Monday, June 30, 2008

Covers: Warm and snuggly or hot and stifling

Covers are a controversial thing in the world of music listeners. Some people love them. Some people think they were the first evil let out of Pandora's Box. Others don't even realize they exist "Britney didn't write (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction? What?"

For me, it really depends on the cover. Some I love. Some bother me. But truth be told, I'd rather listen to a cover that sounds nothing like the original than hear it basically remade. Anyhow, the way I see it there are three types of cover songs.

1.) The Tribute cover.
I'm not talking about singing a song for a tribute album or a tribute concert. That's a different issue entirely. This is more a la Jack White singing Dolly Parton's Jolene. And not changing the genders because it's how she would've sung it.

These are fine. They may sound similar to the original version, but hopefully not too much.

2.) The "it's a really good song, so I'm going to put my own spin on it" cover.
This is the most common sort of cover, and is generally not even thought about, since almost everyone does this. For instance, Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen. If I can't stand his original version, I could go out and listen to a version by any of the following people: Elisa, Maxwell Murder of Saturday's Car Ride Home, Rea Garvey of Reamonn, Alex Lloyd, Sephira, Adam Nikkel, Keren Ann, Willie Nelson, Beefy, Bono, Bon Jovi, Blake, Bret Darby, Clare Bowditch, Fred Eaglesmith, Steve Acho, Allison Crowe, Patricia O'Callaghan, Jackie Greene, Julie Felix, Damien Leith, Anthony Michael Hall [2], Bettie Serveert, Kenny Zhao, John Owen-Jones, Custard, k d lang, Kevin Max, Gord Downie, Simple Plan, Gov't Mule, Steffen Brandt/Tina Dickow (in Danish translation), K's Choice, Enrique Morente (flamenco version, translated to Spanish), Street to Nowhere, Wayne Whittaker, the Prayerbabies, Kevin Christy, Kathryn Williams, Lucky Jim, Over the Rhine, Pat Terlizzi, Myrra Malmberg, Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, Michael Wolff, The Brown Derbies, Imogen Heap, Popa Chubby, Jimm Zombie, Joe Wilson, Kristian Meurman (in Finnish), Hilary Scott, The Choir of Hard Knocks and Kate Voegele.

Okay, that was a bit unnecessary, but Wikipedia made it so easy.

Point is, there are songs like this that everyone forgets are covers, because everyone covers them. Another great example would be Knockin' On Heaven's Door. Or Yesterday by the Beatles.

3.)The Tragedy Cover
This is not so much the reason behind the attempt as it is the failure of said attempt. What exactly do I mean? This and this (not embedded due to awfulness).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Non-Music Reviews: Books, TV, and more!

Book 1: So last week I read a book that just blew me away, The Raw Shark Texts by Stephen Hall. It's his first novel (unfortunately this means there aren't any others by him to read) and it's probably the best book I've read in years.

Everything about it is perfect. It's got just the right touch of tragicomedy that you'll be laughing at one page and crying at the next. It's got the perfect sense of absurdism. Enough to make the book ridiculous and fun, but not so much that it's unreadable or dense. And even more awesome was the typography. The author used sentences to make pictures. Kinda like ASCII art, but with actual words and sentences, as opposed to dots and slashes. For instance a fish with be "drawn" with the word fin filling in its fins and beak filling in its beak. Crazy, yeah?

But what Mr. Hall is most effective at is building empathy for the main character, Eric Sanderson. Eric Sanderson wakes up with no memory and a note from his old self giving him a person to get in contact with. I'm not going to ruin the story, because I want everyone to read it, but the way the book deals with loss, grief, love, and memories is incredible. I wish all books made me feel this way.

Book 2: Unfortunately, this book proved that that won't happen. Based on's recommendation, I checked out Remainder by Tom McCarthy. This book had potential, a lot of potential. And it was poorly used. It's about this guy who has an "Accident" which he can't disclose because he won a lawsuit where the company pays him money and he keeps his mouth shut about it. Anyways, he's rich now. And his memory is fragmented. So one night this guy has a vision with a memory he can't place. So he pays lots of money to have people reenact it for him. Again and again.

Now this book has a great opportunity to explore his memories and all sorts of cool stuff. But it doesn't. Instead the main character starts reenacting random everyday encounters he has. It's stupid, pointless. And by the end of the book the main character is a selfish boor who's entirely unlikable.

That's not even what bothered me the most about the book. The author goes to great extent at the beginning to introduce a girl named Catharine. They knew each other before the accident and something romantic was blooming. After the accident she comes to visit, and nothing happens between them. Then that's it. She's gone from the book entirely. Mentioned maybe once again.

Basically, Remainder by Tom McCarthy is a waste of time.

TV Show: Pushing Daisies. Alright, I ignored this when it was new. I ignored it for several months after. I ignored it all the way up until tonight when I watched an episode (Smell of Success) online. And it will never be ignored again. I've seen it described as a forensic fairytale, which is spot on. It's about this baker named Ned who's a twentysomething that can bring people back to life by touching them. When he touches them a second time they die, and for good. If he brings them back for longer than 60 seconds, someone or something of equal value has to die instead. And his next touch still kills them for good. Kind of a mixed bag.

Anyways, the show has a truly magical feel to it. Like Oz plus Seuss plus Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with some mystery solving. Oh right, because he can bring back the dead, he can talk to them and ask murder victims "Oh hey, since I have you here, who stuck that knife in your gullet?" So he's basically a pie baking Sam Spade.

I can't tell you how much I love this show. In fact, I'm going to go watch another episode right now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Guess who's back (back again)

Alright, so half of my crap sorted itself out and I'm back to doing some writing. Tonight we have a three-way album battle between three of G. Love's best albums.

First up is Coast to Coast Motel.
Coast to Coast is G. Love and Special Sauce's second album, released in 1994. This was the first release by the Philadelphia group that brought them to the front of critical love, though it wasn't quite as popular as the self-titled debut.

Coast to Coast Motel has a much smaller hip-hop influence than, well, almost every other G. Love album. It's more groove and jam based which makes for a much different sound. Unfortunately, this vocals sometimes come across as lo-fi, which ruins the enjoyment of G. Love's . But the instruments are perfect, and ever melody and harmony fits just right making a weirdly retro sound. It's good. Here's my favorite song off of the album, probably one of the catchiest, Kiss and Tell.

Next up is Electric Mile, released in 2001 on 550 Music (once part of Epic Records).

This album is really sort of bizarre. It's almost impossible to predict what sort of music or sound will pop up next. GLaSS play around in soul, funk, rock, folk, etc. In fact, you'd have a shorter list writing down what sort of sound they don't use. Here's a song called Free at Last. Weirdly enough the usual G. Love funk isn't here. And I miss it. I mean, it's still good, but not quite as good, y'know?

And thirdly, we have Lemonade.

This is G. Love at his truest. Released in 2006, this is the quintessential summer album, full of relaxed funk-filled melodies. I can't praise this album enough. Everything about it is great. The lyrics are smart, but don't revel in their own cleverness (Mraz- I'm looking at you and your smarmyness). Every song has the same general sound, but feels completely different from the last one. Here's Hot Cookin, one of the best on the album.

Electric Mile, Coast to Coast Motel, and Lemonade are exceptionally different from each other, but only Lemonade provides a consistent sound. And that sound is sweet.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lo siento

Due to a lot of things being really crappy right now, I'm not going to be updating tonight. Or tomorrow either probably. We can hope for Friday though.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Album Review: Move By Yourself (Donavon Frankenreiter)

SCENE: Warm summer evening. Lemonade in the right hand, book in the left, sun hasn't quite set allowing the man in the lawn chair to read.

ARIK: Ah, this lemonade is delish, the fireflies are beaut, and I can't stop talking in abbreves. What I need right now is some chill relaxed music to enjoy while I read this Peter Pan book which was definitely not written for people eight years younger than myself.

A tune drifts through the air alighting upon Arik's ears.

ARIK: What's this? A song? Something that reminds me of my warm California years in the sand and ocean? Why- I must know what it is!

UNKNOWN VOICE FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE: It's Donavon Frankenreiter, now shut up!

Okay, so it didn't really happen like that. But the feelings of warmth, crickets, fireflies, and lemonade are all pretty strong in this album. Donavon Frankenreiter's second solo album is really wonderful to listen to, and was a real joy to find. And to be honest, finding it was more like:
ARIK: I need more summer music. Hm. I'll look up summery on allmusic, maybe that'll help.

But that's much less exciting. Anyways, this album really just feels good. It's a strong album all the way around. I mean, there are a few missteps, but it's definitely good. There's a lot of a funk type feel with that Sly Stone synth sound coming in on every other track. This would normally make it sound like a funk revival, but avoids that with some smooth singing. The album opens on one of the more uptempo songs, the title track Move By Yourself (sorry, embedding was disabled for this video, so I'm linking it instead), which at first listen sounds a little preachy, but it's easily overlooked in view of the foottapping beat and guitarage.

After this the album mellows out a little bit more and continues with a more soul/jazz oriented song called The Way It Is (same here). It's got more of that lovely synth, but still keeps the album Donavon's. In fact, Move By Yourself continues this lovely starry sky night sound almost the entire rest of the way. He doesn't get cheesey again, just relaxes and sings about life and love and that whole gang.

Okay, I lied. The last track is well, very cheesey. But it's also quite beautiful. It's got the whole soul singer in the background dealio going on and everything.

Anyway, the album is worth a listen, if not a buy. The Way It Is is probably my favorite track, and worth a buy, if nothing else. I really can't think of a single weak point other than the subject matter of the opening and closing tracks.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Album Review: Grand National (John Butler Trio)

More summer music!

I picked up this album in a quest to listen to as much Australian music as possible this summer, and I really was not disappointed. John Butler (and his trio) have a laid back lemonade sippin sun on your cheeks sound. There's a hint of reggae, but not in that annoying "put on a fake Jamaican accent" way. Just in the basic rhythms and beats. I mean, it makes sense. Can you see a guy with hair like this making music without reggae influences? Anyways, I'd kinda put off listening to it for a while because A) I'm lazy and B) I'm forgetful. That is until one song came up on my iPod, Good Excuse.

I put the official Good Excuse video up last week so here's a live performance on some Australian TV show.

That song is a great example of the feel of the whole album, especially the first 2/3. There's great use of harmonica, the guitars have hint of blues and funk, and the overall sound brings in some reggae. Here's another song, Daniella.

I'm a fan of songs with guitar solos that don't feel like they have to be completely over the top or detract from the main melody. Honestly, if it weren't for one particular song, it'd be a perfect summer album. The song Devil Running is a complete shift in tempo and style about 2/3 through. It's not so laid back. It's rock. And not even fun rock. It's serious. Boringly and annoyingly serious. It loses all the fun that the rest of the album has an is loud with electric guitars and distortion. There's a time and place for these things, but this wasn't it.

Anyways, I'm going to be writing one review every day this week, and trying to stick with fun summery music. Tomorrow will be Donavon Frankenreiter, G. Love later, and maybe some O.A.R. We'll see.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Finally, the Jakob Dylan Album Review

So between allergies, working for my freeish housing, and job interviews, I haven't had time to get this done. Sorta. Part of the problem was the album itself. But first we need to talk about Dylans. Jakob Dylan is not his father. He avoids dealing with that very well, despite the album being a guitar and singing affair. In fact, Jakob Dylan can sing. I mean, he's not the next Pavarotti, but he has a pleasant voice. Unfortunately, he never does anything too interesting.

That's largely why I couldn't get around to writing this album. For something interesting, whether in a good way or bad way, I'd be interested in writing the review. With this, I was kinda "eh". And it kept slipping my mind or getting put off.

Now, it's not a bad album. In fact, it's pretty good. But it's not very interesting. I've heard it four or five times and I can't tell the difference between a bunch of the songs. The lyrics are smart, the guitar is well played, but nothing ever really changes. And that is the biggest failing of the album. It makes for good reading music though.

Other news:
My job interview went really well today. I might get hired at Best Buy.
Bugs like crawling on my blinds.
I found out 4 people are subscribed to my blog on Google Reader. This made my day.
I love the local library. Went there tonight, then read the entirety of Neil Gaiman's Eternals Vol. 1 in a nearby park over 2 hours.
I rode my bike to my interview today. My butt still hasn't forgiven me.

Next review will probably be of the John Butler Trio's Grand National.

Another excuse

Job interview sorta early tomorrow morning, haven't had a chance to really listen to Jakob Dylan thoroughly. It'll get done soon though. In the meantime, here's the John Butler Trio.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Due to Allergies..

The album review I was going to do today of Jakob Dylan's Seeing Things is postponed until tomorrow (Wednesday) because of awful allergies inhibiting my focus abilities. Jesus, the amount of times I've had to retype words in this paragraph is ridiculous.

Anyways, see you when my nose no longer runs.
Enjoy this song in the meantime

Monday, June 9, 2008

Abum Review: Beautiful Freak (The Eels)

In case you don't know the days of the week, today is Monday, which means new album releases tomorrow and new album reviews. Hopefully I'll be writing about Jakob Dylan's, The Infamous Stringduster's, or Emmylou Harris' new album. Just depends on which of the three is easier/cheaper to get my hands on.

But for this review I'm going back in time about 12 years when Eels was a new band and this album, Beautiful Freak, just came out. In some ways, listening to it feels like listening to an old friend. The songs are smooth. Something you can ignore for good background music, or get really into. They're catchy, but not necessarily in an upbeat hooky way. The title track, Novocaine For The Soul is a prime example of this.

It starts with a "what the hell?" sort of intro. Then it launches into the real song. And it's like heaven. The way E sings Novocaine is blissful. The lyrics are a love supreme (Jesus and his lawyer are coming back). I mean, how can it get better than this? Easy: My Beloved Monster.

Yes, the Shrek song. I don't care if Shrek had it. I love that movie, and I love this song. It's amazing. Incredibly sweet.

Another highlight of the album is Susan's House. I guess I got a little out of order, as this is the second song. It's one of those songs where there's a sung chorus and the verses are spoken over a beat. What makes it amazing is how it deals with the things that we tend to look away from in society, such as the mentally ill. It does this without becoming preachy or admonishing. I mean yeah, it's a depressing song. But it's a damn fine depressing song.

That's really the feel for the whole album. It's not a very happy album, though a couple of the songs (My Beloved Monster, etc.) are sweet songs. Despite the generally somber themes, every song will stick with you, in a good way. The tight production makes every beat dance by itself. I'd recommend this album in a heartbeat.

Why I shouldn't be allowed to write about music

I read a lot of music blogs and magazines, and I know what's hip and cool with all those cats. And I know that they'd never let me sit at their music-reviewing lunch table for 4 simple reasons. Basically it's a sort-of pet peeve list regarding music press and bloggers.

1. I don't like Radiohead.
It's not just a lack of like, it's an active dislike. But even more than my dislike for Radiohead is my disgust for Thom Yorke. I don't get him. His music is the absence of everything I like about music. He drones. He has no structure, no real harmony. And it pisses me off that he's so popular. It actually makes me angry. That's how much I dislike him.

2. I enjoy U2, and think Bono is a pretty decent guy.
I don't understand some of the finer points of music elitism, and this is one of them. Everybody who's involved with the music journalism industry seems to have it out for Bono. "He's pretentious." "He wears sunglasses inside" "He's called Bono". I don't see how any of these are basis for irrational hate. Kanye wears freaking venetian blind sunglasses inside. Where're his haters? And how do you know that he's pretentious? Have you met him? Maybe I'm a naive fool, but I think it's nicer to have an irrational like of somebody as opposed to an irrational hatred. But what do I know?

3. I don't see what the hubub is about Daft Punk and Nirvana
I mean, I think they're alright bands. But nothing fancy. Maybe it's just one of those "you had to be there when they changed the music world" deals. I was in elementary school the huge years of both artists, so I guess I wasn't there.

4. I don't listen to music ironically
It seems like everyone has to have something ironic on their iTunes to be hip and chic today. Whether A-Ha, Backstreet Boys, or Hannah Montana, that's how they show their irony chicness. And the more godawful one-hit wonderness it is, the cooler they are. I have A-Ha's Take On Me because I like listening to it. It makes me smile. I have Taylor Swift on my computer because my lady gave it to me and it grew on me. I like Joss Stone. Even the new stuff.

Later today/tonight: Album Review

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Album Review: So Many Nights (The Cat Empire)

As I've mentioned, I am in love with this album. Everything about it is almost perfect. Given only word to describe it I would pick funky. And I don't normally like funky.

The album opens with a bass heavy, jazzy piano turntable scratchy super catchy title song, So Many Nights (video below). First time I listened I expected to be disappointed by the rest of the album, since it's so good. I was wrong.

After this song, the album slows down a little bit, with a track called Panama. But make no mistake, being slower be no means makes it bad or less of a good song. However, it's the song directly after that solidified my love for this album: Fishies. Very Latin influenced with a strong trumpet and a Cubano style piano.

I don't know how all the elements blended to make this song so great, but I don't really care. It's heaven. Thankfully, this band is not just strong musically. The lyrics are really well crafted and fit perfectly with the singing. Sunny Moon (my favorite track) is a great example of this.

You may forget the details and you can forget the dates but never
Forget the moment when the light revealed her face
To be poor by lack of money but by god be rich in prize
I found my youths desire dark within her eyes
And the tent kept breathing something and then she cried -
'Hold on we're going somewhere else tonight'

This band really does it all, and does it all well. Between this album and their older album, Two Shoes, I've found my summery music for the summer.

Musical Explorations for the past week

I listen to a lot of music, so I'm going to start doing this on a weekly basis. It'll be a catalog of all the new things I listen to over a week. I'll start this week with the one album I bought physically: So Many Nights by the Cat Empire.

This album is funky. Yes, funky. I found it in Borders at one of those listening stations. Normally I'm hesitant to enjoy anything related to cats, but I gave it a shot. The first track sold me. It's catchy. Fun. Hook filled. Has a vague ska feel, but not really. It has turntables, but it's not a turntable song. It's just fun music. The whole album is that way too. The piano is always jazzy, sometimes has a Spanish flair, sometimes has a downbeat feel. Basically, this Melbourne album is fun, good, and perfect for summer.

Hearing this album made me wonder what else from down under I was missing. So led me to The Beautiful Girls, Xavier Rudd, and Ari Hest. Unfortunately, I've only been able to give them brief listens. But I like what I heard. Especially The Beautiful Girls. Very chill.

What I have listened to this week though is Weezer's new album (terrible, see previous post), and the first album by the Eels.

Beautiful Freak is amazing. It's slick, but not over produced. The lyrics are incredible and billowing with imagery (can you billow with imagery?). I love everything about it. It's fun, but not entirely light. It has a lot of good serious moments. Novacaine for the Soul is probably my favorite track from it, along with My Beloved Monster (which most people will recognize from Shrek). Anyways, between this and Cat Empire, and even in spite of Weezer, this has been a good week for music. Full review of Cat Empire tomorrow.

Album Review: The Red Album (Weezer)

I like Weezer. Almost all of their back catalog I think is pretty good, if not great.

However, the very thought of listening to anything Rivers Cuomo has touched ever again makes me angry. Yes, angry. This album isn't just bad. It's bad enough that it ruins every other Weezer album. I wanted to like it. I really did. I just can't though.

Maybe I'm not being fair, since I promised myself that I'd listen to it all the way through no matter what, and I yet I can't bring myself to do that. But when I hit a song comprised of the lyrics "Everybody get dangerous everybody get dangerous booyah" I draw the line. This is music made for Nickelodeon action movies targeted towards 5th graders. I'm not sure what went wrong. Maybe Linkin Park produced it, I have no idea. Basically, it sounds like Weezer took their geeky hook filled fun sound, sat on it and wrote music over it while gripping the pen tightly with their butt cheeks. The album isn't fun. It doesn't make you smile. Weezer should make you smile. Even when it's bad.

Hell, Beverly Hills is a bad song. But it's fun at least. You can hum along on a sumer day. This album refuses to give you even that small pleasure. Weezer really went for a darker more experimental sound. Weezer failed.


Update: a more objective less angry track by track review of the same album tomorrow. Also a review of the Cat Empire album So Many Nights.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Slightly More Coherent Blog Post

So that last post was fun. And it felt good, because I was feeling frustrated and angry and kinda beat up emotionally.

I went to the library today. Libraries and I have a love-hate relationship. I love that they have all these books for people to read at no real charge. I love the atmosphere. I love the people there. I love the creepy old men that follow girls around really creepily. Though if I were a girl, that would probably change.

But I hate hate hate that the books I always want to checkout have been stolen months ago, and it's only realized when I want to check them out. Like today, I wanted to reread The Watchmen. But no. I spend forty freaking minutes looking for this book, finally ask someone to help me, they look for about ten minutes, and finally we decide it was stolen.

I think libraries shouldn't list what books they have in, they should list what books they might have in.

I'm all moved into my apartment now. It's weird, living in crappy dorms for 2 years and then going to this carpeted air-conditioned single room all to myself. I mean, I love it. And I'm going to hate fall when I go back to single crappy room, but it's great.

Summer has really started. It's a weird thought. We had a flash thunderstorm today, just 2 minutes after I walked in from walking back from the library. It was crazy. And I'm really frustrated with something. I don't know what. That really just popped out there. Like a banana. Do those pop out of things? Screw it, I'm going to bed.

Being Angry


This is what Angry Lions sound like.


That is the sound of an Angry Bee.


Angry Cats are not your friends.

Chinchillas, however, do not get angry.