Beirut is endearingly different with its Mexican mariachi sound. Veteran dance act the Prodigy make some decent noise. Finally, ‘Dark Was The Night’ is a good compilation of current trends.
I’ve listened more to Beirut’s ‘March Of The Zapotec’ than any other album this month. This Mexican stuff is fast becoming addictive. I’m sure Beirut mastermind Zach Condon picked the best elements of what makes this music so different, just like alternative Country acts like Giant Sand do with their genre. It’s like an ideal music that only lives in the mind of an outside observer - People in Nashville or Oaxaca sure don’t play like that every day.
They have been going for more than 17 years and they stopped causing ripples on the dancefloor some 10 years ago - But now The Prodigy are worth a punt again! Their new album ‘Invaders Must Die’ has more moxy than any current competitor in the charts. Put your money down and you’re in for a thrill.
If you just want an overview of the acts that left their impression on the music scene over the past year or two without committing yourself to buy their entire albums, then the 2-CD compilation ‘Dark Was The Night’ is just what you are looking for. All the right names at a bargain price and proceeds go to Aids charity the Red Hot Organization.
ALBUM OF THE MONTH
Beirut ‘March Of The Zapotec’
‘March Of The Zapotec’ shakes and shimmies like a rattlesnake charmer after a bottle of Mezcal. Zach Condon travelled to a decidedly lo-tech part of Mexico to bring you the exotic sounds of a funeral band in a godforsaken place in the southern Oaxaca province, called Teotitlan del Valle.
Teotitlan is, by all accounts, one of the oldest settlements in Mexico, founded by the mysterious Zapotec people. The Jimenez Band from Teotitlan plays its own take on European marching band music, enriched by the localities history and customs.
The music on the first half of the album is pretty darn cool. The marching rhythms roll and the brass jumps and veers dangerously close to anarchy, but it’s all resolved within a little three-minute drama.
The second half of the album, titled ‘Holland’ and credited to ‘Realpeople’, is made up of low key electronica. Realpeople is another pseudonym for Zach and this is the kind of music he knocks together at home when he’s fed up with listening to his Beirut work-in-progress. You get gentle pop songs with wacky titles, Zach’s crooning vocals and tinny rhythms.
‘Holland’ is pure laptop pop, not as vivid as ‘March Of The Zapotecs’, but likeable. it will grow on you.
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#2: The Prodigy ‘Invaders Must Die’
It’s the twisted firestarters’ first new record in seven years. They didn’t sit around on their backsides. Instead they studied open air festivals and what you need to get today’s audiences dancing.
Tracks like ‘Invaders Must Die’ or ‘Thunder’ have that big kick drum, fuzzy Acid bass and the - in the most positive sense - bombastic production that will hit you at the back of the field in Glastonbury or wherever.
In fairness, The Prodigy are well positioned to claim back the festival crown: They were, after all, one of the first wave of acts to cross over from the rave to the festival stage.
Dig deeper and you’ll find that ‘Invaders Must Die’ is the Prodigy sound from 1992/94 - that of ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Out Of Space’ - with a few subtle tweaks and better technology.
On ‘Thunder’, ‘Invaders Must Die’ and ‘Take Me To The Hospital’ The Prodigy nail it just right. The first single ‘Omen’ is not bad either. Look out for these tunes on a dance stage or dance tent near you this summer.
Watch The Prodigy’s Video For ‘Omen’
‘Run With The Wolves’ features Grunge rocker Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters fame on drums but just doesn’t do it for me. Same for ‘Run With The Wolves’, ‘Colours’ and ‘Piranha’. They all have that clinical ‘heavy’ sound that works for a five second sound blast but not in a five minute song. Mind you, it probably works in a field with a few thousand people around you.
The surprise hit here is the album closer, ‘Stand Up’. It’s that Rolling Stones inspired Boogie Rock with a flowing beat like on Primal Scream’s ‘Come Together’or ‘Loaded’. The Prodigy are really good at it.
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#3: Various Artists ‘Dark Was The Night’
This AIDS charity compilation enlists a number of big guns from the past year or two: Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, The National, Beirut and more. All 31 tracks are exclusive and there are some real crackers on here.
Arcade Fire deliver the upbeat ‘Lenin’, a slice of Glam Pop on which the band sound as exuberant as T-Rex in their 70’s heyday. Bon Iver chips in with ‘Brackett, WI’, a nice, tight Nu Folk workout. And Antony of Antony & The Johnsons slips effortlessly into a 1930’s Folk style on ‘I was Young When I Left Home’. None of these songs are available anywhere else.
The compilation, produced by The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, has a strong Nu Folk feel to it. The few songs that veer into different territory - Funk, Alternative, Modern Classical - blend in well. As an album, the selection flows and there are no obvious bum notes or fillers. If you have a fairly open mind when it comes to music, ‘Dark Was The Night’ will make a good dinner party album when you have friends around.
Proceeds from the sales of ‘Dark Was The Night’ will benefit the well established Red Hot Organization, an international charity dedicated to raising AIDS awareness.
Red Hot celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The charity raises funds for AIDS research and education, mainly through benefit compilation albums and videos. Red Hot has raised some $7m since 1989.
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