Friday, December 26, 2008

The incredible Eartha Kitt... In Memoriam

One of the sexiest and funniest ladies in Hollywood has left us: singer and actress Eartha Kitt died at the age of 81, on Christmas day (first Harold Pinter, then Eartha... hey, we need people like them!).

Purring and prancing her way through Broadway stages, cabaret venues and films, Mrs. Kitt was a performer extraordinaire, her sexy characteristic voice and feline moves accentuating the libido oozing from her. She may not have had a big vocal range, but her precise, come-hither diction and vaguely foreign inflections (Ms. Kitt spoke four languages and sang in seven) proved that a vocal sizzle could be just as powerful as a bonfire. A persona larger than life, she was born in a cotton plantation in the town of North, in South Carolina.

Kitt started her career as a member of the Katherine Dunham Company(the first African American modern dance company, where Alvin Ailey started too) and made her film début with them in "Casbah" in 1948. A talented singer with a distinctive voice, her hits include "Let's Do It", "Champagne Taste", "C'est si bon", "Just an Old Fashioned Girl", "Monotonous", "Je cherche un homme", "Love for Sale", "I'd Rather Be Burned as a Witch", "Uska Dara", "Mink, Schmink", "Under the Bridges of Paris", and her most recognizable hit, "Santa Baby", which was released in 1953. Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times in May 1952, “Eartha Kitt not only looks incendiary, but she can make a song burst into flame.”

Her first starring role was in Orson Welles' staging of "Dr. Faustus" as Helen Of Troy. He said she was the most exciting woman in the world. Her film debut was with Sidney Poitier in "The Mark Of The Hawk" in 1958. She also starred in many television shows, most notably in the fourth season of the 1960's TV-series Batman, replacing Julie Newmar as Catwoman.(that famous growl of hers originated here). Unfortunately, in 1968, there was a n incident at a White house luncheon, where an anti-war statement of hers allegedly made then First Lady Lady Bird Johnson cry. After that, she found nothing but closed doors in the US, so she left for Europe and performed in cabaret and jazz venues. She returned to the US ten years later, in 1978, with a smashing performance in Broadway, in Timbuktu!, a version of Kismet.

In 1984 she had a chart hit with "Where Is my Man", which gained her a whole new audience and made her a gay icon - she responded by performing for many AIDS charities. She kept performing in Broadway and in films, making also many voice overs for animated features and starring in radio plays. She also wrote three autobiographies.

In recent years, Kitt's annual appearances in New York made her a fixture on the Manhattan cabaret scene. She would take the stage at venues such as the Ballroom and the Café Carlyle to explore and define her highly stylized image, alternating between signature songs (such as Old Fashioned Millionaire), which emphasized a witty, mercenary world-weariness, and less familiar repertoire, much of which she performed with an unexpected ferocity and bite that presented her as a survivor with a seemingly bottomless reservoir of resilience her version of "Here's to Life", frequently used as a closing number, was a sterling example of the latter.She is survived by a daughter and two grandchildren. Rest in peace Ms. Kitt!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - Collective top-20

Our second countdown of the year's best albums came to an end. The tireless organizer, Gone4Sure, made the tally and handed over the results on Sunday night, and I am happy to say I had at least 5 albums in the top-20, and four of them in the top-10. So here it is, without further ado:

No.20. Black Mountain - In The Future (222 points / 6 bloggers)

No.19. Quiet Village - Silent Movie (226 points / 6 bloggers)

No.18. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (228 points / 9 bloggers)

No.17. Have A Nice Life - Death Consciousness (234 points / 8 bloggers)

No.16. Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing (267 points / 10 bloggers)

No.15. Glasvegas - Glasvegas (271 points / 10 bloggers)

No.14. Deerhunter - Microcastle (272 points / 13 bloggers)

No.13. Trouble Over Tokyo - Pyramides (273 points / 8 bloggers)

No.12. Lykke Li - Youth Novels (321 points / 12 bloggers)

No.11. Shearwater - Rook (322 points / 13 bloggers)

No.10. Santogold - Santogold (384 Points / 17 bloggers)

No.09. Flying Lotus - Los Angeles (403 points / 14 bloggers)

No.08. Get Well Soon - Rest Now Weary Head, You Will Get Well Soon (509 points / 13 bloggers)

No.07. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (622 points / 16 bloggers)

No.06 - Monika. Avatar (622 points / 24 bloggers)

No.05. TV On The Radio - Dear Science (653 points / 16 bloggers)

No.04. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (678 points / 26 bloggers)

No.03. Portishead - Third (929 points / 24 bloggers)

No.02. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular (1035 points / 30 bloggers)

No.01 The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age Of Understatement (1287 points / 30 bloggers)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.1

Beangrowers - Not In A Million Lovers

Beangrowers. is a group from Malta, that small island between Italy and Africa, with a long history of conquerors, knights and wars. Ian Schranz and Mark Sansone met in church and were childhood friends from the age of 8, and later started playing music together. They were joined by mutual friend Alison Galea, who proved to be a capable singer, According to the band's official site, the name "Beangrowers" was given by a fan when a promoter demanded a name for the posters. Their single "The Priest" was featured in the soundtrack of the Wim Wenders film "Land Of Plenty". "Not In A Million Lovers" is their fourth album (their first was released in 1999, first demos dating back to 1996). Why is it on the top of my list? Because it is the one that touched me the most throughout the year, the one I never, ever skipped a song while playing, the one I learned all the lyrics in a matter of days and keep singing along all songs when listening to it (and when not some times!), the one that got the most plays from me by quite a difference from the rest of the music I listen to. Their music, influenced by 80's pop, indie rock, punk and goth, reminds me very much of woman-fronted groups like The Pretenders, Blondie, The Motels. Alison's voice is sweet but sultry, and the band performs with gusto both on the album and live. Even though they perform in English, they are most popular in Central European countries, like Germany, where they finished a tour this month. Give them a listen, you will not be dissapointed!

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Friday, December 19, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.2

Fredo Viola - The Turn

Best voice for 2008 goes without doubt to an unusual guy of Italian descent, born in England and raised in New York. But let's hear Fredo Viola: "I was born in London, England and spent my first five years living in England and Rome. After that my family moved to New York, then Los Angeles, where I spent most of my adolescent years, singing professionally as a boy soprano and studying art once my voice changed. Finally I moved back to NYC to attend NYU Tisch School of the Arts. I studied to be a film director, and during this period discovered the music of Bartok, Shostakovich and Stravinsky, which had an immense effect on me. It has since developed into a passion for the operas of Benjamin Britten, Mozart and the work of Alfred Schnittke. I enjoy anything imaginative and eclectic, and have soaked up the music of Belle and Sebastian, Boards of Canada, Amon Tobin, Joni Mitchell, Biff Rose, Harry Nilsson, Harry Nilsson (yes, again, I love him this much!) and Odetta. Gospel music rocks my socks off. Oh, and Bach. Out of school first I tried editing and animation design, which I think I did pretty well, as it afforded me the opportunity to save enough money to set myself up with a pretty awesome little home recording studio. I then got to work on making my own music. In 2004 I had one of my songs licensed for use in Jonathon Demme’s Manchurian Candidate. Then I made my first music video, The Sad Song, which was a pretty huge hit on the net. I received emails from Roger Ebert, Massive Attack, Neil Gaiman, ABC News Now, and director Mike Binder, all offering opportunities.In 2006 I signed with trés chic French music label, Because Music, and have my first album scheduled for release in mid 2008, along with a lot of digital video art." his music is transcendental, ethereal, but all the same, very current and earthly too. His visual aesthetic is unique too, evidenced by the art in his websites and the unique approach for his video site. His version of Silent Night is amazing no matter what you believe in (or not). The Turn is probably the most beautiful album for 2008 in every aspect and rightly deserved no. 1 in my list, but that went to something entirely different, for various reasons. Check tomorrow's post to see why.

The Turn

Sad Song

Silent Night - Fredo Viola(featuring Nils Christian Fossdal)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.3

Sa Ding Ding - Alive

China was this year's protagonist on the international scene with the Beijing Olympics, but instead we should all be talking about something else from China: Sa Ding Ding (薩頂頂). This incredibly talented lady, of Han and Mongolian ancestry (she was born in inner Mongolia), writes her own music inspired by ancient Chinese, Mongolian and Tibetan music, while stepping firmly on western music conventions, delivering an eclectic sound reminiscent of how Dead Can Dance would sound if they were born in China. She studied philosophy and music in Beijing. She released her first album at age 18, called Dong Ba La under the moniker Zhou Peng. She also plays traditional Chinese and Mongolian instruments, while her ethereal voice sounds as if Liz Frazer is singing in The Flying Daggers soundtrack. Want to feel more inadequate: she sings in Tibetan, Mandarin, Sanskrit and a language of her own to better evoke emotions in her songs (she said that before we start to talk, we know how to sing): two of the song in this album are repeated in different languages, but instead of being just a simple repetition, they sound intriguingly different due to the variations in phrasing and rhythm. The album Alive (万物生) is her first under her real name and was originally released in China in 2007, but reached the rest of the world in mid-2008. She's definitely one to watch for in the future and will surely make many ladies in the music industry have nightmares...

Alive - Sanskrit version

Alive - Mandarin version

Holy Incense (Chinese Version)

Giganto Comics presents: Common Comics #4 & Krak in Thessaloniki

This Saturday, at Cofix cafe/bar in Thessaloniki (a comic fan's hangout at Lori Margariti 11, tel 2310 250 011), for the first time in our city, Giganto Comics (my dear friend Tassos Papaioannou) will present their two newest editions, Common Comics #4 (by another dear friend, Panagiotis Pantazis ) and Krak (by talented local boy Tassos Maragkos). It starts at 18:00 and, after the presentation, T-drom will kindly grace us with his music selections as DJ! All Giganto comics will be sold there at 50% discount (great ideas for Christmas gifts!) and the two new ones will also be sold at discount. Giganto is celebrating 5 years of comics so this is kind of special and it makes me very happy to have these talented people here! Be there or be square!

Below teasers for the new editions:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.4

Trouble Over Tokyo - Pyramides

Toph Taylor is a 28-year old South Londoner that performs under the moniker Trouble Over Tokyo, merging indie electronica and pop with modern R&B, thus becoming the hit of the Austrian indie scene! Issued by Klein label (based in Vienna), Pyramides is the album of a genius: an improbable number of ideas swirling into each song, it is self-penned, self performed (apart from singing he plays guitars, pianos, strings and drum machines) and self produced - he did the artwork and package design too! He sounds like Justin Timberlake through Thom Yorke and Mika, but, most importantly, he sounds like himself. My favourite track by far is the dramatic 4,228, sung with Millie Blue (who has performed with Basement Jaxx). With the wealth of ideas and influences found in this album, it is a wonder he has not self-combusted yet. A treat for your mind and ears, please listen to this LOUD!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.5

The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age Of The Understatement

The girl that launched a thousand reviews... The amazing photograph that graces the cover of the first album by The Last Shadow Puppets (Arctic Monkeys lead singer Alex Turner and lead singer of The Rascals, Miles Kane) has probably been the most written about album cover of this year. But the album is also one of the best to come out in 2008, making even those of us not too keen on Arctic Monkeys music sit up and listen. With a proper mix of orchestral 60's pop (courtesy of Scott Walker and legendary arranger David Axelrod according to the Puppets), wit, drama and panache, the kids made us all bow to their craftsmanship. The songs are brilliant, most of them already sounding like classics, while the production by James Ford, of Simian Mobile Disco (who also plays drums here) is impeccable, aided by the exquisite arrangements of Canadian Owen Pallett (aka Final Fantasy and former member of the Arcade Fire's string section).

Coraline is on her way...

Cannot wait!

Monday, December 15, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.6

MGMT - Oracular Spectacular

One of the nicest surprises of the year (and one of the strangest names for an album), MGMT released an album that managed (pun intended) to capture the heart of all kinds of people, get great reviews from the music press AND was a chart hit. Not bad for two kids from Brooklyn. And their music: as they say, "We would write a new song for each show and our shows would be 15 minutes long". Such is the album's style: each song sounds unique, as if it could hold an album on its own. Most of the songs could easily be singles other groups would kill for. It is pop, unconventional and amazingly structured, leaving far behing their days of being obnoxious for the sake of it in Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut where they first met back in 2002. There is so much fun enclosed in this record, it can make you dance for many many years to come. But I am certain that the kids will keep refuelling us for a while more.

The reason you see no official videos of MGMT is that they have disabled embedding on ALL official versions of their clips on You Tube...But you do get to read the lyrics now eh?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.7

Monika - Avatar

I first heard Monika's songs through friends, who had her demo tracks and gladly shared them with me (you know who you are guys and thanks). I loved her songs from the first listen, they instantly reminded me of so many loved singer/songwriters but had their own life and personality obviously marked upon them. It is obvious she has poured her heart and soul into this and she merits attention, hype or no hype (I cannot in the life of me understand why every time someone makes something great in this country, everyone must bring that someone down to the level of others... reason enough to get out of here). And yes, she would have the same position in my top-20 even if she was not Greek. I know many ladies in the showbiz out there would kill to have even one of her songs in their albums... sorry ladies, no can do. And do not miss her live, it is a great experience.

Live in Thessaloniki, November 2008

Live in Thessaloniki, November 2008

"Babe" set in scenes from Persepolis.

Album cover photo borrowed from T-drom!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.8

Mono In VCF - Mono In VCF

I could not have written it better myself, so here's Matt Shea's post from The Cool Hunter about Mono In VCF: "Trying to describe Tacoma’s Mono In VCF makes you feel like a tongue-tied fool attempting to convey a transcendental experience. This is music quite unlike anything you’ve heard before, perhaps best imagined as a young Suede camping on a rooftop, watching storms clouds with Phil Spector. It’s on Masha, lifted from Mono In VCF’s self-titled LP, that we witness the band’s finest hour. It’s a song born of the cold sea, with guitars that shudder like crumbling icebergs and synths that brush a transpacific wind across the nape of your neck. Bang in the middle of the mix sits Kim Miller’s voice, an exercise in beguilement that could seduce a fleet of sailors into the abyss. Stupefying, soul-tickling stuff". Indeed. Now go in their website and order their CD NOW!!! It is only $10!!! And Escape City Scrapers is one of the best songs of the year! Go go go!!! I like the t-shirts too - and what a great cover (the font is superbly 70's meets 00's).

Friday, December 12, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.9

Ray La Montagne - Gossip In The Grain

Troubadour extraordinaire, Ray La Montagne almost did not become a musician: having been raised with a runaway musician father, and listening stories about him made him refrain from any activity connected to music until, legend has it, he heard Stephen Stills singing "Treetop Flyer" on the radio. He has never looked back since.
"Gossip In The Grain" is his third studio album (he has been recording since 2004). Particularly known for his raspy voice, he puts it to great use here, from the soul-filled opening track "You Are The Best Thing" (a staple in my play-list) till its soft bookend "Gossip In The Grain" alongside Leona Naess (she's on two more tracks and opens his concerts as a support act). The album, a mixture of strings, acoustic guitar and brass, sounds more like a classic rock album, of the kind that big names did in the early 70s - like, say, Van Morrison. And although the opening track could fit nicely into any old Motown release, he does not do a complete about-turn from his previous work. His characteristic melancholy style is present here too, as in his previous work - "Sarah", named for his wife, is a brilliant example of it. "Winter Birds" is almost devoid of any instrument save his soft grainy voice against some acoustic guitar strums., resulting in maybe the most beautiful song of the entire album - it reminds me of Joni Mitchell's Hejira days. But then he starts being playful, almost naughty: writing a love song to Meg White from White Stripes, purposefully opening with a variation their single's "Conquest" melody. This is followed by a blues grass track "Hey Me Hey Mamma" - banjo and brass playing off against each other. Hitting Billboard's no.3 in the album charts and i-tunes no.1, both on it's first week of release, this is one album you should not miss.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.10

Scott Matthew - Scott Matthew

Entering the upper echelons of our top-20 countdown, we find the talented Australian singer-songwriter Scott Matthew (who lives in NY) firmly ensconced in number 10. His self-titled début, eagerly awaited by those that loved his work in the Shortbus soundtrack, does not disappoint. Far from it. Not resting on the laurels heaped upon him after the Shortbus, instead he moves his work to new paths, with the constant of his vulnerable, sensuous voice (sounding so much like David Bowie that one wonders what the Duke was doing in Australia nine months before Scott was born) making this album an amazing treat. Delicately knifing you through the heart with each one of his carefully crafted eleven little blades, from the gorgeously fragile Amputee to the hauntingly elegant Market Me To Children that closes the album, it is hard to not shed tears while delving deep within his amazing music.

Since we reached the middle, I should remind you all that one can see what all 54 Greek bloggers vote for this year's top-20 album countdown in this link.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.11

The Long Blondes - Couples

Pity The Long Blondes have already split... this is one of the most beautiful records of the year. Only their second album, their début being "Someone To Drive You" back in 2006, it garnered critical praise unanimously from critics and fans alike. Blending 60's pop, 70's punk and 80's new wave inspiration with modern sensibilities, The Long Blondes manage to morph from each song to the next, with their lead singer, Kate Jackson managing to sound like a different singer on each song - Blondie, Martha Davies, Ari Up and even the Au Pairs, take your pick. Before "Couples" was released, all five members created their own cryptic promo videos "explaining" what the inspiration behind "Couples" was. Kate explained who inspired the album cover, she found artist Richard Hamilton, videos by Abba, Lee Miller and Le Corbusier to be the main inspiration. And their references do not stop there of course. "I Liked The Boys" ends with "Not the most original sentiment I've ever heard, so what's new" which is a line from a radio show by Terry Wogan. Whilst recording the second album, they found an old radio recording form the 50's in one of the old reel-to-reel tape recorders and decided to use parts of the show in some of their songs. "Round The Hairpin" begins with a line by one of my favourite British comedians, Kenny Everett. "Erin O'Connor" is a homage to model extraordinaire Erin O'Connor which also mentions fellow model Lily Cole. It begins with a line by Ronnie Corbett and David Swift from the BBC play No Sex Please, We're British. "I'm Going To Hell" ends with a line by Peter Sellers. Before the official release, they previewed the new album under the name The Dead Eyed Bitches, part of a lyric from their 2004 single "Giddy Stratospheres". They only played a handful of gigs across the UK.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.12

Grace Jones - Hurricane
If you thought Portishead's eleven or Kate Bush's twelve years between albums were too many, how about nineteen? Yes, that is how many years it took Grace Jones, the black diva of music and fashion to return with new material after 1989's Bulletproof Heart. And what a treat she got for us! Sounding as if she had hardly left the stage, her new album brims with brilliantly crafted tunes, showcasing her unique ability to mesmerise the listener with her uncanny voice and bravado. Helped by an army of excellent collaborators, like Brian Eno, Tricky, Sly & Robbie, Tony Allen and Wendy & Lisa, the flamboyant Jamaican-born Grace is more personal than ever on this record, with her family being one of the focal points. The reggae beats of some tunes will remind one of her previous work, while the Massive Attack influence in the overall sound of the album is more poignant in the track "Devil In My Life" with it's Craig Armstrong-styled strings in the finale, and "Corporate Cannibal", the first gloom-&-doom single of the record. This is one of those that will get stuck in repeat in your player. And it is worth every single second of it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.13

Portishead - Third
Unimaginatively named, with a minimal cover, the third album from the Bristol group that defined the sound of a generation was a long time coming. Eleven years after their namesake CD, Portishead put behind all that made their sound what it was: vinyl scratching, jazzy atmosphere, torch song sensibility; no, not really all. The gloomy feeling permeating their sound, the sense of loss and despair still remains, and this is essentially what Portishead are. Intense industrial rhythms, electronics that sound vintage (with a vengeance), frail guitars, dominate the sonic landscapes alongside the now cold and desperate voice of Beth Gibbons. This is no record to play as a soundtrack in elegant design restaurants. It hits you right to the core and breaks your heart in a way that only Portishead know how to do. And if you don't understand how, maybe you should check to see if your heart is still in place...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.14

Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs

Featuring one of the best songs heard this year, the long, albeit brilliantly composed "I Will Posses Your Heart", with its sensuous bass line and its unbearably sexy rhythm section making an incredible intro for four whole minutes before Ben Gibbard's distinctive vocals kick in, it was difficult not to include Death Cab For Cutie's "Narrow Stairs" in my top-20 list. This is their sixth album - they have been active since 1998, and became better known with their fourth LP, "Transatlanticism", many of whose songs were included into numerous film and TV-series soundtracks back in 2004 and 2005. And although they do indulge in some really epic moments like the aforementioned track, they still conjure the fragile melancholy tunes they have been mostly known for, still using intricate melodies and moving the sound of the band forward. Miss this at your own peril.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.15

Tom Baxter - Skybound
British singer/songwriter Tom Baxter has been a perennial critic favourite ever since his début album "Feather And Stone" back in 2004. This did not change with his sophomore release, "Skybound". released at the beginning of this year. The combination of his mesmerizing voice with clever songwriting, understated guitar and piano melodies, seems to be destined for mass popularity; the album charted at #12 in the UK charts and hit no.1 in Eire. With a more jazzy feel and a concept emerging (the journey from boy to man) his distinct melodies, although sounding too sugary in songs like "Better", do merit more than a casual listen. The darker undertones and lyrics show that there's more than meets the eye in Tom, and he's getting better every time.

Friday, December 05, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.16

Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid

Taking their name from an episode of the acclaimed BBC series "The Singing Detective" (a character says that the word "elbow" is the most sensuous word in the English language, not for its definition, but for how it feels to say it), Elbow have been releasing records since 2001 but started out in 1990 and, strangely enough in the music business, remain with their original line-up. Despite not being commercially successful, the group has been acclaimed by critics and famous artists such as Radiohead, Blur, R.E.M., U2 and even John Cale. Their latest offering, "The Seldom Seen Kid" is an amazing record, entirely self-produced (and mixed and recorded too). Their innovative but human sound, combined with their evocative lyrics, is reaching perfection, and was rightfully awarded this year's Mercury Music Prize.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

2008 Top-20 Countdown - No.17

From Bubblegum to Sky - A Soft Kill

Mario Ishii Hernandez is the man behind From Bubblegum to Sky, an indie pop one-man group that released their first album, Me And Amy And The Two French Boys in 2000. He was born in El Paso but was raised in Japan. As a result, he is heavily infuenced by Japanes pop. Back in the USA, he formed the Teeny Records group, which then morphed into Teeny Hi Fi and later became Ciao Bella, whose 1997 LP "1" was praised by critics, especially the retro-pop fans. When the group split soon afterwards, Mario began recording as FBTS. His music is pure and simple pop, combined with very dark and bitter lyrics (which he himself described as "shallow and hateful"). His latest release is brilliant pop tunes, which make one want to stand up and dance, until noticing the lyrics. Be sure to give him a listen, you will not regret it.