out of using other people." And then you said, "I can't get passionate about the music she puts out there."
A: I said I don't particularly like her music, which I don't. That's just a taste thing. I'm not being horrible about her. I also think she's a fantastic self-PR woman. That's not a criticism; it's just an observation. She's good at sussing out who's the latest cool thing and taking people with talent to help her with her talent. I think she's an amazing woman. I love her fearlessness of being able to do whatever she wants to try doing. But I'm not a fan of her music just because she says she likes what we do.
Q: Doesn't it bother you that she steals all your ideas?
A: It doesn't really bother me. Everybody borrows from everybody. Whatever. Life's too short to worry about that sort of thing. Continue reading.

Reviews: Mariah Carey, In The Name of Love

Mariah Carey 'E=MC2': Aidin Vaziri | The best thing Mariah Carey did was go bonkers on MTV, where she handed out popsicles, shed clothes in front of a live audience and, for once, came across as a normal human being. Seven years after the incident, she's regressed to the Teflon pop princess she was in the early '90s, capable of knocking out an endless stream of midtempo R&B ballads without revealing any real emotion. "Put me on the floor/ Wrestle me around/ Play with me some more," she sings on "Touch My Body," a single from her new album that sounds just like her last hit, "We Belong Together." The lyrics suggest a filthy throw-down, the clinical production of a sexual harassment suit. Her gravity-defying vocals have been processed to death on otherwise promising cuts such as "I'm That Chick" and "O.O.C." If the CD sleeve didn't prominently feature her name and face, you would never guess that it was the owner of one of the most beguiling voices of the past two decades who was singing on top of the politely thumping beats. Meanwhile, even the creative directors at Hallmark would thumb their noses at "Bye Bye," a sentimental song that seems to have been made exclusively to be played at funerals. The stripped-down "I Wish You Well" is nice, though, with Carey belting it out in full glory, accompanied by only a piano and a small gospel choir. Which proves that if you're going backward, at least go somewhere interesting. It's not rocket science, Mariah.

'In The Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2': Aidin Vaziri | It's hard to believe this didn't come out two decades earlier, when both U2 and Africa were pressing concerns for the pop world. Not that it matters; acts on this album such as Angelique Kidjo, Les Nubians and Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars have mostly chosen to stick with songs from the Irish band's vintage years anyway. Bono may work hard raising awareness about the troubled continent, but its musicians repay him fully here by giving his songs new life. Ba Cissoko puts a transcendental spin on "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Vusi Mahlasela comes up with a version of "Sometimes You Just Can't Make It on Your Own" that's even more hair-raising than the original and the Soweto Gospel Choir's minimalist take on "Pride (In the Name of Love)" makes a good case for sending all of U2's music to church. Vampire Weekend is probably so bummed it wasn't invited to the party.

11 April 2008

Review: Kylie Minogue

Kylie Minogue 'X': Aidin Vaziri | So much for Kylie Minogue's long-awaited domination of the United States: As her latest album belatedly arrives here, she's decided not to do any interviews or tour but to simply let it drop and disappear much like the last one. Which is a shame, because despite the abundance of formless disco beats and its slightly impersonal nature - especially in light of her recent cancer battle - "X" is still an incredibly innovative and fun piece of work, something that could clearly brighten the corners of the current Billboard Top 200. Fizzy, slinky, starry-eyed songs like "Wow" and the glam-tinged "2 Hearts" offer easy thrills, while the Serge Gainsbourg sampling "Sensitized" is epic in every way. Best of all is the soft-focus R&B of "All I See," a summer jam so breezy its creator should rightfully be singing it on every beach on the continent.

Pop Quiz: The Naked Brothers Band

Aidin Vaziri | The Naked Brothers Band is just like the Monkees, except its members actually write their own songs, there are only two of them and real-life brothers Nat and Alex Wolff are 13 and 10, respectively. Actually, they're nothing like the Monkees - what am I talking about? The musical siblings do have a hit tween television show on Nickelodeon, and they are about to release their second album in less than a year, "I Don't Want to Go to School." It includes originals such as "I'll Do Anything" and "Three Is Enough."

The Naked Brothers Band
Q: What's your favorite thing to fight about?
Nat: Nothing!
Alex: Like, stupid stuff. What was it yesterday? I don't even know why we were so mad.
Q: Did you know there are a lot of old-time bands with brothers who fight all the time, like Oasis, the Black Crowes and the Kinks? Do you hope not to talk to each other someday?
Nat: No, not really.
Alex: Because of the show and the album and stuff, we've actually gotten much closer.
Q: I understand you like the Beatles.
Nat: Yeah. We're gigantic fans.
Alex: They're the best. My parents loved the Beatles, so they got us into it.
Q: What did you think of how that one 17-year-old guy on "American Idol" said he never heard of the Beatles and messed up all the words to "We Can Work It Out"?
Nat: He didn't know the Beatles? No way! We don't really watch much TV. We're pretty busy.
Q: How often do you get mistaken for the Jonas Brothers?
Nat: It's happened once or twice, but not that much. I had it one time. This kid was just sure we were the Jonas Brothers.
Q: How often do you get mistaken for Hannah Montana?
Nat: Not too much, surprisingly. Continue reading.

Leona Lewis Unleashes Her 'Spirit'

'X Factor's' Leona Lewis releases 'Spirit': Aidin Vaziri | In March, Lewis became the first British woman in 20 years to top the Billboard charts with her hit "Bleeding Love," more than two decades after Kim Wilde held the same position with a cover of the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On." In Britain, Lewis' song was the biggest-selling single last year, and "Spirit" became the nation's fastest-selling debut album ever, having since moved 2.5 million copies worldwide. She says she framed the page honoring her in the Guinness Book of World Records: "It's such a big achievement!" Things are happening fast for the green-eyed pop phenomenon, who says she stays in touch with the friends she made while working at Pizza Hut just a few years ago - but not too fast. Lewis walked away the winner of the 2006 season of "The X Factor," England's answer to "American Idol," using her enormous voice to draw comparisons to big-time yodelers such as Celine Dion, Whitney Houston and, mostly, Mariah Carey. After pronouncing her "the best contestant I have ever had across any of these shows," Simon Cowell, rather than knocking out a quick cash-in collection, dedicated himself to meticulously building Lewis into the perfect pop beast during the past two years. Somehow, she survived the ordeal. "He never said anything bad about me," she says. Continue reading.

Pop Quiz: Ludacris

Aidin Vaziri | Chris "Ludacris" Bridges is taking a break from recording his sixth studio album, "Theater of the Mind," to open a franchise of the upscale Asian restaurant Straits with Bay Area chef Chris Yeo in his hometown of Atlanta later this month. What made the actor and Grammy-winning rapper get into the restaurant business when his calendar is already filled with rhyming and starting feuds with Oprah Winfrey, conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly and PepsiCo? We called him up at home to find out.

Q: How do you think origami sea bass is going to go over in the Dirty South?
A: Man, I think it's going to go great. I really do. Otherwise I wouldn't be doing this.
Q: If I came in and asked you to recommend a dish off the menu, what would it be?
A: Man, there are a lot of different dishes. My favorite is the lollipop chicken. The chicken satay is good. Curry dishes. There are a lot of dishes. I just can't think of them all off the top of my head.
Q: Why not just open a fast-food chain called Chicken 'n' Beer?
A: Man, I wanted to make a place where people could come and feel like they're in a different place in the world. We're basically bringing Singapore to Atlanta.
Q: Are you going to be in the kitchen messing around with a cleaver and apron?
A: No. I'm not going to do that. I'll be tasting the food. I actually have a chef who went and trained at the original restaurant, so he'll be there. Continue reading.

Reviews: Sun Kil Moon, Leona Lewis

Sun Kil Moon 'April': Aidin Vaziri | It's been more than 15 years since Red House Painters' demo tape found its way into record stores, and the defunct group's singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek is still chasing the same childhood memories, contemplating the same lost loves and dreaming about the same San Francisco streets. On his third outing under the Sun Kil Moon banner, Kozelek, left, returns with an album of rare warmth and immediacy, where intensely personal lyrics hang on hazily magnificent melodies. Driven by luminous guitar flourishes and his world-weary voice, the songs on "April" rank among his most personal yet. "My thoughts will pause, my throat will swell/ When her name is spoken," he sings on "Moorestown," one of the disc's prettiest moments. Alternating between epic Neil Young-style guitar blowouts - a handful of the songs come in around the 10-minute mark - and gently swaying folk ballads, Kozelek has managed to reinvent himself by returning to the very same spot where he started, with youthful scrapes now turned into real scars. Kozelek plays April 26 at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre.

Leona Lewis 'Spirit': Aidin Vaziri | Leona Lewis is about to become inescapable. Backed by Simon Cowell and Clive Davis, endorsed by Oprah and already the titleholder for the fastest-selling British debut album ever, the photogenic 23-year-old singer arrives in the United States as a fully functional pop object. Producers Dallas Austin and Jam & Lewis help ignite the throbbing R&B ballads, dignified gloom and gravity-defying vocal gymnastics on "Spirit," a collection of songs that effectively updates what Mariah Carey was doing in 1993 with added studio luster. The first single, "Bleeding Love," co-written by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, is the best thing offered; the rest of the windswept tunes helpfully reveal how Lewis clinched "X Factor," Britain's version of "American Idol."

Live Review: The Black Keys at the Warfield, 04/02/08

Black Keys on verge of new territory: Aidin Vaziri | After putting out four albums of standard-issue retro blues-rock to little fanfare, the Akron, Ohio, duo finally seems ready to step out of the shadow of fellow Midwestern drums-and-guitar combo the White Stripes. The group's latest outing, "Attack & Release," is made up of material Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney were working on with soul legend Ike Turner before he unceremoniously kicked the bucket in December. Recorded by Gnarls Barkley mastermind Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton in a real studio rather than the usual basement, the album, in a refreshing turn of events, sees the group slathering its primitive stomp with lush flute, synthesizer and banjo flourishes. "Attack & Release" has created enough buzz to almost put the Black Keys in the same position Modest Mouse was a few years ago when its music began to reach beyond the usual indie kids and connect with NPR listeners and boozed-up snowboarders alike. But dressed like a lumberjack with a hefty beard to match, Auerbach didn't seem particularly intent on re-creating the multifaceted sound of the album or recruiting new fans, offering up instead the usual unforgiving barrage of yelps, humdrum lyrics and swampy throwback riffs. Continue reading.