Toronto
3 min

Retrosexuals & sinister pop

Versus ultra sensitive, political lesbian folk/world beat/ragga clichés

LUV IT. The Von Blondes' Pawn Shoppe Heart is pure bliss. Credit: Xtra files

Franz Ferdinand is four young cocky Glaswegian whippersnappers who love to flirt with late 1970s and early 1980s punk, pop and disco. The self-titled debut is an inspired guitar-laden rump-shaker. “Tell Her Tonight” is full of great retro ’80s vocal harmonies (Boomtown Rats and XTC come to mind) with a fab 2-Tone guitar riff. Sweet. The hit single “Take Me Out” starts out to be very Strokes but the chorus gets all Stones. The guitars thrash and rock out, the bass line throbs and vocalist Alexander Kapranos’ ecstatic vocals are solid as he chants, “I say don’t you know/ You say don’t you know/ I say take me out.”



This is an album full of horny drinkin’ boy sex conquests – clubby emotion with no regrets, only self-doubt. “The Dark Of The Matinee” follows Kapranos’ sexploits with heavy metal guitar accompaniment. “You will find me in the matinee/ It’s better in the matinee/ The dark of the matinee.”



Intense guitars and drums go straight and narrow on “Cheating On You.” It’s all so simple and gives the repetitive wordplay a much-needed urgency. “Good-bye girl/ Because I’m a loser/ Good-bye girl/ It isn’t over.” To prove they gotta ‘lil gay in ’em, “Michael” is a raunchy ode to boy lust, just like Pete Townshend’s “Rough Boys.” This will definitely become an alternative dancefloor fave. All the instruments pulsate and burn as Kapranos screams his lustful thoughts for the “beautiful dance-whore.” “Sticky hair, sticky hips, stubble on my sticky lips/ Michael, you’re the only one I’d ever want.” Nice one!



**

Toronto’s Ember Swift is full of herself. She spouts her fierce political beliefs with an all knowing, all seeing judgmental urgency that just rubs me the wrong way. Every song on her soon to be released disc Disarming is packed with way too many thoughts and a heap of finger pointing. It’s a suffocating and joyless music experience. I can’t imagine listening to this over and over would be at all pleasurable. I should know, I listened to it 19 times – all the way through.



Swift is a well-informed gal and maybe music isn’t all about enjoyment. But Marvin Gaye’s masterful 1971 hit “What’s Going On” proved you could make listenable poetic beauty addressing such topics as political unrest, the Vietnam War, inner city violence and ecological concerns. Swift’s song- writing skills are limited to simple repetitive guitar strumming with almost no breaks from her verbal rants that aren’t so much sung as declared. On the title track a guitar strums as Swift tells us her likes: sobriety, philosophy and “those who aspire to keep their spirits clean.” On “Splinter” she wants to walk with her lover “through the world, feeling happy.” Then on the other love song, “Twist Twice,” she exclaims, “I’ve heard it said love is not in falling/ It’s in the staying put/ And I know that happy is not a destination for which I am aiming.” Holy contradictions.



This album is an ultra sensitive, political lesbian folk/world beat/ragga cliché.



There’s an instrumental piece called “Pek” described in the CD’s booklet as “instrumental piece for peace” and on the back cover as “Mideast-Asian peace offering”(every song on the album has a three to six word genre description). This instrumental has as much true world sound as the theme of Survivor. Sorry, but this album has got me all Simon Cowelled up.



The worst song has to be “Sucker-Punched”(“spoken word porn funk,” apparently). Bass player Lyndell Montgomery does the speaking (think cartoony Laurie Anderson) and blames the white folk for branding and selling the ghetto, “US continues down that aisle of destruction” and so on. Other topics on this album include mouldable youth, privatized water and Ember. “The more artists who are activists the better,” she says. I have to disagree.



**

The new album by the Detroit co-ed foursome The Von Blondies, Pawn Shoppe Heart, is deliciously sinister, heart pounding and thoroughly orgasmic from beginning to end. The two-minute 15-second epic single “C’mon C’mon” is raunchy garage guitar blues with spaztastic drums and an infectious chorus. Vocalist Jason Stollsteimer’s explosive delivery is pure sex. “Now we grieve cause now is gone/ Things were good when we were young.” A pop masterpiece.



Every song is tight with addictive hooks and moody atmospheres that recall The Doors, surf guitar legend Dick Dale and nut bar Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (just listen to the hidden track – it’s an aggressive remake of Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness”). The Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison is the producer and he keeps things moving at breakneck speed. It never falters.



“Not That Social” features bassist Carrie Smith’s sly sultry vocals as she chants, “Breathe in/ Breathe out/ I know you’re drowning.” On the songs “Crawl Through The Darkness” and “The Fever,” Smith and guitarist Marcie Bolen sing backup, Don Blum’s drumming really gets going (with the girls’ stellar guitar work) and Stollsteimer just gets all hot and bothered. They really show their stuff on these two tracks. It’s pure pop bliss.



* Ember Swifts’s CD release party starts at 8:30pm on Fri, Apr 2 at Hugh’s Room (2261 Dundas St W). With guests Evalyn Parry and Jennifer Gillmor. Cover is $10 advance, $12 at the door; call (416) 531-6604. The CD will be available in June.



FRANZ FERDINAND.

Franz Ferdinand.

Domino. $17.99.

Disarming.



EMBER SWIFT.

Few’ll Ignite Sound.

Fewllignitesound.com.

$17.



PAWN SHOPPE HEART.

The Von Blondies.

Sire. $12.99.