Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: Joshua’s “Choices”

If there were any justice, New York-based rockers, Joshua would have been at the forefront of the emo scene when they emerged in the late nineties.  Don’t get me wrong, they always showed promise and had a solid, yet small fanbase, but they deserved more.  Originally signed to Doghouse Records, the band built a following by relentlessly touring alongside genre mainstays like the At The Drive-In and the Get Up Kids.  They recorded two very solid albums, “A Whole New Theory,” in 1999 and “Singing To Your Subconscious” in 2002, all along building a particularly strong audience abroad.  Sadly, then, the band parted ways. 

Eight years later, lead-singer, Dan Coutant decided it was time to get the band back together and give this outfit a well-deserved second chance.  He managed to get guitarist Keith Bogart, bassist Sean Hansen and drummer Shane Chikeles to take a risk and go for it all again.  In all truth, it ended up not being a risk at all.  The end result is “Choices,” a lean and powerful collection that should earn them a place alongside the best of their peers. 

I know what you are thinking.  As a genre (and by the mainstream) emo has been mangled and beaten to death.  Rest assured, this is real emo, not the product of whiny hipster teens with fauxhawks and “guy-liner.”  “Choices” is the kind of record that would play well amongst recent classics like Nada Surf’s “Let Go” and Death Cab For Cutie’s “Narrow Stairs,” while still maintaining the sonic integrity of their stylistic brothers in Promise Ring.  In fact, much of “Choices” was recorded with famed Promise Ring, producer, J. Robbins.

The record opens quietly and sweetly with “Goodbye Grey Afternoon.”  At a mere minute and a half, this piece is a haunting, but brief, thoroughly indelible bit of musical mastery.  This is like Joshua’s answer to Nada Surf’s, “Blizzard Of ’77,” a drumless, moving opener, anchored by a solid melody, rich with emotional depth.  With this title, is Coutant saying goodbye to the bad times?  As with most great albums, this record is jam-packed with hope in the face of adversity.  The band has an undeniable drive to succeed.  This song sums all that hope up in a thoroughly appealing package.

Out with the sadness, in with the rock, as track two begins.  With a wink and a nudge, the song is called “We Got Old,” most likely in passing reference to the long gap between records and the fact that the band members are in their mid-thirties.  Emo, by too many, is wrongly seen as a young-person’s genre.  A place where young, nasally-voiced screamers can channel their adolescent angst.  To say this is an a vastly mistaken notion is indeed an understatement.  But still, this is a subgenre ripe with an almost accepted form of ageism.  Just look at the mostly cold reception Jimmy Eat World’s brilliant and masterful, “Invented” received just a few months back.  In truth, the survivors of this genre, if they are allowed to mature, actually tend to make some of their best records once they are older and wiser. With “Choices,” Joshua have firmly put themselves into that group. 

“We Got Old,” rocks with dexterity, as Coutant and Bogart unleash a nice guitar wall.  At its core, this is a catchy, earthy rock song, thick with honest emotion.  As Coutant sings, “I didn’t know that the world was so cold,” one wonders if he expected the work of his group to be poorly received, or if that is an intended meaning at all.  Intended or not, this song (and frankly this album as a whole) can easily be read as a sonic document of the frustration of what it must be like to just barely almost make it and then fall apart.  In this genre, done right, such source material can produce gold.  The results of such flawless execution can also hopefully bring forth great reward!

The disc makes an almost seamless transition into “Temporary Flight Restrictions,” which plays like a wonderfully murky-yet-peppy companion to “We Got Old.”  Not to drive this in too deeply, but Coutant’s chorus of “You’re on a temporary flight,” can’t help but summon notions of the hopes of the past.  Joshua may have fallen from their “flight,” but this record, if embraced by the right crowd should take them much higher than before.  Still these lyrics are full of doubt.  Coutant sings, “Remember my face. / Remember the disdain. / I almost turned it all around. / You won’t remember my name. / Is anyone even listening..?” I really hope someone is!  This record is great! 

“The Defeatist” continues the theme with its title, with Coutant even singing lines like, “My dues have been repaid endlessly,” and “I’ve got so much to say before I leave.”  This is a perfect single and thesis statement for the record as a whole.  Given access to the right channels, this is a song I can imagine being embraced by radio and the mainstream.  It's a solid track, possessing all the group’s best attributes.  It has wide appeal, yet it doesn’t sell out!

“Jet Black” begins with a memorable fuzz-bass riff and morphs into a constantly churning builder.  Once it reaches its apex, Coutant belts out the chorus of “When you’re the last in line, I know you hate it!”  Who can’t relate to that?  There’s an intense sense of fury in the way that Bogart, Hansen, Chikeles and Coutant allow their instruments to combine into a boldly forceful sonic stew.  They mesh together firmly in cohesion as one beast.  

“Mean What You Say,” possesses a driving pound, fueled by Chikeles’ near-go-go beat.  The band has an excellent pop sense as far as hook and structure are concerned.  Here, they sound almost like a more morose, minor key answer to Superchunk.  This is another possible single.  Once again, there’s a lyrical sense of regaining one’s balance, with the lines, “And don’t tell me I don’t exist, because I’m not on your little list! / I told you one day I’d reclaim ownership!”  All I have to say to that is, “Sing it, brother!”  There’s a cool moment in the track when it devolves into a mess of disjointed voices and feedback.  It then launches into a brutal rock assault, with the entire band banging on their instruments as if dependent for survival.  Again, the urgency and importance of this album is effectively captured in incalculable ways!

“Oh My Dear” is another set-defining highlight.  Throughout “Choices,” the members of Joshua manage to fuse dissonance with well-crafted pop.  This is one of the set’s strongest examples.  Again, with its infectious melody, this is another strong single contender. 

“More For Giving” follows suit.  It’s nice to hear Coutant dip into his falsetto for a brief moment as he sings, “I can’t forgive you, / You doused my world in gasoline. / Regretfully, / I can’t forgive you, / You’ll die wishing, / I was more for giving!”  The sweet melody creates nice contrast paired with these visceral words.  Again, this is another strong single contender.  In fact this song is tied with “The Defeatist” as the strongest selection on the disc.

The set closes with “The News.”  I really love the lo-fi, back-to-basics fuzziness of the riff that opens and closes the track.  It brings to mind the more stripped down hardcore and punk of the past.  Again, this is a soaring, angst-ridden, almost dreamlike piece.  As the beat shifts, the songs almost floats for a few seconds.  Again, all these qualities and summoned tones and emotions are hallmarks of great emo.  Joshua end their comeback record quite fittingly.

“Choices” is a record I hope will rewrite history.  It’s the kind of record Joshua couldn’t have made eight years ago.  It is drenched in blood, sweat and angst.  It is a full-throttle account of four men and their struggle to break free from their perceived cage.  They claw their way through with style and substance and leave a lasting impression.  This is the band at the peak of their powers.  If they continue and are rightly encouraged, they will only continue to grow and astound.  “Choices” is indeed a fitting title for this collection.  If Coutant hadn’t made the choice to ask his bandmates to reform, we wouldn’t have gotten this wonderful record.  They definitely made the right decision.  It’s rare to get a second chance.  The members of Joshua used theirs wisely to really strongly build on their legacy.  This is an impressive record.

NOTE: You can stream Joshua’s “Choices” here. All you have to do is sign up for a free password at It is a really simple process and highly worth it!

Follow Joshua on Facebook by clicking here.

UPDATE: The album will be available on June 24 on Arctic Rodeo in various cool colors of vinyl!  It will also be available on CD.

Check Out My Blog Over At ABC News' "On The Record!"

A little late to put up links to these, but I suppose it's better late than never,  In December, I posted a tribute to John Lennon.  You can read it here. At the end of the year, I counted back my 50 favorite albums of 2010.  You can read that list here.  Earlier this month, I also wrote a tribute to Broadcast's singer, Trish Keenan, who died suddenly after a battle with pneumonia.  You can read my tribute here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why Do I Love This Song So Much? - Rihanna Featuring Drake - "What's My Name?"

Sometimes I fear that I've become a hardened cynic only satisfied by indie rock and underground hip-hop.  This fear of musical snobbery is potentially deep, for as a music fan, I often feel that pop music (or rather what passes for pop these days) doesn't usually reflect the best of what's out there.  Sometimes I can't decide if I'm trying to suffocate my inner hipster or a burgeoning old fart.  But every now and again these fears are proven to actually be unwarranted.

Last week, like many other people, I picked up Rihanna's latest record, "Loud."  I don't know why, but for some reason Rihanna seems to stand out from the pop pack.  She's got her own unique edge.  I will say that Lady Gaga has her own edge, too, but unlike Gaga, Rihanna's songs don't seem drowned in their own production.  Rihanna's songs, yes, possess many of the hallmarks of modern pop music, but they have a human side to them.  These aren't the robotic works of Britney Spears or the  manipulative gimmicks like Katy Perry.

It's been five days since I picked up my copy of "Loud," and I still have not made it through the entire record.  Why?  Every time I make such an attempt I get caught on the second track, "What's My Name?"
Whenever I hear that song, I want to hear it again, over and over!  I'm quickly closing in on a hundred plays according to my Itunes count.  Why is this?  I'm not exactly sure.  Truth be told, I haven't had this strong a reaction to a pop song that wasn't classified as "alternative" in any way, shape or form since probably the eighties.  It's just a great song and it's catchy as hell.  There's warmth to it and yes, it drips with an undeniable not-so-subtle sexuality as Rihanna sings, "Not everybody knows how to work my body. / Knows how to make me want it. / Boy, you stay up on it. /You got that something that keeps me so off-balance. / Baby, you're a challenge. / Let's explore your talents. / Hey boy, I really want to see if you can go a long time with a girl like me,"

Guest rapper, Drake throws any remaining sense of subtlety out the window when he states, "The square-root of 69 is eight-some. / Right? / Because I've been trying to work it out."  There's no denying, this is a pretty obvious song about getting it on.  Rihanna's delivery and the warm synths keep this from being a sterile, robotic exercise. So often, songs like this that are designed to  titillate fall flat in their own self-awareness.  They seem cold and sleazy.  This song, while suggestive and quite descriptive somehow doesn't possess the slime factor.  It doesn't bring to mind uncomfortable, dark clubs with sticky floors and skanky bathrooms.  The sexuality here seems more suited for intimate encounters.  It's seductive but not scandalous. Suggestive, but not dirty.  Maybe it's the bouncy beat and the joy in Rihanna's voice as she sings.  She actually sounds like she's having fun!  She sounds like she is enjoying herself.  So many other, overtly sexual songs sound like a forced show for someone else's benefit.  She's singing proudly about getting her own satisfaction with an unblinking giddiness.

The track keeps the same hypnotic pace throughout until it reaches its high point during the bridge.  This is when Rihanna gets to really sing.  Letting her voice soar, she declares, "You're so amazing. / You took the time to figure me out. / That's why you take me way past the point of turning me on. / You're about to break me. / I swear you've got me losing my mind."  She may be singing about orgasmic amazement, but there's love in her voice.  After all, everyone knows sex and love make a most potent combination.

Sure, I'm not the biggest Drake fan.  I have trouble understanding the hype that surrounds him.  I don't think he is the future of hip-hop and I'm not fond of his delivery style, but at the same time, even when he raises the track's level of crassness, he doesn't cause it to sink in any way.

This track may very well be unsinkable.  A happy, party song that puts a positive spin on sex.  It plays like a better, catchier sequel to Rihanna's hit, "Rude Boy," from last year.  While that song seemed to dish out sexual demands, this one has a more caring glow.  The difference in tone is probably all in the tune itself.

I'm convinced that  the sexuality is not the main reason I find this track so utterly addictive and appealing. (Although, on some level, it very well might be. I am only human, after all!)  I'd prefer to think that it's because of the song's structure and tone. It just seems like a perfect storm of happiness.  The catchiness, combined with the bouncy beat makes for a striking combination.  Synths are all over the track, which in most recent cases would add a layer of ice, but this song seems firmly planted in the sunlight.  It's just, undeniably infectious.  

I am grateful for this song.  It has showed me that I can still be moved (or more appropriately, JOLTED) by a song that is considered pure pop.  Sure, it's sweet and like candy, but it's not sickening.  I can't imagine getting the slightest bit sick of this track.  Of course, I should be reminded that I said this a year from now after the song has been culturally omnipresent.  I sense however that it will not wear out its welcome.  Every now and again there is a pop song that even wins over the people who thought pop was dead.  For me, "What's My Name?" serves as an amazing wake-up call.  It may very well be just as calculated as any other pop tune, but it doesn't read that way.  It feels like a sudden, welcome warm breeze.  The last time I felt this strongly about a pop song it was probably by Madonna or one of the Jacksons!

Watch the video to "What's My Name" by Rihanna (featuring Drake) and see if you agree!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

My Review Of Mark Ronson & The Business Intl's "Record Collection" has now been posted on my ABC "On The Record" blog

Please follow this link if you want to read my track-by-track review of Mark Ronson & The Business Intl's new album, "Record Collection."  As always, you can find reviews of new albums on my "On The Record" blog over at ABC News.  The archives for that blog go back to August of 2007.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The "Raible Abstract Project" 1-27

OK.  So, this is a bit off topic, but please indulge me for a second.  Last night from about 11:30 PM-1AM, I was playing around on my computer and I began taking, strange blurry, experimental pictures.  I limited light to the camera, I bent my fingers in odd directions, I took various, ambiguous close-up shots, mostly of my arms and hands.  Then, I tweaked these images to turn them into abstract art.  Below, are the 27 pictures I created.  I hope you enjoy them.  I'm pretty proud of the end results!
Abstract #1 2010

Abstract #2 2010

Abstract #3 2010

Abstract #4 2010
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Abstract #6 2010

Abstract #7 2010

Abstract #8 2010
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Abstract #23 2010
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Abstract #26 2010
Abstract #27 2010

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Random Cee-Lo Update: New Album Not Until December (?????!!!?!)

After all the fuss that his single, “F__k You” is causing, Cee-Lo’s album, “The Lady Killer” isn’t coming out until December.  Seriously?  Is this really the best move?  This single has become virtually an instant viral hit.  It would be best if the album came out by October at the latest.  By December, I suspect all the built up momentum will have fizzled.  It’s too bad.  I wonder what's holding up the release.  I wonder if the album is even finished.  In any case, this might turn out to be a textbook example of simply waiting too long to release a record. If this album turns out to be as infectious as its single and it doesn’t hit an optimum sales level due to its delayed release date, that will be a real shame!  If you ask me, it's a missed opportunity!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Momentary Reflection: U2’s “Trying To Throw Your Arms Around The World (1991) – Why Wasn’t It A Hit?

In 1991, U2 hit their peak with “Achtung Baby.”  I remember I bought that album on the same day I picked up Nirvana’s “Nevermind” (What a shopping trip!)  The album doesn’t have a bad song on it!  It’s a perfect album of complete, radio-ready singles.  What does that mean?  Well, it means that since they all couldn’t be chosen, some real gems ended up being missed.

This album produced a sonic avalanche of singles.  “The Fly,” set it off, followed by “Mysterious Ways,” “One,” “Even Better Than The Real Thing,” and “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?”  Even “Until The End Of The World” got some radio play.  Two key tracks were forgotten.  Both “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” and “Trying To Throw Your Arms Around The World” were ready-made hits, demanding placement, but they weren’t singles.  In recent years, “Ultraviolet” has been redeemed.  When the band last appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” they used it to close the show.  “Trying To Throw Your Arms Around The World,” however stands as an untested and unused possible blockbuster.  It’s a waste, if you ask me!

What makes this track so great?  Well, it’s a ballad in the mold of “With Or Without You” and “All I Want Is You,” but it’s built around a pleasantly repetitive groove, giving it an almost anti-gravity-like vibe.  It seems effortless and easy, yet Bono’s delivery is still slickly confident as he spouts lines like, “How far are you gonna go, before you lose your way back home?”  It’s a deeply haunting, penetrating slow-jam.  In addition, it’s profoundly catchy.  It’s virtually impossible not to sing along to the refrain, “I’m gonna run to you, run to you, run to you. / Woman be still.”  Any other band would kill for this song and yet it remained as a mere album-cut.

Had “Zooropa” not followed “Achtung Baby” so closely, maybe this track would’ve gotten its time to shine.  It showcases the band at their peak.   “In A Little While” off their 2000 album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” shows a similar strong side.  Since that track, they have yet to show us another ballad of that caliber.  They are currently working on another record.  Let’s hope we hear ballads this strong, again!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Opinion: Rivers Cuomo and Weezer – My Growing Concern

Isn’t it distressing when a band you once loved starts behaving strangely?  As a long-term fan, you find yourself helplessly watching.  It’s like witnessing a car-wreck in slow motion while the driver thinks everything is under control.  This is how I feel currently when I think about Weezer. 

Sure, it all started out fine. Their first two albums were classics.  The problem was, the second one wasn’t seen as such until years after the fact. It was actually routinely and unfairly bashed and maligned. In fact, said album, “Pinkerton” showcased leader, Rivers Cuomo’s most personal and frank work to date.  The fact that it wasn’t initially well-received, I believe did irreparable damage to him and his future work.  He disbanded the group for five years.   During that time he studied at Harvard where he eventually earned a degree in English.  In spite of his degree, his lyrics got simpler over the years, perhaps in attempt to avoid vulnerability.  "Pinkerton" took somewhat of a savage beating and no doubt so did Cuomo’s confidence. 

In 2001, when the band returned with their second self-titled (green) effort, it was a lean cut-to-the-core, twenty-eight minute set.  Luckily, thanks to the singles, “Hash Pipe” and “Island In The Sun,” the record was well received.  So, the following year they followed it up with the equal if not better disc, “Maladroit.”

It was in 2005 when things started to go awry.  Their album, “Make Believe,” while spawning their biggest hit, (“Beverly Hills”) seemed like an overt grab at the pop audience.  The songs just weren’t as good and increasingly, the band was turning off many of the longtime fans of their music.  It didn’t help that the single, “We Are All On Drugs,” on top of being lyrically appallingly stupid, sounded very much like the diarrhea song. 

Fast forward to 2008 and their third self titled (red) album.  That album worked because they switched up their formula.  Cuomo allowed the other members to sing lead on various tracks and thus fully opened up their scope of musical exploration.  His lyrics were still like something out of a ten-year-old’s journal, using some of the simplest rhyme-schemes in the history of the modern word.  It was hardly what you’d expect from a Harvard-educated English major!

Last year, the band issued “Raditude.”  What can I say about “Raditude?”  Hmmmm…  “Raditude” was a pretty terrible record.  Approaching forty, Cuomo seemed to be in full-on mid-life crisis mode and that made his songs all the more juvenile.  He seemed to be courting the pop crowd more aggressively than ever, singing songs that came off as excessively youth-driven.  Making matters worse, as time has gone on, Cuomo has seemingly come out of his shell.  As someone who used to have a stand-offish presence, he now seems occasionally a little too animated.  Like one of his heroes, Brian Wilson, who went through a similar metamorphosis, Cuomo now comes off like a bit of a man-child onstage, which is somewhat distressing.   He stopped playing guitar as often. This was somewhat surprising considering he used to take every opportunity to solo. Now it seems like his main goal is to really drive the pop aspect of the band’s music home.  He recruited Lil Wayne to appear on the track, “Can’t Stop Partying.”  Elsewhere on the record, tracks had groan-inducing titles like “The Girl Got Hot” and “I’m Your Daddy.”  Only the song, “Put Me Back Together” had a hint of Cuomo’s old mastery. 

The new Rivers Cuomo is still a tad awkward in his delivery.  If you take a look at a live AOL appearance where the band turned their single “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” into a duet with Sara Bareilles, it’s a little hard to watch.  Bareilles is looking at Cuomo with a loving gaze, like she is standing beside a revered idol.  Cuomo, still a shy nerd at heart, looks a little uncomfortable like he wishes he were looking at his feet. 

Now, I am really concerned.  In a couple of weeks Weezer will release yet another record.  It’s called, “Hurley,” and on the cover is an image of Jorge Garcia who played the character Hurley on “Lost.”  The album’s first single, “Memories,” is a jarringly repetitive, disappointing track.  I might be proven wrong when I hear the whole record, but I am concerned that things could very well be getting worse.   I really don’t want to see and hear this once great band implode!!! 

They just aren’t the band they used to be.  If you compare live performances from 2002 and 2009, they seem like a completely different band.  In 2002, touring to support “Maladroit,” they were still in classic form and early staples like “Tired Of Sex” still rocked.  If you can find a recording of a 2009 concert, they sound like a confused, dumbed-down pop mess.  I have heard one recording of them willfully ruining “Say It Ain’t So” by making it a duet with Paramore’s Hayley Williams.  At the end of the song, Cuomo awkwardly shouts into the mic, “HAYLEY WILLIAMS… WHHHHOOOOO!!!” He is seemingly completely oblivious to the fact that he’s just done damage to one of his classics.

I think I see this bad train rolling into the station.  If Weezer and Rivers Cuomo don’t get the right guidance, they could essentially ruin their legacy in the name of fleeting pop success. 

It’s scary to think that this might have all been avoided if “Pinkerton” had gotten the reception it initially deserved.  I really hope I’m proven wrong.  As a longtime Weezer fan and supporter, this is painful to watch.  

Sunday, August 29, 2010

More Art!


Comic Survival Tip

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Momentary Reflection (And Opinion): Headphones

Different people like different types of headphones.  Some people prefer the ear-buds and the inner-ear headphones over the traditional kind. Personally, I like the traditional kind the best.  The standard ipod headphones let out too much outside sound.  If you’ve ever taken a long bus ride sitting next to someone wearing these, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  What you want is a set of headphones you can blast without bothering the people around you.  At the same time, you want keep outside noise to a minimum (yet safe) level.  Personally, I still haven’t been won over by so-called “noise-canceling” technology.

I understand completely why some people prefer the headbandless variety of headphones.  Maybe they think they look dorky or they don’t want to mess up their hair.  The truth is, vanity should not get in the way of excellent sound performance.  But, there is one phenomenon I’ve found very odd.  From my experience, monetary value and performance are not necessarily linked.  I’ve had $20.00  Sony headphones that I felt gave me as good or better performance than fancy $200 headphones.  High-end brands like Bose, deliver an excellent sound, but after a certain point, it feels like you are paying more for the brand-name itself rather than the performance.  Truth be told, of all the headphones I’ve ever had, the ones I was most satisfied with were a $17.00 pair made by a company called EarHugger.  They kept outside noise out while delivering a tight, high quality level of sound.    Of course, tightness was also sort of a drawback, for they were a little too tight to wear at first. Perhaps other brands beat them on comfort, but sound-wise, they hit it out of the park.  That being said, EarHugger headphones are harder to find these days. 

Of course sound and quality can be really subjective.  Different people hear things differently and desire different kinds of sounds.  Some might find Bose actually to be the best out there. Given personal differences, that might be hard to argue.   

What do you look for in a set of headphones?  Have you found the process of shopping for a new pair to be a crapshoot?  I have.  You might find a brand you like but may not like every model.  If you like a certain model and are particularly hard on your headphones, like I am, you may end up buying multiple sets of the same model each time one wears out.  These days I have found a Sony pair that suits my purposes.  With headphones, you have to hunt around and experiment sometimes to discover what works for you as an individual.  Nothing is cut and dry.  Shopping for headphones is a very personal process!

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Apparent Moon/Mars Hoax

I just looked at the moon when I was outside a second ago.  It is gargantuan tonight.  There was a rumor that supposedly at 12:30 this morning, Mars came the closest to Earth it has been in quite some time, making it look like we have two moons.  The rumor continued to say that this wouldn’t happen again until 2287.  I just found a NASA site link that stated that this was indeed a HOAX.  Oh well. What makes this worse is that I got an email about this a couple of days ago.  If you read the date on the NASA article, this rumor is 5 years old!!!  A quick google search proves this to be an urban legend, refuted by reputable sources.  It is one that appears every year on the internet at about this time.  Hmmm.   

I’m a day late in telling you this of course, but even though it appears to be a hoax, there does seem to be a big, bright moon out there, at the moment!  I suppose in celebration, you should still be listening to either Tom Petty’s “Full Moon Fever” or Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon.”  Or,  pick your own lunar or Martian themed album to listen to at top volume.  Maybe even list it below in the comment section!! 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

And Now A Quick Art Display! VINYL!

For years, I never understood what the big deal was about vinyl coming back.  I viewed it as an old, scratchy medium.  That was until I started listening to vinyl versions of albums I first heard on CD.  It's a completely different listening experience.  And if you have a great stereo, the vinyl sound can be more pure and natural.  This is especially true when it comes to hearing bass.

If you have a turntable, do yourself a favor and pick up an album you usually listen to on CD.  (For me, it was Smashing Pumpkins' "Siamese Dream.")  If you are like me,  you'll find that it will be like hearing the album for the first time, again!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Opinion: Katy Perry – Pop’s Biggest And Most Shameless Poseur?

Seriously, is anyone really buying the image Katy Perry is (currently) selling?  For those of you who don’t know, Perry started her career as a Christian singer recording under her given name, Katy Hudson.  Since she’s gone pop, it has been more than apparent that she’s wanted to distance herself from that past.  Her first, truly major hit was an unconvincing dose of faux lesbianism, “I Kissed A Girl,” which also some would argue slightly ripped off Jill Sobule’s far superior hit song by the same name.  Now on the cover of her new album, “Teenage Dream,” she’s lying naked on a bed of cotton candy clouds. I’m not some prude criticizing her because she has a highly sexualized image. (Normally, I’d be fine with that if it was the image she wanted to sincerely convey.)  But, considering the source, one has to question her motives.  Think about it.  An over-sexed pop vamp sells a hell of a lot more records than a virginal Christian singer.  And you have to take a major leap of faith to believe that she actually, sincerely decided to change her whole thematic outlook on life. To a thinking person, this does not seem genuine. 

It all seems like a shallow cash-in.  It seems like a show. It all seems like suddenly she’s decided she’ll do anything shocking for a buck. For the most part, it seems to be working, too.  Sadly, she’s pretty much got the world suckered in! She’s considered one of the hottest celebrities around with most of what used to be the respected entertainment media willing to give her a good spin.  In my opinion, she’s a C-level pop star with truly transparent motives.  She’s not a gifted singer and she’d be nowhere without her producers and co-writers. 

Many have dubbed her single, “California Gurls” as the single of the summer.  Come on!  Really!?? If that’s the case, than the industry truly has lost all its imagination.  A campy blue wig, a pouty mermaid’s pose, a low-end house-groove and a Snoop Dogg cameo does not a strong single make! Especially when this song in question seems like it was created in a boardroom off of other people’s borrowed ideas.  It has been written that it was meant as a west-coast response to Jay-Z’s “Empire State Of Mind.”  Combine that with the use of the title of an old Beach Boys song, changing the letter “i” to a “u”, a la Big Star, as to not raise any suspicion! Again, since this song has been made a hit, a lot has been written about the whole Beach Boys connection.  For a moment a few weeks ago, it looked like there might have been a possible lawsuit.  Anyone who has ever listened to both songs knows, though, that such an action wouldn’t have gone very far, considering the tracks are extremely different from each other.  I’ve seen no evidence of this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually came out that the dialogue over a potential legal scuffle was planted into the press cycle merely to up the interest in Perry’s record.  It’s a cynical way of looking at the situation, but one has to wonder, especially since both Perry and the Beach Boys are Capitol records artists.  If you doubt such moves happen behind closed doors, you are probably being naïve.  When you are selling image over artistic quality, you’ll do just about anything to raise the stakes. 

There is the off-chance that I’m wrong about Perry and that her previous image was the pose she put on to please her religious, pastor parents and now that she’s an adult, this is the real Perry emerging.  But I doubt it.  If this were the real Katy Perry, would she really seem so empty, shallow and synthetic?  In any case, when I see and hear her, something simply does not add up.  I have to figure that at some point in her career, she has lied to herself and the public.  If this is all a rouse now and she goes to number one on the album charts next week, I will weep for an uninformed, easily manipulated nation willing to accept anything that the record companies can throw at them.   

This will probably, once again prove my suspicions to be true! Pop success may have nothing to do with talent after all.  Just get the sonic-chemists together to create some low-quality, sugary hooks and put an attractive, young naked woman on the album cover.  That's all you need to sell a lot of records.  How sad! Fans may not care about issues as complex as outside context.  Why ask if you've been taken when the end product leaves you hypnotized and dancing?   Such thoughts would require the use of too much extra energy.  

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Momentary Reflection : Plumtree’s “Scott Pilgrim” (1997)

I sit here on this cloudy, rainy (actually misty) night, exhausted from the day, in major need of sleep.  I have my headphones around my neck, blasting the song “Scott Pilgrim,” by the Canadian band Plumtree.  I’m now familiar with this track thanks to its somewhat obvious inclusion on the “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” soundtrack, but I’m shocked to find out that this track is actually thirteen years old.  What is amazing is that this song’s crunchy feel is once again becoming a coveted sound in current indie rock, so this track still sounds just as current as ever.  You can play it next to Best Coast or Wavves and it doesn’t sound out of place.

My question is, why wasn’t this song popular at the time of its release?  Before last week, I’d never heard it or of Plumtree, an all-female Halifax, Nova Scotia band that from my reading I’ve determined must have been in the same cool circles as Sloan during the nineties.  The track’s repeated refrain of, “I’ve liked you for a thousand years, a thousand years,” is somehow both propulsive and hypnotic at the same time.  It’s safe to say, even thirteen years after the fact, this song really deserves to be a hit.    

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tomorrow's Releases:

Actually, there's only one release I'm looking forward to hearing tomorrow, and that's Eels' album, "Tomorrow Morning."  It's the third album in under 15 months from the band, following the June 2009 release of "Hombre Lobo," and this past January's release, "End Times."  Leader, E. has yet to deliver a disappointing Eels record.  It's safe to say that like all of its predecessors, this record will most likely be equally depressing and uplifting.  There's a kind oddly hangdog brand of optimism in E's work. It makes him one of a kind.  

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Few Brief Words...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cee-Lo Green’s New Single May Just Be A Reason To Uncensor Radio!

Cee-Lo’s new single is literally called “F__k You.” Before you are turned off by the name, you need to know that it’s a chunk of undeniable soul that will probably bring a smile to even the most conservative music fan. It’s a high-quality nugget of funk. It’s the kind of vintage R&B not heard since the peak of Motown and Stax. (If you don’t believe me, look the song up on youtube!) This song obviously won’t get the airplay it deserves due to its title and its repeated lyrics. Censoring it by traditional means could hinder the listening experience, thus I propose a plan. I wish radio stations could play this song uncensored after 11 PM. This is the kind of track radio needs right now. It’s sad that it has an unmentionable chorus and title according to the guidelines set up by the FCC. This is the best song to appear this summer. It’s the kind of song that I would hope would win over people who would otherwise be offended! I remember a few years back when Cee-Lo was hyped because of his Gnarls Barkley song, “Crazy.” This song is ten times more likable than that track. It’s the best song with a foul title since Eels’ masterpiece, “It’s a Motherf__ker” ten years ago.

And yes, I sense the irony that I’ve censored all of the “objectionable” titles. Maybe I’m not quite as daring as I talk myself up to be. Maybe I’m worried about offending people, too. What can you do? I’m a truly complex, paradoxical man!

In any case, you need to check out this song and check your standards at the door. Believe me, this song is worth it!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Weekend To-Do List

What should you do this weekend? Well the first thing you should do is try to get some rest if you can. Sleep can be very useful, yet somewhat of a scarce resource sometimes. Most of us probably don't get the recommended eight hours a night.

Secondly, you should find an album you like and blast it as loud as you can (before the neighbors complain.) I find that My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless" at a certain volume tends to relieve stress. Somehow, there's something very cathartic about blasting music that sounds a little like ten vacuum cleaners working all at once.

Thirdly, you should spend your weekend creating something. Express yourself and give yourself an outlet you don't have access to during the week.

Enjoy yourself and have fun!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How Can We Get People To Buy Music Again?

Nielsen SoundScan reported that only 4.95 million albums were sold last week. That’s a record low, going back to 1991 when the SoundScan era began. The industry has long been in decline, so the question is, how can it be reinvigorated?

Of course, in the digital age, with the physical product becoming less of a mainstay in the marketplace, people are sharing their collections with each other more easily. In that way the technology is flawed. It used to be if you and your friend wanted to get the same album, you bought two copies. But, imagine this. What if there is an album that is not sold in its physical form? You and a friend both like the artist. If it were available on a physical disc, you and your friend would each pick up a copy. It doesn’t make sense to download it twice, so you download it once and you and your friend each burn a copy. I suspect scenarios like this are playing out around the country every day. Pow!! There you have one potential cause for the sales drop.

Let’s face the fact as well that the music on pop radio doesn’t even come close to giving an appropriate sampling of the best music available. Year after year the labels promote what tends to be their most pedestrian material. No one takes risks anymore! They are so busy trying to start and manipulate trends that they forget that radio is supposed to serve the people. Many great records are released every year. Some of them are even on the majors. Those great records often don’t receive airplay. The system needs correcting and radio playlists need to be opened up and reexamined. Imagine, your future favorite album may have just been released, but if it’s not one that is getting much airplay you may never find out it exists. If that’s your only pipeline into what’s new and hip, the industry just lost a sale.

I read as much as I can about new albums. The indie press is the only way to get anything close to an accurate reading of trends in the industry. I firmly believe in the physical product. I feel that it’s more permanent and that it makes the medium of music less disposable and more tangible. I love album artwork and liner notes. Somehow we got to a point where too many people view music as something that should be free. Artists need money. Art will only flourish if people have the freedom to devote their lives to their craft. Without a monetary backbone, culture dies. I’ve seen too many bands I like get dropped by their labels. That’s why every week I always purchase new releases.

The public needs to wake up and realize that if the industry keeps this up level of decline, eventually it will be unsustainable and will collapse. Do you want a world without commercial music? I don’t think you do! So, do me a favor, please, if you can. After you read this, go out to your local record store (if you still can find one) or if you wish go online and buy some music. Support the industry. Music needs your help!!