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.
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.
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
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.
I first heard about Grace Potter and the Nocturnals when I saw a half hour show featuring them on VH1 earlier this year. I was pretty excited to check out their self titled record which came out this year. I’m a big fan of their rock sound with heavy blues and country (maybe more accurately labeled as southern) influences, though I was a little bit disappointed in the record for not kicking serious ass throughout and maybe blowing its load a little early. I’ll get to more of that in a minute. The band got a pretty huge exposure boost over the weekend thanks to their awesome performances on VH1’s Divas Salute the Troops (check out my favorite segments here, here, here and here). It’s well deserved in my opinion. First off, you don’t see a lot of legit rock bands around in big leagues anymore and second, none of them have a strong, sexy woman singing and playing the gee-tar like Grace here.
I knew next to nothing about the band before writing this post, but here’s a few choice tidbits I dug up on the nets. The band consists of Grace Potter on vocals, guitar, organ and anything else she wants, Matt Burr on drums, Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco on guitar and Catherine Popper bass, though she didn’t appear on the Divas show, anyone know why? They got together in 2002 and have put out three records so far (2005’s Nothing But The Water, 2007’s This Is Somewhere and this year’s self titled record), plus Potter put out a solo record in 2004 called Original Soul. After touring in support of bands like the Dave Matthews Band and Government Mule they built up a pretty big fanbase in the jam band scene. There was even talk of Potter collaborating with T-Bone Burnett but that project was apparently shelved in favor of the group’s 2010 album I’m listening to right now. Hopefully someone will dust that project off at some point, maybe sooner rather than later to capitalize on their newfound popularity.
As I sit here listening to the self titled record again for probably the fifth or sixth time, I think I came at it from the wrong angle upon first listening. See, the original VH1 special I saw seemed to be packed wall to wall with ballsy rock songs like “Paris” but the record itself has a more laid back, southern blues vibe to it which makes it perfect to listen to while working, though maybe not driving. When I drive, I like to rock out and sing along, banging on the steering wheel like it’s the finest of drum kits and there are surely tracks on this record that facilitate such behavior, but the slower tracks like “Oasis” or “Low Road” tend to slow things down. Now, those aren’t bad songs, but just bad driving songs (for me at least). After the first few listens, most of which I believe were in my car, I walked away feeling disappointed. I thought this was gonna be a rock record, partly based on my viewing experience, but also because of how strong and amazing of a rock song “Paris” is. I heard that song and expected more of the same, but that’s not the case as the record has all kinds of musical influences that it wants to tell you about.
Take “One Short Night” for example. This was a song I wasn’t super into the first few times around, but I find myself a little obsessed with it this time (along with just about every other track, I think this record will be on repeat for a while). The album version’s a little softer and more mellow than the live clip above, but you get the general idea with the fast, yet melodic strumming of the guitar and lyrics about cheating on a lover with a stranger. It’s a great song that tells a story and a sad one at that.
Enough with the sadness. How freaking sexy is this band? Potter’s got a real Tina Turner thing going with her awesomely short skirts and dressed and why not? She’s an attractive woman in a kick ass rock band, why not flaunt it? I would. But, her band’s no group of slouches either, especially if you have a thing for that long haired and bearded look from the 60s and 70s. I’m no expert in what attracts women to men, but I’m sure there’s ladies out there who would find these guys irresistible. Popper’s got it going on too and she represents in the long line of sexy lady bass players like Nicole Fiorentino, Melissa auf der Maur, Kim Gordon and Tina Weymouth. It can’t be easy rocking out in high heels. More often than not, that sexuality comes through in the records too most obviously with the lyrics and Potter’s bluesy way of singing but also in the raw rock and roll riffs and thumping bass/drum combo. From the videos I’ve seen, they carry that presence over to their stage shows in a big bad way. I’d like to see them live, but I think the best venue for them would be a hot, smoke-filled honky tonk in the middle of the night where everyone has a good buzz going.
Thanks to the Divas special and the performances therein, I metaphorically dug out my copy of the CD (meaning, I turned on my iPod) and gave it a few more listens which have turned me into a big fan of the record once again which makes VH1 doubly responsible for me liking this band. I would suggest this record for anyone who likes good old rock and roll who also doesn’t mind some country and blues influences. I’ve seen a lot of comparisons of GP&TN to bands of the 60s and 70s to which I would agree, but I would note that listening to this record is like digging up a long lost album from that time period, but not a greatest hits. By which I mean, don’t go in, like I did, expecting a big huge record with lots of rocking tunes, but instead a well thought out journey from rock to soul to blues to country with lots of stops along the road and hops from one genre to the other. If you dig the tracks I’ve shown clips for on this post, then I think you’re pretty well prepared for the record itself. It’s too bad I already made my Christmas list up because I would have definitely added the albums I don’t have had I listened to the record again just a few weeks ago. Oh well, maybe I’ll get some gift cards.
I’ve been seeing bits and pieces of the VH1’s Divas Salute The Troops USO show and have been pretty damn impressed with what I’ve seen. Not only do the ladies look amazing, but they really pulled out all the stops for the soldiers, which is a wonderful thing. With performances by Katy Perry, Paramore, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and other folks I’m not familiar with there was a lot going on, including appearances by The Situation and Snooki from Jersey Shore. I intended to post videos of my favorite moments but for some reason WordPress is being annoying and not allowing me to do so (they don’t allow basic embed codes for whatever reason). I’m not going to let this stop me, so head over to my Tumblr to see my favorite moments from the show.
As I mentioned last week in my rambling post about my history with being a big-time fan of music, I wrote 80s music off almost entirely in my formative years with the exception of my favorite bands who happened to release their first albums in the latter part of that decade like Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Well, clearly that was a shortsighted approach to the world of music and, as a result, there’s a lot of music from the 80s that I mostly missed out on, so I’m trying to make up for that now with 80s Odyssey. There’s a lot to explore from New Wave to Hair Metal and, of course, the early days of hip hop, but I seem to be drawn towards the more pop and somewhat experimental bands of the time. I’ve picked up a few Genesis records with both Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel on vocals, Collins’ No Jacket Required, a Police record or two and a few others, but the one that I can’t stop listening to is Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, which I think I got at a flea market this summer. For the record, yeah, I know Talking Heads started out in the mid 70s, but I’m considering them an 80s band anyway.
I say “I think” because I bought roughly a metric butt-ton of used CDs this summer for no more than $3 apiece and honestly lost track of what I’d gotten. I’d put a stack of CDs in my car to drop off at our storage unit, but before I did, I needed something to listen to and stumbled across Stop Making Sense, popped it in and have been listening to it ever sense. I didn’t realize when I bought the CD that it’s the disc that goes along with the Brian Demme-directed concert video of the same name, I was just excited that it had so many songs I recognized like “Psycho Killer,” “Burning Down The House” and “Take Me To The Water.” Now, this isn’t my first foray into the world of Talking Heads. I actually bought the second disc of their two disc greatest hits set called Sand in the Vaseline, but I didn’t listen to it much and didn’t really give it much of a chance.
One of my preconceived notions about New Wave and a lot of 80s music in general is that’s it’s too computerized and soulless. Obviously, that’s not the case for everything, but it’s something that still rattles around in my brain. What surprised me about this record is that, even while using synthesized drums and other production elements on stage, there’s still a soul to the drums and bass lines, which reminded me that anything and everything can be used by excellent musicians to make really interesting music. Speaking of interesting, it’s the perfect work to describe Byrne’s approach to vocals. He kind of sounds like that kid in school who always used a funny voice, no matter what, but while that kid came off as annoying, Byrne really adds character to the folks he’s singing about.
I was also surprised at how poppy the record sounds. Even knowing the singles, I went in expecting a more serious record for some reason. I guess I’ve always thought of Byrne as ultra serious (I have no idea why, it’s just a preconceived notion I had), but after listening to the record, I got a better sense of his humor and unconventional look at life. So, the real question is, where do I go from here? What other Talking Heads records are required listening (my buddy Jesse said not to go beyond this point)?
I intended to do one of these yesterday, but it got beyond me, so, first off, a belated Happy Birthday to Neil Gaiman. I can’t believe he’s 50. The other day’s Drawbridge topic was Conan O’Brien. My favorite has been Bill Alger‘s, but they’re all pretty great.
Speaking of Conan, did anyone see Soundgarden’s performance on his Tuesday episode? First thought? Kim looks old, the bass player looks like a dad. Second though: I didn’t recognize the song, but it seemed like a strange choice. Overly sparse. Cornell can still wail though.
These guys are total goobers, but I hope my kid digs good music. (via I Heart Chaos)
Rest in peace Dino De Laurentiis, few people in this world provided me with more entertainment than you, sir! (via /Film)Every Guyed’s Ensemble: The Style of Music graphic is pretty epic. Not sure why Kanye’s suit looks like he stole it from Pee Wee Herman, but what do I know? (via Ffffound)
I don’t care about Spider-Man movies. Well, I didn’t until /Film told me that Zooey Deschanel might play Betty Brant. Her plus Emma Stone? Interest semi-renewed.
Tom and Lorenzo’s post about this week’s episode of Glee was really interesting to me, especially as it pointed out how one-sided teen mellowdrama can be towards the standard heterosexual standard. It’s a bummer.
I’m psyched to watch The Initiation of Sarah for this month’s Final Girl Film Club, I just have to remember!
I haven’t really spent a lot of time with Santana’s current stuff. I have a copy of Supernatural that I found on the free table at my old job (I really miss the free table), but haven’t given it much of a listen. When I heard he was doing a cover record called Guitar Heaven in his current style by grabbing different artists to sing on different tracks I wasn’t super excited. Then I saw the video for his cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with India Arie and Yo Yo Ma and I think I’m converted. Gotta love that the guy can still play so well and knows solid artists like India to team up with. Hey wait, is Rob Thomas on the new record? That could be a deal breaker.
Back in 2003, I fell in love with Jay-Z’s music. Three of my friends from high school got a house together in Toledo that I would hang out at a lot when I wasn’t at school. One of those dudes, Toth, worked at the radio station and had piles of CDs in his room. I borrowed a few discs from the piles, one of which was Jay-Z’s then recently released Black Album and my mind was blown. I listened to it a lot on my trips to and from everywhere, but eventually I gave it back. I didn’t actually buy the record for myself until a little while later, but it stuck with me. This album was supposed to be Jay’s swan song, his last record and even though I figured he’d be back, I wondered who would fill the void with him gone. There would be lots of attempts, but no one has captured my attention like Jay, though I understand that I might not be the target audience of current hip hop and rap considering I’m a 27 year old white dude.
That 2003 near-obsession with the Black Album wasn’t my first interaction with Jay-Z. Like anyone else my age, I’d known his music since he blew up, but especially in college when “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” sort of became my theme song. For some reason, my roommate Hatem started singing the lyrics to that song using my last name; “D to the izzo, ietsch [pronounced “eech”] to the izzay.” For the rest of my college career I’d hear that song and put his lyrics to it. Why fight it, right?
Since then, I’ve gone on to pick up four of his eleven records, mostly thanks to flea markets and yard sales. I’ve got The Blueprint, Volume 2…Hard Knock Life, The Black Album and The Blueprint 3 which not only held special significance for me but was also one of my favorite albums of last year. What I dig about Jay-Z’s records is a combination of things. The flow of his rhymes is amazing. The man can put some phrases together, to say the least. He also works with the best producers who invent some sick beats for him. You’ve got guys like Kanye West (back when he wasn’t just that annoying guy), Swizz Beatz, The Neptunes and tons of others. The various producers give his albums a variety and scope that some other records don’t have. Finally, dude’s got swagger. No matter what you think of his records or his music, you can’t deny that the guy knows how to carry himself. Just like he says in plenty of his songs like “Empire State of Mind” Jay-Z has a lot of the outward qualities that draw me to Frank Sinatra.
I dig that the guy has grown up and has started dressing like he has. You don’t see a lot of this in pop music, rap or otherwise, but I like how he’s grown into an elder statesmen role without completely giving up the game. I’d like to think when I get older, I’ll have enough scratch to class the ol’ wardrobe up. I guess it’s a little weird to like a musician for what he wears, but maybe it’s because I’m getting older and have found a new Sinatra to be a fan of.