Music is my lifeblood and as a writer about its culture, I need it―all the time. Whether scanning aisles in new or used music shops or spying on Amazon, I’m always buying and listening to new music. This format will allow me to capture what music I’ve bought each month and detail it for you, the readers. The three records highlighted will hopefully catch your attention and you’ll follow the purchase links included. Enjoy.
Album: Made in America (1981, A&M)
Personnel: Karen Carpenter (lead / background vocals / percussion); Richard Carpenter (arranger / background vocals / producer)
Production Duties: Richard Carpenter
Vibe: Three years and a bevy of changes―personal and professional―had transpired since the Carpenters last full-length LP, Passage (1977). Made in America combined familiarity and (soft) acknowledgement of new trends present at the dawn of the 1980’s. Synthesizers were tastefully layered throughout parts of the recording, giving a touch of color to “(Want You) Back in My Life Again” and lead single “Touch Me When We’re Dancing”.
Deeper listening revealed a latent funkiness present on these numbers that could be traced backed to the aforementioned Passage album opener “B’wana She No Home”. Further, Karen’s aborted eponymous solo debut from 1980―thankfully released in 1996―informed the cool rhythmic approach the brother / sister duo weaved into Made in America.
Additional exploration of this urban pastel style might have given Made in America the “edge” to validate the Carpenters in critics eyes. Many detractors then felt that the Carpenters were not progressing far enough in their recorded output―even with the stated diminutive modernity present. Regardless, Made in America captured that classic Carpenters pop at its cinematic best. Richard’s score-like arrangements sprawled majestically on “Somebody’s Been Lyin'” and “Because We Are in Love (The Wedding Song)”. Both songs housed Karen’s impeccable tone wonderfully.
The latter song was a “happy ending” piece that called to mind Karen’s girl-to-woman transformation completed through ultimate romantic fulfillment. The eventual fact outweighed the fiction unfortunately, but did not remove the magic apparent on that cut or the remainder of Made in America’s contents.
A sharp spinner full of promise, potential and a sense of nostalgia, the Carpenters brand of sentimental pop never sounded better than it did on Made in America.
Watch / Listen: “Touch Me When We’re Dancing”
Album: Seventh Tree (2008, Mute / EMI)
Personnel: Alison Goldfrapp (lead vocals / background vocals / producer); Will Gregory (producer)
Production Duties: Mark “Flood” Ellis, Goldfrapp
Vibe: Goldfrapp’s Supernature (2005 / 2006), their junior effort, stood as one of the defining records of its decade. Their second (mostly) full-blown uptempo album after Black Cherry (2003) had distilled their sexy dance-pop to perfection. Where else could this pair―Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory―venture to now? For Goldfrapp, they peered back to the beginning; rather than resurrect their blitzkrieg blend of classical and electronic music that gripped Felt Mountain (2000), they dialed back. The folky air that permeated Seventh Tree may have disappointed at first listen.
The patient were rewarded with an album whose amber and gold hues charmed. Whereas the orchestral works of Felt Mountain were often marred by belching “bleeps” and “bloops,” here the strings were totally unobstructed. However, the stark violin work that characterized Black Cherry and Supernature was exchanged on Seventh Tree by a blend of violins and acoustic guitars. This musical marriage birthed atmospheric backdrops for “Clowns” and “A&E”.
Lyrically, Goldfrapp had always leaned on voyeurism versus crafting songs about themselves. That did not change on Seventh Tree, even if the stories behind songs such as “Eat Yourself” and “Cologne Cerrone Houdini” read as obtuse when introduced.
Forbearance was a virtue for previous fans of Goldfrapp’s preceding trio of recordings, but their music never felt more refreshing. Seventh Tree played as a portent for their lauded Tales of Us (2013) album, though its homogeneity placed it second behind the broader brightness of Seventh Tree.
Watch / Listen: “Happiness”
Artist: The Ting Tings
Album: Super Critical (2014 / 2015, Finca)
Personnel: Jules De Martino (background vocals / lead guitar / drums / bass guitar / piano); Katie White (lead vocals / bass drums /bass guitar / guitar)
Production Duties: Jules De Martino, Andy Taylor
Vibe: Immediate darlings upon their arrival with We Started Nothing (2008), The Ting Tings were the hottest alt-pop pairing on the scene. Their flavorful follow-up, Sounds From Nowheresville (2012), did not receive as much affection upon its unveiling. De Martino and White stepped back and decided to retool their approach for their third project. Assisted by temperamental (and former) Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor, Super Critical benefited from a groove oriented focus without relinquishing good hooks.
When their lead single “Wrong Club” impacted, lazy commentators accused The Ting Tings of jumping on the disco revival “spearheaded” by Daft Punk and Pharrell in the last two years―this couldn’t have been further from the truth. Many previous disco resurrections had occurred before 2012, noticeably at the beginning of the last decade.
The Ting Tings dancefloor retrofit mined that unpretentious epoch’s feel with the flashy frippery of the title song and the mentioned cut “Wrong Club”. “Wrong Club,” in spite of its addictive floor filling pace, possessed that acerbic wit that made the pair’s songwriting angle so much fun on prior outings.
As the listener descended further into the LP, the beats stayed plentiful (“Do It Again,” “Communication”). The Ting Tings even saved space for a juicy 1990’s R&B throwback in “Wabi Sabi”. It’s a testament to De Martino and White’s abilities that they stood toe-to-toe with superstar Taylor throughout the LP. Once the album wrapped, at just nine tracks, Super Critical showed The Ting Tings far from ready to be relegated to the hipster band bargain bin.
Watch / Listen: “Wrong Club”