31 October, 2007

Howling Halloween Mix

"Thriller" is a great song, but there are only so many times you can watch Michael Jackson dance like a fool. When you need some new music for the scariest night of the year, try listening to these howling Halloween hits.

"Witchcraft" by Frank Sinatra. So his "witch" is more Samantha than Elphaba (yes, I love Wicked too), but this song is truly bewitching. Sung by "the voice" with big band accompaniment, this would be included on the soudtrack of my personal Halloween movie. When your grandparents convince you to watch Bell, Book, and Candle think of this song.

"Save Ginny Weasley From Dean Thomas" by Harry and the Potters. Nerd-core to the enth degree. "When we were young and innocent, I saved you from a basilisk, I think that that deserves a kiss, but you're all over Dean Thomas". I mean how cute can you get before you make me throw-up (apparently a little cuter, because I'm a big fan of this song).

"Hitchin' A Ride" by Green Day. I've chosen some of these songs because they're innately creepy, some because they have appropriate subject matter, and some for their ridiculous videos. This is one of the songs that I chose for the ridiculous video.

It's like a Creature Double Feature with the giant Betty Boop head and the giant insect!

"Chim Chim Cher-ee" by The Original Cast of Mary Poppins. When I was a small child, I loved to watch this movie. The part where the chimney sweeps and the children dance on the rooftops always kind of scared me, not because I'm afraid of chimney sweeps, but because their "world" was so dark. Still, with Burt on their side, nothing bad could happen. I was always much more afraid of the guys at the bank than anything else in Mary Poppins. Creepy.

"Ghost" by Apollo Sunshine. I can't begin to describe how eerie this song feels when played live. It's such a quiet song in the beginning that everyone goes silent. You remember that you're in a room full of strange people who are all experiencing the same thing. Then the guitar ressurects you and you fly towards the sunshine (Apollo Sunshine that is), and then everyone forgets themselves again and a mosh-pit is formed.

"Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" by the Original Cast of the Wizard of Oz. By far, the shortest song on my list. This is because, in 47 seconds, it is able to convey everything you need to know about the Wicked Witch. She's dead!

"Coin-Operated Boy" by the Dresden Dolls. The band that coined the term cabaret-goth, can never overcome the sheer perfection of their first hit. They achieve a balance of pity, humor, and disgust for the main character who wants the titular boy. It's funny in the same way that Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka is funny.

"Musc Box" by Regina Spector. You may have heard parts of this song in car commercials. It's your average, absurd but honest Regina Spector song. The melody is similar to a tango, and at first sounds like it's being played inside a music box. As the song continues, Regina howls and chokes like a cat on a furball.

"Life inside the music box ain't easy
The malots hit, the gears are always turning
And everyone inside the mechanism
Is yearning
To get out

And sing another melody completely
So different from the one they're always singing
I close my eyes and think that I have found me
But then I feel mortality surround me
I want to sing another melody
So different from the one I always sing..."

"Don't Lose Your Head" by Queen. Umm, just watch Highlander. BTW: They DO mean literally.

"Fools Rush In" by Bow Wow Wow. This is a manic cover, and the vocalist isn't really trying to make the song sound pretty or enchanting or even slightly attractive. The lyrics thrown over spacey guitars and southern hemisphere drumming make for an interesting and disturbing mix of sounds.

"Ghost Town" by ZOX. Not a cover of the Specials' song, although equally ska-tastic. The bouncy bass and shrieking violin backing nonchalantly delivered but descriptive lyrics make for a fun experience. Especially strange is the fact that the scary chorus is surrounded by sing-song chanting. One of my favorite ZOX songs purely because of it's bizarre nature.

"...Well I live in this ghostown
The whispers from the walls will fall like feathers to the ground
And I walk upon these cemetery streets
I don't speak the language of the skeletons I meet.

I live in this ghostown
The acid in the architecture is burning the place down
And I look out on these solitary streets
Empty as an afterthought in purple pools of gasoline
Purple pools of gasoline

Olie olie olie ahh
The river's all in flames
Olie olie olie ahh
I can't go home again
Olie olie olie ahh
This city speaks in rain..."

30 October, 2007

For People Who've Played WAY Too Much Guitar Hero

You're tired of "Woman" by Wolfmother and pretty much everything by Wolfmother, but you still need some contemporary hard-rock that doesn't suck. Well, I've found just the thing for you headbangers: Birds of Avalon.

They sound just like the "new old", meaning they've stolen everything and produced it well, placing their anachronistic sound in a package that's more Fall Out Boy than lo-fi boy. Their album artwork strikes that weird fantasy chord that's so attractive to the World of Warcraft crowd, but you could definitely mosh if you went to a concert. Bazaar Bazaar, Birds of Avalon's first album, is a strange patchwork of psychedelic, slithering and pummeling, guitar-driven rock. "Bicentennial Baby" makes the whole world love the '80s, a difficult fete to accomplish. Chugging guitars and spurts of solos populate the song. "Wanderlust" mixes "Within You Without You" with "Battle of Evermore", and makes you feel like you could be in a world of swirly twirly gumdrops and magical elves (more chill than Candyland). I must admit that "Wanderlust" in particular is a strange aural experience, but it's followed by "Superpower" which is a shot of energy and contemporary noise after the Dark ages of "Wanderlust". "Where's My Jet Pack" is cool for a few reasons. I think it has one of the best names ever, and it's also a mix of free jazz, jam, hard rock sound. The final song "Lost Pages from The Robot Repair Manual" is a little anthem that best represents the sound of Birds of Avalon. I can't help but imagine little boys wanting to be rock stars. This album is so obviously paying homage to every "guitar hero" whose music these boys loved, but it's also a decent album to introduce these sounds to a new audience. It's nice to know that if you need an injection of rock, you can get it somewhere besides your parents' vinyl.

On Repeat: "Subterranean Homesick Blue" - Bob Dylan

I know I copied the lyrics to this song into this blog before, but I just love this video. Signs like suck-cess, and pawking metaws just add to the whole flavor of the song.

A Cause Worth Fighting For

Micro-lending is an idea that, I think, is really benefiting the World. It's something anyone can do, whether you're walking down the street and someone asks you for a buck or you're lending $25 to a widow in the Ukraine so she can jump-start her grocery store. These small donations, are the things that affect real people, and you can see the affect on their entire community. For those who don't know, micro-lending - in its most basic form - helps individuals.

Let's say a woman in Kenya needs a sewing machine for her tailoring business. This woman has no credit and no collateral to speak of, so the major lending organizations won't lend her $100 for a sewing machine, but this sewing machine would profit the entire community. The people of her commmunity wouldn't have to buy so many clothes, because they could just have their clothes mended, and the money they spent on mending would go directly back into their businesses. Still, Worldbank says no. What do you do? Apply to a micro-lending organization for a loan. With loans of $25 - $500 you can change actual people's lives, but I'm not here to ask for your money. Actually, Natalie Portman wants you to lend!

Big Change: Songs for FINCA is a new album put together by Natalie Portman for Foundation for International Community Assistance. The album is available on iTunes, and is composed of 16 alternative songs by artists like Antony & the Johnsons, The Shins, Norah Jones, and Beirut. In all honesty, the album itself isn't really my cup of tea, but for people who like the music, it's an excellent way to support a a great cause.

Other excellent ways to support micro-lending? Try going to these sites:




and read the book Banker to the Poor: Micro-lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Nobel-prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

Hu Jintao, say it isn't so!

So apparently Hu Jintao, the current leader of China, is not a big fan of music. Don't get the wrong idea, he may have a huge Rolling Stones vinyl collection that he rocks out with at home, I wouldn't know, because I'm not his best friend. It's just that based on what I've read about the music "allowed" in China, I would assume that he's either not a fan or just enjoys controlling the Chinese people too much to let his love of music stand in the way.

The New York Times published this story: "The Sound, Not of Music, but of Control" by Howard W. French, and it got me thinking about the way our government controls us through music and the way it differs from China's attempts.

In China, the idea is to subdue directly by lulling the listener into a state of apathy. The radio stations are not allowed to play anything that could spark revolution, and so, obviously, there's a huge underground rock scene a.k.a. musical revolution.

"...Liu Sijia, the bass player and a vocalist for an underground Shanghai band called Three Yellow Chicken, said alternative music in China today is much like Western rock in the 1960s, with its frequent references to social issues like war, poverty, civil rights and generational conflict..."

This quote was taken from the above article, and I think it just emphasizes the prospect of revolution because of the way the Chinese government is treating music. Hu Jintao is causing a little revolution everyday by keeping homogenous and obvious mind-control music on the radio.

Hey, maybe he should take a page out of the U.S. goverment's book! They seem to be doing pretty well lately. (That was my obvious segue!)

I know a lot of you lovely blog readers are wondering what I've been smoking, but really I've actually read about this subject. I would recommend the book Something In The Air: Radio, Rock, and the Revolution that Shaped a Generation by Marc Fisher.

Here's my argument: The U.S. government controls us with music, but they do it in a very sneaky way. We live in what is basically a capitalist nation, and the government (in the form of the FCC) is given certain power over what we hear on the radio and really who owns the radio stations. This system is built for businesses with money, and it helps to propagate monopolies. Clear Channel and its cronies are playing the shit that sells, to make money. In turn, the government is getting a good piece of that money through taxes, and the economy is thriving, because every young hipster is out buying the new Akon cd for $15 a shot. Do you see the pattern yet?

People work to make money. They make money to pay for things like food, shelter, education, and healthcare. If they're good patriots, then whatever's left goes to the economy. People work more hours to buy more things (including the music they hear on the radio) and they have less time to actually think about what they're buying or why they're buying anything at all. You think I'm crazy? Well, next time something horrible happens listen for the sound of our President telling us to "shop" for the economy. It isn't all for our economy, it's actually a form of control. If you're worried about your debt, then you're less likely to realize all the things that are wrong with the world, and even less likely to stand up and say that things are wrong.

Let's take it further. Why do you think the government was so upset about illegal downloading? It wasn't just because it was stealing; after all, big businesses steal all the time, both legally and illegally. Actually, I think the real reason the government was so angry was that people weren't fueling the economy with their musical purchases. Music sales have gone way down and giant businesses have closed their doors, and some people have begun to realize that most of the music they were paying $20 a cd for, wasn't really worth anything. This sounds like a small revolution to me, and I think it made the government anxious.

Really communism and capitalism share the same bed, capitalism has just learned to hide its snoring.

29 October, 2007

Songs about Ping Pong

A great friend of mine sent me a note about a band called Operator Please, and I got pretty excited. That's a boring story for all you lovely blog readers, but it's one of the catalysts that synthesized my current musical mind-frame, and so I think it's an important thing to note. After all, you can't claim all great musical discoveries as your own. It's important to share.

Operator Please has a cute name, that, for some inexplicable reason, conjures visions of the 1950s. However, their music sounds like nothing you would ever hear in a sock-hop, and that's a good thing. The songs are overwhelmingly high-energy, and even the slower songs remind me of the Sneaker Pimps' "6 Underground", which has that menace-simmering-on-low-but-ready-to-boil quality. Maybe I'm going crazy (it's an obvious possibility), but whenever I listen to "6 Underground", I feel like it could just blow up in my head, and that's exactly the way I feel when I listen to Operator Please.

Operator Please is female-fronted and female-dominated (with drummer Timmy injecting testosterone), but they achieve something in their music that I've been waiting to hear for a long time: balance. Instead of writing songs about "girls and girly things", or about feminism, they just write songs. This is important to me as a woman. It may sound silly, but it's difficult to find songs that achieve true femininity without sacrificing universal connection. What I mean is that when I listen to Rancid or the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, I can emotionally connect to their music while still being aware of the fact that they are boy bands. It doesn't matter that "Old Friend" was (probably) written about a girl, because the sentiment applies to my feelings about guys. When it comes to recent girl band music, I don't feel that same ability to universally connect.

I love Le Tigre and the Donnas, but "What's Yr Take On Cassavetes" and "40 Boys In 40 Nights" don't immediately apply themselves to my life. Le Tigre is a great band, but I often feel that their music is so obsessed with feminism that it misses the important and awesome differences (yes, there are differences) between men and women. The Donnas achieve something similar, but go about it by a different route. They make cock-rock as a girl band. The male misogynism and the female objectification is reversed by the Donnas, and the men in their songs become objects. This is fun music for a girl's night out, and the point that they're making is valid, but I don't think it's the healthiest way to deal with sexism in music.

Operator Please achieves something completely different, they make good alternative music that applies to all sexes and doesn't bash any of them (outside of the ex-bashing that takes place all over the music scene). They also make music that's fun and exciting, and reminiscent of the Fratellis. "Just A Song About Ping Pong" is humorous, with it's double-entendre lyrics and hyper delivery. The video -which you can view below - reminds me of an M.C. Escher optical illusion, and has become a phenomenon in the US. "Get What You Want" is slinky with driving bass, and sounds an awful lot like songs from Hot Hot Heat's first album. "Crash Tragic" is full of the chanting found in the Go Team!'s music, a mix between childhood chanting games and cheerleading. The songs "Two For My Seconds" and "Waiting By The Car" use violin to create drama and intensity, but are also very playful. I like this music, and I like Operator Please. For anyone else who enjoys this music, look out for their album - Yes, Yes! Vindictive! - that drops on November 10th.

28 October, 2007

"The Mixed Tape" - Jack's Mannequin

"...I read your letter
The one you left when you broke into my house
I'm retracing every step you made
And you said you meant it
And there's a piece of me in every single
Second of every single day
But if it's true then tell me how it got this way

Where are you now?
As I'm swimming through the stereo
I'm writing you a symphony of sound
Where are you now?
As I rearrange the songs again
This mix could burn a hole in anyone
But it was you I was thinking of
It was you I was thinking of..."

23 October, 2007

The Sand hasn't run out of the hourglass...

Raising Sand, a collection of duets by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, may seem like Plant's new foray into adult contemporary, but it sounds like a charged and refreshing collection of offbeat tunes by two masters of music. The production is almost perfect, with the vocals at center stage and the music a chain that holds together all the charms of these songs.

This doesn't sound like Led Zeppelin, but I think that's a good thing given the fact that they perfected rock music the first time around. Plant is edging into a more alternative/country plain with vocals as strong as ever, and his guide is the beautiful Alison Krauss. They both perform well on this album, exhibiting a lot of vocal control. The ability to sing softly and to sing well is underrated, and very difficult, and these two vocal masters perform this fete over and over on Raising Sand.

"Rich Woman" is built on jazz percussion and psychedelic guitar, but really lives in the voices of its vocalists. It's a soft, and dangerously slinky song that is an appropriate beginning to an album that sneaks into your head. "Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)" finds that sweet spot between the sounds of the Beatles and Elvis. This is probably the fastest song on the album, and I would bet that it's the first song to get radio play. "Killing the Blues" rests on steel pedal guitar, and lullaby-esque delivery, with the oddly comforting and fantastic lyrics of someone who has done too many drugs. "Trampled Rose" is the kind of song you could imagine haunting the desert. Does that make any sense? If it doesn't, then you just need to listen. Alison Krauss is central to this song, and I think she's made at least one new fan. "Stick With Me Baby" is a gorgeous and plaintive song that grows like a U2 anthem. "Nothin'" uses sparing electric guitar chords to chilling effect. Unlike a lot of recent rock music which thrashes throughout to express anger, "Nothin'" is angry in a quiet way. Instead of bombastic and childlike tantrums, it's an emotional implosion that drives this song home.

No, the album doesn't sound like Led Zeppelin, but it does sound like Robert Plant. It's the album of a mature man and a mature musician, and the emotion here is as raw and tangible as in any of Plant's Zeppelin work. You won't find the tireless exuberance or echoing pain of "Whole Lotta Love" and "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You", but this album strikes a chord that's equally sweet. If Plant can continue to make great music, he will have me listening for a long time.

22 October, 2007

The Best Mix

It seems like art, music, movies, and books have just been throwing themselves at me this week. I've had trouble coordinating all my senses so I can keep up with this creative maelstrom.

I recently read a book by Howard Zinn (A Power Governments Cannot Suppress) which led me to a movie about the long deceased anarchists Sacco & Vanzetti (of the same name) which led to the album Ballads of Sacco and Vanzetti by Woody Guthrie.

In another odd set of circumstances, I watched a documentary (Word Play) about people who do crossword puzzles, decided I wanted to do crossword puzzles, quickly realized I was not smart enough to do crossword puzzles, but happened upon a puzzle entitled "National Anthems" which was chock full of famous songs with punny inserts. An example? Well, one clue was "Dylan's Asian Anthem" and the answer was "Blowin' india Wind"! Isn't that awesome?

I was watching the news a day after I wrote about Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, and guess who popped up as the next big thing?

I was listening to Oingo Boingo (Danny Elfman & friends) and Corpse Bride and Beetlejuice just happened to be on TV. I think this situation is less serendipitous than due to the fact that Halloween is right around the corner, but it still made me giddy with excitement.

Oh yeah, and the Red Sox made it to the World Series during the one week I decide to start watching baseball.

My week's been full of stuff like that, and although I'm in sensory overload mode, I'm truly enjoying these happy coincidences. Here's a mix that I hope will make your week amazing:

"Two Good Men (Sacco and Vanzetti)" by Woody Guthrie. The elder Guthrie made an entire album of songs about these men, and was intensely affected by their plight and their heroism. I have to say that after watching the documentary Sacco & Vanzetti, I'm also inspired and horrified by their story. Guthrie has a somewhat dolorous and monotone delivery; still, as he lays the facts bare with little drama, he encourages the listener to see the humans that the story revolves around. One of the best folk artist ever.

"Blowin' In The Wind" by Bob Dylan. The name of the song isn't quite as cool as "Blowin' india Wind", but it's still a great song by Dylan. This is a protest song - one you could listen to while thinking about Sacco & Vanzetti - and it basically tears down all barriers, all challenges to freedom and equality. Bad things exist, but they don't have to exist. We have the power to challenge them, and to tear the wall down if the need arises.

"Capitalism" by Oingo Boingo. Throwing semi-gothic lyrics and ska horns in the same song and then making that song a cult hit really breaks the musical boundaries, and Oingo Boingo did this quite a few times. This song came before their openly gothic days, but it still pushes the proverbial envelope with a little nod to the Dead Kennedys' caustic, political lyrics. Instead of bashing capitalism, Oingo Boingo makes a good point about the people who usually bash capitalism (they've never HAD to work); but, I think the song is also tongue-in-cheek, poking fun at people at both ends of the political/economic spectrum.

"Be Easy" by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. I do love this song. It's the proud owner of a deep, funk groove that digs into your eardrums and won't let go. It's like the mucus-man in the mucinex commercial who just won't lt go of your lungs, except much cooler.

"I'm Shipping Up to Boston" by Dropkick Murphys. The incorrigable Irish (Massachusetts Irish, that is) anthem, that has become the Boston Red Sox' theme song. Just try to watch Papelbon dance without laughing, I dare you. He's insane and embarrassing.

20 October, 2007

Total Synaesthesia

Scrolling through the New York Times online this morning, I came across this article:
"Superhero Stylings From Stars of Pop" by George Gene Gustines.

Personally, this news of musicians getting involved with comic books made me excited; but synaesthetically, I was blown away by this sentence:

"Creatively, the fields [music and comics] are not that far apart, given that many musicians tell stories with their lyrics, though they use sound, not visuals, to convey mood and drama."

Interesting thought, and sometimes true, but I would have to argue that the parallel made between the art of comic books and the music of songs is incomplete and somewhat inappropriate.

Comic book fans know that the art does more than just "convey mood and drama", often the art tells the story much more than the words. When I first began reading comic books, I had to train myself to pick up on the nuances of the visuals so I could understand the story. Comic books are different than illustrated children's books; the words are often there to lend support to the drawings, not the other way around.

I would argue that music was also misrepresented in the above article. Often the instrumental aspects of music define the meaning of the song. I recently had someone point out the differences between the original recording of "Layla" by Derek & the Dominoes (Eric Clapton and friends), and contemporary live performances by Eric Clapton. In the original version, you could hear the guitar alternately screaming and crying with the fresh pain of the story; but in recent versions, the guitar chugs along at a steady, blues pace, contemplating healed wounds. The intensity of emotion is no longer present, and so the song takes on a much different meaning. In this instance, the instrumentals of a song add much more than just "mood and drama", they are instead the backbone of the piece.

I was a little pained by the sentence, quoted above, from the NY Times article. I'm not a fan of generalizations in criticism, because more often than not, critics choose to see only one side of the coin. Overall though, I'm excited by the prospect of comic books by musicians. Artists are often artistic in many fields, not only the ones in which they specialize. I think it will be good to see what music and comic books can do together. Who knows, maybe they'll be the next PB&J?

19 October, 2007

Unlimited Sunshine of the Happy Ears

No, I'm not filming a sequel to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I'm actually just psyched about Cake's new mega-tour: "Unlimited Sunshine". With all of this dark, wet, fall weather we really need some sunshine.

I love Cake in all of its wonderful forms, and I also love the Brazilian Girls, Detroit Cobras, and Oakley Hall. The other two touring bands are King City and Agent Ribbons, bands I'd never heard of before today, but truly enjoyed when I listened to their music. I think it's marvelous that Cake can put together six diverse and peculiar bands, and create a show that still sounds like pure sunshine.

I couldn't find a discordant sound in the group's catalogue, but here are a few of my favorite songs by the bands playing "Unlimited Sunshine":

"Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle" by Cake. After over ten years of life, this song is still fresh and more appropriate than ever. Besides the smooth jazz horn, perfect delivery, and quick guitar picking, the lyrics are hilarious and true. Take this one stanza:

"...Now tickets to concerts and drinking at clubs,
Sometimes for music that you haven't even heard of.
And how much did you pay for your rock'n'roll t-shirt
That proves you were there,
That you heard of them first?
How do you afford your rock'n'roll lifestyle?..."

"Only To Other People" by Detroit Cobras. These Cobras make up a cover band, but even though the music has a decidedly anachronistic feel, you'd never guess that they play covers. This R&B song was originally done by the Cookies, who made their harmonious sounds in the 1950s. The Cobras' cover is sultry, and booming rather than coy. The voice behind this song is strong and emotional, but also pained by the reality of love. An excellent cover, by one of the most exciting cover bands I've ever heard.

"Imaginary Girlfriend" by Brazilian Girls. If you're the kind of person who makes assumptions based on band names, then you're in for a big surprise when you listen to the Brazilian Girls. Their music is neither Brazilian nor girly in any stereotypical sense of the words. This is my new favorite song by the Girls, and it's a hidden track off their latest album Talk to La Bomb. I love the sweet sound of the music, and the sentiment behind this song, the idea of people just missing each other in terms of love.

"Alive Among Thieves" by Oakley Hall. The stop-start percussion, and lyrics ("...you've got the core of a bright comet rolling around in your eye socket...") make this song original and beautiful. Although it fails to highlight the alt-country title that is most often ascribed to Oakley Hall's music, it does pick up on a certain desert sound and feeling almost south of the border. Great song from the excellent album I'll Follow You.

Uber Linkage!

Every music fan should read this article at Slate: "The Trouble With Indie Rock" by Carl Wilson.

I think Wilson makes some valid points about the current state of music. I can see a schism just within the disparate indie factions, but the differences between the content of say The Roots' music and the music of Iron & Wine are major. We live in a country vastly separated by class (as anyone who witnessed the devastation of Hurricane Katrina can confirm), and so our music - which is such a reflective art-form - is also separated. Luckily, change is important and constant in the musical world and true music-lovers learn to appreciate music for its truth and beauty, not because it happens to gel with their patrician (or proletarian) world-views.

So bring on the funk, the blues, the emo, the screamo, the punk, the cassical, jam, grunge, showtunes, trip-hop, hip-hop, soul, hardcore, metal, jazz, lo-fi, folk, and bubble-gum pop; because in the the words of Leela James, "all we need is music!".

18 October, 2007

Links and Laughs

I have a couple links for you lovely blog readers. The first is a personal favorite, a place I go often to see what one of my favorite writers is up to.

Neil Gaiman's Journal is a place where you can read the man's musings on everything from current projects to the secret life of squirrels who steal chocolates and toys from corner markets. Sound scary? You don't even know.

This other link is a more recent discovery, something a good friend told me about. It looks to me like the future of television, with a policy of constant gratification and interaction. It's a good place to find crazy youtube phenomena of the future. The JetSet show is for those people who want their entertainment NOW!

My latest obsessions? Here's a list:

1. Guitar Hero III which isn't even out yet, but has to be great. I can't wait.

2. "Full Moon Or Infinity" by Cass McCombs. This is a weird song, but I love how much it reminds of Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow.

3. Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. It's almost Halloween.

4. "Save Ginny Weasley From Dean Thomas" by Harry & The Potters. I want to see these guys play live. I'm such a nerd, but I love this song.

5. The fact that my local ice cream place plays Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan exclusively. Listening to "The Sound Of Silence" while eating an apple crisp is total dream fulfillment.

6. Beatles solo albums...probably because of all the iTunes propaganda. I know it's subliminal.

7. "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" by Jay-Z. He's soooo bad, and his music is soooo good. BTW: The sample is from "Ain't No Love In The Heart of The City" by Bobby "Blue" Bland.

8. Steven Colbert's presidential campaign. I would vote for him in a second, because what this country needs - more than anything else - is a sense of humor.

9. "Bleed It Out" by Linkin Park.

10. Asking random kids if they've jumped in any piles of leaves lately. Sometimes people need to be reminded to have fun.

17 October, 2007

The Truth about Sampling

I can say that although I'm a fan of Kanye West (even though he seems like kind of a loud and pompous guy), I'm a little disappointed that he samples so frequently. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned when it comes to music, but if 15 of the 16 songs on your album (*cough,cough* Late Registration) contain samples of other songs, how much actual music are you creating?

I believe that sampling and mixing are valid and beautiful forms of art, as are lyric writing and rapping, but they are not the same art as classic musical composition? It takes different talent to write and play music, which is why I think when an artist samples music, the said samples should be "loudly" labeled as creative property of the original composer/performer. For example, instead of placing a small notice of sampling in the credits of each song, create a bibliography of songs used and thank every artist individually for their contribution. I have problems with music becoming a purely capitalist endeavor, so the idea of creative property in a legal sense has nothing to do with my objection to "quiet" sampling. I only feel that samplers are being unfair to the original artist and to the listener when they deny us the opportunity to appreciate all facets of the music. Which is why I'm now taking the time to go song by song through Kanye West's Late Registration and name the artist and song sampled. Songs are like onions, and I hope my readers will take the time to appreciate the layers.

"Wake Up Mr. West" and "Heard 'em Say" use a sample from "Someone That I Used To Love" by Natalie Cole. The original song is a strong piano ballad, with Cole's vocals sliding - in a melancholy way - over the keys. The two songs by West showcase one loop of the piano in the original song.

"Touch The Sky" uses Curtis Mayfield's amazing song "Move On Up". I wouldn't call this one a sample, because West basically takes the whole song. It is a great song. Jamming horns, and tight, latin drums, strings, and a little playful piano. The lyrics are empowering and intense.

"Gold Digger" notoriously cuts Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman", even going so far as to take liberty with the lyrics. I find this sample interesting because it takes the sentiment of a song (where a down-and-out man goes to his girl for comfort and care) and reverses the dynamic. In West's version, the woman is a gold digger who takes advantage of her man. In the final section the song reverses itself again as West tells the story of a woman who stands by her man through thick and thin only to have him run off with another woman. For anyone who doesn't know the Ray Charles original, it's a great soul song with a blues turnaround.

"Drive Slow" seems to sample "Wildflower" by Hank Crawford, although I cannot find any real evidence to back this up as the album credit only states that West samples from a Hank Crawford song. "Wildflower" is a kind of soul-jazz hybrid song with a funky coo-ing chorus over the saxophone. It sounds a little dated, making it an appropriate choice for "Drive Slow" which tells the story of a semi-shadowy figure that West knew in his youth.

"My Way Home" samples "Home Is Where The Hatred Is" by Gil Scott-Heron. Best known for the spoken word poetry of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", Gil Scott-Heron is an artist whose music centers around social activism. This particular song is delivered with understandable anger, and tells the story of a junky who has left a home full of pain to find a world without sympathy or compassion. The song centers around the lyrics, but the backing music is heavy on bass and keyboards.

"Crack Music" samples the song "Since You Came In My Life" by New York Community Choir. Unfortunately, I cannot find a recording of this song. I've listened to other songs by the New York Community Choir and they are spiritual in both content and character. If you can listen to a great gospel choir and tell me you don't believe in a god, then you really can't be redeemed.

"Roses" samples the song "Rosie" by Bill Withers. This is another piano ballad, but this song is very different from Natalie Cole's. In the first place, the song seems to be driven by a feeling lacking hope. When I listen, I feel like I'm being tossed around by some particularly foul weather. The piano is original, and has an almost classical feel. The song is heavy, but the lyrics are a celebration of a person. There's a bit of a disjunction between lyrics and music in this sense, which makes me feel as if Withers is singing of a great love that he has lost.

"Addiction" claims that it takes elements from the Etta James version of "My Funny Valentine". This is a pleading song really, but Etta sings it with a certain depth that reminds the listener that this is an adult asking another adult to stay. Where the Frank Sinatra version seems meant for Hollywood (and don't get me wrong, I love it), Etta sings a song that is more mature and less naive in its request for love.

"Diamonds From Sierra Leone" samples the perfect Bond song "Diamonds Are Forever" as performed by Shirley Bassey. This is quintessenital Bond, and its overproduced quality just adds to its diamond-like shine. Shirley Bassey can belt a tune, and makes the song glamorous ad not tacky.

"We Major" samples "Action" by Orange Krush. This is a funk classic with steady drums, banging bass, and the odd sassy statement thrown over the top.

"Hey Mama" samples Donal Leace's "Today Won't Come Again". I can't find a recording of this song, but I imagine it runs along the same lines as Leace's other recordings. This folk artist seems to be a fan of Buddhism, or at least of Buddhist thought, and he injects much of this philosophy into his bare folk music.

"Celebration" pulls from "Heavenly Dream" by the KayGees. Yet another song that is difficult to find. The KayGees music is 1970s funk with a heavy disco influence.

"Gone" samples the amazing Otis Redding with "It's Too Late". With a steady piano and a climbing bass-line, Otis Redding sings with flare over a minimal song. A great song.

The sampling choices read as a lesson in African American history, but the lesson would be more profitable for all if Mr. West took the time to thank his fathers and mothers in music. I hope you've enjoyed, and that you've learned a bit more about the origins of your favorite songs.

I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) - Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

The original version was recorded by The First Edition, but this is an excellent cover by the surreal Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. This was reportedly Jimi Hendrix's favorite song, and you can definitely hear the influence in the lyrics.

Shake any family tree and a few coconuts'll fall out

Which is exactly what I found when I started shaking the ol' Coppola tree. You know, Francis Ford, Roman, Nic Cage, Sofia, and...Jason Schwartzman?! Yes, actually, he's the titular coconut.

Schwartzman's one-man band (with some help from Kirsten Dunst and Zooey Deschanel) dropped its first record this year under the name Coconut Records. The album is called Nighttiming and the music is refreshing for Schwartzman whose last project was Phantom Planet. With all honesty, I can say that I've never been a big fan of Phantom Planet, and not just because their songs popularize everything warm and sunny about California (yeah California, we Northerners don't like your kind with your tepid beaches and bikinis. You make us sick!).

Umm, anyway, I am a fan of Nighttiming, even the song "West Coast" which only mentions going home to the west coast. Somehow Schwartzman accomplishes a sound that is both very 1960s Beatles and Beach Boys and also very '80s post-punk. The song "Back To You" makes me wonder if pre and post-punk are really the same melodic sound packaged in different eras, while "This Old Machine" is beautiful - almost spiritual - and minimal. "Nighttiming" and "Minding My Own Business" are both dance songs, although the lyrics of "Minding My Own Business" beg to differ with my assessment; after all, "the drinks all taste the same" isn't synonimous with "let's dance all night!". My favorite songs on the album are the incorrigable "The Thanks That I Get" ("you promised me summer, you're giving me winter, and this is all the thanks that I get"), and "It's Not You It's Me" a song that takes the form of a neurotic "Dear John" letter.

I enjoy this album, not because it's an amazing mindblast of musical genius, but because it's kind of an ADD compilation. Schwartzman is playing with all types of sound, and he's created a record that doesn't bore me. From the kitchen-table country of "Mama" to the almost hymnal "Ask Her To Dance", I'm amused for hours by Nighttiming. Let's hope the next record is just as fun and amusing.

16 October, 2007

When You're Sick of Amy Winehouse...

They tried to make her go to rehab and she said okay, so now you're looking for a new neo-soul band to soundtrack your life. Well, I've found just the thing for everyone who craves more tight sound and soulful vocals when the last strains of Back to Black have drifted out of their ears: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. They've been around for a few years now, perfecting their sound (which was probably first perfected before they were born), and recording albums with music just as soulful as Amy's if not as full of drug and alcohol references. Their latest album 100 Days, 100 Nights has eleven tracks that make you want to dance. Infectious is too light a word for the feeling you get when hearing the titular track "100 Days, 100 Nights" (you can just see Aretha in the lead role) and "Be Easy" brings the funk King Floyd style, while "Tell Me" combines the Temptations with the Supremes. This music is perfect for anyone who misses the beauty of simple lyrical sentiment woven into tight big band sound. The music isn't simple by any stretch of the imagination, but it's accessible to all people; anyone can dance.

Welcome to the Jungle

Who here is a fan of Disney? Well, let me make it perfectly clear that I am. Not the answer you were expecting, right? By now you should know not to expect anything from me, except unlimited musical commentary. I LOVE DISNEY! I don't care that they're a giant corporation, because the movies (at least the old movies) are pure film magic. So as the big corporate machine turns, placing all my classics in "the vault", I turn the other cheek and wait patiently for the DVD.

One of my absolute favorite Disney movies is the animated Jungle Book. It's one of those films you can sink into and believe in, because the story is great and the characters are great, and there's plenty of humor and danger. The soundtrack is also phenomenal. A perfect mix of score and character songs, and the fact that the story is already about a kid who's raised by talking animals kind of opens the door for you to suspend your disbelief of the fact that they're also singing and dancing animals. The utter perfection of pairing jazz music, that ultimate sound of freedom and rhythm, with a movie set in the jungle is too often overlooked. Plus, the casting of Louis Prima as King Louie and Phil Harris as Baloo was absolute genius.

It would be heartbreaking to have to pick favorite songs from this soundtrack of my childhood, so instead I'll elaborate on all of the songs. The album begins with a soft and slinky jazz song ("Overture - Jungle Book") by George Burns where wind instruments (I'm thinking oboe), bass, and brushes on drums set the tone for the wild of the jungle. The sound is almost as hypnotizing as Kaa, but then the orchestra breaks into our dream and gives the jungle a little light. "Baby" follows with a perfect animation soundtrack feeling that accompanies sneaking steps with sneaking music. "Colonel Hathu's March (The Elephant Song)" continues the soundtrack with probably the cutest song ever created to accompany a military. The elephant section of this movie was always one of my favorites, and I confess to marching around the house when this song was being played. We can't spend too much time on the elephants though, because "The Bare Necessities" is the next song on our journey. This song is a classic, and with good reason: it captured that beariness - that need to scratch your back on a tree or just sit around and eat honey - that everyone experiences. You can't forget the fact that "The Bare Necessities" also high-lighted horns and bass, and even had a little solo and some scat singing. Now we have the monkey song - "I Wan'na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)" - and honestly, can you think of a song that is more fun than this song? I'm not even going to try to review this Louis Prima masterpiece. Next we have three score songs which are lush and beautiful ("Monkey Chase", "Tell Him", and "Jungle Beat"). I think George Burns outdid himself on this soundtrack, not only matching the music to the setting, but almost molding the setting to the music. I'll never think of a jungle without hearing that pulsing jazz music. "Trust In Me (The Python's Song)" is the scariest and most hypotizing of any of the songs on the album, but it's balanced out by the humor of "What'cha Wanna Do" and "That's What Friends Are For (The Vulture Song)". Granted, I first listened to these songs before I knew that the vultures were thinking about eating Mowgli, but I still think these birds are a perfect and humorous addition to a section of the movie that could have just been horrifying. George Burns swoops in again to score "Tiger Fight" and "Poor Bear", which is the saddest part of the Jungle Book. The final original song is "My Own Home (The Jungle Book Theme)", and it finishes the movie with a little sadness, because you realize that Mowgli will never again be part of the jungle. Still, it's a Disney movie, so we can't end on a sad note, and "My Own Home (The Jungle Book Theme)" isn't really the end. In perfect denoument the soundtrack returns to the jungle with "The Bare Necessities (Reprise)" and all is jazz and rhythm. Let's hear it for a perfect soundtrack, executed with perfection.

15 October, 2007

The Post Where I Address my Fear of Horses

Anyone who lives a musical life will come across an album or a band that they dislike. That feeling of disconnection - complete polar opposition to a certain sound - is not novel for music lovers. Sometimes this band opens at a local venue and you find yourself yawning through their set, sometimes their music is played every hour on your local radio station, and sometimes this band happens to be the "it" band of the week (or month, or year) and you can't seem to extricate yourself from their sound.

I found myself in such a situation recently with the band called Band of Horses. Sounds benign, right? Lots of neighing, with the smell of leather polish and oats coming to mind. Wrong, actually, and my absolute polar opposition to their first album (Everything All The Time) could not be explained away by my irrational fear of horses. I really just didn't like the music: from the floating gothic romance of "The Funeral" to the wide open spaces feel and cliffhanger ending of "I Go To The Barn Because I Like the", I couldn't find anything fun or new. It sounded to me like these guys were trying to be so cool, and failing miserably. Except that they weren't failing at all. Every time I opened a magazine, the cover of Everything All The Time with it's palindromic, haunting trees was staring out at me. Let me tell you, if trees really could stare, no one would fall asleep. To get back to my point though, I can't really explain why I disliked their music, except that it seemed built upon a foundation of alternative music pretensions. So I ignored the airplay and the chatter from fellow music geeks, and went off to listen to my Rush alone.

A few weeks ago, I woke up in the early morning to hear this anthemic rock song with intense lyrics. It was one of those musical moments where you fall in love with a sound, because it captures a feeling. Any insomniac will tell you that when the sun falls away and leaves the dark there is nothing keeping away the demons, the ghosts of choices and actions that can haunt you through the night, and this song with it's three repeating lines captured all the feelings of a restless night. I sat awake listening through the dark for the name of the band, the name of the song, and then I hear a husky, tired, third-shift voice whisper "Is There A Ghost" by Band of Horses. My nemesis band, whose first album stalked me on my musical travels had created a song that completely captivated me. Not to imply that the rest of their new album Cease to Begin is my new favorite CD of the year. Actually, the rest of the album is a little too reminiscent of The Shins for my tastes; but, that first song is something altogether new and beautiful.

03 October, 2007

"Instant Karma" by John Lennon

Check out Yoko knitting blindfolded. Awesome!

02 October, 2007

"Territorial Pissings" - Nirvana

Always one of my favorite Nirvana songs. I <3 the lyrics.

Our Electrical Universe

You know that moment when you're thinking about a certain song, and when you turn on the radio, that song is playing for you? Did you ever wonder if that stuff happens because the whole universe is connected to and in your mind, conspiring to give you that song you most ardently hoped for?

Here's something to turn around in your mind: everything ever created in our world is just a manifestation of thought. All power and reality is in your head.

I found myself arguing with a 7-year old about the existence of Batman last week (I believe in superheroes, but the whole conversation was somewhat of a misunderstanding, because I never said that Batman was actually a flesh and blood person, I just argued for the truth of the idea. I don't think the kid got it, but he'll probably figure it out some day. Little kids are smart). The conversation was odd because I felt like our predesigned roles had been reversed, like I was acting as the stubborn child and this kid as the parent figure. I've always been good at creating my own reality and blocking out the reality that exists around me and that other people have actually agreed on (I'm a really stubborn kid). For example, I'm a reasonable person, and I'll agree with anyone that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry probably doesn't exist (and even if it does, I'm not invited), but somwhere deep down inside, it's still the only school that will ever win my heart and be my dream school. So whenever someone insists on asking where I want to go to school, my only honest answer is Hogwarts (I can't understand why people think I'm being a smartass. Wouldn't you go to a school of awesome magic if you had the option?).

I guess it's kind of the same with music. People often ask me what music is worth listening to (wasn't everything good made in the '60s and '70s? Ummm, no). I always answer in my most incredulous voice that you barely even have to look to find excellent music right under your nose! Granted, if you only listen to TOP 40, if you never take a flip through Rolling Stone, Spin, Paste, or any of the numerous publications that write about local music, and if you close your ears and mind to new sounds, then you're creating a world for yourself without much hope of interesting new music. The previous sentence describes a kind of life that I would not recommend to anyone, but that you'll often run into when talking to people about their musical tastes. Here's the only thing you have to remember to gaurantee that you'll come across interesting music: visualize finding interesting music! Even if you don't find someone else's great music, you can always create your own. Everything you ever wanted is in your own head.

To commemorate your introduction to a literal universe of possibilities, here's a playlist of songs that I found - with a little help from my buddy serendipity - when I most needed to hear something illuminating. Listen on!

"Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin

"Mary Jane" by Alanis Morrisette

"Ghost Town" by ZOX

"None of Your Business" by Salt-N-Pepa

"Time Bomb" by Rancid

"Rhythm Futur" by Django Reinhardt

"Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" by Angelique Kidjo

"Clampdown" by The Clash

"How It Ends" by Devotchka

"The Mooche" by Duke Ellington

"Opera" by Floetry

"The Harder They Come" by Jimmy Cliff

"They Want Us To Make A Symphony Of The Sound Of Women Swallowing Their Own Tongues" by Le Tigre

"Rockin' In The Free World" by Neil Young

"All Apologies" by Nirvana

"Cell Block Tango" by The Original Cast of "Chicago"

"Where Is My Mind?" by Pixies

"Today Is The Day" by Apollo Sunshine

"Longview" by Green Day

"Sugar Free Jazz" by Soul Coughing

"Black Panther" by Mason Jennings

"On The Radio" by Regina Spektor

"Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns 'n' Roses

"Thank You (Falletinme be mice elf agin)" by Sly and the Family Stone