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Friday, February 29, 2008

The Top 5 Muse Songs

From time to time I'll just be completely lost as to what to make my biweekly Top 5 list about. When such a thing occurs, I typically just pick a random artist and then list their top 5 songs. Sounds simple right? It is! That's why today I've decided to list the Top 5 Muse Songs. Enjoy.

#5: "Shine Acoustic" from the album, Hullabaloo Soundtrack - Muse has always been a band with fantastic range. They are able to rock out amongst the best of them, and still make some of the best ballads in modern rock; sometimes in the same song! "Shine Acoustic" is one of the band's better ballads and was featured on the live/compilation album Hullabaloo Soundtrack. Matt's voice croons in a piercing falsetto over some frantically-played acoustic guitars and organ synths, pleading, "Please don't break my idea!" There's a little bit of moodiness in there as well, as the sound of thunder and raindrops can be heard throughout. It's a rarely-heard song, but it is one of their best.

#4: "Butterflies and Hurricanes" from the album, Absolution - Absolution is definitely my favorite Muse album, and one of the best albums in recent memory. This song is my favorite "heavy" song on the album. Matt sings, "Best, you've got to be the best. You've got to change the world and use this chance to be heard. Your time is now," while piano keys are forcefully clanked down, a mini-orchestra flutters in the background, and drums and guitars are absolutely chaotic! Halfway through, the song winds down and what sounds like a well-composed reprise is actually just an interlude. Before you have time to take it all in, the band is once again rocking out at full force. I love this song because it's so different and it's always changing. I'm sure you will too.

#3: "New Born" from the album, The Origin of Symmetry - I always knew that "New Born" was a great song, but it wasn't until I saw it paired with the French horror film, "High Tension," that I realized just how awesome it could be. The song comes in during a scene in which the victim suddenly decided to turn things around and become the hunter, and the usage of this song is highly effective. Like a lot of Muse songs (too many, in fact) it begins with a piano arpeggio before tearing that same arpeggio a new one with the unruly might of pure rock! As far as Matt's vocals go, I don't think they've ever sounded better than they do on this one. Everything is perfectly played and executed, and at 6 minutes long, you'll be well-entertained throughout.

#2: "Blackout" from the album, Absolution - It took me a while before I figured out how great of a song "Blackout" really was. As one of the few ballads on Absolution, it sometimes felt out of place or weird. But after a year or two, it finally dawned on my how beautiful this song really is. It tells of a love that "is too good to last," and as Matt poignantly adds "I'm too young to care." By the time the last verse rolls around he's crying it at the top of his lungs over brooding strings and a steady jazz kit. It truly is a heartbreaking song, and undoubtedly on of their best! I also featured it on my Top 20 Songs About Love list a few months back. You know, in case you're interested.

#1: "Citizen Erased" from the album, The Origin of Symmetry - For some strange reason, Muse has always been compared to Radiohead. I can't possibly imagine why. Their style of music is entirely different, and while Thom and Matt share similar vocal qualities, they're often utilized in different ways. However, I have always found myself comparing "Citizen Erased," my favorite Muse song, to "Paranoid Android," my favorite song. They don't really sound all that similar, but each song takes the listener on a journey, and when it ends, you find yourself wanting to experience all over again! It's my favorite for that reason, and also because it goes from balladry to rock-goddotry effortlessly and quite amazingly! I've probably listened to this one hundreds of times in my lifetime, and I still love every single moment of it.

Below is a playlist containing all 5 of these songs. And for those wondering why I left out two of their albums, well, I just didn't like the songs as much. Makes sense right?

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Moods - Brooding

A little poetry:

My heart is sad, my hopes are gone,
My blood runs coldly through my breast;
And when I perish, thou alone
Wilt sigh above my place of rest.

"An Wilt Thou Weep When I Am Low?" by Lord Byron, 1808

Brooding, as defined by Websters:

1. preoccupied with depressing, morbid, or painful memories or thoughts
2. cast in subdued light so as to convey a somewhat threatening atmosphere

Brooding isn't something I do often. I personally prefer to ignore whatever thoughts I have in my head and to push them so far back into a place in my mind where they virtually don't exist. I let them fester there until they either make me sick with stress, go away, or work themselves out. Brooding is dwelling and I don't really like to dwell, but alas it happens. I have always associated brooding with poets like Lord Byron and D.H. Lawrence who appeared to be overwrought and depressed with some unknown event in their past. That somehow makes the process a masculine thing, when really, brooding is for everyone. While it doesn't feel ladylike and genteel, it is a process for those who can't forgive others, who let their problems weigh them down, and who certainly can't forgive themselves for any wrong doing.

It is a process for those of us who like to punish ourselves in fantastic mental ways.

You can brood about a million things, from the lover who cheated on you to the type of shoes to wear with today's outfit to the time you were 5 and shoplifted a pack of gum while your mother was grocery shopping. You can work yourself into a frenzy over death, over taxes, over the moment you screwed up your first kiss. You can hurt yourself over and over again with the pain of hurting someone you love, the loss of breaking a favorite tea cup, or that time you didn't stop to help someone in need that always stuck with you. You can mull over the flaws you hate about yourself, the horrible things someone once told you when they wanted you to know how they felt about you, and that one time you did something most people would consider socially unacceptable.

Brooding is where those eternal should have, could have, would have thoughts are played out. It's not a bad thing, but it isn't always the easiest experience ever. How that plays out musically I'm not sure, but I do know I've put together this week's play list chock full of songs that I think fit brooding, my brooding mood, most perfectly.

Brooding is an all encompassing emotional thing. Why shouldn't the soundtrack for it be the same way?

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Video of the Week - Week 60

Type something. Delete it. Type something else. Delete it. Third, fourth, fifth time. Delete, delete, delete. I don't normally have such an issue with the Video of the Week.

I would like to be able to find the words to express how much I love this particular Stills song. About how much it tells a story, more or less, that fits into my life in such a perfect way. Only I can't because the words evade me.

I don't know much about The Stills and I know that this album came out a few years ago, but this song has always struck a chord with me. Staring Emily Haines from the band Metric, it's a tale of lost love and the unwillingness that some people have to let it go when they should. I picked it for it's story. I picked it because I love the stapler thing in the video. I picked it because it's dark and moody and believe it or not, I find it bring about a certain sense of calm.

So, The Stills "Love and Death" for a chilly February noontime it is...because some people really do only think about love and death...

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Los Campesinos!: "Hold On Now, Youngster..."

If you keep up with the hype-mongering indie rock blogs and sites out there, then you're probably familiar with the name Los Campesinos! The band, formed just barely 2 years ago in Cardiff, Wales, has been making the rounds, so to speak; drawing rave reviews from almost every music publication that has had the opportunity to hear their music. Sporting a distinct "we don't give a f*** what our music sounds like" attitude, Los Campesios!'s music is lo-fi, messy, raw, punk-influenced indie rock that is just as plagued with missed notes and shoddy performances as it is with genuinely awesome sounds that are either squandered or shot to hell by all the other nonsense that is going on. No, I'm not going to be hopping on the Los Campesinos! bandwagon any time soon, which is unfortunate because the exclamation points would make much more sense if I did.

The band released their Sticking Fingers Into Sockets EP a few months back, and to be completely honest, it wasn't that bad. I found the band to be unique, catchy, and a lot of fun to listen to. Call me crazy, but perhaps it's the small dose of Los Campesinos! that made that EP much more enjoyable than this album. From the very first second, the band is out to assault your ear drums with obnoxiously loud and messy instrumentation, vocals that aren't anywhere close to being in key, and an audio mix that screams "Hey, check out what we were able to do with just one $5 computer mic and a copy of Windows Sound Recorder!" They rarely let up, and even when they do, they are more than happy to break the silence with more of the same nonsense.

That's not to say that Los Campesinos! is a flat-out terrible band. On the contrary, I find them to be highly talented and entertaining despite their more notable flaws. The instrumentation, though unpolished and far too cluttered, is actually very good when taken in individual parts. The guitars, for example, are almost always a blast to listen to. Background vocals and shouts are perfectly presented and a welcomed addition. The problem with everything lies when the band tries to do too much. Just because there are 64 tracks at your disposal doesn't mean you have to put every one of them to use! Even, "You! Me! Dancing!," with it's wonderfully catchy sound just becomes too much to handle by the time Tom (or is it Garreth) Campesinos begins hurriedly talking over the chorus. What's the point? Sure what he's saying it somewhat funny, but musically it doesn't make sense. Why squander a decent song with something that is completely out of place?

I understand that Los Campesinos! probably isn't shooting for the same aesthetic that I'd like for them to put forth. That's fine with me. In fact, there are several songs on Hold On Now, Youngster... that I'm more than okay with. The aforementioned "You! Me! Dancing!" is one of them, as is the loud, yet sweet, "Don't Tell Me to Do the Math(s)," with its varying styles and levels of momentum. Likewise, "Drop It Doe Eyes" is so fun and catchy that I've found myself listening to it on repeat out of sheer joy! Of course the album's best song is also its first (never a good sign). "Death to Los Campesinos!" has been around for a while, so such a thing makes sense. It's also the album's most polished track. However, despite this handful of good songs, the total package that is Hold On Now, Youngster... just seems to disappoint. Whether it's because of the true lack of diversity on the album, or just the flaws of the vocalists that go from "real and charming" to "a god-awful annoyance," I haven't yet figured out.

Maybe I just don't "get it." I'm almost positive that the band puts on an amazing live show (I mean, they have to, right?) and that the basis of their appeal lies in their ability to convey the madness of their music to a live audience. My lack of ability to fully embrace Hold On Now, Youngster... as a quality piece of music probably has a lot to do with the fact that I haven't experienced such an event. While, I sure would love to, all I have to judge Los Campesinos! on at this point is an album that is decidedly over-hyped and disappointing. The band is young, talented, and they have a lot of room to grow into something that is more generally appealing. Until that time, however, I'm left with a quirky letdown of an album; one that I'll soon forget about and place on my CD shelf right next to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's debut album, where an uncertain future of dust and gloom await.

Key Tracks:
1. "Death to Los Campesinos!"
2. "Don't Tell Me to Do the Math(s)"
3. "Drop It Doe Eyes"
4. "You! Me! Dancing!"

6 out of 10 Stars

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Monday, February 25, 2008

myspace music monday: The Cyanide Valentine

Talk about perfect timing.  I'm sitting at my computer, getting ready to start my weekly scouring of myspace in search of an artist worth listening to.  I check my email --nothing of note-- go to check my sites (Engadget, Pitchfork, The Superficial), and then decide to swing back by my email once more.  What's waiting for me but an email from Jake Zavracky, lead vocalist and guitarist of Boston-based The Cyanide Valentine, asking me to review a downloadable copy of their new album, The Three Sides of The Cyanide Valentine. Unfortunately, it has always been a policy of Audio Overflow to not review non-physical copies of CDs.  But I downloaded it, liked it, checked out their myspace page, and then decided to feature them on today's myspace music monday.  It's funny how things work out...

The Cyanide Valentine

I was informed  in my brief correspondence with Jake that "it isn't emo despite what everybody seems to expect from the name," to which I responded to myself, "Yeah right, these guys are totally going to be emo."  But I was proven wrong from the moment I headed over to the band's myspace page and began hearing the first song, "Neanderthals."  The band's sound is heavily electronics-based, and gives off a sort of Cibo Matto circa Viva La Woman vibe.  Of course, I'm also hearing a distinct Radiohead influence as well, perhaps even just a touch of Flaming Lips (though I'm far less sure of myself on that one) and Death Cab.  The song is perfectly executed by everyone in the band.  Jake's vocals seem a little out of place at first, but by the time that the chorus rolls around and he's shouting, "They won't make us crawl, they're all neanderthals," he's right at home!  Kate Papineau provides backup vocals here as well, and she sings very delicately, never giving it more than she should.  Overall, the song is flawless.  Really.

"Nosferatu" is another great song, utilizing a funk disco groove to great effect, complete with Bee Gees-esque "aahs" in the background.  Jake sings, "You may be invincible, but inside your heart you're dead."   Just as "Neanderthals" was virtually perfect, "Nosferatu" shows a band who is completely focused with a clear direction.  Everything is so perfectly executed, so polished, that it becomes difficult to not get into it.  The refrain of "Inside your heart, you're dead," is simplistic, but equally effective and poignant.  The band set the song to a video about the infamous Jonestown Massacre and it winds up being a surprisingly decent match for the tragedy.  

"Sugar Coma" is an all-around softer song.  Here, Jake swoons, "Give me just one kiss before I am washed up on the shore," over soft, minimalist synths and guitars.  It's not my favorite song on the site.  It's far from bad, it just doesn't really hit the spot for me.  The final song on the band's myspace page is called "Milk in the Gutter," and it's another softer, more somber song.  This one is a bit more effective though.  While Jake may have been trying to convince me that The Cyanide Valentine is, in fact, not an emo band, something tells me that a lyric like "Smear my blood all around like the lipstick and makeup that touch your mouth," isn't going to work in his favor.  Still, the song is a nice, touching track that is (again) well-executed by the band.  It ends with some very cool, spacey peripheral vocals that I absolutely love.  I guess if there's a good last-impression to leave on someone who may visit your myspace page, that would be it.

The conclusion is this:  head over to and download their album.  Listen to it.  Prepare yourself to hear a lot more from this band.  It's inevitable.  Their music is unbelievably polished, undeniably irresistible, and unquestionably talent-ridden.  I don't consider myself a lucky person.  Quite simply, things don't always go my way.  But I consider myself extremely lucky to have decided to recheck my email less than a few minutes after The Cyanide Valentine's Jake Zavracky emails me about his band.  And you should consider yourself lucky that I have good enough music sense to write about them and introduce them to you.  You're welcome, by the way.

The Official Site (+ Free Album Download)
Allison Pharmakis' myspace Page (Photographer: above band image)

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Mesh STL: Lowercase

In the summer of 2001, I had come home from college for the break and discovered that my younger brother had bought a cd titled Lowercase from a band called Mesh STL. When I'd taken on the task of painting a room in my dad's house, my brother decided that I should listen to them. He put their cd into the player, and I listened while I painted. I thought they were pretty cool at the time, however, years later I'm wondering, "What were we thinking?" Don't make the mistake of figuring I think that Mesh STL is a bad band, or that the album is terrible. It's far from terrible. I'd even venture to say it's not bad, but do not misunderstand that it's not a good one either. They're one of those bands that I wonder if I'd prefer their live music to their recordings. I'd be curious to find out, but it's their debut, and to my knowledge, their only album, that brings me to this retro review.

Lowercase begins with a song titled, "I Don't Know". It's comprised of some heavy guitar riffs intermingled with similar vocals. At times, the vocals resemble those of Rob Thomas and at other times, they resemble Puddle of Mudd's, Wes Scantlin, though I'd lean more to the Rob Thomas/Matchbox 20 resemblance. During this song, it is likely that you will not be drawn in. The lyrics are not memorable, the vocals/lyrics are not impressively creative, and the instrumentation is quite simple. Overall, you'd likely hear a better track from either of the forementioned artists. "Gray" is slightly better than its predecessor in a few areas. The musical melodies are more appealing and the chorus of this song is also a bit easier to sing along to. The vocals get a little more gruff and fascinating and there are a few interesting chord choices made. The chorus simply sings, "Sometimes everyone sees gray, and I don't need to change". Other than the mentioned improvements of this song, it's nearly on the same level as "I Don't Know". One of the best songs on the album, and I use the term "best" lightly, is titled, "Maybe Tomorrow". It's slightly more intriguing with it's different, lighter intro and the vocals collaborate with the percussion to draw you a little further into the song than you might expect to go, having heard the first couple of songs. The intro remains in the background throughout most of the song, used as a theme. The bridge pulls you right into the chorus with "All you ever wanted, my love. All you ever needed, my love. All the time that's wasted..." It really prepares you for the abrupt rhythms presented in the chorus. This song also makes several unique rhythmical changes, particularly in the instrumental break after the second chorus. "Maybe Tomorrow" is definitely one of the better experiences you'll find yourself having with Mesh STL.

Moving right along, you come to a happy little track known as, "Little Star" in which the chorus asks, "Little Star won't you shine your light down on me? Pick me up when I lose the will to breathe". It really is a pleasant sounding track in which the percussion remains heavy, but the guitars and vocals have managed to devise melodies that move me into feelings of optimism, however mild they may be. Not their best, but far from their worst on Lowercase. "Contagious" is the fifth track which sounds hopeful for about 16 seconds as you hear a introductory guitar riff that's slightly reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine. However, after those few seconds are up, you're immediately brought back to the realization that you will not be so lucky. Mesh STL doesn't deliver a bad song with "Contagious", but it's as if they don't go the extra mile to give you a winner. For example, after the initial riff (which does repeat itself several times), they have a "random note fest" and completely digress, all the while mixing in some vocal distortion. After that, the vocals and instruments come together for a unified sound, that once again sounds hopefully good, yet they lose me with the melody of the chorus, in which "Contagious" gives up a bit of the harshness that makes it initially appealing. Not a winner either. The next on the list, "Sunday Comes Around" is probably my favorite on the album. Not only does it begin with a good soft guitar melody, it quickly delves off into a bit of roughness, that is appropriately toyed with throughout the entire track. It's quite singable and you'll likely want to do that with this track. The bridge in this song is so fun an almost "grunge-esque" before you're brought back to the familiarity of the song. The thing I don't like most about this album (the musical choices made that usually ruin the track) are the things which I love most about this song. I'm never expecting the elements that they throw at me, but I'm loving the changes made in this one. "Rather Be Alone" is hardly worth mentioning in that it sounds like every other song you've ever heard. As many times as you can listen to this album, you'll likely forget this track every time. I know I have. Everything in "Rather Be Alone" from rhythms to vocal melodies to lyrics to overall feel are quite cookie cutter. It's almost as if someone said, "Here, have the recipe for a standard rock song. If you follow this recipe, you'll surely succeed in being standard." It's very forgettable.

"Believe Me" is another one of my favorite tracks on this album and the reasons are definite to me; sounds of two other successful bands are present in this song. During the intro/verses, you can almost bet that you're listening to the track, "Blurry" from Puddle of Mudd (a musical selection I'm sad to admit that I don't hate). They didn't copy anything because POM's album Clean wasn't released for another year,
but listen to both and you'll surely notice the similarities. Then, as you move into the chorus, it's like, "OMG, Finger Eleven stopped by for a visit". Funny enough, the chorus is not very long in length, so you won't be graced with their traces for a large amount of time. The resemblances to both bands are super prevalent in this song. That's my reasoning behind my liking. "Leave" and "No End" are similar to "Rather Be Alone" in that they're pretty standard. In fact, I often mistakenly confuse them all. While you could maybe listen and hear distinctly different songs, they're so alike to me that I'd almost repeat myself about the other track. Having said that, here are the key elements of these songs: they sound like another song on this album, they sound like every other mediocre rock song ever, and you'll probably either forget them or hit your forward button on your iPod/cd player at their intros.

I'm a firm believer in going out strong on your album, and although you're going to be shocked (oh yes, thick sarcasm), "Falling Into Me" fails to meet my high expectations. This song is best described as being one of their worst on the album, if not taking the cheese altogether. It begins as though it might be a cool track, but what kills this song is a collaboration of mediocre instrumentation and terrible vocal melodies and what sounds to me like forced vocal rhythms. Since the vocalist is consistent in rhythms, you know it's not a mistake but it still sounds off to my ear. It's likely just the added notes in the melody that give it that feel, but whatever the case, it's not good. I've heard better musicianship, writing, and performances from teenagers. Crap, I like anything by Creed better than "Falling Into Me", which should let you know how little I think of it.

Again, Lowercase isn't a bad album, but it's terribly mediocre. It's average to the absolute utmost and that is Mesh STL's biggest problem here. They sound like decent musicians, and as I said before, I may even like the songs better performed live, but as far as Lowercase goes, it was probably difficult to develop a huge fan base with this album. Oh well, better luck next time.

Key Tracks:
1. "Maybe Tomorrow"
2. "Little Star"
3. "Sunday Comes Around"
4. "Believe Me"

5 out of 10 stars

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Headlights: "Some Racing, Some Stopping"

In 2006, I opened my mailbox to find a bubblewrap-lined envelope with my name written on it.  Who doesn't love coming home to that?  I excitedly tore open the brown mailer to find what would soon become one of my favorite albums of that year; Headlights' debut LP, Kill Them With Kindness.  It was such a fantastic piece of indie rock, flawless from start to finish, and never letting the 14-song tracklist get the better of them.  If there was any complaint to be found against the album, it was that it lacked focus.  Some songs would be bombastic California rock jams, others meek, reflective indie rock ballads.  This certainly didn't take away from the greatness of the songs themselves, but it was a feature that some took issue with.  For their second album, Some Racing, Some Stopping, Headlights has tightened their focus; creating 30+ minutes of dreamy, whistful indie pop.  But does this change of style and pace benefit the band the way one would hope?  Keep reading.

Album opener, "Get Yer Head Around It," starts with a pleasant, innocuous guitar riff that runs into Tristan Wraight's equally inoffensive vocals.  The one-line hook of, "In silence we'll both walk away," is beautifully presented, softly sung over the surrounding instrumentation.  In typical Headlights fashion, the song picks up soon enough and finds Tristan and Erin Fein trading off "bas" and "oohs" in a very Mates of State-ish manner.  It's a gorgeous song that doesn't try to do too much.  The next song and first single, "Cherry Tulips,"  is a dreamy, airy indie pop song that is so reminiscent of Rilo Kiley's The Execution of All Things album, that I found myself wanting to go and listen to it as soon as this song wrapped up.  Fein sings of a sea of Cherry Tulips, confessing, "I want the sea, I want the whole sea for you and me," as haunting vocals echo her words in the background.  

"Market Girl" is my personal favorite track on the album, due, in part, to the fact that the opening guitar line is so contagious and danceable.  It is indie pop at its most flawless and entertaining.  Tristan takes over on vocals again here, spitting out verses like a tommy-gun spits out bullets (fast),but Erin backs him up gently.  I've listened to this song at least a dozen times now, and I still can't get enough of it.

"On April 2" is the album's first misstep, finding Fein singing an unaffecting vocal melody over an unrefined and muddled composition of organs, guitars, and drums.  To be sure, this is the first time that Headlights has ever really done such a thing, as every other song of theirs that I know of is at least somewhat catchy.  This one just seems to fall short on so many levels.  It's short though, so you won't have to put up for it for too long.  "School Boys" is a softer, more reflective song that once again finds Fein and Wraight trading vocals.  Tristan take the lead, while Erin provides some very well-placed "do do dos."  The ending of the song finds trumpets and strings harmonizing with one another, adding a small but terrific touch to this simple, yet admirable song.

Title track, "Some Racing, Some Stopping" is equally as simple and impressive, featuring minimal instrumentation and a distinctive lo-fi sound.  Fein sings softly over a rhodes organ, "If you could hold, hold, hold your heart in your hand would no one demand to know how you're feeling cause you've shown them already?" later adding, "With your heart on your sleeve, there's no secrets you can keep anymore."  It's a very touching song, and one that is made better by the fact that it's so low-key and calming.  "So Much for the Afternoon" is a strange song to say the least.  Featuring no real vocals other than Erin's airy "oohs" and "aahs," -- which, frankly, we've already heard enough of by this point -- it fails to capture the attention of the listener.  By the time she actually starts singing actual words, there's so much reverb on them that it hard to distinguish what she's actually saying.  It is another unfortunate, skippable track.

"Catch Them All" is, in fact, not the theme song to Pokemon, but how cool would that have been?  Despite that fact, this is one of Some Racing, Some Stopping's better tracks that once again picks up the tempo in a way that fans of Headlights are more accustomed to hearing.  It's got a very bouncy, guitar pop feel to it, and it's perfectly executed by the band.  "Towers" brings back the organ to complement a very playful, Erin-sung melody.  She sings, "Whisper like a summer breeze, all the secrets secrets keep," with an innocent tone.  As usual, things eventually build, adding in more assertive drums, and strings all the way to the song's abrupt end.  The album ends with "January," a solemn, comedown track.  Wraight does vocals here, which is good because his voice is more suited to this type of song.  Xylophones, steady guitar strums, and what I believe is the faint sound of a harmonium really carry this song and make it more poignant that it should be.  Wraight is able to slip out a tired line like, "Time just marches on," on more than one occasion, but everything is so perfectly orchestrated that it's difficult to not let it come in and affect you.

In the end, Some Racing, Some Stopping, is not as flawless as its predecessor.  It's biggest drawback is its lack of immediate appeal.  It took me a few listens to get used to the band's new style and sound, and even more for me to appreciate it as it deserved to be.  But after all those listens, I can't help but be pleased with my experience with Headlights' new album.  While it does have a few low points, the majority of Some Racing, Some Stopping is a beautiful, though not entirely unique, piece of indie pop that is sure to be playing in my stereo well into 2008.  I highly recommend this album to everyone that liked Kill Them With Kindness (especially the tracks, "Signs Point to Yes (But Outlook Not So Good)," and "Pity City").  It may take a few listens to get your head around it, but it will be worth it.

Key Tracks:
1. "Get Yer Head Around It"
2. "Cherry Tulips"
3. "Market Girl"
4. "Some Racing, Some Stopping"
5. "January"

7 out of 10 Stars

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Top 5 Friday: My 5 Favorite Places to See a Live Show

I sat down and made a list of all the shows I've ever been to. No dates, just acts and places. Three pages later, I had a list that spanned several states, countries, and continents. Narrowing it down further, I managed to come up with my Top 5 Favorite Places to See a Live Show...and while three of them are here in Texas and one of them is a sentimental favorite, they are truly 5 places I love to go to see a live act. I have a lot of fond memories of these places and I've spent a lot of time waiting in line at all but one of them and if I had to, I could break it down by best performance of my favorite song by a specific group in each and every venue on my list.

And please, if you feel compelled, let me know what your favorite concert venues are. I'm always curious...

5. Southpark Meadows: Austin, Texas

425 acres of nothing at Slaughter Lane and I-35 in Austin. Well, I can't say for sure there was nothing else there because 425 acres is a lot and it wasn't like you could just tour it at will. What was there once? Southpark Meadows, the outdoor concert venue. You drove in, parked in a field, walked down hill and there it was...a stage in all it's glory with trees as a back drop and enough space to sit with some privacy should you so desire it. (That really depended on the show, though.) A building off to the left and a corral, basically, where you could see tour buses parked. In the background, those famous Texas oaks and cliffs. I saw Phish, The Dave Matthews Band, Rage Against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails, and Erykah Badu there, all at seperate times and all putting on fantastic shows in the summer Texas heat.

Now? Southpark Meadows, or 1.2 million square feet of it at least, is an upscale shopping/eating/living complex with condos, family homes, and doctors offices galore. Until recently, the old Southpark Meadows sign was still up and it made me so sad to see it. Sure, it was nice for the memories, but it's bittersweet all the same. Do we really need yet another Best Buy and Chilis? (I'm sorry, a Borders and Cinemark Theater according to the pictures in the link.)

4. The Backyard: Austin, Texas

Let me paint you a picture of what used to be my most favorite place to see a show. Bee Caves Road and Highway 71 West? There was nothing there but a convenience store and a small coffee shop in front of the Backyard's main offices. Up the way in one direction is a small suburban-ish type town and in the other direction, the Texas Hill Country. Huge dirt and gravel parking lot with a concrete area in front of a rickety old ticket booth. A long arm painted green and chained to a fence kept people out until it was time and was the entrance to a short walk downhill into the actual amphitheater. You lined up starting at that long green arm for shows and directly opposite of that was a gate that went downhill into where tour buses waited. The backstage area, basically. There were Oaks and misc. other assorted trees and on a clear night, there were stars. Lots and lots of stars. If you were there early enough, as I was for many an Ani diFranco or Willie Nelson show, you were treated to a sound check in a very majestic setting and if you stood in the right spot, you could see everything on stage. There was literally nothing out there and it gave it a very isolated feel, but it was oh-so-beautiful and a nice drive.

Now? The Backyard is still there but it's lost it's charm to those unsightly mini-malls that seem to be popping up everywhere in suburbia. This one is called the Shops at the Galleria and if you want to get to the Backyard, you have to basically walk through it to get to the entrance and rather than be surrounded by a dark Texas 11 p.m. with stars, you're surrounded to the vapor lights of a Best Buy parking lot. This makes me sad because I used to love going to the Backyard. The waiting, the trees, the stars, the being in the middle of nowhere quality it had to it. My favorite time ever? Being the first in line and the first person to walk into the amphitheater, where I turned around to look for my friends and discovered I was the only person in there. It lasted for about 30 seconds, but it's something I'll never forget.

3. The Shoreline Ampitheater: Mountain View, California

We venture out of Texas and to California where I once had the pleasure of seeing New Order and The Cure at the Shoreline. And the BareNaked Ladies. (Who, believe it or not, put on a GREAT show.) It has always reminded me of Space Mountain at Disneyland, with it's white tent that houses the stage. There are nearly 7 thousand fixed stadium type seats and a grass area that makes it a place that you can rock out (to borrow a lame phrase) with 25 thousand of your closest friends. It's so big that not only have I gotten lost there (twice) I've never felt like I was with 25 thousand other people. Really, that's a blessing because being around 25 thousand all black clothing wearing, eyeliner loving, Clove smoking kids is really not that fun after about an hour, no matter how much you like The Cure. Awesome views of the Bay Area make up for the sometimes poor sound and the fact that you can roam and listen to your favorite songs live always made it an enjoyable place for me. Too bad it's so far away.

2. Tomorrowland Terrace: Tomorrowland, Disneyland, Anaheim, California
No, really. Tomorrowland. It was the first place I ever saw a live show. After the Adventure Thru Inner Space building (a ride, for the record, that terrified me. Google it and you'll know why) and in the shadow of Space Mountain was a food court. Tomorrowland Terrace. Ride Space Mountain a few times, eat something, go over to get on Captain Nemo's submarine. It was the normal course of events for a Disneyland visit.

I'd been there like a thousand times before that fateful day of my first live concert. Open and airy with lots of potted plants and this circular area there in the middle that no one ever sat on. And there were spires. White, silver, and blue spires to match the top of Space Mountain. They had the best french fries, those crinkle cut ones, that came in a red and white checked boat. I was 12 that day, I mean, it was literally my birthday and up from the ground, there on that round section in the center of the Terrace, like a Phoenix rising up from the ashes was...Donnie and Marie.

That's right. My first legitimate concert experience was Donnie and Marie, by surprise and quite by accident, at the Tomorrowland Terrace. They did two songs and I only remember one, "I'm A Little Bit Country..." They were decked out in matching white satin-esque outfits covered with rhinestones that carried on the Space Mountain theme. They looked so very...futuristic with the costumes and the mist and the rising. They came up out of the ground out of nowhere. No announcement, no fanfare, nothing. The potted plants and the spires disappeared and there was Donnie. And Marie. There were lots of screaming girls and it was as if the entire visitor population in the park that day suddenly appeared in Tomorrowland.

1. Floore's Country Store: Helotes, Texas

Hey, it's like 5 minutes from my house! (Or 55, depending on how you hit traffic in my immediate neighborhood.) Part bar, part restaurant, you can't really tell from the outside that there's a stage and a huge area for standing, dancing, or sitting at the picnic tables strewn about. There are some epic historic signs out front, including the one that still advertises Willie Nelson playing there every Saturday night and inside there's a stall in the ladies with graffiti that reads "Sex can wait masturbate!" (Oddly enough, when they repainted that particular bathroom last year, they left that bit of graffiti in tact.) The tables in the bar are bolted to the floor, there are signs that declare you'll be fined at least $250 for fighting, and there are old cowboy boots that hang from the ceiling, signed by each person who's ever played live there. It's in downtown Helotes, which really isn't much of a downtown considering it's on a Main Street that consists of 2 antique stores, a Survey company, some yuppy eatery that's always busy, and a bicycle shop. It's a small stage and I've been there for Nickel Creek (three times), Dwight Yoakam, and Lucinda Williams. What I love about it is that there's about a two foot gap between the stage and the front row, which is my essential spot for concert going. Sure, there's a guard rail there, but two feet gives it the best intimate feeling ever. Nothing says a great show like being close enough to touch someone.

Bonus: two feet, 3 instances of near tragic experiences that would have been so awesome. Twice nearly kicked in the face by Chris Thile and once had a Mandolin string bust and hit my arm, avoiding my precious eyes.

Double bonus: they have the best Mac-n-Cheese and if you're ever in Helotes for lunch (and have a desire to kick it with the farmer/contractor/sherriffs department crowd), I'm there at least 3 times a week either on the porch or under the Willie Nelson boot #5 in the bar.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Moods - Sickly

I said to Cale the other day via email "I would really like to take a bottle brush to my throat and scratch it. Horrid graphic, I know, but I want every one to know how miserable I am."

Itchy, raw, even poor throat. All I wanted to do was scratch that itch.

I'm not sure he really wanted or needed that graphic. I'm not sure that anyone that got an email from me that day really needed that graphic, but I shared it because I could. I shared it because I was downright miserable for days with a sore throat. In fact, it wasn't until yesterday that I regained any sort of voice and when I do speak, my voice fades quickly.

I have to be able to talk. I'm the "talky" type. It's in my blood to yap. Stupid sore throat.

Here's what I don't get about "flu season": you're sick. Your kids are sick. Your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, grandma, great aunt Jane are all sick. Why do you still insist on carting them around creation where they drop their used Kleenex, sneeze without covering their noses, and cough while trying to speak, polluting the non-"flu season" air with their disease? There honestly isn't enough hand sanitizer in the world that's going to keep your illness at bay, yet there you are, willingly spreading it as you go to the movies, the post office, the grocery store, or just...anywhere. And why -- why -- do you always have to say "Oh, I'm over it, you won't catch it?" when we all know you aren't over it and you've given it to about 45 people before me. I mean, are you so miserable you have to make everyone else miserable with you? Do you like watching people suffer? Is this your revenge for being picked last in grade school Dodge Ball?

Clearly, being ill makes me a little cranky too. But really, I stayed home sick, why couldn't everyone else?

So in honor of my disease, whatever it may be, a play list of songs about the various ailments that one can find themselves victim to. Of. Songs about drugs, seizures, heart attacks, and the desire to just be sedated until it all passes...I only wish I felt less sickly to enjoy it as much as I'm sure some of you will.

Sickly, as defined by Websters:

1. not strong; unhealthy; ailing.
2. of, connected with, or arising from ill health
3. marked by the prevalence of ill health, as a region
4. causing sickness.
5. nauseating.
6. maudlin and insipid; mawkish
7. faint or feeble, as light or color.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Video of the Week - Week 59

My apologies. My intention was to have Headlights' new album, Some Racing, Some Stopping reviewed by yesterday. Unfortunately, my copy didn't come in until yesterday afternoon (darn you Presidents Day!), so you'll have to wait a few more days for that one. In the meantime, here's the video to the album's first single, "Cherry Tulips." Headlights seem to be content with filling the gap in the indie rock scene that Rilo Kiley left when they went all Fleetwood Mac, and I'm cool with that. It's definitely a different sound that we've heard from them in the past, but sometimes different is good.


"Cherry Tulips" - Headlights, from the album, Some Racing, Some Stopping.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Wombats: "The Wombats" EP

Unless you're from the U.K. (which I know at least a few of you are), you've probably never heard of The Wombats.  In just a few years, this Liverpool trio have gone from local crowd-pleasers to the "next big thing."  With two import-only albums already under their belt, The Wombats are prepped and ready to invade the U.S. with a few dates scheduled in March of 2008.  This 6-song EP won't be available to the general public until April 8th, but in anticipation of their arrival to our side of the pond, I've decided to review this one a bit early so that the proper "heads up" is given.

In listening to the first track on The Wombats, "Backfire at the Disco," I was immediately captivated by the energy that this band brings.  Their sound reminds me a lot of Art Brut, albeit a less talky version of Art Brut.  In this indie pop/punk gem, vocalist Matthew Murray reminisces on the unfortunate happenings that occur on a particular night on the town.  He catchily sings, "It backfired at the disco, she she slapped me at the disco."  He later reveals the cause of his misfortune, noting, "It was a chat-up line built not to impress, more a sleazy remark on her whorish dress."  It's quite the humorous number, and with a steadily rockin' tempo, sing-a-long melodies, tight instrumentation, and brilliant background vocals, it's hard not to imagine this one playing at your local disco.  A definite crowd-pleaser.

First single (I believe), "Kill the Director" is just as infectious, if not more so.  Again, Murray's lyrics are quite humorous.  The song is about his inability to speak to a girl who "makes me feel seasick," brushing off the song, saying, "Here's another song about a gender I'll never understand."  In the unforgettable chorus, he pleads, "If this is a rom-com, kill the director!"  Again relying on a very punk rock style, the band excels in crafting an unbelievably catchy, danceable song.  So catchy, in fact, that you're sure to find yourself shouting out "This is no Bridget Jones!" with the band, whether its in the privacy of your own home or at one of their shows.  It is an inevitable occurrence, so make the necessary preparations prior to listening to this one.

"Moving to New York" changes the vibe a little bit, this time opting for a more traditional indie rock sound.  However, it's no less enjoyable because of it.  The lyrics also take on a more sober role this time around.  Murray recalls a horrible week and then plots a move to New York to start anew.  It's got a pretty cool guitar riff, and it's not a bad song at all.  "Little Miss Pipedream" is the EP's first "ballad."  Here, Murray sings about the oh-so-relatable  pipe dream of a girl.  He begins the song by singing, "I think the postman intercepts everything I try and send to you and I can't say I blame him because I'd cheat a priest just to get to you."  He spends his time pondering about her days and excusing her flaws, wailing "I don't mind that she gets hammered and goes home with other guys."  His voice tells a different story, however, and the sadness in realizing that his pipe dream is just that rings through all the silly lyrics.  It's strange how something can be fun, yet still maintain its poignancy.  This song does a brilliant job of achieving such a thing, and I'm fully impressed by its ability to do so.

The EP's final "real" song is "Lost in the Post," yet another song about Murray's numerous inadequacies in the dating world.  While the topic has been touched on on numerous occasions thus far, it seems to be what he's most capable of writing of, and each song has its own unique spin on the theme, so disappointment is rare.  He once again manages to deliver one of the funnier lines I've heard in a while in, "She wanted Mary Poppins and I took her to King Lear."  Ummm....there's a pretty big difference there, but I get it.  I hate Mary Poppins too, and King Lear is awesome!  The EP's last track is a CSS-remixed version of "Kill the Director" which doesn't manage to capture any of the raw energy that the original had, instead replacing it with plastic  electronics.  Skip it.

The Wombats will be playing 3 dates at SXSW this year, so if you're going to the festival I highly recommend swinging by and checking them out.  The band is an inarguably talented group of guys that are armed with an inexhaustible wit and infectious punk songs.  I can't wait to hear more from them!  Fortunately, I won't have to wait for too long; their debut album here in the States is due out later this year!

Key Tracks:
1. "Backfire at the Disco"
2. "Kill the Director"
3. "Little Miss Pipedream"

8 out of 10 Stars

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Monday, February 18, 2008

myspace music monday: The Sailor Sequence

Why hello there. How are you doing today? Me? Oh I'm fine. Thanks for asking. It's Monday, so that means it's time for yet another myspace artist. Who do we have today? Hmmm....

The Sailor Sequence

Today's band comes to us from Olathe, Kansas, as if you know where that is. The Sailor Sequence (not The Helio Sequence, apparently) have a very solid, straightforward adult alternative/soft pop sound. As much as I hate to say it, the genre of music I equate it most with is contemporary Christian. But don't stop reading there! This group of guys are loaded with an immense amount of talent that goes far beyond my mediocre genre-placement exercise. To put it bluntly, if you were to skip out on listening to The Sailor Sequence, you really would be missing out.

The first song on the band's myspace page is entitled "Why Would You Bring," and features some very cool electronic programming and gentle guitar plucks. It's an instrumental, so don't expect some inescapably cool vocal melody to pop in, it never happens. What does happen, quite unexpectedly I might add, is a loud, thudding synth line that sounds entirely out of place. When I first heard it come in, I literally thought that something was wrong with my computer's speakers. It's unfortunate, because the rest of the song has a very mellow Dntel-ish vibe going on that is completely ruined by the time this part of the song comes along. Still, it's a good introduction to the band.

"Find Yourself" finds lead singer, Dave, noting, "When there's nothing left to hide behind, that's where you'll find yourself," in the chorus which is another brilliantly produced piece of music . By now the Contemporary Christian influence is at full force, so much so that I found myself combing through the lyrics to find something that was blatantly religious. While the song is definitely inspirational, it's ambiguous in it's religiosity. Again, the song is very calming and relaxing and the band fully displays their talent here. "Light From the Window" keeps the same style as its predecessor, adding in some uptempo, glitchy drum synths, light guitars, and perky bells to accentuate the near-flawless vocals. The song's coda adds layers upon layers of instrumentation, building quickly and forcefully before collapsing just in time for Dave to gently sing, "The curtains pull back and there is no sound." It is quite the beautiful ending.

"Around the Corner" is another instrumental track, this time being lead by an acoustic guitar and a less glitchy, more traditional electronic drum beat. Unlike the instrumental song that precedes it, however, this one is chill throughout and the guys do a good job of not overdoing too much of anything. It is approached gently, and it sounds fantastic! The page's last track is called "Anchor" and at this point I'm completely convinced that these guys have at least a tiny bit of affiliation with Christianity, or Contemporary Christian music. It's an inescapable comparison and if they aren't, they should really consider it. They are way better than a lot of the stuff that's out there.

I'm actually pretty impressed. Though I'm not the hugest fan of the genre with which I have (perhaps unfairly) assigned The Sailor Sequence to, I haven't really heard anything that I'm completely turned off by. And even if I was, these guys still have too much talent to care. If you're into calming, atmospheric pop music, I think you should check out The Sailor Sequence. You could definitely do worse.

The Sailor Sequence's myspace Page
YouTube Page w/ a few live performances

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Live: "Throwing Copper"

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the most devout Live fan. Sure, I like them well enough, I've heard a few of their albums, and I've even seen them live (nice, huh?). One of their songs even inspired me to create a piece of art which I later entered in a contest and got a few offers on (no, it wasn't a great piece, but hey, music inspires people to pay). Live put out their first album in the late 80's followed by another one that the general public probably still knows nothing about, but it was their breakthrough, Throwing Copper album that leads me to this retro review.

Let me start off by saying that this album has some great songs on it. It is a mostly brilliant album. Throwing Copper begins with a track called, "The Dam at Otter Creek". This song is both entertaining an unusual. It starts very softly with only a quiet guitar riff and lead singer, Ed Kowalczyk's unique voice. The lyrics would lead you to believe that this song deals with the most unfortunate death and cover up of a man. However, nothing is ever as simple as it seems, so I'll leave the interpretation up to the listener. Though the song begins modestly, it soon picks up and becomes a rock out track in the style that only Live can accomplish, with its heavy sound that, by the end is more menacing than modest. While this song didn't go on to be a radio hit, it's a perfect introduction of what's to come. "Selling the Drama" was a hit that was born from Throwing Copper and is still played on many alternative stations. In the album insert, an accompanying picture to the lyrics of this song intensifies it's mystery. A mystery is exactly what you get with this song. In all the years I've listened to it, I know all the words, but none of the meaning. The lyrics are made of of mostly analogies and antonyms. There are actually very few sentences in this song, but plenty of entertainment. It's very easy to sing along with as the melodies are pleasing and easily memorable. I don't often meet people who like Throwing Copper, but not "Selling the Drama". I believe they're appropriately paired.

"I Alone" probably remains to this day, their most famous hit. It's a killer song with great lyrics and awesome musicality, and I know it's by far, my favorite from Live. In fact, if you listen to this album and despise this song, I will question your auditory senses. These particular lyrics, like a lot of Live's lyrics, take on many religious undertones in dealings with places, figures, actions and emotions. The album insert acknowledges Kowalczyk as the lyrical mastermind, and his talents are brilliantly displayed in this track. He writes/sings, "I'll read to you here, save your eyes. You'll need them, your boat is at sea. Your anchor is up, you've been swept away and the greatest of teachers won't hesitate to leave you there by yourself chained to fate." May not read like much, but your ears should say different. It's one of their most acclaimed songs, beginning very quietly and simplistically, adding percussion in the second verse, then with all hell breaking loose into the chorus. Then just as suddenly as it came, the drama has faded back to simplicity for the verse, but refuels soon after. From then on, "I Alone" takes the same boisterous feel up until the end. If I may take you to my one Live concert flashback, "I Alone" is freakin' awesome live (this word usage getting confusing yet?) The next track, "Iris" will come at you like a surprising shock. Not only does Live grab you a few times with this track's immediate volume and instrumental transitions, they also make some interesting rhythmical choices. Nothing in weird time signatures, just unusual in the transitions;. It's a nice effect. Kowalczyk's voice is just as unique as ever in the quality of his voice (tone/timbre). This song is far from my favorite, but it's not a bad one. "Lightning Crashes" is also a fan favorite. I can definitely determine that this song is about birth and death. I also presume it deals with the circle of life. It depicts a mother giving birth to her baby; baby lives, mother dies (fact). Years later, baby grows up and is having a baby of her own; both live (logical presumption). This track is emotional and beautiful in one swoop. Not only is the story behind the song so human, but the music itself is appropriately tasteful in regards to the events it tells of. "Lighting Crashes" was dedicated to the late Barbara Lewis (1973-1993).

While Throwing Copper boasts some great tracks, "Top" is not one of them. It's an almost musically boring song with lyrics that are obscure enough to the point of wondering, "Is he just taking out some long, overdue aggression, or is he a newly reformed neo-Nazi?" A bit strange, I agree, but I'll let you ,the listener, make a decision. Apart from the meaning, it's really not a musically memorable song. I don't know the words from memory, I can't tell you what it's about, and I will admit to having skipped over this track. It's simply not my favorite. However, the next track is completely opposite in it's delivery. "All Over You" is a lyrically shorter song that has a catchy hook and is full of overall entertainment. Along with it's counterparts, "All Over You" has had tremendous airplay and is considered to be a good song by most Live fans, though it's not their most creative; It's actually pretty safe. While Kowalczyk's vocals remain heavy, the overall song is lighter than a lot of them. Your mom may even enjoy this tune.

"Shit Towne" is one song with two distinct sounds. A specific sound for the verses and a completely opposite sound for the chorus. It works to this songs advantage. It seems to be pretty cut and dry where lyrics are concerned as they describe a place I picture to be a lot like "Cheap side" in the movie A Knight's Tale; a place that's poor, dangerous, and derelict. They then claim that's where they live. I really like the verses in this song though. I feel that they paint very vivid pictures while at the same time being melodically appealing. I enjoy this track a lot, though probably wouldn't play it for the children. "T.B.D.” is a favorite song of mine on this album. If you Google "T.B.D., Live" you'll find many bloggers claiming that they know exactly what the song is about, yet every definition is different. In this case, the only fact that any of the bloggers got right about the song is that T.B.D. stands for the Tibetan Book of the Dead. There are many ideas behind the meaning of this song, which I would encourage you to Google later, but for now, here's my opinion of the song. It's one of the softest songs on the album with Kowalczyk's quiet vocals and the timid volume of the musicality. "T.B.D." does seem to take a while to get through, due to the lack of change throughout the song, but the elements which seem so constant, force you to listen to the lyrics. A good song that is both lyrically interesting and challenging.

I do not find the track "Stage" very special at all. It's pretty average lyrically and melodically. In fact, without giving it too much notation, I will say that unlike "T.B.D." this song's lack of change works to its disadvantage. While being much faster and shorter than it's predecessor, it seems to last forever. You'd be likely to skip over this one during the listening of the album. On the contrast, "Waitress" is an angry tale that is seemingly about a problem waitress doing an okay job. Apparently, Kowalczyk is highly pissed during these few minutes. His excessive use of profanity leads the listener to believe that there's more to this story than meets the ear, but we'll likely never know. The instrumentation in "Waitress" does a fantastic job of portraying the same anger. While there is nothing super unique about this song, other than the random, "happy go lucky" whistling at the end, most Live fans would probably enjoy giving this song a quick listen. Even softer than "T.B.D." is the track "Pillar of Davidson", where like other Live tracks, there appears to be more to the story than the listener is privy to. The lyrics are dark with dealings of drugs, religion, death and other elements unbeknownst to us. The melodies of the track, vocally and instrumentally, are enchanting, while Kowalczyk's vocals and one of "the two Chad’s" background harmonies enhance this song's chorus. It's a beautiful song that I tend to merely listen to rather than analyze, so please forgive the lack of remaining comments on this song, but I feel you'd do the same. Definitely check this one out, as it's sure to be one of the two quiet pleasers.

I remember the first time I heard "White, Discussion". I wasn't too sure what it was about then, and I'm not too sure what it's about now, though I highly doubt it's about white supremacy, as you may first believe. The meaning of this song will be for you to discern and contemplate, as I would not do it justice to give my interpretation. As for musicality, "White, Discussion" has an intriguing guitar melody that compliments Kowalczyk's vocal melody and ability. It's soft, yet gruff. At the end of the second verse, the song builds an immediate momentum and fury that lasts a few moments, then returns with the lyrics, "Look where all this talking got us, baby". "White, Discussion" keeps the energy up through the end of the song. It’s a great song on the album, probably one of the best, and again, it’s just as good live.

Throwing Copper was released in 1994, and 14 years later, it is just as great an album today as it was then. All the songs on this album are definitely good and most of them are even great. Some are even perfect. It’s all a matter of opinion, but I say the fact is, Throwing Copper will hold up as being one of the best albums made, ever.

Key Tracks:
1. I Alone
2. Lightning Crashes
3. T.B.D.
4. Pillar of Davidson
5. White, Discussion

9 out of 10 stars

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

My Rock Band DLC Wishlist

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I’m a huge video game nerd and that I have this thing for a little music game called Rock Band.  For those of you who just awoke from a coma, Rock Band is a video game that uses peripherals that mimic the motions of real instruments.  You can sing and play guitar, bass guitar, and drums...kinda.  Hell, you all know what Rock Band is, and if you don’t, just read my lengthy review of it.  Anyhow, one of Rock Band’s cooler features is its downloadable content (DLC); essentially songs that you can download and add to your game.  More often than not, these come in the form of Track Packs, organized by artist.  With that said, let’s get on with it.  The following list is My Rock Band DLC Wishlist.

5:  Band of Horses Pack - Band of Horses are a real rock band.  They don’t play around on their instruments.  They know what they are doing.  However, they’re not going to go off on a 10 minute Dragonforce solo either.  Their music is typically balanced, with equal importance placed on vocals, guitars, and drums.  That’s why I feel like they’d be a perfect fit for Rock Band.  That, and I totally love singing along to this stuff!

Songs Included:

“The General Specific”

“The Funeral”

“Cigarettes, Wedding Bands”

4:  Franz Ferdinand Pack - Admittedly, my fondness of Franz Ferdinand has wavered over the years.  Back in 2004, there was hardly a time when I didn’t have their debut album playing.  But things change, and albums wear out.  Still, that doesn’t mean that I’ll keep them off my list.  Quite simply, Franz has put out some of the most inescapable jams of the last decade.  It’s a shame they’re not already in the game.  Here’s how I’d alleviate that:

Songs Included:

“Take Me Out”

“This Fire”

“Do You Want To?”

3:  Rilo Kiley Pack - It’s no secret that I completely despise Rilo Kiley’s attempt at trying to be Fleetwood Mac.  “Under the Blacklight” is laughably bad, and for all of you reading who were introduced to the band through that album, I apologize on their behalf.  They didn’t mean it.  Believe it or not, if you go back and listen to their earlier albums, there’s quite a collection of indie rock jams.  Nothing too rockin’ and always with a little bit of country, but unabashedly fun tunes nonetheless.  Here are the songs I’d pick to go on such a track pack.

Songs Included:

“Portions for Foxes”

“Science vs. Romance”

“Paint’s Peeling”

2:  Cursive Pack - I am completely unashamed of my girly obsession with Tim Kasher and the guys of Cursive.  It’s indie and emo, but not so emo that you go running for the scissors.  Unlike most emo bands, however, Cursive has talent.  Kasher presents his vocals with such earnestness, such force that your head has no choice but to bang, your hand no choice but to ball into a fist and be thrown into the air repeatedly.  The rest of the band ain’t so bad either.  All Rock Band needs is a cello or brass peripheral.  But then I’d never leave the house.

Songs Included:

“Dorothy at Forty”

“Art is Hard”

“Driftwood: A Fairy Tale”

1:  Muse Pack - I highly doubt that there’s a band out there more suited for Rock Band than Muse.  Their music never fails to disappoint, and they are doubtlessly the most “rockin’” band on this list.  The most difficult thing about putting Muse on the game is deciding which of their countlessly impressive songs should make the cut.  “Knights of Cydonia” is out because it’s already on Guitar Hero III and the vocals are kind of “meh.”  Fortunately, I’ve devised a list so awesomely sinister that the folks at Harmonix can’t help but oblige.  Bwahahaha!

Songs Included:

“Time Is Running Out”

“City of Delusion”

“Citizen Erased”

Oh, and in case you were wondering what all this nonsense sounded like, enjoy this nice little playlist to start off your weekend.  Fellow nerds, I’m wondering.  What songs would you add to Rock Band?

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Moods - Weak

It's February 14th and we all know what that means. It's Valentine's Day. Super-market card aisles are flooded with people looking for just the right card, tables are hard to get at even the dingiest of eateries, and floral delivery men are working double and over time to get those deliveries out before the end of the day. I imagine there are a lot of women swooning right now, or will be later, and there are men who are feeling awfully obligated to show up with some sort of flower/candy/gift combo. I also imagine there are a lot of unhappy people out there; the lovelorn, the shy, the lonely, those of us who think Valentine's Day is just another day.

That's right. I'm a woman who doesn't really get all excited about Valentine's Day. "It's just another day" I always say. Don't get me wrong, I like hearts and lace and pink and candy and flowers just as much as the next girl. I like love well enough. It's got its ups and downs and weird turn of events I can sometimes do without, but I like it well enough. Being in love is nice, I'll be the first to admit. I'm just not the kind of girl who needs a specific, targeted day to be reminded that love is grand and someone is enamored with me. If it works correctly, I know pretty much all the time I'm very much loved and wanted.

I have other reasons for not liking Valentine's Day. It leaves me weak. It breaks down those protective barriers in my head and makes me think about things I'd rather not think about. It makes me weak and grumpy and thinking about all the people I've ever loved, who have loved me, who I wished had loved me, whom I wish I didn't love. Some good, some bad, it never fails, Valentine's Day rolls around and there they are, parading through my head.

Weak, as defined by Websters:

1. not strong; liable to yield, break, or collapse under pressure or strain; fragile; frail
2. lacking in bodily strength or healthy vigor, as from age or sickness; feeble; infirm
3. not having much political strength, governing power, or authority
4. lacking in rhetorical or creative force or effectiveness
5. lacking in logical or legal force or soundness
6. deficient in mental power, intelligence, or judgment
8. not having much moral strength or firmness, resolution, or force of character
9. deficient, lacking, or poor in something specified

So here it is, a mix I call It's Valentine's Day Everywhere But In My Heart, dedicated to the lovelorn, the obsessed stalkers, the men who are at this very moment caving and paying for a very expensive piece of jewelry, those who are too shy to ask someone out, those who want to end their relationships but won't because it would be cruel to do it on February 14th, the multitudes who will be engaging in a one-night stand at the end of their evenings, those who send themselves flowers and candy so that they don't look left out, and those of us who think about love in good, bad, and ugly ways on a day meant for celebration of how we feel. We're all weak in one or another, especially when it comes to love.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Video of the Week - Week 58

"I knew you were going to go there when you said you were doing the Video of the Week last night. I'm kinda excited." My friend Chris.

To be honest, this has really bothered me since Sunday night. The Recording Academy decided to pair Keely Smith with Kid Rock for a rendition of "That Old Black Magic." That song was popular for Keely Smith and her husband Louis Prima in 1958. (It's been popular since then for all sorts of people, but that's beside the point.) Kid Rock fumbled through it and somehow couldn't be bothered to memorize the lyrics very well; Keely Smith played it off and kept going. It was a terrible performance. Jazz isn't something that a lot of people in the 18 to 30 age bracket are into and to be exposed to it, even in a Grammy performance like that, is and was disheartening. We've all been exposed to Jazz in one form or another and if we haven't, this wasn't really the performance that set any stellar examples.

My point: Keely Smith and Kid Rock performing together was such a poor representation of Jazz...not only of Jazz but of the amazing voice that is Keely Smith. She is one of my favorites and always has been and to not give you a glimpse of her in her heyday would be nearly criminal on my part.

(Disclaimer: while I know that Jazz isn't everyone's favorite, you should at least give her and it a chance. You might be surprised and like it.)

So, here she is, Keely Smith in 1956 doing "All Night Long." It was one of her television performances with her then husband Louis Prima, who appears very briefly at the beginning and there at the end. They were on television often together and she was part of his stage show the entire time they were married. He was the main attraction and she played the "stand up" girl; Prima was the jokester on stage, she was the serious one and they played off of that while singing together. It was a blissful chemistry. It should be noted that, as far as I know, there is no album version of Smith doing this song. This is the only recording of it.

Hers is one of my top five favorite voices and I'm very pleased to share her with you. Enjoy.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

British Sea Power: "Do You Like Rock Music?"

Sometimes you're just a little late to the party. For whatever reason, this is my first time hearing British Sea Power. Oh sure, I had heard of them but Do You Like Rock Music? is my first real introduction to the band. From what I can tell, the band is uber-talented; featuring hypnotic rock vocals, loud distorted arrangements, and enough grandeur to make a monarch blush. Unfortunately, Do You Like Rock Music? just seems like a misguided effort at taking all those elements and blending them into a cohesive and memorable album. It's far from terrible, but if you're like me, you'll find it tough to get into but easy to forget.

Album opener, "All In It" is simply an introduction to the sound that British Sea Power is going for on Do You Like Rock Music? Taken in context of the question that the album begs, the only logical answer is, " better!" The line, "We're all in it and we close our eyes," is repeated throughout the length of this track like a mantra. An ever-building amalgam of indie rock, stadium rock, and atmospheric reverb completely envelopes it. When it finally does explode into something totally worth fussing about, most will find it a highly- effective intro.

"Lights Out For Darker Skies" is equally as impressive, though this time featuring more than a line's worth of lyrics. It's driving, non-stop electric guitar intro perfectly secedes to what turns out to be an impressive, yet catchy rock anthem. The line "We dance like sparks from the muzzle, " is one part catchy, one part genius, and is followed by an equally notable chorus ("Welcome for the day, I'll stay forever. There's things that we all need to navigate."). Several minutes in, the loud atmospheric rock collapses into a soothing bridge which eventually evolves back into a sound more becoming of the album's title. It is, by far, the standout track on the album.

From here, songs go back and forth between being memorable favorites and forgettable throwaways. "No Lucifer" is by no means a bad song, but it just sounds like the band is trying their best to evoke U2. That is far from my cup o' tea! And when the background vocals start emphatically chanting "Easy!" to no end, I just can't help but think I'd much rather hear one of Bono's ridiculous "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" ad-libs. At least those I can laugh at. "Waving Flags" picks things back up with guitar lead that sounds like the anthem to a 50s "Under the Sea" themed prom; albeit a cranked up to 11 and drunken version of one. Eventually though, the song is so grandiose and unflinching in its conviction that it sounds surprisingly similar to something Sigur Ros would put out. It's a very awesome song, and one that will stick with me longer than most.

After that, however, Do You Like Rock Music? heads nowhere but downward. Songs begin bleeding into one another, sounding annoyingly similar to one another. Others re-evoke U2, and some just blatantly rip off guitar riffs that you've heard in other songs before (the catchy riff in "Atom" is almost identical to that of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's "Is This Love?"). This is unfortunate because the first few songs on the album show such immense promise. But I can't help but express my lackluster feelings for "A Trip Out" or "The Great Skua." They're just so similar that it all becomes so bland and uninteresting.

And that, perhaps, is my biggest problem with Do You Like Rock Music?. After a few listens of the album, the magic is gone. Even the awesomeness of "Lights Out For Darker Skies" is voided due to the fact that you have to spend the next 50 minutes listening to stuff that sounds eerily similar, but a whole lot less enjoyable. There's no doubt in my mind that the guys of British Sea Power put a lot of work into this album, and I can definitely appreciate the effort. But as a newcomer to their music, there is very little about Do You Like Rock Music? that would compel me to check out their first two albums. This one just feels inspired for a few minutes before becoming utterly tedious. If I may quote the late Mitch Hedberg in finding a suitable comparison, Do You Like Rock Music? is like pancakes. "All exciting at first, but by the end, you're f***ing sick of them."

Key Tracks:
1. "Lights Out For Darker Skies"
2. "Waving Flags"
3. "Canvey Island"
4. "No Need to Cry"

5 out of 10 Stars

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