Friday, August 9, 2013

Ben Folds - Ben Folds Live

Ben Folds - Ben Folds Live
Published 2002

Wait a second, I hear you say, that isn't the new Queens of the Stone Age!  You're right, I lied.  I am going to do it, but I want to make sure to do it justice, and I think that I can just write this one without editing.  So, fuck you, delete key on my mac, let me pick an album at random from my gigantic playlist of things that I have on my computer.

Ben Folds! That's a great idea, alphabetically listed by Artist's name column on my iTunes!  Hey, we'll even get to do a live album for this one! Fluffed notes! Audience Applause! Jackholes screaming to get on the album!

Maybe this is the wrong one to talk about those three problems.  Ben Folds' audience is way too nice to not listen appreciatively to his beautiful songs.  It's like listening to a Canadian rock album (Quick, I have done Rush before this right?  I haven't!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!????!?!?!??!??!?!?! WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?  Jesus, Moving Pictures is on the list.  I'm coming for you, Today's Tom Sawyer. [By the way, taking time off from doing these write ups has really showed me how much I intended to do, and haven't.])

This album is interesting to me, because I feel like someone said to Ben Folds, "just play the hits" listening to it now, but it may be because these recordings of his songs are so popular.  Is it a selective feedback that these songs have lodged themselves in my conscious because they are some of my favorite versions of his songs or am I remembering correctly that these are the most popular in general, and therefore became some of my favorites?

Fred Jones Part 2.  This song is just amazingly beautiful.  You should know it completely forwards and backwards.  It's a lovely, melancholy, haunting, and sad song.  This performance is just beautiful.  The duet is well done, and the piano is incredibly expressive.  I love this song. Also, his cover of Tiny Dancer is just awesome.

I have to recommend this album.  If you're a Ben Folds Fan (I'm looking at you, Jake), you already know how good this album is, and probably are shunning me for not getting on it earlier.  If you're not, you owe yourself to check him out.  I'd probably, very generously, because my opinion matters like crazy, favorably compare him to Elton John and (Old, awesome) Weezer style songwriting.  Or something, whatever.  I'm just writing this to keep you people off my back.

Moving Pictures and ...Like Clockwork are coming soon.  Feeling inspired to write.  This bodes well for the next like month.  Who knows after that.

"I'm not crazy!"
"Said the man to the dog."

Friday, August 2, 2013

Turn The Radio Off - Reel Big Fish



Are you kidding me?

It's been nearly two years since I wrote an Album Project?

This is a shame, a sham, a terrible travesty.  I mean, it's not like music stopped being made, right?  Did it?  Because I really haven't been listening to any.  I mean, other than that hot new Queens of the Stone Age album, and the Original Production Recordings of West Side Story, and you know, all the music.  I mean, Gangnam Style came and went, Robyn Thicke and Justin Timberlake both released music videos full of tits, and I haven't written shit about music in a long time.  Jay Z has retired and come back at least 30 times since then, right?

Yeah, I know, I left you. I did you wrong. I went away, but I came back, baby, and you know I loves you, it's just producing some 2000 words for no pay about an album that people don't care about hurts so bad, but missing you hurts too, so fuck it, we'll do it live.  We're here, we're album projecting, get used to it.

Let's get this out of the way.  This shit will not be regular, but I cannot stop myself from coming back.  I'll probably do it in fits and starts.  But your job is the same.  Your job is to give me suggestions, and give me albums that you love.  I promise to write swear words interspersed with incisive-esque commentary about them.  Drop me a line, or throw something in the comments. QOTSA is probably next.

Turn The Radio Off - Reel Big Fish
Published in 1996

This was a middle school miracle.

I was in middle school when these guys got onto the radio in a big way, and they were super inspiring.

You see, I was a saxophone player in middle school, and I loved rock music.  Ska was the natural progression that I didn't know about.  For a brief moment, Ska became cool while I was a kid, and that was pretty awesome.  And then, in an instant, it was gone from the radio.  

You know what, I know why.  The songs are interesting, but it doesn't have quite the appeal that it did back then for me.  I've grown up, grown older, and kind of grown out of the worship that I had for ska. However, this album still kicks ass, and I'll tell you why.

Nostalgia.  It's a super important factor for what music stirs your heartstrings, as we have discussed in this space before. Reel Big Fish is great for nostalgia for three reasons.
1. Reel Big Fish sounds like whatever age you were when you discovered them.  At least for me, they remind me of being in middle school and high school, and that cusp of maturity.
2. Reel Big Fish has very distinctive runs in the horns that allow you to remember them with clarity, giving you the same kind of nostalgia as a really good guitar solo.  (Aside: why the fuck haven't I done a Satriani album or [duh] a Hendrix album? [Have I done a Hendrix album? {It's been so long, I had to look through the archives to make sure I hadn't done this one. -(How sad is that?)-}])
3. Reel Big Fish is able to write timeless lyrics.  They may not be great, but they are timeless.
Let's talk more about that third one.  The lyrics are not super complicated.  They are not poetry of the first order.  But they are and always will be, about real shit.  Girls, complicated relationships, wanting to be famous, trying to make a band, all of these are neither new or old.  They're just wheelhouse topics that nearly everyone can relate to.  The band has a really relatable tone about the whole thing too.  They seem to be winking with the audience, knowing that some of what they say is ridiculous, but it's okay, because everyone is having fun.

And it is fucking fun.  Not everything is going to be 808's and Heartbreak, or The Cure.  Sometimes, you just want to hear a guy sing ridiculous lyrics about his vegetarian girlfriend.  That is okay.  We're only human.

Look, do I think this is not optional? No. It's great, fun, and enjoyable for me.  That's the key.  For me, this is great stuff that I enjoy coming back to, but your mileage may vary.  However, if it varies a lot from mine, this blog might be a trudge.

Anyway, TAP is back.  Get excited.  Or don't, you know, whatever. (This line brought to you from 1996.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Beck - Sea Change

Beck - Sea Change
Published in 2002

First off, I want to thank my buddy Tobias, who reminded me that I hadn't listened to Beck in forever, a situation I quickly rectified. Tobias is one of the most incredibly talented musicians that I know, a multiple instrumentalist, and a hell of a creative force.  His first album Flesh.Bones.Teeth.Words is out now. Get it.

Sea Change is my favorite Beck album. There is something so genuine and open about the album that it sucks you in and makes you listen.

Let's get specific, my favorite song on the album is Paper Tiger, an incredible mesh of orchestral backgrounds and one of the most underrated voices in rock and roll.

First, we start off with a tiny drum riff, followed directly by a simple melody line, sung quietly over a twangy electirc guitar. This is followed by a responding string section which is the defining sound, to me, of a Jon Brion production.

Future album project and fucking amazing album Extraordinary Machine, by Fiona Apple, introduced me to this aesthetic. Jon Brion is a pretty amazing producer. He develops an incredibly deep sound out of the contrast between pop instrumentation and orchestral instrumentation. Obviously, I quite enjoy it.

This albums power lies in the voice of Beck. There is something meloncholy and sweet about it at times and husky and scarred at times. The songs feature this well, giving his voice time to stretch over long notes, allowing the beauty of it to really come out.

I love this albums introspection, and the amount of time needed to really get into the album is so short that I would suggest that you stop reading this and just give it a try. Who knows, maybe you'll love it.    

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Lonely Island - Incredibad

The Lonely Island - Incredibad
Published in 2009

One of the thugs that I have noticed is that there are certain genres of music that are more difficult than others. It is easier to make competent music in some areas than others. I want to be clear though, I don't think this music is any easier to make great songs, but just making competent songs is enough sometimes. When I listen to techno, while I can percieve differences, the floor level seems easier to achieve than, say as an extreme example, chamber music.

This may just be because we no longer practice the specific generes and that the more popular ones are more in practice. There is one genere that is incredibly hard to make, and I want to explore why.

Comedy music is really difficult to do well. Quickly, think about comiedians who use song as their primary vehicle for jokes. Here is my list:
Weird Al
Spike jones
Stephen Lynch
Lonely Island
Reggie Watts
Flight of the Concordes
Axis of Awesome
Bo Burnham
Richard Cheese
Tenatious D

If we start looking at comedians who write original songs and music as a side project:
Monty Python
Tim and Eric
Zach Gallifinakis
Ed Helms
Steve Martin

This is off the top of my head, and if I think of more, I'll add them. Although I think it proves my point. In the history of music, the number of exclusive comedy artists is a pretty tiny number. I know that I am focusing on sucessful ones commercially, but that is the best measure I have, because if they haven't been somewhat successful, I wouldn't have heard of them.

This genre is difficult for a few reasons. Let's do it in list form.
1. It's ephemeral.
2. It's timely.
3. It's funny.

On the first point, comedy music is pop music. If it isn't popular, there is no reason for it to exist. It takes the music of the moment and distills it down to it's essence. But, that moment will pass, and for the most part, the comedy passes with it. This is why King Tut is still funny, but some of the more obscure Weird Al tracks have not maintained their popularity.

On the second point, you have things that only work in their time. Someone born in 2000 may have a vague notion about Madonna, but would Like a Surgeon be funny to them?  Who knows?  To a nerd like me, parodies are funny because I seek out what makes them funny, but on a first listen, it would probably just sound like a particularly silly eighties track.

But the third hurdle is the hardest. Every time there is something in the world, you're expected to make the funny version of it. Every time you write a song, there have to be jokes that fit the form, and you are expected to be hilarious. The great artists, the ones you remember, take the ephemeral and make it timeless by making it funny.

The Lonely Island does this better than anyone right now. They do it by co-opting modern trends in music, taking their simple formula, and applying it. They also make very cinematic music, because for the most part, it goes on SNL.  They have a laser focus on the conventions and beats that go into a hip hop song.

Let's take a song at random. Incredibad, the title track, is a parody of the 80's story rap, taken to an extreme. If you don't know this form, listen to the song "Paul Revere" by the Beastie Boys. The pop culture ephemera is there, and their target is the 12 year-old kids who grew up listening to Licenced to Ill (or as we're commonly known, me and every other suburban white kid who liked hip hop at all).

The comedy though, is just in this insane moment of a story song, where the plot goes fucking crazy, and the three friends decide to team up or whatever.

Explaining comedy ruins it. I have trouble writing about music from time to time, and writing about comedy is the same. You cannot know why something is funny and still think it is funny in the same way. In your analysis of comedy, you anihilate what is funny and twist it and turn it into something else.

During college, I thought very hard about writing an essay about jokes and the program. I think that one reason that comedy is so important to groups of people is because it can codify and show members of your tribe at their most open and vulnerable. The communal experience of laughter is one of the few truly open moments, which is why laughing with a group of people in a theater is a different experience than watching something at home.

SJC is an incredibly small community, but the jokes that are told there reflect the miniture nature and the specific purpose. When someone refers to the program ironically or merely quotes a joke from a book, you get an experience that is limited to your people. If one looks at any small group, these short hands for humor will arise.

But our jokes are also incredibly obscure. They speak to us and us alone. I think this is part of the success of The Lonely Island. Their ability to make fun of specific aspects of hip hop culture, even obscure songs like Paul Revere, makes them hilarious to that group, which champions them for the rest of us.

I really like this album, and I genuinely like it musically as well as in a comedic sense. You should pick it up, you'll like it too.

"Oh, he just went up to his room. He's probably whipping the river."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense

Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense
Published in 1984

I love the Talking Heads.  I do not love the Talking Heads albums.  I don't know why, but they have never attached themselves to me in the same way that a lot of other albums have.  I think that there is a huge amount of talent in the band, I think the songs are catchy as fuck, and some of the stuff that they create is stronger than most of the stuff that I like, but they have never latched on for me.

This might be the album that I finally get into them on.  I've sampled, here and there, but the ever present pressure of space has overwhelmed any large downloads of their work, and album by album, I haven't found something to get me to fandom.  However, this might be the one.

First off, this one has a killer track list.  Burning Down the house is a dance classic, and can still get people doing rediculous 80's dances to this day.  As LCD Soundsystem so aptly puts it, borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered 80's is in full effect when you play that song.  However, This Must Be The Place may be my favorite off of this album, because it really makes me delighted just to hear it.  It's one of the few songs that never fails to make me stop and sing along.  It lives in eternal earworm company there.

Once in a Lifetime is another of those eternal songs, that you will always listen to and love.  Man, I think the more I listen to this album, the more I come around on it.  Okay, I think this is going on the iPod at this point, and this is my second listen.  This might be the one.

It is a long album, and to justify that, I am listening to the special extended edition to the album.  The length is not wasted, however.  The length augments it, giving it room to breathe, and allowing it to develop into something more, as opposed to finishing the thought too early.

This might be why I haven't gotten into the Talking Heads before this point.  I've always enjoyed economy in my music.  The exceptions being Arcade Fire and Kanye and probably Incubus, but there is something about the economy of music that I really appreciate.  However, I think as I grow older, I come to appreciate the complexity of music, and the layered qualities filter into us more.

This is the rare live album that doesn't treat the audience as another instrument.  It allows the band to play off of the audience without mic-ing them to death, and makes the band create something that is beautiful to hear live, because it is being heard live, but without the enforced fun that a live album can rely on.

This is a good album, and it deserves to be listened to more.  So I will,  I like it, I don't love it yet, but I can see it growing on me.

"How about Cody?" "No, it has to be something regal." "How about Cody II?"

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Published in 1993

There is an aesthetic to great art.

The aesthetic is very important, because what it does is create an atmosphere, and create a world for you to live while appreciating to the art.  That's why great art has an aesthetic, because instead of changing the world that the album lives in, they change the world in which you live.

There was once a time when the aesthetic of the Wu-Tang Clan wasn't the model for everyone. Please, remember back to the first time you heard a Wu-Tang song.

I can tell you exactly when I heard my first Wu-Tang song.  I was watching MTV at some ungodly hour, when I couldn't sleep at my grandmother's house.  I was such a suburbs kid that my parents didn't have TV, so I got most of my music straight off the radio, and from MTV when I could.  One early morning at my grandmother's house, when they show videos on MTV, I was appreciating the incredibly over the top videos that I got to see on it.

The video art is something that I feel has been lost. I know I was watching deep into the video revolution, but I remember distinctly being impressed by some and disregarding others. I became a cinephile for the three minute movies that I got to see on the TV.  So, when something made me sit up and notice, I knew that it was good.

This is what it was.

"Tiger Style. Tiger Style. Tiger Style."

You want a fucking monster hook to your beat?  Wu-Tang Clan ain't nothing to fuck with.  You want something that will make people sit up and listen?  Wu-Tang Clan ain't nothing to fuck with.  You want to make a fucking statement about everything that you want to represent?  Wu-Tang Clan ain't nothing to fuck with.

Seriously, listen to that song right now.  It's so nasty good that it still makes me want to jump up and go crazy.  The production is so strong that everything comes through as the strongest fucking song ever.  The beat is just perfect and it just brings you in.

First off, Wu-Tang loves movies.  Most of their vocal samples are from dubbed Martial Arts movies.  So, when they started making videos, they made movies.  There was a story. There was an idea.  They created a world.  I wanted to live there, and back then, I didn't hold with rap that much.

Over time, my anti-rap stance has softened so much that it has pretty much reversed, but back then, I was pretty sure it was not that great.  I was wrong.  I was so wrong, but the reason I was wrong is a pretty interesting one.  I thought that it wasn't for me.  I thought it was for people who lived harder, who had a harder time than me, and the artists tried to reinforce that distance.  This is why Wu-Tang was a sea change.

Wu-Tang made the world sound like something to which I was able to relate.  The beats were so broken down, and beautiful, that I could completely get locked in on the beat alone.  Then, the flow was so strong that I could completely latch on.  The vocals were strong, distinctive, and filled with character.  Every time I listened to them, I was slowly brought into their fold, and following along was insane.

Everyone in the world knows that you should listen to this album.  If you want to hear the moment that hip-hop changed from straight hardcore gangster to some kind of strange mix of nerd culture, insane flows, and obscure corners, you need look no further than this album.

Seriously, go listen to it now.  I'll be listening to it too.  Crank it up, Wu-Tang for life.

"Diversify your bonds."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Incubus - Morning View

Incubus - Morning View

I have a vivid memory associated with this album.

This is not new. I have vivid memories associated with lots of albums, but this one is a memory of incredible power to me. I find that I have trouble even listening to this album anymore, because it inspires this memory to be called up.

It is not a sad memory or a particularly happy one. It's just a strong memory. One that is affecting in a way that others aren't.

I come from Maryland. If you've ever lived there, especially in the areas where I lived, you'll know the time of year that I am about to talk about. There is a brief moment of time in Maryland that happens at the end of April and the beginning of May. It is in this brief window that the weather gets to that perfect moment between early, frostbitten spring and early oppresive summer.

As a child, or at least more of a child than I was then and probably am now, I remember this being the time of anticipation and excitement for the onrushing summer break. The moment that the world would open up and be fee for a few months. It was a time of swimming pools, swimming practice, library books and friends. I wasn't in any way popular but my few friends would spend tons of time together, which we can only thank our parents for.

As I grew up, I lost some of this. My job and my friends grew away from the swimming pools and the outdoors and into computer games and preparing for the next year or weekend.

Incubus grew up with me. I was obsessed with their album, Make Yourself, which I associate with early middle school, and with Peter and Zach. I got a copy of SCIENCE and Fungus Amungus a little later, and completely absorbed them.

So, when I heard that Morning View wasn't as good, I was devistated. I actively avoided the album. The singles were good, and the music seemed nice, but if I was going to be disappointed, I wanted no part of it.

This lasted for a while, almost up to the next Incubus album. But, at that moment when the weather was perfect, two events happened.

My Dad's pool opened, and my stepmom had a copy.

So for an entire early afternoon, I cleaned the pool and listened.

If you have ever cleaned a pool, the experience is rediculously boring. The best you can hope for is that the time passes quickly and that you can move on quickly, but it's a bit of a dragging experience.

That is the usual experience, but this time I had a differet one. I got into the groove of it, slowly but surely crating perfectly straight lines of clean pool bottom next to each other, overlapping as little as possible, striving for the perfect unattainable efficency of movement. The smell of the fresh cut grass with the chemical smell of the pool mixed and rose and imprgnated my nose, and I soaked in the experience.

But it was the music that made me fall into that state. I felt perfectly in tune with this album, and it resonated with me. I was completely in the moment, and that moment was perfect. The entire time I was cleanig the pool, I was perfectly satisfied with what I was doing, and I felt as if I was in the right place.

So now, I listen to this album and I think about how perfect that moment was, and I strive for it again, but the experience is never as good, and I wish it would happen again.

The album is a masterpeice of great down tempo rock. The songs are longing and sweet, but never overwhelmingly so. This was an album of a band in transition, and it is so well done that people have misheard it. The band was moving from Make Yourself to where they are today, and Morning veiw was one of the reasons that they have moved so far. It is a perfect early summer album, wen the time stretches before you, and you feel the call of the pool and friends and the outdoors.

"Earth: Harmless"