Passion Pit’s Gossamer an uplifting weave
Gossamer, the second album from dance-pop act Passion Pit, contains only 11 songs, but within those songs Passion Pit principal Michael Angelakos’ musical imagination never stops.
Credited for vocals, programming, multiple instruments and as sole composer, Angelakos knows how to channel his creativity into appealing melodies and well-structured songs, something many dance-oriented acts don’t or can’t do.
Angelakos also is an expert at that major component of modern pop and dance music, uplift. His keyboard-based songs tend to be bright, light and great for bouncing along en masse.
But the uplift in “I’ll Be Alright” — a song featuring an eight-piece string section and decorative electronics that suggest the backup vocalists are robots WALL-E and R2-D2 — is deceiving. Tortured lyrics about a looming breakup are clearly audible within this musically sunny slice of dance-pop.
“Carried Away” turns the sonic clock back to an earlier dance music era, when the synth-dominated music videos of the Thompson Twins and Human League were MTV staples and Madonna ruled the world.
A trio of female backup singers contribute to Angelakos’ characteristically layered vocal arrangement.
“On My Way” is another example of Angelakos’ symphonic-pop with a beat. And he offers his version of a rhythm-and-blues slow jam, “Constant Conversations.” Back to familiar territory, “Mirrored Sea” is Angelakos once again making dance music that’s worth listening to as well as dancing to.
He further avoids stereotypical dance and pop music maneuvers, eschewing, for example, obnoxiously deep bass and verse-to-chorus shifts that burst like nuclear blasts.
Gossamer confirms that Angelakos is a major talent with much to say, sing and play.
For his first album in seven years, reggae and ska pioneer Jimmy Cliff collaborates with producer Tim Armstrong, front man for California punk-rock band Rancid and a fan of the 1980s’ British ska revival.
Cliff, Armstrong and the Jamaican-music loving musicians who play for Rebirth hit a consistently rewarding groove and sound. Much of the record takes Cliff — an international ska and reggae star who’s probably best known in the United States as a co-star of and the primary singer-composer for the classic Jamaican film The Harder They Come — back to his roots.
The musicians who back Cliff for Rebirth do an excellent job, so much so that they recall that seminal Jamaican band, the Skatalites.
Playing brawny brass riffs and rock-steady rhythm, the Skatalites helped build the house that is Jamaican ska and reggae. Rebirth’s vintage recording equipment also gives the album its vintage tone.
Of course, it’s Cliff who most of all resides at the heart of the music. At 64, his voice is high and strong. And following a reggae tradition of social consciousness, he melds Jamaican rhythms with lyrics about inequality in “World Upside Down” and “Children’s Bread” and turns especially passionate for the gentler “Cry No More.”
A few well-chosen remakes make the Rebirth track list, too, as Cliff goes full circle for authoritative renditions of the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” and Rancid’s own “Ruby Soho.”
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
LIVE AT BERKELEY/JIMI PLAYS BERKELEY
The Live At Berkeley CD and Jimi Plays Berkeley DVD put the spotlight on Jimi Hendrix, that brilliantly inventive singer-guitarist who blazed across the late 1960s musical landscape.
The spotlighted image of Hendrix in Jimi Plays Berkeley, as seen on DVD in an expanded version of the 1971 documentary-concert film, is sometimes blurred.
Despite a seemingly haphazard production and incomplete account of the two shows the Jimi Hendrix Experience performed at the Berkeley Community Theatre on May 30, 1970, the film’s better moments grant viewers a powerful approximation of Hendrix on stage.
Scenes show Hendrix and his 1970 edition of the Experience, featuring bassist Billy Cox and original Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, playing a relatively intimate theater as fans stand so close to Hendrix that they can rest their arms on the outer edge of the venue’s low stage.
Along with some great scenes there are many flawed sequences. The blame may be limited resources and, in the case of one particular cameraman, lack of professionalism. By contemporary standards, at least, this often dark, grainy and even out of focus film is primitive.
Jimi Plays Berkeley’s peripheral scenes of student protests in Berkeley — images of mass demonstrations in the streets, police in riot gear, teargas clouds — appear less relevant now than then, but there is relevance in man-on-the-street comments about Hendrix and his blues-based music. “Like if you dead on the inside from your ex-girlfriend,” a young black man says, “his music will bring you alive.” Purely as a document of a great, irreplaceable artist on stage, every piece of Jimi Plays Berkeley film, no matter how flawed, is valuable. There’s a silver lining, too, because the two Berkeley Community Theatre shows were recorded by a professional mobile recording truck under the supervision of Hendrix’s on-the-road audio engineer, Abe Jacobs. Both the Live At Berkeley CD (featuring the entire second show) and Jimi Plays Berkeley DVD (including audio of the second show in surround sound) sound great.