Song Of The Day: “Drinking In LA” By Bran Van 3000

Even though I’m on a serious summer music kick today which has taken me from Fountains Of Wayne’s Utopia Parkway to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Chronicles Vol. 1, this song by electronica band Bran Van 3000 gets the “Song Of The Day” banner for taking me right back to 1997. The song popped on in the coffee shop I’m working at and I practically threw my headphones off when I realized what it was. I felt instantly transported back to my room in my parents’ house doing homework with 89X the Detroit radio station that played all kinds of “alternative” music. I have no idea if this track was big at the time, I don’t ever remember seeing the music video, but I heard the song enough to still remember large chunks of the vocals. I’ve since discovered through conversations with the missus that 89X would play a lot of tracks that weren’t big single anywhere else. Anyone else remember this track? I’m looking at you, my fellow Toledoians.

Supergroup Showcase: Blind Faith

THE PLAYERS: Eric Clapton on guitar and vocals (The Yardbirds, Cream), Ginger Baker on drums (Cream), Steve Winwood on guitar (Traffic, The Spencer Davis Group) and Ric Grech on bass (Family).
THE STORY: Clapton and Winwood started jamming while Winwood was on a break from Traffic. One day Baker stopped by, but Clapton wasn’t sure about starting a new band with him a few months after officially disbanding Cream. He also had made a deal with Cream’s Jack Bruce that, if two of them got back together, all three of them would reunite. Grech left Family to join the band, they recorded an album, toured and broke up within a year. (via Wiki)

When I started really getting into Supergroup Showcase, Blind Faith was definitely a band and record I wanted to check out. Not only is it yet another Eric Clapton supergroup, but I also have almost zero experience with Winwood, so I was excited to get a taste of his talent. It’s kind of handy that they only recorded one album, because it makes the whole thing a little easier write about. The record has six tracks and I’m split right down the middle on liking and not liking them.

The album kicks off with “Had To Cry Today” which has a fun riff, but it got to be really repetitive and boring in the song’s nearly nine minute length. The vocals also have a high-pitched wail on this song which I’m not really down with. With Winwood, Clapton and Grech all singing, I’m not sure who to blame. “Can’t Find My Way Home” takes a more mellow approach which I like, but again, the vocals didn’t appeal to me. This song’s the shortest on the whole record at just over three minutes, but still feels repetitive. The thing I noticed two tracks into this record is that it doesn’t really feel like a cohesive record and these two songs don’t feel very well thought out. I like the idea of experimentation but they don’t sound like they’re doing anything different. Maybe that’s because I’m listening to this thing in 2011 and it was recorded in 1969 and a LOT of music has come out in between.

Things get a little more cohesive with “Well…All Right” which has a great riff, more integrated vocals and results in a song that feels like an actual song instead of a recorded jam session. “Presence Of The Lord” continues on that same track and includes an excellent wah wah fueled solo. But then things go downhill with “Sea Of Joy” for me. It sounds like the the vocals were sung in an echo chamber or something, that really makes the voice akin to a caterwaul. The album ends with “Do What You Like” which I didn’t think I would like because it’s just over 15 minutes long. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of long jams, but I do appreciate good ones. And luckily, this turns out to be a pretty good one because it’s not only based on a solid riff, but also has a pretty bitching organ solo followed by a great guitar one. There’s even some repetitive chanting type stuff, but even that didn’t get on my nerves. It reminded me of a Santana instrumental.

Ever since iTunes came along I wind up judging an album by the $0.99/song rule. Essentially, if an album has enough tracks that I like and add up to what I paid for it, it’s worth keeping. I’m not quite sure where Blind Faith winds up on the scale, partially because I don’t remember how much I paid for this used disc online, though I’m guessing it was more than $3. Those first two tracks really don’t work for me. I mean, they’re not “so bad I have to skip it” bad, but I also didn’t enjoy them. Sometimes I can ignore vocals I’m not into and just dig the music, but not always. I’ll probably keep this one around for now at least kind of like my copy of The Firm’s Mean Business which I don’t listen to very often. Or, listening to Derrick And The Dominoes might bump it out of the ol’ collection.

James Van Der Beek’s Epic Laser Fight With Kesha

I refuse to put the dollar sign in Kesha’s name, even if that means fewer search engine hits. We have to have standards, even if they’re typographical ones. Anyway, what a wonderfully weird video. It’s got anthropomorphic unicorns, a little bit of dancing, a big old mansion and most importantly a laser gun battle between James Van Der Beek and Kesha. He even calls her “Ke-dollar sign-sha!” It’s rad. Oh, by the way, the song is called “Blow” and it’s probably the least interesting part of the video.

80s Tastic Video For Atomic Tom’s Cover Of “Don’t You Want Me”

I just caught this video by a band called Atomic Tom covering Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” for the movie Take Me Home Tonight. More importantly–and the reason for this post–is that the film’s stars Topher Grace, Anna Farris, Dan Fogler and Teresa Palmer show up to do mini tributes to every classic 80s movie from Back To The Future and 16 Candles and When Harry Met Sally to my beloved Cocktail. Sure, they’re surrounded by some pretty douchey looking hipsters while doing all this, but it’s still worth a look.

Music Musings: The Vines

I’ve been thinking way too much about how best to write about music on the blog here. Every week, I move the “Music Musings” block further and further into the week on my calendar checklist, usually to wind up deleting it. It’s strange because, unlike movies and comics which I absorb and then write about, I feel the need to write about music while I’m listening to it. There’s so much going on on every CD that I find it hard to focus on things to write about, plus I worry that I’m just saying that same stuff that’s been said by others. I also have a different relationship with music than I do those other formats of entertainment. To me, movies and comics are an experience that I live through, meaning, I absorb them and then move on to something else, but I live with music. It stays with me and it’s more readily absorbable to me. I don’t know if that makes any sense. Anyway, I’ve decided to play Russian Roulette with my iPod to figure out my weekly music subject. This week it’s Australian retro rockers The Vines who made a big splash in the early 00s only to completely fade away from my personal memory. I picked up their first two records Highly Evolved and Winning Days and apparently my iPod wanted me to listen to them today, so that’s how it went down.

Like a lot of other people, I first heard The Vines thanks to their first big single “Get Free” which was all over the place in the summer of 2002. That was such a strange time in music because it seemed like rockers might actually be taking over pop music. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing someone talk about The Strokes (a band I never personally got into). Plus, bands like Jet and The Hives were getting some much deserved notice thanks to the surge of garage-influenced rock. Of course, it wouldn’t last, but some really interesting music came out of it. I remember purchasing the black plastic-covered CD while visiting the missus-to-be in New Hampshire, but the record didn’t make quite the impact on me I thought it would have. I think a combination of negative thoughts about the follow-up Winning Days and reading about lead singer Craig Nicholls losing his mind thanks to touring put me off to the record. Plus, you know how it is, there’s always more music out there to listen to, so unless something really smacks me in the face and demands my attention and devotion, I’m probably going to move on to something else.

With that in mind, I was a little skeptical about listening to Highly Evolved again, but that was all for naught because this is a pretty good record. The Vines did a great job in the early days (I can’t speak to their more recent albums because I haven’t listened to them) of combining some of the more psychedelic sounds of the 60s and 70s with the raw energy of punk rock and funneling all those obvious influences into something that sounded both modern and complimentary to their influences. The album starts strong with the title track, shows off its mellow side with “Autumn Shade,” a track that I probably didn’t like in my younger, more straight-up rock oriented state of mind but dig now and then kicks it back into high gear with “Outtathaway!” For me, the high point of the record is “Factory” with it’s bounciness and walking bass line.

There’s a few missteps, though. “In The Jungle” has some great musical ideas and riffs in it, but they don’t feel connected enough to be an actual song. This one really feels like several other song segments that were kind of mashed together without much of a through line which is too bad, because I think they could have been broken down and turned into even better songs than the last three tracks which are kind of boring to me. I dig 60s and 70s rock, but not so much the droning stuff. Anything that’s too repetitive gets on my nerves. I wouldn’t say tracks like “1969” and “Mary Jane” get to the annoying place, but they verge on it. Overall I was kind of surprised with how much I liked this record.

Unfortunately, Winning Days doesn’t seem to hold up nearly as well, even thought it starts pretty damn strong with a great rock song like “Ride.” This isn’t a bad record by any means, it’s just not the kind that I’m super interested in listening to over and over again. Like with their previous effort, the musical talent of The Vines–who I should mention are Nicholls on vocals and guitar, Ryan Griffiths on guitar, Brad Heald on bass and Hamish Rosser on drums–is very clear on this record, I’m just not sure if the place their at with their music is one that’s super interesting to me. They seem more intent on exploring slower, more melodic compositions, which is great for them as artists, but I’ll be honest, I want to rock! Instead of the psychedelic tinged rock songs I want to listen to, I’m getting alright explorations. I think the problem might be that the songs might be new ground to the band, but they’re not for me as a listener, so I kind of gloss over them in my head.

But how awesome is that video? The record is kind of a bummer because it’s bookended with such great songs. “Ride” very simply kicks ass and the final track “F.T.W.” which stands for what you think it does, is so much fun. It’s too bad the middle of the record is filled with stuff that isn’t super interesting. I found it interesting that the track “TV Pro” shares some of the same problems to my ear that “In The Jungle” did on the previous record: too much crammed into a small space with no through line. Again, there’s elements in there that could have made for a few different great songs. Instead we get one that’s uneven and other tracks that don’t really do much for me.

Even as I write this, I feel apprehensive about posting because writing about music is such a different animal to me. I didn’t take nearly as many notes while listening to Winning Days as I did to Highly Evolved. Was I being lazy or were there just fewer noteworthy elements to talk about? Am I being fair? Does any of it matter because I’m writing about six year old records that don’t seem to come up in regular music discussion? Those kinds of thoughts don’t really plague me when I’m writing about movies, but I do like writing about music, so I guess I better get used to it.

My Favorite New Albums Of 2010

I actually had a pretty good time compiling last year’s list of my favorite albums of the year and figured now’s as good a time as any to get around to this year’s. The funny thing about this year is that, while I probably acquired more CDs than I have in quite a while thanks to flea markets, garage sales and sales, I didn’t actually buy a lot of new music. New to me of course, but not new new. So, with that in mind, I’ll probably do another post about my favorite new-to-me discs of the year next week. Anyway, my favorite records of the year are a mix of smokey rockers, soul sisters, pop rock stalwarts, metal dudes, collaborators, introspective song writers and more. Hit the jump for the full list! Continue reading My Favorite New Albums Of 2010

Music Musings: Jack White

I used to HATE Jack White. The White Stripes blew up when I was in high school, maybe it happened earlier there than everywhere else in the world because they’re from Detroit which is only a half hour away from where I grew up in Toledo. Anyway, as a bass player, I was immediately put off by the idea that they didn’t think that position was important enough to fill in their band, even though I was pretty sure there was bass on some of the tracks. I also didn’t really like the schtick with the red, white and black color scheme and “are they siblings or married?” talk in regards to band members Meg and Jack White. But the most damning thing in my opinion was a Guitar World interview with Jack where he badmouthed blues players. That was it for me. Fast forward a decade or so and now I can’t get enough of White, The White Stripes or The Raconteurs (I haven’t gotten into The Dead Weather yet, but I will).

So, why did my opinions change so drastically? Well, first off, I hope I’m not as a judgmental asshole as I used to be in high school. But, even more importantly was watching It Might Get Loud, one of the (if not the) best musical and most interesting rock and roll documentaries I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t seen it (and you really should it’s on Netflix Instant right now!) the conceit was to get three very different kinds of rock and roll guitar players from different generations to tell their stories separately and then get together to talk about records and play music. The three musicians are Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page who I love, U2’s The Edge who I don’t care for (technically, I don’t care for the band, he’s fine) and Jack White. I really appreciated seeing White talk about working as an upholsterer while coming up in the Detroit music scene and even now he does things not to make life easier on himself, but to test his limits. Whether he’s playing with a guitar that is forever going out of tune or putting the microphone a few more feet away from the keyboard, the man seems dead set on challenging himself when it seems like most rock stars decide to take the easy road. I can respect that. There’s something very bluesy about his mindset and hardworking, which comes straight out of the Midwest or really any cold place where people have to work hard for their money.

I was such a fan of the movie and White’s after watching it, that I immediately went out and picked up one of the two Raconteurs records (I honestly can’t remember which one I bought first) and then got the next one. Of course, I’m talking about 2005’s Broken Boy Soldiers and 2008’s Consolers Of The Lonely both of which I have become a huge fan of and have been on regular rotation ever since. How great is “Steady As She Goes”? Super freaking great, but the thing I like most about these two records is how broad they are. You start of with a pretty straight forward rock song like “Steady” and then from there it’s all over the place. The songs might seem disparate at times, but there’s an earthiness to the proceedings that tie all the tracks together. I actually got a Beatles vibe from the records because of all the different elements and kinds of songs, which is not a compliment I offer lightly.

From there I went back to The White Stripes and wound up getting their first album, The White Stripes (1999), and their most recent studio record Icky Thump (2007). Stripes has a lot of raw energy to it which you might expect to have faded by their last record, but that’s not what I see. If anything, I see musicians who have gotten more comfortable with each other (in a good way, not a lazy way) and who have decided to branch playing more kinds of music. I’m nowhere near an expert on the band, only having watched It Might Good Loud and the band’s Canadian tour film Under Great White Northern Lights, and like I said, I’ve only got two of their records, but I feel like I’ve got a handle on the mindset behind the music (at least as much as White is willing to show). He’s a hardworking man with a love for music of all kinds and isn’t afraid to push himself to try and make that music better, which is a huge part of UGWL. Not only do we get more behind the scenes type goodness, but also White’s desire to play shows in unexpected places, to play for people who aren’t fans and to hopefully turn some of those people into fans. I guess that’s what he did to me, so mission accomplished!

From here I’m keeping my eyes open for the White Stripes records I don’t have and getting into The Dead Weather (the fact that he’s a multi-instrumentalist is also impressive) as well as keeping my eyes peeled for other projects he might have in the works, like when he gave Conan O’Brien and his then-touring band a place to record or, well, really anything else the man has planned. He might literally be the hardest working man in rock and roll at the moment, in a time when most people are using their success to make things easier, White’s making himself work harder, even bringing his talent to other artists through his Third Man Records. Anyone with a work ethic like that, is aces in my book, ten year old remarks about the blues aside.