The other day:
00:25 < mhoye> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYSULkXcVYw
00:25 <@humph> howdy hoye
00:25 <@humph> I watched this from your blog and didn't get it
00:26 * nadavers is watching now, also doesn't get it
00:26 < mhoye> "get it"?
I’ve been a fan for a long time of The Dresden Dolls, the piano-and-drums duo of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione, the sole occupants of the “Brechtian punk cabaret” niche of the music world. A nice gentle introduction to their music might be this video for Coin-Operated Boy off their live album “A Is For Accident” and the twitchy, frenetic oddity of Girl Anachronism. But some of my favorite (and quite a bit darker) music comes from their earlier self-titled EP and later also-self-titled full-length album, including Half Jack and Bad Habit, though the Jeep Song, Glass Slipper and The Perfect Fit are perennial favorites as well.
The more recent album, “Yes, Virginia…” is a lot more polished than their earlier work, and it’s really good too, (Necessary Evil and Me & The Minibar are among my favorites there) but after a couple of listens I felt like the raw, sparse sound of the earlier albums was missing, and didn’t have anything really substantial in its place.
Which brings me up to Leeds United, the single off Amanda Palmer’s new solo album, produced by Ben Folds. I’d understood that this was an Amanda-Palmer-only album, and I was expecting a generous dollop of the sort of thing Palmer’s done well before – slower, distressingly passionate songs about damaged people and the uglier edge cases of modern romance. The name is a reference to Twin Peaks, another slow, distressingly passionate show, so I thought I couldn’t be all that wrong.
For the first bit the song shows every sign of going that way, opening up with a ragged, whiskey-and-cigarred Palmer singing over some sparse piano, a promising opener indeed. But over the course of a verse that goes “who needs love when there’s law & order, and who needs love when there’s southern comfort”, a drum kit wanders off the street and starts stomping out unexpectedly upbeat rhythm, and now here we are in a totally different song. And even that doesn’t last long; a verse later and about two minutes in, right after a line ending “who needs love when the sandwiches are wicked and they know you at the Mac Store” (100% awesome in its own right, and the first new thing I’ve heard in a love song this century) the song gets ambushed by an entire horn section that jumps out of nowhere and into the song with both feet.
The horn section brings that fat brass sound and some ridiculously exuberant, over-the-top enthusiasm in with them, and like all good horn sections before long it sounds like they’re all competing to out-joi-de-vivre the next guy over. And I thought this, this is what the last album needed to fill that void. It needed a bunch of talented lunatics with horns.
That’s roughly when the song shifts gears again, going back to it being just Palmer, her half-cracked sandpaper voice and her piano and just a little quiet cymbal work before the horns start to ramp back up to 11. Then it’s this big, rumbling soccer-mob push to the finish; it’s every brass instrument for itself with the horns now going determinedly all over the place, the drummer trying to chase the horns down More Is Better Lane, and everything building up to this great, jangly, screaming finale.
So, there you go. That’s why I like the song, because listening to it is like joining some sort of wierd musical pub crawl with a bunch of too-enthusiastic fans.
If you like it, you can see videos for the album at the Who Killed Amanda Palmer site, and the Dresden Dolls download page and Automatic Joy (whose name comes from a line from Coin Operated Boy) are also worth checking out. Throw a few bucks their way if you like it.