Monthly Archives: November 2011
James Ferraro – Far Side Virtual
James Ferraro has made a cult career for himself by finding the beauty in kitsch. This time around, he delves into the sounds of what can only be described as “educational CD-ROM music” or “shoe store employee orientation video music.” It’s the sort of stuff spewed from MIDI keyboards and tinny drum machines, no doubt thought of as “futuristic” circa 1993. What keeps Far Side Virtual from drowning in irony is how Ferraro merges these retro sounds with modern beatmaking techniques. And this only makes sense for a record that dwells on all manner of technologies, with references to ringtones, iPads, Skype and Pixar in the music, song titles and artwork. For an album obsessed with information overload, it also fits that the record is densely saturated with warped synths, decaying sound effects and reverberating piano chords, all of which perfectly mimic the legions of ill-fated producers aspiring to make their own Another Green World with nothing but a cheap Casio keyboard. Sure, there’s humor in the music’s outdatedness, but the main draw of Far Side Virtual is just how pleasantly listenable it all is. Despite all the purposeful artificiality on display, the album is breezy, melodic and accessible, even when threatening, darker moments bubble up from time to time. Unfortunately, the record is ultimately a bit of a one-trick pony. Ferraro never really bothers to move beyond the same pattern of canned strings and computerized keyboard effects, and as the album continues down its sixteen-track playlist, Far Side Virtual can’t help but feel a bit repetitive at times, especially when stand-out tracks like “Sim” and “Fro Yo And Cellular Bits” are few and far between. Still, congratulations are in order since not every artist can use some of the least timeless music ever as a starting point and spin it into gold. Ferraro’s high-concept artiness may keep his audience limited, but it also helps him stand out in an age where many musicians disappear in a haze of YouTube clips. Well done.
The Strokes – Is This It
Although it didn’t have quite the same success or impact, The Strokes’ debut, Is This It, played a similar role in the 2000s that Nevermind did in the ’90s. Like Nirvana’s breakthrough album, Is This It brought mainstream attention to a strain of underground rock, profoundly affecting the direction and attitude of American and British guitar rock for the following decade. The brilliance of the album isn’t that it is visionary—it’s that it sounds startlingly fresh, revitalizing rock mainstays like sex, drugs and the power of the catchy guitar riff. Adopting the effortless New York cool of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges and marrying it to CBGBs punk and new wave, the Strokes, on paper, sound like they could get by on image alone. In actuality, Julian Casablancas put his own unique spin on these influences and wrote a supremely satisfying set of songs, each of them teeming with so much sneering wordplay and so many indelible hooks, the album plays like a greatest hits compliation. “Last Nite” has rightfully become a modern rock staple; the supremely melodic “Hard To Explain” and “Someday,” with their instantly memorable guitar lines, are two of the band’s finest moments; the chugging “The Modern Age” and woozy title track propel themselves forward with the airtight rhythm section of bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fab Moretti, and Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr. establish themselves as an astonishing guitar duo on the rampaging closer “Take It Or Leave It.” And though Casablancas largely limits himself to writing about dysfunctional relationships, he has a knack for writing clever, stylish one-liners, which are nearly as vital to the songs as his world-weary, Lou Reed-esque singing, itself one of the most widely imitated vocal styles of the 2000s. Though the Strokes later continued to grow and diversify, they would never again recreate the exuberance of Is This It.
[Note: As a show of respect after the September 11th attacks, the Strokes replaced “New York City Cops” with the nearly-as-excellent “When It Started” on the U.S. edition of the album.]