Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ultimate Rock Ballads: a big music no no, even as a goof

My fiancee and I were flipping through the channels a couple weeks ago, actually around Thanksgiving, and we kept running into the informercial for the Time Life "Ultimate Rock Ballads" collection. Now of course most of the music on the compilation is sort of guilty pleasure type material but watching the commercial and all the live performances they displayed I figured that the collection would be made up mostly of at least semi-cool guilty pleasures like "Sister Christian" by Nightranger. Some of the stuff by bands like Foreigner, Meatloaf, and Boston might be in the realm of guilty pleasure but it's all well-written, stimulating, and catchy; however, all the best songs were shown during the commercial and the bad ones were conveniently left out.

Since I love to indulge in cheesy music sometimes (along with some of the good stuff on the collection) I acquired Ultimate Rock Ballads (notice I said acquired not bought) and even for the price I paid, I felt gypped. There are a few good songs but the rest are so shitty that it's not even worth it and this is coming from a guy who loves the 80s. For a lot of artists on the collection, whoever compiled the songs managed to include about a dozen or so pretty solid bands but picked all of their worst material. For example, if I only knew Cheap Trick by their 80s ballad "The Flame" I'd NEVER listen to them again.

So, in conclusion, skip this crappy collection and if you do decide to get it, (and I almost never encourage this) don't actually pay for it.

At any rate, the commercial is hilarious and here is a screen shot from Rachael's favorite part:

Just look at the guy from Toto's mustache. Such a passionate mustache for such a passionate song. Rosanna! Rosanna! Rachael and I could not stop laughing at this part. He was trying a little too hard here. I thought his head was going to explode.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reflecting on the days when Goths were Goths: Bauhaus!

Last year, I started investigating lots of influential post-punk bands after falling in love with Joy Division. Post-punk music led me into early goth bands like The Fall and the Birthday Party. I learned that goth, in its truest definition, has nothing to do with the little Hot Topic wearing, attention-seeking posers who have succeeded in hi-jacking the word over the past ten years. Early goth, true goth, is dark, dancy, and provokes melancholy, contemplation, and restraint.

The vocals are dramatic and frequently tinged with a bowie-esque British accent. The intensity of goth vocals often points to an almost operatic style of music; good goth bands are dramatic without being totally overboard sentimental. A singer who paved the way for the stylings of many goth/dark post-punk bands that followed was James Murphy of Bauhaus fame. Murphy's vocals are beautiful, warbling, staccato cries of pain and mourning that differ greatly from genre pioneer Ian Curtis whose voice was a crooning baritone. Curtis idolized Jim Morrison of the Doors and this probably inspired the low booming voice he used while singing, which is strangely very different from his high British speaking voice. The vocals of James Murphy are high and shrill but have the potential to be just as grave and jarring as Curtis'.

Bauhaus carried on and expanded on the Joy Division tradition of simple but infectious beats the rely on repetitive and great-sounding drum and bass patterns which ultimately carry the guitar part in most songs (think of Shadowplay by Joy Division, very drum and bass driven). At times the guitar is only a means of tying together the drums and bass like in the Bauhaus song "Muscle in Plastic" where the guitar is simply used for ambient clicking noises and offbeats. Of course there are some guitar driven songs like "All We ever wanted was Everything" but they're outnumbered by the snappier songs that turn darkness into danciness and through a controlled punk sound (hence post-punk).

Albums I recommend (in no particular order):
-Bela Lugosi's Dead
-The Sky's Gone Out
-In the Flat Field

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Flaming Lips and White Dwarves Take on Pink Floyd

At first I was nervous about this version of Dark Side of the Moon. I heard a bit, about twenty seconds, of "Money" on the iTunes store and I was thinking "NO!NO!NO! This is ALL wrong!" but when I listened to the album from beginning to end I was pretty satisfied. The songs all contain enough Lips and enough Floyd to attract fans of either band even if fans of one are not necessarily fans of the other.

However, I was a little skeptical of the Henry Rollins vocals at first. I love Black Flag as much as the next guy but I was worried that including Rollins might just be a dumb gimmick to attract people who would otherwise be uninterested in the album. I was wrong. Rollins' vocals fit unusually well and give the recording a modern sounding edge that helps define the album as a work of its own rather than just a giant Pink Floyd cover. Rollins' voice coupled with the campy but cool falsetto background vocals gave the entire album a distinctly Flaming Lips feel.

Gone are the solos from "Money" and "Time" that defined their original recordings. Instead of Gilmour's masterful guitar playing the spaces are filled with less stimulating but equally appropriate ambience or simple melody. But at the same time, for songs like "Any Colour you like" (my favorite song on the original album) the However It's really better that the Lips didn't feel the need to emulate each guitar solo on EVERY song because I think it allowed them to make this album an interpretation of Pink Floyd rather than just a flat, boring, straight cover. Coyne's nephew's band Star Death and White Dwarves added some different sounding vocals to a few songs but the band is similar enough to the Lips that their playing is not jarring when heard alongside. The resulting sound is a more relaxed and more somber version of Dark Side that relies more on ambiance than straight composition.

The album definitely had the potential to devolve into a super-pretentious, long, drawn-out, version of Dark Side but ultimately, the sound is good, there is lots of originality but at the same time, there's a lot of fidelity to the original recording.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Human League!

I've been revisiting the discographies of lots of 80s bands who only had one or two big chart toppers. So since I've always liked the song "Don't you want me" by the Human League I decided to listen to large chunks of their discography and was pleasantly surprised to find some great synth-pop whose influence I can definitely hear in lots of other artists.

Here are a few good Human League songs to add to your libraries:

-The Obligatory "Don't you want me"

-The slightly less popular but just as infectious "Things that dreams are made of" (which was actually sampled in Digitalism's twenty minute long, collage/dj set of electronic songs "Kitsune Tabloid".

-"Love Action (I Believe in Love)"

-The super-catchy yet morose "Life on your own"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Shit, MTV strikes a favorite Band of mine once again

About two weeks ago my fiancee called me while I was in my dorm and delivered some really disturbing news. Apparently, Passion Pit is being played on MTV! I was so pissed when I found out. I've been listening to Passion Pit for more almost a year now and I was thrilled when I saw them being promoted on iTunes as single of the week a while back. I want people to know how great Passion Pit is but I'm not so enthusiastic about their appeal that I want the uncultured philistines at places like Rolling Stone or MTV to manhandle their delicate, new image. Thousands of dumb scene kids are going to make Passion Pit their favorite band by knowing only the song "Sleepyhead" which will be their new favorite jam next "Sugar we're going down".

Friday, December 11, 2009

Jay Reatard Live!

On Tuesday night I was fortunate enough to catch Jay Reatard at Walter's on Washington. I squeezed this concert in the day before my philosophy final (which I did well on despite the late night) and it was certainly worth the risk. I met Jay before the show, shook his hand, and got an autograph when I spied him hanging out behind a card table displaying vinyls and shirts for sale.
I approached him reluctantly because I didn't see anyone else going up and didn't want to look like an idiot if it wasn't him; but I did and I must say that he's a classy guy to sit outside and meet fans one on one.

The two opening bands sucked hard. I don't think that if you saw them preform you wouldn't think I'm a prick for saying that. The lead singer to the first one sounded like Jello Biafra when he talked so I figured it might be sort of good but he sure as hell didn't sing like him. I normally cut opening bands a lot of slack but I actually wished I didn't come early after the first minute or two of them going on. I think their name was American Sharks or something. I can't remember the second one. Their vocalist looked like Andy Dick. Weird.

Jay Reatard came on stage and immediately activated what seemed to be a stored sample or looping effect pedal and the amps began to pump out some of the loudest feedback I've ever heard at any concert and I was standing very close to the stage. Even though it was just a little bit louder than anything I'm used to at most shows, the tone was great and he had this excellent reverb/delay effect that really added to the fierceness of his playing. His technique was simple but super fast and creative; it almost made me think of Jack White with more punk influence. About half way into his set I got dizzy from the sheer volume and feedback but I was so into the music that I just stepped back a little and got over it.

The best songs were "I'm watching you" and "Trapped here" but his whole set was good.

I only got my full hearing back yesterday hahaha. It was awesome.