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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Chris Walla: "Field Manual"

It has often been said that the strength of Death Cab for Cutie is Ben Gibbard, the prolific lyricist and hopeless romantic with a nearly-flawless voice. I give the man a lot of credit, myself, as he's probably one of my favorite vocalists of all time! With all of that hype, one has to imagine that Chris Walla is a resilient guy; letting Ben get all the attention while he's busy not only playing the guitar, but producing some of the better records of the last couple of years (The Decemberists' The Crane Wife or Tegan and Sara's The Con). In truth, Death Cab for Cutie wouldn't be near as successful as they are if it weren't for Walla's influence and guidance. Therefore, you can probably imagine my anticipation for Field Manual, Walla's first solo album. Unfortunately, the album fails to leave any significant impression whatsoever, which paves the way for some very mixed feelings.

For the majority of Field Manual, Walla seems content to retread paths that have already been paved by Death Cab for Cutie. As such, a direct comparison seems entirely appropriate and the outcome of said comparison is not in his favor. The guitars, drums, keyboards and peripheral instrumentation are all saturated in the same inoffensive pop/rock sound that Death Cab shamelessly flaunts. Due to Walla's vast experience with this particular style of music, it all sounds rather well, flawless in fact. Where the comparison fails him, however, is in the vocal department. Quite simply, Walla's got nothing on Gibbard. His voice sounds constrained, like he should be singing proudly but instead decided to close his throat and settle for a breathy, raspy timbre. It rarely works in his favor, and in a song like "Sing Again," with Ben Folds-esque keyboards and tight rhythm guitars, his lack of vocal prowess completely keeps the song from being memorable.

There are other times, however, that everything seems to come together quite well. On "A Bird is a Song," Walla's breathy vocals perfectly complements the slow pace, looming organs, and far-off guitar strums. He sings, "I do not need to see, but I need a vision," and it affects me because I'm not distracted by how out of place he sounds. In fact, it's in Field Manual's slower, more reflective moments that Walla's talents really shine. "It's Unsustainable" is another fantastic song, starting off slow with a calming Rhodes organ. Walla beautifully accompanies, noting, "I counted out the numbers silently, a list of places and names that I'd best get back to at least." Eventually, more instrumentation is added and the song slowly builds in an triumphant, if not somewhat predictable manner. It really is a gorgeous song.



Unfortunately, most of Field Manual is an up-tempo, poppy affair, and the instances where it can become an affecting piece of work are few. It's a shame too, because Walla's lyrics aren't usually of extravagant romances and eternal love as Ben Gibbard's are. And while he does touch on those subjects, he also spends his time singing about issues that are more political in nature. He does so delicately, never dwelling too much on a certain subject. For example, a line like, "Everyone needs a home, everybody needs a place to go. A FEMA trailer does not ease the blow," is followed by "Everybody needs a roof and a bed and a bright, bright light that he can turn off at night and fall asleep with the love of his life." So while he does take a direct jab, he also spends time discussing basic human rights in general and even manages to mix in some romance. It's a pure work of genius with the pen, and definitely worth noting.

Overall, Field Manual isn't a bad album. Chris Walla is far too talented of a musician to let something truly awful ship with his name on it. It does, however, fall just short of being a "good" album. I suppose one could say it was decent and leave it at that. Walla shows moments where he seems to be sprinting away from his Death Cab roots, but ultimately goes crawling back to them time and time again. The end result is a mixed bag of brilliant moments, and disheartening missteps that probably won't be playing in my CD player for more than a few weeks. Surely there are things to like on Field Manual; parts to love even. But with that new Death Cab for Cutie album just a couple of months away, you may just want to save your money and wait for the real thing.

Key Tracks:

1. "The Score"
2. "A Bird is a Song"
3. "Everyone Needs a Home"
4. "It's Unsustainable"
5. "Holes"

6 out of 10 Stars

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Moods - Sleepy

That's right...my mood is Sleepy and I can't shake it no matter how hard I try.


I don't know about anyone else, but I'm suffering from a very specific kind of mood today. The coffee isn't helping, the 20-30 mph winds outside my window only make me want to settle in under flannel even more, and I'm finding it hard to be at all motivated. There's a voice in my head, the Martha Stewart-esque one that keeps me organized, screaming out the list of things I should be doing, but my body doesn't want to cooperate. Email to return, Yoga to do, forms to fill out, grocery lists to make, passbooks to find, dvd's to rip, a doll quilt to finish, a checkbook to balance...all these things and my eyes just don't want to work. It's cold, it's windy, none of my friends are online to distract me, not even celebrity gossip is enough to keep me entertained (OMG Suri might not be Tom's baby and what? Britney checked into UCLA Med?) and there's my bed, recently slept in and comfortable looking. Three different kinds of flannel sheets (everything is mismatched for maximum flannel softness), super fluffy pillows, and a cat are beckoning me to the glory that is my pillow top Queen sized mattress.

Sleepy, as defined by Websters:

1. ready or inclined to sleep; drowsy.
2. of or showing drowsiness.
3. languid; languorous
4. lethargic; sluggish
5. quiet
6. inducing sleep; soporific

If I go back to bed now can I call it a nap? I guess it doesn't matter, really, nap or going back to bed, here are a few songs that should serve to lull you into wanting a nap too.


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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Video of the Week - Week 56

Keeping with my most recent Top 5 Friday entry, I thought I'd offer you a little old school jam. I thought I'd share a glimpse of the way Snoop Dogg used to rap and some rather comical bouncing cars. I used to want hydraulics in my ride; I thought that would be so cool, the white girl at the stop light making her little compact car bounce like it was going for a trophy at a car show. I grew out of that phase, thankfully, and just stuck to listening to Rap at a really high volume.

It was probably for the better. With that, I present to you a classic, Dr. Dre's "Ain't Nothin' But a G Thang", straight from 1992. (Please note, it is an uncensored version.)





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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Mars Volta: "The Bedlam In Goliath"

I first stumbled upon The Mars Volta when I was in college. Not really into the progressive rock scene at all, I was stunned to find that I not only liked their first album, De-Loused In the Comatorium, but simply couldn't get enough of it. I spent countless hours rocking out to it in my dorm room, annoying roommates and probably the whole hall as well. Their second album, Frances the Mute, was equally as impressive, and perhaps more intriguing and challenging than their first. Therefore, it was a bit disheartening for me when they released their third album, Amputechture. It seemed to lack the focus of their previous works, often placing emphasis on extended complex freak-out sessions and putting secondary importance on Cedric Bixler-Zavala's vocals. Melodies seemed patched together, and afraid to take center stage. As a huge fan of vocals in music (indeed, it is almost always the most important thing), I was completely disenchanted with this approach and was equally as disappointed in the album. The Bedlam In Goliath has similarly disappointing sections, though I am pleased to say that the album as a whole is a step in the right direction for The Mars Volta.

Opener "Aberinkula" opens the album at full force, charging out of the gate like a bull. The song features a trotting bass line and absolutely mind-blowing percussion from new drummer, Thomas Pridgen. The vocal melody is uncomplicated, but still somewhat catchy. Cedric belts out "Have you seen the living, tired of their own shells?" in the chorus, and his piercing voice is well-suited to the musical chaos that it accompanies. The song eventually breaks down with a freeform saxophone solo, which the Mars Volta has basically perfected at this point. An infectious, guitar-led groove carries the song to it's end, and everything sounds great.

Amputechture's biggest problem rears it's ugly head again on "Metatron," where the music once again takes priority over the vocal melody. Cedric's voice is biting and forceful, but it is second to all the organized chaos that envelopes it. It's a shame too, as the lyrics are some of the album's more interesting. The instrumentation is unrelenting, as it is throughout most of Bedlam, and if you find yourself placing importance on that, "Metatron" may be a favorite for you. It is definitely reminiscent of "Tetragrammaton." "Ilyena" is a much cooler song in general. It begins with an incredibly distorted, wet vocal solo. When Cedric sings, "I need a brand new skin," it is undeniably awesome! After about a minute of that, the song busts out with a funky guitar riff and salsa percussion that just begs to be danced to. It's a very jam-band type of song, and doesn't scream of the forced complexities of many Mars Volta songs. Every aspect of this song is virtually flawless, and you'll undoubtedly find yourself singing along or dancing after a few listens. It's got a very cool drum outro too that is unfortunately ruined by some unnecessary distorted vocals.

"Wax Simulacra" is filled to the brim with typically cryptic lyrics ("I bring an avalanche of Toltec bones. Contaminated cravings if you choose to play something that aches for a spill.") It is a very vocally intensive song, but it sounds as if they are constantly doing battle with the instrumentation to see who will be the focus of the song. In the end it's such a mess that it's hard to focus on anything. Fortunately, "Goliath" completely voids any problems that it's predecessor had simply by being relentlessly amazing. Mars Volta fans will immediately recognize the song as a reworked, sped-up version of "Rapid Fire Tollbooth," a song from Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's last solo album (and from the band's live show in the past). It is, without a doubt, the standout track on the album. It's the first time on the album that Cedric gives us a vocal melody worth remembering, and despite it's 7+ minute runtime, it never feels too long or repetitive. Indeed, if anything, I found myself wanting it to continue. The band feels focused and tight throughout, only getting out of control when absolutely necessary.



Unfortunately, the momentum built by that song is instantly crushed by "Tourniquet Man," a song that sounds entirely too much like Limp Bizkit's cover of "Behind Blue Eyes" for me to take seriously. All Mars Volta albums have had a radio-friendly song, and this one just sounds like a failed attempt at one. Despite a convincing performance from Cedric, it gets a big "meh" from me. Likewise, "Cavalettas" struggles to find any meaningful reason for existence. The longest track on the album, it is unbearably repetitive and uninteresting, which is something I never though I'd say about The Mars Volta. The band seems to get lazy and can't find a way to transition from one section to the next, opting instead to just drop out all the instrumentation for a few seconds before jamming back in. This happens 7 times (really). Not even manic sax and flute solos can save this song from the skip button.

"Agadez" picks things back up. Again, the band comes together and blends perfectly, resulting in a much more satisfying experience. Cedric syncopates, "I'm nowhere near this place you wear. It's unforgivable. It knows that I am visible," over some truly great instrumentation. The song breaks down at 3:45 and adds in some ethnic drums and more subtle vocals before picking things back up for a more appropriate Mars Volta-esque freak-out. It's a great song! "Askepios" is really just a waste of time. It's 5 minutes of uninspired drivel. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why the band insists on continually squandering any ounce of momentum that they have for stuff like this. "Ouroborous" is a very vocally focused song. As such, I instantly connected with it. It features Cedric crooning softly over some harmonium-like synths, singing, "Of all the warnings that you gave me with all components in the fault. Have you heard me scraping? It'll be hard to hold." It's one of the album's cooler moments, and by far its most unique.

"Soothsayer" begins with enchanting strings and a lazily moving guitar solo. Cedric's vocals are haunting as they sing, "This deceit has no arms. Bended will, take what's yours." It is a beautiful song that never overdoes it, and everything just seems to work. Surely the strings were an excellent touch that pushed the song over the edge. The songs end with creepy "Requiem for a Dream-ish" violins and a reverbed choir. It's a very nice touch. Bedlam's closer is "Conjugal Burns" and once again, Cedric treats us to some impressive vocal stylings. When he sings, "I got a pain inside that'll rip through the fabric of time," I literally perked up because it was so unexpected. It's a solid song and it keeps it at a relatively short runtime (for a Mars Volta song, 6:35). It seems out of place as a closer though. Musically, "Soothsayer" seems much more appropriate. Still, I can't detract from it's greatness.

The Bedlam In Goliath is undoubtedly The Mars Volta's loudest album to date, and long-time fans will undoubtedly be pleased with what they hear. Unfortunately, there are a few songs that just don't work and should have been left in the studio. Indeed, at nearly 76 minutes in length, The Bedlam In Goliath could have used a nice trimming. As a result, the album feels less cohesive than their previous albums, and is definitely more enjoyable to listen to in small doses. However, I have found myself entirely satisfied with the album's better moments, and can therefore overlook its missteps along the way. For fans like me who felt a little disenchanted after Amputechture, rest assured that The Bedlam In Goliath is a much better album and worth picking up and investing your time in. Like all Mars Volta albums, it is not for everybody, but it is definitely something that deserves to be noticed.

Key Tracks:
1. "Aberinkula"
2. "Ilyena"
3. "Goliath"
4. "Agadez"
5. "Ouroborous"

7 out of 10 Stars

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Monday, January 28, 2008

myspace music monday: Past Artist Update

No, that's not the name of an artist. You see, I logged onto myspace today, fully prepared to find the next big thing in music. Lo and behold, I am treated to a big helping of suck. Unable to find a single artist of note after about an hour of browsing, I decided to call it quits and instead revisit some past artists that I've featured. We'll see who has updated their page with new songs, and I'll rank them according to my own personal tastes. Sounds fun right?

Who's Updated?

Well, The Beams were the last band I featured before breaking for the holidays and they have since added two new songs to their page. Neither of them deviate from their "Hey, we're kind of like The Killers" approach to music-making. "Chemical Wisdom" is an unrelenting and upbeat dance rock/new wave track with group vocals and a really nice groove. The vocals are a little "meh" in my opinion and the song does go on for far too long, but if you're in the mood for a pure rock out session, it should be a good fit. Their second new song, "Watch" is just a mess. The guitars are way too prominent in the mix and far too skittery to feel infectious. The lyrics can be a bit humorous, but the song itself is completely uncatchy and borderline unlistenable. Skip it.

Of course, the group I most wanted an update from was Teacups. Alas, they have failed me. They did, however, get to open for Jose Gonazalez in New Zealand, which I'm sure was a great honor for them. I just hope that turns into some added exposure for them, because they need to be heard. Check out this sweet picture.

Swede-supreme, Sebastian Orre added two new songs to his page. The first, "Koschka" is a simple, but charming song. Staying true to his past music, his lyrics are very simple yet somehow poignant. He sings, "You saw me walking. Not much for talking, no." Clearly Sebastian. Clearly. The second song is called "Walking" and features some really excellent production. His accent adds a certain amount of innocence to the already childhood memory-inducing song. Again, the lyrics are simple but still effective. It may be the best song of his that I've yet to hear, which is a great thing. Both of these new songs show more depth from his songs that I previously reviewed, especially when it comes to adding layers on top of one another.


Ranking Them

So who do I like best out of all the artists I've featured on myspace band monday. Well if you read last week's feature the answer would be pretty clear. But to see where all the other artists stack up, just cast your gaze downward.

8. Thomas Dybdahl
7. Bicycles and Gravel
6. The Beams
5. Sebastian Orre
4. Teacups
3. The Eastern Sea
2. ContraNova
1. Hanne Kolstö

I know that you're a lazy bum and all, but you should really consider checking out all of the above mentioned artists. They are all pretty diverse and unless you only consider Linkin Park, 50 Cent, and Nickelback to be valid musicians, you should find something to your liking.

And hey, make my job easier by recommending a myspace artist for me to feature for next week. Otherwise, I'm not entirely sure what I'll come up with.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Black Crowes: "Shake Your Money Maker"


Thanks to the Columbia House music scam of “10 albums for 99 cents” that swept up naïve teenagers like myself, I am proud to say I own this album. To be quite honest, I cannot say exactly how much exposure The Black Crowes have had throughout the course of their band. I’m sure that front man, Chris Robinson’s former marriage to actress Kate Hudson helped bring them into the spotlight a bit; not to mention, they have released several albums in the past 18 years. Of these, its their 1990 release of Shake Your Money Maker that is being brought to your attention. This album takes 90’s rock to a different level. The Black Crowes’ use of rolling piano chords (at times in the rockabilly style of Jerry Lee Lewis) give Shake Your Money Maker a more blues inspired feel than many of the other “rock” albums released around this time. If you’re a fan of blues, classic rock, southern rock, and clear, yet gruff vocals, this album should please you. Keep in mind it’s not a “perfect album”, but there are three or four really awesome tracks on it that are definitely worth listening to.

Opening the album, is a track called “Twice as Hard”. The song begins with a simple guitar riff and then abruptly adds more instrumentation, including an organ, which enhances its southern rock feel. Chris Robinson’s voice can draw the listener in almost immediately with it’s distinct tone and timbre. While slower than many of its counterparts, it’s definite, steady rhythm paired with the ability to sing along, makes for a great opener to the album. “Jealous Again” is dramatically different than the first track of the album in the distinction of its opening guitar/piano intro. For a second there, you may be wondering what kind of genre you’re listening to again. By the time the chorus comes around, you’re hearing the guitar driven music you were expecting along with playful piano chording and rolling throughout the song. It is a brilliant use of blending different instruments. Robinson’s vocal are again, great, but the lyrics in this song are not incredibly thought provoking to the listener. However, this track is super fun to listen to!

“Sister Luck” is a slower paced song with a great “pull you in” intro; a very predated sound to it. This track is once again a well blended guitar/piano composition with good melodies. I believe the most memorable part of the song would be the chorus, where Robinson sings, “Sister luck, is a screamin’ out, somebody else’s name”. You’ll notice throughout listening to this album, that many choruses simply take a lyrical phrase, and repeat it. It’s not the lyrics themselves that make this song distinct, but a mere combination of the melody and simplicity of the chorus…and Robinson‘s vocal abilities. The fourth track on the album “Could I’ve Been So Blind”, is an okay song. The chord structure in this upbeat track is commonly seen in blues music, and the piano usage is completely appropriate and appreciated. As previously mentioned, the lyrical repetition in the choruses of this track use the words, “Could I ever have been so blind?”. While lyrical repetition may not sound all that appealing, it’s smart because you will not soon forget the chorus.

The track, “Seeing Things” is one of the greatest songs on the album. It is heavily blues inspired and definitely falls into the southern rock classification. So much so that it sounds like a mixture of Lynard Skynard’s “Tuesday’s Gone” and Joe Cocker’s cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends”. “Seeing Things” is a well put together mixture of great lyric writing and musicality, both vocally and instrumentally. It has a distinct mellowness that is not found in many of their other tracks. “Hard to Handle” is the sixth track on the album, and my personal favorite. It’s a spunky rock tune that makes you a little giddy, something one never thinks possible when listening to music of this genre. This cover of Otis Redding’s 1968 single, does the album a great deal of justice and would likely make Redding proud. While the vocal melodies are quite similar to Redding’s, every now and then they throw up some changes that work to their advantage. The chorus lyrics are so fast and funky that it almost sounds like a bit of a tongue twister. There are different variations of the chorus, but an example would be, “Boys, they come a long a dime by the dozen, and that ain’t nothin’ but ten cent lovin’. Pretty little thing let me light your candle cause mama I’m sure hard to handle now”. Also, in this song you can find clever lyrics such as “I’m advertisin’ love for free so you can place your ad with me”. This song is light hearted and fun; a credit that is not only deserving to The Black Crowes, but also to the original writer/artist.

“Thick N’ Thin” is a fun, heavily blues inspired tune. It is fast paced and once again, guitar heavy, with strong piano additions. The lyrics are nothing too memorable, but the music itself is so rewarding to listen to. Throughout this song, especially true in the bridge, I almost feel like I’m listening to a Chuck Berry tune when little guitar riffs begin to stand out and crazy piano rolls are backing it up (something you might find in a song like Berry’s, “Johnny B Goode). A super popular hit on this album is the track titled, “She Talks to Angels”. The lyrics in this song are incredibly simple and down to earth and appears to deal with a girl and her problems. With lyrics like, “She paints her eyes as black as night now” and “She‘ll tell you she‘s an orphan after you meet her family”, the lyrics are not only more interesting than some of the tracks prior, but they’re relatable to the basic human emotion of pain, and are personally more striking. This song is slower, much like “Sister Luck” and again, invokes the use of the organ. The use of the organ adds so much dept to this song, it’s easy to understand why it was chosen.

While the ninth and tenth tracks on the album, “Struttin’ Blues” and “Stare It Cold” are nothing spectacular, they’re not terrible. Like other songs belonging to The Black Crowes, the organ is brought back for “Struttin‘ Blues“ , and while it works, there is again, nothing terribly distinctive about this song. On the other hand “Stare it Cold” has at least some distinctive elements in it’s makeup, including the ending of the song where it’s like an “organized chaos” breakdown. The chorus is also pretty easy to catch onto and sing along with, but personally, if I’m singing, I’ll want to tackle more than the chorus. While not a great song, it’s at least mostly entertaining for it’s 5:16 length. The last track on the album is titled, “Don’t Wake Me”, and it’s over before you even have a chance to get into it. At 1:08, it’s by far their shortest track, yet it’s still amusing. It is completely random and sounds like they went into an extremely acoustic bathroom to record it. I love it, though! While I probably would’ve chosen more of a dramatic finish for the album, it’s not a bad way to end it. Like I said, it’s amusing.

The Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker is a good album, but if you decide to add it to your auditory repertoire, do not make the mistake of thinking that every track on this album is a musical masterpiece, because if you do, you will be disappointed. However, I do feel like this album is a totally enjoyable and friendly blues inspired, southern rock album. If you like any of the credited artists sporadically mentioned throughout this review, or if you enjoy either blues or classic/southern rock, I would definitely recommend this album to you. It is nice to know that with the teen angst and grunge music that took over the 90’s, there was still a band out there who was able to hold tight to the ways of their musical predecessors and stick with the stuff that makes me happy to claim that I delight in The Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker.

Key Tracks
1. "Sister Luck"
2. "Seeing Things"
3. "Hard to Handle"
4. "Thick N' Thin"
5. "She Talks to Angels"
6 out of 10 stars

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Go News Go! - The Weekly News Recap

General

Photos

Tour Dates

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Top 5 Friday: My Five Favorite Songs From the 90's

Cale was very on point with his list of the 10 Most Embarrassing songs from the 1990's. Since this week was my turn to do the Top Five Friday list, I thought I'd rip a page from his book and show you the opposite side of that: My Five Favorite Songs from the 1990's.



5. "Enjoy the Silence" by The Depeche Mode: (1990) Just exactly how powerful can words be? Dave Gahan is basically telling you to enjoy the silence, because once you speak, you can't take back the things you say. Silence is a beautiful, beautiful thing and we have a tendency to ruin it with the things that should never come out of mouths. Also, the way it sounds is still sublime to me. The Horns, the synth, the chorus. "All I ever wanted, all I ever needed is here, in my arms..." It was, and still is, that album, one of my favorites to listen to in the dark.

4. "#1 Crush" by Garbage: (1996) "All real love is a form of obsession, if you love someone more than anything else, that degree of exclusivity requires an abnormal amount of passion and care. And that can be positive. It's just that keeping it short of unhealthy, short of violence, really requires a bit of moderation. You can't let something like that take over all of your thought processes." Shirley Manson on her oh-so-very-sexy song.

3. "Nothing But a G Thang" by Dr. Dre: (1992) Not only did it put West Coast rap on the map (there's a cheesy rhyme for you) it introduced us to West Coast G-Funk, Rap music flavored with the synthesised slow, heavy beat. It gave us White kids Gangster rap and thank God Dr. Dre did that, because I would have been lost without it. Dr. Dre opened my eyes to the violent, overtly sexual, mysogynist ways of the world and I am honestly all the better for it. He also, with this song, gave us Snoop Dogg. Come on, you know this song is ultra-catchy and when you hear it you turn it up, scrunching down in your seat just a little bit so you can feel the flow...

2. "Possession" by Sarah McLachlan: (1996) Another favorite from my "I like to listen to it in the dark" collection. It's all about desire, isn't it? About that dreadful yearning for someone we can't quite have. I know it's all about a stalker she had, but if you strip away that, it could really apply to base desire. Desire can be painful. It can also be pleasurable. You get the best of both worlds with this song.

1. "Lover, You Should've Come Over" by Jeff Buckley: (1995) "You go across the bridge traversing Mark Twain's muse and Jeff Buckley's funeral bed..." (from the movie Elizabethtown) Quite possibly one of the most beautiful, serene, heart breaking songs I've ever heard in my entire life.


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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Various Artists: Juno, Music from the Motion Picture


I am your typical quiet movie goer. (Wait. Quiet? Typical? Okay. Maybe not.) I don't take up a lot of space, I refrain from snacks that are loud, I don't ask every five minutes "What?" or "Why did he do that?" I am always there early and missing previews really makes me cranky. I even tip the waiter if it's a swankier-geared-towards-adults theater that serves coffee and booze. I am respectful of a darkened theater and the greatness (most times) of whatever is on the screen in front of me. I paid for it, after all, so why not enjoy it? With that said, this was me during Juno:

"Oh. My. God. Oh my god. This soundtrack is perfect. PERFECT." I think I said it about 90 times, but I'm not really sure as I stopped keeping track at 45. I'm not normally one to pay attention to a soundtrack unless it's key to the movie. (La Vie en Rose, for example.) Mostly I tune them out and forget about them. The oddest part? I proclaimed the Juno soundtrack to be perfect about ten minutes into the actual film, which I realize is a little bit of a premature assessment to make, but there was something about the music that made me feel like I was in for something incredibly special. I was right.

The songs on this soundtrack are not songs I would normally gush over. They aren't even musical choices I would make for myself. You wouldn't think I'd be drawn to this soundtrack at all seeing as how it's really sitting on the fringes of Classic Rock and I am, not at all, a Classic Rock person. (So much so, in fact, I won't listen to it at all, even though I do recognize the greatness of some of genre's more outstanding albums.) Quite simply, the music on this soundtrack really isn't my cup of tea, as it were, but I am drawn to them and that isn't because of the movie.

You also wouldn't think I'd be drawn to a soundtrack such as this one because, well, I am not an Indie music fan. I appreciate the Indie music scene and I think it's got some really great things going for it. The music of that particular genre doesn't appeal to me and, well, I freely admit I don't really give Indie music a fair chance for that fact. People keep telling me, and I keep reading, that the Juno soundtrack is perfect because it's the music today's kids would listen to. I have to respectively disagree...while that may be true for some kids, it's not true for all. In my own personal experience, it isn't the kids I know listening to this music, it's the Indie fans who turn a nose up to anything mainstream that listen to music like this. (Sorry. Opinion, remember.) It's "their" music and they are embracing it tightly, a concept I find amusing because typically, once the Indie crowd realizes something they love has gone mainstream, they drop it quickly and pretend it never existed. Or if it did, that it was only good when they listened to it and *only* then. Harsh? Perhaps, but in my opinion true, and that's a very sad opinion because there's so much goodness on this album that will be dismissed by a lot of its fans at some point here shortly.

They are witty, fun, simple song songs that come together to make a point: true love and it's heartaches are there. The soundtrack is as quirky as the film was and I am a big fan of quirkiness. This soundtrack frames so perfectly the giggling, the laughter, the teary-eyed moments you wouldn't expect. It truly is the soundtrack of a relationship, namely the one on-screen, but it could any relationship. There's something to Juno, the character, that is unspoken but the soundtrack helps her along; the music helps you realize that there's more to her and how she feels beyond the wise cracks, pop culture references, and the inconveniences of being pregnant. The music also does what music should do and that is form a bond between two people. Admittedly, that relationship was a bit suspect, but there was a bond over music between two completely different generations. The relationships build themselves and the music perfectly illustrates them.

Enough with the editorializing. Here are the reasons, why I love this soundtrack, start to finish:

"All I Want Is You" by Barry Louis Polisar: No kidding, I used to have a Fisher Price record player and this was one of the singles. I was totally into the kiddie music scene there for a bit (until I discovered Show Tunes, thank you.) and this song was a favorite. Imagine my surprise when it was the opening credits song. I thought it was the sweetest love song ever and sang it frequently to my animals, who really didn't get my undying affection for them. (Maybe they weren't into analogies?)

Kimya Dawson, who contributes the most to this soundtrack: There isn't much I can say about her...I don't exactly like her. I sort of feel like I'm listening to someone audition for American Idol (yes, yes, I watched it this week because it was on and I figured why not see what it's about? I won't make that mistake again, trust me.) who has some kind of talent but really needs to flesh it out before sharing it with the world. At first, I thought it was a man and upon researching it, I realized it was in fact a woman. I've been struggling to figure out why I do in fact like it; I realize I haven't given her the most thoughtful of words in the beginning, but I do like her. Her lyrics are very smart and sweet and snappy. They're bittersweet lyrics and I like that; "So Nice So Smart" is my new favorite break up song. What I realized as I was writing this was that her music is very child-like. Not immature, but playful. Fun. With an adult edge. And those qualities even further make them perfect.

There's a theme, of sorts, with the following songs and I didn't realize it until I was about to finish up this review. The songs "A Well Respected Man" (the Kinks), "Dearest" (Buddy Holly), "All the Young Dude" (Mott the Hoople), and "I'm Sticking With You" (The Velvet Underground) are all old(er) songs that sound as if they could have been recorded today. "A Well Respected Man" doesn't sound late 60's and it's joking about the 9 to 5 life is as valid now as it was 40 years ago. Buddy Holly's "Dearest" is short and sweet, a come back to me song with no over-the-top pleading. Did you know that Mott the Hoople's "All the Young Dudes" was written by David Bowie in 1971, his own personal effort to keep the band he loved so from breaking up? "I'm Sticking With You" by the Velvet Underground is just a toned down version of their usual creepy, stalkerish, amusing songs. They're all timeless, they're all freakishly perfect in their own ways, and they are basically the grandfather(s) to the Indie Rock that found it's way onto this album.

Then there's reason number 1 I love this album so: Sonic Youth's cover of the Carpenter's "Superstar". I am a Carpenter's fan; I admit it freely. Karen Carpenter had the most amazing voice ever, capable of evoking emotion I did not think possible. "Superstar" was a cover for The Carpenter's also but they were the ones that made it famous/popular. Sonic Youth took "Superstar" in 1994 and did what Sonic Youth does: distort it and turn it into this Rock masterpiece that is almost as good as The Carpenter's version. It's very edgy and sounds like it should be used for a grizzly killing scene in some Rob Zombie horror film and not in a teen dramedy about pregnancy. Thurston Moore makes me feel his pain and in the process probably created the best Sonic Youth song ever. (The Carpenter's version because it's a truly sublime song. Please. Compare. Don't be afraid of The Carpenter's.)







There are two short blip instrumentals ("My Roller Coaster" and "Up the Spout") that I could have done without, but they are nice transitions between songs. "Sea of Love" by Cat Power made me realize that while I've never been able to get into Cat Power she can do a cover song well. Almost how a cover song should be done; she manages to make it even more romantic than the original version. In fact, "Sea of Love" helped make the decision to listen to her new album, even though I was going to cast it aside and forget about it, so that's something there. I'd also never listened to Belle and Sebastian before and admittedly, for some reason, confused them with Coheed and Cambria. Don't ask me why. I was listening to "Expectations" and kept thinking "wow, doesn't sound like that screaming dude with the curly hair." They sound NOTHING alike and I don't even know how I confused the two at all, but imagine my surprise when I realized I was in fact wrong. I was embarrassed there for a moment because that's such a huge mistake to make. Needless to say, once I recovered, I started to enjoy even more the goodness that is "Expectations" and "Piazza, New York Catcher."

Winding down to the last few songs..."Vampire" by Antsy Pants makes me want to bounce up and down in time with the music. Antsy Pants, in this case, is the perfect way to describe how this song makes me feel. It's silly verging on downright stupid, but it's fun and playful. Then there's the two versions of "Anyone Else But You", one by The Moldy Peaches and one by Michael Cera and Ellen Page. If two people were going to sing to each a love song that sums up exactly how they feel, then "Anyone Else But You" is the song for them. I admit I took the Cera/Page version off the track listing for myself, simply because I didn't need to hear it twice. Not that I didn't like it, I do. I love how it works, easily conveying simple thoughts of true love and happiness with another person. I just like one version better than the other.

Let me sum it: some of the songs are witty, fun, and simple. I know I keep using that word, but what else are they? They are simple songs that are true and enchanting. Some of them, all of them maybe, are songs even the most tortured of souls can identify with and hold in a revered position. They are songs that in any other setting would seem oddly put together and I probably wouldn't listen to them in any other form. With that said: I'm quite glad I paid attention.

Key tracks:
1. "Superstar" by Sonic Youth
2. "Anyone Else But You" by The Moldy Peaches
3. "Vampire" by Antsy Pants
4. "So Nice So Smart" by Kimya Dawson
5. "Expectations" by Belle and Sebastian

8 out of 10 Stars

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Moods - Silly, In Need of Pep

Which comes first, the pep or the silly? Does the pep inspire the silly mood or does the silly mood inspire the pep? Or does something peppy make one want to act silly or does something silly make one want to act peppy?

According to good old Merriam:

Peppy:
1. Informal.
2. Energetic; vigorous; lively.
3. Full of or characterized by energy and high spirits; lively.
4. Marked by lively action

Silly:
1. Weak-minded or lacking good sense; stupid or foolish: a silly writer.
2. Absurd; ridiculous; irrational:
3. Exhibiting a lack of wisdom or good sense; foolish.
4. Lacking seriousness or responsibleness; frivolous

Picture it, if you will, a six-year-old me. Granted, you don't know how I look, but let me paint you a picture: average six-year-old height, dark blonde turning to brunette hair with curls that rivaled Shirley Temple's, freckles, a very smart-alecky attitude. Always in pigtails thanks to Cindy Brady, glasses, really rocked candy necklaces and overalls, usually barefoot, and ready to
perform a song for you at the drop of a hat. Six-year-old me knew I couldn't sing. At all. Shouldn't sing. Oh, but I did. In the tub, going to sleep, in the backseat of the car; pretty much anywhere I could perform I was going to. Six-year-old me always had a song ready to share and I frequently shared them, believe me. If I could find a moment to show off my skills, I wouldn't hesitate to do so.

I know you wonder what six-year-old me sang. You've got this mental picture of a perfectly adorable six-year-old, curls and all, ready to belt out a tune at the drop of a hat, but you've got no sound. You've got no tune for the girl in your head. I know, as you read this, you're mentally running through the list of various songs I could be...performing. Gospel? Country? Punk or New Wave? Disco? Folk? Blues? Rock? Was she belting out Beatles tunes, you wonder, following them up with some Rolling Stones or some Willie Nelson? Was she pretending to be Aretha Franklin or Donna Summer? Was she Earth, Wind, and Fire? Michael Jackson doing Thriller?

No. No. No. No. And no.

Six-year-old me liked to PERFORM. I liked to put on a show. No costumes, my cuteness was great enough. I didn't even use a fake microphone, I was that confident in my performance skills. I didn't need it. I just needed some lyrics and every so often, some dance moves. I liked to PERFORM, whether it be for my family or my friends or myself in front of the bathroom mirror. There was something so sassy about getting out of the tub with wet hair giving myself an Oscar worthy performance while brushing out tangles. I'm sorry. Tony Award worthy performance, because, well, that's right, six-year-old me LOVED Show Tunes.

Yes. Show Tunes. I frequented the soundtrack section of my father's LP collection. I would stay up really late watching old movie musicals, over and over again. I learned lyrics. I learned dance moves. Sometimes I learned entire dance numbers. I cleared furniture to make sure I had enough room to do the strip act from Gypsy. (A feat that managed to get me barred from watching that movie again until I was 12. It wasn't like I took my clothes off, I argued, after-all, Gypsy Rose Lee just stood behind a curtain for God's sake. But my mother? She wasn't having it.) I formed a love early on of movie musicals, of musicals in general. Even now, as an adult, I can tell you whatever it is you'd like to know about them, especially those great MGM musicals of the 50's.

Gypsy, Mame, Oklahoma, Pirates of Penzance, and South Pacific. Oh. Wicked, Les Miserables, Kiss Me Kate, Carousel. 1776, Annie Get Your Gun (I was so hardcore with my version of "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better".) West Side Story, Ragtime, The Fantasticks, Caberet, Chicago, Damn Yankees. The King and I, Little Shop of Horrors, A Chorus Line, Hair Spray, The Wiz...I could go on and on about my love of musicals. They make me happy.

My most favorite of them all? Guys and Dolls. Whether it be the movie version with a bumbling Marlon Brando as Sky Masterson and Vivian Blaine as Miss. Adelaide or the stage version with Nathan Lane trying to channel Sinatra, it is the one I hold near and dear to my heart. I always wondered, would I make a better Miss. Adelaide or a better Sergeant Sarah Brown? No matter, I know both their parts to be either one whenever the whim strikes me.


So, because I've been in the need of something to pull me out of my funk, I share with you my own personal play list, straight off my iPod..."Silly and Peppy and Oh-My-God Snap Out of It Already." I know every word and every note. I know exactly what they look like when performed and yes, I even know the dance moves to "Gotta Have a Gimmick" from Gypsy. Even now as an adult, you'll occasionally find me pulling the six-year-old me out of the closet and giving myself a performance of a life time.

As always, I don't expect you to fall down liking my personal play list, but do give it a shot. You never know what unexpected gem inside of it might inspire you to do a little dance right there at your desk. There's nothing wrong with being silly on occasion, you know...


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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Video of the Week - Week 55

In anticipation of next week's release of Bedlam in Goliath, the new album from The Mars Volta, I've decided to show all of you what they used to sound like before they started placing instrumentational freakouts above vocal melodies and good sense. Enjoy!



"L'Via L'Viaquez" by The Mars Volta, from the album, Frances the Mute.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Johnathan Rice: "Further North"

It's pretty hard for me to imagine that "originality" was one of Johnathan Rice's goals when writing and recording Further North. When listening to his cookie cutter lyrics and completely unchallenging compositions and melodies, one can't help but feel that it all sounds a bit too familiar. Not that familiarity is always a terrible thing. When you're an established artist with a proven foundation of music to work with, familiarity can be exactly what fans want to hear. But when you're a generally unheard of and unproven artist, familiarity starts to sound a lot more like imitation, and that's where I stop taking you seriously as an artist.

Album opener, "We're All Stuck Out In The Desert" reveals what will grow to be a recurring problem for Further North. The song is both repetitive and uninteresting. Rarely do any of the songs on the album deviate from the standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus structure. In keeping with that simplicity, Rice seems absolutely opposed to deviating from his simple vocal melody. Therefore, when each verse or chorus comes by, you know exactly what to expect. There is no ad-libbing, nothing that would even hint at the slightest bit of creativity in the recording session. It's all very unsurprising and uninteresting.

Lyrics can also be a problem on Further North. A lot of the times it seems as if the lyrics for any given song were written in small parts and then pasted together at the end. They feel choppy and disconnected rather than fluid and natural. Of course a lot of this can be attributed to the one and only Jenny Lewis, whom Rice happens to be dating (so that's why this album exists!). She is credited with co-writing 6 of the 11 songs on Further North. Parts of her lyrical quirkiness can be found in various places on the album. Whether it's the fictional snapping of a business man's neck or the simple command to "Leave me the hell alone," her influence is pretty clear.



And while there's plenty to be underwhelmed about with Further North, there's also a few things that folks can enjoy. The first half of the album, in particular, is fairly catchy and features several songs that could easily be road trip sing-alongs for many listeners. "The End of the Affair" is a pretty solid duet with Jenny and Johnathan trading off on lyrics, and her voice is perfectly suited to the southern alternative rock sound that soaks up the album. Likewise, "The Middle of the Road" is a somewhat well-written song even if I can't help thinking that there's no one else better suited to be singing about how it's a "Long, long way to the middle."

In the end though, Further North is a decidedly average album from an artist that shows promise and has talent but fails to give us a single legitimate reason to listen to him. He consistently switches between imitating Conor Oberst and Art Alexakis, and he winds up just sounding worse than either of them. Despite my disappointment with Further North, I'm glad to have listened to Johnathan Rice, and I hope that he opts for originality the next time he steps into a studio. For the time being though, I can't help but long for something more from Rice. And that is a never the impression that you'd like to make as an artist.

Recommended for fans of Everclear, the band...not the drink (of course drinking a lot of everclear may help you enjoy the album more).

Key Tracks:
1. "We're All Stuck Out In the Desert"
2. "End of the Affair"
3. "The Middle of the Road"
4. "THC"
5. "The Ballad of King Coyote"

5 out of 10 Stars

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Monday, January 21, 2008

myspace music monday: Hanne Kolstö

It's always a hassle trying to find a good artist to post for myspace music monday. Generally speaking, I don't browse artists in the United States for two reasons: 1, they suck, and 2, they sound like every other crappy American band. So on today's stroll through the not-so-wonderful world of myspace, I came across a fairly unique and talented artist from Norway. Her name is Hanne Kolstö.


Hanne Kolstö

Now the strange thing about this week's artist is that she's not really a solo artist as much as she is a singer that does a lot of work with different bands and groups. She does, however, have her own myspace page, and this is how I came across her. So what I'll do here is direct you to her best songs, across several pages, and hopefully you'll find something to enjoy. I know I have!


Songs
The first song you should definitely check out is a song called, "A Long Way," on her own myspage page. The song begins very softly. Hanne's voice is strong, very commanding, but at the same time smooth and chilling. She sings, "He walks a mile to see her smile, to wake up with her by his side," over what sounds like an accordian or harmonium. By the time the first chorus is over, more instrumentation has seeped it's way into the song. Looming synths, and electronic flutters blend perfectly with a deep, thudding bass and techno strings. Horns swell gently in the background before leading a soothing interlude. It is an absolutely stunning song! I'm so disappointed that I can't download it, because it really is beautiful in several ways.

Song two is from her work with an electronic group called POST. It's called "LINK." Here she alternates between singing in a slightly jazzy tone and a straightforward, uninteresting voice. Her voice works well with the production of the song, though there are one or two moments where she seems to overpower everything else going on. I guess that's just to be expected though with a voice like hers. The song's coda is pretty forgettable. It's as if the group couldn't find a decent way to end the song, so they just started making a bunch of noise for a few minutes. Pretty poor.

"Broken" is another POST song, but this time the electronics are much more minimal. Hanne's voice is absolutely charming here, singing, "One day I'll be broken. Hope you can fix me." There are very slight synth bells working behind everything else, and it makes a delicate, but gorgeous sound. The bridge rolls around with a distorted synth lead, and for a while I was worried that they'd once again venture into noise-pop territory. Fortunately, they restrain themselves and the song never runs away with energy or poppiness. The fact that this is actually a live track is nothing short of amazing! It sounds perfect!

The final song you should listen to is called "Let You," and it's really very cool sounding. It's from a demo she recorded with another group named Love:Fi. Hanne's voice hovers somewhere in between Shara Worden and Bjork over very airy and raw instrumentation. The electronic instrumentation, once again is very subtle, yet cool, and utterly flawless. By the end of the song she's finally broken out of her shell, singing triumphantly over a raw electric guitar and pounding drums. Surprisingly, her voice is just as good here as it is anywhere else and it really displays her range as a vocalist. Hear for yourself.



Conclusion
I am 100%, absolutely blown away by Hanne's talent as a vocalist. Though the groups she associates with are sometimes a little less than complimentary, they are far from terrible and still above mediocre. Of all the artists I've yet to cover on myspace music monday, Hanne Kolstö is the best I've yet to hear! I really do hope that I hear her voice somewhere down the road and recognize it immediately. Surely, I wouldn't be surprised if something like that happened. She's that cool, that unique!


Links
Hanne's myspace Page
Love:Fi's myspace Page
POST's myspace Page
Shogun's myspace Page (More traditional rock music...also very cool)

As always, if you have an artist in mind for myspace music monday, leave me a comment below and I'll check them out.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Aqualung: "Strange and Beautiful"


In 2006, I remember sitting in the bedroom, and out of complete boredom, flipping the television to MTV (a mistake that I very rarely repeat). Out of the five minutes of watching, I happened to see a commercial for a new album and a relatively new artist. The album, Strange and Beautiful. The artist, Aqualung. The 20 second long commercial clip had a musical hook that made me want to hear more from Aqualung, and eventually, I gave in. I found that.Aqualung’s Strange and Beautiful is a hypnotic album that half resembles a lounge act with his vocals and piano, and half resembles a solo experimentation with a bunch of pre-recorded instruments and drum loops. Despite the heavy use of pre-recorded files in his music, the album definitely gets my respect as a good album. It’s peaceful where it needs to be, cheerful where it needs to be, and overall, is a positive album that I feel like many would enjoy.

The first track on this album, “Strange and Beautiful (I’ll put a spell on you)” opens up with a steady drum loop and then brings in some piano melodies as he begins to softly sing. What I love about this song is the magical feel is possesses. Not only with some of the music/sounds but the lyrics in this song take on the same tone. In the verses of the song, he gently describes this girl…how he’s watching her, how she’s way out of his league, and how she doesn’t even notice him, so what does he do? He decides he’s going to figuratively take matters into his own hands. “I’ll put a spell on you. You’ll fall asleep and I’ll put a spell on you, and when I wake you I’ll be the first thing you see, and you’ll realize that you love me”, he lightly voices. Indeed, the lyrics sound a bit hokie, but the song in its entirety says otherwise. It is not your typical, “please, please fall for me” type of song. It has appropriate maturity to it.

“Falling Out of Love”, the album’s second track has a definite lounge feel to it from the moment you hear the introductory notes. Then, as Aqualung begins to describe his actions/emotions/thoughts, he ever-so-gently continues down the path of mellowness. This song is lyrically short, though due to its speed, feels way longer than you’d initially anticipate. While this song is enjoyable to me, I don’t believe there is not much meat to it (notice I don’t use the word “depth” out of respect to the artist’s work). The lyrics are not too memorable or variant for that matter, but it’s a decent song nonetheless.

So, mini-me called, and he wants his little metallic sounding piano back. Yeah, it’s a bit different sounding than the first two tracks, but “Good Times Gonna Come” fails to deliver. He opens up with what truly sounds like a miniature, metal, piano and his normal “life moves slowly” voice. While things get a bit more interesting musically, it’s not enough of a change to make the listener become hopeful. There are so many things that I don’t like about this song, it’s hard to label them all, so alas, I will list a few: mini-me’s piano, uninteresting drum loops, perplexing lyrics and some bad mixes. The first two are self explanatory. Here’s a sample of some verse lyrics, “You came from no-where with nothing and no one, hold tight, hold tight, hold tight. Goes to show you never really know, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright.” What the heck does that even mean? I guess he intended to be the sole interpreter. As for the mix, during the chorus, it’s hard to even determine the words he using, much less their meaning, because the mix is extremely heavy on the distortion. It’s simply not his best track.

On that note, by the time “Brighter than Sunshine” comes around, you are almost internally begging for a change…and you’re not being persnickety. Suddenly, the heavens open up; you hear a chorus of angels, and the first Aqualung song that you’re, without a doubt, proud to claim as something you’ve listened to. This song has a catchy, piano chord structure, good use of strings, improved lyrics, and finally, an element of surprise! While this song starts out rather slow and mellow, there’s a distinct pause in music that is proceeded with a steady drum beat and a track that’s beginning to pick up in intensity as guitars are added to the mix. The lyrics in this track are delightfully cheerful and good spirited. This song actually gives hope to the thoughts of love. The lyrics confidently proclaim, “What a feeling in my soul! Love burns brighter than sunshine. Let the rain fall, I don’t care. I’m yours and suddenly you’re mine, and it’s brighter than sunshine!” My opinion is that it’s overall his best track and I definitely see why that was the track they chose to expose on the MTV plug.

“Breaking My Heart” is also leaps and bounds better than the third track. There are some different things going on in this track that give it a nice edge and I believe, would also appeal to Coldplay fans. Aqualung chooses to introduce many new sounds in this track which ultimately work to its advantage. By this point on the album, the listener has realized that he is very biblical in his writing in that he repeats things multiple times, perhaps to stress its importance. Example, “You’re breaking my heart, breaking my heart, breaking my heart again. Don’t ask me to stop, ask me to stop, ask me to stop again.” Although lyrically repetitive, this track certainly pulls you in and leaves wondering what lies in store next.

At first glance, the album’s sixth track, “Tongue-Tied” doesn’t appear to be too special, but when you pause to examine it, you see the many good elements working with him. It begins with subtle but desirable music as his voice enters in parallel octaves, giving the track more heft; a technique he uses throughout the song. Also in this track, Aqualung takes more risks where melodies, harmonies and chord progressions are concerned. This track provides a multitude of unexpected surprises, including the preceding mentioned. The lyrics are nothing to write anywhere about, but the rest leaves little to be desired. Right up until the end of the song, you’re like, “Really? Why that? Why there? I’m surprised I like it, but I do.”

You’ll have to take my word about the last 5 songs on this album. They’re all extremely mellow, but good things do happen and there are more surprises including a harpsichord in the last track and a Coldplay/Bono-esque song used in a Chrysler commercial. Aqualung will provide you with a majority album of noteworthy, yet nearly sedating tracks. His soft, smooth voice and fascinating musical choices make the album worth listening to, but don’t listen to this album expecting a lyrical casserole, because it won’t happen. It’s a good album to listen to if you’ve got nowhere to be in a hurry.

Key Tracks
1. "Strange and Beautiful"
2. "Falling Out of Love"
3. "Brighter Than Sunshine"
4. "Breaking My Heart"
5. "Tongue-Tied

7 out of 10 Stars

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Go News Go! - The Weekly News Recap

General

Tour Dates
Photos

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Friday, January 18, 2008

The 10 Most Embarassing Songs From the 1990s

It's a love hate sort of thing. I did the majority of my growing up in the 90s, so I have kind of a soft spot for a lot of the music that came out during that decade. Then there are other songs that you liked at the time, but won't admit to today. That's what this list is all about. Are you embarassed now for having liked a song back then? Do you look back thinking, "How did I like that?" Well, we all feel that way. In fact, when compiling this list, I had more than just the normal Top 5 that I normally do. The 90s were that bad. So I did a little something special. What follows are the 10 Most Embarassing Songs from the 1990s.

#10: "U Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer - That's right folks. The song that made MC Hammer a star is just too corny and bad to ignore. Keep in mind that this song wouldn't be half as embarassing as it actually is if it weren't for that damned video and those freakin' parachute pants. That just screams early 90s overkill! But as bad as this song is, I can't put it any lower than #10 for the simple fact that nostalgia will not permit me to. But I wish it would.

#9: "One Week" by Barenaked Ladies - Remember when this song was cool? When everyone you knew, including yourself, went around trying to figure out what the hell this guy was saying? And then when you found out, it was all kind of stupid. "The chicken from China. The Chinese chicken." Really? That's what you're saying? Really? How dumb were we? This song was everywhere and you couldn't get away from it. The only thing good that came from this song was it being followed (and beat down) by Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" in 10 Things I Hate About You. That was kinda classic.

#8: "Tubthumping" by Chumbawumba - You can't very well have a song about embarassing 90s song without including Chumbawumba. Besides having a ridiculous name, a stupid album cover, and dumb lyrics; Chumbawumba was just overplayed into oblivion. Because when you think about it, there were way worse songs than "Tubthumping" in the 90s, but that doesn't make you want to admit that you liked it. It was cool for all of a month...and then everybody (EV ER EE BAWD EE) hated it. I say it's perfectly justified.

#7: "Waterfalls" by TLC - Okay, I know TLC isn't that bad of a group and I know Lisa Lopes is dead and I should probably pay respect to her by not ripping on the group's #1 song, but damn this song is stupid! Take a breather and just read the lyrics to the chorus of this song. "Don't go chasin' waterfalls. Please stick to the rivers and lakes that you're used to." WTF? How is that a metaphor for drug use or unsafe sex? Stick to rivers and lakes? Why? What do they represent? Please tell me because I'd really like to know! The ultimate tragedy is that very few people have actually figured out just how stupid this song really is. VH1 it at #8 on their 100 Greatest Songs of the 90s. But that's VH1, the network that brought you Rock of Love: With Brett Michaels.

#6: "Wannabe" by The Spice Girls - F***. This. S***. I can't believe I still remember every single lyric to this wretched piece of music.

#5: "With Arms Wide Open" by Creed - How did we ever like Creed? I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I can't figure it out. Scott Stapp is so bad, so deliberately masculine with his vocals. The lyrics are so straightforward and unsurprising. The music is decidedly bland. What is it that ever attracted us to Creed? Was it just that we were young and ill-informed on what good music sounds like? I just can't figure it out. "With Arms Wide Open" is perhaps Creed's most popular, and yet worst song ever. And remember, the band also brought us "What If," so that's saying a lot.

#4: "Livin' La Vida Loca" by Ricky Martin - I honestly can't remember whether or not I was ever actually in to Ricky Martin, or if he was just so...everywhere...that it seemed like I did. What I do remember, however, is seeing him perform at the Grammy's and having every major news outlet referring to him as part of the "Latin Invasion." Why? His music wasn't really latin? What, does shaking your ass and replacing an English word with a Spanish one every now and then make your music latin? Last I checked it didn't. It just made it stupid.

#3: "Thong Song" by Sisqo - Honestly, you know that numbers 1 and 2 have to be bad to beat out "Thong Song" for the top spot on the list. This song is so bad, so blatantly offensive (not to mention gross), that it just begs to forgotten. This song was huge in the Summer of 69 99, and by the summer of 2000 I can't think of very many people who would've been caught dead listening to it. Maybe a stupid high-school dance DJ or Sisqo himself....but that's about it.

#2: "Mambo No. 5" by Lou Bega - I don't think expounding is really necessary on this one. It's "Mambo No. 5" folks. It's badness is pretty self-explanatory.

#1: "Gettin' Jiggy With It" by Will Smith - Is there any song from the 1990s that is more embarassing than "Gettin' Jiggy With It?" The thing about the rest of this list is that these songs were cool once. This song was never cool. Never. That doesn't mean you didn't like it. No. You loved it! You ate this crap up! You got out on the dance floor, threw your hands in the air, and sang "Na na na na na na na" just like everybody else. The sad thing is that you knew it was bad. You just couldn't help yourself. These days things are different though. I think we all can take a step back and objectively say that "Gettin' Jiggy With It" is a god-awful song. I'd like to meet the person who doesn't think that. Even Will Smith would say, "Damn, what was I thinking?" Then he'd accidentally fall into one of his pools of money and say "...Oh Yeah!"

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Moods - Bittersweet


Here's the thing. I pick my mood for this column based on how I feel when I sit down to write it. I don't really think about how I feel because sometimes that's just too much to deal with. I open up my handy list of moods, one of my many dictionaries, and I find the word that works for how I feel. Then I reach for the iPod and find the songs that fit. There's a lot of skipping tracks involved in that phase, because I know within seconds if a song is going to fit with how I feel. From that I make a list and from that list a play list for you, and we end up here, where you entertain me by reading my humble little opinions.

Why is she telling me this, you wonder. Simple: because I'm adding something to the definition portion of my Mood's feature. You're going to get a dictionary definition (hey, knowledge is power) and then a personal defintion. It might be a quote, a photo, a very brief retelling of something in my life. Whatever it is, it'll be personal and most likely the reason why I'm in the mood I'm in. I have always assigned certain songs to certain things in my head and those things effect my mood sometimes. How can I write and create a Moods playlist if there isn't a better reason behind it? They might be silly, they might be sad, they might be...whatever...and while I might not want to offer explanation for it, I can assure you I wouldn't be sharing it if it didn't dictate how I felt.

I know my mood isn't your mood, but sometimes, we share experiences. Sometimes we have certain instances that are similar. Sometimes my mood might effect yours and vice versa. I won't be sharing the Jill Dictionary with you every Moods post, but when I do, I hope you take something from it.

So, getting on it with it:

This week's Mood: Bittersweet

As defined by Webster's, Bittersweet means:

1. both bitter and sweet to the taste
2. both pleasant and painful or regretful
3. Also called woody nightshade. a climbing or trailing plant, Solanum dulcamara, of the nightshade family, having small, violet, star-shaped flowers with a protruding yellow
center and scarlet berries.
4. Also called climbing bittersweet. any climbing plant of the genus Celastrus, bearing orange capsules opening to expose red-coated seeds, esp. C. scandens.
5. pleasure mingled with pain or regret

Of course, we're going with No.'s 2 and 5. To make it more applicable to the Jill definition, a quote: "I don't know what it is about you, but I'm in love with you. I think about you everyday and what our lives would be like if we could only be in the same room at the same time. It's how it's suppose to be when two people come together."

And for my bittersweet mood, a play list:





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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Video of the Week -- Week 54


The more I listen to 100 Days, 100 Nights I am convinced that I didn't give it the spot on my review(s) list that it deserved.

This video helped convince me that I did in fact make a grievous error in rating it. It's perfect for the feel and look of the album. Sharon Jones does in fact sing the way people should, from the heart, and well, this video makes me really, really happy.

Give it a whirl...it might make you happy too.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Magnetic Fields: "Distortion"

The Magnetic Fields have been around for the better part of two decades, keeping fans happy by releasing albums every couple of years. Distortion comes to us a little less than 4 years after the band's previous album, i. Both i and its predecessor, 69 Love Songs, were concept albums, wrapped around a basic idea. It should come as no surprise then that Distortion follows in much the same way. Though there is no thematic ribbon that ties the songs together, the actual album is in fact a mess of distortion and feedback.

It's an odd thing to hear on a Magnetic Fields album. As a band who has made a name for themselves by making stately and generally straightforward music, something as raw and dirty as distortion seems like a mismatch. Surprisingly though, this new element allows the band to explore some previously uncharted territory. 60s pop is the clear sound that Stephin Merritt and his bandmates are going for this time around, with driving and repetitive guitar lines that are catchy in and of themselves. Album opener, "Three-Way," for example, makes for enjoyable song despite the fact that Merritt's trademarked lyrical wit never makes an appearance. It is, rather, guitars, drums, and keyboards that make the song as enjoyable as it is. It is here that we're first greeted with what Distortion promotes with it's title; a decidedly lo-fi sound with blaring mids and a consistent layer of distortion and feedbacking guitars below the music itself.

Despite it being the theme of the album, however, it is also my least favorite part. While songs like "California Girls" and "Please Stop Dancing" undoubtedly benefit from this aesthetic, others like "Old Fools" would seem better suited to a more traditional Magnetic Fields sound. It's kind of a double-edged sword. Just when you hear a song that you absolutely adore, you're greeted with another that just doesn't seem to fit. Even Stephin Merritt, with all his theatrics, seems somewhat out of place on an album as loud and messy as this. And it is, perhaps, for this reason that the album's better moments are sung, not by Merritt, but by Shirley Simms (who can also be heard on past Magnetic Fields albums).

But that itself is more of a minor annoyance than anything else. Despite the fact that some songs don't benefit from the distortion as many others do, each song on Distortion is undeniably catchy and worth listening to. "California Girls" takes a unabashed beach rock riff and turns it into a funny, catchy song. Shirley Simms sings of the subjects, "They breathe coke and they have affairs with each passing rock star." It is not only one of the better tracks on the album, but also the first song you'll undoubtedly find yourself singing along to. "Please Stop Dancing" finds Merritt and Simms trading off on vocals, and the song's steady rhythm just begs for a good toe-tapping or head-bobbbing.

"Drive On, Driver" is a touching, and still catchy ballad sung once again by Simms. The melody is beautifully written, and will definitely please most listeners. "Too Drunk To Dream" is classic Magnetic Fields, and Merritt's shining moment on the album. The beginning of the song cleverly examines the way things always seem better when you're drunk. It's absolutely hysterical. He later sings (in his typical theatrical manner), "I've gotta get too drunk to dream cause dreaming only makes me blue," in what is sure to be yet another sing-along favorite.



Overall, the album is pretty enjoyable and a clear step up from the disappointment that was i. Though Stephen Merritt really takes a back seat to Shirley Simms, Distortion is no less enjoyable because of it. If you can get past all the blaring noise that is consistently going on in the background and deal with the abnormally high mids, I'm convinced that most anybody can find something to enjoy on this album. For fans of Magnetic Fields, it is an absolute must buy. For everyone else, it comes highly recommended.

Key Tracks:
1. "Three-Way"
2. "California Girls"
3. "Please Stop Dancing"
4. "Too Drunk to Dream"
5. "The Nun's Litany"

7 out of 10 Stars

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Monday, January 14, 2008

myspace music monday: Bicycles and Gravel

So, funny story. Today at around 1:30pm I have a choice to make. I can either sit down and write this week's myspace music monday, or I can go on a bike ride. Well it was 65 degrees and blue skies around that time, so I chose the latter. I return home at around 2:30, only to find that I locked myself out of the house. I then proceed to spend the next four hours out in the increasingly cold weather in nothing but a t-shirt and shorts (because my cell phone is inside too and neighbors aren't home) until someone can let me in the house. That's why I'm a little late with today's update. And that's also why I happened to choose the following band.


Bicycles and Gravel

Bicycles and Gravel is a unique little indie band from the mecca of indie music, Athens, GA. Their music is very raw, but at the same time not too messy for it to be enjoyable. At times they can sound like Built to Spill. Other times, they pop it up a bit and can sound completely unique. Either way, the band has a very refreshing sound, and it makes for a very interesting listen.


Songs
The first song on the band's page is called "Good Mornings." The song is bookended by two extended ambient sections made up of a few low-fi conversational recordings and looming synths. It's a very cool sound, though it does run a bit long in the outro. Once the song proper starts, you'll get a better idea of what you're going to be hearing (aside from the Godspeed You Black Emperor-esque stuff). Vocals are really hit or miss and unabashedly amateur, but it hardly matters in the context of this joyful and hopeful song. When the vocalist sings, "Let's get back to what matters here," it hardly effects you. But then it's repeated again and again like a mantra, and it starts to sink in. It's a beautiful sentiment, accentuated by the simple, yet beautiful instrumentation.

"Hold On" is a much more different song, with more assertive drumming and a completely off the wall trumpet that completely steals the show. The dense instrumentation eventually drops out, giving way to group vocals (think Polyphonic Spree) and hand claps. They sing, "The weather couldn't have been better to take flight. So climb on my back and hold on. The air is so thin. Your lungs will get used to it." As soon as that line is uttered, the song again comes crashing on us (literally, crash cymbals are used very effectively here). It's an awesome song. Listen for yourself.



The next song, "Lighthouse," is pretty forgettable. The band tones things down for the first time and when everyone is subdued, the vocals become less forgivable. It is worth noting, however, that there the song's coda is filled with guitars that make the band sound a little like Built to Spill. Don't get too excited. You can definitely tell the difference, but there are bits and pieces of it in there.

"A Song for Rooftops" keeps things at a slow pace. The lyrics take center stage here as everything else remains peripheral for the most part. The vocalist's voice once again takes its toll, cracking and struggling to hold any note that's out of his limited range. At the same time, though, he seems to be channeling early Wayne Coyne; embracing the badness and parading forward. I don't know if I agree with the choice or not, but the song itself ain't bad. There is a definite difference between a flawed singer who embraces his flaws and one that pretends they aren't there. This guy seems to have figured that out pretty well.

"Where Songs Go To Hide" wraps things up with another slower-paced song, albeit a poppier one than its predecessors. It's lyrics are unusual, if not brilliant. In the mother of all run-on sentences, the vocalist sings, "A spider has crawled on arm, and inched its way into my ear, and spun its way in, and poisoned all of my thoughts and left its cobwebs there to rot, and left me with no brain." The song reminds me a lot of "Bad Days" by The Flaming Lips, which I've always had a soft spot for despite its awfulness.


Conclusion
It's clear to me that I prefer Bicycles and Gravel a lot more when they're rocking out and not succumbing to their folksier side. The band has a lot of talent spread out, but the vocals will need a bit more work before I go ahead and give them a full endorsement (as if they care). But for the time being, there are some good songs to be found on their myspace page. And if you like the sample I've provided, please go check it out and support their music.

Links
Bicycles and Gravel's myspace page
The Branch Collection
Buy the God Don't Like Poetry EP
Another Opinion

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