If you think it is possible for a rock outfit to at once straddle a noise-filled, experimental, post-punk sound as well as a hook-laden, melodic, pop one, then Spoon’s your band. Even if you’re not seeking out such genre-hopping attributes in your listening fare, Spoon, really, should be your band.
About Sanjoy Narayan
CYHSY, as they’re known in short form, released their self-titled first album as a completely DIY project, aided only by a virtual buzz by fans, bloggers and websites. That buzz got deafeningly loud in indie music fans’ circles; the band’s first album became a hit; and critics sat up and took notice.
WATCH: Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah
That was in 2005. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the album, was sonically what you’d classify as art-rock – experimental, form-shifting, genre-hopping and, best of all, an album that you knew the band probably had as much fun putting together as you had when you heard it. Frontman Alec Ounsworth and his bandmates made art-rock, which can be notoriously self-indulgent and abstruse, instantly accessible, danceable and hummable too. It helped that Ounsworth had a medium-pitched voice that warbled with nervous excitement but exuded a pop-like happiness even when he sang about his deepest thoughts.
That first album with memorable songs such as Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away, The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth and Details of the War, was hailed as one of the finest in the music world and the band instantly got touted as one of the hottest ensembles to look out for. In the next few years CYHSY released two more albums – Some Loud Thunder (2007) and Hysterical (2011) – but although they were well received, they never really created the sensation that their debut DIY album had done.
In between those releases, Ounsworth did some solo work – his 2009 album Mo Beauty is like a CYHSY album with a couple of standout tracks – the low-key Holy, Holy, Holy Moses (Song For New Orleans) and the percussive South Philadelphia (Drug Days) are ones I like. Then, I gathered that four of the six-member band had quit in the past couple of years, reducing CYHSY to a duo with only Ounsworth and the drummer Sean Greenhalgh.
WATCH: Song For Miguel
Then, just as people were writing their obit, the band resurfaced and this year, in June, CYHSY as a duo dropped their fourth studio album, Only Run. Ounsworth and his remaining band-member do multiple duties on the album, which unlike CYHSY’s earlier ones, has a lot more keyboard use, synth lines and, in general, more polish than those earlier ones.
To some, that may be a disappointment. Or not. Only Run has interesting collaborators – one track has The National’s Matt Berninger doing a stunning cameo reminiscent of his band’s early albums such as Boxer and Alligator; on another, we discover the Canadian DJ and turntablist, Kid Koala’s contribution.
When I first heard CYHSY, their sound seemed very familiar yet new. Here’s why: on their early albums you discovered the influence of a rash of earlier bands on CYHSY – ranging from older ones such as Joy Divison, The Clash and Talking Heads, to relatively newer indie bands. Yet, Ounsworth and his band managed never to sound like a derivative of those. They had their own sound, characterised mainly by Ounsworth’s singular vocal style. On Only Run, the band sounds more evolved and sophisticated, though, interestingly, it is self-produced like their first album (the second and third had outside producers) but the CYHSY’s trademark – that of springing sonic surprises – remains intact.
If you’ve ever travelled on the New York subway then Moon Hooch’s rock-infused jazz music may seem familiar because it sounds as if they’re playing in an underground tunnel – in fact, the band says it plays ‘cave music’. Moon Hooch began as buskers in the NYC subway system and in front of the city’s famous Metropolitan Museum of Art before being talent-spotted and then landing gigs opening for bigger bands. A record deal followed and their self-titled first album, Moon Hooch, which has 14 upbeat tracks, showcases their trademark sound: jazz with rock and dance music influences, all of it delivered by way of two saxophonists and a drummer. It’s a lively affair Moon Hooch’s music, instantly accessible and guaranteed to raise your spirits – jazz-rock-soul fused to make an exuberant cocktail. For a taste, head over to their Bandcamp page (moonhooch.bandcamp.com).
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Morrissey’s debut in Britain’s post-punk era was as part of the short-lived Manchester band, The Smiths. And although that band lasted from 1982 to 1987, it quickly spawned an ever-growing cult of followers. As the band’s lead singer and lyricist, his songs and views often flirted with controversy and he proudly wore his politics on his chest. His stance on issues such as the British monarchy, immigration, vegetarianism, Thatcher and Bush and Hillary Clinton has always managed to polarise people. Those who love him are devout loyalists; those who don’t, deride him for his self-righteousness and acute intellectual snobbery.
WATCH: Everyday Is Like Sunday
Morrissey’s new album is a set of 12 songs beginning with the title track, World Peace Is None Of Your Business, a strongly political number that derides people who vote because they do so for a system and political processes that don’t work for them or ones that they cannot change. Morrissey name-checks Ukraine and Egypt and Brazil and Bahrain and delivers a satire that is remarkably sweet musically. That’s quintessential Morrissey, though. He almost always manages to be a melodic rebel, not needing to snarl or growl and yet delivering a high-powered punch in the solar plexus. It’s like one of those thin but exceedingly sharp blades that you don’t realise you’ve been cut with till after it’s actually slashed you.
On The Bullfighter Dies, an ode to animal rights, it’s the bull’s survival that is, expectedly, lauded and not the death of its provocateur. And on I’m Not A Man, Morrissey’s oft-revealed misanthropy surfaces again as he clobbers the stereotype of the male as a jock. On World Peace, there are surprise turnouts as on Neal Cassady Drops Dead. Cassady was a prominent 1950s Beat generation figure and long-time lover of poet Allen Ginsberg and on the track Morrissey sings about Ginsberg mourning his death. Another song, Staircase At The University, points at the parental pressures to achieve that leads a young girl to leap to her death, but not without some of his characteristic satire and mockery… aimed at the girl.
I like most of Morrissey’s albums and over the years, I’ve got some that are my favourites: his first solo, Viva Hate (1988), of course; but also Vauxhall and I (1994), which I think is his best and many Morrissey fans may agree. Just listen to The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get on that album and you’ll see what I’m talking about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCj_C-Yb3xI is an album of songs with back stories and references, to films, to parodies of British TV shows and so on, but delving into that is better left to die-hard devotees of Mozza (as he is known to his fans; he’s also known as Moz; or, the one I like best, as the Pope of Mope!).
Getting back to World Peace, it’s not an album that I’d recommend to those who aren’t familiar with Morrissey’s music but it could be part of a nice trifecta that you can put together for a weekend: Viva Hate, Vauxhall and I and the new album.
This one’s strictly for hardcore Deadheads. It took me nearly 20 years to discover Grayfolded, a nearly two-hour-long album divided into two CDs – Transitive Axis and Mirror Ashes.