Friday, May 22, 2009

Why do producers push the mainstream?

Why the Flobots should just do a spoken word album instead of a rap album:

Media mavens mount surgical strikes from trapper keeper collages and online magazine racks
Cover girl cutouts throw up pop-up ads
Infecting victims with silicone shrapnel
Worldwide passenger pigeons deploy paratroopers
Now it's raining pornography
Lovers take shelter
Post-production debutantes pursue you in Nascar chariots

They construct ransom letters from biblical passages and bleed mascara into the holy water

There's a war going on for your mind

Industry insiders slang test tube babies to corporate crack heads
They flash logos and blast ghettos
Their embroidered neckties say "Stop Stitching"
Conscious rappers and whistle blowers get stitches made of acupuncture needles and marionette

There is a war going on for your mind

Professional wrestlers and vice presidents want you to believe them
The desert sky is their blue screen
They superimpose explosions
They shout at you
"Pay no attention to the men behind the barbed curtain
Nor the craters beneath the draped flags
Those hoods are there for your protection
And meteors these days are the size of corpses"

There's a war going on for your mind

We are the insurgents

Pretty intense, right? I was shocked that the kids who put out a single called Handlebars that was just over mediocre, just good enough for me to get the whole album, put this, which was quite possibly the most incredible spoken word piece I've heard from a mainstream band. That's saying something, since I can't take spoken word seriously since William Shatner's Rocketman. The only problem? It wasn't the whole album. Unfortunately, the rest of the album goes downhill from there. There are few standout tracks aside from "There's a War Going On For Your Mind" and "We Are Winning", and they're just a college-rock-rap band that sounds a little too much like Linkin Park crossed with Rage Against the Machine trying to be Public Enemy. Unfortunately, 'we want welfare and healthcare' doesn't have the same ring to it as 'fuck the police'.

Alas. They'll get enough album sales from angry, anti-establishment teenagers to keep going, and maybe they'll do a completely spoken word album. I'd buy it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"He's Behind You, He's Got Swine Flu"

Much to Elle's annoyance, I've been cranking The Streets' Original Pirate Material in the car lately. So Mike Skinner's timing is perfect for a brand new track, and a topical one too. The video is made up of clips from zombie flicks, including generous helpings of Romero's Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, as well as 28 Days Later and a bunch of others I didn't recognize on the first viewing.

Never thought I'd say this about the Oak Ridge Boys

but this is amazing. It's from their upcoming album. Making those instrumental parts into background vocal parts is a very nice touch.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Covers turn up in the most unexpected places

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Yeah, I know. Six AM is a ridiculous time to be writing about an album, but seeing as I'm a musical robot, I need no sleep. Plus, most of my writing is done at ridiculous hours, since that's when I listen to most albums. I haven't the patience during the day, really, nor do I have the time. In short: I do weird shit at night. Deal with it, you get a blog post, I get to ramble about Simon & Garfunkel. My robot brain calculates the odds at: WIN/WIN!

So Rob's right- the TWO THOUSANDS (does that still make anyone else go "JESUS! IT'S THE FUTURE!"?) are winding down, and I can think of no better time to completely disregard the past decade and focus on something I actually enjoy listening to! Yes, something critics have already universally acclaimed, rather than weeding through some of the utter shit that's come out in the last decade. Not that there haven't been good albums! The 00's gave us The Moon And Antarctica, More Adventurous, Regina Spektor's entire canon, Sigur Ros, the influx of brit musicians... The list goes on. But it's also given us T-Pain, MIMS, Lady Gaga (though I will admit some of her finely-processed crap can be catchy), American Idol, and other such abominations.

So on to something that's going to endure, amIrite? 'course I am.

Simon & Garfunkel.

I'm talking Bridge Over motherfuckin' Troubled Water (and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, but that's a few scrolls down) guys. Also known as one of the greatest albums ever that's not by the Beatles (hell- I think it even gives the White Album a run for it's money in my book). Wherever it ranks on your list, it SHOULD be on your list. If it's not, you're a cretin! I kid, but seriously. If you've been living under (or are, in some cases) a rock and have not listened to this fine masterpiece, do it. I'll even wait here while you do! That's the convenience of the internets.

Now, I had not heard this album until this year. Sacrilege, I know. But you have to keep in mind, my robot youth was sheltered in classical music. Not only am I young, I'm the least culturally aware young person ever. Rob sometimes fails to notice this sometimes and mopes about having more time on this earth to listen to great music and even experience some of it live. I know, I don't get it either.

Back on topic! When I first heard Bridge Over Troubled Water (the first track on the album, not the album itself), I was like "yeah, this is great, but these people don't know how to make an album", because the sheer beauty and power of that track made me cry. Not gonna lie, I felt like I needed a cigarette after it. So my first thoughts were something along the lines of "why would they stick such a great track at the beginning? Don't they know anything about a finale?". Sure, the best track gets the customer hooked and willing to buy the album, but there's certain rights of showbusiness that need to be followed here.

Then I listened to the rest of the album, and I discovered why. Bridge Over Troubled Water is transcendent as a whole. Every track was pure artistry, reminiscent of a time where people used music to escape their problems. I was totally and entirely in love. I mean, I would marry this album if it popped out of my computer and asked (probably after kicking it a few times and screaming in fright, but the sentiment is there). I cannot properly convey how GOOD this album is. It is impeccable. It has no weak points. I've never heard an album like this; even some of the Beatles albums have their thin spots. This... doesn't. Granted, it ascribes to a certain aesthetic and those who are fans of things like Usher and Slayer will probably not appreciate the beauty that is Bridge Over Troubled Water (and also- why the fuck are you reading a blog about actual music? Go back into your holes!).

If my love isn't enough to convince you, how about specific tracks to love? Sample a bit? Believe me when I say there's nothing on this album that's better or worse then another.

There's a song that Simon & Garfunkel did called The Boxer. You may have heard of it! It goes "Lie-la-lie, lie-la-lie-lie lie-la-lie, lie-la-lie" etc. (Humming doesn't really translate to text very well, does it?) For those of you who are uninformed, The Boxer is one of the most heartbreaking yet heartwarming ballads ever sung by the human voice. The lyrics are as artful as the melody. It's pure poetry set to pure music. Don't believe me? Listen to it, and if you're not at least taking a deep, shaking breath at the line "I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains" then you are obviously Mitt Romney because you are even more of a soulless automoton than I am.

Yeah, that's on this album. So is Cecilia, the quintessential song about loving a girl who treats you bad and how, despite what she does to you, you take her back anyway. This is another song that is pure goddamn poetry, and it's performed exquisitely to boot. For example: "Jubilation! She loves me again!" You can almost hear the utter joy in their voices, and it is set to music in such a way that reflects that joy.

Now, keep in mind, this album is comparable to a perfect evening in a luxurious mansion, but your lover is missing. You're still pretty happy to be in the mansion eating (insert favorite food here), but there's a note of melancholy to it. Under that note of melancholy, though, is a note of hope that the night will pass and your lover will be there in the wee hours of the morning, happy to see you! That's just how Bridge Under Troubled Water works (and, for the record, it does end with an alternate take of the opening track- Jubilation!).

Now, if you're looking for the "hi, I reflect life!" album, look no further than Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Scarborough Fair is probably the most instantly recognizable song off this album, with hollow and haunting harmonies that reflect the loneliness of a lover lost (try saying THAT ten times fast with your tongue cut out). This is actually a traditional folk song, but it is arranged in such a perfect style for S&G it might as well be theirs. It has this almost ancient, mourning feel to it that simply astounds me every time I hear it. The delicate weaving of the canticle within the melody only enhances the utter ghostliness of the whole experience.

Then you are hit with the almost foreign-sounding strains of Patterns, like a battle call of the Scots in it's drone and driving rhythm. In opposition to the lachrymose-haunting of the first track, this is almost an angry haunting, like remembering a murder victim. The song is fairly self-explanitory: "My life is made of patterns that can scarcely be controlled."

Honestly, I could go on forever about each track on this album, and I probably will someday. For now, there's only one more track I need to call your attention to:

The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy). I kid you not when I say this stuff is pure musical crack, and damn do I wanna keep on smoking. Good news is- it's cheaper and there's no nasty side effects other than humming it CONSTANTLY. Again, if you do not smile at this song, you are Mitt fucking Romney, and you should gtfo.

"Hello lamp-post, whatcha knowin'? I come to watch your flowers growin'! Ain't 'cha got no rhymes for me? Doo-doo-doo-doo, feelin' groovy!" That sounds silly out of context, but once you hear the whispery-soft happiness that is the melody, you will be addicted. Hello, I'm your new dealer! This song is as if someone captured pure carefree happiness in music and then found exactly the right words to express it. This song is the sun warming on your face. It's the first crocus of spring after a long winter. It's puppies and rainbows and everything else that's good in this hellish world, without being super-cheesy.

Since I am feeling the urge to listen to Feelin' Groovy on repeat again (and again and again and again), I shall sum up this post in short, intentionally choppy sentences: the two thousands gave us Usher. Listen to Simon & Garfunkel.

Stay groovy! Or you will be exterminated.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Five great albums from 2000

Since this decade is winding down, it's time to look back and reassess the hellish Bush years. Politically, sure, it's easy to sum up, but I haven't got a handle on it like we do previous decades which can be summed up in a few pithy phrases or images. So I've decided to dive into my iTunes library a year at a time and see if I can come up with something. I'm going to spin a few discs for each year. It's a personal look back and I'm not making any claims that these will be any kind of "best of" lists. Here's 2000:

Caviar, Caviar Of all the albums to come out this year (Kid A, Figure 8, The Moon and Antarctica...), why pay attention to this one? Because I keep listening to it, which is a good a testament as any. This album's probably already been forgotten by most, as it's been a long time since their songs got dropped in as scenery in places like Charlie's Angels. I'm a sucker for shiny power pop like this. Songs like "Ok Nightmare" and "Tangerine Speedo" don't disappoint, and there isn't a much better lament about comparative insecurity than "Goldmine" ("She's Thomas Jefferson/I'm William Howard Taft").

Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP When I heard this I hadn't listen to rap in any serious way since Public Enemy's heyday, since rap traded East Coast social consciousness for the West Coast party ethos. Or, as it's succinctly put on a wickedly funny skit on this album: "He's rappin' about big-screen TVs, blunts, 40s, and bitches. You're rappin' about homosexuals and Vicodin." I was utterly convinced that rap had gone nowhere in the last decade, and sometimes I still think it hasn't, but it hasn't become the utterly bankrupt genre that I thought it had, and this is the album that convinced me. In most mainstream rap albums you find the rapper adorned with bling and hoes, but inside this album is a picture (real or staged - who knows?) of Eminem in a minimum wage slave apron taking out the trash, one which announces in an understated way that this album isn't about "big-screen TVs, blunts, 40s, and bitches". On the album, Eminem takes typical rap tropes to an absurd extreme. Rappers adopt another identity, Eminem manipulates three of them, sometimes within the same song. Rappers act out wish fulfillment fantasies of prosperity and crime, Eminem acts out the exaggerated extremes of rape, suicide, and murder. And while he's created a work that should be taken seriously, he makes it clear that the individual acts of depravity depicted shouldn't be taken any more seriously than those of, say, Gargantua and Pantagruel. After all, he tells Stan "I say that shit just clownin' dawg/C'mon, how fucked up is you?" Is Eminem fucked up? Sure, he has some issues with women and gays and anger and anyone who mentions his name, but is he really any nuttier than, say, Ezra Pound?

O Brother Where Art Thou? (soundtrack) Everyone was listening to bluegrass in America, at least for ten minutes. I imagine fans of the various genres on this album are sick of this disk, much in the same way reggae fans are sick of it when somebody puts Legend on at a party for the umpteenth time. But it's hard to argue against the fact that this album hasn't done a good thing to get this music into more ears, and equally as hard to argue that it isn't a worthy achievement on its own. I suppose there isn't anything here that couldn't be found in any number of other albums, but it's a stunning arrangement from T-Bone Burnett. It's centered around, of course, multiple versions of a storied folk song that plays an important role in the film, "Man of Constant Sorrow", but highlights include "Po' Lazarus", an Alan Lomax field recording of a chain gang where you can hear their picks striking rocks in time to the song, the chilling "O Death" sung by Ralph Stanley, and the hilarious "Big Rock Candy Mountain", a story of the place "where they hung the jerk that invented work".

Sinéad O'Connor, Faith and Courage This was probably the first album I bought in 2000. After I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, O'Connor released a pair of interesting but far from earth-shattering albums, then essentially disappeared for the rest of the 90s. This was her first full length album in six years and it didn't disappoint. "I have a universe inside me", the opening announces, and doesn't let up. The first half is the strongest, with her returning to snarling but beautiful form in "No Man's Woman" and "Jealous", culminating in "Daddy I'm Fine", a dizzying tornado of a song that's both a letter home and a manifesto of sexual and musical empowerment. (It's a testament to the odd juxtaposition of themes in the O'Connor oeuvre that she puts a line like "I wanna fuck every man in sight" in a song addressed to daddy.) If there's a downside here, though, it's just that: she can't help refraining from announcing how empowered she is at every turn and you want her to actually do something about it musically instead of just talking about it like she's in a woman's studies class. But that's quickly forgotten in an album that harkens back to the height of her creative powers. Nothing compares to I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, of course (sorry, couldn't resist), but it was powerful enough to make you think she had arrested her slide into obscurity and irrelevancy. That's not how it turned out, unfortunately, but listening to this album, for a while you could believe again.

The White Stripes, De Stijl I wish I could say I was cool enough to have listened to this back in 2000. I discovered them the same time everyone else did two years later. Four albums later they are justly celebrated, but their first two, released before their fame, are ignored. It's a shame because they are both great albums, and it's all the more a shame for this one, in which The Style is already in place and some of the compositions stand up to the best songs on their later albums. It starts off with what All Music Guide calls a "one two punch" of "You're Pretty Good Looking" and "Hello Operator", one of the strongest opening pairings I've heard. You even get a couple of trademark sentimental reminiscences from Jack, the kind that rock so much you don't laugh at the tender display of emotion. They wear their blues roots on their sleeves here, covering Blind Willie McTell's "Your Southern Can Is Mine" (we even get to hear a clip of McTell describing a car accident in a radio interview) and Son House's "Death Letter", the latter so chilling and effective I think (heresy!) it's better than the original.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Note: The early nineties were a strange, strange place.