Music reviews: Mark Knopfler, Modest Mouse, Chilly Gonzales
Growing up in the 1980s, like most kids of that generation, I mostly detested my parents’ music. Of course I had far worse tastes of my own at that age, but there was always one song that united the family: Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing. The tumbling snare and tom tom intro giving way to that fierce electric riff from Mark Knopfler’s guitar always brought wide smiles and the family’s collection of air guitars.
Tracker is the former Straits frontman’s eighth solo album, and while the tunes may have mellowed, the warm, gravelly voice and sixstring blues twang is instantly comforting. The aptly titled Celtic folk opener, Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smokes, wouldn’t sound out of place if the 65-year-old were reciting its tale to good ol’ friends over a couple of pints of bitter.
The poetic storytelling throughout Tracker is told with a voice both wise and sincere. The guitars may not be as rousing as they were three decades ago, but the understated finger picking blends harmoniously with the soulful keys of long-time cohort Guy Cohort. This is far more roll than rock.
Strangers to Ourselves
Eight years is a long hiatus for any band to take. The last time veteran alt-rockers Modest Mouse released a record, 2007's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, the iPhone had yet to go on sale, and the Dixie Chicks were still relevant. Making a welcome return to alt-indie land - unfortunately without We Were Dead's temporary freelancer Johnny Marr - the Washington state band are in a productive and typically ambitious mood.
Along with the 15 diverse songs here, frontman Isaac Brock recently revealed that a companion album featuring Nirvana's Krist Novolesic would be released as early as next year. Still difficult to pigeonhole, their sixth album, Strangers to Ourselves, shifts between radio-friendly singles, the frantically catchy Lampshades on Fire and psych-ballad Coyotes, to the weirdly wonderful. None more so than the dirty distorted rap of Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996) and the mock country vignette God is an Indian and You're an Asshole. The creepy circus revelry of Sugar Boats and the jaunty The Best Room only prove that eight years was well worth the wait.
Gentle Threat Ltd
Canadian composer, pianist and part-time rapper Jason Beck (aka Chilly Gonzales) has been on a mission to make classical music more accessible for some time now.
The self-described musical genius has collaborated with Feist, Drake and Daft Punk on everything from electronica to soft rock, and Chambers, the follow-up to 2012's critically acclaimed Solo Piano II, seeks to reimagine 19th-century Romantic-era chamber music as modern contemporary pop.
Taking his seat at the piano, Gonzales melds his inimitable ivory twinkling with string arrangements from Kaiser Quartett, blending elements of hip hop, ambient and the avant garde into the orchestral landscapes. Opening with the beautiful arpeggiated piano chords of Prelude to a Feud, the pop melodies then take over with the striking Advantage Points, inspired by John McEnroe's racquet talents at Wimbledon 1980. Tear-jerker Sweet Burden follows, a beautiful melancholic blend of viola and cello, before Sample This sees Southern hip hop interpreted by four fiddles. On Chambers, Gonzales has wondrously achieved his goal.