Saturday, July 31, 2010

(500) Days of Weezy

My Sick Uncle - (500) Days of Weezy

Almost a year after the critically-acclaimed, oh-so-cute movie (500) Days of Summer, producer My Sick Uncle has released a mash-up album called 500 Days of Weezy. This album is an odd project, taking samples from the soundtrack of the aforementioned movie, some simple beats, rhymes from Lil' Wayne (Weezy) tracks, and snippets of interviews to create a strangely enjoyable album.

At the outset, My Sick Uncle claims, "This is not a mash-up album, this is an album about Wayne." On the other hand, he also says, "Apologies to Morrissey and Simon & Garfunkel for fucking with your songs." So...take from that range of values what you will. To further this claim, though, he uses interview samples to provide insight into some aspects of Weezy's life. These bits are used as interludes to change the flow in between tracks. The interlude is best-placed on "Let's Get High (With Katie Couric)," where he discusses drugs and life as a gangster with everyone's favorite evening news anchor.

The album, overall, is not fantastic. It's no surprise that many of Lil' Wayne's songs are not, shall we say, happy and light. So I was not entirely surprised when songs like "Lollipop Dreams"—in which "Lollipop" gets mixed with "You Make My Dreams Come True"—didn't sound quite right. I'm not sure Hall & Oates could have conceived anything like it, or, for that matter, would have wanted to. The song sounds like a good idea at first, but the tone of Weezy's rhyming doesn't hold up when sped up to match the melody.

Nonetheless, the album is good fun. The tracks are not too long, the sounds created are pretty interesting, and there are some gems on here—check out "Us (Me and Mrs. Officer)," which trades the original's guitars for Regina Spektor's piano and strings. More often than not, the longer songs work well; my picks for the album are "Us (Me and Mrs. Officer)," "Please, Hustler, Please," "Let's Get High (With Katie Couric)," and the closer "Quequ'un M'a Dit: We Outta Here Baby."

Prasanna's Grade: B, Download it here.

-Prasanna Swaminathan

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Interview: ShitSleeper

I recently spoke with Philadelphia-area artist ShitSleeper (formerly Every Bunny Welcome, known outside of music as Alec Gabin) about his self-recorded new album, Sky & A Flag, released 7/23/10. Based in the label/collective Tamur Records, he has been part of numerous projects over the past years, but has largely recorded alone for his past few releases. To hear (and buy!) Sky & A Flag, you can gohere. All the tracks from the Every Bunny Welcome days are also available free on Tamur Records’ online catalog.

God Save the Beat: Could you give some background as to how you initially got started in music? Back in high school and immediately after?

Alec Gabin: Well let’s see. I played the trumpet in elementary school, even though I wanted to play drums. By high school I was taking music theory. Then I met 2 kids on my baseball team who liked music. They were a year older. I spent the entire summer after freshman year of high school in my friend’s garage writing and recording music with him. Duct taping mics to the ceiling. Screaming bloody murder angsty Interpol wannabes at all hours, all summer.

We started a band and I ended up being the singer, which was odd because I had never considered myself much of a singer. I still don’t. We had a band called the Pidgeons. I played Rhodes piano and sang. I bought a cheap drum set. I started screwing around on acoustic guitar. After high school I decided I wanted to not go to college and instead play music. So I moved in with current bandmates in North Jersey and played in New York City with a head full of dreams.

Since I was 15 I have been recording solo music. I started out using free software and one of those white computer mics that comes with most PCs. Until this last project (I am now 21) I have gone by "Every Bunny Welcome". Most Every Bunny Welcome songs were recorded in one night alone and only compiled into albums later. My latest record, Sky & A Flag, was not done this way. (And now I go by ShitSleeper.) This record was done over the period of a month, working on all songs at once.

Anyway, I'm rambling.

GSTB: Who are your greatest musical influences?

AG: Hmmmm. I could take this a lot of ways. A lot. Caustic Resin. Godspeed You Black Emperor. Chopin. Joanna Newsom. The Walkmen. Black Moth Super Rainbow's first album. Lots of soundtracks. Terminator, the Snowman movie. Hardcore techno. The Fall, Joy Division. I am also influenced by bands I don’t like. Bands I try NOT to be like. But I try to try not to be like anyone. I just try to let it all come through me.

Also the Subhumans. Slowdive. Broken Social Scene's first album. Hmm.

GSTB: What does this album mean for you in terms of your evolution as an artist? How was this album different from what you've done in the past? Is there a story behind how it came to be?

AG: This is the first album I've gone about recording as a whole, instead of a song at a time. It’s the first solo album I’ve ever had printed up, and mastered. It took a solid month of 8 or so hours a day. Sometimes more than 24 hours in a row. You get obsessed. I recorded it in my parents’ basement.

GSTB: Why the name change from Every Bunny Welcome to ShitSleeper?

AG: I just feel it’s time for a change. Every Bunny Welcome implies a certain innocence to the whole process that I just don’t feel anymore. I wish I did, I wish I could record without thinking like I did when I was 15, but I can't. I know too much, even though all I know is I know nothing.

GSTB: What inspired the shift in sound? I noticed in particular there's a heavier overall sound here, but there's even some strings as well. Was it a conscious change, or something that came naturally?

AG: I have always wanted strings in my music. I write music on piano, almost as classical music. I like to compose with notes, not set chords I did not make up myself. I have composed some choral and classical music in the past, but to me it's all the same. Music is music. I just got tired of my classical music not having a sweet trip-hop groove. I would have been using violin forever, but I only recently found a violinist for this album.

And as for the heaviness thing, it’s always been heavy. At least in my head. I also figured out in the past year how to make the Rhodes sound like a fucking Stegasaurus eating Catholic school children. That took a while. I figured out eating children fast, but Catholic children took longer.

GSTB: What are you most proud of in terms of your artistic output?

AG: I really like the album I did on GarageBand a while back. Sometimes it’s nice to be limited. I don’t know. This is a tough question. If I was really proud of anything I'd done, I might stop doing it. I've been trying to write the same goddamn song for years. Been trying to paint the same picture for years too. I'm proud more of the fact I got the album done than of the album's content itself. There's a big difference between garage band and logic pro with an interface etc...

GSTB: What's the next step from here? Do you see yourself recording another album as ShitSleeper on Tamur Records? What is your connection/status with Tamur?

AG: As always, I’ve been writing more and more music, absentmindedly on Monday morning pianos while my parents are at work. I’m thinking of doing a more acoustic/folky album. I was on a roadtrip recently and wrote a few acoustic guitar country-esque numbers I wanna do real basic. My next release will certainly sound smaller, if that makes sense. Less overdriven, less process, less cut up. I’m not ready for another one of these yet.

Tamur is a home for me. I really don’t consider myself having a label. But it’s my home. It’s the only sense of musical community I have anymore. Which is my own fault. But yeah.

GSTB: Anything else you'd like to say about the album, the creative process behind it, or you as an artist?

AG: What I really want is to find some musicians that I can click with.People that listen louder than they play. People that realize a member of a band is a part of a whole. The funny thing is... I really don't much like playing music alone, and I especially hate recording music. It’s a painful process. Takes forever, especially alone. I hate click tracks. I just want to have the group be able to play the song live at any time, all at once. Stick a mic in the middle and call it a recording. Recording alone so much begins to feel like literally "playing with yourself" in a basement. I’d like to get the music out of myself. And for this I need other people.

-Juan Carlos

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dark Is What They Aim For: Tired Pony's Moody Debut

Band names fall into hundreds of different categories, from pop culture references (Au Revoir Simone) to names created just to please the ear (Mates of State). In the case of indie super-group Tired Pony, the name stems from the sound, which in this case is the dominating mood of the music. The image conjured by the name is one of an overworked, overburdened animal, sides bruised by the scores of impatient children it has balanced on its back. And the set of songs it refers to is one marked by a comparable weariness, a kind of premature ageing, a sudden and insisting exhaustion.

Anyone who has heard Gary Lightbody live knows that he has got some serious pipes. So, the prospect of the Irishmen's voice placed in a new context is something to get excited about, especially because that new context includes members of Belle & Sebastian and R.E.M. But Tired Pony doesn't deliver any dramatic changes, with melodies and rhythmic patterns often reminiscent of Lightbody's work as Snow Patrol's lead singer. Their innovation is the addition of bluegrass instrumentation - mandolins and dobros, banjos and fiddles. The movement from Snow Patrol to Tired Pony is still a lateral one for Lightbody, particularly when it comes to his songwriting. Fans of his work will recognize the "lovers in a storm" imagery in album opener "Northwestern Skies" from A Hundred Million Suns' "Lightning Strike," explored in fairly similar ways.

The Place We Ran From, released this month, disappoints in that it seems to satisfy an emotional impulse more so than a creative one. Weariness is not uncommon in the musical world; the constant traveling and pressure of being under observation tend to foster that kind of exhaustion. But ideally, the music should transcend that restlessness, that unhappiness, by operating on a creative level. It could offer some sort of redemption, an exit strategy. This is not the case for Tired Pony, who often seem to let the emotions drive (rather than simply inspire) their music. Though the songs do arrive to some sort of cathartic height every so often, the builds are too slow and we may find ourselves waiting through the first three minutes of "Get On The Road" to get to the last minute and a half. The Place We Ran From can feel somewhat like it's indulging the weariness, like it glamorizes the gloom.

Of course, there are some high points to the album that make it worthwhile, and worth the wait for those of you who are stateside (US release is set for September 28th). When the album does swell to the aforementioned, much anticipated cathartic heights, it really is quite good. All in all though, it is time for Lightbody to move out of his comfort zone of moody musicality.

Melany's grade: C+


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The 10 Songs You Don’t Want To Get Stuck In Your Head

Whether it’s because they’re objectively bad or because you never want to be caught absentmindedly singing them to yourself, there are definitely some songs that you just don’t want to get stuck in your head. I have the terrible habit of having the most unfortunate melodies stuck in my head at the most inopportune moments: right before a midterm or final, just before I head to bed, in the middle of a conversation, in that moment right after the professor has called on me but I haven’t started to speak yet… These are the songs that fragment themselves into little pieces of a chorus or verse and run tiny laps in your mind until you just start to tear your hair out in frustration.

This list is composed of songs that have proved particularly troublesome for me in the past few months. I’m sure there are plenty others that could be here, so feel free to post your choices in the comments!

With Arms Wide Open, Creed

Once this song’s stuck, it’s hard to shake. It could be Scott Stapp’s gravelly “man voice,” or the hackneyed string arrangement, or maybe the Tolkien-esque music video. Whatever the cause, the guitar solo and the chorus immediately after it were stuck in my head for a good portion of this past April. This is not a song you want anyone else to know you’ve ever heard before. Nickelback’s Photograph comes in a close second. I never have been able to figure out what the hell is on Joey’s head…

Baby, Justin Bieber

I’ll be the first to admit that if Justin Bieber were not Justin Bieber, I would probably like this song. The song’s chorus is catchy, Ludacris does a great verse, and the instrumental track balances perfectly with the vocals. But the catch is that it is Justin Bieber, and he recorded these songs about true love at the age of 14 or 15. I can’t take it seriously. Neither should any 14 year-old girl.

My Humps, Black Eyed Peas


Best I Ever Had, Drake

I love Drake, I really do. But did he have to go and make his catchiest song have one of the least socially acceptable choruses ever? You can’t go singing this to yourself just anywhere.

Tik Tok, Ke$ha

Ke$ha’s rise to fame on this single is qualitatively the worst development in pop music in recent memory. You’ll probably never meet a person who likes this song, and yet everyone knows the opening lines. Everyone. Her voice is irritating, her style is uncreative, but that chorus is unnervingly catchy. I just really hope that P Diddy never wakes up feeling like Ke$ha, or else his next album will be made up of electro-pop dance music with autotuned singsong vocals about partying and being generally useless. Oh wait… that’s exactly what Last Train to Paris is going to be. For shame, Diddy. For shame.

Imma Be, Black Eyed Peas

Imma be, Imma be, Imma Imma Imma be. Imma be, Imma be, Imma Imma Imma be. Imma be, Imma be, Imma Imma Imma be. Imma be be be be Imma Imma be. Imma be be be be Imma Imma be. Imma be be be be Imma Imma be. Imma be, Imma be, Imma Imma Imma be. Imma be, Imma be, Imma Imma Imma be. Imma be, Imma be, Imma Imma Imma be. Imma be be be be Imma Imma be. Imma be be be be Imma Imma be. Imma be be be be Imma Imma be. Imma be, Imma be, Imma Imma Imma be. Imma be, Imma be, Imma Imma Imma be. Imma be, Imma be, Imma Imma Imma be. Imma be be be be Imma Imma be. Imma be be be be Imma Imma be. Imma be be be be Imma Imma be... in primal scream therapy if I have to listen to this ever again.

Ignition Remix, R. Kelly

Part of this track's catchiness comes courtesy of Dave Chappelle’s side-splittingly funny spoof. I can't divorce that video from the real thing. Both Ignition and its parody are so smooth and, in completely different ways, hilarious. Possibly the most laughable line: “So gimme that toot-toot, lemme give you that beep-beep.” Simply enchanting. Makes me want to give someone that toot-toot. Look what you’ve done to me, R. Kelly.

Drop It Like It’s Hot, Snoop Dogg ft. Pharrell

Snoop Dogg talks like a preteen girl here, raising the terminal inflection of that chorus loop so it sounds like a question every time. Drop it like it’s hot? Drop it like it’s hot? Drop it like it’s hot? No, I will not drop it like it’s hot, Snoop. Now stop asking. Go back to your wife and kids and contemplate the innumerable contradictions between your music and home life. Or, if that's too weighty, just think of another small country to rent.

Life’s a Bitch, Nas

This is the best track off Illmatic, Nas’s groundbreaking debut album. Which should mean that I’d be happy to get this stuck in my head… But it’s just so depressing. Having the line “life’s a bitch and then you die” on constant mental replay while doing those ACCT 101 practice exams in a secluded Van Pelt study carrel can sink you into a nihilistic funk pretty quickly. What other hip-hop songs can inspire such existential angst?

Stanky Legg, GS Boyz

Look up the definition of “stanky legg” on urbandictionary. If the name of the song and the appearance of the dance weren’t already repulsive enough, that will ruin any positive or even humorous associations you had with that song. Just make it stop! Please!

-Juan Carlos

Monday, July 26, 2010

2010: Nothing New?

2009 was an extraordinary year for music. From crazy electro-pop to electrifying indie rock, we were treated to some truly breathtaking stuff as the decade ended. This year, however, is a different story. It’s not necessarily that the music has been worse, but, so far anyway, it has been much less groundbreaking. Take a look at three of the best albums of the year to this point: ‘Teen Dream’ by Beach House, ‘How I Got Over’ by the Roots, and ‘The Wild Hunt’ by The Tallest Man on Earth. At their most creative, each improves on an existing sound – it doesn’t invent new ones. Beach House puts a wonderful spin on the relatively standard indie rock formula of clean, colorful guitar lines and a distant rhythm section. The edge on this record comes from Victoria Legrand’s vocals, but they aren’t enough to make ‘Dream’ revolutionary. The Roots perfect jazz-hop on their latest release, but it’s not the first time we’ve heard this sound. Actually, it’s not even the first time we’ve heard the Roots play this way. The Tallest Man on Earth writes soulful, clever ditties and accompanies them with very fine acoustic guitar playing. This is certainly his best outing yet, but it isn’t innovative. If anything, it reminds us that there’s still a place for the acoustic songwriter in the pop lexicon.

There are a few months for 2010 to change the way we think about music, but the odds don’t look good. We may have to settle for a year of albums that were great listens but didn’t provide new frontiers of sound.

- Jesse Javna

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Review: "Lights" and "Barricade" by Interpol

Interpol has had a rough summer. First, most of their opening dates for U2 were cancelled because of Bono’s back surgery. Then Carlos D, their bassist and most iconic bandmate, left to pursue “new goals.” Without him, the band was rendered largely faceless to many fans. Even with his move from militant chic to more relaxed, normal dress, he remained an aesthetic center of the band, the one who defined what Interpol is all about. Fortunately for us, he recorded the upcoming album with the band, even if he’s not touring with them.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, Interpol was at the helm of the post-punk revival that took over the independent music scene a year or two after the garage rock style of the Strokes canonized indie rock with their album Is This It in 2001. Interpol’s album Turn On the Bright Lights, released in 2002, drew infinite comparisons to Joy Division, often seen as the one band that defined post-punk: sharp, angular basslines; monotonous vocals; sparse, often amelodic guitars; and tight, straightforward drumming. All this was hip in the late 70s and early 80s, but had largely faded out of the mainstream by the late 80s. Interpol brought this style back, and with that first album helped ensconce the post-punk sound as a core for much of the decade’s indie rock bands.

It’s been a long 8 years since then, but Interpol has managed to stay afloat, unlike so many of their early-2000s peers. Their lead single "Barricade" from their upcoming self-titled album was leaked onto the internet within the past week, and it’s a welcome sonic shift for Interpol. Their previous album, Our Love to Admire, was an unfortunate drift into unfamiliar territory for the band. From the look of this single, they’ve returned to their strengths.

The throbbing bass is what keeps "Barricade" from falling into the trap of their previous album, Our Love to Admire, which was largely composed of aimlessly plodding tracks of indeterminate structure. Carlos D keeps things on point here, and his perfect interplay with Sam Fogarino’s drums keeps Daniel Kessler (guitar) and Paul Banks (vocals/guitar) from getting carried away with their more ambient leanings. They keep the reverb to a minimum, and maintain their simple chordal strumming underneath everything. It all constitutes a move back to the concise format of their earlier songs. They could still afford to cut from the second half and make the chorus more distinctive, but "Barricade" is a lot better than anything they’ve done in the past three years.

What’s even better is that they’ve managed to distill the strongest elements from Our Love to Admire into a listenable, engaging form for this album. Their other single, "Lights", is a more controlled, focused take on the atmospheric facet of their style that took over Our Love to its detriment. This song actually goes somewhere. Paul Banks appears to have brought in some of the styling from his solo album and synthesized strong motifs and riffs into these more spacious songs. Would I still listen to "Lights" at almost any point, like I would with anything on Turn On the Bright Lights? Probably not. You have to be in the mood for it. It isn’t something infectious enough to rival their older material. It definitely does not need to be as long as it is (5:38), and it only gets really moving after four minutes. The whole gaining-momentum-to-a-sonic-climax thing isn’t one that they do too well, but they’re getting (marginally) better at it.

Interpol made the future difficult for themselves when they released their first album. Aside from being an amazing, game-changing piece of work, it restricted their aural palette to the barest of bones. The whole album was so strict in its instrumental and structural parameters that it left Interpol little room to evolve while staying faithful to their sound. Their second album was a slight misstep, their third a much larger one, but it seems as if their fourth album will mark a return to a more comprehensible, coherent evolution from Turn On the Bright Lights. We’ll have to wait until September 7 to hear in full, but based on these two tracks, I’m optimistic.

Juan Carlos’ rating:

Barricade: B+

Lights: B (but an A for effort and improvement)

-Juan Carlos



Saturday, July 24, 2010

Nerdstalgia: Darren Criss at The Living Room

My childhood officially ended in the summer of 2007-- the limbo summer between the carefree days of high school, and well, Penn, but more importantly, the last Harry Potter summer. Since then, I have always tried to find ways to recreate my childhood, a tendency that Darren Criss calls “nerdstalgia.” No one does it better than he does; if you go to his YouTube channel, you’ll find a series of acoustic Disney covers. And let’s not forget his claim to fame — he stars as Harry Potter in “A Very Potter Musical,” a play he helped write and produce with his friends at the University of Michigan and which became an Internet phenomenon last summer. The musical lovingly and, might I add, hilariously spoofs the Harry Potter saga, featuring a bromance between Voldemort and Quirrel, a flamboyant Dumbledore with a poster of Zac Efron in his office, and, as promised by the opening number, a “totally awesome” soundtrack. Criss and his friends, who call themselves Team StarKid, released the much-anticipated “A Very Potter Sequel” on YouTube last week.

Two weeks ago, I went to see Criss’ free show at The Living Room in New York City, and I left thinking that it was a show I would definitely be willing to pay for the next time around. Criss owned the stage with easy charisma that perfectly suited the intimate and casual atmosphere of the venue. Though he played a short set of only ten or twelve songs, he performed each song with energy and passion. His lone acoustic guitar never sounded bare and more than filled the small room and his piano numbers were equally resonant.

After the show, I spoke briefly to Criss. With the best intentions to communicate how much I enjoyed the show, I stupidly said something along the lines of “I enjoyed that more than I expected to.” Darren, if you’re reading this, I meant that in the best possible way. Not being too familiar with Criss’ repertoire, I went to the show hoping to hear a song or two from AVPM. Criss did not disappoint on this count. Along with a fervent performance of “Not Alone,” a favorite from the musical, he gave the audience a preview of the upcoming sequel, an immediately catchy song he prefaced with, “This song is supposed to be sung by a girl,” before crooning out the lyrics “I’m the coolest girl in the world!” But even Criss’ personal acoustic music was a pleasure. “I Still Think,” probably his strongest song, was full of hooks and clever melodies, and “Human,” which Criss wrote when he was fifteen and admittedly sounds like it, was nevertheless endearing. Criss ended his show with very subtle rendition of “A Whole New World.”

His ability to combine playfulness and maturity is Criss’ unique talent, one that definitely shone through in his performance.

You can check out “A Very Potter Musical” (and soon the sequel) on YouTube, and you can also find Criss’ very musically talented brother in the band Freelance Whales.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Nothing to Be Desired

For the most part, tracing the genealogy of contemporary bands is straightforward. These days, save for a few black sheep, most bands’ patriarchs tend to be The Strokes, The Shins, The White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, etc. And yet, in a New York music scene where heterogeneity is constantly strived for but rarely reached, School of Seven Bells have created a sound all their own. They have achieved Uncategorizability, a level of innovation granted to a select few artists.

Ok, so maybe they’re a little categorizable. Perhaps they’re at the heretofore undefined midpoint between Bourne Identity soundtracks and Sigur Ros. And one certainly wouldn’t be ostracized for saying they’re an airier version of M83. Regardless, they’re new, different, and (above all) good.

At worst, Disconnect From Desire, their latest album, is a collection of songs that blend together because everything sounds the same. But at best, it’s the optimal relaxing background music (or perhaps foreground music, depending on the situation) for bed-lying, car-driving, and/or existential window-looking. This music is beyond chill – more than atmospheric. It’s stratospheric. Exospheric even. Up here, you may forget why any band even chooses to have a guitar track in their songs.

School of Seven Bells is vocal-centric, so the use of anything other than voices is extremely limited. There’s a bassline, perhaps a synth, and not much else. Employing front-twins’ Alejandra and Claudia Deheza’s celestial vocal chords as the primary means of melody ends up being a whole lot more practical than it is artsy – which is a surprisingly difficult balance to tip in one’s favor. Their voices on tracks like “Windstorm” will blow you away, if not for sheer awesomeness, then at least for pure novelty. Disconnect from Desire may not change your life, but it will open your ears to new possibilities.

Joe's Grade: B


Thursday, July 22, 2010

All Summer Long: My Favorite Warm-Weather Songs

Music and summer mix wonderfully. They have a symbiotic relationship – on their own, each is lovely, but together, they form a bond that can inspire spontaneous dance parties and turn the average road trip into the adventure of a lifetime. When you’ve finished your schoolwork and you’re ready for summer, it’s time to crank up the tunes.

I’ve put together a list of my 10 favorite summer songs to facilitate a June, July and August full of everything from surfing to sleeping in. They have served me well in the past and I hope they will do the same for you. At the risk of undermining my whole post, however, I encourage you to remember one important thing about music: songs are only as important as you make them. The best songs will be the ones that you have the most fun with – say, the ones you play at that awesome bonfire, or a sick 4th of July banger, or while drinking a brew on the beach. Those are the ones that go down in history. So go ahead, sample my tastes; but when August comes to a close, make sure you have found your own as well.

10) ‘Even The Losers’ – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

After the long lead-up to June finally ends, it often seems like anything is possible. Tom Petty, perhaps the coolest loser in rock, sums up that feeling in a self-righteous declaration that anyone can get lucky. Since we're all losers in our way, it's nice to be reminded that being lame won't necessarily prevent us from having a rad summer.

9) ‘Time Is A Runaway’ – The Alternate Routes

This alt-pop tune didn’t make much of a splash when it was released, but it’s a personal favorite. The sound is simultaneously huge and sweet, with cascading guitar chords drenched in reverb and delay to create a mood reminiscent of the first few minutes of a summer sunset. Detractors would call it over-the-top pop, but it’s really just a warm reminder that summer doesn’t last forever.

8) ‘Anytime’ – My Morning Jacket

'Anytime' is appropriately titled – it's one of those tunes that fit every mood. It'll wake you up if you're sleepy, pick you up if you're heartbroken, and feed your fire if you're ready to rock out. Since you never know what's going to happen during summer, it's a great choice for a mix. Beyond that, it really is a fantastic song; Jim James and MMJ have an uncanny feel for making modern rock that draws on southern influences like the Allman Brothers and The Band. But their sound is all their own, and this song is a perfect example of what makes them special.

7) ‘Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangster’ – Geto Boys

This song has only one purpose – to make you feel cool. In my adventures with silly hip-hop songs, 'Damn It Feels Good' is the best at changing one's demeanor from average homeboy to original gangster. You might recognize it from the cult-classic film Office Space, in which Peter turns G and decides not to come to work anymore…which eventually leads to a raise. Warning: results not typical.

6) ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ – Thin Lizzy

For those of us lucky enough to be in college, summer often means going home. This is the perfect track for hitting up your old stomping grounds or reminiscing with friends about how cool you were in high school. Though they're occasionally roped in with heavy metal acts like Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy distinguish themselves by adding colorful melodies and funny narrative lyrics to their power chords. In this case, the result is a track that rocks, but in a strange, sweet way. They never matched the success or quality of this song, but then again, most bands don't write anything this good at all.

5) ‘Surfin’ USA’ – The Beach Boys

Any of the Beach Boys’ classics will do just fine for fun in the sun, and the ballads (namely “Warmth of the Sun”) are ideal for evening strolls in the sand. But this one holds a special place in my heart. Mankind has often asked what would happen if “everybody had an ocean”, and in this Chuck Berry-inspired piece of rock candy, Brian Wilson and Co. answer: we’d go surfing. Plan to hit the sand during the sunny months, but if you don’t make it, you can always listen to the Beach Boys – which, in truth, may be the next best thing.

4) ‘In a Big Country’ – Big Country

There are those of us who have explored the great outdoors, and there are of those of us who should. Summer is the prime time to go camping with friends or take a long road trip, and this song is an essential travel accessory. A true gem that has never received its due, I believe this is one of the more underrated rock songs of all time, not to mention the perfect track for an excursion into the wilderness. It’s hard to have more fun than exploring nature and blasting ‘Big Country’.

3) ‘Summer In The City’ – The Lovin’ Spoonful

From the slam of the opening keyboard riff to the distant car horns in the bridge, “Summer in the City” is a mosaic of warm-weather sounds. The Lovin’ Spoonful mix a cup of blues-inspired rock, a batch of pop perfection, and a pinch of attitude to concoct a true classic. You don’t have to be in a city to enjoy it, but no song presents a better picture of metropolitan summer – from the muggy, hot days, to the cool, magical nights. Mark Sebastian’s thoughtful lyrics, though presented playfully, are timeless: “Don’t you know it’s a pity the days can’t be like the nights in the summer, in the city…”

2) ‘1979’ – The Smashing Pumpkins

There’s something magical about being young in summertime. Perhaps it’s the absence of responsibility, or the freedom that clear skies afford – or both. In any case, the Smashing Pumpkins flawlessly capture the upside of youthful angst on this, their magnum opus. Breezy guitar riffs combined with a soothing electro-beat provide the ideal background for appreciating those lazy summer days when having nothing to do feels divine.

1) ‘Born to Run’ – Bruce Springsteen

Summer is about being adventurous, and no song in the popular music catalog incites more youthful bravery than this classic. As masterful as he is at crafting rock tunes, The Boss can get long-winded at times, and it’s obvious when he’s trying too hard. But there’s none of that here. Every drum roll, every wail of the sax, and every howl Springsteen lets loose are perfectly placed. Together, they make something greater. “Born to Run” is rock n’ roll at its peak – in four and a half minutes of blazing passion, it inspires us to seek out the mystical parts of existence that make life beautiful. You can’t ask for much more in a summer song.

A few honorable mentions, and their function:

‘4th of July’ – Robert Earl Keane

Great for getting the patriotic juices flowing on Independence Day.

‘Walk In The Park’ – Beach House

Pretty self-explanatory.

‘So Hard To Find My Way’ – Jackie Greene

Forget your worries and embrace the warm weather.

‘Boulevard’ – Jackson Browne

Inspiration for exploring a new city.

‘The Frog Prince’ – Keane

Uplifting if things aren't going exactly as planned.

- Jesse Javna

How I Never Got Over: the Roots

I remember buying my first Roots album, Phrenology. It was my 13th birthday present from my Grandma, whose 1930s upbringing has left her with a classical and jazz music taste that never even fully warmed up to the Beatles (and a poofy Jewfro so big that it nearly covers her face). As we were driving back from the CD store, I eagerly popped in the new album, ready to show off how cool and how much of a rebel I was listening to hip-hop. I turned it to a volume far too loud for a grandmother and began nodding my head to the singles, “Sacrifice,” “The Seed 2.0” and “Break You Off.” Then, something shocking happened. Grandma nodded her head a bit too. Grandma was enjoying hip-hop, and suddenly I was not such a young badass.

Yet, another strange thing happened too: I didn’t particularly care that my rebel status had taken a colossal hit. The music that hit my ears was new and exciting and by the end of the ride home, the Roots were already one of my favorite groups. Their take on hip-hop was unlike the other hip-hop albums I was nodding my head to back then, like 2pac’s Me Against the World and Nas’ Illmatic (still in the rotation) and not just because they didn’t encourage me to buy “Ecko” clothing or to call my friends “dawg.” Not to slight either of those classics, but the Roots push the creative boundaries of hip-hop in ways that other artists do not. Rather than follow the traditional hip-hop formula—defiant, ego-driven, emotional and at times inspiring lyrics sung over a background beat with heavy bass and a looped hook—the Roots make hip-hop music in which the rap can not be separated from the beat. In other words, the Roots first and foremost make music and music that can move you in ways a clever rhyme cannot. Take “Sacrifice.” Black Thought, the MC, stops rhyming with over a minute left, but that’s not particularly noteworthy. It’s that the last minute, during which ?uestlove's drums and the repeating chorus take over, is my favorite part of the song. It’s that it feels like the finale of one of the great rock songs I grew up with.

It may have taken another few years for me to stop hanging my pants so low below my waist that it angered my mom, but I matured with Phrenology. I learned to appreciate hip-hop, and music for that matter, in a new way. I learned to recognize the differences between the feeling a catchy hook, a powerful line or a cool riff can provoke and the total rush I have when I listen to song in which every small detail works together to create an awe-inspiring, beautiful, rich sound.

Yet, even as I have since continued to mature musically, I have never gotten over the Roots because, well, they have continued to mature too. As anyone versed in art knows, the great artists, whether you look at the Beatles or Pablo Picasso or W.B. Yeats, continue to push the boundaries of their art as they grow older. No, the Roots do not belong next to those names in terms of artistic achievements. However, in terms of their ability to adapt with their contemporaries and continue to create relevant, exciting art, they have been similarly exceptional.

Compare the opening tracks of Do you want more?!!!??!, their first major label album released in 1995, and How I Got Over, released last month. Do you want more?!!!??!(,) was more than a hip-hop album—it was an experiment in, as the opening lines of the album tell us, “organic hip-hop jazz.” Jazz and hip-hop have many historical connections (perhaps most readily apparent in Ali Shaheed Muhammed’s beats for A Tribe Called Quest). The Roots, however, took those connections to a new level with their piano and horn heavy jazzy beats, becoming leaders of “hip-hop jazz.”

The opening track of How I Got Over, “A Peace of Light”, on the other hand, is quite different. Indie rock stars Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian and Haley Dekle (all of the Dirty Projectors) sing a gentle, wordless harmony over a soft, jazzy ?uestlove drumbeat that leaves us in contemplative anticipation. Over the past fifteen years, the Roots have progressed from their original “organic hip hop jazz,” adding elements of soul, classic rock, electronica, and even the most current indie rock. But they no longer need to warn us (as they did on Do you want more?!!!??!) that the album will challenge our understanding of hip-hop. After over a decade of relevant, exciting Roots music that even my Grandma can jam to, we know that we can count on them for that.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lilith Returns: San Fran Version

Fear God. Trust Jesus. Repent or parish. Just some low-key signs that protestors held as I walked into the Shoreline Amphitheatre in San Fran, where the Lilith Fair revival tour landed last month. For those unfamiliar with Lilith, it’s a concert tour founded by Sarah McLachlan in 1997 to honor female musicians and a portion of its proceeds are donated to female-oriented causes. Lilith ran for a two-year stint until 1999, during which it raised $10M for women’s charities in North America. It’s little wonder, then, that the megaphone-bearing bible-readers showed up to denounce its revival in the gay capital of America – the event screamed “Lesbians, come hither!”, which they did. Thousands of tattooed couples flocked to the outdoor event, picnic baskets in hand, ready for some good lady rock after a 12-year Lilith hiatus.

Musicians performed on three stages from all afternoon until almost midnight. On the main stage: Colbie Caillat, The Bangles, Miranda Lambert, Heart, and finally, the bearer of the Fair, Sarah McLachlan. On the less gargantuan stages: A Fine Frenzy, The Submarines, Susan Justice, Kitten, Ann Atomic and Terra Naomi.

Main stage highlights for me included Sarah, whose throaty voice used to blare from my older sister’s room during her broody, high school phase, and 70s rock band Heart. Lead vocalist Ann Wilson is larger than she once was, but she’s just as fierce. (I’m almost 40 years her junior and I felt my eardrums going numb during her performance). When she sang Alone (revived lately by Glee and So You Think You Can Dance) from their ’87 album Bad Animals, I got teary-eyed. Both Heart and The Bangles plugged their new albums, but I’m pretty sure people were just craving more nostalgia.

Less thrilling was Miranda Lambert, a Texan country babe who called herself a “redneck” and sang a ditty about moving closer to a place where she could buy beer. “Let me warn you, San Fran,” she said to her fans, “I’m damn good with a shotgun.” Maybe the liberal ladies in the audience were too buzzed on overpriced beer to care, but I seriously thought she was going to get stoned, and not in the good, hippie way.

A Fine Frenzy’s Alison Sudol stood out among the second group. She lulled and energized all in the same quick set, singing pain ballads like Almost Lover and Silent War, but also beating her tambourine to newer, summery tunes that before long had people up off their beach towels. “What a magnificent day, isn’t it?” she said, charmingly. Sudol paired her long, fire-engine hair with an azure mini-frock and dark red boots, so I couldn’t decide whether she looked more like a superhero or the biblical demon herself. Either way, the 25-year-old vixen didn't seem human.

If Lilith Fair is about female empowerment, then it worked. I left having witnessed not only an array of talented artists, but unprecedented courtesy from festival-goers, who begged pardon as they crawled over one another, and picked up trash when others forgot. I wonder if I’d see the same thing at a Goliath Fair.

- Daniella

Review: Thank Me Later

Like many hip hop fans, I’ve had Drake’s debut album, Thank Me Later, on almost constant rotation over the past month. I’m still not 100% sure what makes the album so infectious, but it’s managed to hold my interest far better than any other release over the past six months.

I think a large part of it is due to the work of his producer, Noah “40” Shebib. 40 has helped to create a unique sound for Drake, one that sets him apart from the rest of the hip hop field today. It’s as distinct as what RZA did for Wu-Tang and DJ Premier for Gang Starr; there’s really no one else on the scene who uses comparable beats. It’s a mix of atmospheric synths (“Shut It Down”), chopped string runs (“Thank Me Now”), bass-heavy toms (“Light Up”), and even some glitchy electronica elements (“Show Me a Good Time”), all overlaid with Drake’s nasal, auto-tuned sneer.

Some credit also has to be given to Boi-1da, the producer of Drake’s #1 single, “Over.” It’s the same guy who did “Best I Ever Had,” that ubiquitous hit from last summer. He's got an amazing talent for incorporating schmaltzy 70s funk pop orchestral arrangements into his beats, and he does it better than even Kanye. The plucky bass and whining violins of the chorus pull away from the snappy hand claps and piercing snare of the verses to make a beautifully evolving collage of contrasts under Drake’s vicious flow on the album. There’s not much that hasn’t already been said by other reviewers about Drake’s rhymes on this LP; his introspection and reflection on his sudden fame are a fascinating turn on the common tropes of hip hop. But other than that, there isn’t a lot of compelling content in what he’s saying. The real artistry is in the music on this album. It makes Thank Me Later an album in the truest sense of the word, one that can be listened to from beginning to end. Drake might be good, but on this effort, it’s the producers we should thank.

Juan Carlos' Grade: A-

-Juan Carlos

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Philly Local: Kurt Vile and his "Square Shells"

In this digital age, some have predicted the end of the album as the prevailing medium of musical expression. But Kurt Vile's latest work is proof that the spirit of the album - a thoughtfully sequenced whole, with a beginning and an end, a thought process brought to its conclusion - lives on, in this case vicariously through its little brother form, the EP.

Square Shells, released this past May, has all the breadth of a good album, exploring moods and genres to create something versatile and varying. Each song carries its own distinct atmosphere, ranging from the nostalgic brooding of "I Wanted Everything" to the more light-hearted "Ocean City", all of which are united by Kurt's craftsman's touch.

The EP is a lovely play on the contrasts between psychedelic and folk influences, shifting easily from drone-dominated instrumentals ("The Finder," "Invisibility: Non-Existent") to the more traditional folk-influenced, guitar-augmented vocals. Of the latter category, "I Know I Got Religion" is a stand-out. It feels like something recorded late at night in a hotel room, a moment of solitude eased by the familiarity of fingers sliding across frets.

Kurt's psych folk fusion reaches its most symbiotic form in the final track, "Hey, Now I'm Movin." The song swells to exquisite heights in the final few minutes, spinning a web of reverberated sound that will surely leave you excited about where it is he's moving to, and what kind of music will come of it.

So show some Philly pride and give this guy a listen - we'll probably be hearing a lot more from and about him soon.

Melany's grade: A


Summer Classic Rock Essentials

Maybe it’s the ironic appearance of overalls or it’s all the time out doors, but in the summer time we always want to rock out to the classics. There’s nothing like rolling down the windows and blasting some of those golden oldies en route to the beach. So without further ado, get your dancing shoes ready, perfect your snap, and practice the twist to enjoy this mix intended to be a pleasant throwback during your blissful summer.

Bang A Gong (Get In On) or Mambo Sun- T. Rex (Electric Warrior, 1971)

Up On Cripple Creek- The Band (The Band, 1969)

Up Around The Bend- Creedence Clearwater Revival (Cosmo’s Factory, 1970)

You Really Got Me- The Kinks (Kinks 1964)

Son Of A Preacher Man- Dusty Springfield (Dusty In Memphis, 1968)

Somebody To Love- Jerfferson Airplane (Surrealistic Pillow, 1967)

Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)- Sly And The Family Stone (Greatest Hits, 1969)

Under My Thumb -The Rolling Stones (Aftermath, 1966)

Fun Fun Fun- The Beach Boys (Shut Down Volume 2, 1964)

Roll Over Beethoven- Chuck Berry (Drifting Heart, 1956)

Don’t Bring Me Down- Electric Light Orchestra (Discovery, 1979)

I Want You Back- Jackson 5 (Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5, 1969)

Runaround Sue- Dion & The Belmonts (The Very Best Of Dion & The Belmonts, 2005)

Norman Greenbaum- Spirit In The Sky (Spirit In The Sky, 1969)

Fat Bottom Girls- Queen (Bicycle Race, 1978)


Monday, July 19, 2010

Let The Great World Spin

Good writing is musical. The most potent use of language, as under the pen of the Joyces and Faulkners of this world, is incantatory and symphonic, a tight structure of sound expertly orchestrated to hit the reader in just the right way. Colum McCann's Let The Great World Spin is a wonder of a novel that exemplifies that kind of writing, at the intersection of literature and music, stunning with every page and melodic in every turn of phrase. I'm not the only one to think so - the book was, after all, the 2009 winner of the National Book Award. Set in 1970s New York City, it delves into the lives of a whole cast of characters, their gritty realities unraveling under the feet of funambulist Philippe Petit as recklessly and beautifully he dances across a tightrope suspended between the Twin Towers.

I'm one of those who feel a great soundtrack is essential to any movie that's worth its while, and sometimes, when a novel hits me the right way, I feel the same way about literature. McCann's novel had me instinctively assembling soundtrack ideas; I sifted
through some of my Dad's college-era records, immersing myself in 70s songs and bands. Below you'll find a playlist with some of the songs I found myself listening to while reading the book. Ideally, I hope that you'll read the book, listen to and amend the playlist, but more realistically, I hope that you just enjoy some good music. Have at it!
  1. Chalkhills and Children - XTC (Oranges and Lemons, 1989)
  2. The Ugly Underneath - XTC (Nonsuch, 1992)
  3. Gin Soaked Boy - Tom Waits (Swordfishtrombones, 1983)
  4. I Found That Essence Rare - Gang of Four (Entertainment!, 1979)
  5. Lava - B-52's (B-52's, 1979)
  6. See No Evil - Television (Marquee Moon, 1977)
  7. True Confessions - The Undertones (The Undertones, 1979)
  8. Hymn - Patty Smith Group (Wave, 1979)
  9. You're Running Wild - Emmylou Harris with Rodney Crowell (Elite Hotel, 1975)
  10. The Needle And The Damage Done - Neil Young (Harvest, 1972)
  11. Shayla - Blondie (Eat To The Beat, 1979)
  12. Life on Mars? - David Bowie (Hunky Dory, 1971)
  13. Blues Run The Game - Simon & Garfunkel (The Columbia Studio Recordings 1964-1970)
  14. Girl From the North Country - Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash (Nashville Skyline, 1969)

RE: blink-182 and talent

I’ve always been a fan of blink-182. Growing up, there was just something in their catchy, garage-punk/pop-punk sound and lyrics that didn’t take themselves too seriously that hooked me. Actually, now that I think of it, it was the catchy, garage-punk/pop-punk sound and lyrics that didn’t take themselves too seriously. But the thing is, it took me a very long time to realize what the band members themselves probably realized from the get-go—they have almost no talent (Travis Barker aside, but he was a later addition anyway).

At first, it was difficult for me to reconcile with this lack of talent, and I questioned whether my fondness of the band had been ill-founded. But as I considered the discrepancy between blink’s popularity and its talent, my appreciation for them only deepened. Because the truth was, blink-182’s live performances were awful—musically, that is. In terms of entertainment, they were pure gold: post-song exchanges between witty, easy-going bassist Mark and awkward, high-strung (if you’ll forgive the pun) guitarist Tom were infinitely more revealing of each person’s character than any of their song lyrics could ever be, while drummer Travis Barker never spoke, answering any question addressed to him with an appropriately expressive drumfill. Despite their popularity, the boys of blink were really just three down-to-earth guys who didn’t let their celebrity status get to them, even at the peak of their popularity, and you didn’t need an exclusive backstage pass to see it. They rarely took themselves seriously, and never proclaimed their own talent—to this day, Mark admits that he can’t even really play bass (all of this in stark contrast to someone like, e.g., Billy Corgan, who, let’s face it, is an asshole).

All of this having been said (the more critical reader will realize that up until this point I have merely been attempting to defend my love of band that is unpopular amongst the more serious circles of music discussion), I can think of one instance in which blink produced a meaningful piece of music, and I don’t think it was quite on purpose. The song is “Adam’s Song” off of their 1998 album Enema of the State.

To my knowledge, it is the first blink song to use an alternate tuning (a whole step down), and the unusual key sets it apart from not only the other tracks on the album but from every album they had done up until that point. That the lyrics are reflective is not particularly surprising; blink frequently uses their lyrics to poke fun at themselves (from “Depends”: “I’m sick of offending everyone I meet/I’m sick of crying myself to sleep on rubber sheets”). However, the level of self-reflection in “Adam’s Song” is unusually mature, and the treatment of common themes like aging and wasted youth ("I never conquered, rarely came") is pulled off in a way that keeps the song from becoming cliché. This, coupled with the song’s alleged existence both as a result of and an inspiration for acts of suicide, makes it a sobering listen.

Unfortunately, I don’t think blink was ever truly able to recapture the feeling of “Adam’s Song” in later works. “Stay Together for the Kids” is often cited as being similar in style and theme, but if “Adam’s Song” is blink’s brainchild, then “STFTK” is its melodramatic younger sister: too much angst, no subtlety. The band would also try to recapture the more mature sound they achieved with “Adam’s Song” on their Untitled EP several years later, but the music would wind up sounding just a little too contrived, too aware of itself and its intentions.

I guess the moral of this story is that good music doesn't always have to take itself seriously. As Billy Corgan says, not everybody can be Billy Corgan. Sometimes things can just fall into place.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Seekers: Busking in Philadelphia

-- Courtesy Jeff Metzner/

Planted in front of a rusted statue in Rittenhouse Park, Philip De Genova wipes a maple seed from his brow and then continues to play, coaxing soft whistles from a wooden flute. He cleans sweat from his disc-shaped glasses and then turns one of the wrinkled sheets on his music stand, singing as he goes so the rhythm never breaks. “La da di daaaaaa, bada da baaaaa…”

At 67-years-old, Phil is like the grandfather of Philadelphia’s “buskers”, a term for people who perform in the streets, or underground, or anywhere in public, really. Phil is delicate, seasoned, and reflective. He wears long silvery hair and a puffy mustache. You can find him busking around the city everyday, but only for the last couple years. He spent seven before that studying Philosophy and Theology in Rome, stifled in the Catholic order’s orchestra.

“They didn’t like it when I played what I wanted,” he says, pressing one eye against the end of his flute, examining it like a telescope. “They wanted me to play their stuff.” So Phil camped under the Ponte Sant’ Angelo bridge instead, near the Vatican. Because the bridge’s tubular shape mimics the flute’s, Phil relished performing there. “The sound was perfect,” he beams.

“I never used to put out the basket [in Rome],” he says nodding to an open flute case strewn with dollars. “And if people gave me money I’d give it to the homeless that used to hang around the river.” But when he came home in 2008, Phil started playing at the local concourse and put out a basket for donations. “As soon as someone put a dollar in there, I thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’” He laughs. “Now I don’t even think twice about it…it pays all my bills…I don’t even go to the bank anymore.”

Phil considers the money a gratuity, a way for people to tell him that they like what he’s doing, and he should keep doing it. But not everyone agrees, like the man who works on the third floor of the high-rise that faces his corner of the park. “He would call the police every day on me,” Phil says. Eventually, Phil suggested to the police that the man was abusing their system and they stopped accepting his complaints. But that wasn’t the end of it. “One day…he came down…and he started to berate me, so I just looked at him, “cuz I don’t get involved in people’s negativity, y’know…” he says, sweeping away the air with the back of his hand. He lifts the flute to his mouth, twittering lightly.

Sometimes when Phil’s down at the local concourse, he gets pestered by kooks and the homeless. “I don’t get a thick skin, “ he says, shaking his head. “But I do learn to let it bounce off. That works better than having a thick skin…that interferes with the music.” Whenever Phil gets into a topic he doesn’t like, he’ll break eye contact, drift off for a moment, and retreat into his flute. Phil will admit to certain gripes — he hates being muffled by the leaf-blowers in the park and he stiffens when he talks about his time with “the Catholics” in Rome. He’ll quickly try to dismiss it all, to keep the air clean for his music, but some things always reappear. When Phil explains that any familiar “Catholic” tunes you hear are borrowed from the Protestants, he adds, “But I have to be careful talking about certain things."

Today Phil is playing oriental melodies, his favorite. Their tone is pastoral and proud, but with sadness underneath. Phil’s in touch lately with a couple of Chinese artists as potential collaborators, particularly with a woman who plays the erhu, a two-string fiddle resembling a homemade vacuum cleaner. “A warm natural sound,” he says. “Perfect for the flute.” Phil’s not sure what will become of it all, but either way he’s not looking to make waves in the music world this late in the game. He just enjoys sharing his gift now, unencumbered — he hasn’t taken orders since his late-50’s army stint. Phil’s content living a monastic life, quiet and solitary, the way he was trained. “…We’re all loners,” he says of the busking community. “Almost all of us.”

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What the 'Fork!?

Let me set the record straight: I have no bone to pick with Pitchfork (For those of you unfamiliar with the notoriously cultured review site, please compare this and this). If anything, my grievances lie with the “indier-than-thou” mentality that’s so prevalent on the Internet these days.

Let me set the record straight #2: When it comes to the spectrum that at one end has “Music as Art” and at the other has “Music as Aural Pleasure,” I straddle the midpoint. I like my music to please me both superficially and under the surface.

Good. Now that’s out of the way. Like any good indie kid, I peruse the daily offerings of everyone’s (note: “everyone” here referring to people who are to some degree pretentious) favorite music website in search of the next great thing the good people at Pitchfork want me to listen to. I often play Jekyll and Hyde, though. It’s as if half of me craves hearing about crazy new indie goings-on, and the other half hates anyone who chooses to outsource thinking for themselves to such a notoriously elitist music blog. That being said, all of me gets pretty infuriated when I come across positive reviews of music that is mind-bogglingly awful. The part of me that loves Pitchfork has no sympathy for a reviewer who boldly proclaims that “This album is difficult,” and goes on to explain why a certain record (ahem, this one) is actually good, contrary to what the uneducated and context-less listener may think. Disregarding what Pitchfork may opine, there is such a thing as too artistic. By espousing the opposite belief, Pitchfork makes a caricature of itself.

On this note, I’m hoping to start a weekly bi-weekly monthly whenever-I-feel-like-it update on the occasional shenanigans and mental fallacies of the Pitchfork staff.

[Now is the time for you to fire up your computer speakers and listen to this bad boy in another window as you read the following paragraph.]

So, today, to kick off the series, I turn to the aforementioned "difficult" album: it’s Wolfgang Voigt’s Freiland Klaviermusik, which from the get-go sounds like robots making violent, violent love. Or perhaps it’s more like a compilation of computer error messages. There’s certainly nothing funny about this horrific hodgepodge of death, but it’s pretty funny how much of a highbrow treatment it gets from the ‘Forkers: with this album, they say, “Voigt positions himself as the next step in a lineage of experimental keyboard music.” Surely, this is “Music as Art,” but who said art ever had to be so painful? This album is straight-up brutal, and should be reserved for Guantanamo’s solitary chambers.

And so, until next time, I must ask: What the ‘Fork!?


Tokyo Police Club's "Champ": Aging Gracefully

The best adults are the ones that have some youth on the inside. When they released their frenetic debut EP, A Lesson in Crime, Tokyo Police Club were kids. And then, on their first full-length album, Elephant Shell, they grew up too much too quickly. Now, on their most recent, Champ, released last month, they’ve aged quite gracefully, finding a happy medium between formula and freeform, adulthood and childhood, and/or energy and predictability. In short, this is the LP we’ve been waiting for ever since we first heard the painfully short 15 minutes that made up A Lesson in Crime.

One of TPC’s strong points is its unbridled energy, but this energy is best used sparingly. That’s why their LPs can’t just be lengthened versions of A Lesson in Crime. And while they proved themselves to some extent on their last album, they’ve alleviated any and all doubt that they can write slower songs: “Hands Reversed” is just as good as anything else on the album, and doesn’t feel strained at all, a sensation that can be all too common when energetic bands go for slow.

“Bambi” is a microcosm of the band’s rediscovery of its past self. In classic TPC style, this track turns revolutionarily rough sounds into rational order: it seems impossible to go from the disjointed scratches at the beginning to something that could be even remotely aurally pleasing. But they pull it off anyway. On “Bambi,” the band goes back to what got them here in the first place: their trademark manic upper-fret scraping (a technique that was in notably short supply on Elephant Shell) is finally back. And while vocalist Greg Monks curiously decided not to sing on this track, it’s on the whole nice to hear his unique whine in conjunction with the chewy, nougat center that put the “buzz” in buzz-band just a couple of years ago. Due to Champ, they’re not a buzz-band anymore; they’re grown-ups, but it’s not too hard to tell that they’re still the same old kids.

Joe's grade: B+


Friday, July 16, 2010

What I'll Be Listening To, "In The Sun"

The first rumors about the collaboration between Zooey Deschanel and M.Ward were greeted with a hesitance which, let’s face it, was justified by the poor track record for actors-turned-musicians. But Volume One, released in March 2008, was an impressive and convincing debut that received a warm welcome from even the sternest of skeptics. The pair’s second album, Volume Two, released this past March, proved to be equally impressive, with a more confident take on the sunny, retro-pop sound that makes She & Him so very irresistible.

Volume Two
is playful and bright. It’s the kind of album you keep in your car but never tire of, the kind of music that plays up those beautiful summer days just as well as it dresses up the grayer ones. The lyrics are those of one disappointed but never beaten down, and always sung with the hint of a smile. Deschanel is, after all, determined to “make it better,” as she sings on the album’s ninth track. This upbeat outlook is part of what makes Volume Two an instant mood-lifter, and as such, a musical delight.

The other major strength of this sophomore album is its timelessness. She & Him have a firm appreciation for history, and their music is all the better for it. The record is full of throwbacks to older times, from the Bee Gees-inspired beat of “In The Sun” to the Orpheus-inspired lyrics of “Don’t Look Back.” But for all their historical consciousness, the pair never lose themselves; each song is distinctly their own – even the covers. They’ve struck the perfect balance between old and new, crafting a sound that feels homey and familiar, all the while remaining intriguing and quirky.

In short, I’ve pushed Volume Two to the center of my summer playlist – and strongly suggest you do the same!

Melany's grade: A


Janelle Monáe at the BET Awards

Forget Chris Brown’s tears. Forget Justin Bieber’s questionable nomination for Best New Artist. You can even forget Kanye’s Ronnie James Dio-esque choice to perform on a flaming papier-mâché mountain. If there’s one memorable moment from the BET Awards last month, it was Janelle Monáe’s tribute performance to Prince.

She’s shaking things up. There hasn’t been anyone this iconoclastic or decidedly artsy to make her way through the gates of BET orthodoxy and into the quasi-mainstream ever before. Perhaps the producers have learned from ignoring the likes of Grace Jones and Meshell Ndegeocello over the past few decades. Maybe they’ve finally decided to accept the weirdo-R&B movement that has maintained a strong, if underground, tradition, for over 30 years. Whatever the reasoning was, BET is (at last) backing genre-bending new talent that operates outside of the strict hip-hop/R&B radio-friendly format.

When viewed in isolation, Monáe’s performances don’t seem that far out. Sure, her dancing might look like Michael Jackson’s take on the Stanky Legg, but other than that, her music exhibits a lot of the more common black musical tropes.

Look instead at her albums in their entirety for evidence of exactly what sets Monáe apart. Her debut EP, Metropolis: The Chase Suite, and her follow-up LP, The ArchAndroid, follow the story of a messianic figure for an android community in the fictional land of Metropolis. She draws inspiration from film noir directors like Fritz Lang and film composers like John Williams (just listen to her Suite II Overture and Suite III Overture on ArchAndroid) while interweaving a sci-fi themed concept throughout both albums. Yes, these are R&B concept albums. Two descriptors that haven’t come together with any kind of success since R. Kelly’s infamous hip-hopera, Trapped in the Closet. And that was just creepy.

But somehow, she manages to pull it off convincingly. Hopefully she’ll continue to evolve creatively, and more importantly grow in name and reputation. She’s already backed by Diddy, but it will be a great day in pop music when she becomes a household name in her own right. Keep an eye on her, she’s about to make it real big.

-Juan Carlos

Check out the videos below for her performance at the BET Awards and her video for Tightrope (feat. Big Boi).

Her Prince tribute at the BET Awards:

And her video for Tightrope: